Talk about Travel: Roadfood, recommended luggage and more

Aug 04, 2014

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Past Talk about Travel chats

Greetings, fellow travelers. Thanks for joining us today. Hope you got to see our stories this week on California's Central Coast; Ladakh, India; and a Virginia biking trail. I also chatted with Michael Stern of the long-running "Roadfood" guide. Tell me about your favorite eatery you've discovered while on the road. Best answer wins a little (non-edible) prize.

And now to your questions!

Last week there was a question about whether to "give" frequent flyer miles to a relative or make the reservation for them. The response was to check with the airline, but the feeling was that giving the miles would be easier and would avoid the hassle of making a reservation for the relative. In Frequent Flyer world, there is no "giving" of miles. The airlines charge a hefty price to transfer the smallest amount of miles. I know because I did this just a few years ago. I was 4000 miles short of the amount needed for two tickets to Asia, so the transfer, which cost a couple hundred dollars, was necessary. Even so, we ended up saving over $2500 compared to the purchase price of our itinerary. On the other hand, when I've made a reservation for someone else using my frequent flyer miles, it costs nothing extra to put their name on the reservation.

You are so right! And I wanted to amend my answer from last week. I only considered convenience, but really cost matters most. It makes much more sense to book the reward trip for a friend or family member than to give the traveler the miles.

Thanks for writing in about this topic, and thanks to readers who sent me similar insights over the weekend.

I'll be six months pregnant and we're flying to the opposite coast for vacation. I'm cleared by the doctor, airlines, etc., however I'm wondering about security. Normally I don't have an issue with the machines, and for some reason I've only ever rarely been in the full body scanners, so have never opted out before. When do you tell TSA that you don't want to be scanned? When they check our ID? In the security line for the scanner? I know they say it's safe, but if I don't need to expose our child to the scanner, then why risk anything?

You are not required to use the full-body scanner. When you arrive at the screening area, just politely ask the TSA employee to "opt out." You will be given a pat-down by a female TSA employee. I'm not convinced that the full-body scanners have been adequately tested, and I always opt out. The TSA does not make young children go through the full-body scanner. I can't recommend that you get scanned at this stage of your pregnancy. (Full disclosure: I'm not a doctor or an expert on scanning technology.)

So unfortunately, we can't do the full two weeks in CA until May. Thanks to all for the responses--I'll file them away for the spring trip. However, we're making the most of our October and doing a trip to New England. Five days to split among MA, VT, and ME -- what would you do? What would you skip? Would love to do some hiking (even though it'll be chilly!), whale watching (if that happens in October), cideries, and eating!

Five days is not a ton of time. If I were in your situation, I'd choose one state. If you do Maine, spend time in Portland and its environs, then maybe head up to Acadia National Park. In Massachusetts, perhaps the Berkshires, although I might steer you toward Cape Cod. So much to see in all the towns and national seashore, and very manageable in a couple of days. We took our honeymoon there in October a few years ago. Not many crowds and we got our share of fall foliage. Anyone have other opinions?

My family is planning to go to Costa Rica from Nov. 27-Dec. 6, flying into San Jose. I'd love to see some sea turtles, and I believe around that time of year the best place to see them is on the Pacific Coast at Ostional Wildlife Refuge. I'm also thinking a couple days at Arenal would be good. Do you have any tips on driving versus finding drivers (if that's the better option, do you or the chatters have suggestions for tour companies?). Any other places we should try to see? I know it's a hike to get from San Jose to the Pacific Coast, but I'm dying to see some turtles-- and any other wildlife in Costa Rica! Thanks!

Driving in Costa Rica can be challenging, especially if you want to get off the main highways. The Ostional Wildlife Refuge is a great place to view sea turtles, but it is a hike from San Jose, and the rains of November sometimes makes the road impassable. Best idea is to fly from San Jose to Nosara on NatureAir and then to drive from there. There are also shuttle services that go to Arenal and other locations from San Jose. 

I have only crossed the border by car between Croatia and Montengro for a day visit to Dubrovnik. We were staying in Montenegro and I don't recall a long wait at the border. We left from Budva however and had to take a ferry across some waterway which I recall taking a while. Kotor is farther east however so you may be able to circumnavigate this.

Thanks for following up.

staying at Embassy Suites by the airport: Italian Express Pizzeria a couple of blocks away. Featured on "Diners, drive ins & dives", though we had never heard of the show before we ate much more than just pizza (though they do a very good job with that), I think they must expect all their clientele to have the appetite of construction workers & tailor their portion sizes appropriately. Just like Nonna used to make. Nom nom!

Traveling between DC and Boston I have to stop at Rein's Deli. I found it on roadfood

Hi! Any suggestions for a nice and scenic inn near Shenandoah NP? I'd like something more contemporary than rustic and having a hard time finding anything. Iris Inn west of Charlottesville looks perfect but Google Maps says it will take me 3 hours to get there, so I'm really hoping for something similar on the northern end of the park, that isn't quite as pricey as the Inn at Little Washington. Any ideas?

Hmm. We have had Bed Checks on a couple of inns nearer the northern end: The Mimslyn Inn in Luray, and the Lackawanna B&B in Front Royal. But they are both pretty traditional, decor-wise. Another idea: The Blue Rock Inn in Washington, Va. I haven't been there, but it's a converted farmhouse and looks pretty handsome. There's also Jim Abdo's new White Moose Inn, which is quite sleek/minimalist, but is pricier -- rooms starting at $325 in late August. (That's not as pricey as the InnaLW, though, so maybe it's in your budget.) Chatters, any ideas to add?

My niece has a common name, and as a result, she's on some sort of list that requires all sorts of extensive pre-boarding questioning before she's allowed on an airplane. Is there something she can do to prove she's no danger to anyone? (e.g., enhanced passport)?

Yes, when you apply for TSA's Pre-Check program, you'll be cleared to fly. That may be the fastest way to avoid the confusion, although you will have to give up some personal information in order to get cleared.

We had heard about Zehnder's located in Frankenmuth, MI. The stories were a pale shade of the reality. This is family style eating at its best. It has a huge number of dining rooms. My wife, daughter and I were overwhelmed with great food. The dinner meal started with at least 8 different appetizers filling the table, then on to the main course - fried chicken plus tons of sides. Just great home cooking and comfort food at very reasonable prices. Luckily we walked from our hotel so we could burn some of the meal off on the way back. While in town you can stop at Bronner's Christmas Wonderland with over 5 football fields of Christmas under one roof. That will get you into Christmas in July if it doesn't overwhelm you first!

Wow. I'm feeling full just reading about that.

The first time that I went to Crete, on my last day there my aunt and me went to say good bye to all friends and relatives, we left home close to 11am so I thought we were going to be back for lunch but we didnt. Every single place that we visited people offered us coffee, homemade pastries, cheese, wine, honey, candies WHOA all sorts of food that I have not seen during my short stay there. It was truly an unforgettable food experience and a lovely way to experince Cretans hospitality.

Hi Travel crew, my husband and I will have a night away sans baby for Sept 20th and need suggestions for a one night stay no more than two hrs from dc. Weather permitting, we'd like to go to a beach but that late in Sept it might be too chilly. Otherwise a place that has things to see/do, whether it's wineries (bonus if it there are wineries for this mom), window shopping or just a great place to walk around. I know in last weeks chat someone mentioned Chestertown and friends have suggested Solomon's Island. We've been to Annapolis, Richmond and Baltimore so looking for alternatives that also won't cost us more than $150-200 for the night. I hope this isn't asking too much. I don't know if I'll be available for the chat since I'm on baby's schedule but hopefully this is enough info to provide suggestions. Thank you!

I'm struggling to come up with a suitable beach location that would be two hours or less away. Brandywine Valley is one option -- wineries, towns, gardens (Longwood), museums/estates (Winterthur). Stay at the Hamanassett B&B. Or how about Orange, Va.? See James Madison's Montpelier, visit the lauded Barboursville Vineyards and other area wineries, stay at the Inn at Meander Plantation. Lots of wineries in and around Fauquier along I-66 and U.S. 17. Stay and eat at the lovely Ashby Inn, take in the views at Sky Meadow State Park or Blandy Arboretum, head to Winchester for some window-shopping. Hope that gets you started!

Hi Gang! Going to Ocean City Aug 8-12. Never been. Looking for a nice hotel room (a little better than Comfort Inn w/a kitchenette if possible) and definitely an Ocean view - Any ideas? Thanks!!

It may not be all that easy getting the perfect oceanfront hotel room for next weekend. I'm in Ocean City right now, and the town is pretty crowded. Hotels I'd consider include the Hilton Suites and the Comfort Inn Boardwalk (it's considered more of an upscale property here), but I'm betting that both are sold out. You may have to look at something bayside: Fager's Island has two upscale bayfront hotels. 

We were in the Australian Outback this winter and enjoyed a Bushtucker dinner out in the middle of absolutely nowhere. Old campfire-like tin cups hung on a pole, dessert bread cooked over coals, the 41 of us singing Waltzing Matilda led by the guitar-playing cowboy, watching the sun set on the mountains as they turned blue, purple and black, and gathering to watch the darkest night sky with a stream of the Milky Way, Northern Star and thousands of other twinkling gems above us. Magical.

It's time for new luggage. The Tumi roller board has become damaged beyond repair. What brands/styles are you liking these days?

Let's crowd-source this one, folks!

Hi -- is TEP Wireless for laptops still a good choice for (western) Europe? I want a wifi hotspot for my laptop -- used TEP Wireless 2 years ago, but wonder if it has any good competition now? Thanks...

I presented some other options in a piece I wrote about using the Internet while traveling abroad. They include Boingo and a rental hotspot from Xcom Global. Anyone have a service to endorse?

Have you thought about Chesapeake Beach Resort and Spa? There is a beach right there and a wine bar. The town is cute and very walkable.

For a small carry-on, I love my IT Luggage. I don't like the larger size, as it's not as sturdy.

When in Bahrain for the first time on deployment, one of our department heads, who had been there many times before, took us to this little tiny shwarma stand all the way in the back of the Gold Souk. Best (non-fancy-restaurant) food I had the entire deployment, and I've never had another shwarma that compared.

One time, while motoring on an autumn trip in the Shenandoah Valley area, I came across a place "MD's Chicken in the Rough" restaurant near New Market VA. Amazing ! Delicious generous portions of fresh, crispy fried chicken served with string fries and dinner rolls. No knives, no forks, unless you requested them (sort of like eating NY Pizza...!) And at the end of the meal, you got served a cup of lemon water to dip your stick fingers in. MD's became THE go-to place when we were there year after year...but alas, it's been gone for many years......

I was working with the EU in Brussels for a while in the mid-1990's, and our group always went to a falafel shop in Grande Place. Real falafel and frites - they got to know us, we went there so much! No mussels for us!

Mom and I were driving from Kalamazoo MI to Saugatuck, and stopped at Crane Orchards aka Crane's Pie Pantry in Fennville, MI. I bought a beautiful-looking apple fritter. Later we stopped at a roadside stand where I purchased fresh blueberries and peaches. I packed these up in a shoebox that evening, and they accompanied me as a carry-on during my flight back to DC. Came in VERY handy when my connection out of Pittsburgh was delayed and all of the restaurants there were closed - I just opened my shoebox and munched on that delicious apple pastry!

Hello, My wife & I skipped doing anything interesting for our 10th anniversary recently (due to kids and blah blah blah.) To make up for that, I have 3 free nights coming we can burn at any Omni hotel or resort (they have the BEST rewards policy) that I need to book by end of August, but we're horribly indecisive about where to go. Preference is that it be easily accessible (by car or flight), somewhere new for us (done Montreal, New Orleans, Philly, Pittsburgh, Charlottesville, New York), with interesting things to do (history, brewpubs, and outdoorsy being my own biases) for a few days. Denver? Asheville? Toronto? New Hampshire? ...? Thanks in advance for any thoughts!

Well, you do have some great options there. Your own biases do strongly recommend Charlottesville, and the Omni there has an enviable position on the pedestrian mall downtown. For your parameters, I also like Denver and Asheville. I see there's a location near Mt. Washington in New Hampshire. That would probably be swell too. And people have raved here about the Omni Bedford Springs in Pennsylvania, an easy drive from D.C.

Thank you! For some reason I nearly always luck out and end up in the regular (ie. old) scanner line, but wouldn't want to even do that while pregnant despite TSA's claims of safety. I didn't know that children weren't required to go through the full body scanner- just that they can keep shoes on, etc.. That just makes me wonder even more about what information may be missing.

I should clarify that as far as I know, the TSA doesn't ever explicitly say it will not put young kids through the full-body scanners. But in my experience of flying with my own family and speaking with other parents, I haven't known them to send young kids through these scanners. 

has a lifetime warranty. As I understand it, they will replace the bag if it can't be repaired.

I don't know that this will suit the OP's needs, but I just want to suggest the possibility of going non-roller board for your next carry on. I was so sick of fighting for overhead space and struggling with stairs that I ended up ditching mine in favor of a super lightweight and inexpensive duffel from REI. It's made travel so much easier, and certainly prevents overpacking!

Ha. This sounds like our roller bag vs. duffel battle that Zofia and Andrea wrote about a few years ago.

Our family of four (two little ones) will be driving from Toronto to NYC at the end of August to attend the US Open. We'd like to stop along the way for a night and are open to suggestions -- anything from camping (prefer glamping though!) in a state park to a neat resort with kids' activities. We would prefer somewhere on a lake so the kids can swim as well. Thank you!

Seems like New York's Finger Lakes would be a good fit. Anyone have a favorite spot to recommend? Just off the top of my head, you could stay in Geneva and visit Seneca Lake State Park or Sampson State Park.

Years ago, we were driving with the kids from Denver to Rocky Mountain National park and a break was needed so we randomly discovered the Lyons Dairy Bar in a small strip mall in Lyons Colorado --with many many flavors of soft serve ice cream plus great malts, all at reasonable prices. Now when we make this trip we make sure we stop there even if it's not the appropriate time for ice cream because we don't have anything in DC (city) like this.

Oh - I remember that! It might have been those articles that caused me to make the switch!

But which way did you switch?!?!

I enthusiastically recommend Travelpro luggage! It's durable, attractive and functional -- costs more than some well-known brands but it's worth the extra expense.

Traveling from Lancaster PA to Martinsburg WV on a back road - route 15? - several years ago. My mom and I stopped to eat at a diner attached to a gas station. We had a simple lunch of burgers or something like that and then the waitress asked if we wanted a piece of pie for dessert. "I make all the pies myself every day." Well, in that case . . . I had the best peanut butter pie with a chocolate crust I have ever had. It has spoiled me forever for peanut butter pie. It was the only time we used that back road - usually we stuck to I-81 - but I still remember that pie.

My parents will be celebrating their 50th Wedding Anniversary and our family of about 25 (ages 5-80) would like to go on a trip. We were considering Hawaii, but cost and distance are too much. Our second thought was the Caribbean, perhaps Grand Cayman and we would be travelling in the summer months. We all live on the East coast from RI to VA. Could you suggest a destination which includes beach, day activities and some night life? We would also like a house/condo or hotel that can accommodate our large group. We would certainly be willing to stay in several condos, but would prefer the same development if possible. Thank you for your advice!

As far as Caribbean islands go, Grand Cayman would be a good choice. It's a safe, friendly island with a variety of lodging choices and  tourist-friendly attractions and restaurants.  The Bahamas and the Cancun area are other places to consider. Keep in mind that the Caribbean is hot in summer, which may not be all that easy on the older folks. When we did a family reunion in Jamaica in August, my husband's dad had to be either in the pool or inside with air conditioning in order to stay comfortable. 

I'm traveling to China in October. I have an ATT iPhone. What's the most economical method for me to be able to call my USA office from China?

Most economical would be an app that lets you call or video call for free. There are a number out there, so do your research, although we are happy to to take suggestions. Depending on your iPhone model and whether you can unlock it, you could also buy a SIM card in China to use while you're there. You can also activate an international plan from AT&T, but I doubt that's the cheapest option.

Oh sorry, I switched to duffel (I was the chatter who suggested the switch to the Tumi replacer)!

Got it!

from last week - suburban Washington's Andrews Federal Credit Union may have the best chip-and-pin travelcard in the country: no annual fee, no foreign transaction fees, low interest rates. It just takes a few weeks to get the card: you have join an affiliated organization to qualify for membership (if you don't already qualify); you have to join the credit union; you have to fund an account; and then you can apply for the card (whew!). The saving grace is that their phone staff seem to be incredibly helpful and nice (!).

Thank you. We included Andrews in the last chip-and-PIN column. I will have to follow up with another one soon. 

We have a trip to Europe this fall - is it necessary to get a chip/pin credit card or can we get by with our normal card and cash?

I'd consider getting a chip-and-PIN card. Ask your bank if they have one, or a chip-and-signature card. It could save you a lot of headaches when you travel to Europe.

My husband has never been to Luray Caverns and since our kids went as part of school trips we never went as a family. Now that we are "empty-nesters" he has his heart set on the experience. Can you suggest other things to do in the area and inexpensive places to stay, if we decide to do it as an overnight trip? Our guess is to wait til September to avoid the summer crowd and before school trips get rolling.

There are plenty of hotels and motels along I-81 that should not be expensive. Just pick a brand you like. Near Luray is the Civil War battlefield at New Market. The region has plenty of wineries to visit. There's Shenandoah National Park too. You know what's also fun? The Route 11 potato chip factory in Mount Jackson. Speaking of roadfood, man, are their chips good.

On our way to the Outer Banks, we always stop for lunch at the Currituck BBQ Co. and know we've made it to eastern NC, where pulled pork and vinegar-based BBQ sauce reign. Great place with outdoor tables so kids can run and dogs can stretch. While in line last year, though, I was reminded that it's close to border when a woman in front of me asked what hushpuppies are. Really?

Is Amsterdam a safe city for a woman travelling alone? Also, I'll have limited 3 days enough time to get a feel for the city? Thank you!

It definitely is, as long as you follow the standard safety precautions. For example, watch out for pickpockets around train stations and marketplaces, and stick to well-traveled streets and neighborhoods.

You can see and do tons in three days. Make sure to visit the Van Gogh Museum, which recently reopened. So did the Stedelijk Museum and Rijksmuseum. If you need some fresh air, rent a bike and cycle to Schellingwouderpark.

WOW... you must mean very, VERY nice! (Claridges, Savoy, Brown's...). For just plain NICE -- has rooms at the Hotel Russell (on Russell Square) for very reasonable rates in Oct/Nov. It's a great old Victorian pile, largely refurbished, a few blocks from the British Museum, and just around the corner from the Picadilly Line. (If nothing else, just go see the red marble grand lobby....).

Thanks for the advice. The OP said nice and without kids, so I was, yes, probably aiming for the higher end of the price spectrum.

Joe, in regards to the talk about Buffalo food, you should know that the roll is indeed spelled "weck," but locals always pronounce it "wick."

Of course! If words were spelled the way they are pronounced, then I can't wait for my next trip to Gloster.

We are still deciding between Charleston and Savannah for a little getaway in October and would love your recommendations for where to stay in each city. We'll be traveling with our two year old and will not have a car, so would like to stay somewhere that's pedestrian friendly and easy to walk to sites. Also, your thoughts on which city might be best with a toddler are welcome too, although I know it can lead to quite the debate :) We're just looking for an easy getaway with nice weather in October so we can be outdoors and stroll about with our active toddler.

Since you won't have a car, I'm guessing you're flying. It's typically cheaper and easier to get to Charleston from the Washington area as there is lots of competition; Southwest flies nonstop from BWI, United flies nonstop from Dulles and US Airways & JetBlue fly nonstop from National.  If you've not been to either, I'd probably opt for Charleston. As for centrally located places to stay with a toddler, take a look at the King Charles Inn.  

Brings back crazy memories! We went to Arenal and a tiny southwestern beach town in July, so it was the rainy season. The dirt roads are narrow and native drivers aren't really playing chicken but it feels like they are sometimes. The "briges" over waterways can be sketchy, too. We found the roads to be better on the way to Arenal than in the southwestern areas. But it is definitely an adjustment and made me appreciate developed roads like never before. Still, a beautiful country with very friendly people.

Thanks for your insights. I also got stuck on a few very narrow, rutted roads in Costa Rica, but agree that the country is very much worth seeing. 

My passport expires in under a year now. I have no planned travel that I need it for at the moment. Any insight as to when might be the best time to renew? If it helps, I might go to Europe in early March, 2015.

It depends where you're going, but I would recommend having at least three months on your passport if you're going anywhere. So start the renewal process about four to five months before it expires. Anything more and you're probably wasting expensive passport time.

The Giant Artichoke in Castroville, California, (en route between San Jose and the Monterey Bay Area) -- the artichoke-growing capital of the world. The original building is in the shape, and painted to resemble, a globe artichoke (expansion necessitated an ordinary addition decades ago). I especially adore their batter-fried artichoke hearts, and also recommend the artichoke soup.

Sounds good to me.

Bermuda? Would it be less hot than the Caribbean in summer?

That could work. Would likely be pricier, but cooler. 

I'd add Rembrandt's house and Ann Frank's house to the list.

I like Ithaca a lot- good food and hiking options nearby. That said, I don't recall a great public spot for swimming (there's a park just outside of town, but it's definitely rocky). There is definitely a nice sandy public beach on Keuka Lake in Penn Yan, and Kershaw Park on Canandaigua is another option. Although I was only there in the winter for a wedding, Bristol Harbor resort on Canandaigua is nice. Have fun- too bad the ferry from to Toronto to Rochester was discontinued!

Because of the suggestion in this chat that it is "Definitely worth it," I got Global Entry status, even though I travel out of the country only once or twice a year. I've appreciated the PreCheck conveniences since then, but the payoff was Saturday afternoon about 4:30 when I returned from a trip to the Caribbean. The immigration area was packed full, with the snaking lines at full capacity. The bank of kiosks for GE was half-empty. I followed the instructions and was out within a few minutes. The customs lines were at least a city block long. I almost felt guilty going through the GE line with nobody in front of me. That $100 saved me at least an hour just on this one trip. Next time I'm picking up some Tortuga Rum cakes for y'all! Thank you!

Glad to hear of your success story!

P.S. We like cake.

My daughter has a 6 hour layover next week in Moscow (3-9pm). She's been told the city is 2 hours away and so is figuring its not worth leaving the airport. Do you know otherwise? Would she need a visa to leave the airport? Thank you for any suggestions of what she can do with her time besides curling up in a corner and sleeping.

I just asked our resident Russian and she said Moscow is about an hour away in moderate traffic. However, the traffic can get very bad, with cars stuck like flies in glue. She also said taxis are very expensive. However, the AeroExpress train is a less costly option. She also needs to factor in two hours for immigration and security.

The Russian Embassy says: "Transit visa is required if the period of stay in Russia exceeds 24 hours or a traveler needs to change the airport."

Should she stay or go? It all depends on her risk factor. The airport has many distractions: restaurants, shopping, WiFi, people watching.  And when you are exhausted, six hours can offer some solid sleeping/spacing out time.

I am a single woman who went to Amsterdam alone, and I loved it. Perfectly safe with the usual precautions. Definitely see the Church in the Attic and the Museum of the Resistance.

My father in law has one of the most common names in America and flies for business about once a month. When he had a similar problem, he changed how his name was printed on his ticket. So instead of saying John Smith, it is now John Thomas Smith. He now has no problems. I find the same thing for me-- if I book using my First and Last I get stopped. When I do First Maiden Last I have no problems.

recently took a cross country flight. A lady with 2 children -- one 16 yo (I heard her tell that to the TSA agent) and the other looked two or three. All went through Xray and NOTHING ELSE -- no pat down. I thought Xray was not good enough any more....was dumbfounded. Who knows what could have been in that diaper....

That's standard for families. And you're right ... you never know what's in those diapers!

On Chris's column (You cancel, you pay. They cancel, you pay): Worth noting that Southwest has traditionally NOT let you book a year in advance, and only releases their schedule when it is locked down. As a result, I've only had one situation (Katrina and New Orleans being closed) where I had an after-the-fact schedule change with them. I've had the schedule change roulette with other carriers, though, and know the pain too well. As Southwest becomes more mainstream, their unique scheduling is one under-the-radar benefit that I hope doesn't go away - the certainly of the schedule is worth the trade-off of only being able to book 5-6 months out.

Thank you. I should have mentioned that. Good point.

I am considering a trip to Morocco - I have a fairly decent idea of what I'd like to see, but I'm wondering if there a particular city that is a bigger flight hub than the others. Also, should I wish to visit cities/areas that are pretty far apart, how would you recommend doing that? Plane, car, bus, other? Tour, or is solo travel safe?

Most foreign travelers fly into Casablanca. They tour the city for a day or so (make sure to see the largest mosque in the country), then head to other points around the country. Some of my favorite cities are Rabat, Fes and Essaouira. I was not a fan of Marrakech -- too crowded and touristy, and it upset me to see the treatment of the monkeys and snakes in the main square. I would skip it, but that's just me. I would also suggest a Sahara expedition, either camping out or hiking the dunes. Also, tack on a visit to the Atlas Mountains (you can see the Barbary Macaques!).

We toured with a private guide, who drove us all ar0und. I would not suggest traveling completely solo; though the main tourist areas are safe, with reason, they are overwhelming (in a good way). Go with a group or plan your own transportation (pick your places, then choose your mode of travel), then sign up for day tours to see the sights.

If I enroll in such a program, can I skip all security lines, or only those not run by the airlines. I am not a road warrior, don't have zillion frequent-flyer miles, don't fly first class, and don't fly at the last minute. I know the airlines think I'm scum and would not hesitate to force me to make way for their preferred passengers. But as long as they don't control the security process, I shouldn't have to worry, right?

No one can ever skip security lines, which the airlines do not run: TSA is in charge of security. However, with PreCheck, you can avoid the usual hassles of removing your shoes, coat, electronics, etc. However, TSA does not guarantee PreCheck all the time. It has the right to redirect you to the regular line.

If you travel abroad, you might consider Global Entry, which fast-tracks you through the customs and border patrol process. But again, there's no skipping security--it's the one equalizer.

Lobster shacks on the coast of Maine. Any one of them. All summer and even into the fall, if possible. OK, once we went to the restaurant across the road because my mom (incomprehensibly) prefers baked/stuffed to plain steamed and she wanted to sit on a chair with a back rather than a picnic bench. Once we placed our orders (three steamed and one baked/stuffed), we saw someone scoot out the back door of the restaurant, go to the shack across the street and come back out with a bucket full of live lobsters.

Hello, I am seeking travel insurance for a month long trip next May. I already have a plane ticket but it was miles and low cost tax. Some travel insurance companies require purchase 14 days after initial trip deposit for greater benefits. Would paying tax on a mileage ticket qualify? I would rather buy it when I make a deposit for a tour in a country that is difficult to get a visa in so that I am covered in the event I cannot enter the country.

