Talk about Travel: The Europe issue

Mar 19, 2012

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.

Good Monday afternoon to all you fellow travelers. Hope you had a chance to spend some time with our special Europe section this weekend, which took us to Transylvania, St. Petersburg, Germany's Mosel Valley and Tallinn. We've gotten some really nice feedback on that piece about Tallinn, Estonia's capital. Can't say I'd heard much about it before, but I'm definitely intrigued now. What other European destinations that you've been to deserve more attention? Best answer gets the prize. Let's get going!


Looking in detail at a price breakout from a current air ticket (IAD-FRA-DTW) I notice a "price" of $246 for the ticket, with the remainder in fees and charges, including a $476 fuel surcharge. The surcharge is twice the price, really? Why is this not just included in the price? I know there are all kinds of accounting tricks that airlines indulge in to avoid paying taxes but this seems a bit insulting even. Does the airline really expect fuel costs to go down? (which is what "surcharge" tends to imply).

Under new DOT rules, the price of your ticket must include all mandatory fees and surcharges. So if you were quoted a price that didn't include these surcharges, you should let someone know. But to answer your question -- yes, there's a little bit of funny math going on, but those fuel surcharges sound correct. 

A few months ago, the Post Travel section ran an article concerning a hotel in downtown Richmond. Please refresh my memory with its name and particulars. Thanks.

It was more than a few months ago, but are you referring to this piece on the Commonwealth Park Suites?

We also had this piece on the Berkeley Hotel.

Please help! My wedding anniversary and milestone birthday are both this summer. I'd like to go somewhere warm for 3-4 nights in June or July for under $500 R/T airfare (from DC). We've done the Bahamas, Puerto Rico, Cozumel, San Francisco/Napa, Hawaii... Would prefer not to go somewhere in the Caribbean. Doesn't have to be tropical as long as it's warm! I've considered going back to San Fran but tickets are more than double what they were last year. Montreal was also on my list. Any other ideas would be appreciated!

How about San Diego? You should be able to score fares under $500 if you start looking now and buy when a sale hits (Southwest flies nonstop from BWI). 

I'm planning a week's family vacation for my husband, myself and 3 children (15,17, and 22) and thinking about seeing Quebec City this summer. What else should we do while we are there? Are there other cities/attractions that are nearby that are a "must-see?"

Oh, you're going to love it. I was there last summer and could just go on and on... Nearby you should check out Montmorency Falls and the Ile d'Orleans. I didn't get there, but Ste-Anne-de-Beaupré sounds interesting too.

How can I get United to answer its phone or respond to e-mails about travel vouchers awarded for bumped flights? I have tried to enter the codes as instructed online, but they were not accepted. I have stayed on the phone for more than an hour several times, and have sent an e-mail that got an automated response and nothing else. Nothing. I am ready to cancel my United credit card and go back to American!

Try one of these United Airlines executive contacts, and if that doesn't work, send me an email. I'll do my best to help.

Hey Guys! My wife and daughter (now 1 month, when we vacation she'll be 8-9 months) are going to San Francisco to see family this fall (November ish). We'd like to go to one other warm weather spot for 3-4 days just the three of us (direct flight from SF). We'd like a beach, but not necessary if there is a nice resort. We thought about Palm Springs or Scottsdale, but those rates seem pretty high. Hawaii is too far...does that just leave San Diego or LA area? Thanks!

Fares may be pricey, but there are also nonstops from SFO to Santa Barbara, which is a nice town. Or you could fly into Los Angeles, rent a car and head to Laguna Beach. I am partial to San Diego, having lived there for many years. 

Is it possible to visit Percheron stables in Le Perche parc ? What else is there to do in this regional parc?

I suggest you browse the park's web site. Not sure what exactly you're looking to do with the horses, but there do appear to be plenty of equine attractions (select "Percheron horse" from the drop-down menu under "Type").

Are there companies specializing in either tours for senior citizens or small groups? We would like to go to Europe--never been--but don't want to spend time in gift shops or listen to people on their cell.. We're healthy and typically like to spend as much of the day as possible seeing the sights or touring museums with only a light lunch break. The cost isn't a problem.

You sound like a perfect candidate for Road Scholar (formerly known as Elderhostel). 

Hi! Love the chats! Just wanted to ask a quick question about checked bags from Dulles to Fiumicino-Rome with a connection in Charles de Gaulle-Paris. Will the checked bag arrive in Rome, or will I need to claim it in Paris and go through customs/check it again after landing at CDG? I've had to do this from Dulles to a non-EU country (with connection in Vienna), but wasn't sure if it was different from the States to an EU country onto another EU country (hope that made sense!). Also, will the return flight be the same (meaning no need to claim a bag and check it again the CDG layover)? It's been a while since I've been in an EU country, so just wanted to make sure there were no changes recently. I'll be flying Air France/Alitalia this week. Thanks!

You should be able to check your luggage all the way through unless you are switching flights and your itinerary isn't linked. How do you know if your itinerary is linked? You will have the same reservation number, or record locator, for all of your flights. But you're always better off calling your airline or travel agent to double check.

Travel gurus, posting early because I'll be in meeting all day Monday. I'd like to take our family of four to Tuscany (primarily Florence and surrounding area) in the fall. Airfares now are at least $1200-1300 per person. Is that the best I can expect, or should I wait for lower rates? Thanks!

