Talk about Travel

The Pitons on the Caribbean Island of St. Lucia (AP/Scott Sady).
Sep 28, 2020

Join us to discuss your travel-related questions, comments, suspicions, warnings, gripes, sad tales, etc.!

Hi all, and welcome to Talk About Travel! This week, Andrea road-tested a rooftop tent on a camping trip in northern Pennsylvania. Have you been camping this summer? Tell us about it below. Most compelling tale wins a handsome Amelia Island, Fla., refrigerator magnet. 

And, as always, here's the link to the Post's coronavirus live blog, which is continuously updated. You can also sign up here for the Post's Coronavirus Updates newsletter; all stories linked in the newsletter are free to access. 

Let's get going with your questions!


I was staying at a Hilton over the weekend and was woken up at 4 am by hotel security. They'd been sent to the wrong room - some teenagers had been partying in a room near us earlier in the night and it must have gotten out of hand while we were asleep. I'm a light sleeper so I was up for the rest of the night. The hotel didn't offer us anything but a free cup of coffee when I complained the next morning. Is it unreasonable to think we should have been offered at least a discount? We'd stayed a Hilton hoping for a nicer hotel experience - the last time I was woken by security was at a youth hostel in college!

It depends how they woke you up. If it was a polite knock at the door, maybe it's fine. If they burst through the door demanding that you stop the party, definitely. You might try these Hilton executive contacts.

I know it's not your fault but there isn't exactly a feedback button on the main website and I assume you're able to pass these comments along. It seems like every few months the powers that be redesign the website and omit the live chat links, then everyone complains and within a week the links are back. Not so much this time, it's been a week, I've seen the complaints in other chats but still no links back on the front page??? The chats are why I keep my subscription and if they're trying to get rid of them by hiding them and lowering counts I do not think I'll be the only subscription they lose. Sorry rant over but I really love these chats!!!

To make your view on the home page redesign heard, submit a letter to the editor here.

Have you guys heard anything from your bosses about why the chats have disappeared from your home page? We understand that we can get to them from the pulldown menu, but only when we already know about them. You're losing possible new readers.

The home page was recently redesigned; to find Travel chats, you can look here, or you can look here for all chats.  

Next week I am flying for the first time since January, to visit an elderly parent several states away. I'll be masked and doused in hand sanitizer, of course, and on Delta, where middle seats are empty. Does anyone have any tips for me? For instance, what's the scene at ATL, where I'll connect---are the water fountains operating? Cafes open? (In the Before Times, I made this trip four times a year.) Thank you.

I'm guessing that you had no choice but to connect because taking a nonstop flight is the way to go these days, even if it does cost a bit more.  Even if water fountains are operating, I'd stay away. Most of the shops and eateries are open. The airport's Web site has the latest info. Wash your hands, stay away from people whenever you can, wear a mask at all times, all the usual recommendations apply. Anyone have an airport-specific suggestion? 

Hi! Had 2 tickets through Spirit Airlines for spring break trip to Florida. We canceled trip because it was April and we were in midst of a Covid shut down. Now have $800 credit that Spirit says must be used by this coming March. We called and Spirit says no refunds. We don’t feel safe traveling on an airplane during a pandemic. Do we have any other recourse or are we simply going to lose $800? Very irritating given our current situation. Thanks! 

This is one of the absurdities of covid-19 travel. Those vouchers are expiring soon. The discount airlines such as Frontier and Spirit give you even less time. I just handled a Frontier case where she only had 90 days and was almost at the end. It's ridiculous. I'm writing a Navigator about this. I'd love to include you in it. Please email me and I'll see if I can help. Here's how to reach me. 

Not sure if it's indicative of any other Global Entry location, but as of today (9/24) DFW appts are now wide open starting in late Oct. , after six months of "no appts available"... Way back in May I had made a backup appt at IAH for October but was finally able to secure one locally. I would recommend anyone who has been waiting on this to check availability again asap at a preferred location.

This time next year, I'll hopefully be on a cruise from Baltimore to New England / Canada. They've got this cancelation policy: "Cancel up to 48 hours before your sail date and get a future cruise credit good for 12 months after the date that you cancelled your original sailing." Is this foolhardy? I really need something to look forward to (and I'm very good at washing my hands).

If you've already booked it, I'd say you have decided that having something to look forward to aces the possibility of losing your deposit. The current no-sail order for U.S. cruises is scheduled to end Sept. 30, but that may still be extended. Three of the largest lines -- Royal Caribbean, Carnival and NCL -- have cancelled until at least Nov. 1. But they need to start sailing again in order to stay financially viable, so I'd expect that as soon as the "all-clear" is given, they will start planning cruises ASAP. Let's hope that by this time next year, your cruise line will still be in business and you will be enjoying the fall foliage. 

