Talk about Travel: Iceland, roots trips, family trips and more

Mar 31, 2014

Talk about Travel is here to help at 2 p.m. Mondays.
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Welcome, travelers, to this week's chat!

What's on your itinerary?

We're here to help you with any and all queries. And in keeping with this week's main story on a writer's roots-seeking trip to North Dakota, here's our question for you: Tell us about a time you took a trip aimed at discovering something about your own roots. What happened?

Let's get started.

I like the article by Ms. Strauss, who wrote about her experiences in dealing with second-hand smoke while on vacation in Miami Beach. If she's allergic to these fumes, her condition is covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. Perhaps if she and other folks similarly affected collaborated, they can lobby Miami and other vacation locales about getting reasonable accommodations in place, if they're unable to get smoking bans enacted. I'm glad that the smokers she encountered on the beach accommodated her request. Her situation is one reason I go on cruise vacations: I know that many ships have non-smoking venues, including dining rooms.

Glad the article spoke to you!

I'm getting a small bonus from work and would like to take my family of four (two adult, two young boys) on a little weekend getaway. The little ones like anything kids like (playing, mostly) and the adults are up for whatever will make the kids happy. Thought about maybe National Harbor or Philly. Any other ideas? Thanks!

Great Wolf Lodge in Williamsburg, with its indoor water park and many other kids' activities, is one idea. You could visit Baltimore to see the National Aquarium, Port Disovery Children's Museum and more. Or how about Colonial Williamsburg, may even paired with Busch Gardens.

Other thoughts?

Last week, a chatter recommended Casa Gregorio for cooking lessons/tour in Italy. While it looks spectacular, it got me thinking: are there other such culinary tours in Europe? Not just cooking classes, but food-related tours (that may include cooking classes)? Do you or the chatters have any other recommendations? Thanks!

There's a world of culinary tours. Saveur magazine recently started offering awards for some of its favorite food-travel services, and its top award for culinary tour went to Gourmet on Tour, so you might check them out. (The reader's choice award went to Tauck.) The full list of culinary tour winners is here.

Hello, I will be flying to CA from DC in June to attend my son's wedding. I (and other family members) will be carrying long gowns. In the past one would carry on the gown and ask the attendant to hang the gown. Is this still possible? I've seen attendants refuse carry-ons. If this is not a good idea, what else would you suggest? We are traveling on American Airlines but others are traveling on Delta, and others. Thank you!

I don't believe there are set airline policies on dealing with this issue, and even if they do have such policies, it's going to be dependent on the plane type, whether it's a crowded flight and the general attitude of the flight attendants. I know that wedding gowns are often given extra special attention, but not positive that same attention would be given to gowns for wedding attendees.  Any chatters have thoughts on this? 

Booked tickets to London on BA - Economy Plus. When I went to reserve seats for two people - BA gave me the option of paying $45 for making an early reservation. There would be no charge if I reserved the seats 24 hours before the departure time. Having traveled many times on international airlines I have never had to pay a charge for reserving a seat. Is this a new trend in international booking. If so it should be either included in the advertised fare rate or highlighted that there are extra charges for making an early reservation for seats. I am sure that many of your readers would be interested in this matter. The cost of an Economy Plus ticket is about 50% more than a regular Economy ticket. I look forward to your thoughts on this outrageous charge by BA who once again are seeking to add charges for reserving seats as another way to increase profits at a cost to the customer. Thank you.

You're right - the seat assignment fee is outrageous. British Airways is charging it because it can, and because people are willing to pay it. It's not a new fee, and I'm afraid the only way it will go away is if the government (British or American, take your pick) says it can't, or if passengers stop paying it. Unfortunately, BA and numerous other airlines are making money from these seat reservation fees, and enough passengers are willing to pay to avoid a dreaded middle seat or to sit next to their kids.

Hi - I'm going to Burgundy in May (I know - poor me) and flying in and out of Lyon - I have an Iphone 5, contract with Verizon. I don't want to spend a fortune on roaming, etc., but I will need access to phone and internet. What should I do to keep these costs sane?

It depends on how long you're going to be in Europe. I just spent about three weeks in France, Germany and Italy and bought the roaming plan on my AT&T iPhone. It more or less doubled my phone bill for the month, but was worth it, in terms of convenience. By the way, you can't rely on having a dependable, fast Wi-Fi connection (although France, with its public hotspots, is among the best). Let's just say wirelss connectivity not considered as important as the always-on wired culture that we're a part of here in the States. And that's not meant as a criticism.

I have 2 days in Cape Town - not a lot of time for such a great city. I don't drink so the winery tours don't interest me. Table Mountain is a must but the rest is so confusing with poor reviews of Robben Island, etc. Any suggestions? Thank you!

Our What a Trip this week is about South Africa, so have a look. The author loved Robben Island, and I do think you should go there. A couple of years ago, we ran this story about Cape Town, highlighting two up and coming neighborhoods, Woodstock and Observatory. You should visit the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront, and you could always hit a beach for an afternoon. What else, chatters?

I did a quick search and didn't find anything in the last year or so about San Miguel de Allende, so which airport would you recommend flying in to? It's been on my must-see list for a long time. And is there a particularly great time to go?