It is expensive to fly to Italy from the Washington area. It may go lower than $1,200, especially for late fall travel, and if you multiply even $100 savings per ticket by four, it adds up. But you can save a boatload of money by flying out of New York and into Rome (instead of Florence) on connecting flights - I'm seeing fares of less than $800 round trip in fall on Aer Lingus and Finnair. 

When I visited the USSR (yes, the USSR) in 1985 I visited Leningrad (yes, Leningrad) and Moscow, but also Kiev and Odessa, which I loved, loved, loved. Have you covered lately and I missed?

No, alas, we haven't covered Ukraine recently, but it's on our list, I promise! I agree that it needs more attention. :-)

To the couple who was planning on spending two years in Europe, the first on a visa, the second without--legally, you cannot stay in the Schengen zone for more than 90 days at a time, and only 3 months out of 6 at a time, so changing countries regularly doesn't count at all, not even if you leave the zone and go back in. Now, many local authorities don't particularly care if you don't draw their attention to it, and in my experience, most French and German and Italian passport controllers either don't notice or don't care (not, er, that I've done anything of the sort.....). However, it is a risk, as it IS illegal, and all you need is one stern passport controller to bust you (don't even think about setting foot near Heathrow or the UK with an expired visa, not even on your return flight--they mean business). In a best case scenario, you would be scolded and sent packing on the next flight back, in the worst, you face stiff 5-figure fines and potentially even a ban on traveling to the EU for the next 10 years.

Yes, this was the kind of info I'd posted a link to for the chatter last week. Not being a lawyer and such, I was hesitant to interpret, but thanks for following up.

We will be in Vegas for two nights with two kids - 16 & 11 in early June on our way to and from Bryce & Zion. We will do Hoover Dam (both tours?) & a couple of roller coasters ( 16 yr old only), but would like other ideas on where to stay, kid friendly, not too expensive shows, activities,etc. Is the new Mob Museum (thanks for your article!) appropriate for them? Many thanks for your input and advice.

I would chose a themed hotel that a kid would like, such as Treasure Island, Luxor or New York New York. There are so many non-gambling sights (Vegas went through a family-friendy phase, and many of the attractions still stand). For example: the lion habitat at MGM, a gondola ride at Venetian, the roller coaster at New York New York, the secret garden and dolphin habitat at Mirage,  the Pinball Hall of Fame on East Tropicana and, yes, the Mob Museum. For shows, I would go to the  Tix4Tonight outlet on the Strip and see what they're offering. Magic is always a safe bet. I saw David Copperfield for half-price during my last visit to Vegas.

For natural attractions, head a few miles out of town to Red Rock Canyon. I also recommend Springs Preserve, which has bike trails, animal exhibits, gardens and no slots!

I took a day trip to Tallinn from Helsinki several years ago when I took a trip to Scandinavia. It was a regular ferry service so it took a while to get back and forth which made for a long day. But it was enough time to wander around the old town and see the main sights there. I think they also had hydrofoil ferries which made the trip much more quickly.

Yes, I think getting to Tallinn from Helsinki is fairly typical.

I have always wanted to go skiing in Europe at least just once. But I have no idea how to decide when and where to go. Any suggestions on where to start researching? How to decide the best location and type of skiing? and what about when to go? I like warm spring skiing. Is that such a thing in Europe? Does anyone out there have any insight and advice into planning a European ski vacation?

There are tour companies that specialize in putting together European ski vacations, and they can give you you some insight. Try Ski Europe or Alpine Adventures. Sometimes you can get better deals by booking through a tour operator, but always check against the components booked separately. Local ski clubs also often arrange trips to Europe, which can be a great way to travel with like-minded people. Go to DC Ski for a list of clubs. And I can wholeheartedly recommend the Italian Dolomites, specifically the Val Gardena area -- nice skiing, lovely food, friendly people, delicious grappa. 

And here's a good read on Austria's Zillertal by our own Steve Hendrix.

If you are in Canada or have access to Vancouver, Toronto or Montreal, you might be interested in Senior Tours Canada. They have escorted tours everywhere.

I disagree on San Diego. 5 hours of flying each way plus jet lag for a 3-4 night vacation is not fun. I'd suggest Savannah and Tybee Island, both very nice that time of year (really--not awful until August)

I travel to San Diego fairly frequently for four-night trips, and I'm not bothered by the flight or the jet lag. And I'm no kid. As long as you can travel nonstop and you don't do the red-eye, it's not that bad. But Savannah and Tybee Island are also nice. 

We are headed to Montreal in June for a week for a college visit to McGill. Does anyone have advice for a "long-term" stay hotel in the city so we can take advantage of the metro and bus system to get around? My daughter is getting ready for college but my son is only 7 so a suite hotel where we have a mini-kitchen and separate bedroom works best for us. Thanks!

Check out these results from the Montreal tourism site.

Anyone have a recommendation?

Someone last week was looking for a place to stay near Fallingwater. It'd be worth looking into whether the Summit Inn Resort will be open by the time you go (it is closed during the winter and opens sometime in April). It's up on a mountain on Route 40 outside Uniontown. The main building is a historic property, and individual night stays are available as well as longer sojourns. Admittedly I have not been there in years, but if I were headed up that way it would still be my first choice. It's convenient to Ohiopyle and Fallingwater, among lots of other things (Laurel Caverns, for one).

