Talk about Travel

Jun 17, 2013

Talk about Travel is here to help at 2 p.m. Mondays.
Have a travel-related question, comment, suspicion, warning, gripe, sad tale or happy ending? The Post Travel section's editors and writers are at your service.

Happy Monday, chatters, and thanks as always for joining us for an hour of travel talk! If you haven't enjoyed them already, be sure to check out this week's alluring stories about a survivalist-style boat tour in the Philippines, and escaping the tourist hordes in Santorini. They're all about getting away from it all. In that spirit, tell us about your own most successful getting-off-the-mobbed-tourist-track travel experience. Most escapist story wins a prize!

It has been 10 years since I last traveled in Europe so I feel a bit out of the loop. Which way gets the best exchange rate for Euro and Swiss Francs these days--using an American ATM card, a credit card or going to an actual bank? Or are there other better options for cash in Germany and Switzerland? We will be doing quite a bit of driving and will need some navigation. At home I would use the map app on my iPhone. If I use it in Europe, Verizon will charge me $25 per 100 Mb of data usage. I have no idea how far 100 Mb will go. Should I resort to an old-fashioned paper map or rent a GPS when we pick up the rental car?

If you have an American Express card, you can change currency at an Amex office for no fee, so that's a way to get some cash before you go. If you have a no-conversion-fee credit card, such as a Capital One Visa, using that card for most expenses -- hotels, restaurants, rental car, etc. --  abroad is your best bet. If you get cash from an ATM, or change money at a bank, you'll be charged a conversion fee. As for the GPS, you can rent with your car, though it'll cost you extra. When I was in England recently, we didn't rent a GPS and just used Google maps and road maps to navigate all around, with perfect ease. It helps if you have a passenger who can act as navigator. If you're going on your own, you might want to have the GPS. At any rate, I wouldn't do the Verizon thing. It's bound to cost an arm and a leg. Chatters, agree or disagree?

I've just made plans to do a river cruise in France for Thanksgiving week this year, and will be flying from the US into Marseille, spending 2 days there before taking a train to Arles to board the ship. I've tried to search the Travel section's archives to find articles you've done on Marseille, but your Search function has defeated me...or maybe you haven't done any pieces on Marseille. If you have, can you point me in the right direction...or if not, do any of the Travel gurus have recommendations for what to do/where to stay in Marseille in November? Or, would you recommend proceeding directly to Arles and then spending my 2 days there pre-embarking?

We did in fact have a piece on Marseilles a few years ago. Here it is, as well as information on where to stay and eat and other details. If you want a little more insight into the city, I recommend this article from National Geographic.

Someone wrote in last week asking about hiking w/ REI. I LOVE the store, but traveled with them once before and would not do so again. The trip was in the French Alps, and REI contracted with local tour guides. We were supposed to have meal choices in the various inns we stayed in, but the guides were ripping us (and REI) off by getting inexpensive set meals for us instead. The food was both substandard and skimpy, which after long days on the trail meant we were very hungry. (And it was France, where there is no excuse for bad food.) I contacted REI at the end of the trip and they apologized, but we got no compensation. I wouldn't travel with them again...the quality control just wasn't there. I've had much, much better luck hiking with Explore, which is a U.K. based company. Explore trips are a better bargain, too.

Thanks for the feedback.

I'm traveling to Winnipeg, Canada on November 10, 2013. I started watching the price of these tickets on March 15th and the price was $581 round trip each. Since then the price has steadly increased. Will the price go back down as the time gets closer or should I buy now?

It really is a gamble. I've had both good/bad experiences with waiting. To Punta Cana  a couple of years, I wound up paying $200 more a ticket than I originally found because I waited for price to go down, and it did just the opposite. But to London, saved about $75 by gambling.  No discount carriers offer service from DC to Winnipeg, so prices are going to be high. I looked into taking Porter Airlines to Toronto and another carrier from there to Winnipeg, but that won't save money. If I were you, I'd probably buy now. 

The first time I traveled by myself (I'm a 40-something woman, but this trip was when I was in my 20s), I went to northern Arizona and southern Utah. At one point, I was in Monument Valley, which may get a lot of tourists but is so huge that I doubt it ever feels overrun. There were points along my drive when I was the only vehicle in sight, and there were no facilities or any other signs of (human) life. That was the first time that I realized how truly small one person is in this huge world. I got a little freaked out about it, I have to say!

I can imagine!

Is CheapOair for real? I just booked a flight through them, which did come up in the United phone inquiry as booked but the site has many bad reviews. Thanks.

Yes, they're for real. I've noticed the complaints, too, and have been in regular contact with the company to address some of them. If you run into any problems with your booking, please let me know. Here's my email address.

We've never been, and are thinking of going. Does anyone have any tips? Worth the trip from DC?

Absolutely worth the trip. I've spent a lot more time in Portland than BH, but the latter is gorgeous. The whole Maine coastline is stunning, and the summers are glorious. Portland has fantastic places to eat.

Do you have a directory of Passports & Visas services Companies in Washington, DC? Do you have a company you use as WP for offering those services to your company?

We go through the State Department for passports and the foreign consulate offices in D.C. for visas. We typically do not use third-party services and encourage travelers to allow themselves enough time so they won't need to use an outside source to secure their travel documents.

