Talk about Travel

Jun 24, 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.

Good Monday afternoon, chatters. Thanks for being here. Hope you got a chance to read and enjoy Andrea's story about her whirlwind driving tour through West Virginia, which is currently blowing out the 150 candles on its birthday cake. You can't think about West Virginia without being reminded of John Denver and his country roads. What are your favorite places you've visited on back roads and rural lanes? Best tale gets the prize.

Here we go!

Starting early planning for a trip next year to Normandy to see the D Day beaches. Planning at least two full days (and three nights). Is that enough? Any suggestions on where to stay and what tour company to use? Seems that flying to Paris and train to Normandy would be the way to go? Thanks

Yes, fly into Paris and take the train to Normandy. Based on a friend's recommendation, I've previously suggested staying in Bayeux, a beautiful little town, and using a tour company called Battlebus. My friend (and WP colleague) says the tour she took with her family a few years ago was "superb."

A friend and I rented a car through the rental company Sixt in Munich in August of 2012. We were never told which type of fuel to put in the car. It was stated that there would be a sticker on the fuel door stating which type of fuel to put into it. When it came time to fill the car up, there was no sticker on the door. We could not figure out which type of fuel to put in the car, and did not have overseas cell phones. The manual in the car was completely in German. This car was a Ford Focus and had no indication of fuel type. We were in the Czech Republic and sought out assistance from the gas station attendant, who could not read German or speak English and (after some time) ended up suggesting that we fill up with regular gasoline, which we ended up doing. Several miles later our car broke down and we were stranded without any assistance for several hours in the middle of nowhere in Austria during a national holliday (which meant we could not find a phone to call for help with since everywhere was closed). The rental car company came to pick the car up after quite some time. We were informed that the break-down was due to misfueling, and that the car was a diesel. We have tried to fight their claims as we were never informed and there was absolutely no indication of fuel type, but have not been able to contact anyone. We have sent letters to the company stating our argument since before the official negligence claims were even made, and have received generic responses about "our case being looked into". For about six months there was silence on their end, and then we started to get calls from collection agencies stating that we owed about 1000 USD for the damages. We have since continued to try to contact the company to dispute this by contacting them directly and also through the collection agencies that have contacted us. We have either received complete silence in return or have had incredibly rude responses, including being hung up on by their initial German collection agency. I have spoken with an acquaintance of mine, an attorney, who has recommended that we pursue this as a disputed debt since the company has not sufficiently proven that this is a valid debt. However, I have also been advised that legal fees would exceed this debt and that it is not worth it to hire an attorney. The American collection company that we are in contact with now is telling us that our first payment is due this month. Through researching this issue it appears that these claims are often dropped after they are legitimately disputed, but I just can't seem to get to that point with the rental car company. Any advice?

A similar thing happened to my sister a few years ago, and unfortunately, she was responsible for the resulting damage. Based on what you've told me (I don't have all the facts, so I may be missing something) you are also responsible for the damage.

The car rental company should have sent you a claim with evidence of the damage and a repair bill before referring the matter to a collection agency. You have a right to see that before you pay any bill.

I can help guide you through the process. If you email me, I'll send you a chapter from my upcoming book, which will help you get all the documentation you need to settle this claim. Here's my address.

Is $2000 for roundtrip from LA to Auckland in late December/early January a good deal? Or should I wait for prices to go down, if at all?

If it's around the holidays, probably won't get much cheaper than that. Ppricing it out from Los Angeles, with a  separate WAS-LAX ticket, sometimes can save money, but probably not around holidays.

If you were going to take a 10-12 day trip in early August and your two choices were a west coast road trip (Portland-Vancouver is the most likely route) with national parks, vineyard visits, etc or a trip to British Virgin Gorda, what would you choose? I know they are very different but that seems to be my finalized last two options!