That's an excellent question, but unfortunately it's impossible for me to answer unless I have the policy in front of me. I would ask the insurance company or broker directly. I'd also be happy to send you the chapter on travel insurance from my latest book. Here's my email address.

My wife and I usually take the Autotrain from DC to Florida in January. But this year Amtrack has doubled the fare and removed amenities such as the first class lounge car. So this year we’ll take two or so days to drive down. Any suggestion of an interesting, pretty place where we could stay overnight to break the trip?

You could detour off of I-95 to Charleston. Or stop over in Hilton Head or Savannah. Amelia Island is another possibility.

We will be staying in Riviera Maya for 5 days at the end of August. We have been there before so we have already visited the “highlights” at least for us: Chichen Itza, Tulum, Valladolid, cenote…what else we shouldn’t miss for a day trip? Any other less known archaeological sites? We can visit Cozumel as I see there is a Ferry that can take us there, but what could we possibly do there? (not interested in cruise crowds!)

Cozumel is easy to get to: The ferry only takes an hour from Playa del Carmen.  If you like to snorkel, waters of Cozumel are great. If you haven't seen whale sharks, you may want to consider a trip to Isla Mujeres

I believe this is one for Christopher: I rented a car in June. Drove from DC to New Orleans, then to St. Louis, and then back to DC. Last week I received a bill from the rental company (Dollar) for toll charges and administrative fees for tolls in ... wait for it ... Massachusetts and New Jersey. How much of a pain will this be to deal with? I am having stomach pains with the prospect of proving a negative, that I *wasn't* where they're saying I was. Any advice is appreciated. Thanks!

Oh my. Well, that should be pretty easy to prove. I would start with a brief, polite email to Dollar, letting it know of the error. Most rental cars are tracked with GPS, and they should be able to reconcile this in their system before you have to start sending receipts. And if you run into trouble, please let me know. Here's my email address.

They have a great museum that is fairly new. Also in town, there is the train station that was rebuilt to be as it was decades ago, an art gallery and lots of back roads to meander on. Can't get too lost if you remember to keep the Blue Ridge and Massanutten mountains in mind for directions, kind of like Diamond Head on Oahu.

A cousin desires to see a great many DC sights. How do I determine which service has the route covering most of his must see sights? Is there one company which you recommend ? Surprisingly I've never used a hop on/hop off bus to tour a city. My sincerest compliment on this column. I learn so much from these. Thank you.

Don't have one to recommend. I would find out what he wants to see and compare that to the routes. I'm sure there are a few out there (right?) but the one coming up for me at the moment is Big Bus.

Metro is also one way to get to a lot of places, as is the spiffy, cheap Circulator bus.

Hi Gurus, I can't attend the live chat today, so submitting my question in advance and thanks! My family is thinking of taking a 14-night cruise in South America in December of 2015. It will start in Chile and ends in Buenos Aires. We are excited about it but have concern over safety for a couple of reasons. One is that it will pass through Cape Horn, where there are often big waves. I know the sailing should be much safer now than the 18th century, still I can't help but a little bit worried. The other reason is the sailing we're interested in is offered by Norwegian Cruise Lines. We like NCL, but the South America route is new to them - in fact, if I'm not mistaken, NCL will only start to sail on that route in October, 2015. So I'm a little bit worried that they may lack the experience in handling challenges unique on that route. But the other options, offered by Holland America or Princess, are less appealing in terms of the exact dates. Should we go forward with this NCL cruise? Any suggestion from you gurus and other chatters will be highly appreciated!

I haven't done this cruise, but you are correct that the waters are often rough. If you're prone to seasickness, that might be a concern. As for this being a new itinerary for NCL, I'd be more concerned with the type/age of ship and whether the line is going to match my needs. NCL is not as posh as Holland America or Princess. 

Hi, Thinking of climbing/hiking in the dolomites next summer. Any tips or suggestions on tour operators, etc. from you all (or the p-nuts?)

Here's a story we had on hiking the Dolomites a few years ago. And here's the details box, which has two recommendations for tour operators.

Am looking for a recommendation for a hotel in Paris in early October. After Paris we will be in Honfleurs with a tour for 8 days. From Honfleurs we plan to drive to Brussels. Are there car rental agencies in Honfleurs?

I've stayed at and liked Hotel Therese and Hotel Joyce. And yes, there are car rentals available in Honfleur.

Five nights in each city coming up. We don't need, or even necessarily want, fancy dining. Just tasty. Suggestions?

I'll take London. On a recent (quick) visit there, I had a great lunch at Plum + Spilt Milk in the Great Northern Hotel, and I had to make the pilgrimage to Ottolenghi in Islington. (And next time, I vowed, I'll hit the newest of that group -- Nopi in Soho.) You might also look at these fast-food places we wrote about in Travel last year; this piece about all the game-focused restaurants; this take on drinking in the gin culture; and this one on the beer scene.

Now, for Amsterdam: Tom Sietsema wrote a Postcard from there in 2008, so this might be a little out of date, but it's worth checking out. He recommended Blue Pepper for Indonesian; Restaurant Greetje for traditional Dutch; and Caffe Toscanini for, obviously, Italian.

Chatters, any other ideas?

Celebrating fifty years of friendship. Good places to stay,bed and breakfast and places to eat.

I had a bunch of Cape May recommendations in our beach guide that ran the other month. Check it out.

My goddaughter and I flew between Dulles and San Francisco two weeks ago and somehow were both in the pre-check program which doesn't require us to take off our shoes. I don't understand how we achieved this status other than possibly getting our boarding passes on-line the day before the flight.

Lucky you. For more background on PreCheck, read the story Andrea and I wrote last year. TSA's goal is to push more travelers through expedited screening, and it sounds like you two were beneficiaries of that effort. If you're a member of a frequent flier program, that increases the odds of getting PreCheck.

Enjoyed Sunday's article on the airline v passenger issue, since I am awaiting the "New" American Airlines response [hah] to my own letter on the subject of connection times. I think this lack of interest in their customers can be traced to airline deregulation, where they wrote the new rules, got their bought-and-paid-for politicians to sign off, and here we are now. In the early 1990's there was a TV show with dinosaurs as 'actors'. The father dino, Earl, worked for the "We-say-so Corporation"; their corporate motto was "We don't care because we don't have to", which I think perfectly sums up the airlines attitude to their passengers. Why should they care what any one of us thinks, as there are plenty of other potential passengers out there?! And their bought-and-paid-for politicians are still going to turn a blind eye...I do hate to be so cynical, but it's that or take it all seriously.

Risking losing overhead bin space by saying this, but recently some of the smaller planes don't allow rolling luggage on board, they all have to be gate checked! I do have a backpack so get it on the plane. SO, do buy rolling luggage and leave the over head bins to me....

I hear ya. I hate the stress of worrying about fighting for overhead space, so these days I just check my roller and bring on a backpack.

Summer slipped away from us so now we are considering a last minute trip to Budapest this fall for about a week. Any must-see recommendations or other helpful advice? Thanks!

We recently had a lovely Budapest story. That's a good place to start.

I always opt out, too and I've learned to WAIT until the agent is actually there before putting my purse/wallet through the machine. We once experienced waiting 20 min between the wallet/purse being x-rayed (and sitting unattended at the end of the line) and a human showing up to pat us. Not comfortable! QUESTION: I came VERY close to missing my flight last week because TSA had trouble finding an agent to pat me. Who would have been responsible if I'd missed my flight and what would have been the best course of action?

I'm sorry to hear that happened to you. That's sometimes referred to as a retaliatory wait time. If you've already checked in for your flight and are held up at security, your airline will probably put you on the next available flight. But you could also be considered a "no show" and have to buy a new ticket at a walk-up fare, which can be very expensive. TSA agents punishing passengers for option out? It's not the strangest thing I've heard in my line of work.

Greetings, I live in DC and going to China in November out of JFK at 11:50am. What is the most economical way to get to JFK the same day or should I leave the night before? Would like to go by train but not sure train will put me close to JFK. Suggestions welcomed.

I would go the night before, simply to avoid the stress and also any freak winter storms. There are lots of chain hotels nearby. Check Priceline or Hotwire.

If you want to take a  chance, you can grab an early flight to JFK, so that you will be at the airport and only need to find the international terminal. But if there's a delay -- ouch! If you take the bus (cheapest option) or train, you will be in midtown (Penn Station) and must then take the subway/AirTrain or a shuttle to JFK. It's a lot of Little Travel before your Big Travel.

Yes, it is hot and the sun is intense, but the key is to rent a spot with a sea breeze- generally that means close to the water or up on a hill. It really makes a world of difference, and can be more pleasant than DC in the summer!

We are looking to do a family vacation in Cape Cod next summer (it will be 2 in their late 50s, 3 in their late 20s, one of which will likely be pregnant). Do you have any recommendations on where to stay or things to do? We will probably only be there 2 nights and will be driving in from Boston.

I'm a big fan of the Outer Cape towns of Wellfleet, Truro and Provincetown.

Wellfleet some really beautiful ponds that are fun to swim in. And there's a very good bakery there, PB Boulangerie, that gets super crowded but whose stuff is worth it.

In Truro, there's an excellent new chocolatier, Chequessett, that has a lovely little café with good coffee drinks. And you must stop at Atlantic Spice in Truro, where you can get big bags of peppercorns (and a lot more) at excellent prices. Welfllet also has a fun little food truck, Sunbird, and Truro has fantastic sandwiches at the newish Salty Market. There's a pretty good winery, Truro Vineyards, that has nice tastings and another food truck (run by the great folks at Blackfish restaurant) on at least some days.

There are several outlets of the seafood market/restaurant Mac's around. The one in Ptown is big and bustling and very good. My other favorite places to eat in town are Devon's, a charming little place right on the water; and Canteen, a counter-service place in the middle of town that has quite fun food — seafood heavy, but lots of creative veggies too.

If you're interested in Edward Hopper, I've heard good things about a tour themed to his Cape Cod works that focuses on Truro and Wellfleet. Here's more about that from a Magazine piece a few years ago.

Fridays can be a fun evening in Ptown, because the art galleries all stay open late and people amble from one to the other. Great scene, and some stunning art. Ptown also is home to lots of good poetry and other book readings at the Fine Arts Work Center and elsewhere. And then there are the shows — too many to list!

Oh, you asked about where to stay, didn't you? Many folks rent a house, but that's geared toward a weekly trip, not two nights. For you, I'd look at the retro-cool Harbor Hotel in Provincetown or the Sandpiper in Truro.

Hope that helps!

Recently, I started talking with some friends about taking a trip to a warm-weather destination over New Year's. We decided to investigate airfares before settling on a location. We looked at flights to Acapulco, Cabo, Riviera Maya, the Caribbean, and Key West. We're all savvy travelers and we know how to use Kayak and the various search sites, but we all kept getting the same crazy results: really, really expensive flights that all required overnight layovers. For example, in years past you could leave IAD and fly to St. Maarten with a single plane change, departing around 7 AM and arriving at SXM around 2:00 PM. Coming home, the flights usually left SXM around 3 PM and arrived at IAD around 10:30 PM - total travel time in each direction about 7 hours. Now, all we can find are flights that leave the DC area around 6 PM, get to an intermediate stop such as Charlotte, Miami or Atlanta, and then require an overnight hotel stay and completion of the trip the next morning. Is this the norm now? What happened to morning flights to vacation destinations?

Since you are flying around the holidays, perhaps these Web sites are pointing you toward flights that are still open or cheaper rather than those that are most convenient. On Kayak, for example, you can filter your results by price, airline, departure time, arrival time or duration. When I filter by duration around the New Year's holiday, I come up with several flights that leave Washington in the morning and arrive in St. Maarten in about six hours, but they're more expensive than the ones with long layovers. 

Why not pick a USA destination where you will avoid heat and hurricanes? Maybe a National Park? They have great lodges and you could avoid the passport hassle.

We stopped in Darien, GA on the way down to FL, and absolutely loved it. Very cute town right on a river, and an absolutely amazing seafood place called Skipper's Fish Camp. We plan on stopping there again next time we make the drive.

We did the Moscow layover. You need a visa if you leave the airport. You cannot get a transit visa (you can only get it if you are going from Airport A to Airport B), you need a tourist visa. They were around $160 and required a pretty lengthy application. There is a train from the airport to the center city and then you can switch to the most efficient metro. It takes roughly an hour, but you can see Red Square and the Kremlin in that time. For us it was worth it for a 10 hour layover. I would not do it in 6-- you are really pushing it and customs was not particularly quick or friendly.

In Sunday's Travel Talk, owners of old traveler's checks were advised to take them to the bank and exchange them for cash. One can also just SPEND them! I'm guessing a bank might even levy a service charge. In any event, best bet is probably get rid of them. Many overseas places don't want them. I tried to buy a suvenier in Florence and the shop refused them, saying they were hard to exchange and that he would incur charges to try and cash them in. As discussed on other threads, use an ATM at the airport when arriving and from then on for cash. This has worked for me from Kalibo, Aklan and Manila, Philippines, to Russia, Reykjavik, etc.

A couple of weeks ago, the day before a scheduled flight, I ran into a friend. We began talking about airport security, and he mentioned that his brother, who is a physician, *always* opts out of the scanners. I'd previously considered it as I'd already had my doubts, but had never done so. On my flight out and back home, I opted out at BWI and in GRR by telling one of the TSA folks near the scanners. Yes, it took a bit of time, but I definitely felt better about it.

Thank you for sharing your comments on the TSA's full-body scanners. As I said in the previous answer, I am neither a doctor nor a scientist, but I do know that these scanners haven't been tested to my satisfaction. They may be completely safe, but I'm not taking my chances.

Food writer Tim Carman was recently in Amsterdam and added these two ideas:

Check out Sampurna, this elegant little Rijisttafel restaurant. It has a number of tasting menus, all affordably priced:
Also, don’t miss the Albert Cuyp Market, where you can get all sorts of small bites, sweets and sandwiches, while browsing through various street merchants.

If you live in DC, some companies offer a "ride free" pass for residents. Your guest buys a ticket and you go free (we have one for the trolley to accompany our less mobile guests!).

seeking recommendations for a cruise - probably Bahamas - inexpensive and various family members gathering from New Jersey, Norfolk, New Mexico to celebrate mom's 85th birthday. Any great deals? The grandkids would be hard pressed to afford this (they are 20s and 30s)

Cheapest cruises are typically out of Florida. Fort Lauderdale is often cheapest city to fly to. And remember, the cruise price is often cheaper than the extras (booze, shore excursions, photos, upscale restaurants, etc.). 

Just came back from a trip to Indiana. The Pennsylvania TP westbound was horrendous with road work, and the construction was off and on all the way on I-70. On the way back I took I-68, and not only was there no construction there was hardly any traffic at all.

A warning, drivers!

I am planning to go to Hawaii in January. What is the latest you think I should book a flight. Is waiting until October too late? Do you have any recommendations for hotels less than $300/night?

You are traveling during peak season, so if you see a good price, grab it! (Best to travel after the holiday period.) If you find a fare under $800, that's a great deal.

You did not mention which island you plan to visit, so I can't help with lodging suggestions.  But often packages with air/hotel are good bargains.

Before giving advise on Moscow airports, find out if it is Sheremetyevo, Domodedovo, or Vnukovo. I've only been to Domodedovo (Singapore Airlines - same plane layover); the gate waiting area had limited seating, and lots of folks just sat on the floor.

Well, it's time to say goodbye for the day. That was a lively and hunger-inducing hour. Hard to choose a winner, but I'll go with the chatter who talked about the soft-serve spot in Colorado. Would love some of that on this summer afternoon. Please send your name and mailing address to me at

Thanks to all for playing. Come back next week!

In This Chat
Joe Yonan
Joe Yonan is the Travel editor.
Andrea Sachs
Andrea Sachs is a staff writer for Travel.
Becky Krystal
Becky Krystal is Travel's editorial aide.
Carol Sottili
Carol Sottili is a former Washington Post travel writer, specializing in travel deals.
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.
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