Talk about Travel

Jul 09, 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 Travelers.  Hope you had a glorious Fourth of July. As usual, send us your questions and concerns related to travel, and we will spend the next hour planning and dreaming about them.

For this Monday's question: We covered visas in Sunday's section, so share with us your good, bad and ugly stories about applying for visas or related experiences with foreign consulates. Most dramatic story wins a prize.

Hi We are 2 very active couples in their 50's and are interested in a 1 week riverboat cruise in France (Le Boat seems to be a popular one) in Sept 2013. You rent the boat and pilot it yourself stopping in towns along the way. There are several different regions and routes and not being familiar with these we were looking for any information you may have on them. Good scenery, food and wine are our priorities. We will also want bikes on board to bike at some of the stops. We appreciate any help you can give.

Rick Steves suggests Burgundy. That episode stands out in my memory!

We are 2 adults, a college-age kid, a high school-age kid and one kid in elementary school. Trying to stay in the US for a warm and sunny over Thanksgiving or Christmas break vacation. We don't want theme parks. We were thinking a cruise but they all seem to leave US waters. Would you recommend we get a travel agent who can help direct us? Or is this something we can plan ourselves?

You can do this on your own as long as you are willing to spend some time researching. Places that immediately come to mind include Sanibel Island, Fla., and San Diego. Much depends on your activity level, and whether you are looking for a relaxing beach vacation or one that includes more action. 

Dear travel gurus, I need to find a hotel/resort/accommodations somewhere in North Carolina for Dec. 2013. My parents live in FL and will be celebrating their 50th anniversary. Sister, I, and our families are in NoVA. We want to meet in the middle, and stay in a place that has a pool (3 kids) and other activities. We don't want to do a cruise and we want to avoid flying to FL during Christmas. Thus, driving to N.C. seems like a good idea. I'd appreciate any suggestions from you and the chatters. Thank you!

It will have to be an indoor pool, as December in North Carolina is cold. The warmest spot would be Wilmington, and the average high temp there is 60 and low temp is 38 in December. The Sanderling on the Outer Banks is a nice resort with an indoor pool. Any chatters have other favorites?

Hi Travel Crew, Forgive me if you've fielded this question, but I am hoping to get your help. Could you tell me what the procedures are for cell phones in other countries? I've only traveled to Canada, and other than a whopping phone bill the next month, I had no problems making/receiving calls. I understand that I would need to buy/rent a new phone for a European trip, but I'm not sure how to proceed. Thanks!

We've had two primers on the subject. Last year, Andrea wrote about cellphones from a calling perspective, and this year I hit on the aspect of using the Internet.

Why IS it such a huge hassle to get visas? I started looking into the process to get one for Brazil and saw that there are two to three hours each day when you can apply and then just one hour when you can pick it up! I'm sure the U.S. probably doesn't make it overly easy for foreigners to get visas, either. It just seems a perfect example of the wastefulness of bureaucracy. If this is what immigrants have to go through to come to our country, no wonder they just sneak in illegally - it's ridiculous!

Yes, it can be annoying, which is why so many people use a third-party company to faciliate the process. But if you go prepared, it should be a simple two-step process (drop off/pick-up). In addition,  the end result --traveling abroad --is totally worth it.

I'm thinking about a weekend trip with some friends to celebrate my birthday in August. Would like to do something within a couple hours' drive that would give us the opportunity to do activities on the water--tubing, boating, or even just lazing about on a body of water. Do you have any suggestions/tips? Thank you!

I'd suggest Deep Creek Lake in Maryland or Harpers Ferry in West Virginia.

Planning a long weekend in Toronto for end of August. Is that a good time to visit? What range would be reasonable for the airfare? Any suggestions would be appreciated.

Late August is a nice time of year in Toronto. Weather is warm, but not broiling. It's also a popular time of year for visitors. Events include the Canadian National Exhibition.  Airfare to Toronto is expensive, but Air Canada has some good fares right now (about $280 round trip). Flying into Buffalo is usually cheaper, but I'd rather pay more and not go through the hassle of crossing the border, especially for a short trip. 

Your article about the need for visas in the Sunday Travel Section was a bit misleading as regards to Australia. While Australians do not need visas for vacation travel to the U.S., American citizens must obtain a type of "visa" called an ETA (Electronic Travel Authority) before entering Australia. The ETA can be obtained online at www.immi, and it costs AUD 20. You don't want to get to the airport without an ETA and be denied boarding!

I received a fair number of comments regarding Australia. In short, many countries have entry requirements, such as the ETA, but they are not considered visas. Our article covered only visas; we were not writing about all entry regulations. 

According to the State Department:

 Australia’s ETA (Electronic Travel Authority)  is similar to our own ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization), which we implemented for VWP travelers in 2008. Australia’s ETA has been around since the mid-1990s; in fact, they established it in order to qualify for VWP.  We don’t consider ETA to be a visa, as evidenced by our own electronic authorization system.


Travelers need to check with the country's consulate weeks before they depart, to be sure that they have the proper paperwork and payments.

Talking about the Pacific Coast Highway, if you have the option, travel from north to south. Both ways, the driver is 98 percent focused on driving. Driving from north to south, the passengers have the better view of the coast and ocean. Better for taking pictures too. The other way, they have a view across the dash and 1 lane of traffic, or mostly non-stop exposed rock face whizzing by on their side of the car.

That's excellent advice. I've made the drive both ways many times, and as I've said before, it's one of the most scenic car trips in the United States. Definitely worth it!

I am planning a trip to London and Paris next year. I was thinking of August time frame but I read somewhere that most attractions are closed in August. when is the best time to visit during the June - August timeframe.

August is the month when most French go on vacation, so Paris empties out, and a number of restaurants and shops, etc. -- but not enough to make a difference to you -- are closed. This is not true of the major attractions, in both London and Paris, which remain open to tourists, many of whom travel in August. You should be aware that August may well be quite hot in Paris (not so bad in London, where average temps are in the 70s, and there's always rain), but there's a reasonable amount of air-conditioning in hotels, eateries and shops, so you should be able to survive, although you'll be a bit sticky (be aware that the air-conditioning in Europe is not nearly as cooling as what we have here at home. Euorpeans are more acclimated to the heat and don't believe in the icy temperatures we Americans favor). On the other hand, the weather can surprise you -- we were in Paris at the tail end of August last year, and it was actually so cool that the locals were dressed in jackets and boots as if it were fall. I felt out of place in my sandals and little sweater (we'd come from Florence, where it was sweltering).

All this said, if I were you, I'd travel in early June -- the weather is likely to be milder (though be prepared for rain in both places) and you might be able to miss the hordes of summer if you go before all the kids are out of school.

Chatters, your thoughts?

Great articles on the problems in getting visas to visit foreign countries. But, the article failed to explain a major cause of this problem -- after 2001, the US made it incredibly hard for visitors from many other countries to enter the US, whether for business or tourism. Not suprisingly, many of those countries responded by enacting equally harsh visa requirements on US citizens. Why should anyone be surprised by that response? Indeed, you know something is wrong when Canadians find it easier to visit Cuba for a week on the beach than to travel to Florida.

Great points.

Just wanted to add that, according to my State Department official, the rise in visas really started when leisure travel became more accessible to the masses and countries needed a way to protect its borders from illegal visitors.

I had to laugh when I read this week's article on getting a visa to go to Russia- and it was a laugh of sympathy, not ridicule. I've gone to Russia twice; the first time, I was studying, so the school handled all of the paperwork for me, but the second time, I decided to tackle it myself. This was four years ago when the regulations weren't quite as absurdly arcane, but it was still an incredibly harrying process (possibly because I waited until the last possible minute to apply, and told the folks at the D.C. consulate that my visa had to be ready the morning of my flight out to Moscow). I still remember how hard my heart was racing when I went, bags in tow, to pick up my passport the day that my flight left... I was prepared for a fight, and had put on my best "don't mess with me" face that I've found gets you pretty far with Russian officials in any context, so I was enormously relieved when the man behind the counter wordlessly slipped me an envelope containing everything I needed in the proper order. I stood there for a good five minutes re-checking everything, but no, it was all correct! So I had a good experience, but I counted myself among the fortunate since I've heard more horror stories than not when dealing with Russian visas. If I had to do it again, I'd say go through a company, but if you can't, a) check everything ten times before you send it in - and do it on two separate days so you have fresh eyes, kind of like if you're editing a paper; b) try not to wait until the last possible minute to make your plans for getting your visa- as soon as you think you might book the tickets, start the application process; c) um, maybe don't have your visa expire the day that you leave Russia, because you might get fussed at (or worse - I think I was lucky to get away with a frown and finger-wagging) by the passport control officers at the airport when you fly out. Great article, even if it does remind me how infuriating the whole process can be.

Thanks  so much for sharing your dramatic experience, leavened with humor (you gotta laugh to stay sane). Great tips, too!

I am thinking of going to a place that is hard to get to... Does anyone - like airlines - "care" if I have two separate tickets? One set to the half-way point and return to home, and a set from there to the final destination and return? I'd probably stay a few days either on the way out or back... Thanks

Nope. The airlines only care about their leg of the trip. Just remember that you can't send your bags through to your final destination and you will have to check in for the second leg and go through security again.

My parents just returned from a trip to Paris where my Dad was pickpocketed. The only good thing to come out of it is that I think they learned what not to do next time they travel (carry a lot of cash, have all credit cards in the same name). Needless to say that experience ruined a good part of their vacation between dealing with the police there and then struggling to get cash forwarded from their credit card company. Is there anything you can do if this does happen on vacation to make the experience less painful?

No matter what, it's a terrible loss.  But you just have to stay positive: At least your parents weren't harmed.

I think your parents learned from experience. Carry only a minimal amount of cash, and one or two credit cards -- not your whole wallet (leave the rest in a security deposit box or safe in the hotel). Carry your valuables in a secure place, such as a pouch that hangs from your neck and tucks into your shirt, or a money belt hidden under your waistband. Before you leave the country, alert your credit card companies of your upcoming travels. This way, if they see a sudden purchase of a yacht in St. Tropez, they will know something is fishy and will freeze the card. Write down the international or toll-free phone numbers you'll need to contact the credit card companies to alert them of  the theft. And most important, don't let the crooks ruin your trip.