Here's the last story we ran on San Miguel, in 2009. It's actually about the chamber music festival that takes place there every August -- if you're into music, it might be a time to consider for your trip. As for airports, the two possibilities are Queretaro International Airport, about 40 miles from San Miguel, and Guanajuato International Airport, about 80 miles away. Flights to the latter are slightly cheaper, but only by about $40 or so, so I'd fly into Queretaro. Chatters?

Hi! I am headed to London and will be driving with some friends to Iverness via Edinburgh (and back). I have heard that driving takes "much longer than you think." Any suggestions of unique stopping points along the way? I am especially interested in beautiful churches and ancient cemeteries. Also-- if you could pick one castle in scotland to see, which would it be?

Whoa, that's quite a drive. Newcastle is one possible stopping point. Traveling along the M1, you could visit York and its splendid Minster, as well as other great churches. South of Leeds, you could follow the A1 and stop in Peterborough to visit Peterborough Cathedral, a magnificient Norman church and the final resting place of Henry VIII's first wife, Katherine of Aragon. Those are just a few thoughts.

The No. 1 castle on my list would be Inveraray, but only because I am such a huge "Downton Abbey" fan and that's where they filmed the Season 3 finale. :) But that doesn't seem quite on your route. Chatters, nominations, please?

Is this summer a good time to go Greek Island hopping as far as the cost of flight, boats, and rooms? Many years ago we always just went down to the pier to book a boat ride to the next island and found a room with the local renters standing at the pier. Is that still feasible and what are cost like today?

It's been many years since I was in Greece, but I'm fairly certain that you can still take ferries from island to island, no reservations required. Have a look at this story from a few years back. But I don't know whether the locals still come down to the docks to nab renters for their rooms, although I'd imagine that, given the state of the Greek economy, they have more incentive to do that than ever. That same sagging economy means that Greece remains a relative steal as vacations go. You can find inexpensive lodgings, delicious cheap food and wonderful local crafts to buy for a song. Chatters, can you fill in more?

A few weeks back a chatter asked about restaurants near the Odeon Theater in Paris. I stayed in this area during my last visit (Odeon was my metro stop) and wanted to recommend Le Danton, a busy brasserie very close to the metro station at 103 Blvd. Saint-Germain. I enjoyed their onion soup and steak frites -- not a quiet place but a place to taste some French favorites. Also in the area is Polidor, a famous old restaurant on rue Monsieur le Prince (didn't eat there but it was across from the laundromat, an essential for me). And try to fit in a walk through the Luxembourg Gardens, just a block or two from the Odeon Theater.


Has anyone used the Paris Blue or any other shuttle from CDG?

I haven't. Chatters?

Good Afternoon What is your favorite site to compare airline prices? Do you know of any sites that include international airlines in the their price comparison. Thanks.

My favorites are Kayak and Bing Travel. They include international airlines. For  flights that don't originate or end in the United States, you may not get results for  every discount carrier. And they don't include prices for Southwest.  

Hi all, thanks for taking my question. My fiance and I are planning to get married in February of next year and we just started talking honeymoon locations. We definitely want to go somewhere warm with a beach. Right now, I'm leaning towards the Florida Keys while my fiance likes Hawaii. Aside from being a lot closer, I feel like the Keys would be more low key and affordable for us. I want to start looking into places we could stay if we went with my idea but I'm not sure where to start. Any recommendations of places to stay/see/go in the Florida Keys so I can get some more clear ideas? Thanks again!

Beaches aren't great in the Florida Keys. There are a few, but if one of the main goals is to sit on a wide beach all day, you may want to rethink it. In Key West, which has the most activities, the beach at Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park is probably best; a nearby inn with a good rep is the Orchid Key Inn. As for Hawaii, beaches are definitely better, but it would cost more plus it's a long trip. 

Have some guests coming to visit (I'm just south of DC in Maryland). They're not super organizers, and might just be happy hanging out watching TV most of the time. But I want to be able to present some options to them for stuff to do. What's the best way? Brochures from local attractions? Metro maps? Organized in an attractive basket???

That all sounds good, but if you think they'll want to do some sightseeing by Metro, I'd buy a few SmarTrip cards and load them with some money. Buying those and/or farecards and figuring how much to put on can be a bit confusing for tourists, as I've witnessed. If you give them the cards, they can just swipe and go. You could also throw in a guidebook and maybe a list of your favorite attractions, or ones you think they'll like. Your advice and experience is valuable! Check out the Going Out Guide's Visitor Guide too.

David Lebovitz leads food tours - I just checked his website ( and he has one advertised for April/May. That's on my bucket list!

Yep, he's great. Did you read my piece about him from a few years back? He's coming to DC in May, and we'll be cooking with him over in Food.

I'm planning a trip to take my parents to Scotland for 9 days. We have allocated 6 days to Edinburgh and Glasgow. What region should we hit with the remainder to enjoy walking and scenery?

How about St. Andrews? Monica Hesse's story for us the other year made me want to go. Or from Glasgow you could ride the scenic West Highland Line and explore Scotland's west coast. Inverness is another possibility.

