Talk about Travel

Sep 09, 2013

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

Greetings, all, and welcome to your travel chat! What's on your itinerary today?

Care to share?

That's what Andrea did, of course, and she wrote her account of this new share-and-share-alike traveling strategy on Sunday. She's on assignment today and not joining us for the chat, but in the spirit of her piece, here is the question that I pose to you: What kinds of sharing experiences -- formal and informal -- have you had when you travel, and which worked and which didn't? Share -- share! -- your stories, and you could be picked to win a little prize from us to you.

Let's do this thing!

Hi Travel Experts, I'm doing some business travel and would love to take advantage of the layovers. On the way out to Reno, I have 2.5 hours in Las Vegas, and would like to have a meal with an old friend. Any ideas for someplace not far from the airport? Then on the way back, I have about 3 hours at the Denver airport. Is that enough time to go into the city and maybe walk around a little? Thanks for any advice!

Naysayers, feel free to weigh in, but I'm not sure either of those layovers is long enough to give you time to leave the airport, get to a restaurant, eat, travel back to the airport (traffic?!), and get back through security. At least in Vegas, maybe your friend would be tempted enough by your company to deal with airport dining pre-security. I'd be inclined to play it safe. Bring something good to read or watch!

Hi travel gurus, Andrea's article was so timely....I had just placed a reservation with Flightcar after choking at the car rental rates at SFO. This "sharing" is a little out of the box for me, given that I am a 72 y.o. retiree. Should I be concerned as a senior female traveling solo?

Nope, nothing to worry about, I can report after renting from Flightcar once at SFO and once at BOS. Both times were seamless.

What are the advantages and/or disadvantages of checking in online prior to a flight. Some airlines want you to check in a day before. Does that mean you cannot cancel the flight after you check in?

You can cancel your flight, as long as it hasn't taken off yet, but penalties make most tickets almost valueless after you cancel. It's easier to do advance online check-in, especially if you have only carry-on luggage, because then you can head right to security instead of checking in at the ticket counter. 

Also, if you pay for your baggage online when you check in, it's often cheaper than paying at the airport. That's a huge motivator for me if I'm checking a bag.

If you tend to cut things close, as I do, checking in online allows you to, well, cut things close.

My husband and I are hoping to go to Italy the week of Thanksgiving. We have been to Rome and Florence before, so our thought was to spend a few days in Siena, then head down to the Amalfi Coast. Will anything be open? I don't mind a slower pace (prefer it, in fact), but if everything is shut down (and the weather is bad), it may not be worth the expense. November is the only time my husband and I can both get away from work for quite some time, so it's kind of now or never, as far as Italy is concerned. However, we are willing to consider alternate plans (both inside or outside of Italy) if November truly is a bad time to do the trip laid out above. Thanks for any guidance you can provide!

Go. This is a trip worth doing anytime. November is technically the rainiest month in Italy, but that doesn't mean that it rains all the time. The farther south you go, the better the weather gets, so you may well have some good weather on the coast. No swimming, though; too cool for that. :-) Don't worry about everything shutting down -- some places will be closed, no question, but people live on the Amalfi Coast year-round, so lots of places remain open. And there are fewer tourists, so you'll have a lot of things nearly all to yourselves.

Chatters, agree or disagree?

Recently I purchased "choice" seats from US Airways. I thought I was purchasing extra leg room. The cost was over $200 for 3 people round trip. Imagine my surprise when there was no difference in leg room! I asked the flight attendant and she said that it was for an aisle or window seat, but at 2 across, ALL the seats were aisle or window! When I asked at the gate on my return trip, the rep said "it is a way to make more money for the airline...there is no difference in the seats." Do I have any recourse?

You paid extra for what the airline considers a more desirable seat. But it's just slightly better because it's an aisle seat or farther up front. To be honest, I would feel ripped off, too. This is a topic I'm interested in exploring in a future Navigator column. Would you mind sending me a quick note? Here's how to reach me.

Last week my wife and I spent a couple nights at a nice motel on Coastal Highway in Rehoboth Beach. We had a large, clean, well appointed room with a fridge, microwave, good size TV, and -- no shampoo. When we asked at the desk, we were told they don't supply shampoo. This has never happened in all our years of travel and just seems nuts to us. They give you a fridge, a microwave, but you have to go out and buy your own shapoo? I can't say it's a deal breaker, for future visits but it seems very strange.

It does seem odd in this day and age, but there's no law that says a hotel has to provide you with shampoo. It's up to each property. I can go you one better -- we stayed at a lovely inn in Pennsylvania once that supplied toothpaste -- but no shampoo! Go figure.

Hello. I will have about 4 hours to kill next Monday before catching a 5pm flight back to DCA. Right now, the weather forecast predicts 40% chance of showers. I'll have a rental car that I'll need to stash (parking garage?) before heading to the airport. What do you recommend? Any suggestions for lunch? Thank you!

Check out this site for parking in downtown Providence. Farmstead is a good option for lunch. I also enjoyed Local 121 and Julian's. Here's my story from a few years ago on the city.

We are going to PR to celebrate my husband's 60th birthday! He wants to see the rainforest and I want to see the bioluminescense bay. Should we stay on the mainland or on Vieques? Any recommendations for hotels or B&B's?

