Talk about Travel (Oct. 28)

The Pitons on the Caribbean Island of St. Lucia (AP/Scott Sady).
Oct 28, 2019

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

Hi all, and welcome to Talk About Travel, Halloween Week edition. In this week's section, we took a look at five remarkable North American animal migrations. Have you ever traveled in order to see a particular animal behavior or animal-related phenomenon? Tell us about it below. Most compelling answer gets a copy of the Rick Steves' Europe Picture-a-Day wall calendar. On to your questions!

I bought non-refundable airline tickets that I can no longer use. I am, however, able to change them for a fee. Do I need to know how I plan to use them before the originally scheduled travel or can I cancel and then carry a credit for a future trip? Thanks!

You should be able to carry a credit for a future flight. But please remember that your tickets are only valid for a year from the date of your original booking. Don't wait too long to use your credits.

My husband will no longer travel and I still want to see the world. Do you have any suggestions for women only or solo travel companies?

Hey there, there are a lot of travel companies catering specifically to women; we looked into the rise of women-only travel companies this summer. What kinds of trips are you hoping to do? Road Scholar offers numerous trips for travelers with a range of interests. 

Travel ran a special section on solo travel a couple of years back; here's a brief primer on traveling alone from that issue.

Would love any recommendations for family resorts in Montana in or near Big Sky. We have looked at Paws Up (which is incredibly expensive) and others but wondering if readers have any favorites suited toward elementary aged kids.

I haven't been there in years, but my family had a blast at Chico Hot Springs and the price was reasonable. There's also a newer place, Sage Lodge, that has good reviews, but may be more expensive. Chatters have any suggestions? 

In the last two chats people have asked about things to see in Paris beyond the main attractions. I think I've submitted this here before but here it is again. We really enjoyed the night bike tour with Fat Tire Tours. You go by the main attractions and some others but you see them differently than in the daytime: fewer people, spotlights accentuating the stone work etc. In addition - it's something else to cycle in a small peloton on Parisian boulevards. The tour ends with a boat trip on the Seine including a few glasses of wine (for those who care to imbibe). And then a somewhat tipsy ride back to the headquarters. We went on a similar tour in London with a different company including cycling across Tower Bridge. Both tours were among the highlights of our trips.

Fat Tire Tours operates in cities in Europe and North America. I'm not sure I'd want to bike through the streets of Paris at night after a few glasses of wine, but I'm also likely to fall over cold stone sober! 

Why isn't Travel a tab of its own under Sections on the WP home page? If Health has a tab of its own, then Travel should have one as well instead of being grouped under Lifestyle. Any comments, thoughts?

I couldn't agree more!

We are planning a cross-country drive from Annapolis to Las Vegas to meet our daughter and her husband on April 3 (her birthday, the big 4-0). Then on to L.A. and San Francisco. We plan to leave San Francisco sometime in the last two weeks of April. So far, all we have decided on is that we will head south from the D.C. area so that we can spend a day or two in Oxford, Ms., (we are Faulkner fans), then to New Mexico to see "La Traviata" in Albuquerque March 25, 27 or 29. I have lots of ideas about things to see (thank you, Travel chat!), but I would appreciate advice on getting from Oxford, Ms., to New Mexico—it is a long drive. Any suggestions about stop-worthy places? And how far north can we go in late April on the way home? I know snow can be a problem pretty late in the year. Thanks!

It's a 16-hour drive from Oxford to Albuquerque. If I were planning it, I'd make an overnight stop in Oklahoma City. There's lots to see in Oklahoma City, so you might spend a few days exploring. Alternatively, you could go through Dallas on I-30, which is a little bit of a detour, but Dallas has a lot to offer. Chatters, what would you do?

My family and I are going to London for a couple of weeks in December. We got an AirBnB in Camden town near St Pancras (there are events there that week we’re attending), and we weren’t able to see the outside until after booking. Gated up, graffiti everywhere, above a ratty salon (or what I think is a salon). How is it possible to know what’s safe and what isn’t if we’ve never been there? People I know there say what do I expect, it’s central London. I have no idea if it’s safe for my child at all!

This neighborhood would not be my first choice as a place to stay in London. There are some serious gang issues going on there currently, although most of the crime occurs later at night. Can you get your money back and go somewhere else? Have you read any recent reviews on the Airbnb website -- perhaps it's on a safer block? 

Do you guys wear compression socks on your long flights to maintain circulation? Do you recommend them?

No, but I know a lot of travelers who swear by them. I'll add that to my list of Navigator topics.

We went to Nova Scotia on our honeymoon in late August in hopes of seeing the trifecta of whales, moose, and puffins. Whale-watching was a bust. We saw two absolutely magnificent moose. And sadly, we heard most of the puffins had already migrated by the time we arrived. Nonetheless, we had a puffin boat tour booked and our tour guide was determined to get a sighting. She was communicating with other boat operators via radio and heard reports of a few lingering puffins. Picture a sizable boat, filled with 25-30 people, chasing after a pair of elusive puffins. We only were able to actually see the puffins after zooming in on our pictures later. In any case, it was still a blast!

Fascinating piece. I would like to add pink flamingos or Famboyances as they are collectively called to the list. My wife and I were able to see thousands of these migratory birds in Celestun, home to the Celestun Biosphere Reserve a couple of years ago. It was a spectacular experience seeing and watching these sea of birds in their stunning pink colors. Both of these sites are within easy reach of the city of Merida, capital of the Yucatan province in Mexico.

But Stratford Ontario is definitely on a monarch butterfly migration route. When I end up there in late August/early September there can be a lot of monarch sightings. They tend to flutter around near the river, which winds through town and directly across the street of two of the four theaters. If I grab lunch downtown and walk to an afternoon show along the river, I can end up seeing several of them in a 15 minute walk.

This is not very far from me, but does three hours count as travel? Anyway, every March, we drive out to the area between Kearney and North Platte, Nebraska, to see the sandhill crane migration. At sunrise and sunset, the sky is full of thousands of birds flying between the sandbars in the Platte River where they settle for the night, and the fields where they eat. If you drive along the Platte River road in the daytime, pull over, and step out, you can hear them. The noise that number of birds can make is incredible. And when they are flying, they can fill the sky with almost geometric shapes. One year, we passed a large pond alongside the interstate on the way out, and it was wing-to-wing snow geese, the entire surface. Incredibly beautiful.

I've camped in numerous places known to have moose -- Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks, Boundary Waters Canoe Area, the woods of Ontario, Québéc and northern New England and New Brunswick -- yet despite my best efforts I've still NEVER seen a moose. It's almost as if they know I'm coming, so decide to hide from me in order to amuse themselves...

Our 3 generation family of 11 is traveling together to Paris and London next June (leaving from Seattle). I’ve started watching airline tickets. I know it’s more of an art than a science but should I expect prices to fall if I wait a few more months to book? I’m focusing on nonstop flights so worried supply will dwindle if I wait too long but also normally don’t buy this early when I travel alone.

If you want nonstop flights and everyone to travel together, you should buy sooner rather than later. Virgin Atlantic has great pricing right now on nonstop flights from Seattle to London, starting at $530 round trip for economy light and $630 for regular economy. You can also contact the airline's group travel department.  But  buy now while these prices are so low. 

Are there any restrictions for US citizens in traveling to Iran ? If none, how can one get a VISA for visiting the country given that we do not have any formal diplomatic relations with the Iranians? Also, is there a reliable US-based tour group that conducts tour for Americans in Iran. Normally, I like to travel by myself when visiting a foreign country, but a tour group may be a better option in light of current circumstances. Many thanks

This is the State Department's take on travel to Iran: "Do not travel to Iran due to the risk of kidnapping, arrest, detention of U.S. citizens." And the warning gets more dire from there, advising travelers at one point to make sure their wills are in order before departing. That said, there is no ban on travel to Iran. And there are companies that offer tours, such as Intrepid Travel

Hi, I have a business trip to Amsterdam in the spring, and my spouse is going to tag along. We'd like to add on several days afterwards. Any suggestions for sites to easily visit outside of Amsterdam? Is Brugges Belgium too far to visit? We would probably not be renting a car, but traveling by train.

No, Bruges is not too far. It will take less than three hours by train to get there, and you'll transfer in Brussels. 

I'm flying out for Thanksgiving for the first time this year instead of my usual carpool with my brother and sister-in-law since they will already be out of town. My flight is at 9:30am on the Wednesday morning flying out of DCA. What time would you suggest arriving to the airport? I know this is the busiest travel time of the year so I know it's going to be crazy and I figured I'd ask for advice.

If it's a domestic flight, I would get there no later than 7:30 a.m. If you're traveling with kids or lots of luggage, maybe 7 a.m.

I had never heard of Fat Tire Tours (I read it as "FLAT tire" at first, and thought that doesn't sound like much fun), but I note that they operate in D.C., and some of their tours use electric bicycles. 

Yes, they do offer tours in D.C. 

I've worked in London a lot-book elsewhere. The neighborhood is not terribly redeeming and if you're going to b e somewhere for 2 weeks, don't you want something pretty and Christmassy? Try VRBO.

I agree. 

It feels weird to recommend this as a tourist spot, but the site of the 1995 bombing is worth visiting. We arrived too late to participate in an official tour. But you can walk around on your own. It is a place of respect and quiet contemplation. And, generally, I think it's important to visit these places as a way to honor those who died and to pledge, truly, to never forget.

Thanks for the suggestion.

My husband nearly died of DVT/EP, and takes daily medication to prevent a recurrence -- DNA testing showed it to be hereditary, which he already knew anecdotally -- so you'd better believe that he wears compression hose on long flights, short flights, in fact all day long no matter where he is. Although I have no such known predispositiion, I wear compression hose on all flights too, on the theory that it couldn't hurt.

I'd love to include you in my story. Could you email me please?

The day my tour group was scheduled to go whale-watching out of Lajes, Pico, in the Azores -- the heart of the former whaling industry until ca. 1983 -- when we arrived at the HQ, they told us that no whales had been spotted anywhere nearby, so if we wished we could get a refund, since we surely wouldn't be seeing any. Then they added that for those who still wanted to make the trip in a zodiac in the waters off Pico, we could expect to see easily hundreds of dolphins of assorted varieties. I went, and when our captain would idle the zodiac engine, the dolphin pods came remarkably close to us. I got some great photos of them, and am so glad I went (even without whales).

I travel once or twice a year with a group that shares a common interest. Many members of the group are women whose husbands prefer not to travel. Our group? We are parrot lovers! I have visited many places to view parrots in the wild and/or sanctuaries working to repopulate local species. Special places include Australia, Belize, Puerto Rico, Costa Rica.

A few years ago we visited Newfoundland in June, which unfortunately is black fly season. But it is also the best birding season. We kayaked around puffins' nesting grounds off the coast just south of St. Johns, and we saw tens of thousands of seabirds at St. Mary's Ecological Preserve. And plenty of moose. Moose are so plentiful there are warning signs on the highways to watch out for them.

For pure tranquility, everyone should stand in a stream and fish. I will admit, I don't love fishing. But my husband has health issues and loves to fish and so needs someone with him. I've stood in streams in Nova Scotia, Colorado, and the blue ribbon trout streams near our home in Michigan. There is something so serene and tranquil about casting and waiting to see the fish take the fly. The trout are beautiful, some pink, some amber. One of the most sanguine experiences is floating down the river just after sunset. You are in a boat, floating along. The fireflies come out and the insects are singing. Soon you look up and there is a huge hatch of insects falling into the water and the trout are slurping them up. It totally erases any worries or pervasive thoughts of pesky human concerns. We release all the fish. You take only your memories of the day and evening back with you to the mundane tasks of real life.

I wear compression socks for anything over about 2 hours because of past problems with swelling. You can get "daily wear" type ones that aren't as insane to put on as the full medical grade ones (I've gotten "sockwells" brand from rei). I go that route and have since my last pregnancy a few years ago. Makes a big difference in my general comfort.

Thank you. Stay tuned for my story.

We stayed at the 360 Ranch, which is just south of Big Sky, Montana. Nice family-friendly activities in a gorgeous setting

Yes, this resort also has a good rep.

Are there any less expensive options for renting a car for an extended trip or short trips to the same city? For example, I may be making 3 or so trips to the same city over the next several weeks including an extended holiday visit. I thought it might be cheaper to have a single rental (and park the car at the airport while not using it) than multiple shorter rentals. Is there a minimum time where this would work (and pros or cons) or companies to talk to other than the usual airport rental agencies?

Have you tried Turo yet? It's a car sharing service that has less expensive rates than most rental companies. I've used them for a month at a time.

consider a cruise based on your level of interest and activity!

Good suggestion, thanks!

Can you pick up some sections of legendary old US Route 66? We took it back in 1968, it was still the main highway between St. Louis and SoCal.

Great idea. I'm only a block away from historic Route 66 right now in LA -- it's filled with attractions, even in the remote areas.

Every year, my wife and I get away in January for a week or so to somewhere warm, typically an island in the Caribbean but sometimes Mexico. This year, for a variety of reasons, my wife can't go. The idea of staying home during a DC winter isn't appealing, but for the life of me I'm having a hard time figuring out where to go. I've tried to think of Europe, as an outside the box choice, but about the warmest place I can find (based on past weather patterns) is Lisbon. In the Caribbean, I've been thinking of maybe Martinique, never having been there. But I'm not the kind of person who just wants to lie on a beach for a week. I usually like something cultural to do, museums for instance, and I'm not coming up with an island that has a mix of sun and culture that hasn't been rocked by a hurricane in the last year or two. BTW, we spent time in Cancun and Playa del Carmen a couple of years ago. Basically, I'm desperate for suggestions. Any ideas????

It gets warmer than Lisbon. You could always check out Madeira, just off the coast of Africa.

Regarding the previous post about London, if you can't see detailed pictures of the property before you book, shouldn't that be a big red flag? And if they didn't provide an exact street address that you could look for in Google streetview, wouldn't that be another one? I've never used AirBnB because the whole thing seems inherently shady, and stuff like this supports my point.

I'm not sure why the chatter booked it. I'd guess that the price was right and it's close to where they need to be. I'm always an over-researcher when it comes to booking any private dwelling, whether it be through Airbnb or VRBO or any of those type sites. You can find lovely places at good prices, but research is time-consuming. 

Fat tire tours also have services overseas. I used them to explore Berlin.

Yes, as I mentioned, they offer tours in Europe and North America. 

If you feel self-conscious for wearing compression socks for a flight, since it's necessary to remove one's shoes at TSA, wear a thin pair of socks over them (or knee-high nylons, for women). That way no one else will know, and you can still look fashionable.

These days, compression socks come in every imaginable color and pattern; there's no reason to feel self-conscious!

Police.uk has great interactive maps of the entire city (based on postcode or neighborhood) that shows exactly where a crime happened, when and what type. Might be a good start to researching an area to stay in the city.

I always find these sort of sites scary and difficult to process. But if you're a statistical person who likes to drill down, I guess it could be useful. 

We were in Paris this past September. I would definitely recommend the on/off buses. Ours included the Bateaux Mouches boats on the Seine which was a great way to view both banks. Especially Notre Dame. I really enjoyed the Rodin Museum. Beautiful gardens, lots of sculptures to see. Another favorite was Sainte-Chappelle and the Concierge for the history. And lunch at the Gallerie Lafayette! On the rooftop. Spectacular views.

Thanks for the recommendations!

Your very own Thomas Heath wrote about compression socks three years ago.

Thanks for pointing that out.

I could be making this up but I believe in the last month or so someone wrote in looking for a not too expensive beach idea for their family and you recommended a resort in/near Sanibel. Do you remember what your answer was, I looked back but can't find it. Or if I am making that up, do you know of any nice but not too expensive Sanibel (or other Florida towns) resort? Trying to plan spring break. Thanks!

I recommended Sundial Beach Resort & Spa on the island of Sanibel in a recent travel chat. But, like many places, prices will likely be higher over spring break. 

If you have a lot of time, I would go south to New Orleans, then the Houston-San Antonio-El Paso route. Houston isn't interesting, but San Antonio is beautiful and El Paso has amazing food. The drive from El Paso north to Albuquerque is beautiful

Thanks -- yes, San Antonio is one of my favorite American cities. Well worth the detour.

We will be traveling with a car and driver, daytime only, from Cancun to Mexico City in January. How safe is such a trip?

I think you'll be fine, although I'd avoid driving at night. 

I am assuming you are looking in mid June from Seattle---some advice 1. look at Vancouver prices 2. look at other airports other than London or Paris like flying to Brussels or Amsterdam to fly in and out of. 3. June-August is high fare season. to find other cheaper fares look outside of weekend travel times.

You won't get anything cheaper than $530 round trip for nonstop flights to London. 

I read that it was difficult for non-citizens to travel by train because of the rules about how you buy tickets. I believe you need to have a Dutch bank account to purchase online? But seeing the Delta Works is on my bucket list so do you know of any travel companies that offer tours to see that?

I have not heard that Holland restricts online train ticket purchases to those with credit cards issued by Dutch banks. That sounds far-fetched. I don't know of any regularly scheduled tours from Amsterdam to Delta Works. 

Delft and Haarlem are easy day trips from Amsterdam. Bruges is lovely, and so is Ghent.

All true. 

I've successfully used Airbnb a number of times, but the downside is that there's no way to see exactly where the house/building is until you book -- that's when you get the address. I guess it's a safety thing -- maybe they don't want to publicize their hosts' address widely. I can understand that, but it does make it difficult to make an informed decision.

Reviews are important. 

Ha. I was talking to an English couple in Ireland last year. They asked me if DC and NY were close. I said that they definitely were, you could visit them both in the same trip and the train trip was only about 4 hours. They were horrified at how long the trip was which I basically tossed aside as being an easy distance between cities close to each other.

My friends in Europe think nothing of hopping on a train for three hours, so it may be in individual thing. 

I've never been to Iran, and it's not high on my bucket list, but I note that both Rick Steves and Anthony Bourdain did full-length shows in Iran, available on their websites, and had wonderful experiences. At least in the pre-Trump era, a lot of ordinary Iranians actually liked and respected Americans.

Thanks for the links. 

The wildlife is the reason most people visit Galapagos. I went on a Road Scholar tour in 2017. We saw the giant tortoises, blue-footed boobies, pelicans, and marine iguanas. While snorkeling we saw seals, stingrays, sea turtles, and sharks, plus lots of colorful fish. Also, for the female solo traveler: I've been on four Road Scholar tours, and the women always outnumber the men.

My family went to Monterey over spring break one year when I was in high school and my mom had booked a whale watching cruise. We didn't spot any whales, and the captain was bound and determined to stay out until we did. Unfortunately, the water was also horribly rough and everyone on the boat was sick. Still saw an albatross, though, so it wasn't a complete loss. But, yeah. Hearing the captain announce, "We'll be staying out here an extra hour since we haven't found any whales," was the least pleasant experience. I still want to see whales some day though!

I'm a woman in her mid-40s, and I finally bought a pair last year for a trip to Europe. I flew 8hrs to Copenhagen, had an 8 hr layover which included 4 hrs of walking around the city, then a 1,5 hr flight to Riga -- my legs did not not feel exhausted nor were they swollen, so it was definitely a good purchase!

Thanks for the testimonial!

When my daughter was going to tack Paris onto a business trip she thought she had found a budget friendly hotel in the 2nd (I think) arrondissement. She showed it to her French coworker who firmly told her no, not here -- you are to book in these areas. Always helps to know someone!

Always!

We found Madeira's capital, Funchal, too touristy for our off-the-beaten-track tastes, although I concede they do touristy very well in terms of dining and shopping. If you go, try to spend a day (or more) up north, especially in the mountains. In Funchal, don't miss a concert by the Madeira Mandolin Orchestra -- which bills itself as the world's largest and youngest such group -- who blew us away with arrangements of many genres of music! 

Thanks for sharing your experience!

Senior Discovery Tours in Canada is also a good idea. They typically have 8 spaces for singles among the pairs of travellers. You can join the tours in Toronto or make your own flight arrangements (prices suitably adjusted). 

Thanks for the recommendation!

I’ll be on a Sierra Club trip in Fairbanks the first week in March, and want to extend my time before and after. A few questions. First, is a day trip to Denali, by bus there and back by train, worthwhile? Second, how interesting is the winter festival in anchorage? The outhouse race sounds like fun, but is the festival worth the trip to anchorage? It seems like all activities in anchorage.... dogsledding, snow shoeing, northern lights gazing, can also be done in Fairbanks. Third, is the day long train ride from Fairbanks to anchorage, or vice versa ( each just once a week) worthwhile for the scenery? Thank you.

I would absolutely not go to Alaska and skip Denali! Also, although same of the same activities are available, Anchorage and Fairbanks are very different cities, and both worth visiting -- plus the train ride between them is beautiful. Andrea wrote about Alaskan train travel in this recent feature

Looks like our time is up -- thanks for chatting today, everyone. Sandhill crane fan, please drop us a line at travel@washpost.com to claim your prize. And join us again next week for more Talk About Travel!

In This Chat
Nicole Arthur
Nicole Arthur is the Travel editor.
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.
Carol Sottili
Carol Sottili is a former Washington Post travel writer, specializing in travel deals.
Helen Carefoot
Helen Carefoot is Travel's editorial assistant.
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