I'm signed up with a group to see the total eclipse in December in Argentina, where the covid numbers are getting worse and the travel restrictions have been extended. The contract allows the tour operator to cancel the trip without refunding deposits if it results from a "force majeure" event, defined by a long list of natural disasters, political upheavals and other upsets, explicitly including "epidemics and pandemics." They haven't canceled yet, but if they do and they don't offer a refund, do I have any recourse?

Yes, you can dispute the charge on your credit card. Also, if you live in a state with strict refund laws, like Massachusetts, you may be able to get help from state regulators.

We live in the DC area. Our daughter is in college in New England. We drove her there in August and school is out for the semester the weekend before Thanksgiving. Would you fly her home (and possibly have her ship home some stuff she'll need over the extended winter break)? Or send her on the train? Or go to get her (which would mean at least one night in a hotel somewhere along the way)? Cost is less of an issue than safety and health.

If she can fly nonstop, I'd probably put her on a flight. If she has extra luggage, it may be cheaper to pay extra baggage fees than to ship. A train trip would likely be a long one. Amtrak last week started announcing train occupancy levels on its Web site, a helpful tool for planning travel. 

Do you guys have any idea what's happening in New Orleans right now in terms of dining and music?

While the state has moved into Phase 3, New Orleans is staying in Phase Two for a little longer.  The tourism office has a list of open attractions, restaurants, tours and more. To understand what is permitted during Phase Two, here is the rundown. For example, indoor live entertainment is not allowed but outdoor entertainment is. Sadly, one of my favorite experiences -- second lines and parades -- are not permitted at this time.

Of the non-domestic destinations currently open to Americans -- without a quarantine requirement -- which would you recommend for a fall vacation?

I'd probably go to Costa Rica. The country has restricted travel to specific states. Residents of Maryland, Virginia and the District are on the approved list. 

I have flown a few times. I am all covered up even when it was very hot out. Pants, sneakers, hoodie which I wore over my head and sunglasses as well as the mask. I would sit a different gate that was unoccupied and listen for when it got close to my boarding group. I select a window so I do not have everyone walking by me during boarding. I flew a one way on United and will not do it again-I understand they need to make money but having to charge my seat multiple times was annoying. I found Southwest with the open middle seats far less stressful and they will get my business during the pandemic.

Delta has promised to block middle seats through at least Jan. 6. Southwest will do so till at least Nov. 30. 

Do NOT put the kid on a train. The BOS>Union Station trip takes forever, is always delayed, and absolutely packed at Thanksgiving. Either put her on the first plane out of Logan in the morning (never the last one), or come up and get her. I've made that round trip many times via plane, train, and automobile - plane is the way to go.

Agreed. I included the Amtrak info as an aside for those who are thinking of taking a train anywhere in near future. 

In addition to those already provided, suggest that you wear a face shield or goggles on the plane in addition to a mask - this eye coverage will protect against aerosolized droplets getting into your eyes. Bring wipes to wipe down the plane tray table, and the arms of your seat. Do not use the seat pocket in front of you. If you have to use the bathroom on the plane, close the lid before you flush. And when you reach your destination, change to clean clothes and launder your travel clothes. Yes, it's a lot - but worth these extra steps to protect your elderly parent. Good luck.


Not only am I NOT leaving tomorrow for Istanbul to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary, but my husband isn't here at all because he was struck by a rare and vicious cancer early in the covid shutdown and died within five weeks. Yes, I'm still in shock. But my question is if you were desperate for a change of scenery and could design a dream getaway (city, seaside or desert) to a safe place in the U.S. now, what would that be? I'm cautious but not hopeless, and seeking distraction.

We are so sorry for everything you have been through and hope you can find a place that can help soothe your soul. For me, the ocean is my escape, so I would rent a cottage on Ocracoke Island in the Outer Banks and spend my days biking around the quiet roads and feeling the cold sand between my toes. For something more adventurous, Air Tahiti Nui is having a deal that includes air from L.A. and accommodations from $1,300 -- that is tempting, too. If you need a busier distraction, New York City is opening up. The national parks are also calming, especially now that we are in the shoulder season. On this coast, you could rent a cabin in the Smokies or Acadia in Maine. Just be aware of quarantine restrictions. Again, our hearts go out to you.

without a complete quarantine when she goes back. Can she do that for the end of the semester or not? Because that would be a LOT of money to flush if she can't take her finals because you insisted on Thanksgiving together.

I'm guessing that her child, like mine, has a modified semester that ends right before Thanksgiving. 

I'd like to just hide out the first week of November. Any ideas as to a relatively remote destination in the U.S. that's nonetheless accessible without resort to extreme measures?

I think Sedona, Ariz., might work for you. (That's where I am.) It's close to almost nowhere and it's really nice in November. Great hiking and plenty of remoteness. 