Is there a best day/time to buy overseas airline tickets?

Some studies indicate that it's cheaper to buy air tickets on Tuesday or Wednesday. 

My mother and brother are visiting at the end of August for 10 days. They have been in the area before so Im planning to skip the usual DC sites. I've been trying to see where I can take them this time and I thought that Niagara Falls would be a good place but the 7-8h driving doesn't appeal to my brother who is the only one that can drive. They have been in NY before and going to a beach town doesn't appeal much. What else is out there within a 3-4 hour drive and not excessively crowded? I saw some packages to Buffalo, NY that include flight, hotel and car for $280pp for 4 days, does this sounds reasonable? I mean, can we take the rental car to Canada? If so, would it be possible to visit other areas of Canada?

You're kind of going in several directions here, but I'll do my best. Within three or four hours, you might consider Philadelphia and then perhaps pairing it up with Gettysburg and Amish country. Or head west from here to explore Berkeley Springs and Harpers Ferry.

I guess that Buffalo package sounds fine. You should be able to take the car into Canada. From Buffalo, you could venture to Toronto or explore some of the more rural and lakeside areas of Ontario.

We will be traveling all around England and Scotland in mid-August. We are planning to rent a car. Do I need an international driving license or will my VA license be sufficient? How does one get an international driving license and is there an advantage to having one? Also is renting a car in England significantly different from renting it here? For example, will my wife be able to drive the car as well? Is the insurance a lot more expensive? Thanks for any advise you can provide.

You do not need an international license in the UK providing your license is good for at least 12 months froom start of your trip. You will likely pay extra for an additional driver -- Avis, for example, charges about $15 per day for an additional driver -- but shop around, as some rental companies may allow husband-wife teams to drive. As for insurance, check with your charge card issuer to find out what they will cover. 

I want to surprise my husband with a short trip for our anniversary this November. We would be traveling around the Veteran's Day weekend. A few places he wants to visit/re-visit are Las Vegas, San Diego, and New Orleans. Flights to all of those destinations are hovering around $400, which is doable though a bit high. So I am also considering other options. I was wondering if you knew of a website that would allow me to search for deals by travel date, not location. Most sites I have visited (airlines, Expedia) ask you for your destination. I was hoping to see what the deals are and then pick a location based on price and interest.

Kayak Explore lets you look at flights recently found by other people. You can specify time of year, flight time, budget, etc. Airfare Watchdog is also good for seeing what the best flight prices are out of a given airport. Bing does something similar too.

I recently flew to Chicago on United. The day prior to my return I didn't receive an email alerting me to early check-in. I went online anyway but couldn't check-in. Next up I called United. They told me my ticket had no value. Confused, I asked why. They said I did not take the first leg of the flight. I insisted that I did and had a boarding pass and baggage claim ticket to prove it. After a few minutes on hold I got checked in. A few minutes later I got an email stating I was upgraded to Business class. Situation nicely corrected. My questions - If I checked my bag and they didn't have me on the flight then why did the plane take off? Shouldn't the bag have been pulled from the flight? I would really like to contact TSA and report this but don't know where. The TSA website leads me nowhere.

Lucky you. Yes, your bag should fly with you, under the positive bag match rules. It's not always possible, and that seems to be what happened in your case.

When I was a student in Spain, I had to go to the police station every 3 months to get my student visa validated. Besides having to time it between classes and siesta, I had to also sit around the police station with whoever else the local police had issues with that day. It varied between amusing and irritating.

Quite the adventure. Bet you got in some good Spanish language practice.

Question about obtaining a visa for a layover--a few years ago I was traveling and had a layover in Frankfurt. Due to a plane issue and the weather in Frankfurt, we missed our connecting flight to our destination. Lufthansa gave us taxi vouchers, meal vouchers, an overnight bag, and put us up in a hotel (so amazing!). I felt really bad for the other travelers from different countries who needed a special visa to get into Germany--they had to spend the night in the airport. My advice is to look at the entry requirements for countries during a layover--if it seems like it might be easy to get one, I'd say it might be worth it in case you find yourself staying longer in the layover location than you thought.

Great advice. Thanks!

Actually Porter Airlines is running another of their frequent sales at the moment. From Dulles to Toronto City airport (downtown) for less than $200. The promo code is SPLASH12. It may automatically populate when you search flights. They have several flights a day. My visa story... Most of mine have been easy. I went to Myanmar last year. I dropped off all of the documents, FedEx envelope, etc at the embassy over on S Street. The consular office is in the basement. When I arrived there was no one there so I waited. Some one emerged who was on the phone, apparently with a colleague and he was looking through the vast piles of paper trying to locate a couple of passports and paperwork that were lost. It didn't give me a lot of confidence that I would ever see my passport again. But it did arrive in the mail after 10 business days just like they told me it would. I don't know how they kept track of anything with all of those applications piled up everywhere.

Thanks for the tip re: Porter Airlines. That sale ends today. 

What is the turnaround time for a passport these days - both new and renewal?

You can always find this answer on the State Dept. Web site. They give you all the information regarding processing times. Currently, it's 4-6 weeks for regular processing, 2-3 for expedited. If you need a passport pronto because you're traveling within 14 days, you'll have to schedule an appointment, as also described on the Web site.

If you happen to fly two different airlines it dapends if they are partner airlines. For example you may fly American to Seattle then fly Alaska on a code share flight to Alaska or hawaii.....You may have booked these flights will still be able to check your bags. I have done this numerous times living in seattle flying on alaska out then flying a code share partner in Chicago, Atalanta, Dallas, or LAX with American or Delta.

You are so right. I forgot about code share. Thanks!

I wish I remembered the details of my efforts to obtain a visa to study for six months in Brazil. I do know that the consulate kept my passport and mailed it back to me with visa attached. The day before I was supposed to leave, I was sobbing on the telephone with a consular employee who barely spoke English, begging for my passport back. Thankfully it arrived later that day. It was a tourist visa that did not extend the full six months I would be there, an issue which I was told would be straightened out upon arrival. I though it was fixed after a visit to the military police, only to be stopped upon exit - months later - and told that I overstayed my visa! There's still a note on my passport stating that I owe a "multa" (fine) should I ever return.

Yikes! We promise to keep this message anonymous, so the Brazilian feds don't find you. (In all seriousness, be careful if you need to return to Brazil. You might be on some list or flagged as a persona non grata.)

are still showing up on the sidebar at the top of this chat page. It seems obvious that the automatic update function to switch over to the new day's chats doesn't work. It should be done manually until you can figure it out. Seriously. I already read Lisa's chat. I don't want to read it again. I do want to be able to quickly switch between this chat and Dr. Gridlock.

Sorry about that. We have put in the call for help to our online folks.

I worked for a study abroad company answering student questions, updating the website, etc. The best call I ever I received was from a parent. She had read all of our pre-departure materials to students which talked about making sure to have the proper student visa from the consulate. She said her daughter had a MasterCard and asked if that would be okay of if she really needed a visa. True story :)

Ha! Hope you gently explained how it works.

Do you have any idea how quickly passports are being processed these days? We leave on August 10 and I just noticed that the kids' passports are expired. Should I go with regular or expedited processing? Thanks!

I would definitely go for expedited processing at this point. It'll cost you, but the State Department Web site (where you should always check first)  says that regular processing is taking 4-6 weeks as of today. That's obviously not enough time for you. This is high travel season, keep in mind. Even expedited processing is taking 2-3 weeks, according to the site. That may well be a generous estimate (let's hope)  -- my husband and I expedited our passport renewals  about this time last year and it took no more than a week. So send those passports off asap, and keep your fingers crossed! 

Can you recommend a travel book with good coverage of the Thousand Islands area? Lots of travel books limit themselves by state, so finding one with dual coverages of an international boundary area can be a challenge.

When I visted the area, I relied heavily on the tourism offices on both sides of the border. They have loads of info online and very helpful vacation planners available by phone. They can also send you some literature on what to see, where to stay, etc. Here is my piece.

It's a gorgeous area of the country. Enjoy!

We're considering a 14 day cruise of the Baltics next May - it would leave at the end of the month from London, stopping in Bruges, Berlin, Stockholm, Helsinki, St. Petersburg (2 days, Talinn, and Copenhagen, before returning to London. Seems like a great way to see so many places, and we've cruised with Celebrity before and had a great time. Any drawbacks to this itinerary (time of year, weather, etc.)?

Weather will still be chilly in many of your destinations, but crowds will be thinner. You'll also probably get a better price in May than summer. I'd book it!

We live in Silver Spring. My husband has family in Dallas, Boise & San Francisco. How could I find out what location would be a non-stop flight for all of us for a get-together? Thank you!

You can compare options on Also, airport sites often list where you can fly to nonstop.

Porter (a low cost Canadian airline) just started flying between DC and Toronto. Like Southwest, they aren't on the normal travel search engines.

I know that the Post has several articles on weekend day trips, but I don't know where to start! I have been in this area 7+ years and haven't even stepped in the Atlantic yet! Do you have any suggestions to get me out of my comfort zone for a day? I'm game for just about anything.

Stay tuned for our beach package coming this weekend. There are, of course, also the usual suspects, such as Rehoboth, Ocean City, etc., if you're looking for the beach scene. The traffic can be a bit unpleasant heading out that way on the weekend.

Another day trip idea would be to head west on 50. You'll pass wineries, farms, towns such as Middleburg and you can end up at somewhere like the Ashby Inn for a great meal before heading back. Two places I mentioned earlier, Berkeley Springs and Harpers Ferry, are doable in a day too. So is Baltimore. I think the hardest part will be deciding where to go!

I'm wondering if this type of resort is right for me. I'm not looking for a hedonistic experience at all, I would just like a child-free vacation. If it doesn't mention hedonism, can I expect a PG rated experience?

Unless the resort has Hedonism in its name, you probably won't  see loads of R-rated behavior. However, many adults-only resorts are very couple-y. So expect lots of lovey-dovey behavior, with some marital spats thrown into the mix.

My husband and I were applying for visas to visit Russia. We weren't travelling with a group, so we were responsible for getting our own visas. We engaged a travel documents service that we had been pleased with before, and printed out the requisite docs from our computer, sent them to the travel docs folks....only to discover that the margins weren't set properly. We tried again...this time, close but still no cigar. Finally, we got the margins right, had everything properly filled out, travel docs folks delivered application to Russian Embassy.....and there was a drop of water that had somehow touched my application during the rainstorm that took place sometime during the application's trip from our house to the embassy. So back the form came...again. Fourth time was a charm, but it took well over a month from the time we began the process.

Sounds like a familiar story!

Hi - I am going on a one-week family vacation to Siena, Italy, in early August and have been tasked with arranging a day trip. We are: 2 50-somethings, 6 20-somethings, all very outdoorsy. Since we are so close to the Mediterranean, I thought a trip to the ocean would be nice. Do you (or the chatters) have any suggestions on places to rent a boat for the day or nice Tuscan beach towns? Thanks!

Chatters, can you help?

This may be morre a question for Dr. Gridlock, but I figured you and your readers would have lots of experience: We're headed to Ocean City for the first time on Saturday, and we're staying in the far north end of town (117th St.). What's the best way to get there? Straight out 50 and up? 50 to 90? Head toward Rehoboth and drive down? Also, if the Bay Bridge traffic sounds horrible on Saturday, does it ever make sense to drive all the way up Newark, Del. and drive down? Thanks!

I'm more a Rehoboth person than an Ocean City person, but in my experience 50 to 90 is a better idea. The goal is to spend as little time as possible on the Coastal Highway, especially on weekends.

Even when Route 50 traffic is at its worst, I can't imagine that a detour to Newark and then down Route 1 would gain you any time. Route 1 can be a parking lot on weekends.

Every three years, we have a week-long family reunion with my extended family. There are at least 50 of us that attend, and if everyone actually made it we'd have closer to 70. We try to have it at a location that's family friendly, near golf and shopping, and adjacent house-style lodging (where 6-12 people can stay in a house/cabin/condo). My uncle is in a wheelchair, and so that limits us in our search for a good reunion location for next year. Ideally, we'd like a place where he can access almost everyone to visit. The family is scattered all over the country, with the majority being on the East Coast. We're hoping to find a place in VA/WV/MD/PA/NC that will have something for everyone (ages 1-80) that won't break the bank. I'd love any leads on places we can look into, as we're a year out from the event and time is flying.

You don't say that time of year you do this reunion, but I love the Outer Banks in the fall. We've rented a house or two there in October (after rates have dropped) for the past couple of years and had a wonderful time. There's golf and other recreation (swimming, kayaking, biking), plenty of shopping and most restaurants stay open till the end of the month. I also love Cape May, N.J., but again, it depends on when/which season you'd be going.

Chatters, other suggestions?

Which is the better drive from Buena Vista, CO, to Denver? The 24 to I-70 or the 24 and 91 to I-70?

Hmm. I think this one's for our Colorado chatters. Anybody out there who can help with this?

I'm trying to book a trip for my mom to visit Singapore in August. The flight there has two stops, Minneapolis and Tokyo. The flight from Minneapolis gets in 45 minutes before the flight departs from Tokyo. Is that too short of a layover? Will she have to go through customs in Tokyo, or should she be okay until she gets to Singapore? Flights with longer layovers are an extra $200.

If you booked this trip through a travel agency or directly with an airline (on one itinerary) then it must comply with the reservation system's "legal" connection times. In other words, if the system is allowing that reservation to go through with a 45-minute connection time, you should be fine. From my perspective, 45 minutes on a stopover to connect with an interntional flight seems like cutting it close. If you have a choice, you might want to schedule something with a longer stopover. Minneapolis is a great airport to be stuck at, anyway.

Howdy, travel gurus. My wife and I are planning a big trip this winter for our fifth anniversary. The current plan is to leave right after Christmas for Singapore, go on a five-night cruise through the New Year, and spend a little over a week in Bangkok and Thai beaches (and possibly more time in Singapore, depending on necessary layovers). I suppose I could ask a ton of questions, but our issue right now is planning and budgeting. We can't pay for everything up front, so we want to make sure we book what we need to when we need to because it will be peak season some of the places we're going. Our travel agent said the cruise would sell out so we're going to put a deposit down this week, and we're wondering what order we should book other things? For example, will hotel or flight rates go up or down, or will anything book up? Thanks!

It all depends on your priorities. If you must have a hotel of a certain caliber, book your accommodations in advance --especially if it's high season when occupancy is high. If you don't mind stumbling upon lodging the day-of, wait.  However, you also don't want to waste your vacation time looking for a bed for the night.

Honestly, I would probably book the big stuff (air, cruise, hotels), then leave the rest (restaurants, tours, etc.) to chance and whimsy.

I'm considering taking a trip (solo) next February for my 40th birthday. I'd originally thought maybe Las Vegas (I've never been), but even though I would gamble some, I'm not a partier and not sure how much I would enjoy myself there. I like to sightsee and shop on vacation, and am less interested in hiking/skiing/active-outdoorsy stuff. Any suggestions for an alternate US destination where I won't freeze in February, or a vote of confidence for Vegas?

Well, there's sure a lot of shopping in Vegas. If you like people-watching and going to shows, it might be fun for you. But a relaxing destination, it isn't.

Actually flying into Buffalo is great if the visitor has not seen Niagara Falls before. It's on the way to Toronto. And no matter how you go to Canada you still have to deal with border issues whether you fly across or drive across.

If you time it right, can be OK.  Right now, for example, there is no wait, according to the Canada Border Services Agency. But it's still a two-hour drive from Buffalo to Toronto. 

Planning to go to Prague in early October. Prices for flights are $1100 or so round trip. Is that the best we can expect? Little surprised there isn't anything cheaper out of Dulles into Germany, which can often be a direct flight.

I'd wait for a bit and track the prices. Should go down a little from $1,100. But early October is still a popular time of year to travel to Europe, so may not go much lower. Nonstops into Germany may wind up costing more than connecting flights to Prague. 

Hello all, I've been contemplating purchasing a second home ideally near a swimmable lake/river and in an area with hiking/biking/kayaking opportunities. I'm thinking of more mountains than beach/eastern shore areas at this point. Any ideas? looking to stay within a 3-4 hr drive of DC. thanks!

Perhaps somewhere in the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia. Lake Anna is another Virginia option. Or Deep Creek Lake in Maryland. 

We are thinking to take a trip to Peru, esp. Cuzco, Machu Picchu, Puno, Lake Titicaca, and Arequipa. We don't speak Spanish. Would it be possible to do the trip on our own? Zannat

Spanish is always great to know as a second language (bring a dictionary), but the areas you listed frequently receive English-speaking tourists. The conversations might be simple, but you should be able to communicate.

Nonetheless, you might want to hire a bilingual guide for a day or half-day tour, just for a deeper understanding of the country and culture.

The amount of time to get your passport also depends on where you have it renewed. My sister lives in Texas, while I live in NoVA. 2 years ago we got our passports renewed. She mailed her application a week later than I did, but got hers back 2 weeks before I did. The Houston office just wasn't as busy.

Interesting. Thanks for the info!

Remember you need a PASSPORT or passport card to get into Canada. I'd hate for the mom and brother of the letter writer to get to Bflo hoping to visit Canada if they don't have documentation. If they do, be sure to see Bflo's Frank Lloyd Darwin Martin complex, two great art museums, garden walks, and stop at Old Fort Niagara for War of 1812 re-enactments and be sure to visit Niagara-on-the-lake in Canada, great theater, restaurants and a truly charming town. And it never gets too hot- we are in the 80s when you are hitting 100.

Good point on the passport. That would be disappointing!

35 week pregant wife so trying to plan a last minute overnight trip somewhere nearby (within about an hour). Any ideas? Good dinner and somewhere nice and relaxing..

I'll give you the same advice I gave the day-tripper. Look into the Ashby Inn.

We did this several years ago. It was a pain in the neck. I heard it is because the US makes it so difficult for Brazilians to get a US visa, so they do it to get back at us :)

I heard the same story. We did it first . . .

Well I've done several Visa request to at least 5 countries through their consulates in DC however, the VISA request to Nepal was the most unusual. There were not many instructions in their site and calling them made no difference. I went there; the house was empty, just a secretary and the main person. The secretary instructed me to get my documents to the main guy he said $25 and took my passport.They gave no receipt not even a word! I asked him when I should pick my Visa and he said next week. I must say that I was scared something was going to happen to my passport. When I came back the documents were still in the passport they just stamped something in it and gave it back. Well, Im glad I got my passport back and it is definitively true that at the end going to each of those countries is incredible and well worth the effort!

Glad there was a happy ending to that story.

Head to Georgetown, DE and then Fenwick Island.

That would be quite a northerly detour -- can any other chatters endorse that idea? At least it avoids a big stretch of 50 and a long slog on Route 1.

I would also add that Porter seems to run a new "sale" every week or 10 days. Some are a little better than others, but they are similar. The current sale is pretty much the same as the Biggest! sale they had a couple of weeks ago. So, sign up for their emails and you will get notified about all of their many sales if you miss today's. It's like Macy's.

Most discount airlines seem to follow this pattern. Thanks!

BV to Denver....Id look at US 285....the other options are driving Us 50 to Colo srpings...driving through Vail or through Breckenridge to I-70. Id go through Breckenridge. Another factor here...are you returning to Denver or plan on going to Rocky Mountain NP...from I-70 you can enter the park through Grand Lake and the back entrance.


August in Siena is going to be Very Hot. (I was there in July) If at all possible (even if you have to pay more) find lodging with Air conditioning, which is rare in Italy. You might even want more than one day near the water, because the hill towns, while lovely, are very hot.

So, so, so true. We were in Florence last August. The day we visited Siena, the temperature -- granted, it was a major heat wave, so we were told -- hit 100  ( it was 104 in Florence). But after the heat we've been having here, you may not find it so unbearable! :-)

Take US-285 all the way into Denver - beautiful drive through the highcountry with much less traffic! Don't take US-24 all the way up to I-70, its too far out of the way. If you do want to take the interstate, take US-285 to CO-9 through Breckenridge and get on I-70 in Frisco.

I found a boutique hotel in Negril, Jamaica that looks to be pretty adults-only. It's quite small, with about 12 cabins and suites that max at 2 bedrooms per, plus there's no beach. It's built into the cliffs. You have to climb down a ladder to snorkel or paddle around in the water. Dare I dream it would even be good for a solo traveller?

I am a solo traveler and that sounds heavenly.  If you need more human contact, though, you might want to choose a larger resort, but I like solitude.

In the past, when I've checked in for the flight without an ETA, the checkin clerk has been able to apply for it immediately. You run the risk of being denied, but they can do it immediately.

Good to know.  Thanks!

I live in Denver and have always come back from Buena Vista via 285. On busy weekends especially, you don't want to be on I-70. Whichever way you go, be sure to check before you leave. Right now, for instance, you can see that part of 24 is closed due to flooding. In the winter this site is invaluable.

I'm headed to Glasglow for July 23-29, enough time to catch a few early rounds of Olympic soccer games (which take place all across the UK, not just in London). Any advice, especially on places to stay?

Chatters, another one for you!

I'm headed to Southern CA next month for a week, mainly between San Diego and Santa Monica. My husband wants to spend part of the time celebrity spotting. I'm a total tourist, and want some beach time. Do you know of any guaranteed spots to see today's actors/actresses so we can knock that part of the trip out easily? Bonus points if we see the ones our kids love, think Victorious/iCarly - the kids won't be with us, but I'll have my camera.

No guarantees (I did not see any stars when I dined there), but my daughter used to work at Suzanne Goin's Tavern restaurant in the Brentwood area of Los Angeles, and during her tenure she saw Reese Witherspoon, Harrison Ford, Orlando Bloom, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kristin Stewart, etc. The President dined there during his last trip to Los Angeles.  

Puerto Rico or the US Virgin Islands. No passport required!

True enough.

It couldn't be a simpler process; you go to the website, enter your passport info, pay 20 AUD, and you're good to go. Print out your confirmation and bring it with you.

Need some suggestions from folks. My husband and I live in Boston. My parents live in Cincinnati. We would like to go somewhere for a few days in October. We have a 2 year old girl. Honestly, just looking for any suggestions. Hitting a brick wall thinking of things. Thanks in advance.

Niagara Falls seems to be coming up a lot in today's chat, but that could be a destination that works. It's about seven/eight hours from both Cincinnati and Boston. 

What you can do is break up the trip..... drive up to Gettsyburg then go up through centra PA stopping say in Williamsport or somewhere south. Next day drive into the Finger Lakes region of NY where you have wineriess and stuff in the lake towns. Next Day you go Niagara Falls, then the drive down to Pittsburgh (3.5 hrs from Buffalo) then drive back through West VA say stopping in Berkeley Springs and Harpers Ferry.

Sounds like a great loop.

My husband and I are leaving the baby behind for the first time this September to attend a wedding in New Cannan, CT (Near Samford/Bridgeport). We will be leaving from Arlington and are looking for a stop along the way for lunch and an attraction. We have seen most of the major attractions in Philly and NY and would like to avoid tons of crowds (if possible). Suggestions for anything off of 95?

New Canaan is so pretty. You'll like it. As for where to stop along I-95, if not Philly or NY -- you could try Wilmington or, if you want to get a bit farther before stopping, possibly Trenton -- which gets a bad rap but is quite historic, as this Escapes Becky did a couple of years ago shows -- or lovely Princeton, NJ. That would probably be my choice: Have a nice lunch at the Nassau Inn and then stroll around the university campus. I also like Summit, NJ. It's a beautiful, leafy little town with a charming town center with good restaurants and some nice shops, also good just for a little ramble to stretch your legs. Here's a piece I wrote about the Grand Summit Hotel that will give you a little flavor.

Other thoughts, chatters?

Non stop flights limit you to Portland, Seattle, Denver, and Salt Lake City. You could add some midwest cities if they have NS to Boise such as Minneapolis, Chicago, and St Louis


At the very least, if you're carrying a wallet, place it in one of your front pants (or skirt) pockets, and keep your hand jammed in the pocket on top of the wallet whenever anyone's around that you don't know.

Because my wife was born in India, our kids (both US citizens) have lifetime, multiple-entry visas to India. However, their passports expire soon. How does one go about having the visa sticker removed and placed in their new passport?

You would need to inquire with India's consulate, but I assume they will need to provide a new visa sticker for the new passport.

you can freeze in Vegas in february.....other options would be places such as san fran, san diego, Phoenix, new orlenas, houston, and florida cities.

How about Laguna Beach? Great shoppng and artist community.

Indeed, that's already the case. Why is that? I was thinking of getting off in Munich and taking the ICE train to Prague, but it's way more expensive to do it that way...

Nonstops are often to more popular destinations, plus travelers prefer going nonstop, so they're more in demand. 

If you fly to Buffalo you can drive into Canada without a passport. You can use a Passport card, an enhanced drivers in DC if you happen to work for the federal govt and have an ID card with a chip (CAC card) you can use that too.....shhh. I did it before. Im from Buffalo. I stopped over on a weekend of work travel see family back home. We didnt plan on going to Canada so I didnt bring my passport. When we went to Niagara falls I asked customs if my work ID would be fine and they said yes....did it and no problems.

Thanks! We'll keep the secret between us.

Don't overlook Porter Air, which flies from Dulles to Toronto Island in downtown Toronto. They are running a sale now, and have been throughout the summer. Sign up at their web site for emails. We flew them in May and LOVED IT....courteous, complimentary wine in real glassware....look at them.

Another vote for Porter Air

When I went to Jordan for first time I knew I had to get a visa at their airport. What I didn't know is that you of course need their currency, but there was no ATM where to pull the money out! I had not enough cash to change into their currency and trying to explain to them that I need to get to the ATM that was just next door was impossible. Fortunately a guard had mercy on me and talk to somebody in immigration and escorted me to the ATM. Lesson learned: always have enough cash with you and never assume that an ATM will be available or working (like it happen to me in the border of Argentina and Brazil :-/. By the way Jordan is AMAZING!

Great lesson. Thanks for sharing.

Besides Niagara Falls and the wonderful Niagara Parkway (include the quaint village of Niagara-on-the-Lake, with its Shaw Festival), please don't miss the Royal Botanical Gardens just to the west of Hamilton, Ontario, roughly halfway between NOTL and Toronto. Simply spectacular!

Crazy, or crazy like a fox? Cheaper but I want to know how bad the weather would be.

Depends on where you're going to be. The tourism office has this to say:

The Atlantic and Mediterranean climate provides mild temperatures all year round on the coasts. On the uplands, winter is cold and damp. That is why you can go skiing in the mid-range Atlas mountains which are covered in snow, at the same time that others are swimming in Agadir!

OK, I admit it, I chase freq. flyer miles. Is there a website I can go to where I can put in a certain amount that I want to spend for a ticket and it will show me where I can travel for that price? Thanks. (I LOVE your feature in the Post BTW)

I'm blanking on this, but you might be able to find the answer on FlyerTalk.

When I was applying for one seven years ago, I heard that Brazil makes getting a visa a pain to make a point about what a pain it is for Brazilians to get U.S. visas. Which seems fair, really.

Person looking to travel to say Las Vegas or San Diego around Veterans day. This year is a holiday weekend (Vets day observed on a Monday) so LV hotel rates will be HIGH. As for airfares. I think Southwest hasnt opened up booking for that weekend. When they do they usually offer fare sales. The air fares will start to drop or go on sale in late August If you are willing to fly the prior weekend you likely can get better airfares.

I am originally from NY state ...there are tour books devoted tot he islands. Im not sure what has been published most recently. your competitor has this.

Hi, we are Americans living in Europe and wondering if anybody knows: a) how far ahead generally gets the best pricing on intra-European flights; and b) when is a good time to buy tickets back to the US at Christmas time? We'd probably leave the weekend before Christmas and fly back New Year's Eve or New Year's Day. thanks!

Re: flying within Europe, follow the discount airline (think Ryanair and easyJet) sales. And I would have already booked those tickets to the United States. You'll probably find better prices flying on New Year's Eve. 

Pittsburgh! (Yes, I live there, so I'm biased).

I like this suggestion.

What about the Finger Lakes?

Another good idea. 

Several wks ago I posed a question re a w.p. article on a new book where a guy tried to follow an old book abt traveling in Europe. Can't locate the book's name at the moment, but Andrea offered her copy to me. I sent several emails to her but got no response. Is the offer still on?

It is still on. I saved the book for you, but  never received any emails after your original one. Please send your address to me at

How about San Francisco or Charleston? Vegas by yourself may not be that fun....

Longwood Gardens...Get off 95 just over the Susquehanna River and then get back on in Wilmington. Pretty detour but not too far.

It sounds like the 45-minute layover is in Narita, not Minneapolis, so 45 minutes is absolutely not enough time. You will have to go through passport control, and at least the last time I was at Narita there was only one booth for non-Japanese travelers.

Your article was great, but I'm cringing at some of the responses you are posting (Houston vs. NoVA Passport processing times) and Visas in expired passports. Please reach out to your contacts at State so maybe they can help you with these answers so people do not continue to be misinformed.

A great point. We are here to help, but for the definitive answer, go to the direct source-- State Department,  consulate, etc.

Oh no, the best hour of the week is up.

Thanks for joining us.

Today's winner is the person who provided the great tip regarding visas and layovers (example: I applied for a China visa when I had a full-day layover in Beijing en route to Mongolia). Please message me at with your name and address.

See you next Monday.

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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