For a story on visas, however, I did work with VisaHQ; the staff there is very knowledgeable and helpful.

We are looking for a place in France to spend 2-3 days as part of a trip next May (in addition to Paris). We'd love someplace where we can easily get out into the countryside for a day “ walking tour, hiking, etc. (but not biking). We're thinking of Provence, but are flexible. Any thoughts? Thanks.

Maybe the Dordogne? It's also lovely, and less well known and traveled than Provence.

Hands down it's when we went to Mousa Broch in Shetland. Flew to London, train to Edinburgh, hired a car and drove to northern Scotland, ferry to Orkney, flew to Shetland, hired another car, found small town Sandwick, where a fishing boat makes one trip to and one trip from the island each day. Just us and the skuas. Oh, and they warned us that if we missed the return boat, they wouldn't wait for us, we'd have to rough it in an Iron Age ruin until the boat returned the next morning. First time my husband has ever been early for departure!

Whew, sounds like a trek! But a good one!

We just got back from a little over 2 weeks in Italy. For money, we used our various credit cards (some with conversion fees, some without) for the big purchases (hotel, rental cars, big purchases), and withdrew money from ATMs for the rest of the purchases. We had a group of 8 people (4 couples), so we ended up paying cash more at restaurants to make splitting bills easier. For navigation: We had 3 rental cars for the group. One of the other cars came standard with GPS, and the other 2 cars (including the one I was in) did not. I had a fairly good road map of Italy and was able to navigate us around all the small towns in Tuscany with no problem. The group with the GPS spent a fair amount of time going in circles in Tuscany, because the GPS was constantly confused or wasn't aware there was a traffic circle coming up. Personally, if you have someone else traveling with you, and if you're a decent navigator/map-reader, I wouldn't mess with the GPS.

Thanks for the affirmation!

My husband and I are considering Deep Creek Lake for our 5th wedding anniversary and looking to go for a few days in September. I am hoping the rental rates will be lower then (after summer, before leaf viewing time). I am a bit overwhelmed with the choices and have been there once before. I want to make sure we get a great place, any ideas?? Must allow one dog, other ideal criteria is lake access for fishing and some privacy. Doesn't need to be luxury, but don't want something run-down. Thanks!

Have you looked into state park cabin rentals? Check out this page from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. The dog might be a limiting factor, but if you jump on it, you might be able to reserve the one full-service cabin at Herrington Manor State Park that allows pets. The camper cabins at nearby Swallow Falls State Park are also pet-friendly. (Pet info here.)

Other thoughts?

We are planning to fly to Bordeaux in the beginning of October to spend time with friends. Our first inclination was to fly back to Paris and spend 3 -4 days there, but then wondered if there was a way to explore the towns from Bordeaux to Paris without renting a car? we're leery about driving in France or are we just being scaredy cats?. Or should we go back to Paris and do more exploring of the city and the area around it? We were thinking 5 days in Bordeaux and five days in Paris or vicitinity. Is it crowded in Paris in October? Thanks.

I'd take the TGV from Bordeaux to Paris and explore it and surrounds, yes. So much to do -- you could be there for weeks! Paris shouldn't be too crowded in October, no; the high tourist season will be over.

I need to book a flight to Maui in early January 2014. I've been using and found two-stop fares for just a little under $900, one-stop fares for around $1125 (round trip). The tools at Kayak are great for finding just the right flight, but where should I book once I select a flight? Orbitz, Expedia, Travelocity or with the airline? I think some of those sites have price protection. And is it too early to book if I want the lowest fare?

I prefer booking directly with airline because I don't want any finger-pointing if I encounter a problem with flights/ticket. Most of the third-party booking sites and some airlines offer price protection, but there are often caveats -- read the fine print. Those prices sound a little high, but in order to get cheaper fares to Maui, you often have to ticket separately to a West Coast city and then fly from there to Honolulu and then from Honolulu to Maui, which presents its own set of problems. If you can afford the price that is displaying now, and it meets your needs,  probably best bet is to buy and put it behind you. 

Just wanted to follow up on my question from two weeks ago about whether you thought going to Istanbul was a good idea or not. We decided not to go, because with a 9yo and 11yo, we didn't feel that we could go into all the areas of the city that we had planned to go without feeling uneasy, and felt the subway system could have closures (and teargas) that would make getting around harder (and dangerous). If we couldn't relax and enjoy the experience, it didn't make sense to go. Here's what I really want to share with your readers though....we were flying on Turkish Airlines, and I was shocked to find out that we could get almost 80% of our airfare refunded (just a 200euro cancellation fee). Not a credit, a Refund!!! I'm so used to domestic carriers and their refundable/non-refundable ticket levels that I figured we would just lose the whole amount paid (or have a $4800 credit sitting with them until we could plan to go again in a year or two). So, yay! And we are appeasing the kids over the lost Turkey trip by getting back to our old favorites, Great Wolf Lodge and the Outer Banks, later this summer...feeling way more relaxed about those trips.

Obviouslly you made the right choice for you. And the refund -- a bonus! Thanks for sharing.

