Talk about Travel

Jun 02, 2014

Talk about Travel is here to help at 2 p.m. Mondays.
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Hi, travelers -- welcome to today's chat! What's on your agenda today? We're here as always to help you navigate your way to better trips, near and far.

But as usual, we also have a question for all of you. And here it is: In keeping with this weekend's story about Dubrovnik (with a loose connection to "Game of Thrones"), we want to know: Have you ever been so inspired by a movie, TV show or book that you went to a location featured in it, and what happened when you did? Or, if you haven't yet but have some such places on your bucket list, tell us that instead.

Or ask us anything else that's on your mind, of course. Let's get started.

My wife and I will be travelling to an all-inclusive resort south of Cancun in August. We'd like to visit the Mayan ruins either at Tulum or Chichen Itza. The resort charges a ridiculous fee for both trips ($500-600). Apparently the resort also charges $90 for airport transport, but the travel time is only about 15 minutes from airport to hotel. Keeping in mind that we'd also like to go into Cancun one night for dinner, would you recommend that we rent a car to have on hand for trips like this? Is this advisable or safe? Also, any good local tour companies that would come out to our resort and take us on a tour for a reasonable rate?

Driving in that area of Mexico is not difficult. Main highways are modern, and safety is not a big issue.  Chichen Itza is about 135 miles from Playa del Carmen, so it's a long drive. I'd highly recommend heading out by 6 a.m. in order to avoid the crowds there and the summer heat.  The ruins at Tulum are not in the same league as Chichen Itza, but it's much closer, about 39 miles from Playa del Carmen. As far as group tours, Viator has day trips from Cancun to Chichen Itza for $70 and private tours for $87. It's hard to imagine that your resort is charging that much. Are you sure they weren't quoting you the price in pesos?  

Will be spending a week on the beach in Yachats, Oregon, with family and then we have another 5 days free. Are there other coastal towns we should not miss (we plan to take day trips from Yachats to other towns)? Should we go to Portland or swing over to Utah to see the national parks? Don't really want to be driving forever, as we will have other opportunities to visit Oregon and its environs. Appreciate any suggestions.

Well, I wouldn't pass up a chance to hit Portland for an overnight; it's such a beautiful city. And I have friends who used to live in Eugene and have always talked it up, so I'd check that out if I were you.

Other possibilities? You could go clam-digging on one of the beaches. Of course, there's always the wineries of the Willamette Valley. And it might be a bit far, but you could consider heading to the central Oregon town of Bend for lots of outdoor rec.

Twice now my TSA-approved luggage locks have been removed, either by TSA or airlines. Isn't TSA supposed to replace the lock and put a notice in that they've opened it? Just Saturday, the lock was there when I got to Charlotte, handed the luggage to the transfer people, and when I picked it up in Dulles, the lock was gone. No note from TSA, apparently nothing taken [like anyone would want my grody clothes], but should I notify TSA or USAirways? Or should I just use zip ties? Thanks

The TSA is most likely behind the missing locks, and if it has to remove them, it probably will not replace them. See the photo of confiscated locks on the TSA site, if you don't believe me. If I had to guess, I'd say the TSA screeners either didn't know these were TSA-approved locks, or didn't care. I'm not sure if there's any way to retrieve the locks or to get a replacement, but it can't hurt to file a claim. Here's the claim form.

Hello! I just registered for a Half-Marathon in Liverpool, to be held in June 2015. What airline do you recommend and how early should we buy our tickets? The race will be held on a Sunday. Apart from the obvious to see in Liverpool, my husband & I are wondering if taking the train to Scotland for a couple of days after the race would be feasible? Maybe fly into Liverpool and out of Edinburgh? What do you suggest/recommend?

Liverpool is not an easy airport to get to from Washington. It's not serviced by U.S. carriers, so you'd need to fly into another European city and then fly from there to Liverpool.  And I don't think there are flights between Edinburgh and Liverpool. If you want nonstop flights from the U.S., best bet may be to fly to Paris and then take easyJet to Liverpool and a train to Edinburgh. 

I'm going on a trip in a few weeks that gives me a 10 hour layover in Cairo. I'd normally just head in on my own but given the situation there I arranged for a "layover guide" (apparently they're quite common) for $100 for the day. I've done a lot of traveling, but I've never used a guide my entire life, and I'm not sure how the money works. I know I'm to give the price in USD when I arrive at the airport and meet this person. I assume I tip just before I leave him in the evening. How much do I tip? Any other advice? I feel silly asking this, but I honestly don't know and would really appreciate some guidance! Thanks!

