Talk about Travel

The Pitons on the Caribbean Island of St. Lucia (AP/Scott Sady).
Sep 21, 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 adventure writer John Briley wrote about wreck-diving off the shore of Cape Hatteras. Do you have a scuba diving adventure of your own to share? Tell us about it below! Most compelling answer will receive a set of four nickel-sized City of London buttons, circa 2012.

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!

help - the home page has been redesigned (again) and I can't find the list of chats anywhere...

Travel's chat and chat archives are now on the section's landing page, at the top on the far left -- look for it here.

I'm sure you're getting lots of comments about the website redesign, and the lack of a live chat menu on the homepage. To whom should we be sending our concerns/comments/complaints, so that we don't inundate you with them?

I'd suggest a letter to the editor -- you can find the instructions here.

We are looking for a Covid and family friendly destination within driving distance of DC during the winter holidays. We are not skiers and prefer warm weather to cold, and would like a place where we can be outdoors comfortably more of the time than not. Unfortunately our usual "fly to Florida, the Caribbean, or Mexico" vacation is not an option this year. Any ideas?

I don't know your acceptable driving distances, but you won't find high temperatures averaging more than 60 degrees north of Charleston, SC. (8-hour drive), and that's iffy. Jacksonville in Florida is closer to 65 degree average high in late December, but that's a 10-hour+ drive. Maybe you should learn to ski? 

So sorry to see your chat has been removed from the front of the website! I hope you all will keep chatting! You've been so helpful to so many people.

No worries -- you can still find all the Post's live chats here

Hi team! Apologies if you've answered this question recently. My passport is up for renewal in late 2021. I'm debating whether to send it in now or to wait until some of the backlog gets resolved. I don't love the idea of having it out of my hands for months, but I also don't love the idea of it expiring!

I sent mine in for renewal to the Philadelphia processing center on July 26 and have not heard anything. But several chatters have reported quicker turnarounds. Chatters, please share your experiences! 

I wrote last week about waiting three months for a promised refund from AON travel insurance. The corporate contacts you provided me were out of date, but I was able to look up the current corporate contacts. I sent emails, and even though I never got a response from anyone, I called a day after emailing and found out that AON had, in fact, issued the refund that day. Whether the emails to corporate contacts actually made a difference, or the timing was coincidental, I am pleased to report that the problem is solved. Thanks for your advice.

Thank you for letting us know. I'll make sure those AON contacts are updated.

The new format of the home page is garbage. Do they want me to cancel my subscription?

Here are those contacts again.

Do we have any idea of when the U.S./Canadian border will be reopened?

It looks like the border will remain closed until at least Oct. 21. 

From what I can tell, the left hand corner has a search icon and sections. After hitting sections, one has to go down the long list under sections to find chats. This redesign makes no sense. It makes me think the Post plans to stops the chats.

Rather than doing that, just bookmark this for the entire chat schedule or this for Travel (chat link at top left).

Hi, I live near Philadelphia, and I'm trying to plan some air travel. Do you know where I can find out easily where nonstop flights are available to a particular destination? I can go to PHL, BWI, or EWR fairly easily, and I could go to the New York or Washington airports as well if I could get nonstop flights from there. (I'd like to avoid changing planes so I can minimize flight time and airport time.) Is there a resource where regular folks can look these things up? Thanks!

Try, or go directly to the individual airport Web pages. 

Recently our car was in the shop and we needed to rent a car so we called Enterprise, a company we had used previously. Although we checked several locations, only SUVx and trucks were available. Hertz was the same way; Budget and Avis didn't answer their phone. We finally were able to get a car at a rental company associated with a car dealer repair shop. A relative in Pennsylvania ran into the same situation. We are seniors and trucks/SUVs are too big for us, hard to get into, etc. Where are the cars? Is it this way at the airports if we fly and need a car?

Back in March, some car rental companies were reducing the number of cars on their lots (called "de-fleeting"). But there haven't been any widespread reports of car rental  shortages since then. Some auto rental  companies allow you to choose the make and model if you're a frequent renter.

The more expensive hotels charge extra for everything because their customers are either business travelers who are expensing it all in and don't care, or wealthier and don't care. The customers at the cheaper hotels are much more price-sensitive, which is why the are staying there in the first place.

It's true, the pricier the hotel, the more fees. Go figure.

My daughter applied for her first adult passport in early August (no idea where the post office sent it; we are in Georgia), and received it last week.

Residents of Georgia send it to Philadelphia. Wonder what I did wrong!

I'm having serious cruise withdrawal -- when do you think the cruise industry will get back to something approaching normal?

A good resource for the latest cruise news is Cruise Critic. It doesn't seem as if the traditional larger lines will begin operations anytime soon. Most have cancelled till at least the end of October, and I would not be surprised to see that extended. Earlier today, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian submitted to the CDC a 74-point plan designed to mitigate coronavirus when cruising restarts. I'd expect many of those recommendations to be adopted. 

What's the hotel situation at the Delaware beaches closest to D.C.? Will crowds have thinned out by the time fall weather arrives?

I just returned Friday from a summer spent in Ocean City, Md., which isn't far from the Delaware beaches. It was still busy when I left, and I wonder if telecommuting second-home owners have decided to hang at the beach. My guess is that it will empty out as the weather turns cooler.  Hotels are mostly open and will have plenty of vacancies. The entire region is suffering from a lack of employees, with many restaurants closing for a day or two each week to make do. 

We sent our 15 YOs passport off in June. They cashed the check in a couple of weeks, but we haven't heard about it since then. It was a 'renewal' thought of as a new one though...who knows how long it will take...

Do you know which center you used? 

I know a ton has been written about this, but would you recommend driving or flying from D.C. to Florida over the holiday season?

