Talk about Travel

May 05, 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

ZOFIA: Hello fellow travelers and welcome to your favorite time of the week, when we plot and plan all your wildest travel fantasies. Perhaps you got some ideas from our fabulous lead story about summertime snow-hiking in Canada's Selkirk Mountains -- sounds gorgeous and fun but a teensy bit scary for an acrophobe like me. Or maybe you want to take it a bit easier someplace like Maine's Acadia National Park. That *is* gorgeous. What you *don't* want to do, I'm sure, is to get lost wherever you're going the way Andrea did when she was headed for Peoria, Ill., and ended up in Peoria, Ind., instead. In keeping with her hilarious iPhone misadventure, tell us about a time when you got lost when trusting your GPS -- or heck, even real maps. Best story wins a compass -- kidding! A little prize from our travel booty closet. (*Could* be a compass.)

Now on to your questions.

Do you have a favorite site to search for travel deals? Trying to plan a vacation and open to travel anywhere stateside or international during the summer. Thanks.

BECKY KRYSTAL: You mean other than our weekly What's the Deal column? There are tons of options out there. Airfarewatchdog is great for picking up good prices on flights. So is Smarter Travel. You can also subscribe to the Travelzoo newsletters. Living Social is another option. That's just scraping the surface.

My sister, my two year old son and I are going to europe in late June. She really wants to go and I can't leave the baby at home so he goes with us. We've figured out that we are flying into and out of paris but where to go after that is up in the air. First itinerary, paris, Bruges and Leiden Netherlands to see our cousin, all in all fine trio and nice and compact and doable. She has now gotten into her mind to go to Provence which to me is a totally different trip. It's just not convenient to go from Aix en Provence to Bruge right? So I suggested Provence and Lyon. Keeping in mind that we're doing all this with a two year old. Ugh. I just want a plan. Help! Which route should we take? Any insights or things to do with a toddler?

ZOFIA: I wouldn't recommend going to both Provence and the other places on your itinerary. Aix and Bruges, as you indicate, are on opposite ends of France! (And yes, chatters, I know that Bruges is in Belgium.) Lyon and Provence are a good plan. That's exactly what I did on a road trip to Provence many years ago. There's not a whole lot of toddlery stuff to do in either place, although you could visit Euro Disney before heading south, and then hit a beach in Nice or St. Tropez or Marseille once you're in the south. Chatters, your thoughts?

We have a week in the Outer Banks. We love the beach and golf, but if we want another adventure or 2, what do you suggest that's nearby?

Caro Sottili: Over the many years that we spent our summer vacations in Nags Head, we went to Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge at least once during the week to do an organized nature hike. Really enjoyed the Red Wolf Howling program at Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, hiking & kayaking in the Kitty Hawk Woods Coastal Preserve & watching the hang-gliders and hiking the sand dunes at Jockey's Ridge State Park.  Roanoke Island Festival Park is a good choice for history buffs. And if you haven't seen the Lost Colony, may want to put that on the list. 

For the person last week asking about French Polynesia, definitely spend time on Moorea (our over the water bungalow at the Sheraton there was on of the highlights of our honeymoon). It is an easy ferry ride over from Pape'ete. Bora Bora is also nice, but you can't go wrong with any of the islands. A private sunset catamaran trip on Bora Bora was another cherished memory of our trip. FP is very expensive, so we found that including a cruise made our time there more affordable. We spent 2 days in Moorea and one in Pape'ete pre-cruise then visited several other islands on a 10 day Princess cruise. It was a nice way to see more of the area while saving money. The hotel breakfast on Moorea was $70 for 2 (this was 9 years ago) and a hamburger with fries for 1 was nearly $20 at Bloody Mary's on Bora Bora. Our money went a lot farther booking the cruise for the majority of our trip and we felt we saw more than we would have otherwise. FP is all about the outdoors and spending time on and in the water (snorkeling, boating, swimming, etc). The beaches are not always that nice (sometimes small with hard rocks and coral to walk on), but the colors of the water are just beautiful. A drift snorkel and a motu picnic (sitting in chairs in the water) are a must for any trip to FP.

ZOFIA: Thanks!

I am a firm believer in regular old maps. Way better than GPS. Maps actually make you learn where you're going, not just knee-jerk, turn in 100 feet, because the nice GPS voice told you so.

ZOFIA: Couldn't agree more!

Where can a first-time cruiser get the most reliable and comprehensive information about cruise offerings?

BECKY: Cruise Critic has a wealth of information.

Hello! I enjoy reading reading your chats every week! I'm planning on taking a week long trip from DC to London at the end of October. The fares I'm seeing right now are around $1100 -- is that a reasonable fare for that time of year? Also, I've tried looking for airfare tracking sites but haven't had much luck. Can you please recommend a few? Thanks!

Carol Sottili: That sounds high for the end of October, especially if you're willing to consider connecting flights. Take a look at Icelandair's fares -- pretty sure they're under $1,000. As for airfare tracking, I don't think any site works really well, but try Kayak's price alerts, Yapta and Airfarewatchdog

Hi. My teenage daughter is traveling with a group to walk the West Highland Way this summer. The tour group suggests she take some cash (i.e. British sterling). Is it better to just take some out at an ATM or currency exchange at the airport rather than try and obtain it stateside? And is a VISA gift card a reasonable thing for her to carry for larger purchases? Thanks.