Through whom/what did you arrange for the guide? They would be your best source for information on how the money works. But generally, I'd think you'd tip 10-15% -- and, yes, after the tour is over.

I'm planning a trip to Uzbekistan, and I have to buy airplane tickets from airlines that I have never heard of before. What is the best way to research their safety records? Financial stability (since I don't want to throw my money at a sinking line)?

You might want to check out the Airline Safety Ratings site, to see if your unknown carrier made the list.

We thoroughly enjoyed our four-day stay in Langkawi, Malaysia, but we stayed at a pretty nice resort (Andaman) that had great beach, kayaking, and snorkeling options on site, so we didn’t use those services outside the resort. Outside the resort, the beaches seemed moderately accessible but attractive. We also went on a wildlife hike and to the suspension bridge that offered lovely views. Finally, if you happen to take the hovercraft from the mainland to the island, be prepared for some upset tummies- the full stash of sick bags was stripped clean during our trip over.

Thanks for the tips. 

Just returned from a 2 week trip to the Grand Canyon (south and north rim) and 5 Utah National Parks. While the Grand Canyon lived up to the hype, we were blown away by Capitol Feef, Canyonlands, Arches, Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks. We also saw Dead Horse Point State Park. They were all unique and we could have spent longer than we did at each location. Bottom line: We just didn't appreciate them until we saw them in all their splendor. I sincerely pass this on.

I totally agree! My family just returned from three weeks in Utah and Arizona, and we saw many of the same places you did. They're spectacular -- almost more than words can describe. Even the photos don't do them justice. It must be seen to be believed.

Only about a 1/2 hour drive from Manchester, with non-stop United service from Dulles. Good luck on the 1/2 marathon.

I am scheduled to take a 12 day cruise out of Barcelona in September. I have considered leaving a day early and flying into Paris for the day and taking the train to Barcelona. I have never traveled through so many time Zones, and wonder if this plan is a day dream, or easily doable. Thoughts? I don't want to be so zoned out, i don't even see Paris.

Difficult question to answer, as everyone reacts differently to jet lag.  I'd eat dinner before getting on the plane, take a late nonstop flight, grab a window seat, put on eyeshades and try to get to sleep as soon as the plane takes off. If you can do that, you may be fine for a day in Paris. But it's a seven-hour train trip to Barcelona from Paris, so if you're not staying overnight in Paris, I think this plan is a stretch. 

As someone who just took this train from Paris to Barcelona (and London to Paris!), I agree that it sounds brutal to fly into Paris and leave on this train the same day. In order to get to Barcelona that night, you'd have to make a 2 p.m. train from Paris, leaving you very little time to see anything, especially with your jet lag. Or you could spend all day in Paris and take an overnight train to Barcelona, but that sounds even worse -- two red-eyes in a row? Yikes! I'd either fly right into Barcelona or get to Paris at least another day earlier so you could have an overnight in a hotel to prepare you for the next phase of travel.

Just returned from Norway and Sweden and our US credit cards worked fine except one instance. We had trouble at the train station with the ticket machine. Are more US companies offering chip and pin cards for travelers?

Yes, and I have an entire column on chip-and-pin cards in the works. Train stations and other automated terminals are a problem area for US credit cards. We're seeing more chip-and-pin cards being offered by American banks, but they are still relatively rare, and not all of them are worth carrying, because of high fees. I promise I'll have more details soon.

thank you for writing in!!!! I've lost several of these and was starting to think I just kept not locking them. A while ago I decided to simply stop using them. I use twist ties and spin them a million times. If TSA wants to get in, they'll just cut the twist tie. A thief might but he/she would not bother untwisting and so fat it's been fine.

To drive to Utah will take 2 very long days. here is a plan over the 5 days (1) drive southern Oregon coast down to Crescent City (2) Redwoods...night in grants Pass, (3) Crater Lake...night in Bend (4) Mt Hood/Columbia Gorge (5) Portland

"Swinging by" the Utah national parks is about 850 miles' worth of driving one-way. I'd stick to Portland and the Columbia River/Mt. Hood areas.

After reading several of the books in Alexander McCall Smith's "The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency" series, I put Botswana on my bucket list. Since I've always wanted to do a safari, I'll probably do it there...someday.

Good one! Did you watch the HBO series, by chance? I'm a fan of Jill Scott's music, but I couldn't get past her (not credible, IMO) accent, so didn't make it more than a few episodes in.