I typically buy my tickets directly from an airline's website, but since Qatar Airways was having a hard time processing my credit card I turned to Expedia to book. I breezed through the purchasing process. The flight in question is a one way from Singapore to Bali. A day or two later I got an email from Expedia that somewhat breathlessly told me I require a visa, and that I should get one from some company they were touting so that I didn't have any problems on my trip. FWIW, the flight is in October. I discovered on my own before I even booked the trip that (according to the Indonesian Embassy) US citizens can get a Visa on Arrival. The company Expedia is pushing charges some rather exorbitant fees. If I didn't want to get the VoA I would just deal with the Embassy directly which would say a whole lot of money compared to this visa company. Frankly I was very put off by the whole thing. Expedia seems to be trying to scare their customers into using this visa company which I think is unethical. It preys on inexperienced travelers and people who aren't inclined to do 30 seconds worth of research. Just for fun I clicked on the visa company's link and they have you enter your citizenship,destination, and purpose of trip and tell you how much they will charge you (but conveniently make no mention of the Visa on Arrival option). It felt very scammy to me.

I haven't had any complaints about visa service offered through Expedia, although I'm not surprised they're offering this option. Too often, someone will book a trip withought the right paperwork (passport, visa) and will try to blame the travel supplier or agent when they're turned away at the airport or border. Still, it's worth shopping around when you see one of these services. You could easily overpay for something that is less expensive from a government site.


My mother had always wanted to visit the village in northern Italy where my great grandmother was born and grew up before immigrating to the U.S. around 1910. Finally in 1984 or 1985 - I was 13 - we went to Italy for two weeks. We visited a relative then in her 70s - she has since died - who looked exactly like my great grandmother. It was honestly eerie - they could have been twins from the pictures I had seen of Great Grandmother. When my mom showed the pictures of our trip to her aunts and uncles, they were convinced they were looking at a photo of their mom. For me it was a remarkable connection to a family I knew very little about. We have traveled back a few times to visit the family in Italy, but nothing will match that jaw-dropping moment of seeing someone so familiar yet unknown.


One nice feature about no assigned seating on Southwest Airlines is that our teenagers can choose seats far away from us. And no extra charge!

I thought the same thing! I don't have kids, but I immediately thought, "I bet some people want to avoid sitting next to their kids -- or parents!" You justified my thought.

I would like to carry a cut glass ships decanter in my hand luggage travelling to Dublin. Do you think that I will have a problem with the TSA?

No. Glass ships are not on the TSA's no-no list. But please ... don't check it with your luggage.

Hello, My husband and I will have 3 (maybe 4) days in July to travel and we're thinking of going to Montreal. I have heard great things about Quebec City but it sounds like trying to see both cities would be a lot in that amount of time. Do you recommend visiting both? If not, which city would be a better choice? Also, if we end up going with Montreal, should we fly to Burlington and take a bus from there? Thanks very much.

I'm biased, because I love Montreal so much I've never made the side trip to Quebec City! I think three or four days will fill up plenty quickly in Montreal. But I do know that people love QC, too, so perhaps if you have four days you could do an overnight to QC?

I prefer to fly to Burlington, yes, because of the cheap fares, and then rent a car for the easy drive to Montreal. If you do that it'll be easier to swing over to QC for a bit, too.

I'm traveling to Hungary, Austria, and Germany in a few weeks and would like to arrive with some Euros and Forints in my pocket. Is my local bank branch the best place to order this or should I go to a place like Travelex? I'm in the DC metro area. PS - I took this forum's advice a while ago and bought some Naot shoes for the trip -- love them!

No, those foreign exchange services at the airport and train station are usually a rip-off. They charge high commissions or offer an unfavorable exchange rate. If your bank will sell you Euros, buy them there, or use an ATM to withdraw cash at your destination. Travel with at least two credit cards, and if you can procure a chip-and-pin card from your bank, do it. I'm just back from a trip where neither my Visa or MasterCard worked, because they use obsolete technology preferred by American banks. Oh, don't get me started. 

Hi! We're trying to narrow down options for a (domestic) summer vacation. It's been a rough year, so we're thinking maybe a low-key resort-type getaway. We're not beach people, so someplace ideally with lots of things to do nearby, but also where we wouldn't feel guilty spending the day at the pool/playground with our 6 y.o. (But not Orlando, we've been there :-) Thanks for any recommendations!

In Virginia, how about Massanutten, the Homestead or Mountain Lake? The Deep Creek Lake area in Maryland is pretty chill with plenty of nearby activities.

Folks, You know, after reading Michelle Singletary's Discussion on ways to budget for food, I need to share with you my frustration that there is almost no way to budget for travel. This summer we are going from Detroit to Edinburgh, and even with flexibility, RTs consistently ask for $1650..It is so challenging budgeting on "getting there and back," Any helpful hints, in the era of air travel lotto?

I think the key is that you have to budget high, right? Don't mean to sound too simplistic here, but, really, that's the essence of the issue.

You have to lock in your airfare before you can budget. And summer fares to Edinburgh (or anywhere in Europe, for that matter) are likely not going to get any cheaper as the summer nears. You may be able to save some money by flying out of Chicago, but that's a 5-hour drive. You could always just be flexible, keep checking the airfares and hope for a last-minute sale. But don't be disappointed it doesn't materialize. 

I, too, was able to get a room for $110 at the Hotel Wolcott. On Monday a chatter said taxes were not $19 as mentioned in the Deal. According to my credit card bill the charges are $19 per night - not $19 regardless of number of nights you stay. It's a great deal. I'm happy to be paying less for 3 nights than I paid for one night at another NYC hotel in October.