Looking for recommendations for a 2-night solo trip for the end of July. Driving distance from DC and I'm looking to relax, read, get some spa services, basically be a sloth. Under $200/night would be great. I went to the Hyatt Chesapeake in Cambridge a couple years ago - something along those lines maybe. Thanks.

I've always been intrigued by the Hope & Glory Inn in Irvington, Va. Rates vary by room and day of the week -- if you're OK with going mid-week, you can get a room around $200. It will be a little bit more on the weekend.

The Boar's Head Inn in Charlottesville is another option.

In Darwin, Australia, in the Navy. My shipmates turned left at the end of the dock, I turned right. A gentleman picked me up in his auto and an amazing adventure began that included lunch at the Darwin Trailer Boat Club, All night disco dancing at a Fanny Bay club, Clothing Optional swimming at a local beach, a piper cub ride to a off shore island where I drove a jeep to a rusted hulk of a ship stuck on the beach, and climbed palm trees for coconuts while my new friends drank beer from their gasoline generator-powered mini fridge, all topped off by a viewing of Saturday Night Fever, where I swore Travolta's gang talked in Australian accents, and the best Veal Cordon Bleu in my life at the Mystic Cafe. All because I turned right.

Obviously, you did the right thing! :-)

I thought you all would be interested to hear that I received an email from Citibank, who I have my credit card with. They are now offering credit cards with the necessary chip for international travel for free.

Great to know, thanks. When I interviewed the folks at NerdWallet for my piece on chip-and-pin cards, they suggested Citi as a good option. Nice to know that advice holds up!

We're meeting family in Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge for a week, but I'm coming up pretty empty in my research attempts. Anything to recommend there besides Dollywood? We have a 3-year-old, but we're looking for activities/restaurants with and without the kid. Thanks!

There's tons in Gatlinburg! Ride the Gatlinburg Trolley, visit Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies, the Mysterious Mansion, the Hollywood Star Cars Museum (features the Love Bug, a Batmobile, the Beverly Hills jalopy), go shopping in the many shops. What else, chatters? Visit the Titanic Museum and the Southern Gospel Museum in Pigeon Forge. Go shopping at the outlet malls. What else, chatters?

I can't speak to Verizon, but I have ATT, and I paid $30 for an overseas data package. I was able to get my e-mail, surf the web a bit, and best of all, use google maps to navigate all over Cambodia. I had a similar experience in Thailand - where I flew via Germany and Sweeden, and used the same package in all three countries. I didn't get the phone call feature; data only which saved lots of dollars.

Did you use GPS?

I'm contemplating a trip to wherever my frequent flyer miles will take me; it looks like the top contenders are Ecuador or Vienna...very different choices, I know! I'll be traveling alone, and am fine with figuring out the sights to see, but would love suggestions of things to do or ways to connect with other people (locals or tourists) so that I'm not spending an entire week or 2 by myself. I can't afford to do a group tour for the entire trip, but will look into options like day-long organized tours. I did check for meet-up groups in each of these locations, but didn't find much. And I think I'm too old for the hostel-lifestyle! Certainly I'll talk to people at my hotel, etc, but do you have other suggestions for activities (or websites even) to connect with people to do some sightseeing with? Thanks!

I often find that after one group tour --say, a bike or hiking excursion or a city walking tour  -- I  make connections with other travelers and pal around with them for the remainder of the trip. Travelers like to adopt other travelers. Try a tour that brings people together, such as one that involves visits to Ecuadorian markets or a voluntourism program. Cooking classes also foster friendships.

Also, check expat sites, since many will offer suggestions on meeting places and social events. And use your social media to reach out to people. Perhaps a friend or work colleague knows someone who lives in those destinations and can show you around.


I will be traveling to NYC for the weekend next month, and need to figure out the best place to safely park the car for a couple nights and take the subway or train into the city. Staying near Times Square. Looked at Amtrak from DC - ticket prices are too high for it to be better than driving at this point. What are your suggestions?

My suggestion is to take the bus! Bolt Bus, Megabus, DC2NY -- all are worth checking out. Much easier than driving and then ditching the car, subwaying in, coming back out, etc. And cheap!

In Iceland two years ago, my boyfriend and I rented a car for the day and went to the Blue Lagoon, which is obviously heavily touristy but worth it. Then I decided to forego the usual route back and attempt to hug the coast and drive around a bit of that part of the country. The GPS kept telling us "get on a main road" so I turned it off. We ended up finding some geysers and hot springs we wouldn't have found otherwise, which were amazing. At one point, on a one lane gravel road in a small rental surrounded by signs urging us not to be there because of flash floods, I turned to my boyfriend and said, "I'm sorry. I think I may have gotten us killed." It was harrowing at the time, but a great fun adventure in hindsight! (I think next time I may do some more research first...)

I love that you turned off that annoying GPS. . .  :-)

Does anyone have any ideas when US Airways might leave the Star Alliance? I'm trying to figure out if it's safe to book a ticket on United (to China, so a lot of miles that I need for status for 2014!) at the end of October for credit on US Airways. Unfortunately US Airways doesn't fly to China, so I will have to book on a partner, I'm just not sure if it should be Star or oneworld! Thanks.

