The Washington Post

Talk about Travel: PreCheck, Panama, New Orleans and more

Mar 03, 2014

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.
Past Talk about Travel chats

Hello, snow-dusted chatters. Hope you are all bundled up and roasting by the fire -- or space heater.

Today's chat topic: embassies. Has anyone ever relied on an embassy abroad? Most "Argo"-esque story wins a date with Ben Affleck -- or a tote bag, depending on what is living in our prize drawer.

We leave in two weeks for Italy. We plan to hike Cinque Terre in one day, then visit each town the next day, but also spend a day or two each in Lucca and Pisa. We would appreciate some tips for the hike itself (start at the north or south end, places to see and eat, etc.). Also some must-see or -do things in Pisa and Lucca. Thanks!

It's a little old at this point, but here's a story from 2004 we had on hiking Cinque Terre. And here's a nice page from Rick Steves with articles, photos and even a TV epsidode.

Chatters, some more help?

Hello Travel Gurus - love your work! I'm in the midwest, and will be coming to DC during the week of Mar 31-Apr 4 for business. My husband has never been to DC, so I'd like to either come out the weekend before, or stay through the weekend after so he can join me for a few days. We'd love to see some of the Cherry Blossom Festival... the super-cold weather seems to be setting Spring back. Is it crazy to think that the trees will have ANY blooms by the first weekend in April, or should we just plan to see the regular sights?

I'm afraid we are not really experts on forecasting the cherry blossoms. But the NPS is. Here's some info.

I don't think you need to decide blooms vs. other stuff far in advance. Regardless, you're not going to want to spend the entire time around the blossoms -- too crowded. They're within spitting distance of a lot of the memorials and museums you'll want to see anyway. So just have a wish list ready, and be flexible. No blooms? Do all the other stuff. Blooms? See those and your other top activities.

Any words of wisdom about a last-minute trip to New Orleans, possibly later this week? I'm starting a new job in a couple of weeks, and would like to take a 4-5 day mini vacation to celebrate the end of my unemployment. We'd like to go somewhere warmer (just me and my husband). Our honeymoon was in NOLA, so we're leaning that way. With Mardi Gras ending this week, the flights and hotels seem reasonable - any idea if restaurants and attractions will be "taking a breather"? We're just looking to get away, eat some great food, take walks, hit the jazz clubs... we're not the late-night-party kind of people. Thanks for your awesome chats & columns!

I think NOLA after Mardi Gras is a great idea. I think the only day that's really very slow is Ash Wednesday, the day RIGHT after the biggest party. Other than that, NOLA is always hopping -- you should have a ball.

I'm taking a trip to East Africa in June and the cheapest flight (by several hundred dollars) is on Egypt Air, and it has a layover in Cairo. I normally would be thrilled by this, and would try to make it into the city to explore for a few hours if my layover schedule allowed. But...Egypt's been having trouble with security recently. Any words of wisdom about this situation where I could have a layover in a relatively unsafe country? My thoughts so far are: 1. The trip is several months away and things can get either better or worse very very quickly so today's situation is not a reliable indicator of a situation several months in the future, and 2. Egypt Air is a major carrier, and it's rare for major international flights to be affected by internal political strife of this magnitude. We're not talking Syria, and we're not talking Iraq in March 2003, or even Egypt 2011. Anything else that pops into your minds that I should be weighing as I consider booking this flight? Money is really tight, so the several hundred dollars is quite significant to me. I'm leaning towards booking it, but would like the input of some experienced travelers before taking the plunge. Thanks in advance for your ideas!

I don't  know if my advice is rash and impulsive, but I would book the flight and roll with whatever happens. To my understanding, no major businesses have failed because of the political situation. Nor has the airport been a target. 

If you do book the flight, you might consider purchasing travel insurance that covers these types of disruptions. It could be expensive, though. Check with your credit card, too, to see if they grant you any coverage in case of a cancellation. 

We'll keep our fingers crossed for you!

I need ideas! My husband has now decided he wants us to take our 12 year old daughter on a trip for Springbreak (mid April). MUST be in the US. She wants to go to Louisiana and New Orleans in particular. I'm not sure New Orleans will have enough to do and I am questioning how appropriate it is for a 12yr girl. Any other suggestions? We've done FL and Disney. We've done CA. We've done Myrtle Beach. We would like to keep it on the inexpensive side. Driving distance would bonus and a place we could take the dog would be extra bonus.