ZOFIA: Taking some cash out at an ATM in Britain would probably be the cheapest way to go, in terms of change fees, although if you have an American Express Card, you could get some cash stateside through Amex and it might not cost you too much more. For larger purchases, it would be best if your daughter had a Capital One Visa card, which charges no currency change fees. Not sure how fees would work with a gift card. I imagine that they'd take a big bite. Chatters, what do you say?

Our GPS died when we were trying to find a restaurant for dinner in Honolulu (this was before smartphones). It is not easy to read a map in the dark while looking at street signs, all in a moving car. The street names are long and have too many vowels, e.g., Kapiolani, Kalakaua, Kamehaha.

ZOFIA: So true! Hope you got to eat somewhere!

I am buying tickets for my daughter-in-law and granddaughter to travel from Anchorage to DC in late June. They will return to Anchorage in late July. Is it true that the cheapest fares are found on Tuesday afternoon at 3pm? Is there any advantage in waiting a couple of weeks to purchase tickets?

Carol Sottili: I think Farecompare published a study several years ago that concluded Tuesday afternoons is the best time to buy domestic tickets. But airfare pricing is so dynamic that I wouldn't count on that. I typically advise that you familiarize yourself with the going rate by checking frequently and signing up on various sites for airfare tracking and then buy when the price dips. In this case, Anchorage is expensive, especially in summer, so I'd act sooner rather than later. I'd expect to pay about $700 round trip. 

Hi. I'll be in San Diego for a week in July, being a total tourist. Is it worth getting a Go San Diego card? My plan is to do the zoo, Sea World, whale watching, and some of the museums in Balboa Park. Thanks.

JOE YONAN: OK, I just did some quick math, and looks like it sorta depends on how long you want the card for and how many things you'll actually do. Just counting the attractions you mentioned (and picking three museums -- art, auto and air/space), your admission fees would add up to about $190 without the card.

Now the rub is this: The Go cards are $80-$262 for passes good for one to seven days, with the three-day pass being one of the ones that's now on sale, for $188. That's also the minimum length pass you'd need to get free admission to Sea World (the priciest of all, $64 if bought separately).

So the upshot, seems to me, is that you'd pretty much break even at three days if you did all the things you listed (including those three museums), but if you piled on a few more in that length of time, you'd come out ahead. Longer-length cards are a significant jump in price ($242 for 4 or 5 days, $262 for 7) -- so you'd need to plan to do significantly more things in order to make it worth it.

Confused yet?

On a trip to Iceland, we rented a car to go to the Blue Lagoon and do some exploring. I wanted to go to Thingalir national park before heading back to Reykjavik, and It seemed so boring to just get back on the highway. The GPS kept saying "get on the main road," so I ditched it and followed a line on the map that looked like it went along the coast, despite numerous signs saying roads in Iceland are dangerous, yadda yadda. So we drove our little hatchback along one way dirt roads, eventually becoming more and more scared that the signs were for real since we could not turn around or else we'd end up in a ditch, and we were told more than once that Iceland weather is unpredictable; flash flooding seemed inevitable. At one point, I turned to my boyfriend and said, completely serious, "I think I may have killed us. I'm sorry." We eventually found a place to turn around, got back on the highway, and eventually to Thingalir. We did find a beautiful park with some awesome (but smelly) hot springs along the way, which we definitely would not have seen otherwise. I was so excited when we got to Thingalir that I almost accidentally ran off a cliff while running up to the stunning view, until my boyfriend (who at this point, was annoyed at my misadventures) screamed for me to slow down, because there was a cliff RIGHT THERE. Glad we didn't die. But glad we have the story and experience too :)

ZOFIA: Yes, you have a good story to tell there, thanks!

Not a funny story, but I have learned to double-check the address of a location I am going to if I am using the landmarks feature to get there. The Richmond Museum of Art has moved from where my GPS thinks it is.

ZOFIA: Happens a lot, doesn't it?

I'm responsible for planning our next family reunion for 30 to 35 people of all ages. We're thinking of a Sunday evening to Friday time period next summer. Of course, cost is a big issue, because everyone will be traveling from distances as far away as Guam. I'd prefer to have it close to home, to make it easier for me to make arrangements, but my brother suggested that it be in the Hudson Valley near where my mother grew up and my parents met, as I'm the only one living on the East Coast. Do you have any suggestions in either area for me to consider? Thanks so much.

BECKY: The Hudson River Valley is beautiful. I was in the Catskill area for a story a number of years back. Loved it. I'd recommend looking into renting a few houses, as I think there's a decent supply of vacation homes up there. You could also check out the New York state parks' cabin and cottage inventory, but I think you're going to run into a week minimum in those.

I am renting a car for 10 days in Costa Rica this month. Should I decline the CDW insurance waiver if I have coverage on my credit card, or is it a huge ordeal to try to get reimbursed from a credit card if the rental car company takes some of my deposit money for a scratch or two that may or may not have been my doing?

