Talk about Travel (May 6)

The Pitons on the Caribbean Island of St. Lucia (AP/Scott Sady).
May 06, 2019

Join the Travel team then to discuss your travel-related questions, comments, suspicions, warnings, gripes, sad tales, etc!

Hi all, and welcome to Talk About Travel. In this week's section, we dove into the Kerama Blue, the waters in and around Japan's breathtaking Kerama Islands. Do you have a favorite scuba diving -- or snorkeling -- destination to recommend? Tell us where and why below. Bonus points for sea turtles. Most compelling answer gets a copy of "Super Sushi Ramen Express: One Family's Journey Through the Belly of Japan," by Michael Booth. On to your questions?

Hello all! New to the chat. I'm going on a trip next year with my wife and her family to France, and the travel agency we're booking through requires we get travel insurance, including medical. Do you have any recommendations for specialized companies, or where to begin the search? Thanks!

I suggest going to SquareMouth or to research your options before committing to a plan. This way you can find the one that best matches your budget, itinerary and health. You should also ask your health insurance provider if they cover international trips. When looking into insurance, also consider current events that could interfere with your trip, such as weather, political events, etc.

So I have been on a number of cruises and love the flowrider, even though I'm not great at it. do you know anything about resorts that have it?

Flowrider proudly lists them on its Web site.  They're also located at a bunch of water parks. I had fun watching people take it on at Schlitterbahn Waterpark in Galveston, Texas.  

Am I the only one who doesn't understand the outrage over basic economy? I agree that it's annoying that those are the fares that show up in the search engines, but what's wrong with the concept itself? If they were marketed as discounts off of regular economy, nobody would have a problem with it. For example, $200 for the ticket, then you could get a discount of $35 if you don't have a carry-on and a discount of $15 if you don't reserve a seat. That's exactly the same as a base fare of $150 with options to reserve a seat for $15 and bring a carry-on for $35. I know, it's a different perception and perception is everything. At the same time, when everyone uses search engines to find the flight that is $3 cheaper, the airlines are going to do everything they can to have their fares show as the cheapest. I would love to search a search engine where you can enter options such as a reserved seat, carry-on, checked bag(s) and have it compare prices with the selected add-ons included.

No, you are not alone. I tend to book basic fares, except on United: I don't want to pay extra for my carry-on bag. But I don't mind boarding last or finagling an aisle seat once I am at the airport. (I have been lucky so far.)

Hi all, I'd like to take my kids for a weekend beach getaway in late June. Is there somewhere we could go by car from Northern Virginia that's closer than the Delaware beaches? Or maybe a Virginia or West Virginia lake that's comparable? Thanks!

There are beaches and resorts on the Chesapeake Bay that are closer, such as Chesapeake Beach Resort & Spa, but it's not the ocean. As for lake vacations, that's a totally different vibe than a beach vacation, but some prefer it. Take a look at Deep Creek Lake in Maryland or Lake Anna or Lake of the Woods in Virginia. 

Heading to Sedona with my husband (65) and two sons (late twenties). We want to do day hiking. Obviously our physical talents may not match. Looking for activity recommendations. Are the Pink Jeep Tours worth it? Any hikes that are can't miss? Are there ruins we should see? Great restaurants? We are at an AirBnB. We do go to the Grand Canyon for two days at the end of the week so won't need to do a day trip there.

I'm heading up to Sedona on Friday. I'm hoping to do my favorite trail, a 10-mile hike from the Airport Loop trailhead to the top of Cathedral Rock. I would not recommend that as an easy day hike. You might want to try the first mile of Soldier Pass trail, which is where the Pink Jeep tours go. It's nice and flat and really scenic. Our favorite restaurant is Indian Gardens Cafe & Market (the sourdough bread is excellent) and ChocolaTree (any desert is great). Check out the ruins at Tuzigoot National Monument.

What IS Flowrider?

Sorry, it's simulated ocean waves and people can bodyboard, surf, etc., in it. 

I am going to Paris for a few days next month and am having a time finding the small boutique hotels that I prefer. TripAdvisor and the big third party sites seem to favor chains and large monstrosities. My only requirements are a fun neighborhood and <$300/night. Any ideas on how to track them down?

I know it's a chain, with hotels throughout Paris, but I like the Astotel properties. They're reasonably priced and each has a distinct personality. For example, Hotel Le 123 Sebastopol channels the cinema via its decor and amenities. Chatters have a favorite hotel to recommend? 

