Talk about Travel: Plane, train or automobile?

May 19, 2014

Talk about Travel is here to help at 2 p.m. Mondays.
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Past Talk about Travel chats

Hi, all. Welcome. Appreciate you being here on this lovely Monday afternoon. Did you see our annual Way to Go guide? If not, all the content is here, along with stories from our previous issues. Zofia, Andrea and I had fun on our race-but-not-really-a-race to Raleigh by plane, train and automobile. I'm usually a plane girl, but I've been doing some longer road trips lately. What's your favorite way to travel, and why -- or how do you decide between the different modes? Most thoughtful insight gets a little prize of my choosing.

Now let's get started!

My husband and I would love to find a "camp" for adults that would include a variety of activities: exercise, crafts, outdoor activities, etc. Or some activities from this list, even if not all. I have not had any luck finding such places on line. Your suggestions would be most welcome.

How about Club Getaway in Connecticut? I've been intrigued by that for a long time. I think it has everything you're looking for.

Thanks in advance for taking my question. My husband and I flew from LA to Philadelphia last Friday with a layover in Columbus, OH. The first flight was with American Airlines, and the second was to be on US Airways. We got to Columbus, checked the board, and the flight was listed as on-time and even had a gate assignment. So we go to the gate and wait until about a half hour before the plane was to leave, and I decided to ask the agent what was going on as there was no mention on the gate's board about the flight. The agent said, oh, that flight was cancelled, and you've been put on a flight leaving for Philly tomorrow evening at 5:30. Well, that wouldn't work at all as I was graduating the next morning at 11. After a bit of discussion where it became clear there were no other options via US Airways / American that would get us there in time, the gate agent told us we could go buy tickets on a Southwest flight to Baltimore that night. We spent $230 each to get on that flight, lost the night in the hotel in Philly, and finally made it to graduation. My questions are: is something going wrong with the merger that resulted in no notification for us that our flight was cancelled? If I hadn't decided to ask at the gate who knows how long we would have sat there - gradually losing all our other options. And second, I read this chat a lot and know that it's unlikely to receive any compensation (the cancellation was due to weather), but is there anything we can do to try to get reimbursement from American/US Airways for the cost of the Southwest flight and our lost hotel reservation? Finally, we were told that we would be reimbursed for the US Airways flight we never took, but we bought that trip with miles (via American), so how can we possibly receive reimbursement? Thank you!

I'm sorry this happened to you. I would start by sending a brief, polite email to American Airlines, mentioning the specifics of your flight. Although there are no airline policies or federal rules you can cite, you obviously didn't have a good customer experience, and should note your disappointment. If they don't offer a satisfactory response, please let me know. Here's my email address.

Hi there! I'm going to Portland for 4 days over Memorial Day weekend. I was wondering if you think it's wise to squeeze in a day trip to Seattle? Or is it tough to see Seattle in a day? Thank you for taking my question.

It's a three-hour drive each way and on a holiday weekend, you have to anticipate traffic. I think it's too much to do in one day. Have you considered doing an overnight trip to Seattle? That may make more sense. 

Hi All, I am looking for a Spanish beach vacation, hopefully somewhere in Catalonia. We are heading to Barcelona for a few days, and then would like to have some relaxing beach time with access to other activities- think Outer Banks with nearby hiking and castles (and I realize it sounds a bit ridiculous). In my cursory review of options, it seems that I can get castles and coast, but beaches are hard to come by. Any suggestions?

You might consider Tossa de Mar, which could fit your bill. Chagall liked it well enough to call it the "Blue Paradise." Other thoughts, chatters?

I stayed at the Hotel Jacaranda in Nairobi before and after my safari, and felt very safe at the hotel. Your tour company or the hotel should be able to connect you with at least a taxi who could take you to some of the sights in the suburbs, including the giraffe center, an elephant orphanage, the Karen Blixen (Out of Africa) house and a nearby fair trade bead factory. You can feed giraffes out of your hand at the giraffe center! (Some people were actually putting the giraffe food pellet between their lips and letting the giraffe lick it out, but I passed on that opportunity!)