Hi, Travel Gang. I'm considering a road trip to Santa Fe. We need a change of scene before the cold sets in and I've always wanted to go there. We'll have two drivers and about ten days for there and back. I know it's a lot of driving, but hey-it'll be an adventure. Any suggestions on places to stop, places to spend the night, things to see, things to eat? Thanks!

It is hard to recommend places since we don't know what is open during covid. Santa Fe's tourism office has a good list of places that are open -- and safe. Many are outside attractions, which are perfect for fall in N.M.

What's the first place you'll go when international travel returns to normal?

I will go to visit my family in Austria, making a side trip to my dear friends in England. For me, seeing those I love will take top priority. 

We're going back to Europe to finish our year-long trip. We'll probably start in the Azores.

I just moved into a new apartment and really want to decorate my place like a casbah. So I would go to Morocco, plus the tagine is so good. I am also considering pet sitting in New Zealand or Australia over the holidays.

You previously answered my question about interviews for renewing my Global Entry and noted that you can do an interview when you return from an international trip. I also received an e-mail from CBP saying the same thing. Unfortunately, we have no international trips before our one-year extension runs out. Does that mean I will again have to submit the $100 fee? Lack of interviews at airports is frustrating.

No, you shouldn't have to reapply. Just schedule the first available interview and you should be fine.

First-time camper here: Where would you recommend I go within, say, a three-hour radius of the District?

I would check out Berkeley Springs (I stayted at Gary Cox's Campground) or the Charlottseville area (highly recommend Misty Mountain Camp Resort). You can also try Shenandoah National Park or Harpers Ferry.

Chatters, any favorite camping areas?

My family alternates between Vermont and Massachusetts. Should have been Massachusetts this year. The Vermont hosts have told us they are not going to be able to travel this year as they would then have to isolate for two weeks on returning home. If we go to them, we would have to isolate for two weeks before spending time with them. There is no guarantee that my brother and family in NY and parents in NJ and me in MD will be allowed in Massachusetts without a quarantine time. We are splitting up for the holiday. Vermont and MA will probably be separate. NY and NJ should be able to get together. I'll join them in NY if I am allowed. Or I'll zoom in and we will just have to live with it.

I think there will be many families in the same boat this year. My niece is getting married in New Jersey in mid-October (a small, tented/outdoors affair) and it looks as if we won't be able to attend because of the quarantine. Sad, but would be far sadder if we didn't follow the rules and gave everyone Covid. 

I'm not flying anytime soon, but a couple of other questions come to mind: What about eating or drinking on the plane? What about using the restroom on the plane? How many extra masks should one carry along, just in case one breaks or accidentally falls to the floor, etc?

Generally, you can remove your mask when eating and drinking. You don't have to wear a mask in the restroom unless you want to. I would carry a spare, although the flight crew will have extras just in case. When in doubt, ask. 

I need to be in the far east in about six weeks on business and would love to leverage the trip into a personal encounter with the Great Wall of China - a childhood dream. Is this even remotely possible these days? Thanks!

Not sure what the situation will be in six weeks, but right now, China is not welcoming visitors from the United States.

Hello...I've googled this and haven't gotten a satisfactory answer, but if an airline changes your flight time by seven hours, and the new time doesn't work for you, are you entitled to a full refund? Or does it vary by the airline?

If the airline cancels your flight but tries to rebook you on another one, you can get a full refund. But if it reschedules the same flight, then it's a gray area. Seven hours is a long time and if the airline doesn't refund you, consider complaining to the Department of Transportation.

Presumably the college student is an adult. If she needs to travel with a lot of stuff, why doesn't she rent a car? She probably can find a couple other students who need to travel in the same direction and will share the driving. At some point Mom and Dad will have to land the helicopter.

Renting a car and dropping it off in another state is often very expensive. Plus she's likely under age 25, which also means higher rates. I think the parents are doing the right thing in trying to help her get home. 

Just wondering, after submitting a query to a business (in this case, a travel agent), how long is a reasonable wait before moving on to the next person on the list?

I would give it two weeks.

Is Colonial Williamsburg open for business? I've never been, but it seems like an appealing weekend trip from the D.C. area.

Colonial Williamsburg is open. It has outlined steps taken to keep guests safe on its Web site. Before reopening, it underwent a $42 million renovation, adding more historically accurate exhibits. It has some fun holiday events planned, including three "Grand Illuminations" -- you need to reserve that in advance. 

Looks like our hour is up -- thanks for chatting, everyone. Have a great week, and join us next Monday for more Talk About Travel!

In This Chat
Nicole Arthur
Nicole Arthur is the Travel editor.
Andrea Sachs
Andrea Sachs is a staff writer for Travel.
Christopher Elliott
Christopher Elliott writes The Navigator column. He is also National Geographic Traveler magazine's reader advocate.
Carol Sottili
Carol Sottili is a former Washington Post travel writer, specializing in travel deals.
Helen Carefoot
Helen Carefoot is Travel's editorial assistant.
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