How about Asheville? Fits your parameters of both driving distance and dog-friendly. Lots of fun outdoor activities your teen might like. If she's a shopper or into the arts, that's there too. You can even do a Segway tour of the Biltmore Estate. Here's a page on family-friendly activities. And here's a page of accommodations that allow pets.

For the chatter who asked last week about driving to Plitvice: we drove there from Split. That's the opposite direction from their starting point. But for what it's worth, the drive was fine and the park was easy to find. We did not have an international driver's license. Totally worth it, but it's a LONG day trip.

Thanks for the first-person account!

Where would you suggest traveling as one week add-on to a trip to Budapest in September? We have already been to Prague and Vienna, so don't want to do those. We could do another city, but would probably prefer smaller town or countryside. Thanks for your help.

We're not too familiar with the countryside out that way. Anyone?

If you are game for another city, you could consider Zagreb, which we recently featured in a story by a former resident

Need some advice on an airfare search. I am planning on spending a month in Iceland this summer, working at my US job remotely. While there, I plan to take a long weekend trip to Munich for a high school reunion. I've done a few flight searches on Icelandair, travelocity, etc. including searches for two separate round trip flights (IAD-KEF-IAD and KEF-MUC-KEF), and multi-city searches. My results have been all over the place. One of the variables is that my budget permits Saga (business) class on at least the long-haul flights, if not all of them. I've gotten everything from $1993 (Vayama) to $2304 (Icelandair) to $8994 (Travelocity) to $10,230 (Icelandair again). Sometimes everything looks good until I get to the end and find the class is mixed/messed up. Any suggestions? Should I just call Icelandair and talk to a rep? Thanks.

I prefer booking directly with the airlines rather than through a third-party site because I don't like to deal with finger pointing when things go wrong. Plus, I think it will probably be cheapest to book these flights separately. Book you international flights on one ticket, and your trip to Munich on another. I found a $958 round-trip economy fare for a month in July/August on Icelandair to from Washington to  Reykjavik (Saga class is about $2,000). Fare to Munich is about $450 right now on Air Berlin, but I'd likely wait to book that.

It looks like the best fares are on Virgin Atlantic. Does this sound right to you or are there other options I should check out?

VA does have great fares, and I think the best in-flight experience. I say: book it!

Hi Chris Enjoyed Sunday's article. I guess we (two seniors) were undeserving of pre-check over Christmas. Leaving BWI many passengers were put in the pre-check and returning from Phoenix we all had a boarding pass marked pre-check. We thought perhaps it was because we had filled out forms for Southwest several years ago documenting our age so we could easily get senior fares. This year we will "age out" of the need to take shoes off. It was very nice to not have to remove so much stuff. Is the fee of $100 just a one-time deal? If so, we we wouldn't mind at all paying it just to not have to strip as much. As I recall when I first read about the new procedure, I think TSA said it had the option of selecting passengers who hadn't paid the fee to be put in these lines. After all, I think to date all of the dangerous types have been below 40--not seniors.

Chris can't join us today, so I'll answer this for him. The $85 you pay for PreCheck is for five years. Also worth keeping in mind that even if you are in PreCheck, you are not guaranteed to be able to go through the expedited line every time. 

My family with a 12 and 10 yo are going to Paris from June 20th thru the 26th. The first day is the summer festival. What should we do the rest of the days? We are looking to split between major attractions and what the locals do. Thanks!

Walk, walk, walk. You know the major attractions, so I won't repeat those, but if you want to do what the locals do, one fun thing would be to take a picnic out one night at the Canal St. Martin.

I'm also a huge Place des Vosges devotee; if you haven't been there, it's honestly one of the most beautiful public squares in all the world. (OK, maybe that's a major attraction, isn't it?)

That time of year, the weather should be nice (emphasis on SHOULD), so if I were you I'd stay outside as much as possible. Other ideas: Tuileries Garden (trampolines!), Piscine Josephine Baker (swimming!), the Pompidou Centre (it's cool inside or out!), and so much more.

I'll have a piece focused on a food-loving day in the 9th, so if you can wait for that, skedded for 3/16, there will be all sorts of ideas for shopping and munching, too.