I love the Sister Fidelma books written by Peter Tremayne about a 9th century nun in Ireland. So when I went to Ireland last May with my parents, I had two requests - to visit Cashel, her original home city, and Kildare, where her church was located. Kildare was quite possibly the best church we went into - empty, beautiful stained glass, and it just felt the same as it had for years. (And getting there through the town by car is still one of the funniest experiences we had.) The next day at the Rock of parents only went along because I wanted to, but it was amazing. Yes, it was ruins, but it was still the kind where you could really see where everything was, some of the old frescoes were still intact, and we happily spent most of the day there and at Hore Abbey, which sits below the Rock. We'd have never gone to either place without me reading those books, and we all agreed it would have been a loss.

How great!

We lucked out with a fare glitch on American: $500 to fly into Budapest and out of Prague, departing DCA the day after Thanksgiving. We have 10 nights total. Originally thought 3 nights Budapest, 3 nights Vienna, 4 nights Prague, but now leaning to only 2 nights in Vienna. What do you think of that itinerary? Is there some other city we should consider?

Wow -- great fare, indeed! Good for you. I think you'd find enough to occupy you for 2-4 days in ANY of those three cities, so you should be good!

Just returned from 2 weeks in Latvia and Lithuania. A number of businesses did not want to take an American credit card. They claimed they "could not", but other businesses with seemingly the same machines has no problems. It might have been a situation of the employee not knowing how to do it or being lazy, but it was frustrating. It wasn't ever a huge problem (i.e. I always had cash), yet it was certainly annoying (I get a much better exchange rate with my Capital One credit card than by taking out cash abroad with my Capital One ATM/debit card!).

Thanks for the link to TSA. I clicked on their link to 'recognized locks', and their link is broken. Irony?

Yes, it is.

Unfortunately, I'm not able to join the chat live. My husband and I would like to take a trip this summer to Maine. I went once as a kid and don't remember much of it. How many days do you think we should set aside? Not being familiar with the state, I'm not even sure what I want to do, other than some whale watching. We're mid-20s with no kids, and have a lot of flexibility. Where in Maine should we go? Hotel or B&B? Drive (from NoVa) or fly? When would be the best time to go? We could also go in the fall if needed.

Driving to Maine from here in summer, especially when traveling on or around the weekends, is challenging. If you want to get to Acadia National Park or anywhere farther north than that, it's not doable in one day; even without traffic, you're talking 11 hours.  Mystic, Conn., on the Long Island Sound, is a good stopover. It's a little out of the way, but  a nice area. Or take a cheap flight on Southwest out of BWI to Manchester, N.H. ($78 each way in September) and rent a car there. Then drive along the coast and stop at a few places. My favorite is Boothbay Harbor, but there are lots of small towns and fishing villages along the way. Maine has plenty of B&Bs and inns, and they're priced more reasonably than the resort hotels. There are whale-watching tours from May through October out of most of the major coastal towns.

Over the past 4 weeks, I have had 4 United flights significantly delayed due to maintenance. I wrote United, who replied that they "only compensate for delays of 4 hours or more". That compensation (I found out from one flight) is $75, and two $7 meal vouchers. This seems unreasonably low -I'd like to see them get a full meal in any airport for $7! Are there no real repercussions for this? Thanks.

You're right, it is unreasonably low. I've written about this time and again, and it seems that unless the DOT orders airlines to pay a certain amount, and that the number keeps up with inflation, we won't be able to buy anything more than a candy bar at the airport. 

The missing TSA lock question reminded me of a video I just saw, here. Clearly if you want to be sure about who is in your luggage, use hard-back luggage! And FWIW we use zip ties, got tired of losing locks... :0)

OK, that video is an eye-opener, indeed.

I did watch the series on HBO. It was great to see the stories come to life on screen. Jill's accent didn't bother me, because if it had been more authentic, I probably wouldn't have been able to understand her, LOL.

Well, you've got a point there!

I successfully booked an airline ticket using FF miles to Prague for New Years! I only paid $119 in taxes/fees. Prague has been on my list for years and I am so excited to finally be going for 8 nights. I'm expecting it to be cold and snowy at this time of year. Does anyone know if they take snow removal from sidewalks and cobblestones seriously (as in NYC serious?) or should I expect treacherous conditions and therefore a new boot purchase?

Well done on that ticket! I'm jealous of your going to Prague, which is fabulous any time of year! It will surely be cold at New Year's -- temperatures hover around freezing then (i.e. 32 degrees) -- but there's not necessarily a guarantee of snow.  If there is snow, the east Europeans aren't as obsessive about clearing things as New Yorkers, by any means, so be prepared. And whether there's snow or not, I'd use the trip as an excuse for a new pair of boots, definitely! Chatters, what do you say?