Do European hotels and cruises, despite offering discounts, expect to see fewer American guests this summer and fall with airlines offering fewer seats and transatlantic R/T economy fares well exceeding $1,000? Is domestic travel Americans' best alternative?

You're right, fares are high, but no one knows what will happen in the future. Fuel prices could drop, and fares could go down -- it's really anyone's guess. What's making Europe a pretty decent bargain right now is the weak Euro, and if that continues, then the high transatlantic fares will be offset by the relatively low cost of a European vacation. If you don't want to play that game, then yes -- stay statside, where the prices are a little more predictable.

My husband and I are going to Paris for 3 weeks in May. We are renting an apartment from We had a great experience with them the last time we went. My question is did the crackdown on short term rentals there ever take place? We have already paid for the apt.

When was the last time you were there? I see reports of a crackdown starting in summer of 2010, but it seemed to be moving slowly. Also, if you've rented your apartment recently, I can't imagine that something will change by May. I would think that the companies that continue to rent are aware of the law and have found a way to live within its restrictins.

Chatters, anybody with more info on this?

My favorite place in Europe is the Plitvice Lakes area in Croatia. In the national park, there are forests, hills, waterfalls, lakes, boardwalks through it all, wild boars and other creatures, and best of all, burbling fairytale streams. Nearby is a small town called Slunj, which is Plitvice in miniature and has a lovely park, a swimmable river, and Napoleonic ruins. The hotels at the national park are not great, but there are some nice B & B spots in Slunj. The last time we were at Plitvice we didn't encounter any Americans (lots of Italians & Japanese), so I think it's under-known in the US. Fly into Zagreb and drive south from there. You can also drive from the Adriatic coast, but the traffic can be beastly going east.

Great music scene (actually got to see a mildly-famous U.S. soul band across the street from the Cavern Club), friendly people, lots of cool museums, very reasonably priced. Even has a brewery tour and a yellow submarine at the airport! I by far preferred it to Dublin. It may also be too overplayed now, but Belfast is pretty darn cool, too. Taking a black cab tour was pretty powerful.

Hey everyone, last week someone asked about a hotel in Brussels, near the main train station, and close to the Metro. Last summer we stayed at the Sofitel Le Louise. It was a 10 minute cab ride from Central Station (about 15 euros), and about a 3 minute walk to the closest subway station. We found the room through, and paid less than $200 a night.

Thanks for circling back.

I am planning a trip to Prague, Budapest, and Lvov (Lviv), Ukraine in Sept. I understand that it is challenging to cross the border into Ukraine and to navigate to a hotel and to side trip to the Carpathian Mountains. I did identify a company, Liviv Ecotours, but they are closing up for the season after a major sports event in Lviv in June. Any advice as to safety issues travelling into Western Ukraine, reputable tour companies (not needed for Prague or Budapest) in Lviv, or safe places to stay. Lviv appears to be off the beaten path travel wise so it is hard to find resources. Thank you!

Lviv is definitely on my bucket list -- my father came from that region and I need to take a roots trip there. The city is definitely worth a visit, with a lovely old historic center. If you want a trip organized for you, you might want to check in with a travel agent specializing in Eastern Europe/Ukraine/Russia. Check with ASTA, the American Society of Travel Agents, for a specialist in the region. However, I do think that you may be imagining the problems as greater than they are. You can take the train from either Prague or Budapest, or drive in if you prefer. Visas are no longer required for visiting Ukraine if you're going for less than 90 days, so there's really little difficulty getting into the country. Here's the relevant page on the State Department Web site. Ukraine is generally safe; the major safety issue is street crime, so it's important, as in so many countries, to keep your wits about you.

You can also check the Ukrainian Embassy Web site, which offers quite a bit of information, including links to the tourism bureaus of various regions. And check this Ukraine Web site for tips.

And let's as always reach out to our chatters for their advice. Anybody been to Lviv?

I would like some help in planning a7 day trip starting in Boston and ending at Lake George, NY. We would like to see the best sites in Vermont, New Hampshire and even Maine if possible. We are from the Seattle area so this is all new to us. We are going in mid-June. Any suggestions would help. Thanks.

Maybe go up to Portland, Maine, and then across to Conway, N.H. and Stowe, Vt. before heading to Lake George. That's only nine hours or so of driving total, and you'll see a lot. Any other ideas, chatters? 

We stayed at the Embassy Suites last time we were there. I believe it used to be a residential building because our room was basically like an apartment with a full kitchen (plus fireplace, giant bathtub, etc). Conveniently located, plus the Embassy Suites perks of breakfast and cocktail hour.

for Montreal: i think there are accommodations through the University at Berri metro stop. i think cheapest rates are on for Montreal and NYC.

Good morning. Yesterday we had a death in the family and I arranged tickets for travel tonight to Europe. Near the end of the online arrangements, I was alerted to a TSA site that says that if tickets are not purchased more than 72 hours in advance, travel can be denied (and money lost). I had to check the box saying that I understood this possibility, so I went to the site and read the whole thing, which just seemed to contradict itself. Have you ever heard of anyone being denied travel based on this rule? Thanks.

I haven't had a case yet. In fact, I'm a little embarrassed to say I haven't heard of the 72-hour rule. Could you send me an email with the particulars of your flight? I'd like to investigate.

Would you say that $900ish is a good price for a non-stop summer flight to Honolulu from Dulles?

That seems about right for now, but you might stumble upon a sale. Hawaii often goes on sale when the season slows down.