The merger isn't a done deal yet, so if you book your trip now, you should be fine. And there's always a chance that the Justice Department will say "no" to the merger of American and US Airways, in which case you'll have nothing to worry about.

Hello travel team and chatters, can you please help give me some ideas for what I can do around Frankfurt Germany for a day-and-a-half? I have some time to spend there this weekend. I love museums, castles, gardens, cafes, ... Will not have a car, and will be relying on public transport. Don't want to go too far from the city.

Frankfurt's not the most fascinating of German cities, but there are actually more things to do there than some would have you believe. Visit the Frankfurt Roemer, or town hall, which is actually a series of nine houses dating from the 1400s and make for the most historic buildings in the city. The Goethe Haus, where the great German writer lived in his early years, is now visitable. The Cathedral of St. Bartholomew is where many Holy Roman Emperors were crowned. You can also see the Old Opera House, the botanical gardens, the stock exchange (Boerse) and a number of excellent museums, including the Staedel with its impressive art collection, and the Museum of Modern Art. Anything else, chatters?

We are an extended family of 8 (including two kids, ages 4 and 7) lloking to rent a house or larger apartment in Bavaria in August for 6 days. Ideally, we are looking for something in a smaller town closer to Garmisch. VRBO did not offer much - are ther other sites you might recommend? Are there fun "kid things" you would recommend for Bavaria?

There are lots of vacation-rental-by-owner sites that offer rentals in Bavaria, including Flip Key and Homeaway.  I'd also try the local tourism agencies there to see if they have listings. Garmisch-Partenkirchen has holiday advisors on staff that may be able to help.

I have 2 weeks in September to "do Europe'. I've been to Italy & Germany a few times but looking to expand my horizons. Does any itineary stand out for you?

A lot ways you could go with this. If I were you, I'd focus on a particular region so you don't run yourself ragged and can really enjoy the places you decide to visit. Possible combinations: Spain-Portugal, England-Scotland-Wales-Ireland, Austria-Czech Republic-Hungary, France-Switzerland, the Baltics, Scandinavia, etc.

For the chatter from last week who had a six hour layover at Heathrow: I wouldn't risk going into central London. Barely enough time to get there and back. Consider something closer to the airport. Walking around Richmond or doing a quick tour of Hampton Court Palace (tho' one could spend hours there!) come to mind.

Our thinking, too, thanks!

Skip the Dollywood theme park - but go to their water park - a really nice one if you like waterparks. Best option for that area - drive to the National Forest, pull off the side of the road, sit on some rocks and dip your feet in a cool stream. Cade's Cove - go see the wildlife - including bears.

Like most ecologists, I wanted to spend my career in the world's most pristine places. And like most ecologists, I learned that pristine places have little need of ecologists, so I landed in one of the most polluted - Beijing. After months of my shower water draining black from the coal soot that fills the air I was studying, and crowds of Beijingers who would give me all the space they could, had there been any, I vacated to the Mongolian Gobi. Giant clear skies, unexpectedly handsome men, much licking of dinosaur bones (they stick to your tongue, which is how to tell the difference between bone shards and stones), and being stalked by a grey wolf on my 29th birthday (goodness that was awhile ago, now). A salvation for my lungs and my mental health. Mongolia. Go. Now. Really.

A *real* getaway. Thanks!

I have a relative visiting me in August. What would be a fun getaway?

I'm guessing you mean from D.C.? So many ways to go with this, we can hardly answer! A sampling: Baltimore, Annapolis, Philadelphia, Harpers Ferry, Berkeley Springs, Richmond, Gettysburg...

When we travel, my wife and I make a habit of looking for the smaller, quieter, less touristed part of any area. For example, in the Aran Islands off the west coast of Ireland, while most visitors went to Inishmore or Inisheer, we stayed on little Inishmaan in the middle and had a great time (including going for a hike and managing to get lost---on a 2-mile by 3-mile treeless island, which every local said was impossible to get lost on). On Italy's Amalfi Cost, we stayed not in crowded Amalfi but in the next-door village, quiet little Atrani, where eating at a restaurant two nights in a row made you a local deserving of free limoncello after dinner. Our most off-the-beaten-path locale so far, though, was probably Tobacco Caye in Belize. A 45-minute motor boat ride from Dangriga takes you to a supremely chill 5-acre island with some guest cabins, some local people's houses, and one little thatched-roof bar. After you walk around the island to see the sites (10 minutes), there's nothing to do but laze in a hammock with a good book enjoying the breezes, eat locally caught fish, and maybe take a boat out to the reefs for some snorkeling. Just make sure you bring plenty of cash in case the weather strands you there and you have to stay extra nights. With no ATM on the island, we had to make the crossing back to the mainland in some pretty rough weather because we ran out of money to stay any extra nights. An amazing place I wish I could teleport to during stressful times at work.