We are going to be traveling to Singapore and Thailand for a wedding and have a bunch of wedding and other clothes that I was think of shipping. We are going to be stopping in Paris for a few days before we get to Singapore and didn't want to carry all that with me. Which companies would you recommend?

That sounds like it might be worth it, yes, to ship them ahead. I haven't used any of these services, though, so throwing this out to chatters: Any opinions?

Last Chat there was an incident where someone special ordered a meal. not sure how much time it was between "we dont have" and just kidding"--a few comments: (1) They person may not have known you had special ordered and was misinfomred that or (2) thought the did not have any left, but then had one showed up, or (3) had a first class/business clas person request this when boarding and the FA wanted to see what he could tried to see if he could excahnge your reserved meal for a standard meal, or ($) given this was international --there could have been a language barrier and he thought Just Kidding means something else like "my mistake"

The person wanting to get to Liverpool from DC could consider traveling to Dublin and then a separate flight from Dublin to Liverpool with Ryanair. However, be very careful of exceeding Ryanair's luggage allowance and there are special check-in requirements for people traveling with Ryanair who do not have EU passports. The other advantage of flying out of Dublin to the US is that all flights to the US are pre cleared and you arrive as if you were on a domestic flight within the US. The downside: absolute minimum of 3 hours needed ahead of flight time from Dublin (or, Shannon) for the pre clearance to the US.

I initially was going to recommend Dublin, but had a brain freeze and forgot that there are nonstop flights from Dulles. Good idea. 

So jealous! Fantastic fare, and great cities! However, Vienna is absolutely fantastic and two days is too short a time IMHO. Of course, it is more pricey than the other two.

We did an overnight train to an overnight plane (the opposite of what you suggest and it was all in the same time zone) a month ago and it was totally exhausting. We are in our late twenties/early thirties, are extremely active, and sleep well in transit and were miserable when we arrived at our destination. I cannot imagine waiting patiently through the cruise onboarding and drowning drills after 2 sleepless nights. All you will want is a shower and bed. If I were you, I would come two days early and get a hotel. You will have a bed, shower, and time to see the Mona Lisa.

My thoughts exactly. (Well, I might skip the ML in favor of a cheese shop, chocolatier or boulangerie or two, but other than that I'm with you.)

The New Yorker Mother's Day issue in the early 80's featured an article called "The Ghost of the Glass House" which described the history of a house in Paris. I was intrigued. As a result of the description of the house's location in the article, I was able to pinpoint on a map its location. The next time I go to Paris, I am going to try to find it.

What fun! Let us know what happens, will you?

After watching the LORD OF THE RINGS movies, I traveled to New Zealand. I toured Matamata ("Hobbiton") and had a full day LOTR tour around Wellington, which was great! This summer, I'm doing the GAME OF THRONES tour around Belfast. Even if you're not fans of the movie/tv series/books/whatever, it's a good way to see some beautiful scenery and put it in some sort of context. Plus, it'll impress all your geeky friends!

True, having some kind of jumping-off point can be fun. (Although I think if I weren't a fan and I was with somebody who was, the trip could possibly be miserable... but maybe that's just me!)

I use zip-ties to lock my luggage. If TSA cuts them off, I can put a new one on for the next leg of the trip. I snip them off with a nail clipper that I pack in my carry-on tote.

Good one!

I have been to London many times, but I have never found a corner like the one in Mary Poppins. I hope to do so someday.

Cherry Tree Lane!

My son is attending camp near Claryville, NY., 6 hours away from here. (Frost Valley YMCA ) He needs to be dropped off on a Saturday by 2pm and then picked up by 11:00am on a Friday. Any recommendations of places to visit ? I was hoping to make a fun weekend on either end.

Well, it's about 50 miles from Poughkeepsie,  where you can walk across the Poughkeepsie Bridge, a fun activity. Maybe take in the beautiful Vassar College campus -- the library and art gallery are fabulous. (It's my alma mater, what can I say?) Not far up the river, you can visit both Hyde Park, FDR's home on the Hudson, and the Vanderbilt mansion, just spectacular. It's beautiful country up there, so you should have a wonderful time. Chatters, any other ideas?

Hi Crew, My husband and I are looking for a weekend getaway in early August. We're looking for a 2-3 hour drive from Arlington plus a nice mix of outdoor activities (kayaking, easy-ish hiking) and shopping/Main Street feel. A good restaurant or two would be a bonus. We've already done Richmond, Charlottesville, Annapolis, and Frederick. Any other ideas/suggestions? Thanks!!

St. Michaels in Maryland would fit your parameters. 