I would suggest going up to Arcadia National Park and then work your way up to Burlington, VT then down to Lake George.

I had a great time in Scandinavia. Not sure if that qualifies as deserving more attention or not. Copenhagen is a nicely sized city. Easy to get around on foot and public transport. And some good attractions that are a short train ride away including Fredericksborg Castle and Roskilde. You can also quickly reach southern Sweden by train. I spent a week based in Malmo doing short day trips around southwest Sweden. Lots of cool little towns. Took the ferry from Stockholm to Turku, Finland which is a nice ride. The highspeed train from there to Helsinki is a fairly short ride too.... Just thinking about it all makes me want to go back!

Great story about Talinn. I've always been interested in it because when I was in high school (cold war era), the map in our history book had a blank spot there. Just a little black circle with no color inside and no identification whatsoever! I found it intriguing and was so curious about who lived in this apparent "no man's land."


Last week, someone asked about recommendations for lodging in SW Virginia. In addition to your suggestions in Abingdon, they should look at, which has a "Plan a Trip" link to find food, music, trails, etc. Using that website, I planned a hiking/bluegrass weekend based in Galax, VA and stayed at the Chestnut Creek cabins - which I highly recommend.

Thanks for this. We had a story on Heartwood around the time that it opened.

My wife and I would like to go see the Cherry Blossoms this year...and take some pictures, esepcially with our newborn (1 month). What do you recommend by way of travel? We'll have our stroller/car seat/baby Metro the best way? Which stop? Drive to Arlington and catch a cab? Thanks!

This is more of a question for our locally oriented folks -- check out this blog post from our friends over at the Going Out Guide. There's more info over at our Cherry Blossom page.

Personally, I'd opt for the cab, especially if you're going on the weekend. You've got a lot to carry. Please remember not to pose your baby on one of the trees! Last weekend it was shocking to see people climbing all over the trees, breaking off branches, etc.  Grrrr!

I'll be traveling to Copenhagen next month and staying for 5 days. Are there any day trips that are a must?

Yes, you must see Kronborg Castle -- otherwise known as Hamlet Castle, because it's supposedly where Shakespeare set the play -- and the town of Elsinore. Also Fredensborg Castle, the queen's summer residence, and the 17th-century Frederiksborg Castle. These are all to the north of Copenhagen. You could also take the ferry over to Sweden and see Helsingborg and Malmo -- that way you get two countries! And there are some lovely islands nearby -- Funen, the birthplace of Hans Christian Andersen -- and Lollan and Falster. A trip to the historic  city of Aarhus is always popular, too, but that's three hours away by car, so depends how far you want to go. In any case, there are definitely choices. But don't miss out on Copenhagen itself -- it's lovely and there's lots to see and do -- the Little Mermaid statue , Rosenborg Castle, the Tivoli Gardens.  Read all about it here. And chatters, please add your two cents.

If you like quirky, see the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, Maine. For folk art, antiques, quilts, historic buildings, and a former Lake Champlain steamer, be sure to visit the Shelburne Museum.

Our beloved family dog is a Transylvanian Hound. Thanks for the great article! I'd like to pack up and go rightNOW.

Be sure to take pooch with you, so he can visit the place of his origins! ;-)

Check status of lion habitat when we were there in December there was something about it closing and the MGM being renovated. Check ahead on Hoover tours and we couldn't get in because of the crowds.

Thanks for the tips!

I really enjoyed Sunday's article on wine-tasting along the Mosel River. It brought back memories of a trip I made there, alone, over a Labor Day weekend about 15 years ago. I stayed in a charming village, Bernkastel, which was having its annual wine fest that weekend. For a pittance, you bought a wine glass suspended by a leather cord; you hung the glass around your neck, then went from booth to booth, where they filled the glass, for free, innumerable times. As you can expect, people got very merry. I'll never forget finally falling asleep that night to the sound of an oom-pah band belting out the Village People's "YMCA"--in German, except for the title phrase--on the street right below my hotel window. Great memories.

I really love the image of people going around with wine glasses hanging from their necks.

The Canary Islands. Spanish Culture at bargain prices! Their off-season is actually summer as they're mostly popular with snowbirds. The upside of this is that I got an ocean view studio for the first week of July in Tenerife for a grand total of $321! Best bet is to fly into Madrid and take a separate flight to the can get them for about $100 each way from there.

I dont know if you have set your plans yet but for the nights in Vegas...try to avoid Friday and Saturday night stays. You can find better deals for other nights. Friday and Saturday night stays are 2-3 times as much or more in price. I hope you are doing more than just Zion and Bryce. I would also explore UT 12, Page, and North rim of the Grand Canyon. There area a few other state parks/national monuments around the area. For Zion...unless you are staying in the park you need to take a shuttle into the park. Try to stay at a hotel that is near the bus shuttle system. There is one bus from the hotels and shops to the visitor center, then another bus from the visitor center into the park. Parking can be very difficult.

Expert advice! Thanks.

My sister and I are considering a trip to Costa Rica to see the wildlife (especially primates), and do some kayaking, ziplining, adventure activities. How long do you think is a good amount of time to go for, and is it easy enough to arrange these type of excursions on your own, or should we book a tour (or a couple of arranged one or two day tours)? Also, are there any other countries near Costa Rica that would be worth venturing to for a couple days? We like city life too (art, music) but the primary trip focus will be outdoors activities.

I would suggest a week or so; this way you can squeeze in the beach and the rainforest.  For planning, it all depends on your level of comfort --whether you are an advance planner or a wing-it type.

I would lock down a beach resort (try something on Nicoya Peninsula), then plan you water activities once there. You will find tons of snorkel, kayak and diving operators in town and at the hotels.

For the rainforest portion, many eco-lodges, such as Selva Verda, organize activities for its guests, such as hikes, bird watching, zip lining, etc. This is probably the easiest option.

I would not try to do too much outside of Costa Rica or you will spread yourself too thin. Panama is nearby, of course, but it's also known for its nature. Though the canal is pretty impressive. If you want culture, I would suggest adding on Colombia.


I sent this in too late last week for the OP - Something amazing to do in Havana is the Ministry of the Interior museum about the CIA attempts on Castro's life, etc. It's in the suburb of Mirimar. Here's an older article with more details.

Thanks so much!

HELP! BF just booked tickets on SW and one leg lands at 9:20 am, next flight leaves at 10 am. Might be okay. Might not. There's a connection to a bus at the other end of that....this is for a festival and last year we got delayed and ended up having to rent a car. Would rather not repeat that...what is the airline responsibility for a missed connection? This just seems cutting it close, even though SW does have a great reputation for on time... thanks!

Unfortunately, your airline isn't responsible for making a bus connection. (In fact, if you read its contract of carriage, you'll see it isn't even responsible for sticking to its schedule.) I would give yourself plenty of time, and have a plan B. If at all possible, consider a good travel insurance policy.

Husband and I are looking to do a quick trip next week (Mar 25-28). Hubby would like to take advantage of the weather and do outdoorsy stuff like road biking, light hiking, maybe golf. I wanted to squeeze in some spa. Stonewall resort in WVA looks nice, but their marina and gold course open AFTER our planned outing (March 31). We already stayed at Greenbriar (pre-casino) and did not like it too much. Any suggestions?

I stayed at the Candlewood Suites in Montreal last fall, two couples in a 2 br room with a kitchen. Not luxurious, but clean, and a great location, right up the hill from the old port and walking distance to the modern art museum, restaurants and a decent grocery store. Metro is a short walk, and the airport bus picks up right in front of the hotel. Highly recommended.

I think Iceland is often overlooked. I went for a 4 day weekend. Flight's about the same as to California. The place is beautiful, and the people are nice. You have history, scenic landscapes and good food and bar scene. And everyone speaks just about perfect english with not much of an accent. I went with friends in the winter time, and it was cold, but it wasn't bad. But we woke up and it was still dark and we saw the northern lights. A few hours later, we were snow mobiling across a glacier watching the sun (very slowly) rise. I definitely recommend it!

This is probably true, but for the amount of times Iceland comes up on our chat, I've got to think it's doing OK. :) Sounds awesome. Thinking of going there this fall, actually!

Is it feasible to use the Burlington, VT airport as the jumping-off point for a tour of the Gaspe Penninsula? Flight to Canada seem pretty expensive. If we start with Vermont, any suggestions for an itinerary?

You wouldn't want to try to make it to the tip of the peninsula (Perce or thereabouts) in one day, but you can certainly get from Burlington to Quebec city in less than five hours and use that as your jumping-off point. Do you want to go around the entire peninsula? High points are Montmorency Falls, just outside Quebec; whale watching at Tadoussac (in season); the wonderful Forillon National Park; the gardens at Metis; the town (and rock) of Perce; and the wonderful small towns that rim the peninsula. 

ThePointsGuy blog had an item up this morning about how to reach United in this time of busy-ness. He recommended using the "click to talk" feature on their website where you enter your number and the airline calls you. Sounds like you get a pretty quick call back.

Thanks for sharing that. Points Guy does good work, and that's a useful piece of advice.

So i live in LA now but love reading the transcript, always driving to work when its going on, damn the 3 hour difference. Anyway, I'm thinking of going to Spain around the middle late may, but want to travel to Amsterdam and a few other places, Italy, South France, Greece maybe. Do you think its cheaper doing it on your own or like one of those contiki travel things. Im 26 btw. I went on birthright and it was meh, but went on a study abroad for 4 weeks and was awesome, so im torn. Thoughts on what country to fly into for the cheapest if i do the solo thing?

If you want ease, go with a group tour, but personally I find those tours pretty generic and stifling.

If you have an independent spirit, plan it yourself.  Check out Ryanair's routes and plot your trip on the cheapest fares. Or buy a Eurail pass. You can find cheap digs at AirBnB and hostel organizations, or try small guesthouses a few miles from the city center.

Check the airlines for sale fares. SAS, Air France and Icelandair, for instance, have promotions at the moment. I also see a sale on Air New Zealand from L.A. to London.

For the person who asked about skiing in Europe: Depending on the weather, you can often find warm skiing even in the winter; it's unusual to get the very cold weather that the northeast often suffers from -- if not this year. We've enjoyed the Arlberg region in Austria: Lech/Zurs/St. Anton, which has great skiing, lots of cozy hotels and restaurants, and is known for its instruction. Also the area around Geneva in France and Switzerland has loads of great resorts from the high-end Megeve in France, to Zermatt in the shadow of the Matterhorn, to some very large linked resorts that can even include more than on country (e.g., Morzine/Avoriaz, Flaine).

You all rock.

You can take a train now between Copenhagen and Malmo rather than a ferry. Pretty sure the train takes less than 30 minutes. I'll also plug Roskilde again. The cathedral there is the burial place of all the Danish royals. I found it quite interesting. It's a nice town to wander around in. 5 days is not a lot. In Copenhagen itself I would skip the Little Mermaid. There's really nothing much to it. Rosenborg is great for the crown jewels. Amilienborg is interesting for the changing of the guards. They used to march over there from Rosenborg. not sure if they still do.

Thanks. I disagree on the Little Mermaid -- it only takes a few minutes to see, and it's famous!

Personally, I would sit this one out. We went to see cherry blossoms last year on a weekend and it was PACKED! Traffic snaked all around the area and literally, it hardly moved. The gridlock was unbelievable. We took the metro and certain stops were closed due to the huge crowds. We had to wait for about four trains before we could actually get on a train--I have never seen DC that crowded in my life! Even more crowded than the mall on July 4th. Don't get me wrong, the blossoms were beautiful and it was a lovely day. But with a baby and lots of gear, if you cab it you will be sitting in traffic; if you take the Metro, be prepared!

The answer is to go on a weekday, if you can swing it.

Good morning- Lucky enough last year to be in Romania and visit Dracula's castle with a private tour guide. Quite a luxury to be able to just sit back and just enjoy the sights. While in the area be sure to see the Royal Estate of Peles-we saw both on our day trip, We would like to do something similar for a trip to Norway but I have had no luck locating a travel agent or a guide (the only one I found lives in Spain!). Love the chats-fun to read about all the trips and suggestions. Thank you.

Someone here the other day was talking about Tours by Locals -- maybe you'd be interested in their Norway guide.

Copenhagen, Stockholm, Oslo and Helsinki are all accessible and charming destinations, highly recommended, English spoken everywhere. But food and hotels are expensive relative to value. Some of the best food values are on long-haul ferry boats (Helsinki-Stockholm, Stockholm-Turku) buffet dinners. Get three birds with one stone: dinner, cabin (vs hotel) and transport to a second destination, all in one throw.

Interesting idea.

Last year (almost exactly one year ago, as a matter of fact), some very good friends took me away for my birthday. We flew from our South Florida homes to Milan for the weekend! Obviously, with so short a stay, we packed in a lot in 3 days but my favorite day was Saturday, when we took the train and then ferries to Bellagio and Lake Como. Absolutely beautiful towns on the water, in the mountains, with so much to see, even if it was rather cold (especially for us Floridians). I loved all the Pinocchio items they were selling, and the trip up the tram to the top of the mountain in Como was amazing. It was also interesting to watch them load buses onto the ferries for the trips across the lake. And, by the way, I am hoping the lack of story response last week was due to an inordinate amount of non-cycling chatters, and not as a type of boycott, as you suggested!

Hi travel gurus! Hoping you'll entertain a non-European question today. Do you have any suggestions for researching Latin/Central American resort destinations/regions? We're choosing between Punta Cana, Riviera Maya and a few Puerto Rican and Costa Rican areas for an all-inclusive honeymoon and are having trouble finding quality articles on the internet about the states of the regions we're staying in. We almost always travel to European destinations, and usually the major travel sites have good, updated reviews about regions in Europe and what's available to see and do. For the SA destinations I'm really just finding forum postings and resort ads. Trip Advisor is great for looking up particular resorts, but we're also looking to see what's nearby for a few trips off the property. Hope you can help!

I'd start with the official tourism sites - The Dominican Republic Ministry of Tourism for Punta Cana; the Mexico Tourism Board for Riviera Maya; the Puerto Rico Tourism Company and the Costa Rica Tourist Board. The old-school solution is to look at some of the guide book Web sites, such as Frommer's, Foder's, Lonely Planet

My husband and I are saving money to take a really big trip next year. We can comfortably budget $5,000 and would like the trip to last from 10 to 14 days. It would just be the two of us, and we'll both be 29 by that point. I'm thinking France or Italy (I've learned so much about them I REALLY want to go), but my husband would like to go back to his home country, Brasil, where he hasn't been since he was adopted when he was 7. Obviously, Brasil has some emotional pull for us. However, he also would like to go to Italy or France (although he has been to France twice before, but not with me). Do you think it would be possible to do either one of those countries justice on that budget and time frame? Or should we aim for Brasil? My big concern with Brasil is I know nothing about it and it's so huge - how do you even tackle a country like that? Plus I love old historical houses and sites, and I've heard Brasil doesn't have too many of those. Any thoughts? Thanks!

Two weeks in France or Italy on $5,000 strikes me as kind of tough to pull off (does the $5,000 include airfare, or no?) unless you're willing to stay in really budget accommodations (i.e. hostels) or to camp, a la the couple in this article we had a little while back. Both countries are, as the French would put it, tres cher. Very expensive. Brazil, on the other hand, is something of a bargain these days. You could start with Rio and Sao Paolo, or Salvador da Bahia, which is beautiful. Or begin with wherever your husband is from. I'd think it would be a terrific trip. Let's hear from the chatters on this, too. Folks?

You had a link a couple of weeks ago to small hotels in Puerto Rico. Can you give us the link again? More importantly - I don't recall any recent articles on Africa travel. Have any of you done a safari? Any advice for low budget backpackers wanting to go to Tanzania and Kenya?