Thanks for following up.

Just to chime in from last week: the OP needs to check with whoever arranged the safari. Often they arrange capital city stays, too. If not, just arrange that part through another agency. Above all, do NOT try to drive yourself around or randomly walk the streets of Nairobi. Even if you pride yourself on independence while traveling, think of hiring a driver as contributing to the local economy. That said: try the already-mentioned giraffes, Mamba Village and Nairobi Education Centre Animal Orphanage. Tip the guides!

More for the Nairobi chatter from last week. Appreciate it.

I’ve always wanted to visit Japan but every time that I check for prices I get so frustrated that I step back. I may be able to cover flight expenses with miles, but when I think about the rest I don’t think $1200 will go long considering that the Rail pass is more than $200! Im really interested in Onsens, and would love to spend more time in the country side rather than big cities. I will have 7-9 days in November…do you recommend an itinerary or a company?

That's a tight budget, it's true, and I think it'd be tough to find a tour operator for that price. But if you DIY you might be able to swing it. Check out this site, which lists onsens that are off the beaten path and charge less than 7000 yen (about $70) a night for lodging and a soak.

I am looking for a centrally located spot for four adult best friends to meet near Northern New Jersey, Washington DC and Raleigh NC. I would like us to drive the same distance hopefully no more than four hours.

Well, how about D.C.? It's pretty much smack in the middle between Raleigh and northern New Jersey. I realize the D.C. person won't be driving then, but I'm struggling to think where to send you where you all will be driving the same distance since Raleigh and NJ are so far apart.

Neat story on the Raleigh travel! At first, I thought the driver would get from DC to North Carolina by way of South Carolina (as for the reporter who went through Indiana in order to get from one part of Illinois to another part of Illinois), but fortunately the driver was paying attention.

I never use GPS! :-)

Last week, a chatter asked "What are some not so touristy things to do on Oahu?" My suggestion: go hiking. An Internet search for "Oahu hiking trail guide" will find several suggestions. A personal favorite: Waahila Ridge State Park. Take the #14 bus to the top of St. Louis Heights (Peter St. and Ruth Pl.), walk the block to the end of Ruth Pl. and the park entrance. (I spent many enjoyable hours in the park as a boy.) You're all of 5 miles from Waikiki, get great views of Diamond Head, Waikiki, downtown Honolulu, Manoa and Palolo valleys -- and will probably be the only people in the park.

My new husband and I would like to take a honeymoon this January. Due to work schedules we know the dates will be Jan 18-27, 2015. We would like to go somewhere with luxury accommodations and where we can leave the hotel/resort and due other activities like hiking, sailing, etc. We are not interested in North America or Europe and after some research are leaning toward Langkawi, Malaysia. Any thoughts on that as a honeymoon location?

Afraid not. Anyone?

Hello, Apologies if this question has been answered recently, but can you point me in the direction of tour companies that have guided tours of Paris and the countryside. We are traveling with a tweenage girl and would like to spend about two of our approximately 8 days in the country, as Paris should keep us fairly busy. Thank you very much.

Viator has a full roster of day trips from Paris. Any chatters have personal experience with a specific tour group? 

Some places can't practically be gotten to otherwise - in that case, planes. Trains are goal-based: for getting to a given destination that is not too distant, as well as commuting. Otherwise, as long as the area is reasonably safe to be lost in, a car, please! I can veer off course as I want. If I see something interesting, or something that may be interesting, I divert. Around here, my car just picks a direction and I nearly always find something new. When traveling, car touring is how I discovered the joys of the Blue Ridge Parkway, found myself on an utterly silent moor in Yorkshire, discovered a platypus pond (with an actual platypus swimming about) in Australia, and came across the patch of water that is rumored to be the pond of the Lady of the Lake in Cornwall. OK, so I also wound up with grass stuck in the undercarriage from something that should never have been marked as a road in Latvia, and almost drove through a checkpoint in Israel, but that aside, cars. Definitely cars.

