Talk about Travel

The Pitons on the Caribbean Island of St. Lucia (AP/Scott Sady).
Oct 05, 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, we wrote about a small-vessel exploration of Mexico's Sea of Cortez. Have you even traveled specifically to observe natural phenomena? Tell us where to and what below. Most compelling tale wins a whimsical Amelia Island, Fla., refrigerator magnet. 

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Let's get going with your questions! 

Flagging here for everyone to bookmark: Here's the new page where the live chats live. And you can find chat archives on Travel's landing page.

We're traveling in the UK for a few months, and I have a tipping question that's been bugging me for a few weeks. We went to the Isles of Scilly and heard about a fisherman who owned his own boat and took people out for three-hour fishing tours into the Atlantic. My husband, kids and I all went, paying 25 pounds each. Along with a few other passengers, the captain/owner was on board as well as a young man helping out the captain. At the end of the ride, we didn't know if we were supposed to tip them or not. I'm always confused about when you're supposed to tip if the person providing the service you've paid for is the owner (who receives the money you already paid). But in the UK, where tipping is less of a thing, we were even more at a loss. We ended up just following what other people did. No one else tipped, so we didn't either. But it's been nagging me.

I think you did the right thing. Tipping is an American tradition, for the most part. Fellow chatters, what do you think? Would you tip on Scilly boat trip?

Hi - last chat Carol said, Even if water fountains are operating, I'd stay away. Can you explain this? I typically refill my water bottle - using the refill station if available or certainly not touching spigot if not. I press the button using my elbow. So I'm now really wondering what the issue is - is it the actual water at the airport? Thanks so much for any clarification! I do plan to bring all my own food, wipes, mask, etc. And am also flying Delta so no middle seat (and my husband is the other passenger in my row) with a connection in ATL.

I don't trust others not to touch their mouths to the spigot. A refill station would be fine, especially if you're not touching anything. 

I'm on the west coast. About 5 or 6 weeks ago we went with my 15 year old to the post office to get his new passport. It came this past Thursday.

And here on the East Coast, I mailed mine for renewal on July 23 and received it last week. And then I received my old one in a separate envelope a few days later. 

I know you've gotten this a fair amount. I dont actually care that the chats aren't on the front page and like that there is now a link in the drop down. BUT, since the format change, I can't scroll down the drop down, so to get the page small enough to be able to see the chat link (on my fairly large screen), it needs to be zoomed down to 33%, and I then often can't read to find the chat link. It seems that you should at least be able to scroll down the menu, instead of having to make the text so small only Superman could read it easily.

Thanks for letting us know; I will share that information with the chat team. 

Love you guys! My bf and I just got back from a trip to Sarasota. On all flights, every seat was filled and there were even standbys. For the most part, people adhered to social distancing, but the volume of people traveling surprised me.

Thank you for the front-line report. Glad people are abiding by CDC guidelines but where is everyone going?!?

Just a follow up to recent Global Entry questions -- perhaps it was because I had a fairly simple renewal, but my Global Entry renewal was approved OVERNIGHT! No interview, no appointments, no new screenings.

Wow! That's great!

I have a Virginia drivers license that isn’t REAL ID compliant. I’m aware that the deadline got moved to a year from now. But I saw so many horror stories about rejected documentation and multiple, hours long visits to DMV that I’m wondering whether I’d be better off just getting a passport card for domestic flight purposes. I don’t travel internationally nor am I ever intending to, so I don’t see any point in a regular passport. I already have Pre Check so I’m thinking a passport card should not be that hard to obtain (because my documents were acceptable for that I should think they would be for this). My understanding is that it suffices for identification. Is that true? And do you think it makes sense for me to go this route?

Yes, a passport is a valid form of ID and you don't need to worry about a star. I always travel with my passport. I think it's also better to have a passport, just in case you want to plan an international trip.

My husband renewed his VA license to get the REAL ID last week, and he had no trouble getting an appointment. Was in and out in no time in Loudoun County. 

I have a flight on Wednesday that lands in Cedar City Utah at 6:52 on Delta (we were originally on an earlier Delta flight but for some reason they changed us to this one -- there are still seats available on the earlier flight). Well, now our car rental time has changed, obviously. We have contacted the two rental car companies at the cedar city airport and one closes at 5 and one at 6. They basically said we have a few choices: 1) take a cab or uber to St George and rent a car there 2) come back the next morning (or sleep at the airport?) or 3) change our flight None of those options are acceptable. We even contacted Delta to help us and they said: oh, sorry nothing we can do, no we won't pay for your uber, but here's 5k miles in each of your accounts (two of us on the reservation). Um, we will see if Delta can put us on the earlier flight, but we are certainly not the only ones on this flight that will need a car. It's absurd. I was on the phone for 1/2 an hour with a manager and he said: sorry nothing I can do, no one has hours, they don't like to continue to open up, etc etc. I said: give me your manager's number, I'll call him. "oh no I cannot do that -- I'll talk with him give me your number" What do I do? Why is there absolutely no customer service? When the original reservation was changed via delta -- we just assumed that they had canceled the earlier flight, but they had not, and we never expected this craziness.

