Talk about Travel

Mar 11, 2013

Talk about Travel is here to help at 2 p.m. Mondays.
Have a travel-related question, comment, suspicion, warning, gripe, sad tale or happy ending? The Post Travel section's editors and writers are at your service.

Welcome, travelers! What's on your itinerary? We're here to handle whatever travel-related question you can throw at us.

This week's section featured Melanie D.G. Kaplan's charming story about breaking up her daunting Texas road trip by stopping off at dance halls and two-stepping her heart out. So that inspires my question for you all today: Tell us about a road trip you took when you employed your best strategies for making it entertaining when it would have otherwise been, well, not so much? The source of our favorite answer will get a little prize.

Let's start!

Going to Paris this summer. We have one day where we can go to Versailles or take a chateaux/wine tasting tour. Have not been to France previously. I am leaning towards the chateaux as my husband and I have been to some other palaces in Europe . However, my teen daughter has never traveled abroad. Do you have an opinion? Does it matter that the furnishings are not original? Thanks.

I was bowled over by Versailles -- as well as Marie Antoinette's Petit Trianon and the hameau, the little country village she had built nearby where she and her lades-in-waiting played at being milkmaids. It's really fascinating, like a little doll town to wander through. I'd think your daughter would love it. The furnishings may not be original, but the palace is, and it's quite spectacular, as are the grounds. And it's big enough that even with hundreds of tourists wandering around, you don't feel crowded. As you see, I'm partial to Versailles, but then I've never taken one of the chateau tours, which I imagine are also lovely. Still, I think Versailles is a must-see. Chatters, what do you say?

Missed the conversation last week but wanted to share that I, too, had the same sentiment about the guided favela tours when I was in Brazil several years ago. However, when I travel to a new locale, I usually get a map and info for the public bus/transit and just hop on and go. If you are comfortable with the timetable and environs, you can even get off and explore a little on your own. It's a great way to orient yourself to a new city plus see areas that you may not otherwise. I did this on a line that went through a favela on my Brazilian trip and it was interesting not to mention inexpensive.

Thanks for the perspective.

Hi - I am looking for an area in the Poconos for a weekend getaway with my wife and young child. So far, Jim Thorpe and Stroudsburg seem like decent options. Looking for family friendly things (train rides, kids museums,etc) easy hikes, and nice towns to stroll through. Any other suggestions or must sees in the area?

I'll endorse Jim Thorpe with this story we ran a few years ago. Check it out.

So upset that my new work schedule no longer allows me to be part of this chat live but still hope you can help me. Chris Elliott's recent train travels through the Canadian Rockies has inspired me. Are there specific railway tours through Alaska and, if so, are there various groups that lead them or are they booked individually? If these tours exist (I tend to think they would), how would they compare to an Alaskan cruise to see this state? I am trying to plan a vacation of a lifetime, and Alaska ranks high on my bucket list. Thanks, in advance, for any assistance you can offer. I miss you guys live!

I'm glad you liked my blog posts from Canada. I can recommend the Gray Line of Alaska rail tours -- here are a few options. You can also combine a land tour with a cruise. The cruises don't really compare with the land tour, since you're seeing everything from the water when you're on a cruise ship. Those are areas that are inaccessible by road or rail, for the most part. I would try to do both of them if Alaska is on your bucket list.

I am planning on a family trip to Hawaii for next year. (Myself, wife, 2 children 12 & (9)The question is where to start. How should I decide what islands are preferable (I am thinking of 2 islands) and then which area of each island. Somehow planning this trip seems different than planning for other vacations. Any good resources you would recommend to get an overview and start the fun. Thanks

I find the tourism office's Web site and agents incredibly helpful. The site can help you decide which islands are best for your family's needs and interests. It can also assist with accommodations, activities, special events, itineraries, etc. If you feel overwhelmed, give the experts a call.

From my experience, I would point you toward Oahu (I love the North Shore, especially Matsumoto Shave Ice), Maui and the Big Island. All three have a variety of lodging options, from resorts to guesthouses, as well as endless diversions, such as snorkeling, volcano hikes, whale watching tours and more. Don't overplan though: Hawaii is a great place to go with the flow.

Other than the canal, what are the must-do things in Panama City? And any recommendations on where to eat?

This story from a couple of years ago might give you a few ideas for your visit, plus several suggestions for where to eat. Let's also, of course, ask the chatters for their input. Panama suggestions, people?

My husband and I are trying to plan a beach getaway for this summer that fits the following criteria: dog-friendly, no more than a 7-8 hour drive from DC, and not very crowded/touristy. We'd also love it if we could rent a small house (as opposed to a condo), but based on my limited research, the likelihood of finding a nice place under $1500 (or so) seems small. Any thoughts/words of wisdom? Thanks!

Perhaps Ocracoke, N.C. would fit the bill. Because you have to take a ferry to get there, it's not as densely populated as the rest of the Outer Banks, and prices are more reasonable. 

Can you explain what a chip and pin VISA is? My family is planning a trip to Europe this summer and I keep hearing about this. Is it necessary to get this type of credit card to travel easily in Europe?