Glad to hear that deal is paying off for our readers!

Good morning. I have been tasked with making desserts for 50 people for 2 Passover seders. The seders will be in Virginia Beach, which means the items will need to be frozen and then transported. I traditionally make brownies, lemon squares and mandel brei, and they all freeze easily. This year I would like to add cheesecake squares to the mix, and wonder if you have any suggestions for a recipe which would freeze well, and any other suggestions. Many thanks in advance for your help!!!

You sure you didn't intend for this to go to our weekly Food chat? I suggest you check in with us then, when we'll have the entire Food section brain trust, including deputy editor and Passover guru Bonnie Benwick, with us.

Hi -- what are your musts for Reykjavik? Thanks!

Here's a Rejkjavik story with lots of suggestions, including the Hallgrimmskikja church and the National Museum. You should take a tour to the Blue Lagoon, about 45 minutes away and do the Golden Circle tour. Apparently, Reykjavik is booming these days with lots of artsy-craftsy stores that are worth visiting and plunking some money down in. Chatters, your suggestions?

I am seeking a serene beach vacation spot - Caribbean or Costa Rica - where I stay in lodgings that are steps from a relatively quiet beach; snorkeling and hiking opportunities are a big plus; meals should be available at the lodgings, which should be extremely comfortable. Just what everyone wants, but I have found difficult to discover. Can you suggest any? Thanks!

If you don't mind longer connecting flights, look at Dominica (not known for beaches, but there are some) or Nevis.  Or even more remote places, such as Barbuda and the private island resort of Petit St. Vincent.  As for Costa Rica, seems to me that there are large luxury resorts or smaller places with more of a surfer vibe. Anyone know of a resort there that would fit the bill? 

Does anyone have any advice or experience with purchasing tickets to the Louvre in advance? The Louvre site offers a few options including picking tickets up from a store (not really convenient) and mailing them (about $43 for 2). The Parisinfo site offers tickets for 12euros each and can be picked up at a convenient location. Has anyone purchased from this site?

Chatters? Seeing as that's the Paris Convention and Visitors Bureau site, I wouldn't be worried.

Hi travel crew, hubby and I are planning to take a week long trip to WV. So far on our to do list is hike/tube/kayak in Harpers Ferry, dinner in Shepherdstown, spa at Berkley Springs and visit to the Paw Paw Tunnel. Do you or the chatters have any other suggestions? We love outdoors stuff, food, beer, bluegrass and weird/random places. Thanks!

I spent a week driving around the state for its 150th birthday and had such a blast. Here's the piece.

Some of my favorite activities from that trip: Pickin’ in the Park jam session held in the Elkins city park (also check the Augusta Cultural Center for music events), the Isaiah Morgan Distillery in Summersville (ask for a tour), the Museum of American Glass in Weston and the Hatfield-McCoy Trails for hiking or ATV-riding. The Purple Fiddle in Thomas also has live music and cheap lodging.

Brother and I would like to take a long weekend in September, thinking of Montreal? Looking for a place that is less than a 4 hour flight, great food and culture, good sightseeing, any other recommendations?

Montreal is good. Other suggestions I would add: Charleston, Cleveland, Chicago, Boston, Atlanta and Asheville.

Any advice on trustworthy places to find good apartments for vacation rental in Paris? Planning to go for a week in May and would prefer to stay in an apartment rather than a hotel, mostly because I can't wait to shop at the markets and cook while I'm there!

I've had good luck with Paris Vacation Apartments. In other cities, I've used AirBnB to good effect (most recently in Barcelona), but haven't done that in Paris yet. But you shouldn't rule it out!

If you go there remember it's about an 8 hour flight from LAX and although just gorgeous it was super expensive and I had jet lag for the 1st 2 days of my honeymoon. If I had to do it again I'd choose a closer tropical destination, esp. if time & money are a concern.

I went to visit my niece, who was spending a year studying in Cork. We set out to find the old family pub: we knew the village where it had been (before ne'er-do-well great uncle drank it away), had seen a picture of it, but had no idea whether it was still a functioning pub, or where it was, really. We described it to a cabbie who immediately knew where we needed to go--still in business, and nowadays known by the locals as "Hitler's" for the stern attitude of the little old lady owner towards patrons who partied a bit too hardy. When we walked in, it was like one of those scenes from westerns, where all conversations immediately cease when a stranger walks in to a saloon, but when we told the landlady who we were & folks heard our American accents, all of a sudden we got introductions all around (many people with my last name, which is pretty common in that area). Many a glass was raised...I don't remember much about that evening, but I do know we had a good time connecting with distant relatives!


I did read your piece with him, and I read his blog, and I am so excited about his new book. I didn't know he was coming to DC in May - is he doing anything public? I did check the website again, and his food tour starts today, not in April/May.

Yep, check his schedule and you'll see that he's at the Dupont Farmers Market on May 18 and being featured at a dinner through Politics/Prose at Buck's Fishing/Camping on May 19! I don't think tickets have gone on sale for the latter yet.

Couldn't agree with you more. I have five extra cards that we've used for family and friends when they come to visit DC. Using the cards on Metrobus and the Circulator buses also makes life much easier for visitors. And, we always get kudos for having such a great transit system (which is a lot easier to use if you're not scrambling for change to pay the fares for a family of five) !