I am not sure if this is how I respond to questions, but I saw the Cinque Terre question. Given the recent mudslides, some of the trails are closed. Check the internet. Also, even if they are open, some of the trails are quite difficult and could be dangerous if you are not in shape. Also, personally, I thought that the Cinque Terre is a little overrated. Vernaza is the nicest one. Spend most of your time there. Also, the train ride between the towns is beautiful. You may want to take the train. As long as you don't lose anything to a rainy day, one day is enough. I think that this area got a lot of hype from Rick Steves. After the mudslides, its not as nice as it once was. Time in Italy is precious. There are much better places to go.

Thanks so much for your candid insights. We need to hear the good AND the not-so-great.

For last week, someone was asking about which park to pick for a day. Note that usually California Adventures opens later and closes later than Disneyland. Usually - but check the hours. I would pick Disneyland over California Adventures even if you've been to the Magic Kingdom at WDW. Disneyland has a cozier feel, and there's more nooks and crannies to explore.

That seemed to be the general feeling among the chatters. Thanks!

My husband and I have never been to New Mexico and would love to visit Albuquerque, Santa Fe, and any other places that you suggest. We have two options in terms of a travel time -- the month of October or mid-January/early February. I think we'd probably take a week, although a bit longer would work too. Which time of year do you suggest and what would be a good itinerary? We'd also like recommendations for nice resorts/hotels. We are willing to rent a car and drive between areas.

I'd go in October. Jan/Feb can be pretty chilly there -- in Santa Fe, for instance, the lows are usually in the teens and 20s in Jan/Feb with highs in the 40s, while in October it's more like lows in the upper 30s and highs in the upper 60s. A little warmer in Albuquerque.

I think a decent itinerary would be to base yourselves in Santa Fe and to think about trips to Taos, Albuquerque and, if you want to drive a little bit, Las Cruces (especially if you're into chili peppers). While in Santa Fe, consider hitting up Ten Thousand Waves, one of my favorite spas anywhere (for the soaking tubs and more -- even lodging). And check out the elixirs at Kakawa Chocolate House.

I really enjoyed reading the PreCheck article yesterday. I've found the usefulness of this program to have really declined over the past three or so months. I am almost always selected due to my Global Entry membership but recently I've found myself selecting the normal security lines as they are considerably shorter than the PreCheck line. Last week on one of my flights, the PreCheck at the Delta end of National was easily 50+ people and I made it through the normal security screening in about 5 minutes versus the 15 minutes it took my colleague. As noted in the article, the hangups are the complete lack of information provided by TSA (outside a sticker on the tables by the x-ray machines) to travelers. It's so frustrating when I ended up telling people to not take out their laptops, not take off their jackets and to not take off their shoes while a TSA agent is staring off into space. I'd really be livid if I paid for this program. As someone who travels internationally 2 weeks out of every month, I'm praying that the Global Entry process isn't eventually degraded like PreCheck.

I do think the PreCheck experience may vary a bit depending on who, where and when. When Andrea and I spent the day at Dulles watching and experiencing both lines, we found PreCheck to be faster. The agents in the PreCheck line were constantly reciting their spiel for newbies, though, yes, people were still confused.

Does anyone know of an internet travel website or tool that allows me to check what airlines have direct flights to a particular airport? In google, you used to just be able to type in "direct flight CNX" and all the airline with direct flights to Chiang Mai would show up. It was great for travel planning, but now Google got rid of it. Now it seems you HAVE to go through a shopping engine. So much for Google being the hero of gathering information.

I'm having a deja vu moment here, as I remember answering this exact question in a chat a few months ago. But maybe I dreamed it. I don't know of any site that spits out this info, but I just go to my departing  or arriving airport site. For DCA and IAD, go to flight guides on the MWAA site. BWI lists all its nonstop flights in one spot.   Any chatters have another idea? 

You can also see nonstops on Kayak.

We are going to Phoenix for spring break with kids 6-11. Going to Grand Canyon for two nights, planning Cactus League game, Heard museum, what else? Any favorites or favorite eats there? Thanks!

Definitely go to the Musical Instrument Museum, where your kids can bang on drums and other instruments all day long. I also recommend Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin West. Rawhide Western Town also sounds like a hoot. And I am a fan of butterflies and cactus, so I must throw in the Desert Botanical Garden.