A vote for cars! You have had some neat adventures.

I'm thinking about taking a summer vacation to Nicaragua. Do you have any past stories on the topic or any advice for a first time visitor?

We had a story on the Corn Islands, but not anything else recent that I can think of. Chatters?

It looks like we'll be making a quick trip to Boston in 3 weeks. We'll have Monday through Friday and we'll likely be doing a couple of college visits. I went to school in the area, but a long time ago. Where would you recommend we stay and what activities for teen boys who can take some museums, historical sites, outdoor activities, and good eating (including at least one fine dining option)? Also, in the neighborhood, do you recommend Walden and Lexington/Concord for a kid who studied both this year? North shore -- Gloucester/Rockport? Thanks.

You might think about staying at the Hotel Marlowe, just barely in Cambridge and on the water, which means it's got very easy access to both Boston and Cambridge, which I think you might like if you're looking at colleges. It's near MIT, and it's an easy ride on the red line to Harvard Square, plus you can walk right over the bridge and get to Charles Street/Beacon Hill and then very easily to the State House, Boston Common, Freedom Trail, North End.

My favorite museums are the Gardner (even more interesting after the renovation/addition) and the Institute of Contemporary Art. One of my new fave restaurants is Alden & Harlow, right in Harvard Square, but you should also try to hit one of Ana Sortun's and/or Barbara Lynch's places, IMO: Ana's include Oleana, Sofra and the new Sarma. Barbara's include No. 9 Park, Sportello, B&G Oysters, Butcher Shop. There's so much more good stuff to eat in town, but that's more than enough to get you started.

Yes to trying to get to Walden and/or Lexington/Concord, but I'd save the North Shore for another trip. You'll be busy enough as it is!

I know that you've answered this one in the past but I can't find the answer now that I need it of course. We're going up to NYC and blowing lots of money on theater tickets so would like to not spend another arm and a leg on a hotel. What hotels do you know are reasonable places with no shared bath? Doesn't have to be fancy but needs to be clean and presentable. Thanks so much!

Equity Point Hotel in the Theatre District is more hostel than hotel, but it gets good reviews and private rooms start at about $130 a night.  The Financial District on weekends and areas of Manhattan and Brooklyn that aren't very close to the tourism hubs will be cheaper, but you'll have to take mass transit or cabs to get around, which can be time-consuming and costly. 

I'm spending three days solo-traveling in Denver and Aspen next week. Do you have any recommendations on a day-long, adventurous hike (I'm fit and totally up for many hours on my feet!)?. I've heard a lot about Colorado's 14'ers, and have been thinking of trying out something like that--but not quite sure where to start. Also, any restaurant/bar recommendations for Denver or Aspen would be greatly appreciated!

Chatters, any hiking recommendations? Pikes Peak is one possibility. It's beautiful country there.

I had some great food in Denver while there for my mystery trip a few months ago. WaterCourse Foods has excellent vegan fare that even meat-eaters will like. Have a crepe at the friendly counter at Crepes 'n Crepes. There are killer breakfasts to be had at Snooze and Jelly. I also enjoyed the Asian food at ChoLon.

Peanut gallery, insight on Aspen?

Hi Is it worth it to buy travel insurance for (expensive)airline tickets only? I will be purchasing tickets for travel overseas but I am staying with friends so my only expense it the tickets. The scenario is if the trip has to be rescheduled.

Yes, it can be worthwhile for an expensive ticket. Generally, any trip that costs more than $5,000 is a good candidate for insurance. I have an entire chapter on travel insurance in my latest book. I'd be happy to send it to you. Just send me a quick email.

We would love to visit Australia next year and spend about 2 weeks there. What time of the year is best and what are the top 3 "must see" sites?