CHRISTOPHER ELLIOTT: Maybe. I would read your cardmember agreement to see what kind of coverage you have, and where it applies. Some of the credit card coverage only applies in certain countries or to certain vehicles, and it may be secondary, which means it only kicks in after your primary insurance (usually your auto policy) has paid for any damages to the car. By the way, I'd be happy to email you my chapter on rental cars from my book, which you might find helpful. Here's my email address.

This is not so much a travel question as a coming-home question. While circling Dulles, we repeatedly flew over a big hole in the ground somewhere close to the airport. A mine of some sort? We looked on the map but it wasn't showing anything like that in the area...

BECKY KRYSTAL: Anyone? I'm wondering if it has something to do with the Silver Line construction.

Hey, Andrea, you don't know how lucky you are. There is also a Peoria, ARIZONA! Seriously, do you know how to read a road map? People have died because they blindly followed electronic instructions that made no sense. Shouldn't a veteran travel writer know where she is going?

ZOFIA: I believe Peoria, Ariz., was part of Andrea's kicker. :-) And I'm sure she has learned her lesson.

Of course it doesn't have to be either/or when it comes to regular maps and GPS. I love paper maps for their artistry as much as anything. Typically will look at the whole route on Google maps first so I have at least a good general idea of where I am headed and generally what the turns will be. Then it's not a big surprise when Nigel (the British voice of my Garmin) tells me to "take slip road on left" etc

ZOFIA: :-) Don't you love that British accent?

Lifehacker just did an article on this last week. Hopper flight research tools shows the best time to buy for a particular route. It probably doesn't work as well for less-trafficked routes, but it's something to look into if you have some time before your trip.

For the Outer Banks travelers. Our family very much enjoyed the ferry to Ocracoke Island. We did some of the scenic walks, signs point them out as you drive from the dock to the small town. We ate lunch, saw the lighthouse and meandered around the town for a bit. Then we headed to the lovely beach. As an added bonus there was a gorgeous sunset during the return ferry ride.

Just FYI - Unless things have changed in the past few years, the money used in Britain is not the same as Scotland. I learned this the hard way - took some money out of an ATM in Heathrow before catching my connection to Scotland and the money was useless in Scotland. I did use it in Heathrow airport on the return though so all was not lost...

ZOFIA: I do believe that the pound sterling is the currency for all of the United Kingdom, and at this point, Scotland is still part of the United Kingdom.

I second the cruise, the best part of our trip was out at the far-flung, remote islands of Rangiroa and, much farther out, the Marquesas. It's almost a full day each way to the Marquesas, but it was so worth it! Besides the sights and lack of cities, we picked up some carvings from a local gentleman who said he learned his craft from his grandfather. We paid the full price he asked because they were so beautiful, and when we got back to Pape'ete, we found much cruder carvings of inferior wood in the main market...for about twice the price we paid!

I'm not sure I can trust Andrea's judgment about travel - or anything else - after that ridiculous story in yesterday's paper. Were we supposed to think it was cute that she wasn't smart enough to read through the directions to make sure she was headed in the right direction? I'm not sure I see the "humor" in her serious lack of judgment and smarts...

JOE YONAN: Oh, lighten up. Andrea is not here to defend herself, so I'll step in: We all could stand to poke a little fun at ourselves now and then. This piece was about how in her overdependence on technology -- something that she is not alone in experiencing, of course -- she has moved away from as much engagement with her surroundings as usual. I think plenty of people can identify with the phenomenon. The essay was lighthearted, and should be taken that way. Andrea's job -- and the job of all of us here -- is to illuminate all types of travel experiences for readers, and she does that beautifully.

On June 28 my family of 6 adults, are going to Mani Greece to attend a wedding. We arrive in Athens on the 29th and leave for Mani on the July 1st. What should we see in the two days we are in Athens? Do you have any recommendations on tour companies, hotels and Restaurants? Also, we are not comfortable driving to Mani. We will also need transportation while we are in Mani. Wedding events are from July 1 to 6. We will need transportation to go to Beach and shopping during the day and wedding functions in the evening. What are our options? Should we hire a van with a driver? Do you have any recommendations? We would truly appreciate any guidance you can give us.

ZOFIA: We recently had this lovely story about visiting the Mani peninsula in Greece. Unfortunately, the author did drive his own car. I'm sure there are car-hire services you could engage to take you around, but I'm afraid I can't recommend anything specifically. That's a job for a travel agent. You could find one specializing in Greece by going to the ASTA (American Society of Travel Agents) Web site. In Athens, you must of course see the Acropolis, and sample the nightlife in its various neighborhoods. Chatters, do you have recommenations?

I'm planning a trip to Barcelona in mid-September. I've created a fare watcher on Travelocity, and while it's helpful to know when the price has gone down, what ballpark should I be looking for in prices? Currently decent flights (i.e. not 20 hours and ridiculous routing) are about $1100. Should I wait until prices are about $900 or $800? or could I expect that the prices will go lower?

Carol Sottili: If you're willing to do long layovers in Istanbul, Turkish Airlines has fares of about $813 round trip. But for straightforward flights with short connections, chances of the fare going below $1,000 in mid-September are slim. 