Visa does a pretty good job of explaining chip and pin on its site. What it doesn't say, but should, is that the technology is long overdue here in the States, and that yes, you may have some trouble using your American card in a place like Europe. Check with your bank to see if it has a chip and pin option and if possible, get one before you leave.

Bank of America recently issued me a new Visa chip-and-signature card, which is a twist on the standard chip-and-pin. It will be interesting to see how that works in England this summer.

I am attending a wedding in Seattle this July and the lowest flight I can find from DC is $420. Yikes! It seems like a lot. I admit I have no idea what a decent flight should be. Do you recommend waiting?

Fares this summer are high. If you're flexible, you can take a wait-and-see attitude in the hopes of a sale. But for a wedding, I think you should buy now. I don't think $420 is out of the norm for a summer fare to Seattle, especially for nonstop flights. 

I know this is a very basic question, but I am a very unseasoned traveler. Going aboad for the first time -- can I take my iPhone? I probably wouldn't use it much to call out of the country but might make a few in-country calls and would like to check my e-mail and use the maps feature. How would that work? Will my charger plug in to the sockets in London and Paris? I'm thinking I'll need an adaptor?

Call you wireless carrier before you leave and ask about your options for an international plan. If you don't have one, your phone may have limited functionality or you may incur massive unexpected charges. Your recharger should work just fine, but you'll need an adapter for the 220V outlet, but not a transformer. It should cost less than $1 at Radio Shack.

I'd welcome your suggestions for a getaway that welcomes dogs. I've been to Savage Lodge--great place to stay--but would like to try somewhere else this time. Any thoughts?

I enjoyed staying at the Inn at Meander Plantation with my two furballs. The Inn at Warner Hall is lovely too. My husband and I had a nice time there, and since it has a few pet-friendly rooms, we intend to go back. Another option we've vetted (though not with dogs in tow): The Bartlett Pear Inn.

You can check sites such as and for more ideas.

Just a note that for all you film fans out there, the Sun Valley Film Festival starts this week!

Thanks -- looks like you can still get festival tix, too, although lodging looks like it would be tough/expensive at this point if somebody hasn't already made plans. (And last-minute airfare? Oof. Bing showing travel to SUN from DC area starting at $1200. That's a pricey trip for most any film buff, isn't it?)

For a chatter from last week looking into tour companies in SE Asia - I'd like to recommend Smiling Albino. I think the company is owned by 2 Canadian guys who have been living in Bangkok for a long time. I planned a private tour with them through multiple countries (though I think Cambodia and Myanmar were the best as far as guides) and they were really excellent. They have set group tours but if you're looking for something specific, they can tailor an itinerary to you. Our guides were great at getting us integrated into local activities. That region is really diverse and magical - enjoy yourselves.

Very helpful, thank you!

To keep road trips entertaining, my sister and I have a few little tricks... 1. Calmly say, "hey," out loud every time you see hay. This prompts the other person to say "what" while you sit silently and stare at the hay. Then they get it - laugh - and resolve to find hay next. 2. Sing John Jacob Jingle Himer Schmidt. Start out whispering and get louder and louder. Very entertaining. We once did it the whole way from Philly to NC - pausing the singing for potty breaks so people wouldn't think we were nuts.

I'm a longtime fan of road trip games like this, but I have to say, "hey what" might possibly be my new favorite. (I, too, sing JJJHS, and "100 Bottles of...") Although now that I think of it, this might make one -- or two -- positively batty.

Hi! My husband turns 50 in August and I'd like to take him and our 14-yr-old son somewhere different and fabulous. We only have max seven days and we love rugged beauty. What do you think of Iceland?Are there any must see tours or sights, and how many days would you recommend there? Also,isn't there an ice bar where we could toast the big day? Thanks!

Any reader who has ever responded to a question about Iceland has only said great things about it. So if that appeals, go! A week would be the perfect amount of time, because you could spend a few days in Reykjavik and then a few more exploring the country's Ring Road. You probably won't want to miss the Blue Lagoon. And, yes, there is an ice bar.

I have a good amount of AA miles, but not enough to really use. Based on my most recent AA flights I would now prefer Jet Blue or another more customer focused airline. Should I just forget about my miles or is there a good alternative use?

You can redeem Aadvantage miles for gift cards, magazines, etc., although you won't get a lot of bang for the buck. I recently gifted a bunch of miles to my daughter so she could get a ticket to New Orleans, but I had to pay  for the privilege -- right now they are offering a special deal through March 23 where you can share your miles at a discounted rate. You can also donate your miles to Miles for Kids or another charity. 

I'll be traveling to Europe (Amsterdam, Belgium, Bruges and Paris) for 10 days in a few weeks, while entering my 5th month of pregnancy. Aside from the indulgences I'll miss out on, I'm in need of a good, sturdy pair of walking shoes, that are nice enough to possibly double as pseudo-dressy, though the dressy part is not a deal breaker. Last time in Europe I ditched my Keen's for my casual Sketchers, however I was informed that a shoe with a latex sole would be best, especially for the cobblestones of Amsterdam. Any favorites among the Travel Crew or the chatters?

If you're in the DMV, I suggest you get to a Comfort One Shoes store. I've never regretted shoes I've bought there. Other chatters/Crew may have more specific brand suggestions.

I love my Clarks!