Remember that seasons are reversed Down Under, so our winter is their summer. But that said, Australian winter is actually the most pleasant time of year in the most popular parts of the country, with daytime highs ranging from the high 60s to the high 80s, and little if any rain. This is also peak tourist season, though, especially June- August, so best to travel earlier than June and after August.  Picking the top three sights is a challenge, but you must see Sydney, a fantastic city, with the Opera House and the harbor; the Great Barrier Reef, an absolute must-do; and I'd pick Uluru, the mystical rock in the middle of the outback, as the third, but it is hard to get to and may not be doable in a single trip. Port Arthur, the former penal colony on Tasmania, is also fascinating. Chatters, what would you say?

My friend and I are traveling to England mid-June, and we'll have a few days in London, a couple nights in Oxford, and a few days in Bath. We plan to take the train to each new destination. Should we buy our tickets in advance? We've booked all our hotels, so travel flexibility isn't a huge issue. Thanks!

Jealous! Have a look at my recent piece on European trains. I think if you know where you need to be an when, it wouldn't hurt to buy in advance. It will be cheaper, and especially since you're getting into peak travel season, you'll have the peace of mind knowing you won't miss your hotel accommodations.

I love travelling by train. I can look out the window, watch the scenery, and move around if I want to. Second choice is car--I just love a long car trip where you stare out the window and look at the landscape passing by. One of my favorite children's books is "Henry Reed's Journey" where teenager Henry Reed takes a cross-country car trip with his family.

Haha, no love for the plane here.

My family would like to take a 1-week cruise from Miami to western Caribbean in the Christmas week. To cut down the cost, I'm thinking of driving from this area to Miami. The airfare I checked for that week runs at a little over $400 pp, and there are 5 of us. We can afford the tickets, but I just really feel guilty of spending that much on this vacation because we're also planning to take a trip to Europe 3 months after that, in the 2015 spring break. Based on the Google Map, the driving distance from this area to Miami would take about 15 hours one way. I'm thinking of splitting the driving into 2 days - 8 hours each, and stop by some small town along the way for over night (cheaper for small town hotels). We'll get some hotel voucher from Priceline after we book the cruise, so with the small cost by driving down there, we should save at least $1500 by not flying. This $1500 wouldn't be a financial hurdle for my family but is a psychological hurdle for me for the reason mentioned above. I'd love to hear you guru's opinions on this. If driving there is a viable option, any suggestion for preparing for such long road trip? Thanks!

I totally get where you're coming from. But not driving four days, to me, is totally worth $1,500. After you get back from a wonderfully relaxing cruise, are you really going to want to spend two days on I-95? That to me is the quickest way to kill a post-vacation buzz. I think if it's not really a financial burden, just fly. Your time is valuable too.

I'm with Becky. It would be one thing if you had time to meander along the coast and stop in Charleston or Savannah for a few days, but this type of trip sounds grueling, not fun. 

Let me be the contrarian. I drive from Washington to Orlando regularly, and it can be done in a long day. I-95 isn't really known for its memorable road stops, unless you count South of the Border, and I'm not. But I'd do it to save $1,500, totally.

To me, any day that involves driving 8 hours is no fun at all. Could you spread it over 3 days, so you'd have time to have a little more fun exploring? If not, I'd fly.

I also vote for automobiles. First, I love to drive. Second, I have a car that I love to drive. Third, I have discovered some of the most interesting places by reading roadside signs such as Pioneer Village In Nebraska, the motorcycle museum in Alabama(?), the art museum in New Orleans, the sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean in Daytona Beach. Also unusual facts at don't break a mag rim on an Alfa Romeo in Alabama.

My 21-year-old daughter had scheduled a trip to leave the DC area on Wednesday (May 21) to visit her boyfriend in LA. However, recently, they have split. To keep from losing the money spent on the ticket, we wanted to call the airline to see if we can change the ticket to go with the family to another destination later this summer. We understand that "lost love" is probably not a reason the airlines will take to rescind any "change fee", but how much notice do we need to give the airline for them to make the change? If we contact them Tuesday (the day before the flight), is that too late?