I was in Adelaide, Australia, and took a small (12-seat) airplane to Kangaroo Island - less than an hours flight. I went to see a sight that was 10 miles down an unpaved road, but I didn't want to take that same road back (think Wages of Fear, but with no good speed), so I went down a different road - it was on the map, but was marked as smaller than the first one. This meant there was grass growing between the tire tracks and the brush was taller than my compact car - all I could see were the two ruts. Suddenly there was a bit of a clearing and a hand-written sign on a tree saying "Platypus Pool". I figured... why not? I pulled over, checked for snakes, since I had just seen a highly venomous and at least 12-foot long king snake on the washboard road, and went over to the edge of the pool. And sure enough, there were two platypuses swimming about in this little natural pond that was no bigger than a city backyard. No facilities, no parking lot, no buildings anywhere for miles. Just a rough sign nailed to a tree. Silence, except for the 8-foot high grasses rustling. And two platypuses splashing about.

So cute!

As a generality, off-season during mid-week is the best chance to escape the "madding crowd": We've stayed at so many campgrounds where we were the only campers I can't begin to tell you. Perhaps the most remote was in northern Minnesota's Boundary Waters area, where we rowed from the outfitters' across the lake, then portaged to the next lake and set up our tent on a promontory. About once a day we'd see a canoe paddle past, otherwise we were totally alone, unless you count the haunting loon cries.


Thanks to everyone for their advice about Iceland! We had a fantastic trip in April, and would recommend it to people who are OK researching and planning all their own activities, don't need a lot of attentive customer service, enjoy spending time alone with their travel companions, and are interested in some amazing sights. We spent a day in Reykjavik, which was plenty. We stayed at the well-located Reykjavik Residence Hotel, which has all apartments (studio, 1 bdrm). Next up was the Snaefellsnes peninsula for snowmobiling and Hotel Budir - the area is extremely remote, but beautiful. Then on to the Golden Circle, then Vik for horseback riding and a fantastic Superjeep tour that included exploring a glacier and its recently formed ice caves. We stayed in the pleasant Volcano Hotel, which was owned by the Superjeep tour driver. The hot pots weren't fancy in Reykjavik and Vik, just your basic community pools, but they were hot, inexpensive, and felt amazing. We had a lot of downtime to enjoy the sights and each other, and took people's advice to pick up wine at duty free to help offset the high food/drink costs. People were reserved - no "good morning!" or "how can I help you?", but any requests were met right away. Not a lot of smiling by the natives, but we did enough of that for ourselves.

Glad you had a great time. Thanks for the report!

If you had almost a week free, but a very limited budget, where would you go? We would like to go to a beach, but we're right in the peak season, and it might be too much. What are your thoughts?

I'd go somewhere where I have friends with whom I could stay. Anybody you can think of who could put you up, or a couple sets and you can hop from one to the other? That saves so much money. I'm going to Cape Cod for a week in July thanks to the hospitality of a fabulous friend who has a beautiful house there.

Chatters, other ideas?

Hi - we're headed to Legoland in CA in July. We really want to stay at the new Legoland Hotel but it is really expensive - much more than we would usually pay for a hotel. We already have discount park tickets, so we don't need a package. Do you know of any way to get a discount? I did a web search, but nothing really popped up. We're staying on a Sunday night and going to the park Monday - two adults and two elementary aged boys.

I would suggest calling the hotel and asking if they have any discounts, such as AAA  (I see online that they have discounts for AAA members). Then start sweet talking the reservationist. If they have an opening close to your arrival, they might cut the rate to fill the room. However, you need to be realistic about how low they can go.

I need to take a 5 day/no Saturday trip to Norfolk VA at the 3rd week of August. I've narrowed to 3 hotels but I think TripAdvisor has decided which prices I'll pay and won't show me any cheaper. How do I get the cheapest hotel price and when should I book?

Typically, the sooner you book, the better the rates. Prices tend to rise as you get closer to your stay. I would also check any of your memberships (AAA, AARP) to see if you're entitled to a discount. Bottom line: don't wait. 

It's after a trip to France in April, but I was informed by Chase that my "Explorer" card will no longer make additional "conversion" charges for purchases overseas. Better late than never, and DON'T FORGET to check on what additional charges your primary credit card company will make on transactions before you head outside the US.

Good advice!

A close friend wants to take the urn containing the remainder of her daughter's cremains as carry-on luggage on a flight to the place where they spent their last vacation together, in order to scatter the ashes in the ocean (on the QT, no permit), as part of her process of closure (the daughter committed suicide a couple of years ago). I worry that if TSA challenges the mom at airport inspection, she'll go into total meltdown. I'm wondering what I can do to prevent any problems for her en route. Some friends have recommended that she carry her daughter's death certificate with her (will that be a problem since the death wasn't recent?), while others suggest that mom put daughter's ashes inside a plastic bag inside the urn. Any other suggestions from the Flight Crew or the chatters, based on experience? Is there a TSA link to this? Thank you for your advice.

I just went through this recently. Most airlines require that you take them in your carry-on luggage, so checking them is often not allowed.   They must be in an urn that the x-ray machine can easily penetrate. . There is a very good chance she will be pulled aside for secondary inspection, but let's hope the agent will be gentle. Get to the airport with time to spare. Here is the TSA's missive on the subject. Also, if the vacation spot is in another country, she needs to make sure they are allowed in. 