Driving to Key West from Miami in a few weeks. Any must do stops along the way? Any suggestions for a good lunch stop?

Oh, that's one of the most beautiful drives in North America, so take your time. If I were driving, I'd do lunch in Marathon. I love the Grouper Reuben at Keys Fisheries. If you're a shutterbug, you'll want to give yourself plenty of time to take pictures of the old railway bridges and the ocean. The two standout state parks are Bahia Honda in the lower Keys and Pennekamp State Park up in Key Largo, both worth a visit.

I recently won a week in a Park City, Utah, condo in a charity auction. I'm not at all into winter sports and/or cold weather, so would be making the trip sometime this summer or early fall (needs to be used by Nov. 1, anyway). But I'm not sure what to do in what's primarily a ski resort when there's no snow, and it seems to be too far away from the national parks--Arches, Bryce Canyon, etc--for day trips. Do you or any other chatters have any suggestions for the Park City area off-season?

Park City, aware that all people don't ski and that snow does not last forever, is following the four-season trend of other mountain resorts. For example, you can take a walking food tour and visit museums (Park City Museum, Alf Engen Ski Museum, the nearby Air Force Museum) and art galleries (the Park City Gallery Stroll is held every last Friday of the month). Or if you enjoy the outdoors sans white stuff, you can catch a ride up the chairlift at the trio of resorts (plus Olympic Park) and hike or bike down.

For side trips, Salt Lake City is about 33 miles away. You can easily fill a day at Temple Square, the new Natural History Museum of Utah, Hogle Zoo, the aquarium and the Foothill Cultural District. There are also some surprisingly good brewpubs, such as Epic Brewing Co. Yes, folks in Utah do drink.

Due to family issues, I've just learned I need to travel to Portland Oregon the last week in March. Any tips for finding the best price at short notice. I've checked SW and Kayak and the best rate I'm seeing is $640 round trip. Anywhere else I could look--the rate seems kind of high compared to past prices for the same trip. PS Love the chat and all the ideas.

Not sure what dates you need, but I am seeing fares as low as $200 each way on Southwest out of  BWI Marshall in late March.  You may have to be flexible re: travel dates in order to get the cheapest fares. 

My daughter and I are thinking about going to England for a week or so, probably in the Fall. We want something a little different, such as a hiking trip or a river barge tour. We have spent many years living abroad, miss it terribly, and don't want or need too much packaging. We'd love mingling entirely with the natives. Any ideas? I think I recall a WP travel report on an English river barge but cannot find it. Thanks!

Maybe this story about touring London by narrowboat is what you were thinking of. It sounds fascinating to me. And of course there are river barge tours you can take all over the country. What about a tour of the Lake District, following in Wordsworth's footsteps? I'd think that would be beautiful, too. Chatters, other thoughts?

Joe, have you done anything re finding good places to eat while traveling -- both in North America and on other continents -- where the menus are either considerably or totally vegetarian? Please provide hyperlinks!

So far, I've written only about vegetarian dining in New York City, although I have plans for a Philly piece coming up soon. Maybe at some point, when I have a little more veg-traveling experience under my belt, I'll do a round-up with advice. Although generally I'm not usually limiting myself to veg restaurants but am wanting to find good veg options elsewhere.

What are the Travel Crews thoughts on spending $400 per night at Hilton in Clearwater? This is will be our first time going as a family. I want convenience of beach, pools, etc. But that seems really high for a beach in Florida...thanks!

That seems a little high, even for high season, unless you're getting a larger room or suite with a kitchen. The time of year also comes into play. Spring break tends to be pricey in Florida, so the Hilton's rates may be in line with the rest of the market. I wouldn't advise you to cancel your room, but for future reference, you may be able to find a nice vacation rental for close to the same price. 

Going on Alaskan cruise for the first time this May and feeling totally overwhelmed by the options for excursions (cruise-run or otherwise). The stops are Seward, Juneau, Skagway, Icy Strait, Ketchikan, and Vancouver. What's are some of the most-dos for you and / or chatters?

It's been a while since my Alaska cruise, but excursions we enjoyed included the small boat fjord cruises (we did that a couple of times) and a wonderful salmon bake. Can't quite remember where we did what. Chatters? 

Look at BWI for cheaper flight. July will be higher. July August at best might come up for around $350 RT. the issue isn't with Seattle per se but will all cross ountry flights where you fly from the airline hubs o you are pulling people all over the east coast to this flight. Avoid Friday departures, avoid Sunday/ Monday returns and look to travel in nd out of different airports and use different airlines for your trip out nd trip back.

On your comment that $1200 is pricey for Sun Valley airfare, that's actually normal. I travel there several times a year, and $1200 is fair (unfortunate though). The problem is that Delta is the only commercial airline that flies into Sun Valley. Cheaper options are to fly to Boise or Salt Lake and drive the rest of the way.

Ah, gotcha. Although, my point was about the late date, too -- and yes, you could go to Salt Lake for $500, but then you have a 9-hour round trip drive! (And a rental car to pay for...)

Just took my Android overseas, but would assume most holds true for iPhones. I don't have an international plan, so I just kept it in airplane mode the whole time. For calls, I used WiFi to use Skype (also could use FaceTime this way). For maps, I cached google maps for all the areas I was traveling to BEFORE I left the US. Then just turned on the standalone GPS function. I wasn't able to search for anything on the maps, but it was invaluable to have a detailed map that showed my location.