My two middle aged sisters & I are hitting New Orleans in April during Jazz Fest! We have planned MORE than enough to see/do and are really excited! One sister thinks we all should pack heat (tongue in cheek here) and not carry handbags.REALLY? Other than observing normal (i.e., sensible) big city precautions, should I be apprehensive?

Not at all! Take the plunge head-first, just make sure your money issafe and  secure and won't --wink, wink -- fall out. Leave all valuables behind, including  jewelry, etc. You can carry a handbag, just keep it close to your body and bring just a little cash. You can also wear a money belt tucked deep under your clothes. And if a crowd gets too rowdy for your comfort, walk away. Also, don't get too carried away with the cocktails.

What's the best way to get to Sicily from DC?

Lufthansa flies nonstop from Dulles to Munich, and then nonstop from Munich to Palermo. May not be the cheapest way to get there, but likely the shortest. 

I've booked flights to/from Boston on USAirways for late April and early May, with several hours' layover in each direction to connect with flights to/from Europe. How much risk is there that, in the wake of the recent airline merger, my USAirways flights will be rescheduled in the interim, and if so, will I be able to rebook onto flights that will still get me to Boston on time? Will the airline let me know, or will I need to check my flights online in order to find out that info?

The merger is still a bit bumpy, but as long as you stay on top of your itinerary, you should be fine. Make sure you know which carrier you need to check in with, as well as the flight number, which might be different than the one on your reservation. The carrier should notify you of any flight changes. For example, US Airways called me the other day to let me know that it had cancelled my flight back to D.C. today --  though the agent did not leave a message. So glad I pressed "call" on the 800-number and heard US Airways on the other end.

You can also use the airline's Twitter account for status reports. The agents reply much faster than phone calls.

Love the chats! My husband & I are thinking of taking a 2 week vacation to Central America. I've heard a lot about Costa Rica, but I'm wondering about Panama. Since they're right next to each other, I would think the climate and scenery would be similar. And Panama City seems like an interesting big city, plus it has the Canal. So ... why does everyone go to Costa Rica? Is it really better, and worth what appears to be a lot more money?

Costa Rica has a reputation as having better-than-average infrastructure & a wide variety of resorts & organized tours. It seems to attract Americans because they feel comfortable there. But Panama is somewhat similar, and I would not hesitate to go there. Chatters have any thoughts?  

Thank you for taking my question- I am hoping that you might be able to help me. I will be traveling to Europe in the near future for the first time, and I don't know if I should bring cash to exchange or stick with an ATM. On the one hand, I don't like walking around with money, but I know that I'm going to get hit with a lot of bank fees if I hold off and try to use the ATM in Belgium/Netherlands. What do you think I should do? And if I wanted to exchange money, where would be the best places to go?

Here's a story we did a few years ago on currency exchange. The bottom line:

Withdrawing cash from an ATM overseas or using your credit card is probably the best way to go, but it wouldn't hurt to have a little foreign money in your pocket when you land. If you want to convert money stateside, avoid the airport exchange booth and pray for a customer-friendly bank. And if you want to use plastic, let's hope you have a card from an issuer that doesn't charge a high foreign transaction fee.

A friend and I are headed to Cork City in June for a week. We'll be staying in the city. We were planning on flying in Dublin but a friend suggested flying into Shannon instead so we could see more of the West. Any advice? We weren't planning to rent a car so will be relying on public transportation and we are planning on spending one night in either Dublin or the area around Shannon airport. This is a first trip to Ireland so any insight/suggestions would be appreciated. Thanks

Ireland is pretty well served by coach (a.k.a. bus). If you fly into Shannon, you could easily get to Galway or Limerick for some sightseeing.

Other tips?

I'm interested to know if Becky really thought the trip to Denver was worth $300. It seems like most people could easily plan a trip on Frontier and a stay at a Kimpton Hotel. Also, did she go to the zoo just because it was on the suggested list of things to do? Seems like an odd way to spent time in the Denver area when you're interested in mountains, especially coming from D.C.

Good questions. In general, I do think the fee was worth it for my mystery trip, although I could see it being perhaps a little lower. The excitement was a lot of fun, and I think they saved me money at least on my car rental. Not something I would do for all my trips. Once or twice, though, is cool.