Yeah, I keep extra cards for guests too. Big help and now that the cost of the card is only $2, definitely worth stocking up on.

Patricia Wells offers cooking classes in France, and I'm sure they include some visits to local markets and such. A friend took a class from her about 10 years ago and raved about it.

Patricia Wells? Who's that? ;-) Seriously, yes, her classes are much-loved -- and sell out WAY in advance.

In addition to York Minster, you should try to see Durham Cathedral, a beautiful church in a beautiful location. If you like atmospheric ruins, try the Borders Abbeys south of Edinburgh (Dryburgh is especially pretty and located on a river). For a castle, I was disappointed I missed Stirling Castle while I was in Scotland. But Edinburgh Castle was pretty interesting! And yes, driving times in Scotland especially are much longer than expected due to the rural nature of the roads.

That all sounds good, thanks. Hope the OP reports back after the epic trip.

One set of my great-grandparents emigrated from what's now Slovenia to Pennsylvania in the 1890s. My parents and I visited Slovenia for the first time in September 2013 with a genealogical tour group. Although we didn't find any close living relatives, we visited the villages my great-grandparents were from, and found close to 100 years of family births/marriages/deaths at the Catholic archives in Ljubljana. Some family legends were proved true, and other mysteries were cleared up. The Slovenians we met were uniformally helpful, and the country itself is gorgeous. We're seriously considering another visit in 2015.

OK, now I must know more about these legends and mysteries! Do tell!

Took a few days in Minnesota to work on my family's roots - lots of newspaper microfiche from small town historical societies. Great numbers of my ancestors were described as "a pioneer of this community" which makes sense, considering they all arrived right around the time of statehood. But the best moment was when I went looking for my great-grandparents' graves in Stillwater. I talked to the guy in the cemetery "office" (really a broom closet!). and got a general sense of where the graves were - really just the section. When I got there, all the flat gravestones were covered with grass (this cemetery is from before the days of perpetual care!), so I walked around a bit, feeling the stones under the grass beneath my feet, when something made me stop and pull up the grass on one particular stone. It was my great-grandmother's! I like to believe she called to me. Future trips will include Limerick, Ireland, Manchester, England, Hesse-Darmstadt, Germany, and Skane, Sweden, for more digging of roots!

Wow -- you LITERALLY dug, didn't you? Amazing.

Don't miss the District Six museum! It explains the terrible history of the removal of blacks and "coloreds" from the city center out to the townships: Very very interesting.

Yes, it's discussed in the story I linked to.

I go to France regularly and have an Iphone 5 with Verizon. I just sign up for their Global Service before I leave and it reduces the cost of the data and calls when in France. For calls and texts, download Viber. I use it to communicate with my family in France when I'm in the US as well. It's free and so are the calls and texts.

I am interested in visiting Italy and San Marino and then trying to hit Tunisia as well to say I have been to Africa. I'd prefer not to fly between the two locales. Is there round trip passenger ferry service from Italy to Tunisia?

What a great way to travel to Tunisia, but the crossing is long -- 10 to 25 hours, depending on the departure city.

Several ferry lines offer service between the two countries. For example, from Italy, you can depart from Genoa, Civitavecchia, Palermo and Salerno. The ships disembark in Tunis.

My husband and I are trying to plan a 10-12 day trip to Oregon, in August. We would like to drive the Oregon Coast and visit Portland but also enjoy a few mile day hike (not too strenous)every few days or so, enjoy art/pottery centers and perhaps going to mountains/parks while enjoying some of the towns (Bend? Eugene?) How would you plan a trip to Oregon for that period of time?

You can glean a few ideas, I think, from Andrea's story on the Oregon coast from a few years ago. Leave at least a few days for Portland. Bend will definitely take you away from the coast, but we did have a very enthusiastic story about it. You'll be in the neck of Oregon wine country, and here's a story about that. Guidebooks can also steer you toward more of an itinerary and so will this page from the Oregon tourism folks.

Sometime next spring, when we are between jobs, we'll have the opportunity to travel for a month or two with our children. We'd like to stay in houses or condos for at least a week at a time and make day trips. We'd love to do Europe but don't think that'll be the best choice for our active boys, who will be nine, seven and three. Costa Rica comes to mind, as does New Zealand, but we probably will have only a month or two's notice, so we're concerned airfare to a more far-flung destination could be high. Any thoughts on these destinations or others?

I've been traveling with my three kids for the last four years almost nonstop, and although I can't really offer specific advice on where to go -- that's a personal choice -- I can give you one tip that will preserve your sanity while you're away. I would put some roots down. If you have two months, find a place to call home and make shorter day trips from there. Europe is good bet, where everything is fairly close. But I would resist spending a week here, a week there. You'll find yourself in a constant state of packing and unpacking, and with three kids, that's a full time job.

Hello! Does anyone have any recommendations for cooking classes for Naples? Thanks!

Well, she's not exactly in Naples, but I've heard nothing but raves for Mamma Agata about an hour away, on the Amalfi Coast.



Typically US banks (like Bank of America) will give you very poor exchange rates on currency you buy through them. The best option is to use an ATM when you get to your destination (as long as your ATM doesn't charge a lot of fees). Get an account and ATM card from a bank that doesn't charge ATM fees or foreign transaction fees. Same with credit cards. Get one that doesn't charge foreign transaction fees.