Most airlines require that you cancel before departure time in order to get any credit, so the day before would be fine. Most legacy airlines are charging at least $200 for the change fee. 

we'd like to find some weekend getaways, within 2 hours of NoVA. We're ages 49 & 50, no kids and would like a place where we can relax by a pool, beach or lake without kids or the young party crowd. I like biking also.

How about Lake Anna in Virginia? Or Solomons Island, Md.?

Chris - I know how you stand on purchasing miles from airlines to get enough points for a ticket, but how do you feel about hotel programs doing the same? Specifically, AmEx is running something called "Daily Giveaways" for the next few weeks whereby you can try to purchase points for a reduced cost - example: 60,000 Wyndham Reward Points for $360. This gives you enough points to obtain 2 nights at a Wyndham Hotel or even more nights at any of their related properties - all the way down to Super 8 motels. Do you think something like this is worthwhile?

I'll be the first to admit that my position on travel loyalty programs is pretty hard-line. The companies benefits more than you do from these programs. I think you would be better off finding an inexpensive hotel rate at the property you want than playing mileage roulette. Generally, hotel loyalty programs are less evil than airline programs. And, truth be told, I've also seen worse promotions than the one you described. 

My European in-laws are coming to visit for ~2 wks and my husband and I would like to find a place to go away together the wknd after Memorial Day. We have somebody in MD that is on stand by to watch our dog, so ideally we can drop him off and then head on our way (and they've explored Williamsburg, Charlottesville, Shenandoah, etc. before). They are not huge sit on the beach people, but I'm thinking maybe somewhere along the coast or perhaps Philadelphia...anything as long as we can justify leaving the dog behind (i.e. not a full out hiking wkend although some of that is fine). Suggestions on location,. things to do and a reasonably priced place for us to stay? Thanks!

Philadelphia is always a good possibility (ideas here). For coastal locations, Cape May is nice, and not just for sitting on the beach (stay: Leith Hall). Berkeley Springs is another charming location, as is Annapolis. The Brandywine Valley, and all its gorgeous du Pont estates, is one of my new favorite places (stay: Hamanassett B&B). Afraid I can't build out the rest of your itinerary, but I hope that's a good start.

I recently got my passport and I'm just itching to use it. Do you have any suggestions for a quick getaway for a solo traveler that won't break the bank for the 4th of July?

July 4th is tough, as everyone has that long weekend, so cheap flights are harder to find. And if you're only going for a weekend, you'll want a nonstop. Maybe the Bahamas? I'm seeing $570 round-trip flights, which is on the high end, but again, it's a holiday weekend. 

A little more high end and not quite a traditional camp but still fun and relatively close to DC - Nemacolin in SW PA.

Definitely more high-end!

The TSA website says that I can carry on contact lens solution of more than 3 oz if I declare it (whatever that means) and put it in a separate bag. Anyone had trouble with this? Last year I went to Europe and put the solution in my checked bag, which the airline lost, so I really want to carry this with me? Also, I've read about some people having problems using 1 quart bags that they've purchased at a store like REI - these are strong, have a zipper and a gusset, thereby accommodating more items - and security, especially in Europe not allowing it. Do you know if these bags are not permitted?

I've heard no complaints about either. Most passengers leave their liquids in their bag and pass through security without incident. I'm sure you'll be fine.

Family get together this summer at the Gaylord property in Nashville. What is there to do? There will be 14 of us. We range from 10-year-old boy to 72-year-old grandma.

I assume you mean in Nashville in general and not at the Gaylord? Here's Andrea's answer from last week:

I spent the day with Callie Khouri, the creator of the show "Nashville. Here are her suggestions. My favorite experience during that visit was attending a show at the Bluebird Cafe, a forum for songwriters. The Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum also just opened its expansion.

You can also eat well. Here are restaurant critic Tom Sietsema's recent recommendations.

Airplane whenever possible. I just want to GET where I'm going. Sitting in a car is not fun, not relaxing, and it takes too long to get places.