Hi, I'll be in Vienna on business next month and will have two or three hours in the morning (depending on when I get up) before I leave. I've been to the city before and visited the main sights, so I'm looking for a suggestion for something somewhat off the beaten track (the ultimate cafe, a park to people-watch). If someone else were asking this question I'd probably recommend the Hundertwasser Haus, but I've been there, done that, too. Any ideas?

ZOFIA: Alas, I haven't been to Vienna recently enough to be able to come up with the perfect place. Chatters, what do you recommend?

Three girlfriends are looking to do a girlfriend getaway in Chicago over Labor Day weekend. Is there a spa/resort we should check out? And, anything fun/usual off the beaten path?

JOE YONAN: Well, not sure of your budget, but the Elysian Spa at the Waldorf Astoria looks like a thing of beauty. About 30 minutes from downtown, the Hilton Indian Lakes Resort seems worth checking out.

As for off the beaten path, well, this probably doesn't qualify, but I always recommend an architectural tour: I took two, one by boat and one by train, that were fascinating.

Planning to be in N/S Carolina in June and intending to stay relatively close to the coast. With this region in mind, are there any historical/cultural/entertainment/food scenes that would be a shame to miss? I'm also interested in ocean activities and curious what option may exist aside from the usual whale watch/fishing charter. Any other thoughts that come to mind for this region would be well received as well! Thanks, J

Carol Sottili: That's a huge geographical area. Are you going to an area close to the border of North Carolina and South Carolina? Myrtle Beach? Wilmington? If you are a nature lover, maybe a pelegic birding trip would fit the ocean activity bill. I know they are offered out of Cape Hattaras in North Carolina.  Narrow down where you are heading for specific recommendations. 

On 4/22 my 2 sisters were booked on 4:15 pm Delta flight operated by Air France, Dulles to Paris. They'd bought tickets via a travel agent 5 months ago, as they were coming from opposite ends of the US and wanted to rest before their trip to Greece. Unable to obtain boarding passes the evening before, my sis called Delta. She was told that the craft size had been reduced and they had been re-ticketed on Lufthansa to Atlanta at 10:30 pm, arriving in Athens the day after start of their tour. After 2 and a half hours on phone, Delta agent arranged a 3 leg route leaving about 4 hours earlier than original route. Neither sis had been notified of change by phone or email. Not much rest that night! Questions: How is determination made as to which passengers to bump? Why aren't passengers notified? How can this be prevented? (I'm booked on same flight next week.) To whom should a complaint be addressed?

CHRISTOPHER ELLIOTT: I'm sorry that happened to your sister. These decisions are largely automated, and generally take into consideration the fare you paid, your routing and your frequent flier status. Here's a list of Delta executives you can send your complaint to. If that doesn't work, let me know -- I'll do my best to help.

My best friend and I learned the hard way two things about renting a car in Barbados: 1) Get the GPS the car rental place offers you instead of winging it with a map of the island; 2) If you do choose to wing it with the map, go out and buy a better map than the one your hotel gives you, which will probably lead you into sugar-cane fields that swallow you like a corn maze, and, if you manage to escape those, will then lead you into some not-so-nice neighborhoods where you're likely to get robbed or even carjacked. We made it out of both situations fine, but when we FINALLY stopped for directions, we were told very sternly that we had no business being where we were. Oops!

ZOFIA: Oops is right?

Hi gurus - lover the chats! On a recent flight to Florida, when I got to my aisle seat, a mom and her 2 kids were there taking up the row. When I said that was my seat, she said I hoped I would switch so they could sit together. However, the seat she wanted me to take was a middle seat a few rows back so I said no. Flight attendant found me another non-middle seat, but then I was aksed by families 3 more times to switch so they could sit together. The flight attendant gave me 2 free drinks after I finally got settled and din't have to move again. Why aren't these families booking seats together? Is it because airlines are now charging to pick aisle and window seats in advance? I realize these stupid seat fees can add up for a family, but that's the was it is and they need to realize it and accept it. I had paid the fee for my original aisle seat so that was another reason I didn't want to move besides not wanting to be in the middle, and I'm pretty sure I wouldn't be reimbursed by the family or the airline if I ended up in a no-fee-at-booking-time middle seat. Just my venting and 2 cents about airline travel these days.

CHRISTOPHER ELLIOTT: Thanks for venting. I found myself in a similar situation on a recent flight, except in reverse. I was with my family of five, and a young couple was separating us because they each wanted an aisle seat. As long as airlines try to monetize their seat assignments, this problem will persist, and unfortunately, all we can do is talk about it. It's not as if we have much of a choice when it comes to air travel, right?

So, how did Ms Sachs fail to notice the "Welcome to Indiana" sign on the highway? Any clue there? Why keep on driving for "hours" when it is just over 2 hours from Chicago to Peoria, Illinois?