I love that idea. We did that, too, when we were overseas, and it worked.

Has the travel section thought about participating in the travel expo that was at the convention center over the weekend? Rick Steves' talk was interesting but he came across as a bit of an egomaniac.

We've certainly thought about it, but we're pretty busy getting out the section every week!

Heading for Charlotte (2 days), Asheville (3 days-including Biltmore)) and Durham (2 days) , NC on April 21 for a driving trip. Visiting friends in Durham and Charlotte. Does this timeframe make sense? What are the "don't miss" sights in Charlotte and Durham? Should we stay in B&Bin Asheville or a hotel with a package? Want 3 or 4 star accommodations (can't afford 5 starts). Recommendations??

Must-sees in Charlotte include the Fourth Ward -- take a carriage tour -- the NASCAR Hall of Fame, the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art and/or the Mint Museum, the Levine Museum of the New South. Maybe Rosedale Plantation if you have time, or the Daniel Stowe Botanical Gardens. Haven't been to Durham, so we'll ask the chatters for recommendations there. Chime on in folks! And as to where to stay in Asheville, whether a B&B or hotel depends on what kind of accommodations you like, I would think. The Renaissance Asheville, a Marriott property, has pretty decent rates, starting at about $139.

I couldn't participate last week so here are some comments......(1). Small town on California coas-- look at the central coast near San Luis obispo, or north of SZf along CA 1 up to Mendocino area. (2). Cheaper beach travel....look for mid week stays. (3). Medication and the TSA...I have never had issues. I pack all my pills into one bottle that has a label. (4). Nashville places to eat...some options are on a website called nashvilleoriginals for locally owned places...this doesn't include meat and 3s.

Thanks for the answers -- your very own meat-and-three.

I'm going to Kenya this July/August. Several of the fares I have found are with Lufthansa through Khartoum. I'm not concerned about the quality of air service, but I know things are dicey in the Sudan. Is this airport ok to fly through? I'm a white female in my late-20s, would be flying alone and don't plan to leave the airport for the couple hours I'm there.

To date, the unrest has not affected the airport or targeted arriving planes, and Lufthansa (we hope!) would not risk its passengers' safety.  When changing planes, don't wander off. Go right to your next gate. And if you are worried about being solo, buddy up with another traveler and stick together in the terminals. 

If you are still concerned, choose another airline or connection. For example, Delta and KLM connect in Amsterdam; British Airways, in London; and Air France, in Paris.

Joe, you should ask for funds to travel to India to write about vegetarian cuisine. I eat meat, but in any India restaurant I always as for vegetarian dishes. It must be the ghee.

Yes, I love Indian food, partly because of all those vegetarian options of course!

As a kid on long road trips, we'd play "count the cows". It's exactly what it sounds like, everyone on the driver's side is one team, on the passenger's side is the other team. You count the cows you see, and the winning team is the one with the most. If you pass a cemetery, all your cows die. A couple of additional rules are that the driver can play but not as a single member of a team, and there's no double-counting cows- if your route involves driving down a long country road, then turning around that day and coming back, each team only gets to count those cows going, not coming back as well. (This rule proved important on our honeymoon on Hawaii's Big Island, which has a lot of cows and a lot of sightseeing where you drive somewhere, then turn around and come back the way you just came.) Some house rules, for the sake of fun with children, include bonuses for llamas, alpacas, and other rare farm animals, and my wife's Healing/Zombie rules: if you pass a hospital within one mile of all your cows dying (passing a cemetary), they get better and you keep your previous total; if you pass a church within one mile of all your cows dying, your cows rise from the dead.

Wow! I love it. Super creative. But I have to say, this game sounds complicated! Do you need a white board taped up to one of the windows to keep track -- counting and then crossing off the cows as you get to a Stephen-King-style pet cemetery? And the hospital and church twists -- that's fantastic.

For the chatter looking for comfortable shoes, I just walked all over Morocco, including the cobblestone streets in Marrakech, wearing Clarks. They were wonderful and at the end of the day, my feet felt great.

I know this isn't really what the previous poster asked, and I don't know whether it's still true, but if you find yourself in Strasbourg, France, look for the Mephisto store. Several years ago, I got amazing deals on a couple of pairs of shoes there. Mephisto's HQ is nearby in Sarrebourg, and it seemed like a fair number of discontinued shoe lines found their way to that shop in Strasbourg.

Consider a seven day cruise which will hit several islands.

Interesting alternative. Thanks!