Stay on Vieques. You have to wait until nightfall to experience Bio Bay, and you'll want to have nearby accommodations. The last time I visited Vieques, it was at a no-name hotel behind a bar, which I wouldn't recommend. The Hix Island House looks nice for a B&B-type experience, but you can also find two W properties, which look lovely. None of those existed the last time I was there. Maybe it's time for a return visit.

Hi, our family will be celebrating next Spring a 60th Wedding Anniversary and an 80th birthday. We are trying to find a place for overnight that would be of interest to the adults and tweens. Hoping for somewhere that wouldn't be too long of a drive for all involved. The travelers would be coming from Rye, NY, Doylestown, PA and Warrenton, VA. thanks so much.....

Hershey? The kids would enjoy the park (and maybe some of the adults too?), and the adults could partake in the Hotel Hershey's more refined offerings. 

Last week, someone asked for a recommendation for a B&B about 2 hours from Washington, D.C. I highly recommend Hopkins Ordinary. The house is clean, very tastefully decorated and comfortable (no clutter), the breakfast is tasty. The owners are very kind, yet not overly in-your-face. The Inn offers cooking classes and is well-situated near good hiking trails, antique shops and other places of interest. It is very nearby the Inn at Little Washington for those who want to splurge on a meal there, but not stay overnight....rather, stay at the Ordinary!

Thanks! We'll have to (bed) check this one out at some point. :-)

We bought a 1-week, 2-room stay at a Caribbean resort as part of a fundraising silent auction. After the purchase, we found that we would then have to pay a supplement of $110 per person/per day to cover food, beverage, activities, etc. at this all-inclusive resort. That changed a great deal into an ok one, but we willingly paid the price to a US agent for my 4 family members for 7 days. Just before we took the trip, my daughter's plans changed forcing her to come back early. Since she left 3 days early, am I entitled to a $330 refund for the food, beverages, and activities she did not use? Clearly I think yes, but the resort says take it up with the agent and the agent says they were "willing and able to provide the service" so they don't have to refund anything. Am I off base here thinking I am entitled to a partial refund of the food supplement because a member of my party didn't stay the whole time?

Maybe. Your first step is to ask for a refund by email. If your hotel room was nonrefundable, then chances are the supplement was too. But it will help to have the response from the property in writing. You have some options, including disputing your credit card charge or getting me involved. Please let me know what happens.

In Sunday's Travel Talk, there was a question about connections at Heathrow, looking at an hour and 10 minutes for connecting. We went through there in late January and early Feb, and it took 90 minutes from landing just to get through security again. I would not go through there without a minimum of about 3 hours connection time. There's no guarantee they wouldn't change terminals for one of the flights or something, and you would be out of luck.

Thanks for your input. On the other hand, my son just flew to Israel via London, with a 90-minute window at Heathrow, and he made his connection, no problem. So I guess it all depends. 

How about an elderly Aussie couple who sort of adopted me while we were on a tour out of Adelaide. they shared lot's of wine with me and, believe me, it worked for me!

I believe you!

another benefit of online check in can be seat selection since you can often pick the seats you want

I'm willing to spend the $85 but not sure that it will actually save time. Thus far, is it saving time? Also, does it apply if you are leaving the country?

I haven't heard from anyone yet who told me TSA PreCheck allowed him or her to save a significant amount of time at the airport, although that is the pitch from TSA -- that offering your personal information will allow them to process you quicker. And yes, it should work at any TSA screening area with a PreCheck line, including at international terminals.

No Way can you leave the airport, get thru gridlock and do anything! The Strip is mostly stop/go traffic! May as well have a sandwich in the cab. Your idea of having the friend come to the airport is the only answer.

Thanks for the affirmation.

Hello, I have a five hour layover coming up at Miami airport. It looks like the Little Havana neighborhood is close to the airport. Are there any sites of interest in that area or recommended restaurants? Also-have a 7 hour layover at Lima airport-are there any neighborhoods nearby good for dinner?

Here's a story we did last year on Miami's Little Havana neighborhood and Marlins Park. It offers suggestions of a few places to eat and things to see (besides the stadium). As to Lima, have a look at Tim Carman's story from last year on Peruvian food. Seven hours would probably give you enough time to hit the Larcomar center in Lima and all its restaurants. Chatters, other thoughts?

Is 40 minutes enough time to change planes on US Airways at Charlotte Airport?

40 minutes between arrival time and boarding time, or arrival time and departure time? The former seems possibly manageable, the latter seems tight. But I suppose it also depends on which concourse you're flying into and out of. Have you looked at the airport diagram? If you were doing US Airways Express on both legs, I'd say you're probably fine, cause all those are on the same concourse, and if you were doing domestic on both legs, you MIGHT be fine, but you might have to change concourses, and if you were going from domestic to international, you'd also be changing concourses.

Hmm. Chatters, any further thoughts from those who have flown through CLT a lot recently?

Just found out my cousin will be getting married in Lake Tahoe next June. Quick check of airfares from DC to Reno shows $292 roundtrip. I know it's a ways away, but should I expect fares to go up/down between now and then. Likelihood of deals? Would also consider flying into a cheaper city for some added sightseeing to/from the wedding, so open to your suggestions on this as well. Thanks!