A plane defender at last!

I know it's not in the usual list of places to go in Australia, but I would recommend Adelaide. The city itself is nice, good musical venues, exceptional eating, and you're in the middle of Australia's best wine country. If you would enjoy visiting Sonoma or Napa, you'll love Barossa or the McLaren Vale. The seashore is nearby, and it's a short plane hop to Kangaroo Island, which has all the wildlife and nature you could want, but without the multi-day drive to the outback. (I'd also skip Uluru - it's beautiful, but it's a long trip to see just the one thing. But millions disagree.)

Yes, Adelaide does sound fun. And wine country is another good attraction.

Hard to recommend what to do because of snow levels. unsure what is open next weekend at high altitudes for hiking. A week or so ago the area got 1-2 feet of snow.

Have you any experience with Southwest fares around Thanksgiving? They have recently opened their booking through the holidays, but all of their "wanna get away" fares to return from Thanksgiving on Sunday, November 30th, are unavailable. Is there any hope that these fares will become available when the more expensive "anytime" fares don't sell?

I would not count on any sales. Thanksgiving is the busiest travel weekend of the year, and flights go out full, especially on popular routes. All airlines typically have sale blackout dates around Thanksgiving and Christmas. Once in a while, they will launch last-minute sales but typically the times/dates for flying are very limited. Around Thanksgiving, for example, you might see a sale that applies to flights that depart on Thanksgiving Day and return on Tuesday.  

Just love a good road trip. We have had some fun travels and great, serendipitous discoveries along the way. One of my all time favorites books is "Travels with Charley" by John Steinbeck. Interesting travel stories with social commentary along the way.

We had a writer follow Steinbeck's path. Here's her story.

For the chatter on May 12 looking for non-tourist things to do on Oahu: go hiking. There are plenty of hiking trails, many in the mountains, most accessible by The Bus. An Internet search for "Oahu hiking trail guide" will find several on-line and paper guides. Personal favorite: Waahila Ridge State Park. Take the #14 bus to the top of St. Louis Heights (Peter St. and Ruth Pl.), then walk a block to the end of Ruth Pl. and the park entrance. (My parents built the house just below the bus stop in 1955, and I spent many days hiking in the park as a boy.) Two cautions: (1) They will be there during a school holiday, so many locals will be joining the tourists at the beaches. (2) It is also the start of the rainy season, and the mountains get significantly more rain than Waikiki. The red clay volcanic soil gets extremely slippery when wet, and can make the mountain trails treacherous. Be careful and take your time!

Thanks for the ideas.

I MUCH prefer flying, even between DC and NYC.


Planes to get where I'm going fast..European.trains to get from big city to big city, and cars to explore little towns and countryside.

I drive to central Florida from DC regularly. It's doable and I like to drive by myself but it's a solid 12 hour drive. My husband and I have driven to Miami from here and it's rough. We only do it to avoid paying for a rental car while down there. I personally would rather fly than spend 16 hours (assuming traffic is easy) in a car with 4 other people :)

The idea of a car trip makes me twitch. I love the train when I go to NYC. But yeah - planes are the way to go any further. You just have to be ready for the unexpected. And honestly, nothing beats upstairs in business class on a 747 -- well worth the miles.

Cheekwood Gardens!

I'm an elderly female who recently traveled to Europe. When booking (online) my long international flight (in coach) on a foreign airline well in advance, I indicated a special meal, and this request was reflected in the airline's email to me confirming my booking and purchase. At mealtime during the flight, the (male) flight attendant informed me that he did not have my meal and that if I wanted to eat I would have to take what everyone else was having. I was rendered literally speechless, but seething inside, considering that I'd made a point of requesting my special meal weeks in advance online. Then the attendant said, "Just kidding!" and pulled out my requested meal and handed it to me. I found nothing funny about what is serious for me but which he apparently considered a joke, and felt disrespected. I'm sure many would consider this a small, but should I report it to the airline? I'm not sure whether it was sexism, ageism, prejudice against those with special dietary requirements, annoyance at having to make special accommodations for those who fly coach, or what. But it certainly doesn't represent the airline's image well, in my opinion.