ZOFIA: Sorry, Andrea's back out on the road today -- maybe getting lost in North Carolina. :-) But I can tell you from experience that it's perfectly possible to overlook those "Welcome to X" signs when you're concentrating on your driving -- and confident (even falsely) of where you're heading. Besides which, I think she says that she's directionally and geographically challenged. So she may well have thought -- however wrongly -- that she had to pass through Indiana on her way to Peoria, Ill. I know it's crazy, but that's the point of the piece!  As for driving for "hours," well, that can mean, um, perhaps two. Yes, she knew it was just over two hours to Peoria, Ill., so if she'd been driving for two hours, there was no reason,  based on time, to worry that she was going in the wrong direction. I hope you see the humor in the story -- which we think is hilarious and a little morality tale for other GPS-dependent travelers out there.

Early 2015 my husband and I (age 50 & 53) will be retiring, and our son will be turning 30. All of us, to incude his girlfriend want to plan a spectacular 8-10 day trip. He works for Marriott so we will get our hotel rooms discounted. They are not beach people (we love the beach), they love to snowboard (we do not). We are all over the map...Ireland...Belguim...Denmark...Lake Tahoe. We are looking for the biggest bang for our buck! Please Help! Thank you! RC

BECKY KRYSTAL: Yes, that is all over the map! In early 2015, you'll probably be hitting prime ski season around Lake Tahoe. Good for your snowboarders, perhaps not so good for bang for the buck. You'll definitely be able to take advantage of off-season prices in Europe, so that's one point in its favor. Still, I'm not sure we really have enough to go on to make an absolute recommendation. Perhaps each person could take on one of your possible destinations and research it. Then reconvene over a nice dinner and a bottle of wine and come to a group decision.

Do travel insurance policies exist that would cover a cancellation due to an illness of an immediate family member, such as an elderly parent?

CHRISTOPHER ELLIOTT: Yes, you might conside a cancel for any reason policy, which is a little more expensive but gives you a no-questions-asked refund of a percentage of your trip. Most standard policies have named exclusions, which may not cover a pre-existing medical condition. I'd be happy to send you my chapter on travel insurance from my latest book -- it might help. Here's how to reach me.

I am flying to London Heathrow Airport from the US in July and am looking for a ride from there to Southampton. I saw on the Internet some transportation companies which offer taxi rides for around $300 (we will be 3 persons, so that would be $100 each which is about what it would cost each one if we were to take a taxi to Paddington station and the train to Southampton. Can you recommend a transportation company that is trustworthy? -- hard to tell just based on information on the Internet, Thanks

BECKY: Chatters, anyone have a recommendation? Here's some info on rail and coach, as well as bus services.

I grew up in DC and still live here. My friends from high school and I are in our early 30s and to this day, I have friends who have no idea how to drive from Alexandria to Clarendon and back without getting lost. They always tell me their GPS took them the wrong way. I don't understand how they could not know where they're going after living in the area as a driving adult for the better part of 10 years.

ZOFIA: Really! See, all this technology is turning people's brains to much.

The quarry supplies rock for Dulles to be built and much of rock in concrete for the Silver Line. That particular quarry was on the WaPo website today because they want to develop the quarry into a mixed urban community.

BECKY KRYSTAL: Thanks for that! I hadn't come across that story yet, but here it is.

If you were to choose between Jamaica and Quintana Roo in Mexico for an end of October honeymoon, which one would you pick? We would like to be in a place where we can relax for a couple of days but also being able to do some sightseeing. I've been in Mexico before and loved all the archaeological sites close to Riviera Maya but I'm not sure if we can get that combination in Jamaica (maybe not archaeological, but perhaps colonial towns, coffee plantations and haciendas, etc.).  If so, where in Jamaica? Where in Mexico? Perhaps another country, other than Costa Rica & Puerto Rico, which I've visited numerous times. We are OK with not-so-big  all-inclusive hotels and will have around 5-6 days and a budget of about $800 each not including flights. Any recommendations on areas in these countries, hotels and activities are greatly appreciated!

Carol Sottili: To answer your first question, I'd go with Quintana Roo. Jamaica has historical and cultural sites, but it's a big island, the sites are far-flung and it's not all that easy to get around. Take a look at the tourism board's site to study the options. If you choose Mexico, since you've been to Riviera Maya, head farther south, perhaps even to a real town such as Bacalar. Any chatters have ideas for other countries? 

My wife and I are booked to visit Vietnam in August. We fly to Hanoi and then plan to visit Ha Long Bay, Hue, Da Nang and Hoi An. Does anyone have any thoughts, ideas or suggestions for us. Also, we plan to fly from Hanoi to Da Nang or Hue rather than get the train. Does anyone have experience with this or a strong preference for the train over flying. (We will be getting the train from Hue to Da Nang as we have heard this is a beautiful ride). Many thanks!

ZOFIA: Chatters, need your help!

called "1000 Ways to Get Lost in Boston". In the pre-GPS era my family used to make an annual trip to Boston for a family member's check-ups at Mass General. Going to the same place, approaching the city from the same direction, we made this trip for 25 years, and got lost on the way in and then again on the way out for at least 20 of those years. And we'd get lost in different ways! It was obvious that the city was basically just paved cow paths, and the cows had a terrible sense of direction. They also really liked one-way paths, but didn't bother marking the way (so as to confuse the invading British, I guess). Our "best" misdirection was the time we were leaving the city, headed for New Hampshire, and didn't realize we were going the wrong way until we saw the "Welcome to Rhode Island" sign. We finally managed to not get lost when we decided to stay outside the city and take the T... which in the 1980s was an entirely different adventure.

