The Washington Post

Talk about Travel

Aug 26, 2013

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

A Travel Talk item in the Sept. 1 Travel section, answering a question about swimming beaches in Key West, Fla., said that a visitor would have to travel to another key to find a traditional beach. In fact, there are several swimming beaches in Key West.

Hello, travelers! Hope you got to see the results of our annual photo contest (below is our winning image, by William Popik of Hartford, Conn.). We had a ton of other great related content, including stories on suggested gadgets, the new Poloroid Fotobar and slow photography. And there was also Peter Mandel's essay on our compulsive camera-clicking (which I am sometimes guilty of). Makes me wonder, what do you all do with your vacation photos post-trip? How do you organize or show them off? I'm always looking for new ideas, so send your tips along. Best suggestion gets the prize.

Let's go!

photo contest winner

I want to take my family on a trip to Argentina and Italy next summer. I was hoping to combine the two. When would be the best time (cheapest) to book flights? Thank you.

Start checking the flight prices as soon as you can (most airlines sell tickets about 330 days in advance, although that number varies). Once you are familiar with going rate, buy when prices dip. This is a complex trip, so I wouldn't try waiting for a last-minute sale.  

I'm staying at a big name hotel in the south right now, and I've been pretty disappointed with it so far. Minor things, like the valet parking being overwhelmed and having to wait 15 minutes for them to take our car, dirty cobweb covered windows, the wrong room (double beds instead of king). It's turning until one of those laundry lists that Chris Elliott talks about and I hate to complain, but at the prices we're paying I'd think the whole experience would be a lot more polished. How do you complain about that? I don't want discounts or anything other than just getting it right the first time. thanks y'all!

I'm sorry to hear about your hotel stay. There's nothing wrong with a laundry list. It's waiting until it becomes a long laundry list that makes a resolution problematic, from  a hotel's point of view.

So if you call the front desk and say, "I had to wait 15 minutes and the bed is the wrong size and I have a cobweb on the window," you're making it a little more difficult for the employee to fix it.

I would recommend prioritizing the complaints. Right now, the wrong-room issue seems the biggest. I would go to the front desk in person and ask to be moved to the correct room. If there are cobwebs on the window, I'd make a call to housekeeping and give them a chance to address that. I think -- I hope -- that the hotel is concerned with the overall guest experience. If it fails to address any of these issues, you'll need to put the complaint in writing. Please let me know if you run into any problems. Here's my email address.

I've always wanted to go to Japan and am thinking about going for a week during Christmastime as a solo traveler. I would most likely stay in Tokyo but should I also see Kyoto? Osaka? Mount Fuji? Any suggestions for things to do or places to see? Do you know of any upcoming sales on airfare? (I get two weeks off as a teacher so travel dates are flexible.) Thank you!

When I went to Tokyo several years ago, I was very glad we spent several days in Kyoto. Gorgeous temples, beautiful inn, sweet streets. So definitely do that. We also took a day trip to the ramen museum (really it's a ramen amusement park, with lots of shops) in Yokahama; that's worth it if you're into ramen. I haven't been to Osaka or Mount Fuji, but if you're only there for a week it sounds to me like it would be too much. You could do Tokyo for four days and Kyoto for three.

Any suggestions for a B&B (bonus for attached or nearby good restaurant) in Va (about an hour or 2 drive from Clarendon) for an anniversary celebration in late Sept? Our date is the same as family wkd at UVa, so Charlottesville is pretty much out and I've already checked the Ashby Inn - they are booked. I know your B&B aversion, Joe - so any other suggestions welcome!

Our regular chatters probably think we sound like a broken record, but I highly recommend the Inn at Willow Grove. It's less than 2 hours from Arlington, has a fabulous restaurant and your stay will definitely be anniversary-worthy special. If for some reason they're booked, you can always stay at the also lovely Inn at Meander Plantation nearby and head to Willow Grove for dinner. You could also consider Barboursville Vineyards, which has the 1804 Inn and Palladio Restaurant.

Heading to London this weekend for a 10th anniversay long weekend. My partner and I have both been there a number of times before (although it's been a number of years since the last visit and this will be the first visit together) and have already checked the boxes on the typical tourist spots. Borough Market, the War Rooms, and a trip to the top of the Shard are all on the list along with a West End show, but any other thoughts for not-to-be-missed exhibits or diversions for two late 30s travellers who've already done most of the city and the surrounding country? Thanks!

Well, you're right on top of things with the Shard. For more cool views, you might enjoy the relatively new Emirates Sky Line. Kensington Palace and its exhibits have gotten an upgrade since your last visit. I thought it was great. I also wish I'd gotten around to doing a canal boat cruise through Regent's Park, so that seems like a romantic option.

For the Aug. 19th query on Napa - a quick 24 hr. tour is tough. You might want to use a local tour company like Platypus Wine Tours. If you plan your own, be aware many wineries are reservation only - Duckhorn, Paraduxx, Cade, and so on. For first-timers, fun wineries are Darioush, Sterling, Inglenook (Coppola). There are multi-winery tasting rooms in downtown Napa and Yountville. Bottom line: if there are a few wines you like, go to their wineries. Very simple. Or go to the Napa Valley Vintners website and start your research from there.


In response to last week's question about taking a side trip from Venice to Ravenna in one day: We made that excursion last November and it worked quite well for our group of six. We made arrangements through Veneto Tours ( for a car (small van) and guide for the day. Our guide, Miriam, was outstanding resource for us, being both knowledgeable and engaging without being overwhelming. And, having our own car and guide allowed us the flexibility to make better use of our time than would have been possible if we had tried to accommodate train schedules and connections. Also, for anyone considering other side trips from Venice, we first used Veneto tours two years previously for a private tour of Palladian villas in the Veneto, which was a similarly enjoyable and educational experience.

Thanks for the info!

I was in Ravenna in June for several days. If you decide to go on your own, the train station is not far from the World Heritage sites and the town is very walkable. The tourist information centers loan 1-speed bicycles for free, and it makes seeing all of the mosaic sites (except for St. Apolllinaire in Clase, which is just out of town) very easy. They ask for a passport with the loan application (to make a photocopy for their records), but I presented a photocopy of my passport instead and that was sufficient. Guidebooks often cite a 10 minute limitation for visiting Mausoleo di Galla Placidia, but it appeared they did not enforce this so long as there was not a long queue. When you visit San Vitale, go immediately through the Basilica to see if there's a line at the Mausoleo. If not, go there first and visit the Basilica afterwards. The mosaics are spectacular and worth the trip.

Another follow-up on Ravenna. Thanks!

First comment: Becky suggested Secacus as a low-priced alternative to staying in NYC. I stay at the Rodeway Inn Meadowlands (formerly Plaza Motor Inn). It's inexpensive, clean, with a great breakfast. However, it is plain vanilla. Don't expect any frills. The bus to Manhattan is just around the corner and takes only about 20 minutes.

Thanks, but I think your second comment and questions are missing!

Even though my friend in Japan described Osaka as "the Mississippi of Japan" when we visited her, we want anyways and had a blast. The aquarium is fantastic (even has a whale shark!) and it is one of the cheaper locations too. The karaoke was fun (yes they have that everywhere, but again, cheaper there!) and Osaka is actually known for having great takuyaki (balls of fried Octopus).

I would recommend the London Museum, on the edge of the Barbican. Excellent museum on the history of London. Great exhibits, very informative.

I appreciated Peter Mandel's essay. The last time I went to Paris, I was enormously frustrated at the art museum. I couldn't get close to see any of the art without five hands thrust out in front of me with cell phones or cameras. I had one tourist ask me to move out of the way so she could take a picture of the art. I wondered...what exactly were these tourists going to do with the 200 photos of the artwork they just took? Subject their friends & family to a tortuous slideshow? Did they not realize that, if they really liked a certain piece of art, they could buy a postcard of it in the gift shop? Next time, I'll be looking out to find a museum that doesn't allow photography.

I hear that. The picture-taking of art does baffle me, because in most cases, it's never going to look as good as the real thing.

I pick a couple of my favorite photos from each vacation that are of the landscape, landmarks, etc., and that I think are kind of unique and print them out 4x6 prints in either color or b&w. Then I add them to my photo wall in my living room - I have a whole collage of photos from various places I visited, which is a great way to remember my various trips over the years.

I love this!

After I take a big trip I always make a photobook. My trips tend to be on the long side (2 to 5 weeks) so I always have a few thousand photos. It takes a while to go through and edit them and pick the good ones out. I have used a number of different companies over the years but seems to be the best option. Their hardback "coffee table" size books are very nice and they have constantly been improving things like paper selection. The pro-line papers are quite heavy. My friends are always wowed by them, and it's fun to take them out from time to time to look at them. They're not cheap at about $200 or so for a 150-200 page book but well worth it to me. When you consider how much it would cost to make similar sized prints it's really not any more expensive.

My 70ish parents are looking at taking a 15-day Moscow to St. Petersburg cruise on the Grand Circle Cruise Line in May 2014. It is quite a bit cheaper than the Viking version. Any insights on GCCL? They have gotten good reviews from a friend who took the same trip. They have had good experiences on Avalon cruise on the Seine. Thanks for any advice!

I haven't been on a Grand Circle cruise, but know the line is geared to Americans who are over age 50 (most passengers will be considerably older than 50).  I've been on an Avalon cruise, and while it also skews older, you will find families and younger people on its cruises. Viking is similar to Avalon, and both are considered luxury lines. Grand Circle's ships may not be as posh, but they are considered comfortable and reviews are generally good. Any chatters have first-hand experience to share? 

I'm submitting early because I can't at work. I'm looking for a place to go Labor Day weekend to rejuvenate/relax that's within driving distance of Washington and away from crowds. I'm not really a beach person. Cost isn't too much of an issue (I don't want a luxury resort, but almost anything else is acceptable). Any suggestions?

How bout Charlottesville? You could stay at the High Meadows Inn, which even has a room available this weekend for $229.

Yes! I love that place.

We have a flight booked on ATA that has had schedule changes that have us leaving DCA an hour earlier (6am...ugh) and arriving at our destination an hour later than we originally booked. Can we cancel our tickets and get a full refund or are we stuck with what they've changed us to?

AirTran's contract of carriage -- the legal agreement between you and the airline -- should provide a full refund if a flight doesn't operate as scheduled. Please let me know if it doesn't, and I will do my best to help you.


Actually, I don't think it did. Here's the language from the box:

US Airways offers one-stop flights from Washington Dulles and Reagan National to Tucson. American, Delta and Southwest offer one-stop flights from BWI Marshall to Tucson. United offers one-stop flights from Reagan National to Tucson.

We have loved, Mackinac, Stowe Vt., Napa and Carmel Ca. twice in July. We're 60ish, Don't sit on the beach, no humidity. We rented houses in Napa and Carmel with 2 couples. Loved the Stowe Inn. Guys love to golf. We all love to see beauty in buildings and nature. No cruises. Can you recommend our next summer vacation??

Prince Edward Island in Canada would work for golf and nature and beauty of all kinds. Take me with you and I will be your caddy!

I'll be going to Europe for the first time next month. I have problems adjusting to time zone differences just going from Eastern to Mountain and back, and I'm worried how I will function in Europe (and after coming home). Any tips?

There are lots and lots of tips out there: People say you should try if at all possible to avoid sleeping when you arrive, and should stay up and immediately try to adapt to the new time zone's schedule. And some say you should take melatonin to help reset your body clock. (I've had decent luck with the latter, but often haven't been able to accomplish the former.) There is evidence that if you plan a little bit, you can use light to help you adjust; that's what helps trigger your sleep cycle anyway. Check out these tips from the Mayo Clinic.

I'm to Florida in November for a 3 day weekend. We arrive Saturday afternoon. The plan is to do Epcot with what is left of Saturday and Adventure Island/Harry Potter world Sunday. On Monday, our flight leaves at 6. What should we do with our morning? I was thinking Animal Kingdom... If it helps, I'm in my late 20s and going with my aunt, who is in her mid 50s.

Sure, Animal Kingdom if it appeals to you, but... does this mean you weren't planning on visiting the Magic Kingdom? Inconceivable! That's what I would recommend. I think no trip to Disney is complete with out it. I'm a total sucker for it, and if you haven't been in the past year, you'll get to see New Fantasyland, which I wrote about last year. It's quite sweet. You could also do more of Epcot if you're not digging the Magic Kingdom. Epcot is easily a two-day park, if you do the front half one day and World Showcase another day.

We just returned from a trip to Seattle, which was nice but SO MUCH MORE expensive than we expected it to be (and we did not stay in fancy hotels). We rented a car from SIXT for 9 nights and it was nearly $700 = an economy car (Hyundai Accent - really rock bottom), Supposedly this was a good price online. I thought it was outrageous. Are rental cars really this expensive these days or, if not, how can we get the prices down?

Unfortunately, there's been some consolidation in the car rental business, and I'm getting a lot of complaints about high prices. Traditionally, the best way to save on a rental car is to go with an "opaque" site like Hotwire or Priceline, which let you choose the location of the rental without seeing the car rental company, and receive a discount. But lately, we've also seein the emergence of car-sharing and ride-sharing companies (I wrote about Zipcar in a recent Navigator column) that may help you save even more money.

I've recently figured out something new to do with vacation photos. I buy small photo albums (ones that hold no more than 20 photos) and make up gift albums for friends/relatives . The albums are all different, and include photos that are meaningful to each recipient.

A reader asked about an inexpensive but fun Saturday-night activity suitible for adults and a 15-year old. I recommend any of the improv shows, many of which are interactive. I took two of my granddaughters to NY as each of them turned 12. We did many things, but the improv was a major highlight.

Nice -- Thanks for the recommendation!

My latest strategy has been making photo books for vacations. Sometimes I just do a book of images and sometimes I make it more of a scrap book with text and photos. It takes a bit of time to organize the photos and do the layout, but it's so nice to have something tangible and durable in the end. If someone is interested in seeing the pictures, they can peruse at their own pace (no more slide shows!). I find I'm much more likely to look at a book than I am to go through a big set of prints or to hunt them down on my computer, and it's great to have multiple images rather than just one framed photo. Most of the online applications are easy to use and have lots of features, but I'm currently using Costco since their books are inexpensive and can be picked up at the store.

I send my travel pictures from my iphone and ipad to the Walgreens app on my device. I get a picture printed in about an hour for 15 cents each or less, bring them home, put them in a drawer and someday my kids will search the drawer, see the pictures and remember the cool trip.

First, as soon as I get home I download onto my computer all my trip photos from my digital camera into a folder named after my trip and its month (e.g., 13-08_nyc). Then I copy all the photos, and rename them with "orig" in their name, so in case I botch any of the photos I'm about to fix, I still have the originals. Next I create subfiles, usually by date and/or destination (e.g., 13-08-22_nyc_stat-lib, or simply 13-08-22_nyc). Now I go through and use computer software to correct each photo for such flaws as crooked horizon, over- or -under-exposure, too much or too little color intensity (e.g., orange faces); I also crop in order to remove extraneous portions that detract from the intent of the picture. Finally, I compress the photos to a sendable size (because who wants their inbox clogged up with a bunch of 2-3M pictures?) and send them to whoever we were visiting, who's in the picture!

My husband and I would like to take a trip to anywhere for our tenth anniversary. Because of kids and work schedules, the best time for this will be next fall. Since we're open to anything and haven't done much traveling, we really can go anywhere (that a $7000 budget allows). But where? I prefer natural beauty over cities and fewer crowds, and my husband will do anything. Any suggestions? (Iceland would be my number 1 choice, but that will have to wait until we can travel in summer.)

How about New Zealand? Can't get much more beautiful than that, I'd say, and fall in the US is their spring.

Two good options; The Inn on Poplar Hill, which is in Orange, VA, has extensive walking trails on-site, but is also walkable into the actual town of Orange, near wineries, etc.. Also Killahevlin in Front Royal (which I learned about from the Travel section) is an Irish-themed B&B, complete with self-serve Guinness on tap and fresh scones always available in the dining room.

Try visiting the offbeat house museums -- Sir John Soane's House, the Hunterian (anatomy and medical -- fascinating), the Wellcome Collection (Napoleon's silver toothbrush and much else), the Wallace Collection -- you'll never see anything like these elsewhere in London or even in Europe!

I've inherited silver candlesticks and few other silver items. I'll be travelling to the relatives holding these things for me and flying home. I'd rather not put them in my checked luggage, but will I be able to get them through security? The candlesticks are enough to knock someone out - but so would a laptop if swung correctly.

The TSA doesn't specifically address candlesticks on its list of prohibited items. But if it's a valuable item, I would not recommend checking it, since most airlines refuse to accept liability for heirlooms or antiques such as candlesticks. You may want to consider shipping the item.

In the 8/19 chat, someone asked about a one-night apartment rental near Chelsea Piers, and you all suggested sites such as VRBO and you also mentioned some pitfalls. One pitfall specific to NYC is that it has been ruled illegal by the courts. People still do it, but know that you may be out of luck if you have a problem since the contract would be unenforceable.

My understanding is that renters can't sublet, but perhaps law also extends to owners? It's a complex law that is difficult to decipher. And yes, there are these type laws on books in many cities, including London and San Francisco, so your advice is good. 

Sorry for the long post, but I missed last week's chat. For the poster that had a day and a half in Napa - I live in the Bay Area and go to Napa monthly. Some helpful tips / thoughts: there are a ton of wineries, and Napa is very spread out (it can take an hour to drive from end to end). For the day when you want go to multiple vineyards, try to pick 3 that are reasonably close in driving distance. This website ( lists just about all of the vineyards in Napa, tasting room hours, appointment info (some require them), and has a great map for planning out your day. As far as narrowing down options, if you have a "must visit" vineyard, you could start there and then pick a few others that are nearby. Alternatively you could pick a vineyard based on a type of wine you like, or if you want to do a cellar tour, etc. A couple of the sparkling wine producers (Carneros and Chandon) have lovely properties, some places have great picnic areas (Clos du Val and Rombauer to name a few), etc. And of course, some wineries have tasting rooms on the main streets in the various towns (I know that there are a handful of tasting rooms in Yountville, on Washington Street). My husband and I drive all of the time (we alternate DD responsibilities for the day), but if you both want to taste, I would recommend hiring a driver or doing a tour (your hotel or Google should be able to help here). October is busy in the valley as the harvest is coming in, but it is a beautiful time to visit. Enjoy!

Ah, so much great info. I hope the original poster is tuned in.

Anyone ever been to the Steamtown National Historic Site or the Lackawanna coal mine? Making a one day trip in that area & always wanted to stop. Now I have the opportunity-is it worth it? I love trains & have never seen a coal mine. Thanks, love the chats :)

Chatters, who has been?

Heading to London next month, and researching day trips by train. Any suggestions? Is Cardiff a good choice? Salisbury? Whatever choice is made, transport from the train station will most likely be on foot or by taxi, so probably need a location whose points-of-interest are close by the train station. Any help is appreciated!

Bath, oh my goodness, Bath! I fell in love with it. Cambridge and Oxford are also places I wish I'd gotten to. But your ideas sound good as well.

Our family of four has two growing teenage boys. Why do so many hotels just offer two double beds vs. two queen beds? Even a somewhat decent chain like Hampton Inn commonly offers only double beds. Are they really saving that much money that this strategy makes sense?

I've asked hotel insiders the same question, and the answer I got was: It's an industry standard. More guests want the double-bed configuration. I wish I had a better answer.

Like one of the other commentors, I generally do a photo book; I use - they have a lot of sample layouts, or you can design your own, and the finished product looks really nice. Much more polished than a paste-in photo album. I've been guilty of taking waay too many pictures, but almost never in a museum. The only exception I can think of - when we were in the Hermitage a few years ago, I was so struck by a Matisse portrait that I took a picture of it. It's now the wallpaper for my Nook. I remember that trip every time I turn the book on.

We're attending a wedding in Nantucket early October so plan to drive midweek to Hyannis, MA from Clifton, VA and would like recommendations for an overnight stop approx. midway (need to catch 2:00 ferry the next day). Looking for nice, clean, less than $200 for the night, a good meal out but not a chain. Suggestions?? Thanks.

Paterson, N.J., is exactly in between Clifton and Hyannis. Here's Andreas story from a few years ago, complete with hotel and eating recommendations. If you wanted a bit of a detour, you could overnight in West Point. It will add a few extra miles, but you'll be on the Garden State Parkway instead of the New Jersey Turnpike and then I-84 instead of I-95. In West Point, you could stay at the Thayer Hotel, which, space permitting, Zofia will have a review of in this Sunday's paper. (Rates seem to start at $215, but it's pretty close to your ideal price.)

Hello, I am researching flights from DC to Rome. British Airways offers a connection at Heathrow, but I will need to change planes and the time between flights is 1:10 hours. Will that give me enough time to make the second flight, or am I cutting it too close? Thanks!

If you have to change terminals at LHR,  that's cutting it too close. But if you are taking British Airways for both legs, all flights use Terminal 5, so that would be doable. LHR's Web site allows you plug in your flights to find out the recommended connection times. 

My wife and I are taking a trip to Zihuatanejo, Mexico in February. We change flights in Mexico City both ways. Our itinerary was changed so that we have one hour and 18 minutes between flights in Mexico City on the way back. We don't have to go through Immigration or Customs until we hit Dulles. Is that enough time to change flights there?

If everybody's operating on time, it shouldn't be a problem. But you might check with the airline to see what terminal and gate those flights typically come in and out of, to see if they're reasonably near each other.

Going to Cleveland and/or Erie PA for a long weekend, driving from Arlington. Does it make sense to stay in one place or try to see both? I have done the RR HoF, but want to experience the dining and hopefully beaches nearbye. Thanks!

I guess it depends on how long your long weekend is. The drives from Arlington to Erie or Cleveland are both a little less than 6 hours. But if you go from one to the other, that's a little less than 2 hours. Seeing both in one weekend might be overly ambitious, considering the extra time to travel between the two added on top of a minimum journey of 12 hours round-trip. I guess it depends what's more important to you. I'd give Cleveland the edge in dining, and you can check out the beaches in town or a little outside of it without going all the way to Erie. But Presque Isle in Erie looks gorgeous too.

Two empty nest boomers are going to Myrtle Beach for 4 days in a few weeks. Are there recommended attractions besides the obvious beach and golf? Any restaurants we shouldn't miss? Open to pretty much anything that might be fun. Staying near Broadway.

If you like nature, take a dolphin tour with Blue Wave Adventures. I'm also a fan of Brookgreen Gardens. There are plenty of shows, including the Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament.   The Skywheel offers great views. For more choices, check out Myrtle Beach Tourism.  I've been underwhelmed with restaurants there, but  liked Villa Romana and Sea Captain's House.  

I would like to go to Key West for three or four days. If I fly there directly, do I need a car to get around once I'm there? Also, is there a swimming beach? Most of what I am finding talks about diving offshore. Thanks!

You can get around Key West with a rental bike, moped or by foot. There's no "beach" in the traditional sense -- you really need to drive up to Bahia Honda State Park for that -- and most visitors normally hang out by the pool at their hotel when they want to cool off. Chatters, do you have any beach experiences in  Key West you can recommend?

Each year I use my computer to create a calendar with 12 montages of photos from my travels, by place; I feature lots of scenery, but also human interest shots (but only a handful of me, just enough to prove I was really in those places). Then I create a cover with 12 photos around the perimeter, with the most emblematic picture from each page, and in small type overlay the name of the month in which it appears. Then in early December I take my file (in PDF) on a flash drive to my local chain office supply store, where they print up as many copies of my calendar as I order (allow several days, in case they need to order more paper, or have other orders to process ahead of mine). Note that the more calendars one orders, the cheaper they are per unit. When I pick up my calendars I also buy a box of 2"x4" laser-printer mailing labels for addressing the 10"x13" catalog envelopes I buy for mailing. The first calendar I did (in 2002) was a huge surprise for my friends, who have come to look forward to and treasure their annual gift calendars. Besides, most everyone can always use another calendar, in a different room!!!

Wow. I might hire you to do this for me.

We are going to Italy (Rome, Tuscany, Florence, Venice) for 2 weeks in October. We can use our Iphone 5 there for about 99 cents per call (through Verizon) when we buy their $4.99 plan. Is that a good deal, or are we better to get a SIM card or something else. We don't plan to make many calls, but just wondered about best way to go. Thanks.

Seems like a decent deal to me if you won't be talking a lot. Although I'd pay a little more just for the convenience.

We LOVED the tour of the townhouse where Benjamin Franklin lived in the runup to the Revolutionary War. It's on Craven Lane near Trafalgar Square and very much worth the time. You have to make reservations, though. The guide is a young woman in period costume and the AV effects are outstanding. It's the only place Franklin lived on either side of the pond to survive...

How about Wilmington, DE., with Longwood Gardens, the Hagley Museum? The Brandywine area is nearby, too.

We're thinking of heading to Yosemite from San Francisco the weekend before Thanksgiving (Nov 22ish) and I'm wondering what to expect that time of year. Will hiking trails be open or will it be too snowy and cold? I know some of the higher elevation passes are closed, but want to make sure we'll still be able to do some hiking and see some beautiful parts of the park. We're thinking of staying in Mariposa or at Tenaya. Of course, this is all assuming the fire leaves the park okay. So scary. Thanks!

Here's fall info on the park -- from the park!

My husband and I are on the final stretch of a 12-wedding year! Our next two locations are Pittsburgh and Nashville, 2 cities that neither of us have visited. We love food/wine and unique experiences--any suggestions in either of those cities?

Great cities. Here's Andrea's story about Nashville, based on her trip around town with the creator of the TV show of the same name. You'll find some recommendations for eats and activities in there. Other food ideas: Prince's Hot Chicken Shack, Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams and Husk, the second location of the pioneering restaurant Sean Brock first opened in Charleston.

Pittsburgh: Eat your way through the Strip. Visit the zoo or Phipps Conservatory. Ride the inclines.

If you're still taking comments on driving to Alaska: I drove from Anchorage to PA with family back in 1989. If they have the time, I recommend it - it's a beautiful drive. I also second last week's recommendation for a sturdy vehicle. The Al-Can Highway's supposedly been improved since I drove it, but it can be rough, and the nearest service station could be hours away. On a side note, if driving up to Alaska, a great publication worth looking at is The Milepost  - it's an travel guide focusing on the Al-Can.

Thanks for the thoughts. 

My husband and I (both in our 70s but very fit and active) would like to take a trip to Spain, flyiing into Madrid and then traveling to other major destinations by train. How would we locate English-speaking guides in the major cities? Also, how could we find a way to travel to those areas such as Granada and the Costa Del Sol? At that point, should we rent a car and drive?

Sounds like fun! For tour guides, check out this list at Viator, which recommends only those guides who have a license or certificate, and includes ratings from travelers who have used the guide's services. And don't worry -- the vast majority of these guides speak English (and their language facility is noted). Granada is actually a pretty easy train ride from Madrid -- but not on the high-speed line, like Malaga (capital of the Costa del Sol). I'm not seeing a train between Granada and Malaga, so to see both by train, you could go from Madrid to Granada, and then take a train from Granada to Cordoba and then to Malaga.

Caveat: This is all based on my reading of the Rail Europe map, so travelers who have done this exact itinerary, please weigh in with any corrections or advice. When I was in Spain years ago with my sister, we rented a car for two weeks: As much as I love train travel, it was also super easy to drive in Spain, and as a bonus some of the roadside eating was divine. Here's to tapas and sangria in a gas station!

My wife and I would like to get away for a few days in mid September on a beach property (hotel or B&B) right on the beach. Would like the property to have a deck, porch or balcony so we could enjoy a view of the ocean.

There are no accommodations directly on the beach in Cape May -- all are across the street from the ocean. And most of the best-rated historic B&Bs that define Cape May do not face the beach.  For direct ocean views, take a look at Sea Crest Inn or Ocean Club Hotel

I'm getting married in October and my fiancee and I are looking into taking a honeymoon. However, we are a very tight budget (about $1000). Do you have any suggestions or ideas? We're looking at going for about 3-5 days and would like to minimize travel time.

I like the idea of the beach in the fall, when the weather is nice, the crowds are small and the accommodations are cheaper. How about Rehoboth, Cape May or somewhere on the Eastern Shore?

If, for example, I'm at Reagan National and thunderstorms have delayed flights enough that it looks like there will be a four hour delay. Can I get a refund and take the next Amtrak train out of Union Station? Does it matter that the fault (weather) was not the airline? Will this automatically cancel my return flight (i.e. do I have to cancel the whole ticket?)

If your flight is canceled, you should be able to get a full refund. If it's just delayed, you would need to get authorization from an airline representative for a refund. But I wouldn't recommend assuming that you will get a refund because your flight is delayed. The airline might decide to keep you money, unfortunately. If you miss one leg of your flight, the entire ticket would be canceled.

I was in Italy the end of May/beginning of June, and 3 of us used our Verizon iPhones (4S and 5) throughout the trip. We just used the Verizon Global plan - didn't bother with buying SIM cards. Our phones had good coverage the entire trip for text messages and phone calls - we were in Rome/Tuscany/Venice and the countryside in between. I didn't bother using data - just used wireless wherever I found it - so not sure what the coverage was like for that.

Thanks for sharing your experience.

Hi, are there resources online for evaluating and rating travel insurance providers and plans? Thanks!

There are lots of sites that allow you to compare travel insurance policies. Try InsureMyTrip, QuoteWright and SquareMouth. And read the fine print of any policy before purchasing, especially if you need it to cover a specific situation.  

Hi! I'm heading off to Charleston for a few days vacation next month. I'm staying downtown and will be without a car. I'm already planning to check out Fort Sumter but have no other plans - any advice on things to see or do? And I've been told it's pretty easy to get downtown from the airport by public transportation - please told me I heard right! Thanks!

You won't have a problem at all. Here's info on the CARTA bus that will get you from the airport to downtown. You could also just as easily take a shuttle or taxi. My husband and I really enjoyed seeing the Nathaniel Russell House Museum and Aiken-Rhett House Museum. There's a nice farmers market. And just wander the streets.

I share the other poster's frustration. You can book a room for four people on and they will say double beds requested but not confirmed. Do they really expect four people to stay in a king sized room?

I hear you. I have three kids, and we experience similar issues when we're staying at a hotel.

I own a double bed which is in a guest room., but have not seen linens or spreads for it in years. Where do these hotels buy the bed linens? Surely they are replaced frequently.

Interesting thought. I didn't have any problems buying a set of double sheets for my guest bed. Store supplies may be skimpy, but catalogue outfits such as L.L. Bean and Lands' End are safe bets.

Have any of you ever taken a cruise out of Copenhagen? Thoughts about parents and young adults doing one?


We've been getting warnings from our friends that some places in Europe might require chip and PIN credit cards; so we've been calling our bank, none of which support chip and PIN. On the other hand, the Cap-One lady insists that anyone who excepts a mastercard or VISA is required to take ALL Mastercards or VISAs, regardless of chip and PIN. Your experience?

That sounds about right. And based on my experience, and of the many chatters who have written to us about this, you'll probably be fine. The vast majority have told us they've had no problems. By the way, here's my chip-and-PIN primer.

After every major trip, I write a travelogue which I send to family & friends. The top 8 scenic photos (El Capitan, Grand Canyon, Crater Lake, etc) are our living room art. The best family photos are framed -- and the very best, like the one with the 4 of us on an elephant in Thailand) are printed on canvas and a mouse-pad. Each fall since 1993 I've made a collage of 12-20 pictures from the past year which I keep in a well-trafficed spot in the house, and the previous year's is in my bedroom (and the other 18 are in a trunk). Also, some of the best of the kids' pictures are printed on their water bottles, luggage tags, etc.

They are widely sold as 'full-sized', double isn't a term much used these days. And the original question asked why hotels don't have 2 Queen beds instead of 2 double or full beds. I think the answer is cost of beds (and linens) and space. Queens take up more room and cost more, and the linens are mroe expensive as well.

"Have any of you ever taken a cruise out of Copenhagen? Thoughts about parents and young adults doing one?" Wow, talk about an open-ended question that gives the Travel Crew essentially nothing to go on. Have the potential cruisers ever been on a cruise? Do they enjoy cruising? What cruise line? What budget? Etc., etc. etc. Ya think maybe they could have looked up first to find cruises leaving from Copenhagen?

I enjoyed the essay on compulsive photography. I mostly take photos for other people. Friends and family are always delighted to see them (probably because I don't take fifty million photos of the same thing). Once the interest dies down, I never look at them again because, you know, I was there. Currently, I'm putting the vacation photos on Photobucket.

I don't book tour guides ahead of time. Instead I just inquire at the hotel desk when checking in, as they typically have a whole list of local tour guides (with the languages they speak). I've never been disappointed yet.

Sure -- in major cities there is no shortage of tour guides. Glad you haven't been disappointed.

We would like to go to OBX in late September for a week of R&R. It's our first time and we're feeling overwhelmed by the sheer number of towns. Do you have any particular suggestions for a town for 30 something parents with a toddler? What about activities? We know it's hurricane season, so is there any area that's safer in case one comes through. Thanks!

You're right, September is prime time for hurricanes, but this has been a pretty good year for storms (and besides, the deals are amazing in September). We visited OBX last year with our family, and the absolute highlight were the amazing sand dunes at Jockey's Ridge State Park. Also, be sure to check out Kitty Hawk and the Wright Brothers National Memorial. Chatters, do you have any OBX recommendations?

I am gonig to Boca Raton, FL in November for a wedding, and usually fly out of DCA, but seem to be having issues finding flights there (or to Palm Springs). Any suggseted strategies for getting down there? Second, I am headed to Seattle for the first time this weekend for a long weekend - any must do's/see's? Thanks!

JetBlue and US Airways both fly nonstop to Fort Lauderdale out of DCA. That might be your best bet, and FLL is only about 30 minutes from Boca. Seattle? We seem to answer this a lot! Check out my recommendations in the July 8 chat.

A friend of mine and I would like to visit Tuscany and the Almalfi Coast next year. I heard Gate1Travel is a good travel agency to use, especially if we have never visited Italy on our own before. Also what is the best month to go? I heard Sept./Oct. Thank you.

Gate 1 Travel, which has been around since 1981, offers relatively low-cost escorted tours, and they do a good job with inexperienced travelers. Either September or October would be fine, although you may save a little by going in October. 

My husband and I have a "problem"--we need to use up a week or two of vacation days before the end of the year. We can do one trip or two and can go in November or December (though don't want to travel at peak times). Looking for someplace that's not cold and snowy, but not necessarily a beach--temps in the 60s-70s would be fine. We love beautiful scenery with opportunities for walking or light hiking; good food a plus. I was thinking of Southern California but don't want to be in Los Angeles or San Diego. Also not interested in Florida or Deep South states, but otherwise we are open to any domestic or international destination that does not take more than about 6 hours to get there. Suggestions?

Well, how about northern California, instead? San Francisco has highs in the 60s in November, and amazing walking and eating.

We are taking a golf vacation in Myrtle Beach in mid-September. What is the best way to get our golf clubs there? Any advice you can give on the pros and cons of shipping vs. luggage is appreciated. Thanks

US Airways, which flies nonstop from DCA to Myrtle Beach, will accept golf clubs as a piece of luggage, so it'll probably be cheaper to go that route than to ship. 

We are planning a family trip to France for our 50th anniversary (with our 4 adult children and 4 grandchildren) next June and would like to rent a house somewhere between Paris and Tour for a week. Can you advise us how to find and rent the right house? We will fly into Paris, want to tour the Loire Valley and also make a day trip to Normandy. Does this sound reasonable for a one week trip?

Well, VRBO is always a good source. Here's their current listing of Tours places. I think a week sounds grand, yes!

Honestly, I'd do a couple day staycation and enjoy the area and then save for the honeymoon. We did that and between United credit card miles and two years of savings, we went to St Lucia, first class, and rented a condo there for 2 weeks. SO worth it.

My husband and I always plan our vacation destinations last minute and end up scrambling. Next summer, we're determined to do it right, and we've already decided on Alaska as a destination. Can you give us some tips of where to begin planning? Routes, itineraries, tour companies? We're not opposed to cruises (lazy travelers here), but we'd prefer an itinerary that lets us spend more time ashore rather than just a few hours of overpriced shore excursions.

If you want to spend more time on land, consider a cruisetour, which combines a traditional cruise with an interior land tour. Royal Caribbean, Princess and Holland America are among the lines that  offer these. You might also consider a small ship cruise -- read Cruise Critic's article on the subject. 