I did go to the zoo because it was on the list of recommendations. Was happy to go because it was a gorgeous 60 degrees that day in Denver and I LOVE zoos. Been to several around the country. Plus, there were a lot of animals at the Denver Zoo I'd never seen before, let alone in D.C. 

Haven't been since the floods, so I'm not sure how much of this still holds, but... On the trail from Corniglia to Vernazza, there is (was?) a little bar where you can get a glass of sciaccatra (sp?) a local sweet wine. On the trail from Vernazza to Monterosso, we were told to buy limoncino from the old man on the side of the trail, as his was some of the best. We regretted that we missed it. Foodwise, there were some great fresh anchovies in the restaurant, and a great grocery in Vernazza with out-of-this-world cheese (especially the gorgonzola). Try the local wine, including the Cinque Terre wine (white). A carafe in Vernazza is much bigger than a carafe in Venice!

Thanks for this.

I went by myself (single female) to NOLA in early February and was fine. Make sure your hotel is in a safe, well-lighted area or be prepared to take a taxi a night. And do watch the alcohol - I saw too many people so out of it - they were incredibly vulnerable. Have fun!

Thanks much for comforting advice!

Spending a spring weekend in Boston and would love your and the chatters ideas on top things to do. We won't have a car, so anything easily accessible on the T would be ideal. Love museums, history, cute neighborhoods with indie stores, unusual tours and just walking around. Also good things to eat. Any ideas much appreciated!

Boston has a long list of worthy sites to visit.  I'm partial to the North End for food & drink.  Fanuel Hall, the Freedom Trail, the New England Aquarium, Paul Revere's house, Boston Public Garden....I could go on. Visit the tourism Web site to get ideas. 


I adore Cambridge, especially the Harvard museums and the Ivy League-ish scene along the Charles River.

I'll have one afternoon on my own in Naples this September. I'd love to see the Archeological Museum. My flight arrives at noon, so I'm thinking of taking a bus or taxi directly from the airport to the museum. I'll just have one 21" wheeled carry-on with me; is there a safe place to store it at the museum? If not, would they mind if I wheeled it around the museum with me?

From a Google translation on the museum's site:

Wardrobe : at the entrance of the museum is located a free cloakroom service. No access is allowed in the Museum with bags, backpacks, umbrellas and bulky items, you can store these belongings in the cloakroom.

The other side of the TSA pre-check question is: when are they actually open?? I went from Dulles to Curacao via Miami and returned recently, and on no legs of this trip was TSA Pre-check operating. I had to scramble at each check-point to get shoes off, liquids out, etc. , and lose precious transfer time waiting with everyone else. And got "randomly screened" when I really was late due to airline delays!! When we can't count on them in any case, what good is having this alleged 'perk'?? I do like global entry, but pre-check has not provided any benefits thus far.

PreCheck is currently in more than 115 airports in the country. The lanes should be open during peak/popular times of travel, or if not, then the TSA agent will send you through the standard lane but allow you to keep on your shoes, etc. For a list of airports, see here.

To keep travelers on their toes, the agency will randomly select PreCheck travelers from the line and put them through standard security procedures. Becky and I wrote about the experience last year. Here's the piece.

about to book tickets for a reunion in Seattle and thinking of spending an extra week to drive up to Victoria, Vancouver and then back to Seattle. Suggestions? Must sees? Is driving better than public bus/train?

I really think the only time you'll definitely want a car is for Victoria, if only so you can get out and explore Vancouver Island a bit. Which you should, because it's gorgeous. You can play this a few ways. Take the clipper from Seattle to Victoria, drive around a bit there, and then take another ferry to Vancouver. Or you could train/bus from Seattle to Vancouver and do a boat to and from Victoria. 

Frequent overseas traveler here, and until a few months ago I would have told you without hesitation to use ATMs. However, I discovered the hard way that if you run into a problem with your transaction, your US bank will barely investigate and hardly back you up. In my case, an ATM in Istanbul processed the transaction but never gave me the money. I called Wells Fargo, explained the situation, and they "investigated." Their "investigation" consisted of, "Ask the Turkish bank" and not, "Pull the ATM video." I had to threaten to close my account before they would reimburse me and cover the loss! So depending on your destination, you may want to bring some money with you.

Yes, of course. It's a good idea to start out with some when you arrive and keep a little in reserve for situations just like this! Glad it got resolved, though.

I am just starting to look into a trip to Vietnam, and find myself a bit stymied from the very first part of the trip - is Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City the larger / more "usual" airport to fly into? I do plan on seeing both cities, so "which one is closer to what you want to see" doesn't come into it. Thank you!

SGN in HCMC is the largest airport in Vietnam, but Hanoi (HAN) isn't too far behind. It depends on where you're flying from and the fares and options you find, really; almost 30 airlines fly from the US into SGN and about 20 into HAN, none of them nonstop.

Is there a reason why TSA doesn't post an agent at the front of the line at security to help passengers who don't know the rules, rather than have someone walk up and down the line shouting at people? At every foreign airport I've ever been to, someone is posted at the front of the line, checking what you've put in your bin and asking you if you have anything that should be separated out (liquids, laptops, etc.). It not only makes the line run much more smoothly, it's just a nicer experience. Please don't tell me that we yell at passengers for reasons of "national security"!

Agents do stand at attention from start to finish, including a few posted before you even enter the line and show your ID. There are also signs that show travelers what they can and can not carry in their bags. I think TSA may leave the final (shouted) instructions to the last minute because people will be paying attention and not fussing with their gadgets or groaning about the wait.

If you rent a car, you may want to look at Slovenia. Ljubljana is a small city and there are lovely places to visit in the country.

Good thought, yes.

I wrote about TSA pre-check not being open at IAD and MIA. The rest of the story about MIA is that the Global Entry customs officer was having a lengthy discussion with a passenger [in Spanish] about futbol while several of us were trying to get done with it all and make our connecting flights...He was paying absolutely zero attention to anyone else while they discussed various games and outcomes! You can't say anything, or risk being pulled aside for further examinations, so we just glowered and waved boarding passes until their conversation was over. Extremely frustrating! And unprofessional of him.

Absolutely! You should report the incident to TSA. Agents should be focusing on security, not soccer.


I am clueless about the flexibility I have in using my frequent flyer miles, aside from the airlines continue to up the requirements. I have a ton of miles with British Airways. Can I redeem them on American Airlines since they are both One Alliance members? I would like to use the miles to visit someplace in South America. Looking on the British Airways site as me flying to London then Madrid before recrossing the Atlantic Ocean to arrive in South America (I used Santiago as a sample destination).

Yes, you can redeem your British Airways miles on American flights. Go to the American Airlines site to book. 

I just booked tickets to Anchorage for my family for the second week of June. What must see things would you recommend? All our kids are over 11. Thanks

A Post reporter traveled to Alaska with her kids and wrote about it for Travel. Though her kids are younger than yours, maybe you can find some ideas.

Mom, dad and 2.5 year old trying to plan vacation for a week during this timeframe when our day care center is closed. Any ideas for a trip costing under $2500. We looked into the Outer Banks/Jersey Shore, but rental prices are out of our budget. We are open to doing a long driving trip, but unsure of potential destinations. We considered Disney, too, but wonder if it will cost too much, p,us be very crowded and hot.

I like going to the mountains in the summer. In a place such as Deep Creek Lake or the Canaan Valley area of West Virginia, you can get a pretty reasonable condo or cabin rental. Will make for a very relaxing vacation. Or you could do a nice road trip through Virginia on I-81/Route 11 or Blue Ridge Parkway.  I love Disney, but I'm with you -- not in July. If your heart is set on a beach, have you looked at Virginia's Eastern Shore? It might be more reasonable. 

Southern Hungary has some destinations if you will rent a car, like Pecs and Szeged. Great spas and red wine. Salzburg would also be lovely in September.

Thanks for the reminder on Pecs! Here's a story we had the other year.

I'd like to drive down to Charleston, SC for a short vacation, are they are nice town/cities we can stop by for a night to break the trip on the way there and then back? Thx

Of course! Charlottesville, Richmond, Raleigh, Wilmington, Charlotte and more are all possibilities, depending on how much of a detour you want to take.

I understand that they stand there, but they don't DO anything but yell at you! Why not help the clearly-confused passengers that tend to hold up the line, rather than shout at them? In other words, rather than shout, "Take out your liquids!" why not calmly ask the passenger, "Do you have any liquids?" Yelling at people who are likely already nervous doesn't ever seem to help the situation.

I don't think they see it as yelling but just projecting their voices so their instructions reach more ears.

Does the water in Venice have a polluted odor? What about insects flying about?

From what I have heard, the canals can give off a whiff of Eww de Parfum in the hot summer. That's also when mosquitos come out to play. But during cooler months, the unpleasantness goes away.

Hi - taking our kids (age 6 and 8) to NYC for a few days during spring break. Any recommendation of a hidden gem or off-the-beaten path sight or restaurant? We are staying in mid-town.

How about the Gazillion Bubble Show?


I would also recommend the Rubin Museum of Art, which is dedicated to the Himalayas; the New York Transit Museum in Brooklyn; and the  Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum. If the weather is comfortable take the ferry to various points on the East or Hudson river.

Wikipedia has comprehensive lists and maps of non-stop destinations under "airlines and destination" for most airports. Go to the page for the airport name -here is the link to Dulles

May be a good starting point. 

Again, I dont see any way to directly respond to a topic, so I am typing it here as a comment. Please feel free to past and insert. People choose Costa Rica because, yes, it has the best developed tourism infrastructure, but prices there are now so high that its not worth it. Unless you are a surfer, where CR dominates, CR can be bland. Guatemala is more interesting and unique, not to mention cheaper. In response to the money and exchange rate question, it depends on the country. For more developed countries, like those in Europe, the ATM exchange rate is the best. But for less well to do countries, like the Phillipines for example, you can often get a MUCH better rate exchanging cash directly, and without the fees. In the PI, I got 20% above the market rate on a local cambio, and without the fees. Best to check a lonely planet forum or something and ask other travellers.

I would add re: Costa Rica that the interior of the country is also quite lovely. I went on a birding trip there a few years back, and it was wonderful. 

If you go--go early October. Its the time of their Balloon Fesitval in ABQ. It will be crowded so you need to book now for travel. On the last Friday-Sunday AMs is when they have th mega balloon launches around sunrise

Oh, yes -- that's a great one!

Doing a week...probably limits you to one or the other. One way to get there is via ferry from Port angeles ---so you can explore the olympic penninsula area as well. With Vancouver you could also explore San Juan Islands, Whistler, Mt Baker area and Vancouver.

Great ideas. Thanks!

Tenement House museum, lower east side


Also check Time Out New York. The magazine and its Web site have an amazing list of events and attractions.

Read "All of a Kind Family" with your kids before you go!

If you are looking into a place to possibly visit - somewhere you know next to nothing about - do you have any standard "go to" websites for basic information, ideas on major attractions, how safe a place is. For instance, I was thinking Morocco might be interesting - but other than knowing the names of a few cities, I have no clue. How would you start?

I go old school and grab a bunch of guidebooks, really. I find it so much easier to page through and bookmark something in my hands. They're organized well and have all the basics you're looking for.

A country or city's tourism web site is another good place to start.

In 2008, I visited a friend who was teaching English in Korea and she took me on the USO tour of the DMZ. Beyond the dress code and the bus ride, which were intimidating in their own ways, the lecture we got from the Marines stationed there about how to behave and the potential for a bad outcome (including a slideshow that featured the international incident/shooting that happened during a tour!) was almost enough to make own change one's mind about the whole thing. The waiver that you sign before heading into the DMZ proper is absurd in its specificity and the reality that nothing bad will likely happen, but it could. Definitely made me think of the USO in a brand new light and I'm forever grateful for the Marines that were with us to protect us as we crossed into North Korea and watched them watching us.

What an incredible tale. I think you just won the prize!

The question reminded me of the time that my wife and I overheard an American teenager ask her gondolier: "How did they get the water into Venice?" The unflappable response: "The water was here when Venice was born."


As I've written to this chat before, I often travel through foreign airports (including Tel Aviv) and I am never shouted at the way I am in the US. There is no reason for the TSA to yell "to reach more ears" as it was just suggested, the lines more far more efficiently and passengers are far less frazzled abroad. It would be a great story if you could come to Israel or a foreign airport and observe their security.

Honestly, no one can compare to Israel's security procedures. I have traveled abroad quite a lot and you are right, no one yells at me. But I also don't always receive instruction either. I always have to ask about my shoes. The rest I learned for our TSA agents.

I usually start with Trip Advisor. The brutal honesty is great.

Me too!

I've had pages added to my pass pore at the consulate in Dubai and the Embassy in Singapore. I find it's much faster than doing it here in the DC area -- usually same day.

Great to hear! Thanks.

Thanks for taking my question about the Egypt layover. I think I'll go ahead and book it and keep my fingers crossed. Next question is how do I know if things are too dangerous? Just check the State Department reports? I've been a bunch of places that already had State Department warnings so feel as though the warnings typically play it way on the safe side, but the Middle East turmoil seems different (unpredictable in timing and intensity) than the political strife of other politically unstable countries I've been to. Or maybe I'm asking a question to which there are no answers, other than wait and see if I'm comfortable when the time comes...

The State Department is a good start. Also stay abreast of the news, and you also check in with other tour operators who lead trips to that destination and often have people on the ground watching the situation. Most likely, if they cancel their trips, they know something!

Crossed into North Korea? Come on. The only time you could have been in North Korean territory is if you were in those buildings where they hold joint talks. If you are talking about the ramp down into the tunnels, you were in South Korea the whole time. But I do agree the whole thing is intimidating and we owe a huge debt of gratitude to our service members.

I second (or third...) the Tenement Museum suggestion. In addition to Time Out New York (which I also second), I would recommend the book The Best Things to Do in New York. I live here but like to be a tourist here as well and this book has consistently beaten all guide books for activity suggestions. Won't help with logistics though, like train maps, etc. so stick with the guidebook for that.

Thanks for the suggestions.

Sydney, Zurich, and Amsterdam all have people help you pack your bins correctly and advise you of any rules (I'm sure I've experienced this at other airports, but these are the ones that stand out). Has TSA limited how much you can criticize them in your chat or something? That would be most disappointing to hear.

We are not bound or gagged by anyone. In the list of concerns with security, I did not think yelling took the top slot. I think agents stealing passengers' belongings is a problem, as is missing contraband during the screening process. TSA has its flaws, and we will call them out as we see them. People also yell at me at the supermarket checkout line when it's my turn.

Whenever I've visited Europe for the past four years, I always went to the Travelex money store at 1801 K St., NW, to get my Euros and other currency, e.g., pounds sterling for my connection at LHR. Also, for a two year period, I used the Cash Passport card to carry my Euros in plastic form until the issuing bank discontinued it because they discovered drug dealers were using it to do money laundering. Anyway, a couple times I used the Cash Passport card and my Capital One debit card to get money from foreign ATMs w/little or no trouble. Bottom line: Try to get your money at Travelex before you go across the pond or elsewhere instead of waiting in line at the airport cambio, especially upon arrival.


I attended a Portuguese-language related conference in the DC area a few years ago, and we were all invited to the Portuguese Embassy for a cocktail party. This was without a doubt the apex of my social life!

How fun!

When I was in france for a semester study abroad, my friends and I had our passports stolen. We had to go to marseilles to get new ones. Well, so we got there and looked like exactly what we were there for...and the embassy people were clearly messing with us. I mean - I'm from Long Island and one of the questions was: what's the stop on the railroad from NY going east, past where you would get off? I was like: um, I have no idea - I never take the train that way! (I guessed though). They asked about 'what was your high school mascot' etc etc. We had done all the right things - i.e., had photocopied copies of our passport, etc (this was a LONG time ago - well before cell phones and emails). We got them but it was really really funny/annoying.

Thanks for sharing and ending the chat with a chuckle.

I was in Vancouver last May. My sister and I booked the trolley tour, which was supposed to run on every 20 minutes or so. I would not recommend this to anyone if the day is rainy! The trolleys were only running every 40 minutes or more, and were overly full. The drivers were clueless about what the other trolleys were doing, and their dispatch office wasn't any better.

We did a 9 day trip to both. Yes to Panama City - great.

Our connecting flight to CR was through Panama, so DC to Panama to CR to Panama to home.

Thanks, snowpeople, for joining us today! 

Today's winner is the traveler whose passport was stolen in France. Please e-mail me your contact info at

Have a great week! Stay warm and don't slip out there. 

In This Chat
Joe Yonan
Joe Yonan is the Travel editor.
Andrea Sachs
Andrea Sachs is a staff writer for Travel.
Becky Krystal
Becky Krystal is Travel's editorial aide.
Carol Sottili
Carol Sottili is a former Washington Post travel writer, specializing in travel deals.
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