For the chatter last week considering cycling down the Danube or the Rhone: I've cycled several thousand miles in Europe, but never either of these cycle routes. The Danube is quite popular and the signage is said to be good. Friends have told me the cycling is easy as long as you stay in the valley. There are good guides in English to the Danube cycle route put out by a company called Bikeline (4 volumes for 4 legs). Bikeline also publishes a guide to the Rhone from the source in or near Andermatt to Geneva. I don't know of guides for the stretch from Geneva to Lyon and from there to the Mediterranean. For information on the Swiss section see here. Signage in France can be iffy. The section from Lyon to the coast was (and may still be) pretty much along a D-route - i.e. with a fair amount of traffic. Getting your bike back to wherever by train is much more convenient in Germany (and I suspect in Austria) than in France. In short: The Rhone trip is likely to be more challenging in terms of logistics, terrain/profile and navigation than the Danube. Personally, the Danube trip isn't on my cycling bucket list, the Rhone (at least up to Lyon) is. Consider how much time you have and how far you want to cycle/day. We average around 50-60 km with lots of time to stop and take pictures. Stopping to look at the map can slow you down considerably. If you're going with an outfitter, a lot of the logistical problems will be solved for you.

Thanks so much for the info. Hope our two-wheeling chatter is reading!

If your iPhone has wifi, turn off the data function and use the wifi for internet browsing. As for phone calls, buy an inexpensive phone when you get there. They are so easy to find in London (and pretty much everywhere in the world except the US and North Korea, but don't get me started about our technological backwardness). And sorry, but Chris is wrong; your charger will not plug into the sockets in London; you will need a voltage transformer as well. Check out And Bon voyage!

I agree on the Wi-Fi advice -- that's a good tip. But I've used my iPhone all over Europe without a transformer, and it worked just fine. Here's a related thread on an Apple site. We'll have to agree to disagree on that.

Hello- I'm considering planning a trip to Cape Cod this summer. I've never been there and would love some input on which area/town to stay. We are two females in our mid-30s. Would like easy access (preferably walking distance) to bars, restaurants and shopping. Essentially, we're looking for the quintessential quaint Cape Cod town! Recommendations for specific places to stay would also be great - especially if they are walking distance to said town. Thanks for any input.

I'm a big fan of the Lower Cape towns of Wellfleet, Truro and Provincetown. You might like Wellfleet best: It's got some great restaurants (PB Boulangerie, now serving more than pastries, although the pastries are incredible), world-class summer theater (Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theater), beautifully peaceful ponds to swim in if you tire of the beach, the Audubon Sanctuary, and a cute little downtown. And you can hop on a bus to get to Truro (some of my favorite beaches) and Provincetown (so much art, nightlife, drag shows, more beaches).

Where to stay? Surf Side Cottages.

I am traveling to Italy this spring. My question is about getting there. We have tickets books, with a 90 minute lay over in Amsterdam - is that enough time? Are we going to have to go through some sort of passport control there since we'll be entering the Schengen Area? Thanks!

Amsterdam's Shiphol is a well-run airport, and while I've never connected there, whenever I've arrived or departed from the airport, lines have never been very long. I think you'll be fine. Yes, you will have to show your passport. 

Chase offers a number of chip and signature card options as well. I don't know why they refuse to issue chip and pin cards here.

Each island is different. I suggest you do not go to Honolulu / Oahu. Honolulu is just like any other major metropolis. Instead look at going to one of the other islands. Focus on one island. When you go look to stay at 2 different areas of the island.

We used to drive from Maine to NJ every Thanksgiving through the worst traffic on the East Coast. My brother, sister and I used to employ every possible car game ever invented, but we we got really bored and punchy we'd just read all the signs we saw, including the emergency call boxes. Once when we did the drive late at night and my sister was a newly licensed driver, I kept her awake by reading every single sign on the Mass Pike. I am not sure she appreciated it.

It sounds like you are sure that she didn't!

With al the cutbacks over the years at many offices, I use my points to get a Wall Street journal subscription, and after reading it leave it for public use. Some people (usually older, like me) actually appreciate it, having read it for years (Can't buy the Post with them). Or you could donate them to charities, either as the miles themselves or as cash equivalents in some cases. Or send a subscription to a school.

When my son was beginning his sophomore year in college, I drove with him from D.C. to Texas. This is a long 2.5 day journey and we really didn't have time for any stopovers or sightseeing. But I did check-out a book-on-tape from the library, "Guests of the Ayatollah" by Mark Bowden. It kept both of us entertained and riveted--I because I remembered the events and he because he's a student of history. It certainly made the miles fly by.

Yes, books on tape can be such a boon for a road trip!

In '95 I moved from LA to Boston, driving cross-country solo. I stayed on the outskirts of Oklahoma City one night, and the next day went to see the Murrah Building - it turned out to be the day before they imploded it - and it was quite moving and profoundly depressing. So as I headed east, I pulled off in Henryetta, OK, because I knew it was Troy Aikman's home town (UCLA girl here). Charming little town, did a little antiquing, and just before I headed back to I40, I stopped at a McDonald's to use the restroom (my rule for traveling solo!). Well, this McDonald's turned out to be a shrine to Troy! There were 6 huge display cases covering his career - pee wee, Pop Warner, high school, U of Oklahoma, UCLA and Dallas Cowboys. It cheered me immensely, and ever since then I've been on the lookout for local oddities like that.

What a charming surprise that must have been! Can I ask, though, why Mickey D's is your rule for solo-travel restroom breaks? Because you know they'll be clean? Safe? Both? Or something else?