As I research a trip next summer to the Balkans (Croatia, Slovenia, possibly Bosnia and Montenegro), I'm struck by the different paths taken to get there. Seems to be a "planes, trains, automobiles and ferries" proposition. Does anyone have a secret to affordable routes from the East coast US (PHL or NYC) to the Balkans? Thanks!!

I'll throw this to the crowd for those possible secrets of affordability, but a quick search for upcoming flights from NYC to Dubrovnik, for one, shows it to be a pretty simple one-stop affair, with connections in such European hubs as Vienna and Frankfurt. In early October, those flights in the $1200 range. Similar for Llubljana, with Air France flights running about $1000 with a stop in Paris, for example. To Sarajevo, $1100 with connection in Vienna. And so on. So I'm not seeing the planes/traines/automobiles part of your equation, but maybe I'm missing something?

My husband, grown-up daughter and I would like to travel to Turkey over Thanksgiving for about two weeks. We would plan to visit Istanbul, and then visit the archaelogical sites in the Aegean region (Ephesus, etc). However, we're a bit concerned about security. We're all pretty experienced travelers (former international development workers) so we pretty much understand how to handle ourselves in difficult situations. We have other options for our travel, but would really love to visit Turkey. What do you think of the security situation for American travelers?

Here's an excerpt from the State Department's page on Turkey, which you should read in full:

There have been violent attacks throughout Turkey, and there is a continuing threat of terrorist actions and violence against U.S. citizens and interests throughout Turkey. Terrorist bombings over the past several years have hit various targets in Turkey, with some causing significant numbers of casualties. Some attacks – including a suicide bombing at the U.S. Embassy in Ankara on February 1, 2013, carried out by the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party/Front (DHKP/C is an indigenous terrorist organization) – are deliberately targeted U.S. and Western interests. In July 2011, 15 terrorists claiming association with al-Qaida were arrested for gathering explosive materials in preparation for an attack on the U.S. Embassy in Ankara. These incidents show a willingness on the part of some terrorist groups to attack identifiably Western targets. The possibility of terrorist attacks, from both transnational and indigenous groups, remains high. ...

Exercise caution and good judgment, keep a low profile, and remain vigilant with regard to your personal security. Terrorists do not distinguish between official and civilian targets. As security is increased at official U.S. facilities, terrorists may seek softer targets. These may include facilities where U.S. citizens and Westerners are known to live, congregate, shop, or visit. Be especially alert in such places.


International and domestic political issues sometimes trigger demonstrations in major cities in Turkey. Demonstrations can occur with little or no advance notice. However, even demonstrations that are meant to be peaceful can become violent and unpredictable; they should be avoided. Be alert and aware of your surroundings and pay attention to what local news media say. Obey the instructions of Turkish security personnel at all times. 

Why do you ask for, and print, contestants' ages? And do you verify? I admit it was interesting to read peoples' occupations and ages, especially the oldest and youngest, but I couldn't help wondering if some people (me!) wouldn't prefer not to tell.

Like you, we find it interesting to see people's ages and occupations. Gives you more of a picture of the person. But those are also standard details the newspaper publishes on most people we feature in stories. We don't independently verify what people tell us. I'm not sure why someone would lie about that! In the few years I've been doing the contest, I don't think we've had anyone decline to share that info.

Yesterday's paper contained an excerpt from a past online chat about alternatives to Skyline Drive for fall foliage. The editors' reply mentioned West Virginia and the Canaan Valley. I'd like to add a suggestion that Corridor H (US-48/WV-55) is a terrific way to get to and from that area and will itself provide great foliage-viewing opportunities with almost nobody else on the road. Take I-66 west to I-81, go four miles south to Exit 296, and make a right at the top of the ramp. Once you pass Wardensville, WV, the road widens out into a four-lane expressway (that means it has some at-grade intersections but is limited-access) with a 65-mph speed limit and it runs along ridge tops. On a clear day you can see forever. Presently the road ends abruptly at an access road to WV-93 just east of Mount Storm and you can use WV-93 and WV-42 to head over to the Canaan Valley. I'll also add that Corridor D (US-50) from Clarksburg to Parkersburg is another great scenic drive, though more distant. It's a stretch of about 80 miles with no traffic lights and I think we passed maybe six other vehicles in that entire 80-mile stretch last October on our way home from Ohio (I was bored with the Interstate). Corridors H and D are some of the emptiest roads in the eastern USA....well worth exploring.

we took a trip around the Baltic a few years ago, leaving from Copenhagen and coming back to Stockholm. We loved it, but, depending on how young the "young adults" are, they may not be as thrilled with the experience. For us, the highlights were St. Petersburg (museums, palaces and a ride on the subway - much better than Metro), Stockholm (the Vasa Museum) and the gorgeous scenery.

Cardiff is a bit far for a one-day trip. I would suggest Canterbury as an alternate, much closer. Bletchley Park is a fun trip for people that are interested in Intelligence Operations in WWII.

How can I send an email to Becky Krystal?

See my close, coming up in a sec!

All right, we've reached the end of our lively hour. First, a housekeeping note. We're off next Monday for the Labor Day holiday, so we'll next be back chatting with you Sept. 9. If we didn't get to your question today, swing by then because we'll push the leftovers forward and see what we can answer.

Second, thanks for all the great photo tips. It's hard to choose a favorite, but I'll go with the calendar creator. Fun idea. I might try that for 2014! Please send your name and mailing address to me at and I'll get you your prize.

Until next time, happy travels!

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