It looks like there are at least three car rental companies at the airport -- Avis, Enterprise and Hertz. Have you tried reaching out to the other one? You might be able to make arrangements to pick up a car late. Otherwise, you may need to return the next day. Chatters, what would you do?

After the Virginia Bar exam in Roanoke, years ago, on the way home I detoured to see Natural Bridge, which I had never seen before. Well worth the detour and probably the most interesting Natural Phenomenon all of Virginia!

Thanks for sharing!

Hello, looking to get away for a couple of days the first weekend of November. Any recomendations for places within a two hour drive of DC? I would ideally like to get in a couple of hikes with my camera and at night enjoy a hot tub or large bath to relax my underused, cooped up hiking muscles, haha. Not worried about temperatures as I enjoy the cold. Thank you!

Tons of options! I would recommend Harpers Ferry or Berkeley Springs in W.Va., Shenandoah National Park and its environs, or Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge near Cambridge, Md. Other suggestions: Sugarloaf Mountain or Catoctin Mountain Park, both in Maryland.

Back in December 2019 I booked a flight on American Airlines from DC to Santiago, Chile for Thanksgiving. Americans are not allowed into Chile at this time nor for the foreseeable. It appears American is still flying on my select days, however I am obviously unable to go considering I'm not a citizen nor is my return more than 14 days out. I don't want a credit with AA--I already have several throughout this pandemic year--I want a refund. Since I purchased so far in advance I feel like this should be a given. What would be the best way to proceed? Is the only option to hope they cancel the flight and then are required to refund? But that risks losing the whole ticket value. It feels like few industries would be able to keep your money for a service you cannot use and they cannot responsibly deliver.

Airlines are making exceptions to their refund rules on a case-by-case basis. I would contact American through its website and explain your circumstances. If it doesn't help, consider reaching out to one of the American Airlines customer service managers.

Going this weekend, any suggestions for things to do or places to do takeout. We are hoping to stay socially distanced so will be looking for parks and hiking but there are more than you can do in a couple of days so any specific suggestions would be welcome. Thanks

I have not been to Deep Creek Lake in ages. I went maple sugaring there years ago. The tourism office has info on open restaurants with takeout and delivery. Chatters, any specific recommendations?

Since I had to visit the DMV in person to renew my driver's license figured it made sense to upgrade to Real ID. I did most of the paperwork online before I went and can only assume it expedited matters considerably since it took almost no time.

Thanks for sharing!

Some years ago, our family visited the Bay of Fundy on the north shore of Nova Scotia. It is supposed to have the highest tides in the world. The four of us (two adults & two teenagers) waded out in to the bay, and after a while we noticed that the water was rushing by and getting higher and higher very quickly. We decided "We'd better get back to the shore right now!" and we did.

Yikes -- thanks for sharing!

Hi, I'm going to be flying for the first time since March this coming weekend and will be renting a car. If you've rented a car during Covid, how concerned have you been with wiping it down before sitting in it or do you feel that the car rental agencies do a decent job with cleaning it between drivers. Thanks!

The car rental companies say they are disinfecting the cars, but to be extra safe, wipe down the wheels, door handle, etc. And open the windows, if you don't risk hypothermia.

I note that in many countries service employees are either paid a living wage by law or "tips" are built into the bill. Their are countries where waiters will chase you out the door to RETURN cash you left on the table. The U.S. is a rare place where service workers must depend on the generosity of strangers.

That's true for the most part.

We JUST went a few weeks ago to Yachats, Oregon (we live in Portland) to see Thor's Well. We had read about it years ago and wow, it was amazing. That area is so cool....and interestingly so many people were there. I love Oregon.

Thanks for sharing!

What's currently considered the "safest" U.S state to visit?

According to the CDC map: DC, Vermont, Maine and NH. I wish the agency used bolder colors and not 50 shades of beige.

hertz is not there. We ended up getting a Turo. But it's ridiculous.

Oh, thanks for the information. Maybe that location closed. Turo is a pretty good option. I've used them a few times.

Do you think any long-term benefits will emerge from all the industry adaptations to the pandemic?

Short answer: yes. Travel companies have modified their rules, making them more consumer-friendly. I think some of those rule changes, but not all, will stick. Travel is much cleaner now, too. I'm working on a Navigator about the positive changes. I'll have details soon.

In August 2017 we traveled to Portland, Oregon, to observe the total solar eclipse. We made our room and flight reservations months in advance so as to not have last minute glitches. The hotel room was originally $200-300 a night, but later the chain must have gotten word of the eclipse, because they "cancelled" our reservation and forced us to rebook at $900 for the night before the eclipse. After having paid this exorbitant price, we decided that the room was too far from the path of totality, and so, for $50, we ended up sleeping in someone's back yard in our car the night before, near Madras. So, we didn't even stay in the $900/night room! The eclipse was spectacular, worth every dollar we spent. But the traffic driving back to Portland the next day was the worst we've ever been in!