Good afternoon. Posting early as time is of the essence. I'm getting ready to head down to Scrub Island in the British Virgin Islands (just off Tortola) for my honeymoon in just 2 1/2 weeks (yay!!) and was hoping you could point me and my fiance towards any must see/do excursions and dining destinations. We'll be there for 8 days and would like to have a good mix of lazy, casual days with more adventurous excursions and dining experiences. Any insight would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

I can point you to a story we had on Tortola a few years ago, with accompanying details box. Anyone have more suggestions?

Yes - I used the GPS features in Google maps, and I was very pleased how useful it was. There was much more detail of places like Kep, Cambodia than I expected.

I was really impressed by the aquarium. There are all sorts of museums. We had a great time. They have skiing and ice skating in the winter. And i presume they have something on that mountain in the summer. There are several natl parks nearby for hiking. And there is always mini golf and he hall of mirrors. My boys loved the car museum. And scootet (name?) from dukes of hazzard has a museum there too. T


We are thinking of doing something more in line with a staycation than going on a cruise or to an island. Where would you suggest we check out? We are considering doing a short trip to Cape May or Rehoboth, though the prices seem to be high (no doubt due to peak season). Thanks so much!

How about Virginia's Shenandoah Valley? If you're talking about a summer trip -- and I think you are if you're referring to peak season at the beach -- that area can be somewhat of a respite from the city heat and crowds. There lots of wineries, farms, battlefields and small towns to explore, which can all be done pretty cheaply. There are drive-in movie theaters too. You could start out in Winchester (great museum, lovely walking mall, lots of history) and work your way down historic Route 11.

We're looking at planning a trip around the holidays and one of the places we've never been and always wanted to go to is Austin, TX. We want to spend a week, so we could rent a car and drive within several hours (maybe seeing San Antonio too). We like to fit in a lot of sights on our trips and are fairly active. My questions are: (1) is there enough to do for a week in this area? and (2) we do not celebrate Christmas, so will everything be closed for a few days around the holiday? Thanks!

There's so much fun to be had in Austin and San Antonio. In the former, weirdness abounds. And dancing happens all over the area. In SA, of course there's the River Walk, the expanding Pearl District (accelerated by the CIA's newest campus), and more. (I suppose you could check out a little something called the Alamo, couldn't you?) The Hill Country is home to good BBQ, lots of it.

As for Christmas closures, that's a good question -- you should be able to do plenty in the cities, but those BBQ places out in the small towns might have longer holiday closures, so check before you go.

I know you've covered the length of time it takes to transit through Heathrow, but having experienced it yesterday -- painful! What we thought was plenty of time (2 hours) was just enough time to get to our gate for boarding. And speaking of boarding, why does British Airways do one massive boarding, with the exception of elite passengers? Do they believe that British citizens will form an orderly queue? Sorry, just had to vent. In the future, I will try to avoid LHR and BA.

Hope you feel better!

Thanks for taking my question! We're planing another visit to some friend in London this fall/winter. We've gone twice before around the same time, in early December, and have paid between $600 and $800 for our tickets. Right now, fares are running and $1000 and up! Is this a trend and are they expected to continue to rise (so buy now!) or will they come back down in the next few months? Hoping this is just a fluke and the fares will come back down.

Aer Lingus has a sale right now from New York to London starting at $759 round trip for flights Nov. 3-Dec. 19. Might be worth investigating. 

Is one of the airfare travel sites better than others to search on if when going to Italy this Sep/Oct we want to fly into Venice and fly out of Rome

I rely on Kayak and TripAdvisor Flights. They provide a wide scope of flight itineraries.

We have two evenings and then one full day in Athens and we have heard nothing positive about the city (which is sad-- we are super excited to go)! Do you have any tips of what to see or do (other than the Acropolis)? We really want to love it an would appreciate any advice.

Poor Athens is always being dissed, unfairly, I think. You can spend your entire full day on the Acropolis and in the museum there. But there are also interesting neighborhoods to walk around -- the Plaka at the foot of the Acropolis, along with Thyssion and Psyri, form the city's historic triangle, where you can see ancient and modern coexisting side by side. Syntagma Square is the home of the Parliament and most of the government ministries, many housed in neoclassical buildings. I'd hit the Archaeological Museum and the Byzantine Museum (Byzantine art). Athens nightlife is famous. Just head out to one of the many "bouzoukia, " or nightclubs, all around the city. There are lots of theaters, too. And of course cafes and restaurants!

I live in this area. Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge are almost unbearably crowded in the summer. I'd want to get out of there, at least for a while. Lots to check out in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park for kids and grown-ups. Try tubing in Townsend or Bryson City. Take a boat ride and see the dam on Fontana Lake. Take day trips into Knoxville and Asheville, each of which can be a vacation destination on their own.

Visit Great Smoky Mountains National Park, of course! It's gorgeous and there are marked "Quiet Walks" as well as bigger hikes. If you take your child, he will enjoy dabbling in a stream or two while you take it slow.

And more Gatlinburg advice. . .

Any suggestions for a golf/spa/walk/read 4-day destination that is equidistant for travelers from Cincinnati and DC?

I would consider a resort in West Virginia, such as Oglebay in Wheeling (I just returned from there and loved it) or the Greenbrier. You might also consider the Homestead in Virginia, which has great spa and golf packages. All three places have endless activities, plus the option to just veg out. 

I am not sure if they are equidistant from your two departure points, but they are worth the extra miles of drive time.