As I'm looking into booking a trip to Vieques, I see that I have the option of flying from San Juan or taking a ferry -- do you all have a preference between the two? The flights we're looking at from the U.S. are less than $250 ... and the flight to Vieques is about the same price, which kind of negates the good deal. On the other hand, the ferry would require a long taxi ride to get from San Juan to the terminal. Any advice?

I love the ferry, but the the trip is very time consuming. If you are tight on time, opt for the flight -- which has equally stunning scenery.

Loved the article, but was disappointed to see you using a Stock photo as the lead. While it was a gorgeous picture, why not use an actual photo from the Islands?

I'm not sure what you mean by an "actual photo." The image was shot in the water off Zamami Island, if that's your concern -- we would not have used it otherwise. 

We booked a flight for our family of 4 on TAP Portugal airlines, without noticing we booked the most basic fare, where checked bags are $105/ticket. We tried to upgrade to the next tier fare that includes a bag, but received notice we weren't eligible to upgrade. Are we stuck paying the additional $800 r/t ? Would a call to the airline get us someone who will authorize an upgrade?

I would call and ask -- no harm in trying. You could also cancel and rebook, but that might cost more. You could also try to pack very light and avoid the baggage charges.

Love it, hate the application/renewal process. I never received any communication of any sort, had to keep going back to their amazingly badly designed site. Only after my 5 minute renewal interview did i get a notice about instant interviews...

Good to hear that persistence pays!

What really kills me about it is having to check in with an agent if you aren't checking a bag. Guess those fees must add up enough to cover the labor costs.

These fees are pure profit. There's no reason airlines should be charging you to bring a carry-on. 

No question or experience comment but thank you for the article. I never could have imagined seeing those blue colors in that part of the world, also mozuku seaweed sounds tasty! Japan is certainly a fascinating country (cant wait to go back!).

Glad you enjoyed it -- here's the link in case anyone missed the piece!

We booked an apartment through Haven In 

Apartments are an alternative to hotels, although I for one like the amenities that are associated with hotel properties when I'm vacationing. But I know lots of people who prefer apartments and privately owned homes. 

Today's code is TT1690. It expires at midnight, so be sure to enter it on Monday to get credit for participating.

I booked nonstop flights on Southwest from BWI to Vegas for travel in July. Two or three weeks afterwards, Southwest canceled both flights. I had already made car rental and hotel reservations, some of which are non-refundable. The airline rebooked me on flights that are on the same days as my original flights, but the times are much less convenient. My issue is with the car rental, which my husband booked through Travelocity. We need to adjust the pick up/drop off times by a few hours, but Travelocity says we cannot make any changes to the reservation. They suggested contacting the company (Nu) directly, which I have not done. I'm very frustrated that they won't be more flexible, given that the flight cancellations were beyond my control. Any suggestions about what I should do? Thank you.

I agree -- you should contact the car rental company directly. If it can't help you then I will. Here's how to contact me.

Hello. I will be in Texas in July. I want to visit Marfa. Which airport is best: El Paso or Dallas? (My conference is in Dallas.) Is there a train or bus to Marfa or is renting a car the best option? Thanks.

Marfa is 182 miles from Midland International Air and Space Port and 190 miles from El Paso International Airport, so you will need a car. Or catch a Greyhound bus from El Paso to Marfa (from $48 one way). The drive from Dallas is about 9 1/2 hours.

I'll be a first-time visitor to Japan later this year. Where should I eat in Tokyo? I'll be staying near Ginza.

Here are a couple of recent Travel pieces about eating and drinking in Tokyo. 

I recently purchased tickets on TAP Portugal for the first time. They do offer a bewildering array of fare options. I knew I wanted to get assigned seats (so important - to me - for international long-haul flights), so I carefully reviewed the various fares and chose the one that met my needs. It took some extra time, but it was worth it. The OP today who was looking at $105 for checked bags will certainly learn their lesson.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

Are there any educational foundations or organizations that promote historical tours for sites related to the life and times of Mandela? I’m a high school social studies teacher who would love to visit South Africa and learn more about one of the greatest human beings in recent history.