ZOFIA: Sounds like my family!

is a Luck Stone rock quarry. I grew up around there and we called it our "Grand Canyon"

Hi- We are planning to meet in the middle with another family this summer for a vacation - 4 kids ages 10-13. Would love to find a beach area that works, or something else fun for the kids and grown ups to explore. Beach, outdoor activities, good restaurants all a plus. Have done Boston so looking for something different. Any suggestions? Thanks!

BECKY KRYSTAL: How about the Jersey Shore? Cape May is lovely too. Block Island is fantastic, but definitely closer for the Boston contingent.

The last time I traded with a family once so they could sit together, I ended up between two potential linebackers, one of which must have had tuberculosis. And Mama let her kids kick the back of my seat the whole flight. With apologies to the decent families out there: Never. Again. Ever.

Thanks for all your information on travel -- I've got a chip and PIN card now, mostly due to reading the Travel section. However, I've heard that many places in Europe charge extra if you use a credit card. (I'm totally in favor of this, it should not be a cost of doing business for the vendor, it should be a convenience for which the customer pays, but that's a whole other discussion.) So, we're going to be in Copenhagen, Bruges, and Amsterdam, with maybe some side trips. Should I plan to pay cash for everything? To save $50 or so I might even try to pay for the hotels in cash, if that would help. I may email them and ask, as they are our biggest expense, but we expect to eat out a lot, and I do like getting some local arts and crafts to display at home as a reminder.

BECKY KRYSTAL: I don't think I ran into this in England last year. I did, however, have to pay foreign transaction fees on my credit cards. I'm not a huge fan of carrying around huge amounts of cash. If you stick with your plans, you're either going to be doing that or constantly exchanging currency or taking money out of an ATM, both of which entail their own fees. You could drive yourself crazy trying to figure out the very cheapest way to do things, but in the end it might not be worth it. Your time and convenience is valuable too. By all means, check with your hotel to see if paying in cash will save you a significant amount of money. Otherwise, just figure the rest is part of your trip costs.


Chatters, your insight? Maybe I'm totally off here.

The Travel section is my favorite section on Sundays! In the past, the Post has written about NYC. I plan to search my old Travel hard-copy clippings to find what was written in the past. Meanwhile, here is my question: For 4th of July weekend, I plan to take my two daughters (13 and 9) for their *first* visit to NYC. We will stay in NYC for 4 nights. We are a Non-smoking, Vegetarian family. (1) Besides visiting Statue of Liberty and the NYC bus tour do you have any must see suggestions? (2) We would like to use public transportation as much as possible. Where should we stay i.e. Flushing or Brooklyn or mid-town Manhattan? Please feel free to recommend a Hotel suitable for families - it would save me precious time. I appreciate the help. Thanks.

JOE YONAN: Walk the High Line. Go to a Broadway (or off-Broadway) show (hello, TKTS!). Rent bikes and ride around Central Park. Go to Times Square at night and revel in the lights, and the crowds. Head to Co. and get the cauliflower and mushroom/onion pizzas. Make a reservation at one of these veg places. Buy unusual dried pasta shapes at Eataly. Go to Kalustyan's for spices and tea. Get black sesame ice cream at  Chinatown Ice Cream Factory. Go ice skating at the Sky Rink at Chelsea Piers. Stay at Chelsea Lodge Suites.

That would be day 1. Day 2? Up to you.

A college boyfriend picked me up from Boston after fall break one year. The plan was to drive back to our school in Vermont, and we thought we knew the route by the palms of our hands. A couple of hours into our drive, I spotted a sign that said something along the lines of "Buckle up - it's the law in MAINE" .. and it dawned on us that we were super off track. After blaming eachother for a bit, we embraced the adventure, and ended up driving to bfs childhood summer camp, watching the sunset, and making our way back to Vermont via backroads overnight. Great adventure!... And though we're no longer involved romantically, we still wonder who was to blame for the detour.

ZOFIA: Glad it ended amicably!

I plan to take a road trip from Maryland to New Orleans in the fall, probably September or October, and would like advice on where to stop along the way. Also, any ideas for hotels within walking distance of the French Quarter (but in a fairly quiet area) as well as must see excursions while I'm there. Thanks.

ZOFIA: Chatters, what do you suggest? I did this once and ended up overnighting in Tuscaloosa, Ala. But I didn't see much of the town, so hesitate to recommend!

College grad daughter and friend are off on a cross-country drive next month. What are 3 things they should have in the car and 3 things they should have in their heads?

BECKY KRYSTAL: Kind of arbitrary, but in the car, I would say an emergency kit, paper maps/atlases in case of GPS failure, and food/water. In their heads, well, any number of things, I guess. But at least the notion that they shouldn't drive when they're tired. Breaks are important too.