I'm not laughing, either. I think you should let the airline know that you are unhappy with the attendant's "joke." A brief, polite email with the particulars of your flight will be all that's necessary for the airline to track down the unfunny crewmember and counsel him -- if it wants to. As to your question of why he cracked a disrespectful joke, I have another theory. Some airline employees today feel that the non-elites sitting in the small seats are spoiled. We get really inexpensive fares and then we have the nerve to ask for a special meal. They express that belief, at least in my opinion, with passive-aggressive behavior, like jokes they know are not funny. I believe employees like that should not be in a customer-facing position.

For the 4 adult best friends...if the DC residents wants to get out of town, too, there is always Baltimore (great museums, seafood, Little Italy, Inner Harbor) or Annapolis (great food and shopping, tons of history).

Both good suggestions. I was getting hung up on the everyone driving the same distance, but I'm not sure that's realistic.

Baltimore, Williamsburg, Charlottesville

I like the thoughts, though not equidistant. I think the chatter will just have to rethink the parameters.

What about taking the Autotrain from Lorton, VA to Sanford, FL? Doesn't get you directly to Miami, but would reduce the stress of driving.

My family, which includes 3 young kids, are traveling to Mexico for the first time. Playa del Carmen, staying in a time share development. My only concern is getting sick, not really for my husband or I, but our young children. My understanding is that this worry not that big of a deal where we are staying because hotels and restaurants all use filtered water now. True? Any tips on how not to get sick? Someone recommended taking probiotics. Your thoughts are appreciated.

I've visited Playa del Carmen several times and I've not been sick, but I stayed at resorts that had reserve osmosis systems. And, while I ate raw fruit and veggies and used their ice, I drank bottled water. And I wasn't stingy with the hand sanitizer. As for probiotics, any medical experts out there who want to opine? 

Travel for 2 weeks, minimum. It takes awhile to get there, and the flights are exhausting, as well as adjusting your body clock. As for must-see places, I second Sydney and the Barrier Reef (I personally haven't seen it yet, but it's on my list), but I would nix Uluru. Melbourne is Australia's other major city, and there is plenty to do there, including a coastline drive that a friend has raved about. If you want beaches, head to Queensland and go to the Gold Coast or the Sunshine Coast. The Gold Coast is crass, with high rises, tour buses, night life and kitsch. The Sunshine Coast is quieter, with more families. One of my favorites is Lamington National Park, a small national park mostly in southern Queenland, on the border with NSW. It's about a 2 hour or so drive from Brisbane. It's a subtropical rainforest with great hikes and potential for wildlife spotting because it's not completely overrun with tourists. Hopefully, they will have completed repairs soon to wrecked trails from massive flooding two years ago. Best thing to do: Buy a good guidebook, read it, and map out your itinerary according to what you want, urban vs. rural, etc. It's a big country, and even 2 or 3 weeks is not enough to really see it all. You have to make choices.

Yes, it is definitely a big country with much to see. You couldn't even do it all in a month!

My friend and I will be heading to Vietnam for 10 days in mid-November (can't wait!) and will be flying out of LAX. We're in DC so we plan to head down a day early to have a day and a half to sightsee. We plan to arrive noonish on the first day and our flight to Asia leaves at 11pm the next day. Any thoughts on what to see/do/eat? We plan to visit the Getty Museum and want to eat great food (Mexican and Thai are favorites) without spending a ton of money. We're late 20's/early 30's and don' really care about shopping or "Hollywood" type stuff. We'll have a car. Thanks!!

For dining, check out our story on L.A.'s food trucks scene. Other advice?

Paco's Tacos is cheap and not far from the airport. I also quite enjoy the Getty Villa in Malibu. And then you can cruise through Venice and Santa Monica on the way there. 