I react badly to insect bites. Not go-to-the-hospital badly, but badly enough that typical mosquito bites result in big itchy welts, and other bugs produce similar results. I wear long sleeves and pants and use bug sprays when I have to, but I would love to spend time outdoors in the summer without feeling constantly tormented by biting insects. Is there any warm-weather destination known for its lack of insects?

I went to a resort in the Dominican Republic and did not see one bug the entire time I was there. Couldn't figure it out until I went running at 6 a.m. one morning and saw guys armed with spray bottles going over every green space in the place. Since that's likely not what you're looking for, I'd probably go to a dry destination. Southern California, for example, doesn't have as many mosquitoes because there's not much rain.. 

We are so excited to be going to Kauai for a week (staying at a house in Hanalei) in September. Any suggestions for 'must do'--especially snorkeling locations? thanks!!

I just spent a week in Kauai with my family. I'd recommend checking out Wailua Falls -- which, unfortunately, was dry when we visited, the Wet and Dry Caves in Haena State Park and Waimea Canyon. Also, check out the Hanapepe Swinging Bridge in Hanapepe. My kids loved that one. Although I'm a diver, we didn't get a chance to get under the water while we were in Kauai. Maybe next time?

Hi guys - love the chats! I have about a day and a half in San Francisco next weekend, June 29-30. I've never been - what must I absolutely do/see/eat/drink in such a short amount of time? Thanks!!!

Go eat and shop around the Ferry Building Marketplace. Go in the morning and get a freshly made waffle from Blue Bottle (with coffee of your choice -- I love their take on a New Orleans iced coffee). Between the inside vendors and the outside farmers market, you'll easily spend a half-day there. Climb up to Grand View Park in the Sunset for the most stunning views. Rent a bike and ride across the Golden Gate bridge. Eat at Zuni Cafe. OR A16, or SPQR, or maybe Nojo, or possible Nopalito. Oh, maybe Mission Chinese, or Flour + Water. And ice cream from Humphrey Slocumbe. So many choices!

Hi, We're going to be travelling to Hawaii in September, flying into Honolulu and then among the islands for 2 weeks. And suggestions as to which airline is preferable for these short flights, and how far in advance to book the flights? Thank you so much, LOVE your chat!

I have always flown Hawaiian Airlines, which offers frequent daily flights between islands. However, Island Air and go! also have a number of interisland flights and competative rates.

I would base my decision on convenience and price. You don't need to book too far in advance, unless you need to leave or arrive at a particular time. 

One of the best memories I have of Australia is driving to the Twelve Apostles by the Great Ocean Road, and cutting through the tree fern forest on gravel roads (we didn't tell the rental car people). It was spectacular and quiet until we got to the Twelve Apostles and found tour buses.....return on the main road, which was only 2 lanes wide and very boring.

For anyone contemplating a trip to Istanbul, I just got back from a week-long trip there. And, yes, we went to Taksim Square to see what was going on--fascinating to see history in action! The bottom line though is that the demonstrations (and police activity, when it happens) are confined to Taksim and do not affect the rest of the city. There was so much to see and do - I would highly recommend a trip there. (We also did a day trip--via plane--to Ephesus. Amazing!)

Thanks for the report!

Hi! For the person seeking an itinerary for two weeks in Europe, or any other place. When presented with this "problem" I search tour websites for ideas. Have looked at Cosmos, Rick Steves, Trafalgar, Colette and others. They are experts at packing in things to do within a region, and I get lots of great ideas that way. Now, mind you, I never take their tours, I always travel independently, other than cruising. But I get lots of great ideas for seeing things I want to see, and seeing places I didn't even know about, by reading tour company websites!

Yes, guidebooks are useful for this kind of planning too.

book now. Just dont book prepay rates. You can book it now, then if you see a cheaper offer you can easily rebook it and cancel it. Hotel rates will go up the closer you are to your travel dates.

remember that most BA pax are not! You can probably pick out the ones that *are*, because they are *trying* to form an orderly queue amid the chaos!

There is a good system of ferries between all the Virgin Islands. In addition to seeing another spot you are interested in (The Baths in Virgin Gorda, in our case), you get a very scenic ride among the islands.

For the honeymooners...

Hi Travel Gurus, first of all, thank you - about six months ago I wrote to you about taking my mom on vacation to Montreal/Quebec and your advice was spot on - we had a great time! Now for a new question: my good friend found out she will be posted to Geneva for the summer (through Aug 4) and wants me to come visit. I really want to go, because she is about to have a baby and then moving far(ther) away. The problem is airfare is currently crazy - $1000 and up. Any suggestions for cheap summer travel to Europe? I'm more than willing to do last minute tickets or even stand by, but there are so many options out there that I don't know which are legit/best. I could also meet her in Paris or another nearby city if that is a cheaper option. Thanks again for all your advice.

I don't see any good sales to Europe for summer travel, and I'm guessing there won't be any deep discounts. Aer Lingus has a rather curious promo called Flexible Benefits from Boston to Shannon for summer travel. Basically, you let them know via email what dates you want to travel, and they will let you know whether they can offer a deal. But you'd have to get to Boston and then from Shannon to Geneva, so savings may not be realized. Worth a shot!