I have a ballpark map knowledge and use the GPS to help me because I may not be able to see the road signs or it alerts me I am getting close to whare I need to get to. GPS tend to be incorrect when you have new roads built or new road layouts.

ZOFIA: Good points.

A couple weeks ago you ran a story about limited wifi options abroad, and many commenters pushed back with suggestions that he didn't consider. Does the author have any response? Also, in the US you can buy prepaid internet access (buy a USB plug-in and a card good for x dollars, like buying a prepaid phone) from Cricket, Virgin and other providers. Are similar devices widely available abroad, and are they a good deal?

CHRISTOPHER ELLIOTT: You're right, there were a lot of great suggestions in the comments, and I'm definitely planning to write a follow-up story. The story was meant to shine a little light on the different expectations, when it comes to Wi-Fi overseas, and to remind readers that they can't take "free" wireless for granted when they're traveling internationally. I think the column did what it was intended to.

Will be tagging along on a trip to the rain forest. I would like to spend a day or 2 in Panama City before heading to Gamboa (30 minutesride?). Just wondering if anyone can give me an idea how long in the city would be enough to cover just the basics.

ZOFIA: I say two days. Have a look at this story. What do you say, chatters?

I will be in San Antonio for a conference, but will go a day early and leave a day late to see a bit of what's to be seen. The hotel is right on the Riverwalk, and the Alamo is right there as well, so I've got those covered. Anything else to recommend?

JOE YONAN: See the missions -- you can bike from one to the other. (Or drive, of course, but that's not as much fun.)

I'm trying to decide if the $85 is worth it. Seems lie "random" pre-check status is getting offered much more frequently, and sometimes the pre-check line is longer and running more slowly than the regular line (largely because the random assignment people are so confused about being able to leave their shoes on!). Are they going to keep expanding this service?

BECKY KRYSTAL: If you think about the math, $85 for five years isn't bad. But as some critics have pointed out, you have to consider the price of subjecting yourself to a background check and other privacy issues. The program continues to expand (news flash: an enrollment center opened today at Reagan National). You probably will continue to see longer lines at PreCheck, especially as the government aims to have up to 50 percent of passengers go through some kind of expedited screening by the end of this year. Also keep in mind you aren't guaranteed to get the PreCheck approval on every flight even if you are enrolled in the program.

My experience has been that PreCheck is still faster, and I've found myself envying the people in those lines.

So, you'll have to weigh all this in your decision.

when traveling to Europe is it necessary to carry your medicines in the prescription bottles in your carry on and your sleep apnea machine(which is quite large) and would you be able to leave the Frankfurt airport if you have a 4 hour layover before your next flight?

Carol Sottili: The TSA does not require that prescription pills be kept in their original bottles. Tell the screeners about your apnea machine -- you may have to take it out of the case. I don't think four hours is enough time to do any sightseeing,  as Frankfurt is such a large airport and security screening there often takes a long time. Last time I was there, took me two hours. 

I promise I always book my family together. I try to always book early and I will pay more for tickets if I can choose my seats. When the kids were little I always chose the back of the plane, then engine noise drowns out their occasional noises. But just like everyone else traveling, our seats are often changed, our planes are delayed and therefore connections missed, flights just randomly cancelled. Then we are rebooked like everyone else and seats are no longer together and we have to rely on the kindness of others to sit with our kids.

I've made this trip many, many times, because I'm from New Orleans but have lived in Washington for a long time. Chattanooga is halfway. (Sugar's has excellent BBQ ribs!) As far as hotels within walking distance of the Quarter, that either puts you in the CBD (not very charming, it's all office buildings) or in the Marigny. I don't have specific hotels to recommend, but try looking for things on airbnb in the Marigny.

Perfect, thanks!

Would the previous commenter have preferred the parent just left the small child there with no adult?

CHRISOPHER ELLIOTT: I've seen that. It's not always an ideal arrangement.

We are traveling to Yellowstone in September and want to take our hiking sticks. We would like to travel light and just take carry on luggage, but are wondering how we can take our hiking sticks (aluminum poles) on the plane so we don't have to pay $25 each way to check the poles. Will we be able to do this or will we have trouble getting through security with the poles? I see people hiking with canes--if we brought a cane on board would that get through security more easily?

BECKY KRYSTAL: That's a no-go on the hiking pole in your carry-on. Here's the language from the MyTSA app:

Sports equipment that can be used as a bludgeon (such as bats and clubs) is prohibited in the cabin of the plane and must be transported in your checked baggage.

For sporting goods that are not prohibited, you should check with the airline to ensure that sports equipment will fit in the overhead bin or underneath the seat of the airplane.

Even if an item is generally permitted, it may be subject to additional screening or not allowed through the checkpoint if it triggers an alarm during the screening process, appears to have been tampered with, or poses other security concerns. The final decision rests with TSA on whether to allow any items on the plane.

Canes are allowed, but the assumption I think is that they're being used by people with mobility issues. Whether you want to try to skirt the issue is up to you.

3 items: 1. emergency car supplies of jumper cables, fix a flat, fluids, jack, tire plug kit, flares 2. emergency human supplies of first aid kit, water, blankets 3. maps

BECKY KRYSTAL: Yes, pretty much what I was saying. Thanks!