Get out of Denver quick if you like scenery & hiking. Traffic is like DC Rush Hour. Glenwood Springs is a nice stop before Aspen but Aspen has it all.

I hear that! I got stuck in pretty unpleasant, and somewhat crazy, traffic around rush hour there. Yikes.

There is more than enough to see just outside of Portland over your stay. Outside of Portland you have (1) Columbia Gorge, (2) Mt Good, (3) St Helens (4) Oregon coast--Astoria, Seaside, Cannon beach, and (5) Willamette Valley, which is Oregon wine country. Traffic on I-5 between Seattle and Portland is bad on holiday weekends

I agree.

DelMarVa peninsula?

I work for an airline and had a colleague who was fired for making a similar joke. I didn't think it was funny either (and in retrospect, I doubt he did either)

Having lived in Australia for a few years, I have a pretty good idea of places to go and when to go. Sydney is a "must" visit at any time of year, but other destinations are sometimes weather-dependent. If you want to go to the Great Barrier Reef, go from May to November (otherwise you are likely to encounter cyclones and the dreaded stingers in the water). If you want to go to Uluru, avoid December to February when it is beastly hot. Likewise, I wouldn't go to Tasmania in the winter (June - August) because it's really cold there then. If you are a museum-lover, I'd recommend going to Canberra (which is where I lived and where it's nice to visit year-round as they actually have 4 seasons). The many museums, most of which are free, are excellent. It's also a good place to see animals in the wild as there are two good parks close to Canberra, Namadgi National Park and Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve.

For a true vacation, I always want to be somewhere that I can ditch the car. I like the freedom that comes from only traveling with only as much as I can carry on my back, and using public transport (especially trains, but also boats, buses, taxis etc) is a great vector for meeting other travelers or locals.

True that. I've taken public transportation on both U.S. coasts and places in between, plus England. I find it much less stressful than driving in a new place.

Following on from the earlier question about the canceled flight, could the person have pressed for US Airways to book them on another airline that would get them to their destination in a more timely manner? Rather than the customer having to pay out of pocket on their own? I seem to recall that this used to be possible, although airlines don't like to do it since it costs them money.

Yes, absolutely. If we could go back in time, I would lean on the airline for a better resolution at the airport.

We want to fly from IAD, Reagan, or BWI (preferably IAD, but would travel to save money or time) to Cancun in July. What are our best options for a non-stop flight, and what neighborhood is a good price? I would hate to book early, and miss a reduction or a big sale! Thanks for any help that you can offer!

AirTran flies nonstop from BWI. United flies nonstop from Dulles. No nonstop flights from DCA. As for good prices, you may be better off booking a trip with hotel and air included. Try the airline sites (AirTran is now owned by Southwest, so go to  Southwest Vacations). And try tour operators, such as Apple Vacations and Vacation Express.  

remember that's the TSA's not expect to be able to carry >100ml on flights within/from Europe

You dont need to be AMEx to participate. AmEX gets a discount (about 10%). there are some deals to be gotten...but it depends on what your plans are. One thing being offered is Choice hotels buying 40,000 pts for $165. This can be a big bargain depending on how you use the points. If you know you are planning on traveling to a place like Kalispell, MT where the local Choice hotel is a 20,000 pt hotel that is usually $200+ per night in the summer (but is a 20,000 pt hotel). If a 20,000 pt hotel >$81/night (after taxes) taxes then doing it saves money. There are also a special on Busch Gardens where you pay $45 for a day use ticket which is a bout half off regular price. There are other offers that just arent that much of a bargain. Usually buying points for a stay isnt cheaper than paying for the stay itself.

So ends our hour. Hope you enjoyed it and learned something too. Today's prize goes to the chatter who waxed poetic about road trips and their adventures in platypus-spotting. Please send me your name and mailing address.

We'll be off next week for Memorial Day, so be sure to come back on June 2. Until then, happy travels!

In This Chat
Joe Yonan
Joe Yonan is the Travel editor.
Zofia Smardz
Zofia Smardz is the deputy editor of 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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