Other people may have different opinions, but I'd go with the West Coast trip. I'd be worried about hurricanes in the islands at that time of year and at least in the Pacific Northwest, you have a chance of some more temperate weather. Plus I don't see how you could go wrong with Portland, Seattle and Vancouver.

Anyone care to disagree?

For a quick jaunt w/ my mother who has never been to Florida who likes old towns (this is the best I could come up w/ that's somewhat close to DC), any suggestions on where to stay and how many night to relax & enjoy this town? I did see Casa Monica which looks very historic and right in town.

If you like old towns, you can't do much better in North America than St. Augustine. It's the nation's oldest permanently occupied European settlement. I really like your choice of the Casa Monica, which is also fittingly historic. You might also consider the Hilton St. Augustine or, it you 're looking for a bed-and-breakfast experience, try the St. George Inn.

Hello. I love your chats! I will be driving form Sterling, VA to Charleston, SC on July 4. Different mapping web sites say it is an 8-9 hour drive if I hop on I-95. I plan on leaving around 8-9:00am. Would traffic generally be better or worse this day? Is there an alternate route that might be quicker? Any information would be greatly appreciated. Thanks.

Leave at 8. If you're lucky on the first stretch of 95 -- and that early in the morning on a holiday, I would think you should be -- it shouldn't take you any longer than 8 hours to get to Charleston (I've done it in 8 on the dot from Georgetown in DC), and there's no alternate route that would be better/faster than 95. The great thing about this trip is that once you get past Richmond, 95 turns into a completely different road from the one we know between Washington and Richmond. The traffic thins out incredibly and the white-knuckle driving becomes a thing of the past. You'll have long stretches of the road entirely to yourself. It actually becomes a pleasant drive! But do leave as early as you can. 

My fiance found this "refugio" in the Andes that he absolutely wanted to visit when we were in Chile. When we looked at google maps about how to get there, we realized there was no road. It turned out there was about a 30 mile access road that was dirt and gravel out in the middle of nowhere. It was beautiful and isolated-- we had the best food, best hiking, best hot springs and probably the most back roads I have ever been (and I am from a town of 800 people!)

Sounds amazing.

We've decided to take a trip to the UK next month and were hoping to use some hotel points. Unfortunately, no rooms are available where we'd like to stay using points, and are looking for suggestions for accommodations in Dublin and Edinburgh. We've never been to either and would like to stay in the heart of both cities. While we do not require 5-star accommodations, we would like something decent, clean, and safe. Reader suggestions are greatly appreciated. Thanks in advance!

Check out the recommendations in these details boxes of a story on Dublin and this one about Edinburgh. And, of course, let's ask the chatters! Your recommendations, folks?

The traveler to Normandy might want to see the Bayeux Tapestry, which tells the tale of a much earlier battle, one that also changed the course of history. The endlessly fascinating tapestry is nearly a millenia old.

I will be in Vancouver on vacation in August and want to do a side trip to Victoria. Can I do it all in 1 day or should I spend 2 days? I want to see the Butchart Gardens, but I also want to spend time downtown (tour provincial legislature, etc.). What else should I see? I am taking the Tsawwassen-Swartz Bay ferry.

I would do two days. You can spend several hours at the gardens -- it's also a nice place to have a relaxing afternoon tea. If you can, see about renting a car, because you'll be able to experience more of the island's spectacular scenery. When I was there, we stayed in Sooke at the Sooke Harbour House. At least aim for a meal there -- great food with locally sourced items, a good bit of it from the inn grounds. Heading up Highway 1 (the Trans-Canada Highway) also takes you through beautiful country, and there are various towns you can stop in along the coast. Vancouver Island is also prime wildlife-viewing territory, and you can look into a bear- or whale-watching expedition.

My wife and I were traveling with my elderly mother last month. Mom suffered a stroke, fell and hit her head on the bathroom sink. We called 911. They took her to a local hospital where she died 3 days later. We wrapped her head in a towel to stanch the bleeding. Last week I received a letter from the hotel advising that they had inventoried the room and were charging us $18 for the missing towel! $18 for a scratchy wite towel is an outrage of its own, though of course on a much smaller scale. I want to write the local paper to embarrass the hotel, but my wife says to let it go. We have agreed that if, after i write and explain things, they still want the $18, then I'll write the local paper.

I'm so sorry for your loss. Under these circumstances, the hotel should drop the bill and send you a condolence card. If it doesn't, please let me know.

Submitting early because of work. Want to travel to Europe early 2014 - still trying to decide where to go, but would like the help of a travel agency. Can you tell me your recommendations? Or is there a site where I can find reputable travel agencies? I did try to find it by scrolling through some chats but was unable to find what I was looking for. Thank you.

You can search for travel agents through ASTA (American Society of Travel Agents). Other publications, such as Conde Nast Traveler and Travel + Leisure, have lists of recommended agents.

I whole-heartedly second the advice to leave as early as possible! I do this drive every year and getting out the door ASAP is essential. It is actually a nice drive once you leave the traffic behind - but it will likely pick up again when you get off 95 and on to 26 because the road is only 2 lanes each way and you get a lot of traffic for people headed to Charleston and the surrounding area. But it is really pretty and green.

Right! Thanks!

I've booked a rental home and flights for an expensive vacation. I now want to get travel insurance and have pretty much settled on John Hancock travel insurance. Do you have any info on this company?

I don't, but I can help you figure out if that's a good policy. Send me an email and I'll forward a few guidelines that might be useful.

Hands down, the best place is the Knight Residence. For the price of a hotel, you get a one-bedroom aptmt that is serviced daily. Great location at the foot of the castle, close to EVERYTHING. And you can save money by eating breakfast in your little dining room!

Terrific, thanks!

We are supposed to leave on Friday for Calgary, Alberta. They are recovering from a devastating flood. The area of town where we are staying is not affected by flooding. Should we still go? Banff is open but there are highway detours. I cannot find anything in Calgary media relating to visitors. Any suggestions?

The Calgary Tourism office has posted this on its Web site:

Calgary is currently recovering from the worst flooding in the province's history. While some evacuation orders throughout the city have been lifted, a number of areas are still off-limits and services are still heavily affected.

If you are going to the Calgary Stampede, the area was badly flooded. Tourism officials say it will start on time, but logistics of that are not clear yet.

It refers tourists to the Calgary City News Blog for up-to-date info. I think I'd take a wait-and-see attitude, following the situation carefully before making a decision. Right now, it sounds bleak, but situation could improve greatly by Friday.

My husband and I are planning to spend a day and a half in Amsterdam in October. Could you suggest a nice hotel with free WiFi that is close to Metro? Our budget is $100 - $120 a night. Could you also give a list of attractions that we can cover in a day? We would like to avoid art museums. Thanks.

Can't suggest a specific hotel, alas -- chatters, can you?

But as for a list of non-art-museum (really? some of the best art in the world is in Amsterdam!) attractions:

The Anne Frank House, the Rembrandt House, a canal boat tour, the Jewish History Museum, the red-light district (yes, it's a tourist attraction), the Amsteram Museum (city history). What else, chatters?

After spending they day at York Beach, husband and I were trying to get back to my folks new place in southern Maine and wanted to get off Route 1 because it was crazy. Since I was not familiar with the area they had move, I pulled out my trusty DeLorme Maine Atlas and found a route back to their town that I thought looked good and as we snaked through the back roads I mentioned to my husband that this was a bit of adventure and he responded, "Its not an adventure until we run out of pavement." And just as he said that we rounded a bend and hit dirt. We continued to follow the route I had planned and although we drove on camp roads for a while we made it back to my folks in one piece and had our "adventure."

Adventure indeed! 

I travel frequently to Chicago for work. In the early part of this year I was able to get non-stop r/t flights out of DCA or IAD to ORD on United for around $250, even booking a week in advance. Recently, the same fare is $400 more (around 650 total), even well ahead of time. Any clue why this sudden shift? Prices are similar on American. Is it just because its summer? Thank you!

If you want to fly nonstop with no Saturday night stay on peak days (Monday, Wednesday through Friday, Sunday), prices are fairly high to Chicago, although I'm seeing fares of about $500 for nonstop weekday flights. Is you want to save money, you'll pay half that amount for connecting flights. My guess is that both American and United have reduced the number of flights, which means higher fares. Also, summer is  usually more expensive to a destination like Chicago, as tourists are taking up some of those seats.

Don't forget Southwest out of Dulles to Midway. I don't know when you're looking to go, but I'm seeing options from as low as $286 round-trip.

We are staying at an all inclusive in Cancun this summer (family with 2 teens), and want to visit the well know Mayan ruins and a nature park. Is it advisable to rent a car, hire taxis, or go on a tour group bus? If with a group, is it better to buy there or ahead of time?

I would avoid the group tour bus. It takes all day. You have to wait for everyone on the bus to shop, use bathrooms, etc., so it's a slow-go. Instead, hire a taxi or rent a car (whichever you feel more comfortable doing) and head out first thing in  the morning and get there before the crowds and the heat. I believe the ruins in Tulum, for example, open at 8 a.m., but most of the tour buses don't get there till later. Re: taxi vs. car, driving in the Cancun area isn't difficult and renting a car will likely cost less than hiring cabs. 

First, I especially loved this week's Travel section. Originally from the DC metro area, I now live in VA close to the WV border and have loved getting to know my lovely, much-underappreciated neighbor of West Virginia. Your 150th anniversary article gave me ideas for new places to explore!! Second, I appreciated the article on Berlin-Schoeneberg, which had so much gusto! I'm also a former resident of Berlin and glad to see that neighborhood getting attention: other neighborhoods may be more 'up and coming' but Schoeneberg is classic and 'classy.' Third, a question on Paris. I'll FINALLY get a taste of the city next month on a 36 hour visit. On my main day, I plan to walk around to see the main sights: Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame and the Arc de Triomphe. Any other must-sees? I'll be staying at a boutique hostel in Belleville. Merci!!

Thanks so much for the kind words! So glad the section struck a chord with you!

As to Paris, what about the Louvre? You must duck in at least to see the Mona Lisa, the Winged Victory and Whistler's Mother! I also love Sacre Coeur in Montmartre -- the view from the top is wonderful on a clear day, and even on not-so-clear ones. And the Hotel des Invalides (Napoleon's Tomb) and the Pantheon (tombs of other greats). And I'd send you to the Rodin Museum, but it's so popular now, you might not get in!

Big fan of the travel section, and I am already a Post Paywall subscriber. I started reading the article on West Virginia, and became frustrated because it is 5 pages long. You used to be able to get a single page version of long articles, but that option seems to have disappeared...or been buried. Is there a way I can do this? If I have to click through 5 pages I have to click back to return to the Travel section, or start over again from the home page. I will admit this was less annoying when I wasn't paying for access. Anything we can do about this? Thank you.

Yeah, I assume that is an advertising-driven thing. But -- sshh! -- here's the secret: Click on the printer-friendly icon on the left side of the page. That will bring up the story in one view.

And, by the way, thanks for getting a digital subscription. We really appreciate it!

There are two great reasons why Edinburgh is booked up--the Queen's garden party and the Edinburgh University graduation ceremonials. I know Edinburgh. I lived there. I tried to find a hotel around 4 July using cash and without success. I ended up going straight to my husband's family home (Edinburgh was part way after an overnight flight).

I will be traveling to Croatia in Oct. with a group. The package description says walking up to four miles/standing up to two hours. Does anyone have experience with the three-pronged canes that have a fold-down seat? I think this will save my knees!

Chatters, let's hear from you on this!

My wife and I are traveling to France next Month, and part of our itinerary includes stays in Burgundy and the eastern Loire. We both love wine, especially me. Can French wineries ship wine directly to individual purchasers in the States, or have either or both countries' bureaucracies made that difficult or impossible?

Dave McIntyre, the Food section's wine columnist, says, "U.S. Customs would not approve. If you find a winery you really like, ask them who their U.S. importer is. Then you follow up back in the States to find out where the wines can be found."

Years ago we took the kids to the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone. Lots of elk and bison but no moose. On our return thru the Tetons we elected to go down a back road. We rounded a bend and there standing in a roadside pond was a baby moose - right next to the road. Just down the road in the next pond was mama. We got a close up view - yes we safely stayed in the car. Seeing the moose was the great ending to a wonderful trip. The kids were thrilled.


A few years ago, I took a four months long sabbatical, which included a lot of backroads travel. But the best was really off the beaten path in Cambodia. My traveling buddy and I, along with a German woman, hired a guide to take us to see waterfalls. The last one was on a road that was a road in name only. Really a rutted dirt track. Took us 3 hours to go 30 bone jarring miles. And, they were carving out a new spur to the road with a giant bulldozer while we waited because the original track had washed out. But it was all worth it. We arrived to find a Chinese new year celebration going on. They so seldom see westerners in that part of Cambodia that we were welcomed like visiting royalty. People urged food and beer on us, and crowded in the take pictures of themselves with their cellphones (which everyone seems to have, no matter how poor). We jumped off the waterfall with the kids and generally had a blast. On the way back, a bunch of kids wanted to jump in the back of our truck--we grandly gave them permission and they were in heaven on our drive back to their town. I will never forget the kindness and generosity of the Cambodian people.

Wow. That is something.

Any thoughts about the best places to visit in October? I will have a couple of weeks off in early October and would like to travel. Domestic or international destinations are under consideration.Budget is not a big factor - but we enjoy backpacking in national parks just as much as a boutique hotel in the city.

I went to Florence in August and suffered in the heat. After I wrote about it, a laughing friend told me that *everybody* knows the best time to visit Florence is. . . October! So there's one suggestion. Chatters, what are yours?

I've done Seattle and Cape Cod in October. Both were lovely.

Is it generally safe to drive to a more in land place like Chichen Itza?

That trip is considered fairly safe -- it is accessible via a modern toll road -- but if you are nervous, go with a tour group.

The kids are away at camp! The kids are arway at camp! So my husband and I are looking for a Saturday night escape from DC this coming weekend. It should be something urban and close: considering Philly, Baltimore, Richmond, maybe Pittsburgh, but not NYC. Someplace with a downtown hotel close to good restaurants, bars, galleries, museums (think air conditioned; think the antithesis of what we do when our kids are around). Any suggestions?

I like the idea of Philadelphia. I really enjoyed the Latham Hotel, and Joe had a wonderful stay at the Rittenhouse 1715. The restaurant scene is hopping, especially if you're up for vegetarian food. Don't forget the new Barnes museum and Philly's museum mile.

Three weeks ago, you advised me that I would be able to take the 747 Express Bus from YUL to an area close to my hotel (LaCitadelle) in Montreal even though my plane arrives after midnight. Someone has graciously given me enough Canadian coin for that trip (this weekend) but advised that due to the late hour, I should take a short cab ride from that station to the hotel. My questions now are this: Will I be able to pay for the cab with American dollars or should I go to my bank in Florida before the trip and exchange some money? I know you tell chatters to Europe that if they are paying with American credit cards, they should pay in Euros rather than US Dollars, if given the option. Does that hold true in Canada, as well? And finally, will I be going through Customs upon arrival at YUL and, if so, is it a long process? Will my sister, who is taking a train from DC to Montreal also go through Customs upon her arrival at the train station, or is that only for air travelers? Thank you so much for your continued help through these chats; is it silly that my bucket list includes a visit to the WaPo travel section so I could meet you all? After all these years of chatting, I consider you friends!

Not sure about paying for your cab with American dollars. I would exchange some money before you go. Always pay in the local currency with your credit card, as Chris recently advised. You will have to go through customs at the airport. Could be fast, could be slow -- just depends on the line. My understanding is that your sister won't go through customs at the train station, but rather as the train is crossing the border into Canada.

My wife and I are taking our four young-adult children (ages 25-31) to Europe for Thanksgiving week: Saturday to Saturday. We'll rent a house to serve as a base from which to explore, preferably with public transportation. Suggestions as to location? Issues are ease of access from DC, November weather, enough to keep us busy.

I'd probably go to Spain, maybe Barcelona. Weather should be pretty decent then, and young adults would have fun there. US Airways offers nonstop flights out of Philadelphia, so you could get a fairly easy connecting flight. Any other chatters have thoughts on this?

Diesel is much more common in Europe. The German word for diesel is diesel. Any follower of Amazing Race knows the problem with different comes up regularly. The renter should have asked at the counter. Whenever we rent we always check out the various buttons, etc. If there was supposed to be a sticker, I would have taken a photo of the fuel opening and/or door so at least there would have been some room to argue.

Yes, I think most rental cars in Europe are diesels. Good advice about the photo, but alas too late for this traveler.

I'd just admire the Eiffel Tower from a distance, especially at night, as the lines can be so long during tourist season that you'd have to miss out on a lot more other places in order to visit it. My favorite thing was strolling along the Left Bank at dusk. (Best pickpocket precautions: keep wallet etc. in an inside pocket, a zipped pocket, or else stick your hand in your front pocket on top of it.)

You don't have to go up the Eiffel Tower. But it can be fun to wander through the park and underneath it, to see how huge and intricate it is. If you've never seen the tower, I'd recommend that. (Then head over to the Hotel des Invalids.)

I agree that strolling the Left Bank is lovely, too.

I have enjoyed the Maldrin chain - clean, safe, well run.

I'm meeting a beau for a July weekend, am desperate for something fun that gets us out of the sweltering city. Is Mystic Seaport too middle-aged/kids-focused? Maybe just back to Atlantic City? Help!

Perhaps I've been watching too much "Royal Pains" lately, but a trip to the Hamptons could be fun. Or if you don't want to stay in the Hamptons, take the ferry from Montauk to Rhode Island's beautiful Block Island. Or head to the Hudson River Valley. Or...

Several months ago I submitted a question asking about essential sights to see in London. A chatter suggested that my family take a "London Walks." We took the Westminster at War walk. It ended at the Churchill Museum/Cabinet War Rooms, for which we received a discount (a great museum, by the way, with way too much to see in 3 hours). At 9 pounds, the walk was a great deal and we enjoyed it very much. Our 14 year old daughter participated for free! Thanks to the chatter for the suggestion.

So happy to hear when recommendations from fellow chatters work out! Totally with you on the Churchill War Rooms. People raved about it before my trip to London last month, and they were right on the money. Fascinating.

We have always wanted to take a cruise through Alaska but currently have a 20 month old toddler and are wondering if we'd be better off waiting until she's older?!

Cruise lines in Alaska are doing a better job of catering to children, but I'd probably wait just because the most interesting shore excursions might be a bit much for a toddler. But take a look at Disney's offerings.

For the chatter going to Paris, I'd recommend the Musee d'Orsay if you like impressionist paintings. The collection is superb.

I believe that Battlebus no longer in existence but one of the owners still provides tours. I scheduled a private tour with Dale Booth and was happy with the tour.  I know some people prefer the train to Normandy, but we found it was easy to rent a car and navigate the area.

Yes, the Battlebus Web site redirects you to a new site called DDay Historian. Thanks for your suggestion! I agree re car rental, but some people don't like to drive in foreign countries.

I have the opportunity to join a relatively cheap week-long tour of Beijing and Shanghai this Fall. The one thing I'm dreading is the time in the plane. I'll check to see if there are any "expanded leg room" seats available in the cattle car that is coach. My question is how long is a direct flight from JFK to Beijing? And any general advice on what would be my first trip to China? (E.g., any major social taboos?) Many thanks! Your chat is so fabulous!

A nonstop flight to Beijing from JFK apppears to be about 13-14 hours. Quite long, but not unbearably so, I don't think. An economy plus seat would make a huge difference, though; I would highly recommend that you try to get one.

Can't speak to social taboos in China, I'm afraid, so let's ask the chatters to weigh in on that. Folks, any advice for this traveler?

I've never flown out of Dulles before, but they had much better options than my good old BWI. We're flying Monday the 1st and coming back the next Wednesday (10 days). Is long term parking at Dulles good or are there better private options? Thanks!!

I've only ever done the Dulles parking, and it has always worked fine for me. Frequent shuttles, plenty of spots.

A few years ago I stayed at the Maldron Hotel Parnell Square, great location near the Spire and most major points of interest.

Hi Crew - In our minds, my husband and 12-year old are headed to Hawaii on July 31st for 12 days. In reality, we've done nothing to make this happen! I think we have a vague idea of 3 nights in Oahu to see a friend and then 8 nights in Maui, but we have never been and are stymied by crowd-sourcing telling us to go to Kuai and/or the Big Island. And I feel like we are missing out on airfares or even just decent flights. We just want to do all of the usual touristy things and stay in a luxury property. Trying to keep it around $15Kish. Can you please offer some guidance? Should we call a travel agent? Thanks!

With that kind of budget, you should have no trouble putting together a vacation. You could go through a travel agent -- Hawaii's tourism office offers a service where you plug in your zip code and you'll see a list of travel agents that specialize in Hawaii. Or look at tour operator offerings -- Pleasant Holidays and United Vacations are two that offer packages.

Questions for you or the chatters: Planning a two week vacation (w/ 2 kids) in Croatia and Slovenia next year. I'm going to fly into a major European hub and then take a discount carrier to a city in or adjacent to one of those two countries. I'd like to avoid major backtracking and would love to have either a south to north or north to south itinerary. Does anyone have strong recommendations or success stories (or failure stories!) of routes taken into and out of those two countries? I'm inclined to rent a car for most or all of the trip...Thanks!!

Take a look at the Euroflights Web site, which will give you a good idea of which discount carriers fly where within Europe. For example, four discount carriers fly from London to Dubrovnik, although you'd have to chance airports in London.

A few weeks ago I asked you about having a chip and pin card for a cruise to Norway. You said we would probably be fine without it since we were going with a cruise ship. We are back from our absolutely amazing trip and I wanted to give everyone an update. Every single place we went (cafes, gift shops, museums, etc) required a pin. However, we found out that you can get around the pin by pushing the "stop" button on the reader (it was red on most machines). Doing this allows the shopkeeper to select the "signature required" option. We had a few shopkeepers who did not know this and would not complete our transaction. We also had a few shopkeepers refuse to complete the transaction unless we provided them with our passports so they could verify our identity. So the lesson learned: you can actually complete a transaction without a chip and pin card, so long as the shopkeeper knows how to manipulate the system and you can prove who you are.

Great tips, thanks.

There are ATMs around YUL so I would just use my ATM card to get cash. In fact that's exactly what I did when I went up there last year. I wouldn't count on a cab taking US$. Passport control and customs shouldn't be too much of a problem. I don't recall waiting very long at immigration. Customs is the typical green channel "nothing to declare" system. It is a fairly large airport though so there is a good bit of walking.

Our little family of 3 is going to Block Island for the 4th of July. Our daughter is 6 months old. Any suggestions of must-see/must-do/must eat?!

Can you come back next Monday? Andrea, our resident Block Island expert, is on vacation today.

Not so much a taboo, but you should be aware that the concept of personal space doesn't really exist in China. Especially in crowded cities like Beijing or Shanghai. I never thought I had issues with this, but waiting for the light to change at a corner, I almost had a panic attack with all the people crowding so close to me. I eventually got better with it it, but never quite used to it.


A few weeks ago, I was scheduled to fly from IAD to Rome to spend a day and night in Rome before getting on a cruise just outside of Rome. My 5:20 flight left the gate on time. The pilot initially said that we were delayed because of whether, but then added that it was perhaps fortuitous because we had to return to the gate to check a mechanical issue (I actually think they were trying to get more passengers on from a late connecting flight). Turned out the "issue" was serious, so we deplaned. About an hour later, my United app showed us at a new gate, boarding at 7:30. That became 8, 8:30 and finally 9:30. We were then told that one of the flight crew had to leave because her mother had been taken to the hospital; we would wait to see if another flight crew could make it time to fly within the sleep requirements. Needless to say, they did not and at 10:20 our flight was cancelled. They sent us from D21 to a customer service desk at C19 (we passed another one with a much shorter line). There, I waited in line and got on the phone with the United silver desk. After about 20 minutes, I got to the front of the line and I was taken to a side desk where 2 people were working (there were about 5 at the larger desk). After - no joke - 2 hours, I was finally rebooked the next day on an Air Canada flight through Montreal. This was a flight that I found searching on my app - neither the desk folks nor the phone guy could find anything. A supervisor finally showed up and I explained how bad the situation had been and also expressed my displeasure that they could not find another business class seat (I had splurged on a miles upgrade). She apologized halfheartedly. I then asked about retrieving my baggage. She told me to go to baggage claim and that it would take "a long time." It took about 2 hours. All in all, I was at the airport for 11 1/2 hours. The rest of the trip went smoothly, but I lost not only my day and night in Rome, but paid for a hotel room I didn't use, extra cab rides to/from the airport. I got an email from United offering me several choices of "apology" rewards - I chose 17,500 miles. Last week I received an email saying they were having trouble crediting my account and to email customer service. I did and have heard nothing. I have been an extremely loyal United flyer (was global services a few years back bc of work), but this was just horrific. If I performed my job with 1/10th the dereliction they did, I'd be fired on the spot. Do I have any recourse here? I'm tempted to post something on the internet just to have some remedy.

I'm sorry to hear about your experience. Please send me a note along with any emails between you and United, and I'll see if I can help. It's a little difficult to offer advice without seeing all the back and forth between you and the airline, but one thing seems clear: this shouldn't have happened. Here's my address.

My dad - who really should have known better -- make the same mistake in the UK a couple years ago. I'm actually more sympathetic to the OP than the other chatter was. Since American car rental companies would never just rent somebody a diesel sedan, and since diesel is so rare here, it's really unreasonable to expect Americans traveling overseas to ask about diesel/gasoline or to even be aware of the problem. Plus, and I'm now speaking as a lawyer, if the company just referred the issue to collection without providing any documentation then there really is a good argument to be made that they shouldn't pay. At least not until somebody actually documents it for them.

Thanks for another great hour. Today's prize goes to the chatter who took the back roads of Cambodia. Please send your name and mailing address to

We'll be back next week -- same time, same place. Hope to see you then!

In This Chat
Joe Yonan
Joe Yonan is the Travel editor.
Zofia Smardz
Zofia Smardz is the deputy editor of Travel.
Becky Krystal
Becky Krystal is Travel's editorial aide.
Christopher Elliott
Christopher Elliott writes The Navigator column, clearing the way through the fog of consumer travel issues. He is also National Geographic Traveler magazine's reader advocate.
Carol Sottili
Carol Sottili is a former Washington Post travel writer, specializing in travel deals.
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