Hola Travel gurus! I was recently on a United flight from IAD to LAS, where a woman brought a large dog on the plane, uncrated, and had it sit in the seat next to her. This was not a service dog - she made several comments about how her dog was in DC to visit her Mom, but was scared of flying. She also made sure everyone knew that the dog weighed 45lbs and was afraid to fly. Since when do airlines let uncrated dogs on the plane? This was also completely overt - the gate agents and flight attendants were well aware what was going on. Any thoughts on what I could (should) have done? As someone who is very allergic, I don't like the idea that my next flight might be in a seat covered with dog hair!

Unfortunately, it's impossible to know in advance if there's a dog, cat or a passenger who loves peanuts, on your flight. Your best bet is to carry your epi-pen and to ask to be seated far away from the animal. I wish there were something more I could recommend. Chatters?

Really, it wasn't a service animal? This violates United's own pet policy, which states that only service animals are exempt from the requirement that in-cabin pets must be kept in kennels that fit under the seat in front of the passenger. Even service animals, according to that policy, are supposed to be at the feet of the passenger -- not in a seat. You've got the basis of a complaint, I'd say.

As always, thanks for a nice assemblage of articles in the Sunday paper -- always something for everyone! But, your information on flights from the DC area to Destinations X, Y, and Z only causes confusion. Nonstop flights are something that everyone can understand. But, for other destinations not served by nonstop flights, you sometimes use "one stop flights" and other times use "connecting flights." Please do not use "one stop flights" unless there is NO CHANGE OF AIRPLANES at the intermediate stop. There's a big difference between one-stop flights on the same plane (where you don't have to worry about missing a connection) and one-stop flights where you do have to change planes, and do have to worry about missing a connection. In other words, the majority of "one stop flights" are really connecting flights, requiring a connection at some intermediate airport, and that needs to be made clear. Thanks for your consideration of this request.

I completely agree. The language is confusing to the average passenger, and often leads people to believe their flight won't stop when, in fact, it does (is that a "direct" flight? who knows!). You really have to pay attention to the actual itinerary, where it should list every stop and any change in aircraft. It's a little extra homework, but it should eliminate the confusion.

I really need to spend a few days at a beach. I can really only do a Friday-Monday trip and considering this is prime beach season up and down the East and Gulf coasts, am thinking about hopping a plane over all the traffic to someplace in the Caribbean. I'm not looking for luxury or all-inclusive. Just me and a hammock, preferably in the shade, with maybe a bar nearby where the locals hang out and eat steamed seafood. Non-stop flight required, as I do not fly well. Maybe the Bahamas?

 Maybe Puerto Rico would be a better bet. JetBlue flies nonstop from DCA to San Juan and Southwest flies nonstop from BWI.  It's a big island, so it's easier to find out-of-the-way places. Take a look at its paradores (country inns).  

Hello travel experts! We are planning to go to Israel and Jordan at the end of October for about 9-12 days. We would like to stay in old Jerusalem for a couple of days then move to the north to visit the Holy sites close to Tiberias and Nazareth then go to Jordan to visit Petra. I’ve been before in Israel so I know more or less how to move around in Jerusalem and how to get to Tiberias but in Tiberias itself I’m not sure how to get to the Holy sites without renting a car. I would like to avoid renting one as no insurance companies offer coverage over there, meaning that renting a car results in a pretty expensive cost as you have to add the insurance from the rental company. So, any recommendations on how to get to the holy sites in the North without a car? Perhaps joining a tour? If so, any recommendations? Also, we would like to have some relaxing days at the end of the trip, so Im thinking a resort, but where? Eilat? Jordan? THANKS SO MUCH!

Chatters, any Israel experts out there who can help with this?

I was living in Germany and in had a vague idea of visiting Monet's gardens, but couldn't remember the details (this was pre-internet). One weekend away I was disappointed to discover I'd already read the book I'd brought along, but since it was all I had with me, I re-read it. One of the key scenes was a mad chase through Monet's gardens-yes in Giverny! I now had the data and made that the center of my next visit to France. No mad chases, but I loved the gardens.


In 1979 my grandparents took us to Los Angeles for vacation -- a star-struck destination for a 12-year-old girl if ever there was one. At the time, my grandfather's law firm represented Paramount Pictures, and he was able to arrange a private tour. This was to be the highlight of our trip for me, but fate intervened in the form of an actors' guild strike and the lot was more or less deserted, filming suspended. They told us to come anyway and they would see what they could figure out for us, and while we were there, Henry Winkler -- the Fonz himself -- walked into the office. He was there in a directorial capacity and thus not violating the strike. When he heard what was going on he immediately offered to take us on a personal tour. We got to go on the sets of numerous classic sitcoms. We sat on the Cunninghams' couch from Happy Days and sat on Fonzie's motorcycle. We sat in Mork's flying egg. We ran down Laverne and Shirley's steps to their basement apartments and slammed the door behind us (as they used to do in the opening montage). We also saw movie sets: we got to go on the Starship Enterprise from the recently released first Star Trek movie, we got to sit in the Grease Car. There was more, but those were the highlights. When I shyly held out an autograph book and asked for his autograph, he said, "We can do better than that!" He went and got two Happy Days scripts and autographed them for my brother and me. After all these years it still sticks in my mind as one of the best vacation moments ever, and we still have pictures of ourselves in all of these settings in our family photo album. And Mr. Winkler is an absolute class act.