I'm going to NO next week. I've been there before, and did a city tour, and rode the street car through the garden district to see the beautiful architecture, etc. In thinking of things I'd like to do there this time, I decided I'd like to do a tour with some history of the hurricane and aftermath. Do you know of such a tour? Are there any other tours or interesting activities you'd recommend?

Chatters, anybody familiar with a tour of this nature?

For the family going to NYC - whatever your interest(s), there is a world-class museum dedicated to it in New York. We just hosted an 8-yr-old niece who ended up thinking MoMA was her absolute fave of a whirlwind obvious highlights weekend (oh, plus bubble tea which she never had before). Just came back from a 10-day Spain and Portugal trip. Brought both of my Capital One cards (they do not charge Foreign Transaction Fees). The only time I had trouble w/ my non-PIN-and-Chip was when purchasing train tickets at one kiosk (out of 4 diff. cities). Other than that, was never troubled or even having to explain "oh my card doesn't have a PIN" to anyone. I used to get currency from my bank ahead of time, but now I just wait until I land and get cash out of ATMs (Rick Steves says to "stay away from 'independent ATMs' Travelex, Euronet, Forex: huge commisions, terrible exchange rates").

I too have been in this situation. Why do families think everyone else should accommodate them? And why do they think they always have to sit together? If the kids are young I understand, but geez, a 14 year old should be able to survive a 2 hour plane flight if he is 3 rows away from mommy.

I did basically the same trip about 5 years ago (except in November). I flew from Hanoi to Hue and then drove from their to Hoi An via Da Nang. I flew out from Da Nang. There's an interesting museum about Cham history in Da Nang that I recommend. There are some nice day trips out of Hanoi if you have time. I did the "Perfume Pagoda" which was quite nice. Traffic is very congested though and there seemed to be construction cranes everywhere

Great, thanks!

I signed up for Global Entry--expedited re-entry into the U.S. after foreign trips. It costs $100 and comes with Pre-Check, and I think it was a bargain. Again, not every airline or flight has Pre-Check, but when it's there is is a lifesaver. If you travel at all internationally, get Global Entry and you will have both.

I find it takes me longer to learn routes because I can just count on the GSP. I don't pay as much attention to the road and landmarks to look for and signage.

ZOFIA: Exactly!

I did a DC-NOLA road trip many years ago via Memphis and Jackson, MS. Not the most direct route, but nice going through the VA mountains and those cities were fine stops. Vicksburg or Oxford, MS might offer more than Jackson.

There are many quarries in the area. Without another landmark, it is impossible to know which one they saw. I don't know which one is the biggest/deepest. A few years ago, I was an extra in a local filmmaker's production of a sci-fi web series that filmed at the bottom of one of the Luck Stone quaries off of US-29 near Manassass.

If there's any possibility of a hotel room with an East River view, you should take it! Word is that the fireworks are moving back east after several years on the Hudson. Don't stay at an airport hotel (Flushing) - too far from everything. What to do? Natural History Museum, Cloisters, a Circle Line boat tour, a zoo, the aquarium and Coney Island, the Tenement Museum...

Love Vietnam. All the places the poster asked are great, but also very popular. Do try to get off the beaten path a bit- even if it's only for a couple days. Totally different view of the country (and fewer people trying to sell you stuff- ha!). Not too far from Hue is Phong Nha Ke-bang National Park, which is really cool. It's not far from Dong Hoi. We took the overnight train from Hanoi to Dong Hoi, and after our couple days around Phong Nha continued down to Da Nang. I thought it was a fun, local experience- maybe not the most comfortable night sleep and the bathrooms were terrible, but we enjoyed it somehow! Have fun- jealous!

and can be used anywhere Diner's Club can

top of the rock (better price than top of the empire state building, less hassle). Serendipities Grand central station Chinatown central park Met or MOMA We stayed near penn station, but that was only because my husband was on business. It's really expensive, but so much less hassle than staying elsewhere.

before cell phones and before GPS, I was picking up a friend on the way to grad school. I was in NY, she was in VA, school was in NC. She directed me somehow to get off highway to meet her in some mall parking lot in VA. and it all worked out. she was there and I was there at the right time. it amazes me to this day.

Yes, amazing!

I have been having the opposite experience with regard to flight change notifications. Expedia called me the other day to tell me they had some urgent change to my itinerary and I had to call them. I did a little investigation and discovered that Qatar Airways is apparently discontinuing their Singapore to Bali flight that I was booked on. The Expedia agent put me on hold while she called QR and eventually came back to tell me that I could either get a refund or book another flight. I chose the refund but it hasn't shown up yet. She also told me she would send me an email confirmation which I also have not received. So I will wait a day or two and call again to get it all straightened out. It's nice that they notified me, but the refund process seems to not work very well.

ZOFIA: Well, that was fun, despite our malfunctioning chat system! Thanks all for joining in and for chiming in about GPS. Not too many stories, but I loved the one about getting lost every time going in and out of Boston. Reminded me of my childhood. So whoever sent that in, send your contact info to me at and I'll send you a prize!

See you next week, folks! Meanwhile, happy travels!

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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