That is about as cheap as it gets. There are no other cities closer to Lake Tahoe, and they wouldn't be any cheaper. The only benefit of flying into Sacramento, which is about two hours from Lake Tahoe, is that there are nonstop flights from DC. 

Hello, I am a single 33 year old male from Washington DC. Do you have any recommendations for reputable travel companies that cater to my age group? Thanks.

I've never taken an organized tour, but I have heard good things about G Adventures, which has no single supplement and specializes in hiring local people, promising more authentic, off-the-beaten-path experiences, among other things. They have a category of tour called YOLO, which tells you where the mindset is!


Hello! I'd like to rent a car at the Burlington VT airport and drive up to Montreal for the weekend. I checked a few of the car rental websites and they weren't especially clear as to the rules regarding cross-border car rentals. Can you recommend a company that allows for this with reasonable rates? Thanks in advance.

You shouldn't have an issue with most of the major car rental companies. I did this when I rented from Alamo in Burlington, no problem. And, for example, here's what Budget has to say:

If you are a U.S resident, you may drive a Budget car into Canada. However, when you pick up a U.S.-registered vehicle in the U.S., you must advise us that you plan to drive to Canada so that, for insurance purposes, we may issue a Canadian Non-Resident Insurance Card. This card, to be kept inside the vehicle, is provided at no cost and it serves as simple documentation that the vehicle is insured in the U.S.

Yep, I've done it several times, too, and didn't notice a thing different.

Travel Gurus - My partner and I are planning for a week-long trip to the Caribbean or Mexico in later January and are considering an all-inclusive vacation. Never having taken such a trip before, we are doing some research and are considering Cancun and Punta Cana. Do you or chat readers have suggestions for us in either Cancun or Punta Cana? We're open to both, and would like to keep it under $3k for 6 nights and flights. (and thanks to all of your amazing work to pull your stories and these chats together!)

I've been on all-inclusive vacations in both destinations, and each offers its own positives. Cancun offers more nonstop flights, which means you won't spend much of two days traveling. But there are nonstops out of BWI to Punta Cana on AirTran (Frontier also offers seasonal nonstops, which end in early December). Cancun offers more to do, but I  like the beaches better in Punta Cana. Both will cost about the same. You can do a nice vacation at a well-regarded all-inclusive, such as Dreams or Iberostar, for about $3,000 per couple, and there are also lots of cheaper options. 

Would it be completely mad to go to Norway for Thanksgiving? I know the sun sets at about 3 in the afternoon, but we've been wanting to go there and Thanksgiving week would be a good time logistically to go. Thanks for any advice.

Well,  maybe not *completely* mad. :-) My feeling is, if it's someplace you've always wanted to go to, and that's when you can go, then go! Just get up early in the morning! My only other word to you would be "brrr." Dress warmly. And have fun!


Where would you recommend going if I only have 9 days? I want to see everything from Iguazu through Ushuaia with Buenos Aires, Mendoza, Cordoba, Bariloche, Corrientes, etc, etc, all on the way but I know that is not at all possible. Since I have to narrow it down, what are the must-sees within 9 days? And should I go through a tour company or just plan myself (I really don't want guided - but maybe its easiest for someone else to do the planning)? Any help would be appreciated!

Guidebooks are good for suggested itineraries. Here's Fodor's and Frommer's. Don't think we can answer the tour company vs. planning it yourself. You could always go the middle route and work with a travel agent who specializes in that region. Depends how much DIY planning you are up for, really.

Sometime in the next year I have decided to bike up L'Alpe d'Huez; it is the most famous of crazy mountains in the Tour de France, and I want to try while me 50 year old knees can still take it. If you were building a week long trip around one exhausting day in the Central French Alps, whatelse would you do?

Oh, you're in beautiful country there. I'd be sure to see Annecy and Chamonix (have a look at spectacular Mont Blanc), two beautiful Alpine towns maybe about two hours' drive each north of L'Alpe d'Huez. Grenoble, a lovely old city, is even closer, less than an hour away. Geneva is about 2 1/2 hours away (north of Annecy)  and of course fantastic (it's Switzerland, what can I say). If you want to head into Italy, Turin, also fabulous, is about three hours away. Of course, you could spend all your time just in L'Alpe d'Huez and its immediate environs, basking in the gorgeous Alpine scenery. Chatters, what do you think? 

Do you guys have a recommended method for finding vineyards to visit when visiting a wine region. We will be spending some time both North (Chianti) and South (Moltepuciano) of Sienna.

We turned to our Food section wine columnist, Dave McIntyre, for a bit of insight: 

Googling winery visits in Tuscany calls up lots of advice. The Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino has a good Web site, but the one for Chianti Classico seems less helpful. (Consorzio is the local trade association.)

I am traveling to Europe next Monday, and I have two separate reservations on two different airlines (so tickets are not linked). In the event of severe weather and I decide to take a bus or train to NYC for my connecting flight will that trigger the other flight being canceled? 1st flight is early Am and 2nd Flight is Late Evening/Night

No, it shouldn't. If the reservations are completely unlinked, and on separate airlines, then you shouldn't have a problem. But remember, if your first flight is delayed and you miss your second flight, you will probably have to pay for a whole new ticket.