My wife and I are spending 5 nights in Paris in late July, then we are in Beaune, Auxerre, and probably Amboise or Tours for two nights each. Then we return to Paris for our last 3 nights. How should we handle the car rental we'll need to make? Arrange to pick up and drop off the car in Paris, OR take a train to Beaune, pick up the car, and then either leave it in Amboise/Tours or drive it back to Paris? Whenever we've rented cars in Europe previously, we've always picked it up and dropped it off in a city like Vienna or Florence, but I'm not sure that's the best way to handle things this time. If it makes a difference, our French is mediocre (or worse); don't know if that would be a complicating factor in picking up the car, reviewing the contract, etc., in "the countryside".

I would think that picking up and dropping off in Paris would be the easiest thing, and give you complete freedom of movement. You would also avoid any potential language issues. That said, Beaune is pretty far from Paris, and Paris highway tolls can be steep, unless you take secondary roads, so it could be pricey to rent in Paris and keep the car the whole time. Still, I think that's the way I'd do it. Chatters, your thoughts?

My best friend from college and I are planning a girls' weekend, we're 25 and gainfully employed. She is in San Francisco, and I'm in Washington, DC, we would like to meet up somewhere midway-ish. We both like good food, culture (hikes, sights, etc.), and shopping, but we also want to be warm and relax by the pool. Got any tips?

Going soon? I vote for Austin!

Skip the Ice Bar - not worth the money. Spend the money on extra time at the Blue Lagoon!

I've never been to Hawaii, but always wanted to see it. Please don't tell me that the Big Island is so boring that you have to amuse yourself by counting cows along the way.

I think the cow-counting strategy should be reserved for long stretches of road that have very little but ... cows. Well, cows and cemeteries and hospitals and churches -- just to keep things interesting, of course.

My friend who hates traveling, beaches, mountains, museums, golfing. I want to go someplace within 200 miles, a weekend vacation. Do you have any suggestions of a place he may like?

Does your friend like cities? Richmond is a fun place, and it's close enough that, if he's really miserable, you can pack it in and head home. 

We did a flight-seeing trip in a small plane, I forget which city, maybe Ketchican. But it was so beautiful, and the pilot landed the seaplane on a lake so we could get out on the runners and experience it and take photos. Also did river rafting on the Chilkat river, which they refer to as a mile wide and an inch deep. It's actually maybe a foot deep, but it was amazing! Before signing up for the salmon bake, check what your ship has planned; our ship had several salmon bake events on board, so I didn't sign up for that excursion, even though I love salmon. We also went to see Mendenhall glacier--didn't feel the need to walk on it, just seeing it was amazing enough! Enjoy!

Thanks for the report!

A friend sent me this vegetarian dining-out link, although I can't vouch for it. Perhaps another chatter is more familiar with it: Happy Cow.

Yep, I've used it some. There's certainly a lot on there!

You can find Mephisto here in the states (I think at Comfort One or at Zappos). I'm partial to Aetrex. They got me around Hawaii in comfort and style, including hiking Waimea (sp?) Falls on the north shore of Oahu. And we got Matsumoto every day.

I have accommodations sorted out once I get there, but I'll be driving from western MD to Quebec City in June. Do you have any suggestions for a halfway point (likely upstate NY, bonus points if near Fort Ticondaroga) to break overnight? Also - any suggestions about what road to cross on (I see stuff on line about avoiding the interstate road crossings and driving a few miles over to a smaller area). We'll be traveling with a paid Nanny also who will be on this job for us while we are there for two weeks - anything you are aware of that would be a problem there? everyone has passports, all are American Citizens.

Catskill, N.Y., is almost exactly in the middle and is in the middle of some spectacular scenery. Burlington, Vt., is about an hour north of Ticondaroga.

When my husband and I drove across the border to get to Quebec, we just stayed on the interstate (I think we took I-89 from Burlington) and had no problems, at least going into Canada. Was much slower getting back into Vermont. Anyone else have advice on that portion?

Look to do it in late September or early October when color changes. You are too far for easy day trip from national parks. The only closer ones would be dinosaur NM and flaming gorge area. Moab is around 4 hrs one way. You can split yor stay at resort with a visit to the parks.

Traveling to London, I have used Travelex's chip & pin cards with great success. Travelex has temporarily discontinued the cards (something to do with drugdealers misuing them for money laundering - yeesh). Depending on when the traveler is going abroad, Travelex's cards may be available again. Worth checking out before you go. For the unitiated, these cards are like electronic travelers' checks, except you can use them in any ATM to get cash and in almost any shop/restaurant.

You shout your totals out loud as they accrue. Whether or not they're verifiable is really up to the honor system, but each team does end up politely policing the other. The driver doesn't play by themself both for safety and because they'd almost certainly miss some cows while paying attention to traffic. We played so that you couldn't physically obscure another player's eyes, but it was fair to make a big deal over landmarks if that meant the other team wasn't looking at an enormous herd...

I am currently in Europe, specifically Freiburg, Germany. I have a week-long break coming up in mid-May and I would like to travel. However, I am on a tight (poor college student) budget. Do you have any tips for specific places that might be cheap to travel to and stay in? Thanks!

This is a good time to visit Greece, which is actively seeking tourists to help it through its budget crisis. The island of Malta is also quite inexpensive and has therefore lately caught on as a bit of a tourist destination. Where else, chatters?

There's an app called viber that I have used to text with a friend when she was in canda, FYI.

I am planning a trip of three weeks in June to the Yosemite, Zion, Bryce and Grand Canyon national parks with some friends. We will hike a lot. Lodging in and near the parks seems to be quite expensive, though. What other options are there than camping to make such a trip affordable? We will rent a car.

The going wisdom is that if you stay about 30 miles or more from the park entrance, the rates go down. Look into budget properties a town or two away. Also book as early as possible. And consider KOAs, which are expanding beyond camping with cabins and lodges, and bed-and-breakfasts. The Bryce Trails B&B has rooms in June from $105, for example, and the Yosemite West/Mariposa KOA, 23 miles from the west entrance, has one-room cabins with a double bed and bunk bed for $75 a night.

First, look at your charger -- many (most?) chargers for modern portable electronic devices have voltage conversion built in. Second, some hotels in London have American sockets in the rooms, but you should still get an adapter in case they don't, or in case you may need to charge away from the hotel.

Do you have any suggestions for a tour company that covers and/or specializes in tours to Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam? I'm in my 20's and may be travelling alone. I'm also not a "party-er", so I'd like to avoid tour companies that cater to that kind of crowd.Thanks!

I'd say you should start by poking around the website of the USTOA. But maybe some chatters who fit your demographic have done this research already and can weigh in?

Punchbug with kids was so much more fun....

Ouch! My arm smarts at the memory.

Are there any places in NC Otter Banks comparable to Ocean City MD?

Not really. Ocean City is more densely populated than the Outer Banks, it has a larger year-round population and it appeals to those who like some nightlife along with their beach time. Kitty Hawk/Kill Devil Hills might be the closest comparison, although, again, not really similar.  

Hello! Thank you for taking questions: We are going to NYC over Labor Day to meet a relative's new baby. We are taking our two children (2 and 4) with us. What are some must do's for the youngest set while we are there? Thank you!!!

The New York City tourism folks definitely have you covered on kid-friendly activities. Who has a favorite to recommend?

We traveled a bit when I was a kid, but not so much... But when we drove with the kids for the first time from Atlanta to Orlando, I had to fight a bit with my husband about getting a DVD player for the car. The kids were 18 mos and 4. And, I said: it's different than when we were kids - they are strapped into their carseats, they can't lay down in the back and take a nap, or get up and do whatever...they are stuck there. So he 'gave in.' It *is* different than when I was a kid and we had free reign in the back seat. We have taken the kids on lots of car trips, and it is great to have the DVD player - which we only use if we're goign for a while.

Go to Malta! A friend is there at the moment and is posting the most amazing pictures on Facebook.

We did not want to drive out of Paris, so trained to Rouen, had a very quick look around and picked up the car there. I think that's a different direction from where the chatter is headed, but it worked well for our purposes--can he work out something similar?

Type up a sheet with the names of all the states in alphabetical order, + Canadian provinces, and space for other foreign nations. Tally how many out-of-state plates the kids spot (person who spots it first gets the tally).

An oldie-but-goodie.

Lovely park for stopping. But watch out for barracudas in the water. I speak from experience, although no harm was done, just a good scare!

The Azores. Cheaper than mainland Portugal.

We are heading to Cyprus this summer, for about a week (no kids!). I know the issue of Northern Cyprus is sensitive...and everything I have read/heard recommends visiting there as well. How do we travel to/around that area? Some rental car agencies don't allow you to take the car into the occupied territories. How do we find an agency (or something else!) that will allow it? It seems there is a lot to see...any don't miss recommendations?

You are allowed to drive from the south to the north in a rental, with the appropriate insurance. Unfortunately, you just have to call around to find a car rental company that will allow the border crossing. Try a travel agent or the tourism office, or hit up the major players, such as Budget and Avis. Once at the airport, you can also check with the rental companies on-site. As a last resort, you can hire a private driver.

If you don't answer a question during the chat, do you ever answer it some other way? I see that a lot of the questions were in fact posted not during the chat hours....I don't want to miss an answer, because I sure haven't been having much luck figuring this out on my own!

We answer as many questions as we have time for -- going for the ones for which we know we have good answers first, then working on the others. I think you have noticed that there are different time stamps on the questions -- that reflects when the question was first submitted to us (some people submit far in advance to make sure they get something in), and our answer's time reflects when we posted our answer to it. Unless I'm going crazy, I believe that the time stamp used to reflect when we POSTED the question, but that seems to have changed.

How do Belize and Costa Rica compare for vacation? We love active outdoor vacations in beautiful settings. Any suggestions either way? And is May a good month down there?

Costa Rica is a bit more developed, and it has a more established tourism infrastructure. Belize is poorer, but it has  some very nice less-developed islands -- absolutely love Caye Caulker. I've visited both and would be hard-pressed to pick one over the other. May, especially early May, should be fine. 

hi, that's a mighty strange routing via Khartoum! Swiss flies via Zuerich, Ethiopian via Addis Ababa....maybe it's cheap to get some traffic on the Khartoum route. But you're right, Andrea, if it was not safe, LH would not fly there.

I thought it was strange as well, and I could not find it when I did  a quick airfare search to Kenya. Most connections seem to be in Europe.

I went to Versailles last summer with my daughter and cannot recommend it more! On weekends in the summer they pipe period music over hidden speakers in the gardens which is lovely. Even better, for short periods of time on the weekends (check the website out in advance) they turn on some of the fountains. So if it's a nice weekend day in the summer, go! Just get there early since the security line can be long (while they accept the Paris Museum Pass, they don't have an express entry line for pass holders.) Inside can get really crowded so consider skipping it altogether in favor of the gardens. And you can bring a picnic lunch! And you can rent paddle boats! GO!

My sentiments precisely!

On September 11, I was scheduled to fly from DC to Oklahoma, but obviously my plans were scuttled. Four days later, I was rerouted through several cities and made it all the way to Memphis before learning that our flight was cancelled because there was no flight crew, and there'd be a five hour layover before the next one. Fine, I said - I've always wanted to see Graceland! I hopped in a cab, paid my respects to the Kin, and returned to the airport to find that our second flight had also been cancelled and we'd be in Memphis overnight. I'd never been to the city before and didn't know much about it, but thanks to some local recommendations I spent a fine evening wandering around on Beale St and having the best ribs of my life. I was 23 and had never traveled solo before that day, but it installed in me a love for traveling alone that exists to this day. Since them, I've taken solo excursions to Wales, the south of France, all over Germany and Austria, and Mexico. (In fact, I'm planning my next solo trip right now!)

Love this!

It depends if your phone is unlocked, but you can often buy a SIM card in the country you're visiting and get data+voice for a low price. That way your phone isn't crippled and you have a way to call a restaurant, look something up on Google, leave a number for a hotel to call you in-country, etc. I and my family have done this successfully in both Europe and Asia.

So true.  I wrote about the different international calling options a few years ago; here are my findings.

We played "Filling the ship". Someone gives a letter, and then you take turns "filling the ship" with items starting with that letter. "I'm filling the ship with apples." "I'm filling the ship with aardvarks." "I'm filling the ship with anchors." As we got older, it actually became more fun. "I'm filling the ship with angst..." We also could do this by topic... say, countries starting with A. (The last person to get one "wins" that letter) I stayed in the Beach Walk...Great location, cute house. Would rent it again!

A couple other options closer to Germany (since chatter only has a week) are Czech Republic and the Balkans. We spent time in both Czech Rep and Croatia and enjoyed both immensely. Outside the main tourist centers like Prague and Dubrovnik prices were quite reasonable (and even in those places, there were bargains to be had, just need to work a bit harder). We passed through Slovenia by train and it was beautiful- on our wish list if we ever get back.

Is there any place in Myrtle Beach compable to Ocean City? We found North Myrtle Beach/Cherry Hill too slow.

Yes, head south to Myrtle Beach proper. It's as busy as Ocean City, but with more high-rises and a Southern flavor. 

The first, and only (so far) time we went to Hawaii, we went to Oahu and the Big Island. Oahu is not just Waikiki. There is Pearl Harbor, U.S.S. Missouri, Diamond Head, Haunauma Bay (snorkeling)and of course the beaches. we stayed on Waikiki Beach and spent one day driving the coast (to the North Shore) and stopping along the way and swimming in some of the most beautiful and deserted beaches. Really fun thing to do. The Big Island was a completely diffeent experience. With all the black lava rock, it felt as though we were on a different planet. We stayed in one of the resorts betweent Kona and Hilo and drove to both towns. We also went to the volcano area. My kids loved both islands. We used classic vacations to book some of our trip. I think using them resulted in us getting upgraded to the concierge level at the fairmont resort on the Big Island!!! What an enjoyable experience! Also we never had to wait when we went to pick up our rental cars. We can't wait to get back to Hawaii and visit Maui. Hawaii was one of our best vacations. The place is so beautiful, The people are so nice and laid back, adn the food is so good You will have fun whereever you decide to go, but I think your kids will enjou Oahu.

Just read the Post's article about how sequestration is delaying Yellowstone's snow plowing schedule. Any predictions as to whether this might be a good summer to go (maybe a lot of tourists are scared off) vs. not going because everything could be closed. Thanks.

We try not to make predictions, but I do quasi-predict that Americans will still flock to the national parks this summer. It's our patriotic duty! (And it's not like sequestration is a virus a la Yosemite's Curry Village. If it were, then we'd see the numbers drop.)

S0, book ahead, and if you have the park to yourself, lucky you!

"Are we there yet? Are we there yet?"

Guess what? We're there! We've reached the end of our chatting road trip. Thanks for the questions today -- hope you found the answers helpful. (Or at least entertaining.)

Now, for our prizewinner: It's pretty obvious, isn't it? It's the chatter who told us about the counting-cows game, and all its rules and subrules. Send your mailing info to Becky at, and we'll get you a prize. (We'll try to make it fittingly fun.)

Until next time, happy travels!

In This Chat
Joe Yonan
Joe Yonan is the Travel editor.
Zofia Smardz
Zofia Smardz is the deputy editor of Travel.
Andrea Sachs
Andrea Sachs is a staff writer for Travel.
Becky Krystal
Becky Krystal is Travel's editorial aide.
Christopher Elliott
Christopher Elliott writes The Navigator column, clearing the way through the fog of consumer travel issues. 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.
Recent Chats
  • Next: