Talk about Travel

Mar 25, 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.

Howdy, chatters.  It's time to escape the late winter blues-- now we get snow?!?!? -- with visions of travel.

Hit us up with your questions, comments and concerns. Also, for today's question: In light of TSA's recent decision to repeal the ban on certain carry-on items (specific knives, athletic equipment, etc.), we want to know about your recent experiences with security and liquids.  Are you still following the 3-1-1 rule? Have you recently lost a beloved bottle of booze or perfume to TSA? Or are you seeing your maxi bottles of lotions and shampoos make it safely to the other post-security side?

 Best answer wins something that won't leak in an envelope.

I am trying to plan a week long 50th bday trip for my husband. His bday is in September so I was thinking one of the ABC's because of hurricane season. He wants a vacation where we can lie on the beach and enjoy some interesting activities/sights. Is there one island that you would recommend over another? Also, is there somewhere else that I should also be considering? Thanks!

Of the three, I would choose Curacao, which has the interesting co-flavors of Dutch and the Caribbean, plus loads of activities for those moments when you must escape the sun and heat. (I wrote about the island in 2011; here is the piece. )

Bonaire is best for divers, and Aruba is more commercialized, with lots of duty-free shopping and casinos. I am also a big fan of Grenada, though the island is vulnerable to hurricanes.

Hate to be the dissenting opinion but I thought the Blue Lagoon in Iceland was expensive and overrated. It was pretty crowded and the chemicals do awful things to your hair. There are plenty of natural hot springs in Iceland and some tours (I am the chatter who always recommends the Snaefellsnes tour from My Reykjavik) will take you to them. A little grungier but way more interesting! And a restaurant recommendation for the chatter going to South Beach - Puerto Sagua. It is an amazing little Cuban place that is always packed. Try the ridiculously delicious lobster enchilada!

Thanks for both tips!

I was married a few years ago and my passport is still in my maiden name. My husband and I are planning an international trip in about 6 months. I looked up the State dept rules for name changes on passports and it appears that to change my name I will have to pay the renewal fee. I still have about 7 years left on my passport. Is there anything preventing me from traveling under my maiden name?

As long as the name on your ticket and the name on your ID match, there shouldn't be a problem. If you're going to change your name legally, you will have to get a new passport and pay a renewal fee, according to the State Department.

Can you recommend low to medium priced hotels in Milan? Our family needs three rooms for 3 days, so a two-room suite and a single would be good if you know of any places that offer this. We are going in the fall, Thank you very much.

I think we need to ask the chatters for their input on this one? Anyone have specific hotel recommendations for Milan for this chatter?

My friend and I are planning a trip to Edinburgh this fall. We're planning to leave in November. Is now the best time to buy airline tickets, or should we wait for a sale? It seems like since this would be off season, tickets would be a little cheaper, but prices seem a little high.

Airfares are sky high. A recent study by Kayak found that, in 2012, airfares to some of the more popular domestic and international destinations  rose by 25 percent or more. I know, I am repeating myself here, but start tracking the fare now on airline & third-party booking sites, and strike when it drops. And look into flying Aer Lingus out of New York's JFK -- I'm seeing fares of about $860 round trip to Edinburgh in November. 

Since this has been a hot topic I thought I'd report back about my experience a couple of weeks ago in Berlin, Brussels, and Amsterdam. The only city where this was a small issue was Amsterdam. The Van Gogh museum would not accept credit cards unless it was pin & chip. A pancake restaurant asked to see ID (a driver's license sufficed) when using our regular cards. We used our cards in lots of other places during the trip without merchants batting an eyelash. I am hopeful that our experience at the Van Gogh museum isn't the start of a trend.

Thanks for letting us know. 

the ads for the Viking cruises are most interesting - do you know anything about these cruises and are they worth the money - not because I find them extremely expensive, just wondering if they are indeed worth the cost? Thank you

I have not been on a Viking cruise, but did walk through one of their docked ships while I was on a Rhine River cruise on one of their competitor's lines (Avalon). Lovely decor, friendly staff,  beautiful ship. And the line has an excellent reputation among river cruise fans. Any chatters been on a Viking cruise? 

My husband and I are looking for a 5-7 day trip that we can take with our three sons ages 22, 20 and 17, all of whom will be going to college this fall. We need to go in mid-August due to summer school and work schedules. We like active vacations with plenty of down time and good food. Last summer we went to Atlantis and enjoyed it, although a little more interesting daytime activities would be nice. I am thinking of something like the Smokey Mountains (where we've never been) or Maine (where we've been a lot and have family, but love it). I like resorts for ease of planning, but that is not a necessity.

I love your idea of vacationing in Maine. You can mix resort stays (such as Samoset Resort Hotel in Rockport) with hiking in Acadia National Park, city sightseeing in Portland and water activities, such as sailing in Camden and ferrying around the state's bays, harbors and islands. You can also go on a moose wildlife tour -- maybe you will have better luck than I did! Be sure to book your accommodations early, though, since summer is Maine's high season.

We are traveling to Punta Cana this coming November. Some of us leaving from Charlotte prefer nonstop flights. Some of us from the DC area can handle stops but prefer nonstop. My question is what is a good airfare for that time of year and when should I start to look? Our dates are the week before Thanksgiving, returning before Thanksgiving. 

United flies nonstop to Punta Cana from Dulles, but only on certain days of the week. It's also often more expensive than flights with stops. There are more frequent nonstops from Charlotte on US Airways. Fares around Thanksgiving are always expensive, even though you are returning before the holiday. I'd expect to pay at least $500 each way. And I'd buy sooner rather than later.  

We are thinking of traveling to Nova Scotia in September. Any suggestions on great things to do or see, places to eat or interesting accommodations? We prefer smaller hotels/B&Bs and love history, hiking, scenery.

Have a look at this weeklong itinerary we had for Nova Scotia as part of our now-departed Going Our Way feature.

Other suggestions?

We are going to Vegas in early June for a boy's and girl's bachelorette. We are all fairly tame, mild-mannered people, and not into a party scene. More interested in Cirque du Soleil type-entertainment, spa appointments, really good eating (with vegetarian options), beautiful, relaxing pools and a fractional bit of gambling. I haven't been to Vegas since I was a kid, and don't know the scene at all. What's the best hotel for the vibe we're looking for? Any activities I've overlooked that we should check out? Thank you so much!

You might check out the Wynn/Encore, and TheHotel at Mandalay Bay. Both are upscale and elegant and have a different vibe than some of the other LV hotels. One of the best spas I've been to was the one at TheHotel, while the Encore spa, which opened after the last time I visited, has won all sorts of awards. The pools at both are gorgeous, and both have Cirque du Soleil or similar.

Having said that, I also had a good experience going to LV for a friend's wedding a few years ago and staying in the updated rooms at the Flamingo. They were fun and mod, like you were inside an iPod.

Love the chats. Everyone is always asking where they should go, what they should see, when to travel, where to eat etc.... however.... Where's the best place you traveled? Whats the next trip you have planned? When you're on vacation (for work or personal for fun) are you beach guy, site seeing, relaxing, etc.

Thanks for breaking out of the standard q!

My favorite trip was to Tokyo a few years ago. My next trip is to San Francisco for a conference and then a "Top Chef" cruise -- which should make for a fun story, if nothing else. But I've got such a hankering for more ambitious travel this year -- maybe SE Asia, maybe Philippines, maybe Australia.

I have an upcoming flight which lands at LaGuardia at 7AM and then I connect to an international flight from JFK at 11:15 AM. What's the best way to make that ground connection?

Here's a page with info on airport connections. Anyone have a favorite method?

Hi, I missed the chat! Here are some thoughts: Marriott London: Chancery Court would have been hands down my choice (and in fact I will be staying there again in a few weeks, for a very civilised London theater/culture weekend - have you seen the plays and exhibits that are going on right now??). However, it is no longer a Marriott as of last summer. Grosvenor House is the location my company chose for its annual "winner's circle" events a few years ago and I heard nice things about it and it's centrally located. County Hall would also be quite well located. Amalfi Coast: in the middle of May I am heading there for the first time and very high on my list are the hikes (solo female, btw). Pathway of the Gods for certain as well as some others I've researched. I will also be spending three nights on Capri and have some hikes planned. If you are still doing the "your vacation in lights" writeups by locals I'd be happy to write something for the Post. :-) I finally made it to Croatia last fall and it was lovely. I was with a hiking tour company and we visited the Dalmatian Coast. So beautiful. If I close my eyes I can feel the warm sun on my face. Beth

Wow. I feel like we owe you a travel agent's commission. Great info. Thanks!

Try You can enter your budget and other considerations


Traveling with children makes it easier to pass through with liquids. My children and I always go through security with two sippy cups filled with water. After a quick sceondary check of the contents, I'm allowed to continue without dumping out the liquid.

Can I borrow your kids for my next trip?

Consider an apartment- on VRBO and Trip Advisor, you can find a place in a neighborhood close to the sights you plan to see. Three rooms at a hotel will usually cost much more than one apartment, and you'll usually get a lot more space. We've met some nice apartment owners this way, too.

Thanks for the tips.

And if you will rent a car, your DL needs to be in the same name since rental car companies usually ask for passport and driver's license.

Good point. Yep, it all has to match up. I'd decide now if you're going to change your name or not.

No story, but can we just reflect on the logic (or lack thereof) of allowing knives but continuing to ban liquids?

Definitely something worth reflecting on.

Supposed to be leaving for a 3-week vacation to India on April 3. I'm a US citizen and I applied for my visa on Feb 7, going through Travisa outsourcing. I'm a photographer by profession. Four days after I submitted the visa application, Travisa called and said that the consulate requires that I get a journalist visa because I'm a photographer, even though I'm just going on vacation - no work. They said it would be about a week. For the next month I called several times a week and got the run around. Finally on March 7 Travisa called to say that I needed to pay another $30 for the journalist visa, which I did that day. Again they said it would be just a few days. March 18 they contacted me and said I needed to submit a form stating that I would not be doing any journalistic work while in India. I completed the form and hand-delivered it to Travisa on March 19. Again they said that it would be 2-3 days. I called Travisa on Friday and was told the application was still at the embassy, but they were sure they'd get it back on Monday. I'm getting freaked out now as there's just a little over a week left until I'm supposed to leave. Do you have any experience getting through this red tape? I asked Travisa if I could contact the embassy in DC directly (I live in DC), but they say they don't know whom to contact. Do you think going directly to the embassy would help?

According to the Indian Embassy Web site, they have outsourced all visa processing to Travisa. So I don't think contacting the embassy directly will get you anything. Although I think it's odd that Travisa says they don't know whom at the embassy to contact -- who've they been working with, I wonder? I know this is a nail-biter, but if I were you, I'd just stay on Travisa's back, call them daily, press them on the urgency. Unfortunately, this kind of last-minute drama isn't unusual in visa processing for lots of countries. I'm confident that you'll get your visa, though. Chatters, do you have other advice or experience to share?

My husband and I are picking up a Volvo in Sweden and driving through Switzerland to attend a wedding in Italy. Heard we need to buy a pass for the autobahns that costs about $30. Can we buy that before we leave and does it cover the passes into Italy? Dorothy Penner

I would check with your rental car company about the pass. The rental company might have a sticker already on the car and charge you a daily rate, or it may allow you to purchase a sticker at the agency. Otherwise, you can buy one at post offices, petrol stations, garages  and customs. You can also purchase it in advance through the Switzerland Travel Centre (

Do you have any recommendations for family oriented all inclusive resorts in the Cancun area in August? There seem to be so many to pick from and so many ranges of review ratings. Is it best to buy airfare together with the hotel? Is a site like Travelocity the best place to purchase?

I'd try pricing hotel/air separately and then comparing it to a package price. In additional to a third-booking site such as Travelocity or Expedia, I'd also try a tour operator such as Vacation Express or Apple Vacations. You might also try a travel agency that books all-inclusives, such as Liberty Travel.  My guess is you'll find it cheaper to book the components separately, especially if you want nonstop flights. I'd head to the Riviera Maya area south of Cancun. As for which all-inclusive to choose, pick your price point and go from there. We stayed in the mid-level Iberostar in Playacar, which was fine. Don't expect gourmet food or top-shelf accommodations at the typical all-inclusive. Some offer luxury, but those are typically costly. 

I just had the worst travel experience of my life on Swiss Air. I flew long-haul from LA to Zurich and back in economy class, and while I expect a certain amount of discomfort, this was ridiculous. I'm only 5'6" and my knees touched the seat in front of me. When the person in front of me reclined, I couldn't use my tray table anymore, and could barely see the video screen in front of me. The armrests would only move halfway. Half (half!) of the space under the seat in front of us was taken up by the entertainment box. The plane was hot and the flight attendants refused to turn on the AC until 90 minutes prior to landing on a 12 hour flight. I travel overseas a lot and have experienced a range of seats in economy class, and this was ridiculous. As I said, this goes above and beyond the discomfort one you expect on a long-haul flight. My husband's back was sore for days. I sent a complaint in to Swiss, and received nothing but a form response that it would be "forwarded to the appropriate department." Technically, yes, Swiss did what I paid them to do - got me from point A to point B, but at significant discomfort. Do I have any recourse, or do I just chalk this up as a life lesson and know that I need to avoid this airline in the future?

I'm sorry you had to endure an uncomfortable flight. Swiss could control some but not all of the things that made your trip unbearable. Mostly, it had no business moving the seats so close together. Economy class seats should come with at least 34 inches of "pitch" -- that's the distance between seats. 36 inches is considered comfortable. Based on your story, it sounds as if you had barely 30 inches. Swiss can do better. You might try sending another email, this time asking for specific compensation. If it doesn't, please let me know. Here's my email address.

In response to the chatter inquiring about Viking, I think they are GREAT! Two years ago we took their Shanghai to Beijing Yangtze river tour/cruise and it was beyond our expectations. Four star hotels on land portions. Last year we were the on the first cruise of one of their new ships and their Tulips and Windmills tour was excellent. Cost seems high but it includes the shore excursions. Highly recommend.

Thanks for sharing your postive experience.

My girlfriend and I have been invited to a wedding in eastern India. We've always wanted to go, but used up a lot of vacation for a trip to China last year, so will be limited in how much time we could take off. Suppose we had 10 days. Obviously we wouldn't see the whole country - just a few cities. Is it worth it? Where should we go? We're budget travelers who love street food and getting out of our comfort zones.

If you have 10 days, go for it. India is definitely worth it. I'd hit some combination of Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata as the big three that most tourists should see. Kolkata has fabulous street food, so you might put that at the top of your list. India's a huge country, and the cities are all far apart, but you might be able to get to a couple of them, anyway. Chatters, what do you think?

Am going to Memphis this spring. Anything I should be aware of and what to visit as a tourist? Thank you.

Well, um, Graceland. Even if you're not a huge Elvis fan, it's a must-see in Memphis and kitschily fascinating. There's also the Lorraine Motel, where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. It's now the home of the National Civil Rights Museum. You can see the very spot on the balcony outside Room 306 where King was standing when he was shot. Tour Sun Studio, where Elvis, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison and other legends recorded their music.  Check out the blues at one of the many venues on Beale Street, Memphis's music row. Grab a meal at the Arcade Restaurant, the oldest continuously-operating eatery in Memphis, or some great barbecue at the Bar-B-Q Shop. Take a walk along the Mississippi and check out the views. And there's lots more. Here's a story we did about three years ago that might help with details.

We are flying to Costa Rica in January 2014. We are staying in Nosara and were told to fly in to Liberia Airport. Our reservations are from Sat to Sat but we would like to go a day ahead and stay in the city before renting our car and driving to Nosara. There are no flights into Liberia during the week,but there are flights from San Jose. Should we drive to Nosara from there? Is it a scenic drive?

I have only flown from point to point in Costa Rica.

Can any chatters provide info on this route?

Hi guys! I am from the Midwest. I may be traveling to Williamsburg in April and I want to go some other places while I am out that way. So I was thinking about going from Williamsburg to Chincoteague and then to Gettsyburg. But (after reading your blog) I am scared of the trip from Chincoteague to Gettsyburg. I will be traveling during the middle of the week and the middle of the day. Do I need to be worried? And can you give me any advice as to what to see in Chincoteague besides the ponies? Thanks!

Not sure what we could have said that would scare you! I mean, it's not the shortest trip, but four hours in the middle of the day in the middle of the week in spring shouldn't be too bad. You could break it up with a pit stop in scenic Annapolis.

We haven't been to Chincoteague in a while. Who has suggestions?

Can I please make a public service announcement: YES, it snowed on the morning commute for many of us. If you drive can you PLEASE have the common courtesy to brush the snow off your car and have the common courtesy to TURN ON YOUR LIGHTS. I ended up getting into a fender bender with a guy who didn't bother to turn his lights on. His response was: Well I can see other cars just fine. I on the other hand went to change lanes and didn't see his silver car in the fog (he had no lights on). The police actually gave him the ticket saying he was at fault and all he did was yell about it being unfair. Even at dusk, I'm suprised by the number of people that don't turn their lights on. It's common courtesy people.

Did you mean to send this to Dr. Gridlock?

Though, of course, if this happens to you while traveling in the Alps or the Rockies, by all means, spread the PSA!

I would like to go to Italy (Abruzzi) to do some genealogy research. Plan to stay about a week. Can you recommend any travel agencies who specialize in this type of travel? Will also need the assistance of a translator or Italian genealogy researcher. Any suggestions or insight would be appreciated. 

I'd get in touch with the Abruzzo and Molise Heritage Society in the District. They are a lovely group of people,  and I'm sure they would be able to help. 

We're planning a trip to Greece this summer (has to be summer). Before we're committed, is there any resaon to avoid travel to this troubled country?

Maybe the heat. But don't let it stop you, go! Greece is a relative bargain at the moment, thanks to its financial woes. Tourists shouldn't experience any problems, especially if you exercise common sense, as you always should whenever and wherever you're traveling. I consider Greece a must-see country, so if you haven't been, you should surely go. Have a look at this recent story we ran for some inspiration.

I've been married for four years and just retired the passport I held in my maiden name because it finally expired - I traveled to six countries post-marriage under that name. As pointed out, so long as the names match, you're good to go.

Thanks for letting us know.

We stayed in a so called updated room in the Flamingo in December 2011 and wouldn't recommend the hotel to anyone although friends stay there regularly because they have VIP status. Shower had tiles coming off and the bed lights did not work and no one would come and fix them.

Thanks for saving us from a similar insufferable experience.

I have not been on a Viking Cruise. My parents have done two and have really loved them - small river boats, not too crowded, went to places they wanted to see, had good food.

I haven't heard anything negative, although if you're looking for Vegas-style entertainment and a party atmosphere, not the right choice. River cruises are more low-key, regardless of the line. 

Very intrigued by hiking trip in Amalfi that you wrote about a few weeks back. Can you share the name of the company that organized it? thanks!

It was On Foot Holidays. Details here.

The Flamingo did not have a directory or any other information in the room. If you needed something or wanted to know where to eat, etc., you had to call the desk. No layout of the hotel was in the room. In addition, check out instructions weren't available in the room and we got two different set of instructions for checking out. The entrance by car is not easy to find.

I've been to Nova Scotia several times, and IMO the best part is Cape Breton. The Cabot Trail is a scenic tour, and the hiking in Cape Breton Highlands National Park is spectacular. You can skip Kejimkujik National Park (on the other end of the province) unless you're into canoeing.

Sounds lovely! Thanks for sharing.

Love Nova Scotia, but it is huge so you need decide if you want to go all the way up to Cape Breton for the music and Scottish heritage. You can also get great Acadian history closer to Yarmouth. Brier Island, off Digby Neck is great for hiking, whale watching, and sea life and has some B and Bs. Annapolis Valley is also great. Bear River has a funky artist colony which is fun. There are some great wineries, too. There is rafting on the tidal bore for the adventurous. I think the best way to start is to pick the area you want to visit most, instead of trying to cover the whole length of the province. The tourism bureau has the province divided into region, so check out the attractions in each region and choose the area the has the most things you want to see.

I don't travel with any liquids, so I haven't even thought about the 3-1-1 rule lately. But I did discover, after returning from a round-trip IAD-SLC-IAD, with pretty standard security and no incidents either way, that I had been traveling with a standard-size tube of Tom's of Maine toothpaste loose in my carry-on. I have no idea why it wasn't flagged, but I'm glad it wasn't confiscated, because I like Tom's better than any of the mass-market toothpastes.

Maybe TSA has a special fondness for Tom's over Crest?!?!

In response to your question, I stopped putting liquids in a separate baggie and taking them out at security some time ago and have never been stopped or asked to remove them. I haven't tried to carry on liquid containers larger than 3 ounces because I don't know what would happen and haven't wanted to lose my shampoo or whatever. But it does seem like they haven't paid attention to the smaller bags for a while now. (Except in Heathrow, where I've had bottled water taken when just changing planes.)

 I have daringly traveled with toothpaste that is 4.2 ounces. Maybe TSA is not reading the small print.

You took some questions recently about Hawaii, including a comment from someone who recommended avoiding Honolulu because it's "just another big city." Personally, I would visit a big city before I would spend time snoozing on a beach, and I rarely take beach vacations. What do you recommend in Hawaii OTHER than beaches? Does Honolulu have any kind of cultural scene? Performances, museums, historic sights? I know there are nature walks and even visits to active volcanoes on some islands. What else? Could you enjoy a week or two in Hawaii without putting on a bathing suit?

Absolutely. Just off the beach in Waikiki you'll find some of the very best shopping and nightlife in the western hemisphere. And you can't miss a visit to Pearl Harbor and the Arizona when you're out there. And Honolulu -- well, I could write a whole story about the cultural attractions in town. Come to think of it, I just might. Chatters, do you have any favorite places to recommend?

Hello! Could you or the 'nuts recommend some city tours of New Orleans? We are able-bodied ladies, so walking tours are fine, along with bus/car tours. I am looking for some daytime activities to get to know the history/feel of New Orleans. Thank you!

Racontours gets good review.

too rainy? We want beaches and a little bit of adventure and Hawaii is too far away.

According to my expert research (ahem), looks like Belize is nice and warm in June (high 80s, but with a strong breeze to keep things pleasant). According to Lonely Planet, the rainy season is mid-May to November in the south and mid-June to November in the north, but LP also says that May and June can be a great time to visit because there are fewer tourists and things are cheaper. Some other sources, like, say June is pretty pleasant because the rain comes in pretty short bursts.

Hi, I have a big birthday coming up, and my best friend will be in Ft. Myers for business so I decided to go along. I'm looking for a tennis camp or facility with intense tennis classes or practice in the area. Since our hotel will be taken care of I am not looking for a resort, but am open to the idea of it if they allow people to take classes or join a tournament etc. I am not looking for a tennis instructor, just a bit more group drills etc. within a facility that focuses on tennis. I did this before at the Marriott in Desert Springs where we had classes and tournaments each day on various surfaces. I play tennis regularly, and I am looking for some improvement in a different environment, maybe learn new tricks and ideas. Does anybody have any suggestions?

Chatters? Any tennis fanatics among you?

Mom's 80 and announced that she would like to go somewhere for a weekend (perhaps extended). She's mediocre on the mobility, so are probably looking for someplace with a few interesting museums and restaurants, and relatively easy to get to. The train to New York or Philly would actually be perfect, except New York is verboten (it's a long story) and Philly has really been done. Suggestions? I've been combing through the Escapes, for perhaps something less big city, with museums, or seeing what train options aren't along the northeast route. thanks

I think Richmond would be great, and not just because I grew up there! The recently renovated Virginia Museum of Fine Arts is quite lovely, with good dining to boot. Other attractions she might like: Agecroft Hall, the Virginia Historical Society and Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden. Carytown is a fun neighborhood for dining.

Or may I suggest Cumberland, Md.? A lovely quiet city with beautiful architecture, some really interesting museums, a scenic train (doesn't start up till May, though), and you can take Amtrak's Capitol Limited right there. 

My teenage daughter and I are flying in to Detroit this weekend and staying in Ann Arbor. Given this is easter weekend, what suggestions do you have for things to do? Thanks!

I'm not sure what you're into, but if I were going, I'd check out the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology; Kerrytown (for shops and the weekend farmers market); the Matthaei Botanical Gardens for a touch of natural beauty even in early spring (bonsai!); and the renowned Zingerman's for food, food, food.

But I haven't been there! So that's all based on my investigation of what I would do if I were headed there. Chatters with more direct experience, please weigh in!

Also, if you can, watch "The Five-Year Engagement." Quirky take on Zingerman's and U of M.

What are some good non-amusement parks things to do in Orlando and/or Tampa for a mom and her 20-year old daughter?

The Tampa area has some of the best beaches in the area. St. Pete Beach is nice, but my favorites are south, near Sarasota, Fla. If you're into shopping, you might try the Mall at Millenia in Orlando. The Lake Eola area in downtown Orlando is great for walking around, nice shops and restaurants, and there's always something going on during the weekend. I really like the Space Coast beaches as well, and if you're into rockets, you have to check out the Kennedy Space Center.

It sounded to me as if the chatter who posted about "picking up a Volvo in Sweden" was actually purchasing the car for overseas delivery, not renting it. The "passes" needed to travel on certain highways are known as vignettes, and you have to buy one for each country that requires them, as far as I know. However, it's pretty easy to get them -- you can buy them at the border stations on the highways as you enter a country where a vignette is required. Austria and Switzerland are two countries that come to mind.

Thanks for that info!

I have had better luck seeing the ponies in Assateague Island National Seashore.

I haven't had flights that required me to connect between the airports, but I used to live in Kew Gardens, about midway between the two (and right on both flight paths.) I'd spring for a cab, since you don't have an inordinate amount of time; you won't have to sit and fidget while a shuttle picks up or drops off other people.


Preferred method for making this connection? Avoid it! But since that's not an option, pick any of the companies listed on the website you linked to and get a confirmed reservation. And don't dilly-dally at LGA! At that hour of the morning, you're in rush hour. It seems like a lot of time, but if you have to check in 3 hours early and you're also waiting for luggage and sitting in traffic... well, I'd pack the Tums in my purse.

Thanks for helping out a fellow chatter.

Umm, it'll be cold and there will be nothing to see. Cape Charles is a cute town on the way up from Williamsburg nearby and there is a state park right before there that has some sunken WWII concrete ships...but unless you have a little one who was in love with the book Misty of Chincoteague I don't know that I would make the trip at that time of year.

Thanks for the reality check.

My husband's office is planning a conference in Europe in August and he is tasked with finding an affordable destination. We love Spain and want to encourage the company to hold the conference there so we don't have to get on any other flights afterward. Do you or the peanuts have any experience attending large (200+) person events in Spain? (We know the whole "Spain shuts down in August" thing might be an issue...trying anyway.)

That question goes beyond our expertise, since we usually travel in groups of one or two, at the most.

Chatters, can you help?

Hi Flight Crew! We're headed to Miami and the Keys in May and looking for hotels. In Miami Beach I've narrowed it down to St Augustine and the Chesterfield as they're both reasonably priced ($160-220) and seem to have decent reviews. Any other recs for hotels in South Beach in the $200/night range? What about Key West? Thanks!

My friend stayed at the Fontainebleau Miami Beach and loved it. Though I am not sure what she paid.

For Key West, I recommend the Island City House Hotel, Sunset Key Guest Cottages (you take a launch to reach the private island) or the Ocean Key Resort, which overlooks Sunset Pier and the evening festival.

We have a cottage already paid in the Cotswold England area for the last week of August. We are wanting to combine this trip with a visit to Germany, around the Dusseldorf/Cologne area the week previous to England. My husband and I are traveling with two teen boys. I would like to figure out best way to travel to/from with the least amount of cost. Any help is much appreciated. Thank you.

Are you going to have a car? If so, you can drive to either London or Birmingham and take a cheap flight to Dusseldorf or Cologne. Go to Euroflights for a list of discount air carriers that serve these routes. 

We (family of 4) are travelling to Quito, Ecuador this summer for a 1 week trip. Very excited but we have a major concern. The flight itinerary selected for us leaves us only a 36 minute window from landing in Panama City, PN to Quito, EC connection on our southward leg. Landing at 08:22PM and departing 8:58PM. The travel people we went with (Friendly Planet Travel) have assured us that Panama City is a very small airport and we should be OK in making our connection (including baggage transfer). Any experience in traveling down in that area? Would travel insurance ease my concern if I am worried about the luggage not making it to Quito? Thanks!

That is tight, but if this is a tour that is offered by Friendly Planet, I would hope they know the drill. I don't believe it's a very small airport. I'd try to figure out whether the arriving and departing flights typically use gates that are fairly close. I'd also want to know Friendly Planet's game plan in the event you do miss the flight.  As for luggage, can you get by with carry-on? Might be safer. Travel insurance is a good idea for several reasons, including lost luggage. 

I have an approx. $500 credit on United from a cancelled trip to Mexico this past winter. I'd like to use it for a much-needed vacation in August, but Mexico is out of the question and Europe will be so expensive the $500 won't make much of a dent, especially if I have someone come along. What destinations might have good deals on fares on United from DC around that time of year? I never fly them, so I have no clue where they fly from DC or where August is the low-season, or really where to start looking.

Play around with their interactive route map and/or plug in a bunch of places you might be interested in on Kayak or something and then filter the results to see what United has. In August, when D.C. is sweltering, I would be interested in going somewhere at least a bit cooler -- Montreal, Quebec, Seattle, Vancouver, Portland (Maine or Oregon), etc.

Hi Flight Crew. My husband and I just bought 2 tickets to Japan in June and now need to figure out what to do. We'll have 9 nights there and are thinking about spending some of that time in Kyoto. We don't speak Japanese so that could potentially limit us in what we'll be able to do. Do you or the chatters know of some must-do things we can't miss? Also, any food options that we can't miss (that we'll be able to take advantage of even if we don't speak Japanese)? We're flying into Narita but could really go anywhere from there. Thanks!

Get to the Tsukiji Fish Market early one morning to watch the auction and walk around to see the crazy seafood, much of it still flapping. Have sushi for breakfast at one of the places right at the market -- look for one with a line. Go to the department store food halls and ogle -- and buy to taste later. My favorite food experience was at Tenmatsu for tempura.

Hi travel gurus, love your articles and chats! I read you faithfully even though I've moved from DC to TX! My husband and I are heading to San Francisco this weekend - will be there Sunday afternoon until Wednesday am, when we drive to Yosemite. One day in SF we've planned a bike trip from Fisherman's Wharf, through the Presidio, over the Golden Gate to Sausalito, and the ferry back. That leaves us with 1.5 days to do some additional sight-seeing. Suggestions for can't miss places, must-avoids, restaurants to try, etc? We're staying near the Embarcadero, we'll have a car, we're not big on museum-going (and really like to be outside), and we've already been to Alcatraz. Thanks for your wisdom!

Well, you'll be near the Ferry Building market, and that's a must-see (and must-eat -- wait in line at Blue Bottle coffee and get one of those freshly made waffles in the morning; eat everything that calls to you at the weekend farmers market). My favorite outdoor activity, besides walking the stairways, is strolling around the Japanese gardens and having tea in Golden Gate Park.

Oh, and for restaurants, I always like to recommend Nopalito. Fresh and creative Mexican. Love.

My family and I want to travel to CA this summer. I want to fly into San Francisco and travel drive along the coast to San Diego, stopping along to the way. We will be there for 10 days. My husband does not think we will be able to do this, and that we should choose one city over another. Advice please.

In 10 days? Well, sure you can! Spend a few days in SF and then hit the road. Take the 101, and make stops in Monterey/Carmel, Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo (spend the night around here), Santa Barbara, on the way to LA. Stay a few days in LA, then hit the road for San Diego for another few days. Sounds nice!

It's our first anniversary and we decided to plan a mini getaway/weekend in Santa Fe, NM. No ideas for what to do or where to eat, but we have a hotel near the plaza and would LOVE some recommendations.

If you like ANY kind of spa experience, get thee to Ten Thousand Waves. My favorite. As for restaurants, it's been several years since I've been and it looks like there are lots more options than were there then, but I had good meals at Cafe Pasqual's and Casa Chimayo. Activities? The Georgia O'Keefe House, of course, plus the Museum of International Folk Art and St. Francis Cathedral, among others. Some nice shopping. If you have time, you should try to get to Taos. So beautiful there.

I dream of renting a little beach house on stilts for a week. I have checked VRBO and other various sites, but that isn't an option you can narrow down by, or even tell from pictures most of the time. Any suggestions for finding a vacation home on stilts? I am looking anywhere on the east coast.

Some areas offer more of this type housing that others. I'd take a look at the Outer Banks in North Carolina, especially newer houses. I believe all new construction must now be built on stilts there. 

Nova Scotia in September is VERY different from Nova Scotia in June. Lots of places close for the season on or before Labor Day weekend. Check the places you want to see to be sure they will be open!

Good advice.

Heading to New Orleans for the first time in a few weeks. Anything you recommend that is off the beaten path/non-touristy?

Check out this Treme-inspired tour of NoLA. Lots of under-the-radar options here.

Please do an article on this system that is appearing in more and more hotels. It is a nuisance to put it mildly. It is frustrating that whenever one turns the TV on what appears is all of the rental stuff and it is necessary to cursor to the TV itself and then when you turn the TV because you leave the room the system defaults to the original set up instead of staying on the last network watched. Who owns this system?

I've seen those, too. Only my kids know how to work them. Great idea!

My husband and I are trying to decide where to go on a 2 week summer vacation in July/August. You know, the type that may not be so easy to do once you have kids. We're pretty active and like hiking, etc. but would also enjoy some time just relaxing.

Some more information would be helpful. Do you want to travel domestically or venture abroad? What's your budget? Are you city folk or do you want a rural experience? The world's a big place, and just asking us broadly where you should go for two weeks is a tall order!

"Fares are sky high". I hope that was pun intended!

Why, of course!

For the mom and 20 year old daughter - Safety Harbour Spa where Al Capone used to go for the water. On the way to Clearwater from Tampa. Its a great spa day!

Go for it! Last April, we traveled the Golden Triangle which includes visits to Dehli, Agra (Taj Mahal) and Jaipur. If you are on a budget and don't want to fly between destinations, it might be best to visit some sites close to where the wedding is located, since traffic can be slow and streets are filled with everything from tractors to herds of camels! Have fun! It's really a great place.


I have to say that traveling with breastmilk was a pain as the TSA tested every single bag. I mean come on. I found it easier to travel wtih IVF meds including lots and lots of needles, ice packs, etc than what was obviously breastmilk.

Thanks for, er, sharing.

I just looked on, and SWISS has 2 types of aircraft I would expect to see used on long-haul flights: the A330 and A340. Both are listed as having 32.0" pitch in economy, which sounds like torture for anyone over about 5' tall.

Thanks for doing such dogged research.

Don't miss the Stax Museum in Memphis!

Good tip, thanks!

I took the train from DC to Richmond for a long weekend and had a great time. I stayed downtown and some parts were a bit iffy, but I am a city dweller so had no trouble. I did a walking tour through the tourist office (may not work for chatter and his/her mother). I also like the John Marshall House, the Maggie Walker House, the Poe Museum, and the White House of the Confederacy. Great place for a weekend from DC!

Thanks for the additional tips.

Walking a beach is wonderful any time of year. I have done it in January.

Excellent point!

When we went through New Orleans, TSA initially let my spouse through without taking his shoes off because the agent didn't know the age limit and/or couldn't figure out he wasn't 75. She had to ask another agent before enforcing the shoe limitations.

Nice fumble, TSA!

What is your favoirite yacht charter destination and why?

My parents, who have sailed nearly every body of water, charter through Moorings. Some of their favorite destinations:  Croatia, Tonga, Turkey, Italy and Turkey again (they are going back this fall).  As the tagalong on some of these trips (mainly in the Caribbean), I recommend the Grenadines.

They claim to have 32" of pitch in economy, but I really question the truthfulness of that. Thank you for the advice - I will try again. Do you have any suggestions as to the type of "specific compensation" I should seek?

Please send me an email. I'll do my best to help.

Want to suggest the Mandarin Oriental as an oasis of tranquility. Maybe too tranquil if they're attending bachelor/ette parties -- but maybe ideal if they want to recharge away from the party vibe.

Yeah, I think the CityCenter development in general would be good to look at. As far as dining goes, there are two restaurants from D.C. restaurateur Jose Andres -- China Poblano and Jaleo, both of which should be good for vegetarians, as the OP mentioned.

That's all relative to what you enjoy - if you're into nature and the outdoors the refuge and National Seashore can be great in April for walks on miles of beach that you have all to yourself, getting up close to the lighthouse without mobs of tourists, and it's migration time for people that are into birding.

Spain will be hopping with folks from the colder European climes! "Affordable" is subjective, but I am thinking for bang for the Euro, you would need to stay away from popular places like Barcelona or Madrid. Of course, the reason they're popular is that there's a tonne of stuff to see & do there. ya pays yer money and ya takes yer choice...

3-1-1: I am a frequent traveler and have never ever ever taken liquids out of my bags at security Knives: On a flight from New Orleans back to DC last summer, my boyfriend had to give up a pocket knife that had sentimental value (and had a very cool logo on it). He had always been able to get through security with it no problem (it was standard size). Well, this particular TSA agent was obviously very interested in it and kept handling it like he wanted to take it for himself. He claimed it would have to be thrown away. We were skeptical and insisted on staying to see what the agent would do with it. He finally, and very slowly walked to a trash can (with his back to us) and the bin opened but I swear, he concealed it to take it for himself.

Too bad your boyfriend did not have a self-addressed envelope on him and he could have sent it to himself. That would've shown the agent!

For the poster asking about tours in NOLA, a fun activity is to take a cooking class. I do this whenever I travel to a new place. The one I did was the New Orleans School of Cooking.

Great idea. Thanks!

Thinking of renting a car from London to drive into the countryside for about 3-5 days. I'm a bit nervous to drive on the opposite side of the road, etc......any thoughts on how challenging this is? I"m guessing I need an international driver's license too?

I'll be doing the same in April, and I'm a little nervous, too, because although I've driven in England (and Bermuda and a couple of other left-side-of-the-road places), it's been years. The way I remember is to always remind myself that as the driver, I need to be in the middle of the road -- not beside the shoulder or curb! That generally works and helps with turns, etc. The most challenging thing for me is shifting with my left hand, but even that I can get used to fairly quickly. You don't need an international permit to drive in the UK, just a valid US license.

Please help: How to rebook & complete travel after the deadline for doing so (5/15/13), having had to cancel a trip booked through Orbitz on US Airways and Alaska Airlines. Thank you.

I'm a little confused by your question. But basically, there is no wiggle room when it comes to following the airlines' rebooking rules. If you cancelled a trip, they'll apply some of the fare amount to a future trip, but they'll also hit you with a big rebooking fee and you usually have to rebook within a year. Read through US Airways'and Alaska Airlines' contracts of carriage. 

DH and I are in desperate need of a vacation and are thinking the end of May. Want warm (not hot) and not the beach (I'm not in swim suit shape yet). He came across Sedona and thought it might be fun and relaxing. We enjoy the idea of beautiful scenery, walking and spirituality. Any thoughts from you or the other chatters?

Sedona's supposed to be great! I haven't been, but have always heard wonderful things. I say go.

Thanks for answering my question and the (lovely) recommendations, unfortunately all of them (save Island City House I think) are $350-$700+/night, rather far off from our ~$200/night goal.

Come back next week and we can think of some more for you (and maybe Chris can help out; he is a Key West regular).

It's great to eat the famous dry-rubbed ribs, see the Peabody Ducks, and tour Graceland, etc--all well-known activities. I've been to Memphis a lot, and want to speak up for lesser-known places, such as the National Ornamental Metal Museum and Chucalissa Indian Village (on National Register of Historic Places as well as being a National Landmark). It all depends on your interests and available time.

Stop! Time's up.

Thanks for joining us on this wintry day. Come back next week for more chat-chat-chatter.

For today's winner: The girlfriend of the boyfriend who lost his pocket knife. We feel for his loss. E-mail me your address at

See ya next Monday!

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.
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