Whoa. That's the story of a lifetime, isn't it?

My wife and I will be in Tuscany in September. Can you or anyone recommend a special or favorite driving route to see the key areas in Tuscany with our rental car? Also any favorite lodging, preferably B&B's. We will see Montepulciano, Lucca and Siena for sure but not Florence. We have been to Florence twice. Thanks.

Chatters, need your help on this one, too.

My fiance and I are honeymooning in Maui in early October. Anything that is a must do? We have a list of things to do there but wanted to hear your list of must do things in Maui. Aloha!

Yes! See the sunrise at Haleakalā National Park. Drive to Hana. See the Pools of ‘Ohe’o along the way. Enjoy!

Headed to Milan next week for several days of business, but have been unable to get tickets to see the Last Supper. Our travel agent has tried various means including the concierge at the hotel where we are staying. Any suggestions ? Thanks !

If you have time, you might consider signing up for a city tour with a company like Viator that includes a stop at the Last Supper. It would be pricier, but it might be worth it for the other sights that you'll see. Chatters, any other ideas?

Best way to get to Liverpool is, as a previous chatter posted, fly into Manchester. Then, take the train to Liverpool (about 40min - 1hour depending on the train). I just did this a few weeks ago. There is lots to do in Manchester and Liverpool (and a day trip to York) and had no trouble keeping myself busy for 9 days and was surprised at the number of museums in both cities with free admission. I've got Scotland in my bucket list but I'm saving that for a dedicated destination.

When I saw “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil”, with John Cusack and Kevin Spacey, I just knew I had to see Gone with the Wind “on mescaline” for myself. I didn’t have a lot of money so I booked an Econo Lodge outside Savannah, Georgia, complete with the remote bolted to the nightstand and people screaming in the parking lot at 4 a.m., for the bargain price of $29. The second I got into the city, though, it was like magic. I could see “the curving colonnade that reached out like a giant paw as if to swat the Oglethorpe Club off its high horse across the street." I walked the historic squares, saw Mercer House, and toured one of the majestic houses. Wow.

The book and movie created an entire tourism industry in Savannah!

There was no ambiguity whatsoever in the situation: the flight attendant knew I was the passenger who had advance-ordered the special meal, and he knew exactly where it was located on the cart – plus, this was at the beginning of meal service, so it’s not as though they’d run out. It IS conceivable (although I’d imagine unlikely) that a passenger in first class asked for the same special meal at the last minute -- but for the attendant to try to cheat a coach passenger out of a long-requested same meal would be shabby customer treatment indeed. Also, the attendant was fully bilingual in English, so no language barrier was involved; and, the gap of time between telling me "We don't have your special meal" and "Just kidding" was long enough for him to see my jaw drop in shock, then for me almost to start to say something. He was just being a smart-aleck, perhaps exhibiting a passive-aggressive attitude toward a coach passenger with a special request.

Definitely buy waterproof and warm boots. I was in Prague several years ago the same time of year and it was cold and slushy the whole time. They didn't clear the sidewalks which were sometimes difficult to navigate due to ice.

I was flying and checked out the in-flight magazine. It had a huge write-up about the Lilac Festival in Rochester. I had never even heard of it! I read the article probably 5 years ago - and just a few weeks ago I took my mom for a belated Mother's Day gift! What a wonderful trip :)

The Culinary Institute of America, where you can stop for lunch, Sameul Morse's house, which is a museum. And, of course, FDR's house and Valkill.

For the couple in Arlington, I second your suggestion of St. Michaels and also recommend Winchester, Virginia. You could stay at the George Washington Hotel downtown, which is super walkable and historical with many great places to eat. (Violino's is a personal favorite if you like upscale Italian and Bonnie Blue if you like delicious southern favorites but there are many places in all price ranges.) I also recommend the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley if you like local history and gardens but it's closed on Sundays, just FYI. There's plenty of hiking nearby as well as Sky Meadows and the State Arboretum at Blandy along the way if you take Route 50 or 66 to 17. (I swear I'm not getting paid to write this; I just love sharing my new hometown with others.) Good luck!

I should mention that we got the fare because we follow Airfare Watchdog on Twitter. They tweeted Saturday afternoon; glitch was fixed by Sunday morning. It was certain US Air flights now under American. If we flew in and out of Prague, it would have been $400. I don't think we have ever chosen flights so quickly!

My husband surprised me with a trip to Los Angeles for a few days (2.5 to be exact). We've never been and while yes, I want to do to TMZ Tour (no judgement please) I don't feel compelled to do the other touristy things. We have nothing booked but the flight at the moment and am not sure where to start. It's also our first trip away from our son, who'll be about 9.5 months, so we're torn between a relaxing getaway or a sightseeing one. I thought the day of arrival we maybe tour and do touristy things and the 2nd day Pacific Palisades for a hike (I know nothing about this, how to get there, etc, an old friend mentioned this was good hiking) and then the last day, just relax. Sounds good, just don't know where to begin!

I recommend staying in Santa Monica. It's pricier, but worth it. The Fairmont Miramar there is my favorite, but it's really expensive. Look at Shore Hotel, if you like contemporary, and the Georgian, for traditional digs: they often have deals. And go to Topanga Canyon to the state park to hike. My daughter and I spent a day hiking there and saw maybe four people.  

My family is going to Paris at the end of this month for the first time. Is it that expensive to add a day trip to London via the train? Should I buy the tickets in France or here ahead to time? THANKS!

It's pretty pricey to do the train, especially just for a day trip. You can buy the tickets through Rail Europe from the States, and it's cheaper the farther in advance you buy. Looking at mid-August, for instance, I see fares of $116 each way per person, and you could do an itinerary that had you leave Paris at 7:45, get into London at 9 a.m., get on a return train at 8 p.m. in London and get back into the City of Light at 11:15. Seems like for that kind of money you'd want to extend the trip for a few days in London, no?

Would highly recommend a car rental and a visit to Tulum and Coba (vs. Chichen Itza). Tulum is 1-2 hours, max. Coba is almost as big as Chichen Itza, 45 minutes drive from Tulum, and not crowded at all. You can actually climb the main temple. I'm a frequent visitor and everyone we've sent to Coba has said it's a more enjoyable experience that Chichen Itza. Regardless, you're being ripped off at $500 to either site. Investigate your own options. Enjoy!

Yes, Coba is definitely another good option. Thanks!

Went to The Flaming Cliffs in Mongolia's Gobi because Indiana Jones was partially modeled on Roy Chapman Andrews, who made his reputation there. At most, expected to find someone's leftovers. But dino bones were everywhere - we literally tripped over them, jutting out of eroding sandstone, completely recognizable for what they were. Such an amazing place.

Did you find yourself running through a tunnel away from a giant rolling rock? Just curious.

First Class, Business, or coach, if you don't order a special meal within the specified time period, you don't get one. Nobody is going to steal a coach meal to satisfy a sudden whim of somebody in First to eat gluten free or kosher food--would create a lot more problems than it would solve!

We just did this trip! We found Budapest to be the prettiest and cheapest. I would do 4 nights there (and spend plenty of time in the baths!). Vienna was really expensive. There's lots of great arts and amazing cake, but it lacks the charm that Budapest and Prague do. We were fine with 2 days/1 night there. Prague is wonderful and quaint, but really small. You can easily do it in 2-3 days. Make sure you look at the local trains-- we got a great deal between cities that way (OBB for Vienna to Budapest and CD for Vienna to Prague)

Lovely article on linking literature and mountain summits in Ireland. In particular, it makes a pleasant change to have the highlight on places north of an imaginary line between Dublin and Galway. The North West quadrant (Mayo, Sligo, Leitrim and Donegal, for example) is far less crowded for the most part than the South West equivalent (Cork & Kerry; and Clare in the mid west). The recently launched Wild Atlantic Way pulls together the scenic coastline areas from Cork to Donegal. By the way, for anyone expecting a city along US lines, Sligo is a town with a population of 20,000; the whole county has fewer than 60,000 people. Westport, Co Mayo makes a great base for the outdoor enthusiast, even those with less adventurous tastes than climbing Croagh Patrick. The Great Western Greenway is a cycle and walking path - mostly off road - along almost 30 miles of what was a disused railway line from Westport to Achill Island.

...was safe when we did an internal flight from Tashkent to Nukus last year. And infinitely more polite than any US airline I've been on in the last ten years.