Thanks for the additional insights.

I missed last week's chat, but in case the poster about Edinburgh is still looking, I highly recommend the Holiday Inn Express Edinburgh City Centre. Definitely under $200; I recall it being somewhere around 125 USD a night. My husband and I stayed there two years ago, also in July, and it had very fair rates that included breakfast. Good location in the city, which is very walk-able overall! A must do is climb Arthur's Seat! Such amazing city views, and a place many locals go to picnic and enjoy the sunshine.


I really enjoy the Smithsonian Channel's Aerial America program. Last season, they flew over both Kansas and Oklahoma. Having flown over them many times, but never having visited either state, I decided that my next vacation would be a Midwest swing that would also include Texas (much to the horror of friends and co-workers who live vicariously through my overseas adventures). My plan is to fly into Kansas City, rent a car and start driving. I'm giving myself 2 weeks so I can see and do a lot and take my time. I have more official travel guides from Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas than you can shake a stick at, but I wanted to get your thoughts on things to do in any or all of these states. I love outdoorsy things, museums, music, food and I'm willing to try anything, or mostly anything, once. Any suggestions on mustn't miss places and things to do?

Well, you're ambitious, aren't you? Since you like music and food, you'd probably like the Kansas City Symphony's concerts in the Flint Hills. Oklahoma City is worth a vist. In Texas, you should probably at least hit up Dallas and Austin. So much to choose from, though. Happy to hear the peanut gallery's thoughts.

This is such a vast area! But since your most likely route would take you through the center of Texas, I'd suggest -- as I did in answering a different question last week -- that you try to hit up some of the amazing museums of Fort Worth. Kimbell, Cowgirl, Modern, Amon Carter.

Hi, a friend of mine is going to Costa Rica for business and will be mostly in San Jose. I'm thinking about going along but want to see a bit of the rest of the country, so I was wondering if you could help me understand if it's safe to go around as a single woman (I'm well traveled to know some countries are easier than others etc.) with suggestions in terms of what to do. I definitely want to see a coffee plantation, and anything else that may be unique to Costa Rica. Thanks!

It's safe enough, although it may be easier to take tours, as the roads aren't always great and it's easy to get lost. Viator, for example, as a long selection of day-long and multi-day tours from San Jose. And I'm sure the hotel would be able to set you up with tour guides. BTW, even though you didn't ask, my favorite hotel in San Jose is Hotel Bougainvillea -- great for bird watching!

Thinking about a 3-day getaway to Steel City around the end of April, just because. Any ideas on what to see, do, or articles you can share? I'd be driving from here, so will have a car to get around. Thanks kindly!

Here's a piece on the city's tasty Strip District. And here's another Pittsburgh story. Riding one of the inclines is fun (I'd say funicular because it's fun to say, but someone once ripped me for using the term). You can catch a baseball game or visit the zoo. I've also wanted to see the Phipps Conservatory.

You may have thought of this already, but try to avoid flying to/from Edinburgh during the August festivals. Saved a few hundred dollars a couple of years ago by delaying a trip to early September. Still if you are on a school schedule this might not work.


The Keys dont have much in terms of beaches. look elsewhere in Florida for large beaches. For a honeymoon look at the Caribbean islands or Hawaii. Hawaii is a very beatiful place. In some spots the beaches arent all that big. With Hawaii pick either Maui or the Big Island for where you travel to. Kauai is good--but its better to visit in the summer than in Feb/Mar because the north coast is usually very wet and waters are rough.


In addition, Florida's Gulf Coast has gorgeous beaches and a great beachy scene. Try any of the Gulf Islands, such as Anna Maria, Longboat Key, Siesta Key, etc. I traveled there a few years ago; here's my piece.

Hershey Park is a great area for both chatters asking about close by, not too expensive, things to do with younger kids. Also the bonus recipient might want to splurge on a chocolate massage or bath at the Hershey hotel spa.

That thought crossed my mind too. Thanks for actually putting, er, pen to paper.

I booked an apartment in Paris (Marais) for a week using VRBO. The apartment was owned by someone in California, so I was booking with an American which helped with any possible language barrier. The apartment was awesome and the owner could not have been nicer/easier to work with.

Good to hear!

I'd be tempted to have them professionally packed and shipped FedEx well before the wedding. If the group shares the cost you could send one package.

Good thought.

After seeing Noah over the weekend I am ready to book a trip to Iceland! Do you know when the best time to visit is? I'm interested in nature, hiking, etc., not skiing or diving. Is it best to book a tour or to just rent a car and meander? Thank you!

Chatters, let's hear about the best times to visit Iceland. Spring? Summer? Book a tour or rent a car? (I'm always for the latter, myself.)

If it's warm weather you want, I'd go in the summer! Average temps are warmest (highs in the high 50s) between June and September.

You can also take the Potomac Eagle steam train - my parents took my niece on it and she loved it. It's in Romney, WV.


It's not in WV, but Sharpsburg, MD and the Antietam battlefields there are a short 10-15 minute drive from Shepherdstown. You can also rent bikes and ride along the C&O Canal towpath in Shepherdstown.

And I'll put my vote in for the New River Gorge area. Spectacular scenery, and if you're brave, you can cross the bridge on foot.