Hi travelers-- Could you recommend any good resources for planning an around-the-world trip?

Here's former Post editor Maryann Haggerty's story from the other year on her 'round-the-world trip. You can also check out her blog for more ideas.

My husband will be home for R&R in June. We want to rent a place at a local beach for a week. We will invite our two 20-something sons and their girlfriends. Looking for someplace that will keep them entertained, but also is suitable for two older adults looking for a not-overrun beach and nice restaurants. Hopefully within 3-5 hours driving time.

North Carolina's Outer Banks are at the end of that driving window, but you may like the communites of the Village at Nags Head or Currituck Beach. Rehoboth has great restaurants and it's less than three hours from D.C., but it gets crowded. 

Five years ago our Baltic Sea cruise stopped for half a day at Visby, a Swedish town on the island of Gotland. Beautiful walled town that was well worth a visit, and I understand it's a popular vacation destination for Swedes. A lot of the cruise lines have dropped it from their itineraries because the port is too shallow and thus they have to use tenders, which the more elderly among the clientele tend to hate. To me that might just make it more appealing as a destination since it would reduce crowds and return the town sort of to "undiscovered" status for non-Swedes. I don't know if I could see it as the sole destination for a trip, though; I might make it a two- or three-day stop on a trip to Stockholm or Helsinki. (Our cruise also included stops in Tallinn and St. Petersburg, among others, and both were outstanding. I thought the sidebar to yesterday's article could have emphasized just how restrictive the Russian visa regime is, though. I'm sure a lot of readers have no idea just how careful you have to be in planning travel to Russia because of the stiff penalties if you overstay your visa by even a few hours.)

I am going to Turkey and are looking to stay at Anyone who can give me some advise I will appreciate

Chatters, anyone familiar with this hotel?

I wasnt participating because I was on vacation in Hawaii.... 1. Driving to Grand Teton/Yellowstone and the fear of heights. fear of heights is not an issue. When out west the altitude of the flat land is higher. While say in DC you may be around 500 ft and the land is flat. In Denver the land is flat but its 5200 feet. The drive there is just a gradual increase in elevation. The relative height of the mountains when you look at somethign as Shenandoah Mountains isnt much different in relative height when you look at it from referenced height. As far as the parks...In Grand Teton, much of the park is flat land. Yellowstone is similar. Sure there are mountains surrounding the Valley, but you arent climbing the mountains. In yellowstone much of the trails in part for safety are ADA compliance so many of the trails are very flat. 2. In web site searches for airfares... Piece of advice...delete cookies to prevent them from hiding airfare.

Thanks for the thorough follow-up.

Hi all, and thanks for taking my question. (I submitted this earlier, but could not tell if it went through your system.) We booked in January a nonstop flight from IAD to Paris through Lufthansa, co-marketed with Continental. On the weekend of the United/Continental merger, I recieved an email saying that Lufthansa moved us from a non-stop to a 1-stop flight that, for various reasons, would not work with our schedule. I looked online and saw our original itinerary still available - but now operated solely by United. I called Lufthansa, who said that United cancelled the flight, so Lufthansa moved us to the next available (i.e., the 1-stop). Lufthansa would only move us to the non-stop United flight (our original itinerary) for the $300/ticket fare difference, plus Lufthansa's $250/ticket change fee. We cancelled our original itinerary and planned to re-book with United. But when we went back to re-book, we saw our original itinerary available again - a non-stop through Lufthansa, co-marketed with United (not Continental). We re-booked - but at $100/ticket more due to increased fares. What can we do about getting a refund from the airlines for our $200 difference in fares? And do we call Lufthansa or United?

Unfortunately, an airline may make as many changes to your itinerary as it wants, and would only have to put you on a flight of its choosing or refund the ticket. Your best bet is to send a brief, polite email to the airline, asking it to refund the fare difference. I wish I had a better option, but short of suing United for breach of contract, I don't know of any other way to get your fare adjusted.

Tallinn has some nice buildings and vistas left from its glory days as a Hansa city. However, it's also interesting in terms of the effects of the time under USSR and after the fall of the iron curtain. The postwar communist bleakness is visible, which is interesting. So is the unfettered, free-for-all development of the post-1989 era...some of which is under stress now, with Europe's financial crisis. For a person interested in European history, it's an interesting case study.

I'll be visiting Las Vegas soon, solo, and want to take a day trip with a local tour company. However, it's not a regularly scheduled tour, and they won't run it without two or more people signed up. Any suggestions on good ways to find one or more tour companions?

Vegas is a very social place and you might make a friend at the blackjack table or after a show. But that's risky. Instead, I would go on a message board for solo travelers and/or Vegas travel (such as VegasWatch or Frommer's) and see if anyone is interested in signing up with you.

Hi there - sorry I am so late to the party... But what about Greece? Good place to visit this summer? Mostly what I am to know - Is it safe?

Yes, it's safe, and yes, a good place to visit anytime!

The Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Humelbaek is a great collection in a very scenic sea-side location. They also have special exhibits of contemporary art. The name "Louisiana" was given to the historic house where the museum is located - the owner was married to 3 women - all named Louise.

Do you have suggestions for places in Great Britain for a family with teenagers this summer. We are more into cities, culture and history than hiking and camping. We will start or end in London but we would like to go to Scotland, so we are especially interested in suggestions that are in between the two and for thngs not to miss in Scotland. The Edinborough Fringe Festival looks intersting but I was wondering if it is inappropriate for high school kids or just so crowded as to not be much fun. Thanks for any thoughts and suggestions.