Thanks for sharing!

Thanks for taking my question. I will be on leave next week but staying local, and am seeking suggest hikes within an easy drive from DC. Must be circuit hikes, as I will need to return to my car at the same spot. Hoping for trails that will take a few hours. Appreciate any suggestions!

I often run and hike the C&O Canal. You could eat  breakfast or lunch outside in Leesburg -- Buford's Biscuits is a new place that's getting some buzz -- and then take White's Ferry across to the trail. I also love the Bull Run-Occoquan Trail, which is more challenging. Neither are true circuits, but I typically go out and back. Chatters have favorites? 

correct it's really not a thing except in restaurents (proper sit downs and not a fast food chain) I agree your poster shouldn't have tipped -and it wouldn't have been expected but if the captain had done something specisl for your kids - let them steer the boat for a minute or two - then I'd have bunged him a fiver

Yes, I agree. If they go out of the way to make it a great experience, by all means, offer them a tip.

Would this be a good time to go to one of the few places welcoming American travelers? Are there amazing bargains to be had in Costa Rica, for example?

Yes, there are good deals but you have to weigh the risk to yourself, other travelers and residents of the destination you plan to visit.

Since I can't really travel (I won't get on an airplane until there's a vaccine), I'm considering a couple of days sort of locked up in a local top line hotel that will be able to provide room service. It's partly not worth it with most hotel amenities not available, but it is relaxing to just get out of the house and do nothing but read a book all day. Without breaking the bank, does anyone have any favorite places? I've started to look, but I'm not in a hurry.

Here is a random suggestion: Daddy O, a boutique property on Long Beach Island in Jersey. Other suggestions: the Jefferson in Richmond, Salamander Resort in Middleburg or the Inn at Perry Cabin in St. Michaels.

I note that the DMVs have detailed information on their web sites about EXACTLY what you need to bring to get a Real ID. When I went for mine in DC pre-pandemic, the line was short and processing quick because I followed the instructions. But a woman in front of me engaged in a lengthy and increasingly heated discussion when she was told that they had to actually see proof of her SS number; she didn't understand why they wouldn't just take her word for it.

I brought more than I needed when I went in for mine in Virginia. But yes, there were others in front of me who were not prepared, and they got turned away. 

We saw some (socially distanced) friends this past weekend, and the subject turned to Thanksgiving. The group discussed renting a house somewhere (Outer Banks, perhaps) as a group. I said that was fine, as long as everyone quarantined for two weeks prior. The parents in the group objected, saying that was impossible to do with children. I shouldn't go, right? Or...any ideas? Thoughts?

I don't know that we can answer that for you. I wouldn't do it, but I'm sure others would. Basically, they've told you that their kids are interacting with others, maybe at school or socially. And that would indicate that they likely are doing the same. How about you rent your own place near them and you bundle up and do an al fresco Thanksgiving around a fire pit? Or you find a restaurant there that has outdoor seating with heaters? 

I have substantial credits (thousands of dollars in value) for tickets which I purchased in late 2019 on both united and Delta. The credits are reaching their one-year expiry dates soon, and I can’t use them due to travel restrictions, quarantines etc, not to mention a medical situation. Do you know if - in light of COVID - the airlines are extending those one year deadlines to use credits from last year?

Yes, they are on a case-by-case basis. I would check with Delta and United. Explain your situation. If you don't get anywhere, please contact me and I'll do my best to help you.

If you've flown domestically recently, what was your experience like? And did you use a special mask (i.e. N95 or K95) or just a regular cloth one?

I wore a cloth mask, but a friend has been wearing a cloth mask and a plastic visor. Masks with valves are not permitted.

Hi! My extended family lives mostly in the deep south - across Florida, Alabama and Mississippi - but would like to get together somewhere we could spread out and congregate mostly outdoors. Can you think of somewhere in, say, Tennessee or maybe the Ozarks that will be open in November. Maybe a state or national park with cabins and not too far off the beaten path? Thanks!

As long as you don't mind crisp weather, maybe Asheville or Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge in the Great Smoky Mountains? 

We just came back from an awesome weekend at Deep Creek Lake (Oakland, MD). We did a takeout on Friday night from Uno Pizzeria and Grill. It was delicious. Parking lot was full. There is a nice grocery store near by. It is on Rt. 219 (Garrett Hwy) in Oakland MD. McHenry is 10 minutes away at Wisp Resort and has more restaurants. It is a better town and you can do Mountain Coaster. $10 pp. Go to Swallow Falls State Park. Has a nice fall once you enter the trail and go to the left. Leaves are changing so the next two weekend are nice. Would go back in summer.

Thank you for the tips!

Looks like our hour is up -- thanks for chatting everyone! Thor's Well visitor, drop us a line at to claim your prize. 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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