Talk about Travel: Alaska, Manitoba and more

Aug 06, 2012

Have a travel-related question, comment, suspicion, warning, gripe, sad tale or happy ending? The Post Travel section's editors and writers are at your service.

Good Monday afternoon, fellow travelers. We appreciate you stopping by today. It's still summer here, but we hope our stories on Manitoba and Alaska sufficiently cooled you. I have to hand it to our environmental reporter, Juliet Eilperin, for making a family vacation with her husband and two young children out of her Alaska reporting trip (for this great story, by the way). What are your best strategies for traveling with wee ones? How do you keep everyone happy and/or sane? Best answer gets the prize.

Here we go!

i was one of the people who got sucked into that worm hole. As of this posting I had 3 charges, but it could be more. When I tried to purchase I hit the purchase button once only. It stalled then went through. I receive 3 different confirmation numbers...thus got 3 charges. This was late on Friday night. On Saturday evening I received a dozen reservation confirmations. What I dont know and needs to be asked of the airline: 1. Once they knew this was happening why didnt they shut down the online reservation system? 2. Why didnt they go through they proactively go through their reservations made on Friday for the same person multiple times on the same flight and then go through and delete those reservations.

I'm working on a Navigator column about this right now, and may even have an update on this situation by the end of the chat. I'm not sure exactly what went wrong, but something tells me Southwest would have had even bigger problems if it shut down the site and ended the fare sale prematurely. I'll have more soon.

My family (2 adults and 3 kids) are going to WIlliamsburg next weekend. We plan to do Busch Gardens, the outlets, and Colonial Williamsburg. Is there any discount deals for tickets? Seems like I heard about discount combination tickets for Williamsburg on TV. Is AAA maybe the way to go?

Start by checking out the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation page -- it offers several different discounted combo packages. I don't believe AAA offers a combo package, although it does have Busch Garden discounts. 

My anniversary is this week, but for logistical reasons we won't be able to celebrate until mid-October. Ideally, we'd like to spend 3-4 days away from home, either Mon or Tues through Thurs or Fri--easier to travel while kids are in school, as it means fewer babysitting issues. We have some travel funds available on SWA, but we're not totally set on flying somewhere; we'd be equally happy with a 3-4hr drive or a 3-4hr flight. Where would you suggest for a moderately-active getaway? We like to go and *do*, not just sight-see: hiking, biking, exploring, and rafting. (On the other hand, I'm running the Baltimore half-marathon the Saturday before, so anything that's overly strenuous is probably off the table.) Cost is also somewhat of an issue, so high-end resorts are out. Thanks for any ideas you can throw our way!

I have been singing the praises of the Eastern Shore since I came back from reporting a story there. You could hike, bike and explore to your hearts' content at the various state and national parks. It would be a great time to visit, with smaller crowds and cooler temps.

Another place that comes to mind is the Hudson River Valley in New York. Fly to Albany using your Southwest funds. When I was there the other year for a story, I made base camp in lovely Catskill. The scenery was gorgeous in spring. I'm pretty sure it would be spectacular in the colors of fall.

Kaaterskill Falls

My adventurous daughter will end 4.5 months of backpacking around SE Asia by flying to NZ in mid-September. She will be there for 12 months on a Holiday Visa and hopes to work during her stay. She'll need more clothes than what fit in her backpack, so we were going to ship her wardrobe to a NZ friend. What is the best (least expensive) way to ship to the South Pacific? And, how long does it normally take? Thanks.

You could try the good old Post Office. That's what I did -- years ago, granted -- when I moved overseas for a number of years. You could also possibly use FedEx. But since I haven't done anything like this in quite a while, I think it's one we'll have to check with the chatters on. Anybody ever shipped large packages to New Zealand or elsewhere down under? Or just abroad?

If my insurance company provides coverage for rental cars and my credit card provides collision waver coverage, should I still take the car rental insurance when renting in Portugal?

Maybe. You should read the fine print carefully to make sure the coverage is adequate and that it's primary insurance, as opposed to secondary coverage, which would not fully cover you. Some travel insurance policies offer coverage that's adequate, but most credit card companies only have secondary coverage.

We got a few follow-up notes on last week's chat. For the traveler looking to get to Pittsburgh without a car:

Amtrak does offer daily service direct from Washington to Pittsburgh--on its Capitol Limited, which continues on to Chicago.  While this descendant of the famous Baltimore and Ohio train of the same name takes a leisurely pace, averaging 40 miles per hour with stops, it travels a scenic route along the Potomac River through Harpers Ferry and then over the Eastern Continental Divide in the Allegheny Mountains (the western portion of the trip is traveled in darkness going to the Steel City, but eastward, all of the mountainous portion is in daylight.)  The train offers very spacious long-haul coach accommodations, a lounge car with lots of glass for viewing the countryside and carry-out food and beverage service service, plus a dining car offering sit-down meals.

And another reader wrote in to recommend that the traveler worried about money in Europe look into CashPassport.

In today's Travel Talk, a woman asked about credit cards. And the answer was given that you don't need chip and pin cards except for mainly gas stations and train ticket machines. We were just in England and Frank for 3 weeks, and, especially in France, we found that the need for chip and pin cards has expanded far beyond those two areas. We did need them for the ticket machines and the gas stations, but on at least 7 or 8 other occasions, mainly restaurants in France, people wouldn't even look at our magnet swipe cards and made us either pay cash, or use a special Travelex chip and pin card that we bought at Dulles heading out of town. The Travelex card worked fine, but the minimum buy is 150 euros, and you are buying them at a Travelex exchange rate in the US, so it is all more expensive. On our return I could find that only Citibank offers chip and pin cards, and those cost either $150 or $500 a year. Do you know of others?

There are some others. Bank of America started distributing cards with chips in them last week, according to this Budget Travel piece. Here's some more info from NerdWallet.

Not a question, but a follow-up to the answer included in the Sunday print edition re credit card use in Europe. In our travel in France, we have found it increasingly challenging to use U.S. "chipless" cards. Not only at gas stations and train txt machines, but also at automated toll booths. Pretty stressful if your card is rejected, you have no cash and have a line of cars behind you! We have asked our credit card providers about the option of a card with a chip, but it seems that until we are the very last chipless country, there will be no budging on their part.Thanks for chats and column.

Thanks for letting us know about your experiences. I think more American cards will start moving in the chip-and-pin direction in the not too distant future, but perhaps not soon enough for many travelers.

Unless I've missed it (and if I have, please provide the link), I don't believe you've done a recent feature on resources for solo travelers. As you know, the dreaded single supplement is a killer and keeps some people from traveling due to the much higher cost. It drives me nuts to be looking through the deals area in the Sunday Travel section, only to get to the "per person based on double occupancy" language. It really isn't all that much of a deal when you double the cost of the room. This is also true for cruises. I would love to go on a cruise but do not have anyone else who also wants to go and do not want to room with a stranger. There must be some additional resources out there for getting better deals for solo travelers and I think that would make for a great Sunday feature. At least a lot of places in Europe offer single rooms at a lower rate - is there any hope of that catching on here? Thanks!

We actually had a solo travel package last year. Check out one of the cover stories here, and be sure to read the other items listed in the "This Story" box. Budget Travel also has some additional resources in this story, including what places might offer you rate cuts.

Occasionally tour operators will waive or reduce the single supplement. Abercrombie & Kent, for example, is currently doing just that on a bunch of trips.

I can't say whether I expect single rooms to catch on here. I don't see them very often when I'm fact-checking hotel info for our details boxes.

Hello! Thank you for taking my question. My husband and I are planning a vacation to Spain for December 26 to January 11. My husband's family lives in Seville, so we will be staying one week there. We are trying to decide what to do for the rest of the trip. Should we go big or go home and take the high speed train to Barcelona, then head to France or Italy? Or explore southern spain? Also, I am seeing round trip flights to Madrid for $780... should I book or hold off?? Thank you!

You'll have lots of time, so if you've never seen France and/or Italy, you'd have the time to go to Barcelona and then another country. You could also take a discount carrier right from Seville to Italy or France. Ryanair has flights to both countries from Seville. I'm partial to the coast of Spain, especially the Costa Blanca -- you could also have a lovely time just driving the coast. As for $780 airfare, grab it. 

Looking for a good restaurant in London in October when we will be there only two days. Prefer British style food but not fish and chips

Take a look at Tom Sietsema's Postcard from London from July 2010. The Harwood Arms sounds as if it might be a good choice. 

I vote for St. John near the Smithfield market. It doesn't look like much, but Fergus Henderson's food is terrific.

I recently had a flight cancelled just a few hours before it took off, supposedly for equipment reasons, and I was 100 miles from home at a hotel...It was rescheduled for 24 hours later, but I was not offered any financial or other assistance. Should I have been? Also, the flights were arranged via Travelocity, which told me to 'call the airline'; so much for their assistance! What should I expect from either the airline or travelocity? Or travelers on their own?

Your rights are outlined in the contract of carriage, the legal agreement between you and the airline. Most mainline carriers will offer vouchers for food, accommodation and ground transportation when you're delayed because of mechanical reasons. However, some discount airlines will not, and they are not required to under federal regulations. (DOT only requires that they follow their contract.)

Headed to Virginia Beach this weekend for the 1st time. Is there anywhere worth eating or any attractions not to miss? Or should we just plan to spend the whole day on the beach? Thanks!

If you have kids, they might enjoy the relatively new "Restless Planet" exhibit at the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center. Other attractions include the Cape Henry Lighthouse and nearby First Landing State Park, a great beach for kids.

I'm not very up on the dining scene, but I grew up going for the great breakfasts at Pocahontas Pancake House (my parents still go there whenever they're at the beach).

I used to live in London and I highly recommend anyone visiting to eat at Indian restaurants. Over here, Indian food is relatively expensive and mediocre.

Yes, you are absolutely right. More moderately priced, and delicious.

Megabus also goes from DC to Pittsburgh, and will probably be the cheapest way to go. However, I can't recommend Megabus. I've only taken it once, but it was cluster you-know-what.

Yup, I mentioned the bus last week. People's experiences tend to vary on those.

We were wondering if you or any of the chatters have used Vacation Rentals By Owner. We would like to rent a place in the islands for a couple of weeks, and friends have recommended this website. Some renters include use of a car. Alternately, a travel agent friend suggested FunJet Vacations...anyone used them? It seems like a good idea to buy a package that includes air.

Yes, I've written about VRBO in several columns. What you need to understand is that the site sees itself as a classified service for vacation rentals. So if you don't like something about the rental, you'll have to work it out with the owner. FunJet, on the other hand, is a full-service tour operator, and yes, you can save some money by buying an air-inclusive vacation package.

The Post Office has flat rate boxes that work for overseas. Go on the USPS website and find out how much the largest flat rate box costs to ship and compare with the cost of sending it regular mail to determine which is best. UPS and FedEx also ship, but they do overnight or 3 day service and charge accordingly. The wool clothes in New Zealand are wonderful and your daughter might want to augment her wardrobe with these, especially for the winter. I'd send only what she identifies that she wants--her shape may change and she might like the clothing styles she sees while away. However, the most desireable stuff from home is lingerie because fit is more difficult and more important in foreign lands.

I shipped a bicycle to Japan. The Post Office was by far the most economical and, as I recall, they were fast, too.

I send things regularly to Australia, and a couple of years ago they stopped offering any alternative to air mail. That gets expensive very fast. If you know anyone who will be traveling to New Zealand, you may look into having them carry an extra suitcase to deliver to your daughter or your friends. Even if you have to pay overweight, it may be cheaper then 'shipping'. And realize she's going to have to bring the stuff back, too.

I suppose it could work, but I'm not sure I'd totally recommend this because of the concerns about carrying someone else's luggage. Especially if the traveler is asked about whose stuff it is.

I recall you had a guide to cellphone options in Europe, but I can't find it on the Travel site. Could you be so kind as to post a link? Thank you!

Here's Andrea's story from last year; I think that's what you're referring to. And Becky did a story about overseas Internet that also includes some info on cellphones.

The best advice I have for traveling with infants is bulkhead seating. My wife and I flew to England from BWI with our 1.5 year old twins, and we were lucky to have been assigned bulkhead seats. The flight attendants provided us with bassinet-things that we were able to put on pull down shelves in the bulkhead. The kids slept all the way across the pond, as did the parents---one at a time!

Good tip. SeatGuru is very useful for looking into what your plane might have with regard to those features.

since the kids aren't mine, but the best way to travel with little kids is with lots of extra adults around. When my uncle and his husband visited my parents in San Francisco, the extra adults meant they could still go out for an adult dinner while their two year old son had his pick of which grown up would help him take a bath. On a cruise to Alaska to celebrate my parents' 50th anniversary, we had six adults to keep my niece and nephew happy in addition to the kids club staff. There was always someone to take a kid to the bathroom while the other kid didn't need to stop what they were doing. Or we had an adult to watch both kids while another went to get them food. I carried around a purse full of sticker books to keep the 4 year old amused while waiting for meals. If neither parent had a pencil, another adult did. And all of the adults felt like they had some time that didn't involve being at the beck and call of a 4 year old and a toddler.

I hear that. Our family beach trip had a ratio of two kids to six adults, including the parents. There were plenty of hands to pitch in, especially when my niece kept going after the dog food. :)

The only advice I have for traveling with kids is this: Take them! My children had been to 10 states and Europe twice by the time they were 5. I have so many wonderful memories of my daughter and son in so many wonderful places. When people say, "I can't go until my kids get older." I always say, "Don't let them stop you!" They might not remember it (lol), but you'll collect many wonderful memories.

Good for you!

Good afternoon - I am a "Elite Gold" member of ChoiceHotels and as such, book all of my hotel reservations on their website, I made a mistake on a recent reservation (for a Comfort Suites in Vestal, NY) and ended up booking two rooms rather than just one. I'm not sure what the mistake wasn't until the confirmation page came up that the two rooms appeared. I called the hotel immediately to inform them that I only needed one room. The hotel clerk informed me that I'd have to call Choice Hotels central booking, which I did. The first agent told me that since I had purchased the room at a advanced purchase rate, they could not cancel one of the rooms...only the hotel could do that. So, I called the hotel back and spoke with the general manager. She helpfully told me they were only following Choice Hotels policy and that only Choice Hotels could cancel one of the rooms. So, I called Choice Hotels back and asked to speak to a supervisor, who also told me that the hotel would have to cancel the room. At that point, I asked the customer service supervisor to call the general manager at the hotel. I've been bounced back and forth several times, and no one seems empowered to solve what should be a simple problem. This all started two hours ago and I'm still waiting for a resolution. I told the customer service agents at Choice Hotels that it seems this might be a fairly common problem that should be easy to solve, yet no one is empowered to solve it. Am I wrong about this being a common problem with web-based bookings?

Yes, this is a common problem. It should be far easier to resolve than the runaround you got. If you don't get this fixed, please send me an email and I'll do what I can to help.

Hi, we're thinking about taking mom to the DR for Xmas. But there don't seem to be any recent articles about traveling there. Any advice about where to go, places to stay? Doesn't even have to be the DR, but we've been to PR, BVI and USVI so we're looking for something different. Thanks!

I was in Punta Cana last year. If you like all-inclusives, there are lots of choices at different price points. Beaches are lovely -- beautiful sand and water. We stayed at the Majestic Elegance, which is a nicer, but not luxury, all-inclusive. 

A few years ago our family visited Colonial Williamsburg for 2 days during the week. It must have been a slow time because the response from a lot of the exhibits were "the expert blacksmith / printer / gunsmith" etc. doesn't work on Wednesdays, come back tomorrow! So we came back the next day, and they gave us the same "come back tomorrow!" spiel. Evidently, tomorrow never comes in Colonial Williamsburg, especially on weekdays. I just wish they would have a half-price weekday admission. Do other chatters have the same experience or did I just have bad luck. Thanks.

Anyone? We were speculating the other day that places like Colonial Williamsburg are not as popular as they used to be, so maybe this is evidence of that.

But what is bulkhead seating?

Seats around where there are walls or other dividers on the plane. Here's an in-depth page from SeatGuru.

Sandbridge is south of VA Beach proper. It's less crowded and more like the outer banks beaches

Is it legal for her to work in NZ on a tourist visa? She might find herself coming home a lot earlier than she planned.

Yes, mom, please research this!

What are the best venues in a one day trip in Boston?

If you've never been there, the most obvious choices are probably your best bet. I'd probably do a walking tour of the Freedom Trail and then head to the North End for an Italian meal (I love the eggplant at Artu) followed by a cannoli at Mike's Pastry

I am trying to locate a feature the Post did on Normandy in the past year and can't. Can you help me?

Perhaps you're referring to our cognac story from earlier this year?

I grew up in VB and there are few places not to be missed for dining. Taste Unlimited is AMAZING and we eat it every single time we go home. There is a location near the beach. Bubba's is really good for seafood as is Lynnhaven Fish House. Those are both on Shore Drive. Waterman's is good (Atlantic Avenue). I'm sorry to say that Pocahontas doesn't have a great reputation amongst the natives, but Rudee's does, as well as Rockafeller's. No Frill Grill is also good, but that's in Hilltop, and not on the beach. Hope that helps.

Thanks for the local report. I forgot about Taste Unlimited, and I was just there last month! It was delicious.

When renting a car overseas, when traveling with kids, just remember, your typical European compact car is smaller than an American car, so you may need a few upgrades to fit the kid and kid accessories in your rental.

Good thought.

1. Do it! We took our kids to Guatemala for two weeks last year at 4 and 7 and they did great. 2. Find a way to take it to their level: We watched "Scooby Doo and the ghost of Tikal" which seems silly, but it worked! 3. Be prepared to let the culinary and bedtime rules slide, and build in lots of down time. Some of my best memories are of the kids eating Ice Cream in the Plaza Mayor in Antigua. My 7 year old found a friend to play "Tijeras, piedra, papel" (rock, paper, scissors) and the 4 year old danced up a storm to an impromptu concert.

American tickets to equator starting at Nashville through Miami to Equador bought on June For Sept 1 and return September 10 have lowered there cost but will not rebate or return the difference. Does it seem that if the cost plus profit should change to less that belongs to the customer. This is a Dream trip run by Lindblad and National Geographic which requires full payments months earlier than booked trip.

Airlines don't always return the full difference, even to tour operators. They will impose a change fee on the transaction, which can cut into the difference in the fares.

Why not travel to Finland!? Finland is a beautiful country in the Northern-Europe. Has a lot of nature, culture, English speaking people, food, etc. I have started to write a blog in English, where I tell the readers about Finland in English.

We'll check out your blog, thanks!

FYI, if your daughter needs more clothes than will fit in her backpack, she better look into where to store them when she's not using them. It's hard enough to roam with a huge pack, much less with a pack plus a box and or 1-2 rolling suitcases. (I wandered through Cambodia, Thailand, and Australia for five months and only needed a backpack and large purse.)

If you've never seen the rest of Andalucia, stay in Spain. Visit Granada and Cordoba. There is a famous quotation in Spain...Give me alms lady because there is no pain in life like being blind in Granada.

Do you think an hour and a half from the train station at BWI to departure is enough time at 5pm on a weekday evening? I will be checked in already and carrying on and will have no problem running through the airport if needed. I would normally go a little earlier, but this is the only train that will work with my meeting schedule.

Not a guarantee, but you should be fine. The train station is located just a short distance from the airport and free shuttle buses operate between the two every 12 minutes. BWI's security lines are typically fairly short. 

From experience I know that traveling alone can be especially intimidating or lonely after dark. My recommendation is to get tickets to a play. If you're in a place where you don't speak the language, perhaps a ballet or concert. If you're on a limited budget, look for discount ticket outlets either in person or online. Even seeing a subtitled American movie can be an experience overseas!

Good ideas, thanks!

i was last in Spain in '84 and was in Madrid, Toledo, Granada, and Costa del Sol. Planning to visit a friend in Seville in October for three days and then have the rest of the week for other stops. Thinking about taking a train from Seville to Granada (one vist per lifetime to the Alhambra is not enough), and then fly to Barcelona for last few days. Does that sound right or am I missing something important and beautiful that I will forever regret?

Sounds like an awesome trip, although some might say that the fabulous food in San Sebastian, on the northern coast,  is not to be missed. And maybe in addition to Barcelona, you might like to check out Girona, an ancient and beautiful, plus  less touristed, alternative.

Our family lives in Virginia Beach, so we spend a bit of time there. The dining scene is not the best, but there are some good options. For dinner, Terrapin is wonderful, with a cute garden terrace, and One Fish, Two Fish has good food and water views. The Mayflower Cafe, one block from the ocean, does a good job with Mediterranean food. For Breakfast, try the Belvedere cafe in the Belvedere Hotel, not fancy very small, but great food at a great price. Along the boardwalk, Little Feet restaurant has deck dining overlooking the beach, also with great prices and good food.

Actually a quick look at their website shows that it appears to be easy enough to get a "Working Holiday" visa for New Zealand.

Travelers! My husband and I are going to Spain in two weeks for a pre-baby-moon. I'm trying to buy tickets on the RENFE website, but I just cannot. I've called two of my banks to get them to authorize the transaction/international expenditures AND signed up for the MasterCard/Visa verified programs. I've also tried calling the RENFE number, but it doesn't appear to work from the U.S. Any tips for buying my train tix in advance (eliminating spending hours at the train station trying to do it day of/day before)??

Are you using Windows? I've heard of Mac users having issues with buying tickets. Also, try another browser. 

Are the BofA cards "chip and pin" or "chip and signature" though? That adds a further layer of confusion to proceedings. I have the Chase Hyatt card which is chip and signature. Not sure that helps when you are confronted with a machine asking for a pin and the card is not equipped to deal with it.

They appear to be chip-and-pin.

We're flying into Brussels, leaving Dulles on Oct 31 and landing at 6:15 am the next day. I figure we'll be at our hotel at about 8 am, but check in is 3 pm. Does it make sense for us to book a hotel room for the night before so our room will be ready when we get there? Is this a common strategy? It's only $100, but I don't like to throw money around.

If you really want to get to your room as soon as you arrive at the hotel so you can maximize your resting time and take a nap (if you're like me, you don't really get much useful sleep on the flight over), then I'd go ahead and book the room for the night before, but I'd inform the hotel that you won't actually be arriving until the morning, so they don't give your room away when you're a no-show. They probably wouldn't do that unless the hotel were very crowded for some reason, but better to be safe than sorry.

You could also just chance it and hope that they'll allow you to check in early once you arrive, but a hotel can't promise that they'll be able to do this. A room of the sort you booked may not be available until the proper check-in time. In any case, though, most hotels would hold your bags for you if you wanted to head out and get an early start on sightseeing, then come back at check-in time to finally get your nap.

I worked at Colonial Williamsburg many years ago (spinning & weaving), and, during the summer, the craftspeople have to be on duty Friday, Saturday, and Sunday since those are the busiest days. Therefore, our days off were Mon/Tue, Tue/Wed, or Wed/Thu. I would imagine that is still the case.

Interesting. I bet you have some good stories to tell, too! I've always wondered what it's like being one of those reenactors.

We are 4 childhood women friends who will be celebrating a milestone birthday (senior citizens) next year and want to take a trip. Three of us live on the east coast and one on the west coast. We discussed a cruise from Balto. or a trip to Las Vegas. Cost is a factor within reason. Any suggestions?

If you're not big drinkers, the cruise may be cheaper because the food is included. And your West Coast friend may be able to score a cheap ticket to BWI. Las Vegas can be done cheaply, but if you want to stay at a nice hotel and go out for decent meals, it can get pricey. Plus, airfares to Las Vegas have gone up.  A trip to San Diego may be nice, but then three of you would have to fly there, and again, it's not cheap.  Maybe Chicago? 

For the commenter with all those Southwest charges: if you haven't done so already, call your credit card issuer and alert them to the multiple charges right away. This will aid in getting them reversed (hopefully, before they make their way onto a bill) and also will prevent the credit card company from thinking that your card was stolen and cutting off your credit.

Under the Fair Credit Billing Act, you have 60 days to report an erroneous charge. But obviously, the sooner you report it, the sooner you can fix it. For what it's worth, Southwest says all of its erroneous charges have been IDd and are being reversed.

Hi Travel Gurus, I picked up three tickets to Montreal from DCA on the USAir flash sale and am going the last week of August with two kids 5 and 9. I'm trying to figure out if I'm best off spending all four nights in Montreal and not bothering with Quebec City or if I'm really going to regret not getting there. If we do decide to go to Quebec City, would you recommend the train or renting a car? Any must-dos with kids? Thanks so much!

Depends on what you want to do. Driving and taking the train will both be around three hours. I think Quebec is great for kids. Saw a lot of them when I was there last summer. You can tour the Citadelle -- make sure you're there in the morning for the changing of the guard. The kids will like seeing the base's goat mascot. They'd probably also like a carriage ride through the old city. The aquarium is another option.

If you do take the car, go to Montmorency Falls and ride the cable car to the top of the falls. And tour the Ile d'Orleans, where you can stop at various farms.

Hi travel crew. I'll be in Oslo first week of September and I'd really like to take a little road trip across the countryside. I've heard the drive to Bergen is nice (bonus, was the vacation spot of Roald Dahl!). Would renting a car and making the drive be cheap/easy? Are there better places to go to? And will it be too cold for open toed shoes?!

Even at it's very warmest, Oslo isn't all that warm, maybe 65 or so at the outside, and the weather starts cooling off even more in September. You could still wear those open-toe shoes if you're hardy, but I'd definitely take a closed pair along as well. I'll bet you'll use them more.

The drive from Oslo to Bergen is about 7 hours, so be prepared to stop overnight somewhere, but it is definitely considered one of the most beautiful drives in Europe. You go through the mountains and over rivers (on ferries), and you'll see fjords and fields and just some truly gorgeous scenery all along the way. It's definitely worth doing, if you take it easy and give yourself a couple of days.

Yup, I'm using Windows, and I've tried buying the tickets via both Internet Explorer and Google Chrome. Any tips from the peanuts?


I found the Spain train system terrible because it was impossible to get tickets and the staff was very grumpy and unhelpful. Buses are much cheaper and easy as can be.

So, this person is going to NZ on a tourist visa but planning to work? Isn't that a giant no-no? I guess maybe some countries may be more strict than others, but that sounds like a bad idea to me. As for shipping clothes, since most services like FedEx are based on package size and weight it could be a very expensive proposition. Might end up being cheaper to just buy clothes there. Or buy a big suitcase at the last stop in SE Asia and fill it up with cheap clothes there.

I'm trying to come up for ideas for destinations for my boyfriend and I to go over New Year's. Would like somewhere somewhat low key but with things to do to keep us busy - we enjoy food, walking around seeing the area, but tend to stay away from the truly touristy stuff. I'd prefer somewhere warmer, but really am fine either way, and want to stay within North America. My first thoughts were Key West or San Diego for warm weather destinations, but weren't sure if there were other good places to consider that might also have something fun for New Year's Eve?

I don't know what they do for the holiday, but other good places might be Miami, Austin or Charleston. Thoughts, chatters?

I agree with you about staying in Spain. From Seville, Cadiz is gorgeous and Baelo Claudia is a perfectly preserved Roman town that doesn't get much tourism at all. Another great option would be to fly down to the Canary Islands. I just got back from Tenerife and didn't see another American the whole time!

Having been fortunate enough to have visited France, Spain, and Italy in vacation trips in the last three years, I say to the poster going to Spain over the holidays to explore more of Spain and save France and Italy for another trip. In addition to Seveille, you might want to visit the southern hill towns (like Ronda), Granada (for the Alhambra), and Cordoba (the Mezquita is exquisite). I did not get to the coast, but hear great things about Cadiz. If you want to experience another country, you might go to Morocco. Madrid is also an amazing city with lots to do. have a great trip.

Thanks for the ideas. 

I rent in Britain a couple of times a year, and have signed up with the Amex premium insurance for that (doesn't work in Ireland or Italy, but I don't care about that). It costs a flat $20 per rental but is primary insurance. Haven't had to use it, so I can't vouch for that side, though.

Hi I am flying into London in November. I will be there for 14 days. Can you tell me what is other countries I can visit during the 2 week period using the train.

If you want to stick to the train, then think about Wales or Scotland. Of course, you can also head to Paris.

We have used it in Belize, St. John, Utah, Georgia, and Hawaii, and have had excellent experiences every time. We love it.

Chris is the expert on this, but I've also had great experiences. But you need to do your homework -- ask questions, talk with the owner, do some Facebooking and Googling on the place. If a deal is too good to be true, and the lister wants a money order sent to  a P.O. box, think about it. Due diligence can score a great deal.  

Recently a group of us were discussing the comparative merits of private vs. shared bathrooms in European hotels. First of all, are shared bathrooms very common in European hotels any more, or are they primarily a thing of the past? Second, where they do still exist, are the savings worth the sacrifice of a private bath?

If you ask me, nothing is worth the sacrifice of a private bath! But I can be a squeamish traveler sometimes. Shared baths definitely do still exist in Europe, although I haven't stayed in a hotel that has them in years. Whether the savings are worth it depends entirely on you -- if it's more important for you to save your pennies than to have a bathroom to yourself, then you probably won't mind sharing. 

Hi Crew, No question, just a quick "trip report" from Japan - what an amazing country! I went for 2 weeks in July and absolutely loved it. Kyoto is awesome, I spent two days there & could've stayed for a week. Also spent some time on the Izu peninsula - not a typical tourist destination but has beautiful scenery & beaches, and is a great place to relax and get off the beaten track. A tip - you really do need to carry cash (some surprising places didn't take credit cards, including some train station ticket offices) and the only ATM you'll probably be able to use are the ones in the Post Offices. Also, trains are a great way to travel (fast and frequent) but expensive - save some money by riding the local lines with a non-reserved seat. We traveled with a 14-year-old - not exactly a "wee one", but our survival strategy included not overwhelming her with sushi (Japanese McDonald's saved the day a few times) and building in more beaches & less temples!

Thanks for the report. Glad you had a good time.

It's worth contacting the hotel directly to see if they have any sort of formal policy regarding early check in. Or alternatively to see if they would be willing to give you a reduced rate on the extra "night" you want in order to check in early. Some hotels will do this, just as others will allow a late check out if you are willing to pay a partial night rate to get it.

Good points, thanks!

Hi, how easy is it to get from London to Scotland. I'm thinking of taking a trip in November and spending a few days in London, then heading to Scotland. Are there any particular Scottish destinations you would recommend, as well? Thank you!

Quite easy, I think. You can get a train directly from London to Edinburgh, which we just wrote about the other week.

For the Seville travelers. Explore Southern Spain it's lovely. From the Moorish mosque of Cordoba to the Alhambra in Granada, it's a lovely region to explore and dine. I would go back in a heartbeat.

Another vote to stay in Spain. 

Try a different computer! I had this same problem on my home computer (a mac) and my work computer (a PC) but was able to book from a co-workers computer oddly enough!

I've never tried to buy RENFE tickets, but I had this problem when trying to buy Air Asia tickets online. I did the same--called my bank to authorize, etc. But it just wouldn't let me buy them, and it took a 30-minute call to their branch office in London (!!!) to find out that they don't accept U.S. cards. (The phone call cost nearly as much as the ticket.) I've never had a problem actually USING my card in Air Asia destinations, but for some reason the online forms don't allow it. Had to have a friend in Thailand buy it for me then reimburse him.

We must have had a couple of days of good luck. Two years ago in both Colonial Williamsburg and Historic Jamestowne we had A LOT of one on one time with the reenactors. It wasn't that crowded and were able to get them off of the usual information and they gave us lots of quirker stuff that grabbed everyone's attention so it didn't seem like a history lesson. Maybe it was because we asked quirker questions, but they really enjoyed going off the beaten path and showing the kids how to make grass whistles and going into detail about the costumes (some of it a little TMI).

As a single traveler, I agree with the poster who disliked how tour operators, hotel chains and cruise lines handle us with respect to their rates and fares. As a result, anytime I see the phrase "$X per person double occupancy,"' I also multiply by 2 to obtain the solo traveler fare or rate. In addition to Abercrombie & Kent, Tauck Tours offers solo travelers special fares on their river boat tours, but only at the Category 1 rate (it's in the fine print on the itinerary and fare page of their brochure). A few years ago, I used to book a guaranteed share outside cabin with Holland America on a couple of their cruises, but I got tired of having to return to a dark cabin and somebody already asleep after an evening of entertainment. I decided to book my own cabins as a solo cruiser so I wouldn't have to share bathrooms and other facilities with anybody, I just had to make sure I saved up enought $ to handle the single fares! Regarding Ms. Eilperin's article about traveling w/kids in Alaska, I would have booked a cruise instead of a hotel-car-tour-restaurant trip. But that's my opinion.

For the person going to Montreal and wondering about Quebec, I think you're better off staying in Montreal the whole time. There is plenty to do in and around the city to keep you busy rather than spending the hours to get back and forth to Quebec City.

Take a trip to Doumars in Norfolk. It's an old fashioned drive-in restaurant. Rumor has it that the waffle cone was invented there. Closed on Sundays.

Hi there! We'll be traveling to San Francisco and road-tripping our way up to Vancouver. Just wondering if you all have suggestions for great hikes (moderate to a little difficult, varying lengths) around Mt. Hood and Mt. Rainier. Thanks!

Chatters, your tips for these folks?

Almost every week it seems someone writes you about an issue with a discount travel site. I have to wonder - is it really worth it? Maybe it's that people don't bother to tell us when they have a problem and the site management fixes it quickly and correctly.

It can be, but you have to do a fair amount of research and comparison-shopping. Also, always read the fine print on the offers, otherwise you could spend more than if you bought the trip through a traditional travel agent, and sometimes much more. Real travel agents can be a better choice, particularly for those of us who don't have the time to do the research or pay attention to the details.

Jamaica in early December - good time for good weather? Still a hurricane risk? I have an opportunity for a 1-week vacation at an all-inclusive the first week of December, but don't want to commit if it's not a good time to visit. Thanks!

It's a good time to visit. Threat of hurricane low. Go!

I have been offered early morning hotel check in for a fee, something like 50 euros or 20 euros. Generally, however, I have found that if I have the hotel store my luggage and walk around for a few hours, I can go back to the hotel and ask nicely again if the room is available for check-in, and can usually get in by 11AM and sometimes sooner. Having said that, I'm a shoulder- and low-season traveler, so anyone trying this in August may be turned away simply due to higher occupancy rates.

I plan to take my mom to Disney World next year for a milestone birthday. We both have hectic work schedules, so we likely can only take 2 days off. My plan is to fly out of the DC area on a Wednesday night, return Sunday night. When would be the best time of year to go for that type of trip? Thanks!

Maybe the fall? School crowds are gone. You probably won't have nippy nights, as I've experienced in December down there. Plus, maybe mom would like their annual food and wine festival.

It's a while ago now, but the only time I took a train in Spain I was travelling with a local. The track information on the main board didn't match the ticket, which didn't match the information at the platform... My friend saw a cousin who worked for RENFE and asked him. He gave us yet another track number. "Are you sure?" my friend asked. His reply: "Yes, I'm driving it". But I still wasn't completely certain until I saw us actually heading in the right direction.

Any suggestions for a B&B or guesthouse in New Orleans? We're looking to stay near in or near the French Quarter, preferably towards the Canal St. end. Just looking for an alternative to a chain hotel.

Check out Joe's Impulsive Traveler from a year or so ago for suggestions on quaint and different accommodations.

We are taking our children (ages 9 and 7) to Rome, Venice and Tuscany. Any tips on great things to do with kids that age? Thanks!

Will open this  up to chatters, but when I was age 8, my parents took me to Rome. I loved the Fountain of Trevi because I could wish on the coins I threw in; the Colosseum because I could imagine the fighting that went on there;  the Catacombs because the bones were very cool; and the Appian Way because I had never seen a cobblestone road. And the daily gelato was very important!

Wow, I didn't know about any issues other people were having with Southwest, but I bought tickets on their site this weekend, and after I clicked Submit, the "waiting for" message was showing for a loooooooong time. I did not refresh the page, and when I checked my bank account site, the money had been taken out of my account by Southwest, so I sent them an email using their site's form, asking for a confirmation email. I never heard back regarding my request, but one or two days later, I got the confirmation email. Now that I know something was going on, I'm going to double-check that I am confirmed for one itinerary and not multiple ones.

Good idea. I was thinking of taking advantage of that sale late Friday night, and I couldn't even search for a flight. Perhaps it's for the best, especially as I found some ridiculously low fares on US Airways.

We're looking to take a short vacation this fall (less than a week) and are exploring options for taking our six-month-old along. Our favorite place in the world is Lanai, Hawaii, but it seems unnecessary to tempt fate with that long a flight. Any suggestions for Caribbean destinations with some sort of kids' club so we could spend some quality time with our little guy but also have the flexibility to go to dinner, etc.?

Take a look at Franklyn D. Resort in Jamaica, where you get your own nanny. 

There's a great series of easy-ish day hikes that leave from Paradise Lodge at Mt. Rainier NP. One of the most stunningly beautiful places I've been!

unless the family in question are non US persons, one can't just go work somewhere while on a holiday visa. foreigners can't do it here, typically US persons can't do it "there" there ARE some student work programs, but they are defined and you have to do all the paperwork head of time. not sure what the consequences of getting caught in NZ are, but here in the US you can be deported and banned for re-entering for 10 years.

I'm headed with a friend to Toronto over Labor Day weekend. I tried searching, but can't seem to find anything that isn't really old. Could you link me to recommendations or make any you might have? We enjoy shopping, good food, off the beaten path things. Also, any recs for area to stay in and/or hotels? Thanks.

Here's a story that's only two years old, with some recommendations for Toronto walking tours, as well as eateries and lodgings in the details sidebar. has a Singles Travel section.My mom used it to get great fares on a cruise.

That does it for us this week. Thanks again for joining us. The winner of this week's prize is the parent who recommended bulkhead seating. That's the kind of practical advice we love around here. Please send your name and address to, and we'll try to get you some family-suited swag.

Until next week, happy travels.

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