York and Newcastle are two northern English cities that  sound interesting and attractive and worth a stop. Or there's the Lake District, where you can wander lonely as a cloud a la Wordsworth and visit his erstwhile home and Beatrice Potter's farm. We have a story coming up on Edinburgh, but not for a couple of months.  I have not been to the Fringe Festival, but I do think it gets rather wild. Chatters, what do you think?

Thanks for the suggestions! Savannah sounds like it might be right up our alley. I haven't spent much, or any really, time in the South. What about Charleston? Would 3-4 nights in either place be too long?

Charleston's great too. I think you could easily spend 3-4 nights in either city!

Southwest doesn't have a change fee, so if a different itinerary with a longer layover is available at the same price, it's easy enough to switch it off. I wouldn't worry too much - they published and met a 25 minute connection in the middle of a snowy and cold winter in Kansas City for me a few years back.

For the young couple wanting to take a 2013 trip for $5K or less, I would consider Southeast Asia. Yes, you will blow half of that on airfare, but once you are there the expenses are minimal.

We'll be visiting the island of Sao Miguel in the Azores in a couple of weeks, and in the course of researching our trip I'm having trouble finding information on whale-watching DAY-trips (as opposed to multi-day expeditions, which we don't want). Do you have a link? Or is this the wrong time of year for whale-watching in the Azores? We'll be staying in the town of Lagoa, which is very near Sao Miguel's main city of Ponta Delgada.

The Azores tourism office lists a slew of whale watching tour operators on San Miguel. Here's  a list.  I see lots of day trips.

Two friends of mine did a round-the-world trip. Their adventures were chronicled at

A friend and I are going trekking in Nepal for two weeks in November. She is from LA. We are trying to plan a layover for a few days on the way there. We found a flight on Singapore airlines for 1700$ leaving from LA (so I would have to get to LA but I have miles I can use for that) that gives us three full days in Tokyo on the way. Flying direct for either of us was only 100$ cheaper so it seems like a great deal - but then again I have nothing to measure it against. Is it a good deal? Should we wait or expect better prices at another time? Or is there somewhere different for a layover that would be a better idea? We could probably do the layover in Singapore instead - would that be better than Tokyo? We haven't been to either and are looking to explore, relax, and eat before we spend 10 days in the mountains. Thanks.

That fare sounds about right for November travel. As for whether Singapore would be better/worse than Tokyo, they are two very different places -- Singapore is generally less expensive to visit. 


I had a problem last week, and it took my 45 minutes to get through, but the agent was very, VERY helpful and helped me resolve my problem. Note that your frequent flyer number may have changed with the merger...they can help you with this as well. The hassles will level off, I'm sure. In the meanwhile, hang in there.

Heading to Puerto Rico next month for four nights. Planning three in Old San Juan and one on Vieques, to check out the Bio Bay there. Any suggestions on accomodations? The Sheraton in OSJ is running just under $200/night. Small places on Vieques are asking for three nights minimum (there's not really enough on the island for two), though the W has a property on the island that will take a one night reservation, but then the prices all average out. Any thoughts? The Sheraton in OSJ is probably what we'll book (I like being in the walkable OSJ area) but if you have other suggestions (Da House too loud) I'd love to hear them.

For Vieques, check out the Hix House. It's  a pretty amazing property.  I would spend more than one night in Vieques to be honest. So many beaches to see and sun on.

I think your choice for San Juan sounds good.

I was there for Hogmanay (New Year), and it was very well-run - the city feels very small even when there were huge crowds. They have a year-long office open for Fringe, so I'd expect that they'd run it well. Climb Arthur's Seat!

For the person who was looking for a second person to go on a 2+-only tour in Vegas, I would email the tour company, explain your situation (solo traveler, but very interested in going on the tour using their tour company), and ask them to notify you if there will be any tours during the days you will be available in Vegas so you can be added onto any existing tour groups. I did this with a snorkeling tour in Hawaii and was able to not only be added to another couple's snorkeling lesson, but the cost was lower for 3 people than for just 2 people, so everyone benefited in that case. Never hurts to ask, and to make your own vacation schedule flexible, when traveling solo!

Great advice.

Whoa! Europe on $5,000 is totally easy to do. Count about $1,500 for flights, $1,500 for budget hotels (not hostels) for 10 days and the rest is on food and sightseeing. I can't believe you'd discourage Europe for someone who has $5,000 to spend! I'm 32 and I've done it twice on about $2,000 to $3,000 solo.

You're a better -- and younger --  traveler than I am. Though not sure where you're finding flights for $750 to Europe these days. Eagle-eyes on those sales, I guess! :-)

Thanks for yet another great hour of talking about travel. Loved hearing about your Europe suggestions. Today's winner is the person who took a trip to the Plitvice Lakes area in Croatia. Send your name and address to and we'll get you something nice. Until next week, happy traveling!

In This Chat
Andrea Sachs
Andrea Sachs is a staff writer for Travel.
Zofia Smardz
Zofia Smardz is the acting editor of Travel.
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.
Becky Krystal
Becky Krystal is Travel's editorial aide.
Jane Touzalin
Jane Touzalin is acting deputy Travel editor.
Carol Sottili
Carol Sottili is a former Washington Post travel writer, specializing in travel deals.
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