BF just decided to join me at a conference in Baltimore and wants to stay at a hotel (rather than commute from my friend's place in Rockville -- we live out of town). Checking Kayak and most hotels are pricey or do not list a price. Am I better off booking something today or taking a chance and calling 2-3 days before? Are they more likely to give me a deal or will the prices be higher? thanks!

It largely depends on the hotel. You could see about booking something now that doesn't require advance payment, and then calling around a few days in advance. There's also the Hotel Tonight app, which sells rooms at the last minute. Of course, you could only use that the day your boyfriend wanted to come up. But if the conference is big, you may not want to wait too long. Hotels sell out. You could also look for smaller inns or B&Bs. They might be cheaper and less likely to be totally booked during a conference.

Charlotte is notorious for weather delays, so unless your flight is early in the morning or very late at night, I'd advise at least 90 minutes for making a connection. As was suggested, be aware of the terminal map - I've come in on same-airline flights that were at completely opposite ends of the airport, and with dodging people/etc., I've had some very close calls. (I did get a plane held for me once, though, which felt kind of awesome - never heard my name called over the loudspeaker before!)


Thanks again for your help last month on this. Now I need recommendations for a restaurant...I want to purchase a gift certificate for my host. Retired, single but will eat just about anything. Likes wine and interesting locations... Any help you could provide would be greatly appreciated.

Chatters, anybody know a great Albuquerque restaurant?

If I were eating in Albuquerque, I'd head to Mary & Tito's, which won a prestigious James Beard Foundation "American Classics" award a few years back...

For the poster a few weeks back who wanted some ideas for day trips outside London that were easily accessible. Brighton is a lovely seaside town slightly more than an hour away on the train. It's a lovely place to spend a day and trek around. Famous for its "lanes", a series of narrow roads home to lots of cool shops. Also the perfect place to get some nice fish and chips while you're right by the sea. Especially if you're going when the weather is still warm or mild, Brighton really is the perfect outside London day trip. Some other ideas are Windsor, where you can tour the castle and the grounds but the town itself is very attractive too. Also Oxford and Cambridge. Both worth a visit.

Good recommendations. I can endorse Windsor, having been there myself. The castle was spectacular, and with more time, I would have enjoyed exploring the town for a few hours.

Is the Saturday stay still important for finding cheaper flights? I need to go to London at the end of this month and am finding fares for flights departing Saturday are about $500 cheaper than ones departing Sunday, which is a huge difference ($950 vs $1500). Also, is there a good day to find cheaper flights? I can't purchase my ticket until I get permission from my office to take leave, and won't know that until later this week. Finally, since I'm really running up against the deadline, can you suggest a good option for last-minute fares?

Sometimes the Saturday-night stay still applies to obtain a discounted fare, but not as common as it was in the past. It may be the stipulation on that ticket to London, or it might be there are more empty seats on Saturday's flight, so cheaper fares are still available. Some studies have shown that cheapest day to buy a domestic airline ticket is Tuesday, but don't believe that applies to international flights. As for last-minute fares, being flexible may come in handy; look at other nearby airports or airports that you can get to via car or train and  consider longer connections. 

My wife and I are in our late 60s, and are considering a Viking or similar group China tour in fall 2014. Which tour line do you favor for "us?" My wife would have some difficulties with extensive climbing; would that be a problem? Any advice? Thanks.

Why don't you nose around a bit on Cruise Critic to compare the offerings out there? That being said, here's our recent story by a writer who took a European river cruise with his father, who also couldn't do a lot of climbing. For those with mobility challenges, it might be a promising way to travel.

Frankly, I'd rather they NOT provide shampoo, body wash, or lotion. I never use any of it, and they could spend the money on something else. I bring my own brand in small bottles and do not want to use the crappy stuff they give me. Even if it is a "good" brand, it is never a smell I like. Put the money into nicer sheets, or dental floss, or mouthwash.

I have mixed feelings about this. I like it ... if it's great. But you're right that it rarely is.

Friends visiting for Thanksgiving will be leaving from DCA on Saturday afternoon. I thought it would be fun if we could take Metro and enjoy part of the day downtown, before they head for the airport, but we need a place to stash luggage. The reviews of Tiburon Lockers at Union Station from 2010 to this year are uniformly negative (service is said to be wildly overpriced and the attendants are rude). DCA has no facility, so dropping off luggage and going back into town is not an option. Are there any other options -- preferably close to a Metro Blue or Yellow line station? Do any hotels offer this service for non-guests?

My search is coming up empty, other than the facility you mention at Union Station. If you visit a museum and the bags are small, you might be able to stash them there. I don't know of hotels that will hold luggage for non-guests. Any tips?

I'll be flying Lufthansa from Dulles to Frankfurt, and transferring there to a Lufthansa codeshare flight to my final destination (also in the Schengen area). What combination of immigration/passport control, customs, and security checkpoints am I likely to have to go through while changing planes? I've been getting conflicting answers to this from travel agents I've asked and internet research I've done. This will be my first trip to Europe, and even though I should have plenty of time in Frankfurt (3+ hours), I'm still curious about what lines I'm going to have to face.

Your luggage should be checked through if your trip is on one ticket, so you won't have to go through customs in Frankfurt. I believe you will have to go through immigration. Three hours is plenty of time.   

Hi, Travel Gurus-- Regarding the OP who asked about cruisetours in this chat a couple of weeks ago, I recommend that he or she attempt to price out the options between doing cruisetour vs. doing a separate pre- or post-cruise hotel and transfer package. For example, because I'm a single person, most if not all cruise lines, hotel chairs and tour operators, double the fare or affix a single supplement, and the result is that I'll be priced out of the market for a cruisetour. Alternatively, a pre-cruise or post-cruise hotel and transfer package in the cruise departure port makes the most sense economically. Please note that I'm omitting the airfare, which is almost always extra unless one is a guest on the small luxury cruise lines.

Frontier - Right across from the college. Great Carne Adobada. They do other New Mexican fare...burgers...breakfast (cinnamon rolls are huge) and fresh squeezed orange juice. They make their own tortillas. I love the's my first stop out of the airport.


I'd like to take one kid who NEEDS a special time with Mommy to Disney for a long weekend - completely flexible as to timing this school year. Will stay on the monorail. Any time of year that is better than others for airfares from DCA, or bargains at the hotels or anything?

How nice. October and November are good. I'm seeing nonstops from $188 in those months, as well as in the beginning of December (avoid the latter half, when more people are on winter break). Disney also runs specials in the fall and winter. Here's one that will save you up to 30 percent. I might jump on that.

I'm planning a trip to Hawaii for next year. I've been there for work but not for vacation. I'd like to spend about 3 days on each of 3 islands. I plan on going to Oahu and Maui but would like your suggestion for one more. I'd like to see the most interesting sights and have time for the beach. My wife and I are in our upper 50s so nothing too strenuous! Am I better off planning the whole trip myself or using Expedia, Apple vacations, etc? I also have points for Hilton I'd like to use for 3 nights. I appreciate any suggestions you can give. Thanks so much for your help.

My vote would be for the Big Island, but we also spent a week in Kauai last year and loved it. There's probably more to see on the Big Island, including an active volcano, black sand beaches, and great coffee. Chatters, any Hawaii recommendations?

I'm looking for suggestions of where to go in Nov. or Dec. (avoiding holidays) for 7 to 14 days. I prefer international travel, but I need help thinking outside the box. Where would the weather or the season (price) be advantageous during that time of year?

It will be spring in the Southern Hemisphere, so you could consider something like Peru or Buenos Aires or even Australia/New Zealand. Then again, those are good months for better prices in Europe.

I'll have some free time in Warsaw in a couple of weeks. Can you highlight anything that is must see/must do while there? Any specific places to eat/drink? Many thanks!

I haven't been to Warsaw in far too long -- need to get over there! -- but I hear they have a booming art gallery scene there these days, so be sure to check that out. Beyond that, the main sights are the Old Town, beautifully rebuilt and restored, down to the placement of the bricks, after the war (that would be WWII for you young 'uns). :-) Be sure to stop and have dinner or a drink in the Old Town square and do some people watching. The Royal Palace on the Old Town outskirts, also beautifully rebuilt, is a lovely museum to visit. The Lazienki Park, with its Chopin statue and the little Baroque palace on the water is a beautiful place for a stroll, as is the Ogrod Saski (Saxon Gardens) Park just off Victory Square, where you can see the tomb of Poland's unknown soldier. That square was also a major demonstration/protest area during the Solidarity era. The Warsaw Uprising Museum and the Katyn museum are worth a visit if you're interested in history. I would also go see the fragments of the ghetto wall on Sienna street, and what remains of the Jewish quarter on Prozna. The Warsaw Mermaid statue on the banks of the Vistula is impressive. Just outside Warsaw is Wilanow, the summer palace of the kings. It's like a miniature Versailles. There's lots more but that's a start. Chatters, if you have more suggestions, throw them our way. And restaurant names, because I'm too behind the times on that.

Years ago, our church hosted a conference and needed home hospitality for attendees. We offered our guest room and were assigned a single woman to stay with us. On the way to our house, she kept getting lost and called three times for directions. Once she got to the house, she had to go to the church and got lost going there and called twice for directions (despite it being two right turns from our house). She stayed out until 2am both nights, despite strict instructions that guests were to be back at the host's house by 10pm. The final day, she stayed in our guest room until 2pm, despite the fact that she was supposed to be out by 10am. We finally had to knock on the door and tell her to leave because we had to be somewhere. She had a machine with her that made very strange noises, and she got chocolate all over the bedsheets. What a nightmare--never again.

Wow! The other side of "sharing"!

In your last chat someone asked about beaches in Key West. I was there in July (did everything on foot once we arrived) and was very pleasantly surprised with the quality of the beach at Ft. Zachary Taylor. It costs about $2 to get in (and is quite a walk from the gate to the beach area--bikes or scooters would be great here), but there was a beautiful sandy beach (bring water shoes as beaches are rocky), and great snorkeling around two rocky breakwaters. The best part was picnic tables in the shade of trees for a break from the sun. There is also a full snack bar and bathrooms/showers. Smathers Beach (now famous for Diana Nyad's Cuba-to-Key West swim finish) is also a free public beach that has lots of water sport rentals. It is a little further from most of the lodging, but is another option. For all my concerns, I found there were definitely nice beaches in Key West!

That was my answer. A little background: I lived in the Keys for five years and I have a bias when it comes to beaches. To me, a traditional East Coast beach experience should include waves, a generous strip of sand, and a scene. So when I answered that question, I qualified it. Sure, Key West has beaches, but not really in the traditional sense. On reflection, I might have more clearly defined what I meant by a "traditional" beach experience. I'm  planning to return to Key West in a few weeks, and I'll file a full report about the beaches, such as they are. Vague or misleading product descriptions are huge problem in the travel industry, and I'm sorry I contributed to it.

(submitting early due to meeting) thanks for being such a great resource! and yikes - just back from a 5 week trip and see that I hid 200 Euros.....will likely not make it back to Europe for a few years and would prefer to change back to USD. Best sources? thanks ~

The best sources are probably places where you might have originally gotten the euros. You'll probably get dinged a bit regardless of where you go, but the places that come to mind are Travelex and American Express. You could also check with your bank.

Hello! I'm thinking of visiting family and friends in California around Christmas. (LA and Bay Area) Would it make sense to buy separate one-way tickets or go with a round-trip? Do you know of any upcoming sales? Thanks!

Discount carriers, such as JetBlue, Southwest and Virgin America, serve these markets, and their lowest fares often don't require round-trip purchase. Most of the legacy carriers have followed their lead in markets where they compete. I'd try ticketing it different ways to see which offers the best price. Investigate  an "open-jaw" ticket, landing in Los Angeles (make sure you check fares out of Long Beach, too) and departing San Francisco (check Oakland), or the other way around, and then buy a one-way ticket between Los Angeles and San Francisco.  Almost all sales have holiday period blacked out. There may be a last minute sale, but I would not count on it. 

Hi everyone! We'll be having a 24 hour layover in Iceland--from 3 p.m. to 3 p.m. In late August next year. We wanted to do an evening tour of the falls but they seem to stop earlier in August. Any other good suggestions? Thank you!

The famous Blue Lagoon spa is open till 9 p.m., and then if you're into the club scene at all, well, you have no shortage of options. Reykjavik's dance and live music clubs are legendary.

Hi Travel team - Here's one I always have trouble with: How do you go about choosing your next destination, when your budgets/dates/interests are flexible? Books are often targeted at a single country/region (so need to choose that first!) and searching online requires some degree of specificity to avoid aimlessly wasting time... Do you recommend any resources (online or off) that zero in on lists of great destinations based on interests? Or any tips to get inspired and CHOOSE, so the real research can begin?

You mean you think we do something other than close our eyes and stick our finger on a map?

Kidding, of course.

I sometimes let airfare dictate where I'm considering going. Check out, for example, Kayak Explore. There are bunch of filters -- season, general location, activity. Airfarewatchdog is good for finding airfares that might persuade you to get up and go. Also, go to your library and check out a bunch of guidebooks to page through. I love doing that. 

And think about what you like to do. What are your interests? Art? Architecture? Nightlife? Nature? That will help.

Of course, I think our stories are pretty good sources of inspiration. :)

Am considering a trip to the Biltmore mansion. Tickets are not inexpensive, but it seems like the grounds are huge and there is much to see. Any experiences or advice?

It's beautiful. Definitely go. Our own American Versailles.  The grounds are lovely and yes, vast. There will no doubt be lots of tourists, but it's still worth it and they manage the crowds very well. Very impressive.

Husband I are excited about a bike trip from Manhattan to Beacon NY in mid-September. We were hoping for an "adventure" activity along the way: paragliding, skydiving, etc. Not interested in bungee-jumping or zip-lining. Any suggestions?

Sorry, I looked on both the state and regional tourism sites and didn't see much on that particular route. The closest thing I could find was Randall Airport, in Middletown, which is about 30 miles west of Beacon. Looks like you can do a few activities out of there.

Anyone else have a tip?

Hi I'm thinking about a trip to Oman in November. 30 year-old woman traveling solo. Any advice on what to see/do (some adventure, culture, history appreciated)? Or where to stay (hostels or inexpensive hotels)? I have nine days, incl. travel days. This is kind of a threw a dart at a map type of pick, but the more I read about Oman, the more interesting it seems. Thanks!

We ran this recent story on Oman, but it's all about luxury resorts, so probably not what you're looking for -- though there is some info on things to do and see. Chatters, anybody been to Oman who can offer some cheap lodging advice?

We are heading to Italy for 17 days in the fall -- Rome, Tuscany for a week, Florence, Venice. Are there any recommended apps (ideally also offline) for driving in Tuscany. Also are there any apps in general I should be considering for the trip. Thanks!

There are a number of offline-map apps, but I haven't road-tested any. Chatters, can you help?

The world of travel apps is ever-expanding. Here's a list of a few I tried in Atlanta, and here's a graphic with some recommend by a few experts.

Another chatter recommended Frontier, which I second. It was also our first stop after getting off the plane. But it's very much a greasy spoon and not fancy. You could send your host to Restaurant Martin in Santa Fe; supposed to be fabulous.

Actually won't the person going through FRA to another Schengen airport have to clear immigration and customs at FRA? I am pretty certain that is what I did when I went to Hamburg via FRA a couple of months ago. I remember lots of walking. You have to just keep following the signs. The first immigration area I came to had long lines of Asian tourists and the airport folks directed me downstairs to another set of agents who had no lines. I am pretty sure I had to go through customs there as well.

Yes, you definitely go through immigration/passport/customs at the first EU airport you land in.

The person with the leftover Euros should see if any friends are headed over to Europe and just sell them to those people. I had about 100 euros left after a recent trip that I am selling to a friend who is headed to Sicily in a couple of weeks

I wouldn't be surprised to see this crop up as the next peer-to-peer sharing business. I haven't Googled -- maybe it's there already! Whoever develops could sync up with, say, PayPal or Go Bank or another online bank-transfer system, even.

My friend and I were staying at a B&B in Stratford, ON (we go every year to the theater festival--great). One night, she had a show to see and I did not, as I was seeing it later with my parents, so I went back to the B&B. The owners, who had just traveled in Nova Scotia (and brought back lobster) were just sitting down to dinner. I swear I did not salivate or beg, but they invited me to join them for a wonderful meal. I love staying in B&B's--have had some really good "sharing" experiences (and I know from your articles earlier this year that not everyone like that!)

Ha! Well, it's true, I had an anti-B&B rant and Zofia had a pro-B&B essay. But your experience sounds divine, of course.

O'Hare is my home airport, and pre check is a big time-saver. I travel with a carry-on, CPAP medical device and small back-pack. Besides keeping shoes, belt and jacket on, there are rarely more than 1 or two passenger ahead of me, and I don't have to unpack and re-pack the CPAP. I've stood in 30-minute security lines before. I also have the Global Entry, and am always first at baggage claim when returning on international flights - not a huge benefit when my luggage is last, but there is a bypass lane to the front of the customs line which is nice.

Thanks for the report!

We will be trying to make a tight connection (hour and 15 minutes) in Stockholm soon. We've done this particular connection before and made it with time to spare, but this time we have an elderly lady in a wheelchair in our party, which I think means we will have to deplane last. Do you have any suggestions on anything we can do to up the likelihood of catching the next plane? Thank you!

Call the airline and inform them of the situation. They can at least make a note in your reservation. Also talk to the gate agents and flight attendants in case they can help expedite things once you're in Stockholm.

Hi, Planning a Hawaii trip next year. What would you recommend for a first time visitor there - we plan to go for 10 days. Which islands would you recommend. Are there any airlines that have direct flights to Hawaii. We prefer laid back vacations and mostly want to lie around on the beach and maybe take in a couple of sights.

Oahu is the busiest of the islands, with lots of tourist attractions, and you should spend a few days there, especially if it's your first time in Hawaii. Maui sounds as if it could fit the bill for R&R, although resorts there tend to be pricey. The Big Island is nature oriented, while Kauai has some nice small towns and a laid-back atmosphere. The Hawaii Tourism Authority has a good Web page, which could give you a better feel for each island. United has nonstop flights from Dulles to Honolulu, and then you can take inter-island flights offered by several carriers, including Hawaiian Airlines and Island Air

I have a question for Joe! Thinking of an international trip next fall. While food is certainly not our sole reason for travelling, experiencing a country's cuisine and drink is surely a highlight! The one thing is, I'm a 99% vegetarian who will occasionally imbibe in fish (so technically a pescetarian) and am certainly more flexible on travel (e.g., not going to make a fuss if something was cooked in chicken stock). We've been to Central Europe and SE Asia and I did just fine and enjoyed the food, but I am wondering, as a vegetarian, what places have you enjoyed? Thinking Italy. I have friends who have recently been to Argentina and Scotland and they raved about it, but the heavy-meat diet leaves me a bit wary (but then, I was concerned about the Czech Republic and had no issues -- actually one of the best vegetarian restaurants I've ever been to was in a small town there). Thoughts??

Thanks for the question. It's a good one, and one I've been mulling a lot. The thing is, I haven't really traveled internationally since firming up my vegetarianism. Mostly, that's just because I've been busy with book publicity and using all my vacation time for that. I suspect that when I do take an international trip, I might relax my standards out of a sense of wanting to accept another place's culture, and not impose my own. But I've certainly eaten plenty of vegetarian food on trips to Italy, yes, and even to Paris (great falafel!). But it's interesting that now my own list of places I want to see is reorienting in favor of those where I know I'll enjoy lots of great veg food: India, of course, and SE Asia (where did you go?) now top the list.

Just last Friday, I took a small-group (35 people) coach tour that included Windsor, Stonehenge, Lacock (a quaint village common movie filming location - Harry Potter, Pride and Prejudice, etc), and Bath in a day. It was a ton of travel throughout a roughly 12-hour day, 8 AM - 8 PM, but nothing was particularly crowded. I felt like we had plenty of time at each location except for Bath, where I think I could have easily spent the entire day, and there were plenty of lovely rolling Cotswolds landscapes out the windows. I used Premium Tours and they did a fine job, but I imagine other operators do similar trips.

That sounds like quite a day! I spent an entire day in Bath, and I came away thinking I could have stayed longer. I did one of those day-long bus tours when I was in London since it came included in my Costco package -- Leeds Castle, Canterbury, White Cliffs of Dover and Greenwich. I have mixed feelings about doing one again since it was a lot to cram in without long spent at any locale, but they're an option, for sure.

Getting up early won't help... It will be dark then too! I live in Edmonton Canada and can vouch for that. But just schedule what you want to do outside for the daylight hours and you will be okay.

I did Argentina and if I only had 9 days I would break it up like this: Iguazzu Falls (2 days- really 1.5 is fine, I loved the Brazil side, but it's hit or miss if you need a visa. I paid but didn't need one- grr!), Buenos Aires- 2-3 days, Peninsula Valdes- 2 (it's in Patagonia and has penguins, whales, dolphins and a whole bunch of sea life but is not as far away as Ushuaia), and then Mendoza for the rest. I'd definately recommend flying over busing it with that tight time span! And you will be busy with this itinerary! But Argentina is a great country and I highly recommend going. I did that but did not go to Mendoza because I'm not a big wine drinker- I love nature more.

Reading (there is still a lot of great travel writing out there) and watching tv (either highbrow like Nat Geo, Smithsonian, etc., or even fluff like House Hunters International). I read a lot of food and gardening blogs, and those people sometimes travel and share. But I mostly let airfare dictate, now that I know where I like to go (Mediterranean Europe) and can continue to go there for the rest of my life without seeing everything.

Write up a bucket list. Then, when you are planning a vacation refer to that and see what fits your timeframe, budget, etc. Some places are better visited at certain times of year - for example, I was just in Yellowstone, and that's not a place I would visit in winter. Was also just looking at info re: Crater Lake in Oregon, and turns out that is best visited in a short July - October time frame if one is hiker and photographer.

Haven't been to Norway, but have been to northern Scotland in the autumn. It's not only sunset you have to consider. It will be dark until 9 a.m. If you want to see cities, it's not that big a deal. But if you are touring to see the great outdoors or remote areas, pick a hotel where you'll be comfortable for 18 hours of darkness.

Need to rent a car in San Francisco. It's a grand headache to figure out whether to rent at the airport or off-site and which company is best. We'd like to keep things as economical as possible but not at the expense of our sanity. Thoughts? single website to make this easier? Many thanks.

See my previous answer -- check out FlightCar!

Get the Firenze card. Saved us so much money and time waiting in lines (you go to the head of the line at something like 50 attractions) and you can download the app which has directions, opening times, etc.

I just used my regular google maps app and my GPS on my phone. The key is to download the maps BEFORE you go (or at least when you have WiFi). You can't do any searching, but at least you can see where you are on the map.

You could do 3 days on Kauai, 1 day travel day /3 days on Oahu, 1 day travel day, 3 days on Maui. If you want to do the Big Island you need to give yourself 6 days...thus the big island and only 1 of the other 3 islands.

I downloaded and briefly tried two different apps for Ireland and they seemed ok, but immediately abandoned them when I realized I had the ability to rent mobile Wifi from the car rental place for 10 Euros per day. Those things are fantastic - plug them in to the cigarette lighter adapter or in your room, and you have access not only to Google Maps, but also the TripAdvisor app's Near Me Now feature, which may be the greatest thing ever for travelers. Find > Pubs, $ or $$, within 1 mile. Sort by Ratings. Boom. Directions to the best fish and chips in walking distance. We only lost signal in the very remotest locations, and as long as Google Maps has charted your course before you lose signal, it keeps accurately directing you all the way to your destination. Mobile wifi all the way!


for direct flights there is far more competition in the west coast. You could book a flight to SF and spend 48 hrs there then fly to Hawaii then fly back through Seattle or Portland and spend 48 hrs there before returning back. You may find cheaper flights by booking tickets separately. Alaska and Hawaiian have directs from almost all the major cities to Hawaii.

My husband and I are looking for a vacation destination for five days at Thanksgiving with our 17 month old daughter. We would like to leave the country, but not waste two full days traveling. We are adventurous and have dragged the toddler on plenty of flights (Sweden, Mexico, US destinations), but we do want a destination that is somewhat child-friendly. Any thoughts on a locale that would be quiet and relatively affordable for our getaway?


$300 or under in June is a reasonable rate for cross country travel. One thing you could do is wait until Southwest reeleases their fares for your travel time. At least with Southwest you could change your flights easily without a hefty penalty should the schedule change. Also...if you plan on making it a longer vacation than just a weekend wedding look at flying into Oakland , San Fran, San Jose, or Sacramento. Rental car rates likely will be cheaper and airfare may be cheaper as well.

I don't think you'll get airfare much cheaper than $300 into any of those other cities, and San Francisco is three hours from Lake Tahoe, so savings must be considered against the travel time. But if you can spend a couple of nights in San Francisco, may be worth a look. Re: Southwest, that's a good idea. 

My sister and a friend used Grand Circle Travel for a tour of china a couple of years ago. They are in your age range and had a wonderful time. There were only aobut 15 people on the tour so it was a nice size.

We're coming in for a landing! Thanks for the great questions; hope we gave you some good ideas in our answers.

And now for our prize winner: I'm going to take a little detour from regular procedure here. My favorite post today, the one that generated some interesting responses from others, was the question about where we find inspiration when we're planning trips. So the chatter who first asked us about that is today's winner! Send your email to Becky at, and we'll get you a little something -- maybe it will even be inspiring!

Until next week, happy travels!

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