Frankfurt-- go to the Sachsenhausen neighborhood and eat something with Gruene Sosse and drink some Apfelwein (These are Frankfurt specialties.) For the Maine-bound deciding betweeh Portland or Bar Harbor-- both are stunning. In Portland take the mail boat cruise out to the Islands-- not to be missed and get over to Freeport and L.L. Bean for shopping. In BH dinner at Galyn's is not to be missed and of course there is Acadia. Go to both Portland and BH if you can!

What are the must sees in Savannah and Jacksonville as well as restaurant ideas? Thanks

I'll handle the eats in Savannah, or at least two of them: Get thee to Back in the Day Bakery for fun sandwiches and cupcakes, and splurge at Elizabeth on 37th. As for the must-sees, you can occupy a great deal of time just strolling from square to square. They're incredible.

I'm going to leave Jacksonville for others better-versed than I.

For Jacksonville, I would suggest Atlantic Beach if you crave quiet and Jacksonville Beach for a party-hard scene.  For museums, check out the Museum of Science and History and the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens. For fried chicken, Beach Road Chicken Dinners. I have also heard good things about Matthew's, Biscottis and  Metro Diner.


Next year is my in-laws' 50th wedding anniversary, and they (Orange County residents) had planned a week for the whole family (including 5 kids under 9) to go to San Diego, in July. Unfortunately the other part of the family wants to go to Vegas, so my in-laws are going along. So what is there to do with kids in Vegas in the height of the summer?

Unless it is a done deal, I would work on the other part of the family. San Diego at any time of year has so much more to offer than Las Vegas, especially if kids are involved. And in summer, the weather is so much nicer in San Diego -- average temperature of 100 degrees plus in Las Vegas compared to 76 degrees in San Diego. Also, many of the activities and shows touted as kid friendly in Las Vegas are geared toward older kids. Do any chatters have ideas? 

I highly recommend staying in Mittenwald, about 15-20 minutes south of Garmisch. Beautiful small town with great hiking, food, shops, etc.

Any trips on using USAir miles for travel to the Maldives? The wife and I have saved enough miles to make the trip in business if we can find the space, but searching on the USAIR website is pretty awful (Maldives isn't even an option on their search). I know I can book on star alliance carriers, but I'm not sure which ones to target and how to do it (emirates/singapore).

Check out ExpertFlyer, which lets you see award seat availablity. There's a free version you can use to kick the tires.

Look at booking your trip separately to the west coast then to Maui. You can find some really cheap flights

Yes, I also mentioned that possibility, but whenever you ticket separately, there could be problems if your initial flight is delayed or canceled and you miss the flight from West Coast. Works best if you can spend a day or two on the West Coast. 

I see most routes for $50 each way. That beats the heck out of driving, parking, and trying to transit into town. Take the train!

You have to travel very early or pretty darn late to get a $50 fare. Looking at Friday departure/Sunday return in mid-July, it's $49 if you leave on Friday by 7:25 a.m. or 8:45 p.m. or later. Between, it's $82 up to $141 for the regional (and more for Acela, of course). On Sunday, it's a similar story. 

no question, use a Star partner (and book now): the mileage chart that US uses for partner awards is quite generous. When they convert to AA miles, the price of award flying will undoubtedly go up! You should be able to score ANA thru Tokyo, or even United if you'd rather fly US carrier.

Hi, I'm kicking around the idea of a trip to hike the Swiss Alps this August. Is it too late to find 'decent' airfare and also to book hostels/b&bs along the various alp trails? Thanks for any insights you could pass along.

The only way to find out is to start doing the considerable research necessary to put this trip together. The quick answer is that airfares will be high -- round-trip fare to Milan, for example, which is a good starting point, is upwards of $1,500. As for lodging, I'd probably start by looking at Hostelling International

hi, gurus I have one day in Paris at the beginning of July (a Saturday, if it matters) - I've been to the city before, have seen all the sights, etc. I'd love recommendations on a neighborhood to hang out in and just soak up - cafes, shops, people-watching. Thoughts? Thank you!

They're all good!! I love the Marais. Or St. Germain. Or the Latin Quarter. Or Montmartre. . . 

We'll have about 12 hours to spend in Vegas before catching a flight home. With two little ones (1 and 5), what do you suggest we do? Thanks!

I would book a room at a theme hotel, such as New York New York. The kids will get a kick out of the themed attractions, such as the Coney Island Emporium. Once you are rested, hit the Strip and pop into the different resorts to check out the star attractions, such as the Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat at Mirage, the canals and gondolas at the Venetian, and the outdoor fountain show at Bellagio. Your family might also enjoy M&M World, the Discovery Children's Museum (off the Strip) and the Pinball Hall of Fame (also off the Strip). For more ideas, check, which has a slew of family-oriented suggestions.

And that's it, folks. We are done for today! Thanks all for chatting and for the fun tales of escapism on the road. There were a bunch of good ones but I was taken by the story of the Australia traveler who got off the beaten path and found a pond with frolicking platypuses! How cute is that? Send your contact info to me at, and I'll send you a cute (hopefully) little prize.

Thanks again all, and see you next week!

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.
Recent Chats
  • Next: