Talk about Travel: Convention cities

Jun 25, 2012

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.

Hello, chatters, and welcome! Ready for another session of invigorating travel talk? Send in those cards and letters -- we're eager to help you with your planning, problems or whatever else is on your mind. Hope you had a chance to peruse our section this week and our stories on the convention cities, Tampa and Charlotte. I must say, I was pleasantly surprised by Charlotte, a city I'd never thought much about before I went there to do the story. In that vein, tell me about places that have surprised you in your travels -- a city, a country, anyplace that was something other than what you'd expected it to be. Most surprising story, of course, wins the prize.

I want to break up my drive back from Charleston. Anyplace in Northern North Carolina worth a stop? I cannot seem to find anything on the map that looks all that interesting. thanks.

That stretch of 95 from Richmond down to Charleston really is devoid of any major stopping-off points. But I've always been curious about Smithfield, N.C., home of the Ava Gardner Museum. I think that could be a fun stop, even if it is a small town. It's not where Gardner was born, just where she went to secretarial school.

The Navigator column tells of a young man who was pulled aside by the TSA, partly because he had a one-way ticket, and he missed his flight. What can one do, other than get to the airport really, really early, to avoid a situation like this? My son will be flying home later this year on a one-way ticket, after two years overseas.

The situation I described in Sunday's Navigator was pretty unusual. The one-way ticket caused some problems, but so did the destination. If your son is flying home, he's unlikely to experience these delays. But in the off chance that he does, the only way to prevent it is to get to the airport a little early -- just in case.

Is this in Mexico?

Fixed that typo. So kind of you to point it out. :-)

Hello - Which is the closest beach to the DC area where there is an economical campground nearby, perhaps even in walking distance, if such a thing exists (preferably within three hours or less of DC). I'd love to take a beach trip for a long weekend but would like to save some money by being able to camp. Thanks for any suggestions you can provide!

Assateague Island near Ocean City, Md. has camping right on the beach. 

Why isn't this chat listed on the schedule on the right side of the page?

Yes, we are here! Apparently, we are having some technical difficulties that are preventing the list from populating with the whole of today's schedule.

Thanks for the great advice - you are always so helpful in these chats! We are taking a Caribbean cruise next week, and we were wondering - should we sign up in advance for the shore excursions (we are stopping at Grand Turk, Half Moon Cay, and Freeport) to make sure that we are not shut out? Are the cruise ship-line sponsored excursions the best option, or should we look to save money by going with 3rd-party excursions? If so, any particular recommendations, or must-see/must-do recommendations for the above listed ports? Thanks in advance for any assistance that you can offer!

As I said in last week's chat, my kids and husband enjoyed the Snuba shore excursion in Grand Turk and we just took a cab to the beach in Freeport. Ship-sanctioned excursions are often more expensive, but if you're doing anything that could be dangerous, you need to do your homework before booking with an outside vendor. The most popular shore excursions sometimes sell out, but usually not until everyone has boarded the ship. Another chatter also weighed in today with her recommendations on these ports -- look for those comments.   

She is buried there also.

Ah, even more reason to go.

My wife and I are in our late 60's but in overall good health. We are going to Peru to visit Machu Picchu. What is the best way to handle the altitude especially in Cuzco the city closet to the site. I understand it is about 11,000 feet.

Many experts suggest spending a few days in Cuzco to adjust to the altitude. Two or three days should suffice. With a doc's permission, you can also take high altitude medication (I took it in Quito and had no side effects). Also drink plenty of liquids, avoid alcohol, get lots of rest and listen to your body: If you feel tired and low on energy,  slow down.

Gurus: My wife and I just returned from 3 great weeks in Italy, spending a little more than 2 weeks in southern Italy, about two hours drive south of Salerno, and the rest of the time in Rome. A few bits of advice, if I may: it's not uncommon for public restrooms to charge a fee - usually half a Euro, so keep a few coins on hand, in case, as I did, you have to make a "stop" before entering the ruins at Pompeii. Many sites, such as Pompeii and the Coliseum, don't accept credit cards at the gate,so be sure to check ahead of time on charges, and, if at all possible, purchase tickets on-line. We spent 45 minutes on a Sunday morning in a long, winding line at the Coliseum, ending at 5 ticket windows (4 open) and a tightly-packed group of ticket buyers. You can also avoid the lines if you use one of the many tour operations available. Get a map of the Rome subway system, and, if its route can take you from your lodgings to enough of the sites you want to see, use it, and buy a one-day (or longer) pass. We bought three-day passes. It was well worth it. Shopping in Rome - many of the stores which are open on Sunday will be closed Monday until 3 or 3:30pm, so don't plan on a big Monday morning shopping expedition. Finally, if you buy something expensive enough to qualify for rebate of part of the value added tax, you can obtain your refund at the American Express office right by the Spanish Steps. However, you'll still need to have your paperwork signed at the airport, AND THAT OFFICE REQUIRES YOU HAVE THE ITEM(S) WITH YOU, YOU CAN"T PACK THEM IN YOUR CHECK-IN BAGGAGE. I ignored that rule, and was lucky, the man at the window just looked at me, said "Next time, remember to bring the item with you" and stamped my paperwork.

Thanks for all the good advice!

Hi! My friend and I want to plan a 3 day trip in August and need some recommendations. Last summer we went to Charlottesville and had a great time - we saw the University, walked the Downtown Mall, lounged by the pool, and ate some great food. My friend now lives in NYC and I'm still in DC. Do you have any recommendations for destinations close to the both of us?

It's a bigger scene that Charlottesville, but I think Philadelphia would be a great in-between spot. Lots to see, and lots of good food. If you're looking for more of the college town vibe, try Princeton.

Monday's sessions doesn't include you guys.

We have addressed this above.

I would love any suggestions you have for reasonably priced (i.e. under $300 a night) hotels in London for a family of four - both kids are teenagers. We will be in London in late August well after the Olmypics are over. I know that London is huge so you cannot be near all the sites but it would be nice, if possible, to be near something so we don't have don't have to start everyday with a long tube ride. If we can get a room for four that would be great but I am fine with two rooms but then they have to be really inexpensive to stay within the $300 total. Any thoughts would be helpful.

My family has stayed at the Premier Inn near Tower Bridge. It's nothing fancy, but it is clean and reasonably priced. Premier Inn is a chain with lots of locations throughout London. 

My boyfriend and I jumped on an incredible flight deal on Turkish Airlines and will be hitting Istanbul during Thanksgiving week. We've both traveled quite a bit, but mainly in more western Europe. I think we'll probably stay in Istanbul the entire time and have already been told that a "food tour" is a must, but other than the usual sights (Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, etc.), do you have any must-see/must-do recommendations? (Any accommodation tips would be great as well!) Thank you!

Go shopping in the Grand Bazaar and Spice Market. Take a boat tour on the Bosphorus. More thoughts, chatters?

Don't forget the Delaware Seashore State Park between Bethany and Dewey - it's in the middle of nowhere so you will need a car to get there.

I would like to get out of the city for the weekend. We are interested in hiking, history, cultural events, wine.... Want it to be within 3-4 hour drive and am not interested in Charlottesville or Annapolis.

How about heading west, where it might be a bit cooler? Think Berkeley Springs, Harper's Ferry, Deep Creek Lake. Or maybe Gettysburg?

Last week, someone asked for suggestions about excursions on their Carnival cruise to the Bahamas, namely Half Moon Cay and Freeport. I was on a cruise last month with Carnival to these two places. My daughter did the Stingray Adventure on Half Moon Cay which she really enjoyed. It's a bit pricey at $35 per person, but if you enjoy snorkeling and getting "up close and personal" with stingrays, this would be a great adventure. Based on her experience, I would advise that you book the first excursion of the day (fewer participants) and be the first in the water and the last out of the water (as she was) to maximize your time with the rays. And even if you don't decide to do this excursion, I'd recommend walking over to the stingray area sometime during the day to watch others do it. We went over there later in the day and I really enjoyed watching the participants feed the stingrays. As for Freeport, neither of us found anything there we wanted to do, so we opted to stay on board ship. It's actually great to stay on the ship when everyone else is on shore. We had our choice of prime outdoor seating; there were no lines at lunch for pizza, deli sandwiches or burgers as there usually were; there were no lines at the Waterpark; we had the minigolf course to ourselves; etc. We also got to see them drill with the lifeboats in the water and that was pretty cool.

Thanks for the ideas. We did not do an organized shore excursion in Freeport -- just took a cab to the beach for a couple of hours, which was very pleasant. 

I'm thinking about booking a vacation using Cheap Caribbean's website. What are your thoughts on this company? Is there a vacation package company you prefer or is booking all aspects (air, hotel, ground transport, etc.) a better way to go? Thanks!

I've not used Cheap Caribbean. But the company has been in business for 11 years, and it has an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau. That said, I always make sure that the package price is cheaper than the individual components of the trip, priced separately. Packages are not always deals. 

I've had a few complaints about Cheap Caribbean, but they are usually resolved quickly. Make sure you do your research on the package carefully before buying anything. If you run into any problems after making your reservation, please contact me. Here's my email address.

You had a late question last week about visiting France. I would highly recommend visiting Provence. I went last year and stayed in Avignon and took day trips from there. We rented an apartment (through uk, apt 341234)*, which was lovely and quite a bargain. I'd be happy to chat with the original poster, if the travel gurus can facilitate this. The only down side to having Avignon as your central point is that the travel office personnel were not very helpful about Avignon, and not at all about Provence. Since we were in an apartment without access to hotel staff or a computer, this was a problem for us. But overall it was a great trip. From Avignon, we visited St. Remy, Nimes, Aix-en-Provence, and Arles. If Avignon does not appeal to you, I also liked Nice quite a bit. I would strongly recommend against Marseille. I am a city dweller and widely traveled and I found it quite gritty and two of us had problems (one an attempted purse snatching and the other being groped, both midday when we were with others). But you might want to visit for the day to take the boat trip to the Calanques (or go to Cassis as another poster suggested); it was gorgeous. *As with all of these sites, do your due diligence. The couple we rented from were quite helpful and did not ask for advance payment. My review is on the page. The only slight negative for me (which I forgot to mention in the review) is that the bathroom has a shower attachment and no shower curtain. Therefore, until you get the hang of it, prepare for some wet bathroom floors!

I read Chris Elliott's Frommers column on family seating on airlines. I thought the article was interesting, especially because of the mention that pre-boarding for the disabled is rarely done anymore. In fact, one American Airlines representative quoted said they scan the waiting are for those that might need extra time to board. That's not an effective method since a large portion of the disabled have invisible disabilities. I am disabled, but if the average person glanced at me that would not be obvious. The boarding process is especially problematic for me because standing and start-and-stop walking are quite difficult and painful. I do not know why airlines have abandoned pre-boarding for the disabled (one airline recently announced at the gate that they do not pre-board; others will let you board first but make no announcement about this). If this option was being abused, they could require a letter from a physician. Traveling with a disability is hard enough and I think the Department of Transportation has done a poor job helping the disabled (for example, I have taken flights that require you walk up the door stairs to board the plane, but there was no mention of stairs when I purchased the ticket or I would not have chosen that flight).

I'm glad you liked that story. Well, liked is probably not the right word -- glad you read it. I should have noted that many disabilities are hidden, which means a gate agent couldn't possibly know who needs extra time to get on a plane. As I mentioned in the piece, we need to find a better way to do this. I'm told that on some flights, more than half the passengers are entitled to some kind of priority boarding because of their affinity cards, credit cards or elite status. Unless all of those folks have disabilities, it sounds as if the wrong people are boarding the flight early.

How much are you willing to diverge your drive ? You could go and stay the night in Raleigh Durham Cary area.

Looking to take a vacation in Madrid the 2nd half of October. Right now the fares for the weeks I'm looking at are $900-$1,100. This seems a bit high to me for a fall trip. Is it just too early to find the best fares for a trip that's almost 4 months away? Hotels are looking a bit expensive right now for those weeks as well.

Airfares to Europe are high, and there have not been many sales. I'd probably track it for a bit before buying. Nonstop out of Philadelphia on US Airways is about $800 round trip, which is about as good as it will get. 

I was working in Kenya and traveled a bit around East Africa before I returned to the United States. I was used to the gritty roads, dirty cities, no concept of orderliness, late/no-show buses, etc. Not passing judgement -- I LOVE Kenya -- that's just how it is there (away from the tours). I went to Rwanda expecting the same, particularly because of its difficult past. I couldn't have been more wrong. The scenery was lush and gorgeous. There is literally not a piece of trash on the ground in the entire country -- apparently once a month everyone gets a day off of work and school to pick up trash and make needed repairs. Buses were on time and they actually worked. In Kigali, if I didn't know that I was in Rwanda I would have thought I was somewhere in Europe. It was this incredible paradise I had no idea even existed. Then, walking down a street in Kigali, I saw a pickup truck with a bunch of people in pink jumpsuits in the back. I learned that they are prisoners from the genocide returning to jail from a gacaca, a system of community justice that is being used because the courts simply can't handle the thousands of genocide cases. I felt physically sick seeing this. These people looked just like you and me, only you and I didn't go on a rampage killing friends and neighbors 18 years ago. It seemed so incongruous, and impossible that this genocide could have occurred in such a paradise. So Rwanda had two shocking incongruities in store for me -- I was first shocked by the peace, cleanliness, order, and beauty, and then again by a very visible reminder of such a tragedy that occurred in this peaceful, clean, orderly, and beautiful country.

*Very* interesting. And deep.

Hi, we are posted in Belgium for a couple years and are missing our usual summer trip to Colorado with family, so we would like to try some mountains in Europe in August. My husband would really like to go Switzerland, which I'd be fine with, but I've heard it's expensive. I'm sure there are bargains, but I'm not sure where to look. We're not skiers, we do like to hike. Any suggestions for Switzerland or is there someplace better? I've heard Austrian Alps and germany are good too. Thanks.

Switzerland is definitely expensive, but then most of western Europe is. You could try the Dolomites, in Italy, which are fantastically beautiful also. The German Alps might be a little cheaper, because Germany is slightly more affordable than other western European countries. And there are beautiful places -- Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Oberammergau and many more. But if you want something even cheaper, you could head east, to the Tatra Mountains (part of the Carpathians), which straddle Poland and the Czech Republic. There is super hiking there, centered around the town of Zakopane in southern Poland,  and some gorgeous sites -- Morskie Oko (Eye of the Sea) is a stunning glacial lake high up in the mountains that was one of the most breathtaking things I've ever seen.

We stayed in the Jury's Inn Chelsea, near Imperial Wharf. 10 minute walk to the Fulham Broadway tube and across the street from the Imperial Wharf rail station. Good rates and rooms large enough for a family. Short walk to a few pubs and a walkway along the Thames, and to the Stamford Bridge football stadium, too!

In additional to the usual sights, consider visiting Suleiman The Magnificent's mosque, which has been gorgeously restored. Amazing use of color and artwork on the ceilings. You can also take the public ferry up the Bosporus to the Black Sea-- the ferry stops at a fishing village on the Asian side of Istanbul for several hours, at which point you can hike up to the ruins of a castle (20 minute walk, moderate difficulty) before the boat returns to Istanbul. There are a ton of hotels and apartments for rent in the Sultanahmet neighborhood, which is walking distance to the Blue Mosque, Haggia Sophia, and Topkapi Palace. The restaurants in this neighborhood seem to cater primarily to tourists, however. Enjoy your trip-- I was there at the end of November and had a great time. Bring a hat and gloves, just in case!

I will be in a yearlong voluntary work in at least two countries: Thailand & Peru and I need a health insurance. I'm in good health and will have a regular travel insurance. Do you have a suggestion on a good health insurance or where I should start looking?

Not sure what you mean by regular travel insurance. Have you discussed your travel plans with your current health insurance provider? When my mother went to Germany for an extended visit, her health provider would not cover routine visits, but did cover emergency care. I'd also contact the volunteer organization that you will be working with - they may have an agreement with an insurance company. 

What is there to do in or around Harpers Ferry for an active couple in their late 30's?

Take a ghost tour. Visit the national park. Go rafting. Do a zipline ride. Browse the shops. Breathe in that fresh mountain air!

Have any of you ever gone to Seneca Rocks or Blackwater Falls? Any suggestions on places to stay or eat near those places?

I know a little about Blackwater Falls. I've stayed in the state park rental cabins several times. They're pretty basic -- nothing fancy. Have also stayed in the park lodge; again, basic. But if the weather's good, you won't be spending time in your room anyway. The lodge has a restaurant, but I usually cook in the (again, basic) cabin kitchen. There's also an indoor pool and a game room (table tennis, etc.) I know there are Seneca Rocks/Blackwater experts out there who can help with more info.

Our family stayed at the Premier Travel Inn at County Hall this past April. Clean, well run, inexpensive (for London). Best feature is the great location - right next to the Eye and within easy walking distance of many top sights.

Your article on Europe on $5 per Day, updated, was interesting. I was shocked that the author said if he were updating the title today, he would say Europe on $120 or $130 per day because I use a $100 per day threshold (excluding air fare to the destination) and I do not stay in hostels, share bathrooms, eat from dumpsters or skip meals, and I usually travel alone (so I'm not splitting room costs). However, I do usually travel off-season and I often buy my meals at the grocery store. I would agree that one would be hard pressed to get by on $100 in Switzerland, but is reasonable for other European counties. Did you think the $120 was a high estimate for frugal travel to Europe?

 Honestly, I don't see a dramatic difference between $100 and $120. (as compared to $5 vs. $100). Perhaps with the extra $20, you can splurge on a fine wine or half-price tickets to an off-West End show. I think both budgets are doable, but you definitely need to know cost-cutting tricks to not exceed the limit.

We'll be traveling in Germany starting in mid-September and I was wondering if I would have any problems charging my Kindle Fire. Also, where was the photo in yesterdays Travel Talk taken? Thanks.

Your charger should work fine as far as voltage, but you'll need to just buy an adapter plug to fit in the socket over there. 

And the photo with yesterday's chat excerpts was from Dublin. It shows the Samuel Beckett Bridge. 

The chat isn't listed on the home page or the Monday's Sessions on the right panel under Live Q&As. (By the way, Q&As is not possessive and shouldn't have an apostrophe.)

OK, we've taken care of the panel on the side of the page you're on now. The home page is another matter.

We will be in Moscow and St. Petersburg for about 4 days each. We are not "tour" people, but realize there is a communication barrier in Russia. What can you suggest. We have hotels booked. thanks

I am not a tour person either, but in some countries you just have to give in -- both f or safety reasons and  to familarize yourself with the destination. You might want to consider a private tour of the city and its museums, just to get a sense of the area. Then, once you feel comfortable with your surroundings, go off on your own. Just be sure you have a guidebook, a map and a business card with the name of your hotel on it.

For guides, ask your hotel concierge for a recommendation or book in advance with such companies as VoyageTrek Travel.

We had a trip planned for this weekend, which we now have to cancel for medical reasons. The hotel will be easy, because I can simply cancel our reservations up to 24 in advance without penalty. When I purchased our flight tickets I also bought trip insurance on them. I've never had to file for trip insurance before, and the policy they sent is many pages long, so before I start, could you please give a brief description of the procedure? Is a written excuse from the hospital or the doctor required (because I can obtain both, if necessary)? Does it make a difference that we had the most-restricted lowest fare (which I had purchased over a month ago)? Would we receive a refund, or only an airfare credit (it's for United Airlines, if that matters)?

You may want to review your policy and call your travel insurance company before filling out a claim. Most policies don't cover pre-existing medical conditions. If yours doesn't, and if the procedure was related to a condition that you had before you purchased your policy, you should save yourself the trouble. To answer your question, the claims process is not easy or fun. The insurance company may ask for documents from your doctor, hospital and you. There will be forms to fill out, and they'll ask for details that can be very personal. Again, I'd call before you start the process. The type of ticket shouldn't matter.

Check with a university study abroad office how they handle health insurance for overseas trips.

There is mixed advice on high altitude medication. We intentionally avoided it when we went to Sikkim (where we were above 14K ft elevation) after reading advice against it -- it can mask the symptoms of early altitude sickness, which is not necessarily a good thing, because you want to KNOW if you are beginning to develop it so you can take precautions. I agree with the advice to drink a lot of liquids and to acclimate, as well as just taking it slowly.

It seems like common sense that you must have the item with you to claim the rebate -- otherwise, I imagine a common scam would be to buy items for friends/ family who are Italian residents, then claim the refund with your receipt.

Good point.

Later this summer, my wife and 3-year old will be traveling to China through Dulles. I'm hoping to be able to get a gate pass so I can help them through security and get to the right terminal. What are the chances that I can receive a pass from the airline at Dulles?

This is up to the ticket agent's discretion. I think you may have an uphill battle here, as so many singles travel with small children. I think you'd have a better chance if your wife were juggling three small children. But you could get a sympathetic agent. Last time I dropped my mom at DCA, they offered me a gate pass without any request (my mother, who is elderly but walks three miles every morning and is mentally very sharp, was highly offended). But it is fairly easy to get a gate pass when for a child or an elderly person traveling alone.  

If you have time, go to Cappadocia. It's awesome, the rock formations are REALLY cool and while you could do it in a day, take at least 2. If you have a full week in Turkey, you can easily make it work, there are flights from Istanbul to Cappadocia and while Istanbul is really cool, you can see it all in 4 days. In Istanbul, go to Dolmabahce (sp?) palace - it's a little off the beaten path but is really pretty.

Yes, Cappadocia is worth a visit, but only if you have the time.

Do you all have any current recommendations for hotels in San Juan? We will have 2 nights there before a cruise in November, and keep flipping back and forth between staying in old San Juan or one of the beach areas (Condado, Isla Verdes). We'll also have one night after the cruise, and I think that night we'll stay in old San Juan. Budget is flexible; I don't mind spending money, but I like to get good value for it.

The Hotel El Convento, made it into a details box for a Puerto Rico story the other year. Looks really neat to me.

I have some advice for the chatter last week who asked for fun places to stop on a road trip from DC to St.Louis. When heading west on 70, stop at the first rest stop in Illinois and pick up the brochure/map on the National Road (US 40). The road parallels the highway, but takes you through some little towns, over a covered bridge, and past a delightful winery. The speed limit is often 55mph and you can usually see I-70 as you drive the National Road, so you don't lose too much time. If you travel down, I-64, Staunton and Lexington in Virginia are historic towns with plenty to explore. Consider stopping at Mrs. Rowes' in Staunton for some home-cooking. And if you have the time, take a detour over Gauley Mountain in West Virginia. It's not as full of kitschy shops as it once was, but you'll see some beautiful views and waterfalls and a couple country shops. Hope this helps.

Thanks for the ideas!

if I double bag an aerosol can of sunscreen, do you think it's safe in checked luggage - - won't explode due to pressure etc? Thanks

TSA says this: "Aerosol (any except for personal care or toiletries in limited quantities) are prohibited in carry-on and checked baggage." I think you'll be fine with a small can as long as you seal in plastic baggie, just in case it leaks. 

Fifteen years ago, my husband and I went on our honeymoon to England and Scotland. The area that surprised us the most was the Lake District in England. We expected a gentle countryside of comfortable, rolling hills; certainly not the dramatic sweep of mountains and vistas we found there. We absolutely loved the area and look forward to returning again.

Yes, the Lake District is quite stunning.

As the parents of college - age kids, we have come to the conclusion that only Christmas vacations will work because of summer jobs, etc. Last year we went to Hawaii and it was great. We would like to go someplace warm - cost really is not a factor because we figure we only have a couple of more years before even a Christmas vacation won't work. We made reservations for Caneel Bay but I am a little hesitant because it requres a 10-day stay and we would rather have a week of 8 days so we could leave on the 26th. Other suggestions for something that will keep them entertained and warm? Overseas is okay too. Thanks!

I am the child of parents who planned family  Christmas break vacations during my college years and beyond. (Thanks, Mom and Dad.)  Perhaps our family trips will inspire you: Costa Rica (split the week between beach and rain forest lodge), Patagonia cruise, Quito and Galapagos Islands, and France and Italy (amazing during Christmas, though cold). We also have chartered a sailboat in the U.S  and British Virgin Islands and the West Indies, a great way to avoid the ennui of one island.

More recently, we have talked about a holiday trip to Vienna and Prague, to soak up the holiday trimmings. You might also consider Cuba or Mexico (mix ruins with beaches, plus crafts and mole in Oaxaca).

In the evening, wander up and down Istikal Avenue near Taksim Square to find a place to grab a drink and listen to some live music, particularly in the little alleyways. Don't forget to check out the underground cistern and check the schedule to see if they're doing a concert there. And definitely, definitely take the time to try a traditional hamam (Turkish bath).

I second the vote for the Tatras, but don't forget the Slovakian part, too! Also: The Harz-Range in northern Germany and the "Saechsische Schweiz" in southeastern Germany (esp. for rock climbing). These are not as high as the Alps, Dolomites or Tatras, but closer to Belgium.

I agree with Chris that you might want to talk to someone at the travel insurance office before stressing out over the form. I let my forms sit for a really long time and when I finally called the company, they couldn't have been nicer. Even though I didn't have all the dox they required, they gave me a large settlement - waaay after the claim time limit was up. I also sent a cover letter with my forms, which I imagine helped humanize me. Go with a person and don't be afraid - you did pay for this insurance, after all. (The company I had insurance with was Allianz, btw.)

You could look into Slovenia or Austria.

How does one go about finding trip insurance. My mother is ill, but I have an opportunity to go on a wonderful trip. I worry that I might need to cancel at the last moment, or need to leave the trip early. Is it possible to find insurance for a single trip, and how do I go about it?

I'd compare policies at any of these three sites: QuoteWright, InsureMyTrip or SquareMouth. Read the policies carefully to make sure your issues are covered. 

Planning a trip for August. Tickets around $220 per person - reasonable? We are debating whether to stay in the city or in a suburb. I rather be in the city so we can see the sights. What do you think? Anything we absolutely have to do? I have never been other than driving through.

Yeah, I would take that fare! I agree with you about staying in the city. It makes everything easier, and you can hit the town at night without worrying about getting back to the 'burbs. Lots of great things to do. Visit Navy Pier, shop the Magnificent Mile, take an architecture tour by boat or train, eat deep dish pizza, go to a Cubs game, hit up the Museum of Science and Industry or the Field Museum, ride a bike along the lake, go to the beach on the lake, ride up the Hancock Observatory, see "the Bean"... I could go on and on.

I would like to rent a furnished apartment in the historic district of Charleston, S.C for 4 months (Jan.-April). Any suggestions as to how to approach this ??

The state's Department of Parks & Tourism has a Web page mentioning "more than 50 locations" consisting of furnished houses and apartments in the historic district available for monthly rentals. Also check VRBO and Craigslist.

What I do not get about this story is , if Ethiopian air requires a round-trip ticket, why was the guy allowed to buy a one-way ticket? And if he bought a round-trip ticket but did not use the return portion, he would have technically been in violation of the airline's 'we-get-to-make-things-up' rule that you cannot do this. Seems like the guy had few options.

It was his online travel agency that allowed him to create the itinerary, which didn't comply with Tanzania's visa requirements. You're right, buying a roundtrip ticket but using only half is called "throwaway" ticketing and it is a violation of the ticket contract, but not illegal in the sense that there is a law against it.

There seem to be many scenic railroads within a 3-5 hour drive of Washington. Do you (or your readers) have any recommendatons on which one we should choose? Thanks for your help!

Well, we've written about the Potomac Eagle.

I actually went through the Ava Gardner Museum with a friend while visiting the area a couple of weeks ago. A nice little display but you can easily go through it in 90 minutes or so. There are some nice things in Smithfield to do along with that; an old movie theater (where Gardner and her mom used to watch movies and dream of Hollywood) is still in business showing cheap films; there's a lot of outlet mall shopping nearby, and a couple of nice places to eat. Try The Cakery for sweets and coffee or Zack's for burgers and similar lunch stuff. Each is just a couple of minutes' walk from the Ava Gardner Museum.

Thanks for the additional info!

Hi there. In a year, I will be visiting my parents in Tokyo. Obviously I can't buy tickets now, but can you give me an approximation on how much such plane tickets will cost? As in, what's a good deal versus what's regular price? I have never flown this far and have no idea what to expect. Thanks!

Start tracking it now, or as soon as possible. Most airlines begin selling tickets about 332 days in advance. If you check it every few days, you'll get a good feel for the going rate on the dates you want to fly, and you'll know when a sale hits. I'd track on an aggregator site such as Kayak or Bing Travel. And I'd also check the United and All Nippon sites, as sometimes airlines have sales available only through their Web sites.  

Forgot to ask, how suitable are any of these destinations for traveling with a small child, since we have a toddler? For the person asking about getting a gate pass, when I traveled overseas with our daughter by myself, the gate agent gave the friend who took us to the airport a gate pass with no hassle whatsoever. It's worth asking.

Hmm.  My boys were young when we did the hike up to Morskie Oko (it's a paved road, about a 2-3 hour walk up the mountain), but not that young. Maybe 8 and 10, I can't quite remember.  They do have a lot of energy at that age, as does your toddler, I'm sure. But you may have to be prepared to carry him/her some (a lot?) of the time.

Thanks for the gate pass tip.

My wife has a big birthday next Feb. and I want to surprise her with a mystery trip. What suggestions do have for a one week trip outside the US? We've traveled extensively in Western Europe and the Carib. and I would like to try somewhere different. Any thoughts?

Asia would seem different. This story we had on Cambodia comes to mind, as does this one on Thailand

I need some help. I need a vacation. I usually like to go to cities and walk around and enjoy what the city has to offer (arts, museums, concerts, cool buildings, interesting neighborhoods, etc) or go diving. Unfortunately, I had surgery a couple months ago and am not allowed to walk more than a mile or do anything very sporty. So, that knocks me out of my usual vacation spots. I'm not big into sitting on a beach, but mostly b/c I don't like sitting outside in the heat. I could maybe do something where I could go chill out in a beautiful spot for a few days and read, or somewhere compact where there isn't much walking and there is a lot of sitting and people watching, but nothing immediately comes to mind. Any thouhgts on what I could do to get a break, but not break my body even more? Thanks!

If you are okay to fly, I would suggest Portland, Ore. It's a great town of easy strolls, gardens, cafes, bookstores and great people watching. Other cities of similar ilk: Vancouver, Seattle and Portsmouth, N.H.

My dad is going to turn 85 in late January, and my siblings and I have to figure out how and where to celebrate it. Dad and Mom live in south Florida, and Mom is frail and confined to a wheelchair due to RA. Dad is still a very good driver, and can handle interstates for a few hours at a time, and he would prefer to drive rather than fly, because that is a hassle for Mom. Can you think of a place where all of us can go for a birthday reunion that is drivable from south Florida (Orlando? the Keys?) and would accommodate somebody in a wheelchair. Thanks for any input.

If your father can only handle driving a few hours at a time, I wouldn't shoot for Orlando. It's too far. Stay close to South Florida. The Keys is probably a safer bet, but it's not known for its accessibility. People go their to fish and Scuba dive, mostly. Key West is probably too far, but that has some nice museums that are accessible to guests with disabilities.

When I was a teenager, we were also posted in Belgium for four years and always went to Switzerland for our mountain fix. You should really try it, despite the cost. We went to a small town called Kandersteg every year in September. And you can take the ski lifts up the mountains and hike down--my kind of hiking!

Why are tickets so expensive? I've been looking for non-stop flights fo the past six weeks for flights in July and there is nothing under $380 out of DCA. Last year I was able to find a flight for $250 and gas prices were more expensive back then. To add salt to the wound, friends have found tickets to LA to cheaper than what I'm looking at. What gives? What can I do other than fly out of BWI to find cheaper tickets?

There is more competition among discount airlines to Los Angeles than to Indianapolis. Bing Travel's price predictor advises waiting, saying price will drop $38, but that's an educated guess. 

Go to a Second City show! The tickets aren't too bad, and it's great entertainment.

My family has a wedding to attend in Orlando in October. After some regular searching, I snagged non stop tickets for $221 round trip per person for me and my husband. Was planning on also booking tickets for my mom but she keeps telling me to hold off because it will get cheaper in September because kids will go back to school. I tell her I don't see it getting any cheaper than this (I miss the days when it cost $100-$150 to Florida). I feel like she's wrong on this one and I don't want to chance it getting more pricier or finding out that the remaining cheap tickets have stops in between (5+ hours vs 2 hours flight). Can you help in convincing her otherwise?

No one knows what airfares will be like in September. Yes, there are fare sales that happen -- they happen all the time -- but it's impossible to predict the date and the city pairs that will go on sale. At this point, even the airlines don't know. You're taking your chances by waiting. If you see a fare that you can afford now, I would buy it. Remember, airlines want to raise their fares, and are constantly trying to do it. If they had their way, your tickets would be twice as expensive as they are now, come September. But will they be? Who knows.

My husband is recovering from lower back surgery & we would like to take a long weekend trip when he's able to drive again & feels well enough for the effort. Ideally, we would go somewhere that has a nice indoor pool, maybe outdoor pool too, hot tub, maybe some vinyasa yoga classes for me, maybe some tai chi or low-level beginner yoga for him, easy hikes, teaching of wellness lifestyle, very relaxing and peaceful, but with a good restaurant & the usual accoutrements for the room such as cable TV. On a lake or ocean beach might be nice. No B&Bs. We aren't vegetarians. I thought of Kripalu but I'm not sure I really want a yoga retreat; we're not 6 am meditator types. Not too far away but for the right place we might be willing to fly there. Do you have any suggestions? We don't want a really expensive spa-type, either. Thanks. Will try to listen to the chat today. We had to postpone our planned Mexican vacation to next yr! It would have been way too active for him.

You might like the Homestead, which has tons of activities, plus hot springs. Or perhaps Nemacolin Woodlands Resort in Pennsylvania. Kripalu, from what I have heard, is not hard-core yoga -- you can pick and choose your activities and waking hour. I also recommend Spa Finder, a great database of wellness resorts. You can search by state, type of vacation, etc.

My wife celebrates the 19th anniversary of her 21st birthday in November. We've talked about an exteneded weekend getaway (Thur - Sunday) to somewhere tropical to celebrate. We'll be bringing our two kids with us (ages 10 and 7). Do you have any recommendations? We're considering San Juan or the Carribean. Any insight on locations or resorts would be great.

San Juan would have the advantage of not requiring a passport for you all. Plus, starting Aug. 23, you'll be able to fly nonstop between San Juan and DCA on JetBlue (if you're coming from the Washington area, that is). Fares start at $129 each way!

Something I have never seen addressed is if there are so many passengers needing assistance boarding, what happens in case of an emergency evacuation? How can these passengers get out safely without endangering others? Each time we fly it seems as though the number of passengers in wheelchairs has grown. Frankly I'm glad the families are no longer given priority boarding.

Flight attendants go through all kinds of rigorous training to ensure they can evacuate a planeload of passengers. I'm told it's really something to see (and I hope to never see it in real life). But these disabled passengers have as much right to fly as anyone else. In regards to your comment about priority boarding for families, I think there are many passengers who would agree with you. I have three young kids, and I don't think we deserve priority boarding.

The hubby and I are heading to Ft. Lauderdale at the end of this week for a friend's wedding and our babymoon. Besides the wedding and its accompanying festivities, we don't have any plans. Any suggestions for how we can fill our days (besides just lounging by the pool)? Thanks!

Perhaps a side trip to the Everglades?

We took a bunch of this in our checked luggage on a flight to the Carribbean last winter, without problems. (I always bag any kind of liquid or spray before packing it, just in case.) I don't think it's actually an aerosol.

Sunscreen comes in many forms, including both spray and aerosol. 

This also happened to me last fall, flying Pittsburgh-Providence round-trip on USAirways, with change of planes each way at IAD. PIT was fine, Providence too -- but at Dulles, USAir pre-boarded only military members (OK by me) and elite passengers, but not families with small children nor the handicapped. I require a wheelchair to/from the plane (as well as through airports) and my husband repeatedly and politely informed the gate-agent of this fact. Yet, she blew him off every time, dismissively telling him the wheelchair would arrive when I needed it. However, the wheelchair did NOT arrive until the midst of general boarding, so I got stuck in the big line, where my slowness undoubtedly inconvenienced other passengers. Luckily I can still walk short distances, but it was a lot harder when getting buffeted around in the hurly-burly. I hope airlines will stop putting passengers with disabilities through this avoidable misery.

Oh, dear. So sorry that happened to you.

The rocks are impressive, but the area is best for those interested in climbing or hiking. The food and lodging available nearby is pretty basic, mostly targeted to the rock climbers. There's a very nice campground across from the rocks, Seneca Shadows, part of Monongahela National Forest. If you're not a climber, there is a relatively short and steep hike up to an overlook that gives a nice view of the valley.

For people in this area, a truly wonderful trip for a few days is Shepherdstown. Visit Antietam, Harper's Ferry, bike on the canal, great restaurants, shops, etc. It is 90 mins away, max.

Yes, a lovely little town.

Also visit the Sears Tower observatory where you can stand on the Ledge-a window built out a foot from the building.

I am the original poster and I'm sorry I was not clear. I am saying that I do not consider $100 super-budget conscious travel. $120 sounds like a regular mid-ranger travel per day expense. So I do not get how $120 would be considered comparable to $5, which was super-budget conscious.

I think you need to remember that the $5 a day series came out in 1956! So much has changed. (In current dollars, $5 translates to about $36.) The biggest chunk of change goes to lodging, and it is hard to find accommodations that aren't scary for less than, say, $75.  Realistically, I think $100 is still budget, but I would love to take on the challenge of traveling for less.

Okay, that’s all folks, as the rabbit said. Thanks as always for joining us with your questions, comments, tips and more. The prize today goes to the traveler who was surprised – in more ways than one – by Rwanda. Send your address to, and I’ll send off a surprise soonest. See you next week, everyone!


In This Chat
Carol Sottili
Carol Sottili is a former Washington Post travel writer, specializing in travel deals.
Andrea Sachs
Andrea Sachs is a staff writer for Travel.
Zofia Smardz
Zofia Smardz is the acting editor of 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.
Becky Krystal
Becky Krystal is Travel's editorial aide.
Jane Touzalin
Jane Touzalin is acting deputy Travel editor.
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