What's the best bet for an overseas trip in hoping to get a bump to business class: NY in a low period, Charlotte/Philly, or Chicago?

I think all of those cities are tough, because they are so popular for overseas business travelers. You might have better luck at getting bumped if you travel on a holiday, when most business folks are not working and therefore traveling.

Chatters, any insights?

I'm thinking of going to Costa Rica. I'm looking for one of those volunteer/educational/nature exploration type trips, as opposed to the partying all the time trips. Do you have any recommendations for good tour companies and/or the best time of the year to go (e.g., not the rainy season)?

Hotel Bougainvillea in San Jose, which I mentioned in another post today, also offers tours. I went with the non-profit Rainforest Biodiversity Group on a tour of the Costa Rican Bird Route a while back, and it was fantastic. Rainforest Alliance publishes a list of tour operators promoting sustainability. 

I am of Polish heritage and had always wanted to visit. When we finally did, in 2008, we visited Krakow, Wroclaw, Czestochowa and Wadowice. Besides the beautiful churches, the history and architecture, I saw people who look like me and my family at every turn. It was just an incredible thing. We had rented an apartment, and in our neighborhood, there was even a little woman who looked just like my Polish grandmother, silver hair, bright blue eyes. I saw her almost every day, standing on the corner. Even though she looked healthy and was always clean, she stood with a cup, begging. It broke my heart and really made me think about my ancestors and the reasons why they came to America. Since then, I have taken up researching my family's genealogy. Now that I know more, I can't wait to return to Poland.

This is inspiring!

Be aware that Texas is a BIG state, really. For example, It's about 200 miles and 3 hours drive time from Dallas to Austin. Do look at distances while planning. If you end up in Amarillo, straight west of Oklahoma City on I-40, venture south about 15 miles to Palo Duro Canyon. There's hiking there, plus the play Texas runs June-August except Mondays. It's a little cheesy but still great fun.

So big! True. I always look at estimated times/distances when travel planning -- and in Texas, it's VERY important, yes.

By the way, to tack something onto the Amarillo idea: If the OP does go there, go find Cadillac Ranch. Overexposed/photographed, but for good reason.

A friend of mine flew from Ottawa to Fredericton, New Brunswick and checked her wedding gown. Air Canada lost it but recovered it just in time for the wedding. She considered it to be a bad omen but married him anyway. It didn't last.

Wow. If that doesn't scare the OP or the bride into shipping their dresses (or DRIVING them!), I don't know what would.

Check Leon, Guanajuato (BJX) airport too. It is about 100 miles away, but you will travel through the must-see town of Guanajuato at the half-way point; or book an open jaw and arrive in Leon and depart through Queretero.


I second the recommendation for St. Andrews - for the traveler to Scotland. I went several years ago (to look at the university and walk to golf course) with my parents and younger brothers and we loved it!

Thanks for the affirmation!

Have you considered Outward Bound? Groups for all ages, it's a lot of learning and seeing the country.

I was just there a few weeks ago, and Table Mountain is a must if you get lucky with a clear day. We booked a private full-day tour through Capefuntours (Martin Fine) that took you around Cape Peninsula (Hout Bay, Chapman's Peak, Cape Point, Simons Town, Boulder Bay Penguins, etc.) and it was a highlight of our two week trip to South Africa. The V&A Waterfront was nice, but can be done in ~2 hours or so. Our guide said that unfortunately service to Robben Island has become very unreliable and he no longer recommended it, so we passed. Enjoy, it's a very beautiful city!

Appreciate the tips!

We haven't taken it yet - but it's being planned for the summer of 2016! A trip with my grandma and mom (three generations of women) to the family castle in Germany.

Enjoy it!

Hi! I'm planning a trip to visit friends in LA, SF, and southern OR this summer. Do you have any advice for buying tickets, such as sales to look for or when to buy? I really wanted to fly into one place and out of another but two one-way airfares are much more expensive than one round trip. Thanks!

We never know when sales are going to happen. But Virgin America often has great sales to the West Coast. Best to check Web sites often, or set up fare alerts. Or check out our What's the Deal? column every Sunday.

I find that some carriers make it easy to book one-way flights, such as JetBlue, Southwest/AirTran and Virgin America. You can also search for multicity fares on such online booking sites as Kayak.  For example, the fare from DC to LAX to Portland  to DC (I was not sure of where you were going in Oregon, so I randomly picked Portland) starts at $360 on American.

Your thoughts on an Alaskan cruise with two college aged sons this summer? A travel agent recommended it to us. Day/side trips are a little pricey but mostly I want my sons to enjoy it - not sure how many more family vacations will happen in the near term . So many Alaska shows on tv these days that I really want to see it but could wait and go without sons. I know this is not very specific - they are regular college aged kids, like to party, like to be outside. Thanks for any thoughts.

What do they think? If they are outdoorsy and you don't mind spending the money to do the side trips from the ship, they may enjoy it.  Alaska cruises do attract an older clientele than Caribbean itineraries, but the age has come down in recent years. The party atmosphere on board the ship won't be as wild as the Caribbean cruises, but they're likely not old enough to legally drink. I'd sit down with them and pick their brains. You don't want to spend all that money unless they're enthusiastic.  

Another thing to do in Pittsburgh that is kind of cool is to visit the Andy Warhol Museum. A bonus is it's within a short walk of the baseball stadium.

Covered in one of the stories I linked to, but thanks for mentioning.

My brother is the one into that in my family. He has done it for both him and his wife. His wife is a direct decendant of the Mayflower. There is a book tht keeps track of this. She also goes back to English royalty (Dukes not kings). On Me and my brothers side of the family....our Moms side one chain goes back to the French Revolution where a the mom was a lady in waiting for Marie Antoinette and she got behedded. Dad and kids escaped to Germany, then to Ireland to Canada then to the USA. On my dads side of the family both sides goes back to two different towns in Sicilly. Through Italian law we have Italian citizenship (Paternal line rules). My brother has gone through and gotten Italian citizenship for him and his children. He has travelled elsewhere in Italy and in northern italy I think our great grandfather fought in WW1 for Italy and became a POW. My brother visited the battle site of where he was wounded and captured. His life was spared because he had tailor skills.

Why haven't you gone on any trips?

My sister and I took an Alaskan cruise last May, with a stay at Denali National Park. If your sons enjoy hiking and nature, I'd recommend a stay there. Also, the trips organized by the ship can be pricey, but you also have the option of booking your own. Check out various cruise sites like Cruise Critic; people post their experiences with local companies there. Also, the towns that your cruise visits are not necessarily all that large. You can do a lot of exploring on your own.

Thanks for the insight. 

If this chatter intends to visit more than just the Louvre, I suggest the Paris Museum Pass, available for 2,4, or 6 days. You can get it at any of the museums that take the pass. There is no reason I know of to buy it in advance since you have to pay fees in addition to the price. If you don't get a pass and are just going to the Louvre, the lines shouldn't be too long if you get there early. Some people have better luck going in the Carousel entrance (through the underground shopping mall).


Hi, I have a ticket booked for may for international travel on United. I purchased the ticket 90 days out, and could not get a seat at the time, and still can not get a seat. The airline said 60% of the flight does not have seats. I feel I already paid for my seat. I dont want to pay more for a seat. What do I do?

If you don't want to pay any more for your seat and you don't care where you get seated, just, well, sit tight and they'll assign you one.

I'd keep checking with the airline. They may release seats at some point. 

Clearly, United is trying to squeeze more money out of you for that seat assignment. It's a little bit like playing "chicken" with the airline. One of you is going to blink -- either you, by paying for the seat assignment, or United by giving you a "free" seat assignment. Be strong. Don't give in. If enough passengers do the same, then United will end this practice -- maybe.

My dad's family is all in New Orleans, via Gibraltar. It's sort of a weird place to be from, but it was so long ago (I am 7th generation) that we don't have any connections to Gibraltar anymore. I went with my parents to check it out a few years ago, and I think my dad plans to go back with his sisters. We also have a lot of relatives in Argentina from this same branch, who my grandmother remembers talking to on the phone when she was a little girl.

What were your impressions of Gibraltar -- any insights into your family that resulted from the trip?

Over Thanksgiving weekend, family members met at the French Lick Resort, and then four of us went to Columbus Indiana for the architecture tours. I decided to drive 30 miles out of the way to poke around in the Franklin County public library's history room; I knew that my familly came to the county in the 1830's and settled there, but had left by the early 1900's. I found old maps that showed where the family farm was located, and a memoir that solved the question of what happened to the farm. My great-great-great grandmother was widowed in the 1860's and had 7 children at home. One of the daughters married in the 1880's, but died in childbirth (as did the child.) The husband later re-married, and in the 1900's bought the farm from her when she moved to Kokomo to live with one of her children.

That was time well spent on your part, wasn't it?

When we went a few years ago, we flew in/out of Mexico City...much cheaper flights (at least from Fla,, not sure from DC) and hired a car service to drive us to San Miguel. We found the car on the city's tourist web site. To get back to Mexico City, where we were staying a few days, we took a public bus from San Miguel...very pleasant ride, and VERY cheap.

I'm going to be passing through Calgary this spring for just 48 hours: any recommendations for things to see or do that are not to be missed?

We're running out of time, so all I can say is:

Fish Creek Provincial Park!

Submitting late, but my trip to Japan was not so much about discovering roots as revisiting them. I took my mom, newly diagnosed with dementia, on her last trip back to the ancestral village where the family still has a house. I can point to a map, and I can say, our family came from there, going back hundreds of years. Things have changed a lot there, not necessarily for the better, but it was good to see it.

Good for you for doing this. I'm sure it meant a lot to both of you.

I think if Expedia had just said, "Hey. That trip you just book will require a visa and here are your options" I wouldn't have had an issue. But it was their scare tactics and their attempt to funnel my business to a visa company that bothered me.

Forget about handing them brochures, that's too hard for the unorganized. I make a very detailed schedule for each day. It includes where to go, how to get there (take the metro on left side, etc.), where to eat, and what not to miss. It works great.

Well, we've come in for a landing. Thanks for the great q's today, and thanks to Chris and Carol for helping us answer them!

Now for our favorite roots-trip story: It would have to be from the chatter whose great-grandmother called to her from that grown-over gravestone, wouldn't it? Send your mailing info to, and we'll send you a little token of our appreciation.

Until next time, happy travels, everyone!

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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