It depends. If you can start your trip before everyone else does and drive back before the traffic starts up again, then yes. If you have two drivers, you can easily do the trip in a day. If it's just one driver, you'll want to stop in South Carolina for an overnight. Chatters, what do you think? Drive or fly to Florida?

Do you guys have any dream trips planned for after the pandemic? Or will any travel be dream travel at that point?

I think any travel will be dream travel. But I'm hoping to return to Europe and finish the trip I started in January. Something tells me it will be a while.

Do you know if Southwest is filling middle seats? I'd like to fly to Florida the week between Christmas and New Year's, but am concerned about overcrowded flights. Am I being overly cautious?

Southwest has promised to keep middle seats open through Nov. 30, but not past then. As to whether you are being overly cautious, you may want to read the latest Post article on the topic: Basically, the CDC has estimated that 11,000 people have been exposed to Covid while flying, but they don't know how many contracted the illness via air travel.  

I have an opportunity to take three weeks in October and work remotely -- can you suggest an affordable way to do that? I'm picturing a cabin in the mountains (with good WiFi, of course) -- is that realistic?

Yes it is. I would contact a local vacation rental management company and ask if they would be willing to offer you a rate for three weeks. Watch those cleaning fees, though.

Any update on the markets? The big 3, Columbus Circle, Bryant Park and Union Square haven't updated their websites. I'm about to buy an Amtrak ticket. Would you think it will be safe by December 1st?

Low-risk outdoor arts and entertainment, such as zoos, botanical gardens, nature parks, and grounds of historic sites and cultural institutions, have reopened, but no word on higher risk venues, such as typically crowded holiday markets. Keep up with the latest on the NYC Health site. 

Having worked corporate in a hotel company... We did an experiment (this was over a decade ago, too) -- and offered people more points if their hotel room price was higher...they took it overwhelmingly. They were business travelers, who weren't paying for the room, so yes, the higher end hotels can charge more so they will. It's so weird, but it works...

That's a sad story, but I believe it.

note if you live in DC, you need to quarantine upon coming back.....

Yes, that is correct. We should just add a disclaimer to all of our responses: All travelers need to check quarantine rules before going outside their jurisdiction. 

I apologize if I missed it, but have there been projections issued as to how many fear folks are expected to travel over Thanksgiving and Christmas? Or at least I'm assuming it will be lower.

Yes, I'm working on a Navigator now about when people are likely to plan travel and when they'll feel safe traveling. It's fascinating. Bottom line -- yes, I would expect fewer people on the road during the holidays. But it's difficult to say how much lower the numbers will be compared to last Thanksgiving or Christmas.

Another resource for answering the question "who flies from X to Y?" is Select "Route" and type in the three-letter code for your origin and destination. You'll then get a list of flights, though I need to mention it's pretty much limited to yesterday, today and tomorrow unless you do some scrolling. In other words, it won't tell you that X airline flies from Y to Z on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

That's one of the problems with trying to figure out nonstops from a particular airport. Some airport Web sites offer a list of nonstop destinations and the days they are offered, so worth checking there first. 

We submitted our passports at the end of July and it took 8 weeks. My husband looked up the status and was able to sign up for tracking.

Thanks. Mine says "in process." 

It may be worse now, but this is not new. They will tell you the SUV is an upgrade from your reservation. Heck no, I want a CAR.

That's a whole 'nother issue. It's an old car rental trick to get you to pay more.

When answering the question about driving or flying from D.C. to Florida, it's important to know where the trip starts and ends -- particularly where it ends. If you're driving to the Jacksonville area, as mentioned earlier in the chat, it's maybe 10 hours. But if your destination is Key West, you can nearly double that. Even going down to Naples adds 5 hours or so. Florida is a *long*, skinny state.

Good point -- you still there, chatter?

Regarding one of the poster's concerns about passport renewal, here's my experience: My passport expired in over four years ago in '16, but before I submitted the paperwork, $ and the old passport, I had to get updated photos. One passport photo shop I used on McPherson Square in an office building, but shot after shot taken by the photographer showed my eyes closed--my typical reaction to flash photography. Frustration on both the photographer's side and mine grew, and we ended the session gracefully. I paid him for the effort, and I asked him where he thought I would have a better chance on getting the needed photos, and he pointed me to the nearest or FedEx place who could do the work. Lo and behold, those passport photos were successfully taken and I sent those photos along w/the paperwork, $, and passport to the processing center. The renewed passport was sent to me a few weeks later. BTW, has anybody ever looked at the pages in one's passport where the visa stamps go? I did that this past February on my flights home from South America, and was astounded by what I saw: drawings of various US landmarks in panoramic format spread across every two pages that get stamped, along w/quotes from presidents or other statespersons at the top of the pages. Furthermore , I'd like to suggest that Andrea, Carol, Nicole or Chris consider doing a story about those drawings and quotes: how they're chosen, who draws the illustrations, and who makes the final decision about which drawings and quotes go where on the passport. In addition, the writer could do some research about why some immigration officials at international airports have a tendency to flip through the passports to find an empty page to stamp their exit and entry visas.

Thanks for your report and for the idea. 

for my 15 YO I don't know which center, but I live on the west coast. Of course, with mail being delayed and the last couple of weeks of wildfires, who knows what is going on over here. (I'm in oregon).

As another chatter pointed out, you can check the status of the renewal, but "in process" doesn't tell you much. 

I went to Italy, and am dying to go back. If it were you, would you go in Fall 2021, or wait until Spring 2022?

I'd go in spring 2022, just to be on the safe side. But autumn is my favorite season in Italy. 

Looks like our hour is up -- thanks for chatting everyone! Have a great week, and join us here again 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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