Hello! My husband and I compromised his desire to not go on a big trip with my yearning for an around the world adventure with a plan of taking only a couple days off of work for an extended long weekend. We'd like to go somewhere where we can maximize the time, no more than a four hour flight from the DC area, where it will feel like we saw something great but also got to relax. I feel like this is a tall order! Any ideas?? Thanks!

If you like cities, French-speaking Montreal would give you that international vibe. Chicago is a vibrant destination with lots to offer. Austin is another good choice. Chatters?  

My nine year old daughter and I love to bike the W&OD trail. We now would like to try downhill biking at an area ski resort this summer. Can you recommend a couple that are close to Northern VA and offer beginner trails?

Not sure how many beginner trails it has, but take a look at Bryce Resort

I'm heading to Budapest for a couple of days -- initial research shows that hotels there are CHEAP. Has that been your experience? Any recommendations on places to stay? Seems like a good place for a splurge (and I guess I need to see that movie the Grand Budapest Hotel...)

Eastern Europe is still a much better deal than the western countries, and Budapest is a great one. Have a look at this recent story we had about the city. Sounds like so much fun! The author rented an apartment, but if you want a hotel experience, we'll have to ask the chatters for their recommendations. I stayed at the Hotel Gellert many moons ago -- a beautiful old grande dame that was rather faded at the time, but I'm sure she's had a facelift since then. The rates are quite good, especially if you book through a booking site like Expedia or The Zara Continental Hotel, recommended by our author, also looks lovely, and inexpensive. Chatters, your recommendations?

Saratoga is pretty cool, but a further hour plus north. It might make more sense to do something like the Lehigh Valley in Pennsylvania on the way back. I grew up there and it's a great place. Lots of history. Plus Dorney Park/Wildwater Kingdom. Should be a couple of hours drive down from Claryville.

We go every summer (MIL owns a cottage). Fly into Boston (comparable if not cheaper airfares than Manchester, and the car rentals are a lot cheaper than Manchester!). Drive on up, stop for lunch in Portsmouth, NH and then head for Portland -- the Old Port area is fun and Portland is a great food city (Duck Fat, Fore Street, J's Oysters). From there, it really depends on how you like to travel. Frankly, whale watching out of Boothbay is disappointing. Either go out of Portsmouth en route to or from Boston (Portsmouth is near Jeffrey's Ledge, where the humpbacks feed; we like the Atlantic Whale Watch outfit), or go out of Bar Harbor in combination with a trip to Acadia. Camden is a lovely town about midway between Portland and Acadia, but it's a bit polished for our tastes. The mid-coast area is great -- just google "mid coast maine tourism" and you'll have an array of options. You don't say how long you're going for, but if for a week or more, you might look into renting a summer cottage and daytripping from there. Rentals are pretty cost effective up there. If you are into physical activity, take a sea kayaking tour with an outfitter -- it's spectacular.

Wasn't in Eilat, but was in Aqaba, which is right next door. Fantastic. Very resort-y, though. Not usually my thing, but was a nice way to freshen up after tramping through Petra and Wadi Rum.

Anyone been to the Galapagos and what is the best advice/warning that can be offered? Traveling there in Feb 2015 and can't wait!

Andrea's been, but alas she's on the road today, so we need your input, chatsters!

Going to Belgium (Brussels, Ghent, Bruges, and Antwerp) next week. I've been researching restaurants and it seems like, in addition to being pricy, even the mid-level brasseries require reservations or an hours-long wait. I'm wondering if anyone has casual or "cheap eats" recommendations beyond waffles and frites. What about food trucks?

Too long since I've been there. Advice, chatters?

The spouse wants to take our 2 teenagers, 19 and 14, to an all-inclusive resort this summer. What would be a good place to find bargains that are not more than a 4-hour flight or so? She's interested in Mexico (Cancun, Cabo), but is open to other islands if better bargains are out there. Any recommendations on great places for a relaxing family get-away?

No to Cabo -- it's too far away. Cancun and the areas south of there, such as Playa del Carmen, offer a huge range of all-inclusives at all price points. Less expensive all-inclusive chains include Riu and Barcelo

Hope you'll find a minute to answer my last minute question: have any of you taken Amtrak to Montreal? Is it crazy to consider, since it's about 11 hours on the train from NYC?

I sure haven't! I've flown to Burlington and driven from there, though, many times. That's a great way to go, IMHO.

Well, we've come in for a landing! Time's up this week, but thanks for all your q's -- and hope we gave you some good a's!

Now for our little challenge question: I most appreciated the tale from the chatter about being taken around Paramount studios by none other than the Fonz! Send your mailing information to, and we'll get you a little token of our appreciation.

Until next time, 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.
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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