Many tour operators offer Nelson Mandela tours. You could always replicate their itineraries or perhaps reach out to a high school or college in SA and see if one of the teachers would be willing to show you around, as a cultural exchange of sorts. (You just have to return the favor if the SA teacher comes to the States.) Check out African Travel Canvas or Alan Tours, among others.

Story, not a question. I was happy to hear a radio spot advertising Sun Country from IAD to MSP starting soon, since I had a good experience on them a few years ago when they flew DCA-MSP. I looked for tickets this weekend and was very happy with the initial prices I saw for my family to head to the midwest this summer, then as I progressed through the purchase and was offered the chance to pay $8 and up for each seat selection, and $30 each way for each carry-on or checked bag (one allowed personal item per passenger at 17x13x9" max), I got tired of adding it all up and just decided to stick with Southwest. Might have still saved a few dollars with Sun Country, but the hassle isn't worth it for me.

Thanks for sharing your story. I agree -- a la carte pricing can be very annoying.

What's your favorite destination/hotel/restaurant/experience? I'm planning a trip there, but haven't decided where and when. All suggestions appreciated.

Canada is one big country. And different cities and regions have different charms. I've enjoyed Mont Tremblant in winter, Vancouver in summer, Toronto in fall, etc. The only city I didn't really love was Whitehorse, but I think I would have enjoyed it far more had I had time to explore the wild areas around it.  Any chatters have a favorite spot? 

It's less (at least to me) about the price and the frills and more about the way airlines treat customers, everyone is treated badly basic is treated worse. And- having flown basic economy cross country last week because my office is cheap I can assure you that the difference in treatment (at least on Alaska was noticeable)

There's a reason "basic" economy is called last class. It's only a matter of time before they add a partition and make the seats even smaller.

I'm interested in exploring Virginia's Northern Neck, but don't know where to start! Can you suggest a good home base and/or the must-do's in the area? Thank you!

The Northern Neck peninsula is an uncrowded, scenically lovely region that offers hiking, biking, wineries, antique shops, etc. It's not for everyone, as it's very low key. But for those who don't want to deal with hordes of tourists, it's a good alternative. Kilmarnock may be a good base. And the tourism folks there do a good job in suggesting itineraries. Happy to share any chatter's favorites. 

We did our own Jeep tour. It is much more fun to drive yourself. It might help if you have some off-road experience, but they can point you in the right direction. They also have guides that can take you out. We used Barlow Jeep Rentals.

Thanks for sharing your experience.

In the U.S. we have 24 hours to cancel our ticket with no penalty. I'm usually so frazzled when I finally buy my ticket that I like to double check exactly what I bought when I'm fresh the next morning. I have actually caught mistakes that way.

Yes, this. I am astonished at how few people know they have this option.

share the names of the best dive schools in D.C.? Thinking about it.

Any suggestions, chatters?

Help! I'm beginning to plan a big trip to east & southern Africa this fall. I'm overwhelmed by the variety of offerings. Would like to see the usual "charismatic megafauna" but also do some birdwatching. Is it better to use different specialty small tour providers & do these activities consecutively OR find an omnibus company? Thanks!

This may be one for a travel agent. If you want to do your own planning, I'd start with a budget, as safaris run the gamut from budget camping to over-the-top luxury camps. Also, local nature groups, such as the Audubon Naturalist Society, often do trips to Africa. 

Does anyone know of a reputable tour company in Dublin for day long trips? I'm based there for a week but would like to do day trips to a few places (the Cliffs, Waterford, Giant's Causeway) but everything I've found has seemed very scammy and not ideal. I'm flexible on cost and on timing I just want an experience that is less spring break scam and still not quite Elder Hostel (or whatever they're called today)

Viator does a good job of listing companies that offer day trips. Or go through the tourism Web site. And Road Scholar, formerly Elderhostel, is a really good tour operator specializing in learning adventures for those 50 and older. 

After having reservation issues, change issues, no help issues with each of the above, I book directly with a hotel, rental car, airline, etc. If there's a problem, they don't help - finger pointing ensues, and the customer is caught in the middle. I had to 'get medieval' with Travelocity once to get them to help...Never again. There's just zero benefit to have a third-party in the middle. IMHO.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

Is a beautiful small lake at Rocky Gap State Park in Cumberland Maryland. They offer camping, golf and a small resort. There is a nice sandy beach, but no waves.


I love Ottawa but then I'm prejudiced because I've lived here all my life (72 years). It's also close to Montreal so you can visit two cities and cultures easily.

It's good to love your home town.

As one of your chatters noted last week, the biggest drawback is that the ticket is nonrefundable *and* nonchangeable. So if you miss the flight, you eat the ticket. To me this makes sense only when the fare is close to what the change fee would be. The rest of the conditions are just inconvenience. Day hikes in Sedona: Boynton Canyon is nice. About 6 miles out & back, mostly flat until the very end.

Thank you.

My 4th grader loves the idea of fishing. Any recommendations for places within a couple hours of DC that provide a safe fishing experience? I have poles, and don't want to rent a boat.

I might try taking him locally first. There are so many lakes in our area that offer fishing. My kids loved fishing  at Burke Lake Park in Fairfax Station, Va., and they even rent small skiffs you can take out. 

Family & I heading to Europe for 2 weeks this summer and I'm wondering if it's smarter to buy some entrance tickets in advance, like Eiffel Tower, Sistine Chapel, etc. - places that are typically the most crowded tourist sites. Good idea??

I think it's well worth the money to buy a cut-the-line tour of the top tourist destinations. And yes, if you're sure of the dates and times, buy in advance. That said, I've never done that. Which is why I sometimes wind up sitting in an outdoor cafe drinking wine instead of touring a museum. 

I took my first (and only) scuba diving lesson near Fethiye Turkey where I learned that my claustrophobia definitely extends to being trapped under water. Saw some amazing sea life including turtles which made it all worth it though. The most memorable part however was we were on a small sailing ship with around 10 people and one of the girls was obsessed with seeing a turtle up close but she had the worst luck. We'd call out to her we saw one, she'd grab her snorkle and jump in, and by the time she was in it was gone. One time the crew spotted a turtle while we were eating dinner and she ran in and jumped in right then. I don't think she ever managed the turtle sighting to her satisfaction. She stole all of our M&M's we brought to share though so I didn't feel too bad.

Thanks for sharing!

Thanks for the recommendation!

When comparing hotel and rental car rates, I've noticed that "non-refundable" ones are only slightly lower than standard fully-changeable ones (like 5-10%). And, as the OP found, they're a hassle if there's an involuntary itinerary change. Finally, cars parked on the lot and empty rooms make no money: it's not uncommon for a hotel or car to become cheaper closer to the date (which, if you have a changeable reservation, you can arbitrage by rebooking).

Thanks for the advice.

We spent a week in eastern Quebec a couple years ago. Lovely national parks, good food. Amazing vistas. We stayed at the Manoir Richelieu on a deal through Was really amazing. Don't miss St. Anne's Canyon and the Saguenay Fjord. We went to the Eastern Districts near Montreal just after but that was very much like where we live (northern Michigan) so I'd say--stay east.

A vote for Quebec.

Check out Hotel Bel Ami in the St. Germain area. I've stayed there several times and love it and the location.


Overall I don't have a problem with the idea of charging for extras and letting people make their own decisions, but I do have a problem when luggage is considered an "extra." If you don't want to pay for a meal you can bring food with you. If you want to be picky about your seat, you can choose to pay for that pickiness. But there is something inherently quixotic about the idea of selling someone a ticket to travel that doesn't also let them bring what they'll need when they get there. It's like selling someone a restaurant table reservation and then charging extra for the food. TSA restrictions make it hard for some of us to bring carry-on, and checking luggage actually makes for a more efficient passenger embarkation and dis-embarkation. So why do they all charge for checked luggage? I find this to be particularly problematic with overseas flights -- often these are longer trips, they're certainly not day-trips, yet these days it looks as though not only the basic fares but most fares under business class charge for checked luggage to Europe. It's utterly ridiculous.

Thank you for sharing your perspective on this.

Hotel St Simon, in the 7th arr, is lovely. Standard rooms are around 275 euros, superior rooms 315 euros, so it shaves close to your price requirement. Also a nicely central location to all the good stuff.


I"ve stayed at the Select Hotel. Small, next to the Sorbonne. Near Luxemburg Gardens and Pantheon. Several blocks south of the Seine, Cluny Museum. Restaurants near by and small grocery stores such as Marks ans Spencer. Rates for 1 or 2 start at 290 eoros

Thank you.

If I'm applying brand new, what is the time frame for getting the card? Oh - for quick beach getaway: you might find house rentals the end of June are by the week only.

It takes about 11 weeks for a new card.

PEI. It gets crowded from July 1 (national holiday) until the end of August, but if you can go during the shoulder season (a few weeks before or after high season), it's still lovely. Check online to see what's open then, though.

On my bucket list.

My first snorkeling experience was in Virgin Gorda at Rosewood Little Dix - I'm a terrible swimmer and was so scared to be in the ocean! But - they have a broad, incredibly shallow bay full of things to look at, so I had an incredible time. Best thing was seeing a turtle swimming alongside me and then - SNAP! - grabbing a jellyfish and sucking it in like a forkful of spaghetti!


Also there are direct, non-stop flights from Washington, daily I think.

There are nonstop flights from Dulles and DCA to Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto, with seasonal nonstops from Dulles to Vancouver.  From BWI, I believe there are nonstops to Montreal and Toronto. 

I bought a ticket on Cathay Pacific last week. My reservation shows as "confirmed" and I was able select seats, etc. But my credit card has not been charged. There is no "pending" charge either. Should I be concerned? Travel is not until early next year.

If  you don't see a charge in the next week or so, you might want to check.

I loved my experience with SPE Scuba Dive School in Bethesda. It was nine years ago I was able to take a three day class over Memorial Day weekend (all day each day and night - classroom and tests during the day and evenings in the pool). A few weeks later I went with them to Grand Cayman for my open water dives. In fact, I was able to add my Advanced Open Water on home study before travel and stay a few extra days to get my Open Water and Advanced Open Water certifications the same week. I've been a happy diver ever since. That scheduling allowed me to squeeze in a class when I knew I would attend without work interference. Great options for busy professionals.

Thanks for the recommendation!

Does getting Global Entry confer any benefits other than speedy re-entry after international travel? Can the card be used as legal ID, for example? Does it get you anything when you go TO foreign airports? Etc.

Yes,  you get TSA Precheck. You can also use your GE at several CBP Preclearance facilities internationally. 

Hotel Arvor. I stayed there for three days a couple of years ago. The owners couldn't have been nicer, the room was comfortable, and they make the BEST homemade orange cake I've ever had (along with fresh orange juice) for breakfast everyday. Metro stop and good restaurants are steps away!

So many nice little hotels in Paris.

Living in Pittsburgh, it's less than a five hour drive for us to get to Niagara Falls. We also enjoy detouring to Niagara-on-the-Lake, then a day at the Royal Botanical Gardens just outside Hamilton, and of course Toronto.

Niagara Falls never ceases to amaze me. 

Why not in DC? Seems kind of odd but quite convenient. Check it out out here

Why not indeed?

Vancouver Island. The city of Victoria is veddy British, then there's wilderness to the north.

Lovely place.

I breezed through customs in Miami using Global entry, then had to wait a good half-hour for my luggage. Trade-offs, I suppose.

Or the Natural Perversity of Life.

The person going to Dublin should be aware that the Giant's Causeway and the Cliffs of Moher are many hours away from Dublin. A daytrip to Newgrange would be a better option - did it last October. Nice daylong trip included Howth and the Hill of Tara. If only I could remember the company name. Bought the tickets from the agency on O'Connell Street.

Hotel concierges are also good resources for day trips. 

We've enjoyed driving up the East Coast through Maine to the province of New Brunswick. There are islands just across the border, as well as the city of St. John (a Loyalist bastion during the American Revolution!), and Fundy National Park (and environs), where the bay reputedly has the world's highest tides.

Chatters have been all over Canada.

Just did this trip last year for spring break. It was great! I highly recommend the Pink Jeep tours. The drivers/guides are very knowledgeable, well-trained, and very funny and personable. We found that one of the basic tours, without a stop for lunch, hiking, etc., was perfect. Take the Pink Jeep tour on the front-end of your trip - the driver/guide will give you lots of restaurant and trail recommendations!

Thanks for the recommendation!

Looks like our hour is up -- thanks for chatting today, everyone. Virgin Gorda diver, drop us a line at to claim your prize. And join us again next week for Talk About Travel!

In This Chat
Nicole Arthur
Nicole Arthur is the Travel editor.
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.
Christopher Elliott
Christopher Elliott writes The Navigator column. He is also National Geographic Traveler magazine's reader advocate.
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