Sep 27, 2010

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.

Greetings all, and welcome to our chat! We hope you had a lovely weekend. Summer is officially over, which means that it’s time to look ahead to those autumn trips. And we’d love to know: What is your favorite place to watch the leaves turn color? Best fall foliage story gets a prize!  

This is in the gripe and warning category. On a recent return from Spain I bought some ham and chorizo in the duty-free shop in Madrid. Now I know that meat cannot be brought into the US but I naively assumed that if it was for sale in a duty-free shop (in a terminal that only had flights to the US) they had received some sort of dispensation. They had not and it was confiscated. The warning here is to don't be fooled into bringing it back . The gripe is that there was no warning at all in the shop even though they were catering to a lot of people coming to the US.

Word. In cases like this, the conspiracy theorist in me wonders if Customs and the duty-free folks are in some kind of cahoots. Confiscate, and resell? Meanwhile, did you see the piece we ran in January about a food lover's difficulties getting food past security?

SO SO SO excited! I live in Atlanta, so I've only heard about how great southwest was. And I never wanted to drive to birmingham to fly them. And I *love* airtran. They are a great company and we love flying on the airline. This is great wonderful news!

One other neat place to visit in Cleveland - Lake View Cemetery (no, really). It's got the Wade Memorial Chapel (with an interior completely designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany), the James A. Garfield monument (burial place of the 20th president with a nice view of the city from the 2nd floor balcony), and the graves of John D. Rockefeller and Eliot Ness, among others. It's on the east side of the city, in the University Circle neighborhood.

I love a good cemetery. Thanks.

Can you give us some details on the Southwest/Airtran deal? How soon can we expect to see current Airtran flights on the southwest site?

I've been following this story all morning, and have a few links to share. First of all, here's what Southwest and AirTran are saying about the merger.

I've also posted something on my blog about the likely effects of the Southwest-AirTran merger on passengers.

Regarding what's next, the airlines offer no specific timeline. But typically, these mergers take many months to clear all regulatory hurdles. I wouldn't expect to see AirTran 717s in Southwest colors until mid-2011 at the earliest.

Dear Flight Crew, We are considering having our wedding in Oaxaca, Mexico. The only issue is the high cost of flying there. While we understand that destination weddings are a higher cost, we don't want to unduly burden our guests with an 800 dollar flight (Continental). The wedding would not be until November of next year. What are your predictions for fares for next year? Do you think we would be able to find a lower cost?

It's expensive to get to Oaxaca. You may be able to get a reduced group rate if you can get everyone to go on the same flights. Most, including Continental,  need at least 10 passengers flying together. Meanwhile, keep checking so that you familiarize yourself with going rate. But even if you find a sale fare, how are you going to get everyone to buy it?   Maybe a good idea if you'd prefer a smaller wedding.

Hi Crew! I'm a woman in my late 20s and I'm planning my first trip to England for next year. Some of my friends have suggested joining a tour instead of traveling alone, saying it will be safer and a lot easier for my first trip abroad. But I have a vision of being stuck with a bunch of grandparents and being hustled from place to place! Not my idea of a fun vacation. Any suggestions?

England is really easy to get around. The trains are great and  easy to figure out. As a woman who has traveled there alone, I think you would be okay nixing the tour. But in case you do want to join a tour, can any chatters out there suggest a good one in England?

Dear Travel Gurus, My partner and I are planning a week long vacation to Spain in mid December, focusing on Madrid and Barcelona. Will the weather be so wet and dreary that we should reconsider our timing? Anyone out there make a similar trip to Spain around that time of year? We are interested in art, architecture, food, and culture, if that's something to take into acct. Thanks!

I took a two-week trip to Spain from mid-December to early January several years ago, and the weather was fine. Or at least I don't remember being annoyed by it. Too much to see/do/eat that a little drizzle wouldn't worry me anyway.

Posting early since I will be away at work. Would like to find out from you or from other chatters about any experience or advice about taking the train from Chicago to LA. It is a long ride, but does any one have any details about it? WPost had an article where the author mentioned taking breaks on the way. We would like to make it a non-stop ride (excluding stops made by the train itself). Is it too uncomfortable to take the seating accommodation only since the sleeper coaches are very expensive and may not be affordable. Help!

Have not done this particular ride, but let's throw it out to the chatters. I would say, however, having taken the overnight autotrain from Florida once in regular seating that that is a miserable ride. You really can't sleep well in the ordinary seats and it's impossible to make the whole trip without sleeping. You end up dozing in horribly uncomfortable positions and arrive exhausted. That's what I think, anyway. Chatters, agree or disagree?

Hi flight crew, My husband and I want to do something out of the ordinary and take a small getaway within driving distance of D.C. We are thinking of October 9-10. Although we have lived here for several years, we haven't done a great job of taking trips to nearby locations. Could you please recommend some options for us? We enjoy nice restaurants and outdoor activities. We were thinking of visiting some wineries in Virginia but we've never been and we don't know which ones to visit!

Check out this piece on visiting Virginia wineries: It will give you some inspiration.

I'm meeting my sister in Paris in October (NO KIDS!!) We have a hotel for 4 nights in Paris, but were thinking for our 5th night maybe taking a little 36 hour day trip before our afternoon flights home? What would you suggest? Versailles? Giverny? We'd be happy to train maybe 2 hours, or rent a car.

Versailles is a super-easy day trip from Paris, maybe a half-hour or 40 minutes by train (also super easy) and although the tourists are many, I do recommend it. It's spectacular. And be sure to take in Marie Antoinette's private retreat, the Petit Trianon, and the "hameau" or rustic village she had built on the grounds so that she and her ladies-in-waiting could play at being milkmaids.  You won't have to overnight at Versailles unless you want to. If you want to go a little farther away, what about Chartres? It's maybe an hour away or a bit more. And the cathedral is magnificent. Giverny is another splendid option. And Mont St. Michel is my favorite, though it's somewhat farther, maybe 3-4 hours by car. So it depends on what time your flights out are.

Other suggestions, chatters?

I would also suggest Lyon. It is about a two-hour train ride from Paris. It's a beautiful city with some of the best food I've ever tasted.

I fly Airtran frequently and finally managed to obtain Elite status, which means most of the time I get upgraded to business class...and then came this morning's news. Boooo. Any idea what impact this buyout will have on Airtran rewards program members?

I've been following the merger pretty closely, and unfortunately, the airlines have been pretty vague about their intentions.

Here's what they are saying:

"Over time, and with the appropriate notices, we’ll ultimately merge AirTran A+ Rewards members into our award-winning Rapid Rewards program. With a larger and stronger Southwest network and the transformation of our Rapid Rewards frequent flyer program, the union of the two programs creates a superior program for Southwest Airlines’ Rapid Reward members and AirTran’s A+ Rewards members. The new travel opportunities are expected to generate excitement for each carrier’s members and contribute to the transaction’s revenue synergies."

Any time someone mentions the word "synergies" in a press release, I get a little skeptical. I think we'll just have to wait and see what happens.

Coming from Raleigh and Philadelphia to meet for a weekend in D.C. in October. Any neighborhood-style dining establishments and watering holes you could recommend for two old friends to try to re-establish a romance?

Do you want quiet/romantic, or fun/boisterous? Mood is everything, isn't it? On the energetic side, you might try H Street Country Club, where the Mexican food (and margaritas) are swell, and the mini-golf will help break any tension. Or look into Cork Wine Bar and Birch & Barley (great beer selection and desserts) in Logan Circle, or one of my new favorite places, Kushi in Mount Vernon Square, for fantastic sushi and little fatty grilled skewer things (izakaya style). On the quieter/more romantic end of the spectrum, go to Palena in Cleveland Park, and sit in the cafe area, where you can order off the cheaper menu (amazing burger and the best roast chicken in the city, possibly the world) as well as the more expensive formal dining room menu (get the gnocchi and consomme if there's one on the menu).

Berryville and Winchester. Find a nice B&B and then explore. You can also gamble in Charlestown which is 15minutes away down rt 340. Another option is Sheperdstown, WV

This week my wife and I are celebrating our second anniversary by traveling to Belgium and Amsterdam. I'm vegetarian and my wife eats fish, but we were wondering if you or the peanut gallery had suggestions of vegetarian-friendly restaurants in Brussels, Bruges or Amsterdam, as well as if you had any suggestions for day trips.

I think we must have the peanut gallery chime in on a questions so specific. Chatters, have you eaten vegetarian in these cities?

As for side trips, I would certainly do Waterloo out of Brussels.

As a 30-year-old who's recently done that trip solo, I can assure you that there's absolutely no need to join a tour, particularly in a country where you speak the language. England is very very safe, and the train system is simple and relatively affordable (and even in places without train stations - like to charming Cotswolds - it's really easy to catch a bus, I swear). Lots of people travel alone all over Europe, including young women, so it's not an uncommon sight at all to see someone dining alone. Any of the major tour books will give you just the info you need (Rick Steves is my favorite). Going solo also means you can do exactly as you please - sick of London? Hop on a train to Bath! Someone tells you about a great little town in the Lake District? You can go there tomorrow! You're not subject to anyone else's schedule (or restaurant/hotel choices) - I can't recommend it enough.

I agree!

Love the chat and hope you take my question! I am looking for some guidance planning an annual girls' weekend with my college friends for later this fall. We're in our mid-twenties. Two of us are driving from the DC area and two from Cincinnati, OH. We're looking to meet somewhere about halfway in between. In the past, we've met at a B&B in West Virginia and gone to Morgantown. We're not especially picky--we'll mostly just want to catch up. It's important to have some good restaurant options and some form of shopping. We're open to meeting in a city--maybe Pittsburgh?--Or going somewhere quaint along the way. What would you suggest?

Pittsburgh has good restaurants and nice places to stay. Or, if you're looking for something quieter, how about Beckley, West Virginia? Scenically beautiful (New River Gorge is the area's big draw).

hey travel staffers! what are some of your favorite out-of-the way places to go in SE Asia?

Since I've never been there, the entire place is out of the way! Throwing this out to our chatters.

Is it likely that Southwest will begin flying out of DCA? WAY more convenient than BWI!

I'm looking forward to that, too.

I'll be driving down the coast from San Francisco to Santa Barbara before heading back north next week, and I was wondering what the crew would consider must see destinations. I have no set agenda and I have 9 days so I'm willing to go off the beaten path. Thanx

Definitely go to Hearst Castle near Santa Barbara. You can also go through the Coastal Mountains to Salinas and Monterey. Also go to San Luis Obispo. You can't miss Big Sur! Anyone else have must-sees to suggest?

I'm taking a friend of mine out to Las Vegas in November for 3 full days. He doesn't gamble, so this will be my first time exploring the city outside of walking between the casinos. So far my ideas of what to do include indoor skydiving, Cloud Nine (the tethered air-ballooning ride that should have reopened by now), the Minus 5 Ice Lounge, some time at night atop Paris Las Vegas' Eiffel Tower, the Fremont Street Experience, and seeing the Springs Preserve to get away from the Strip. Are there other ideas that I should consider or am I pushing it (the AK-47 firing range is out as I'm uncomfortable with guns)? Thanks!

Sounds like you've got lots of fun stuff lined up. Having been there, I'd skip the Fremont Street Experience unless you already know you love it. The most important question: Where will you eat? Here's Tom Sietsema's recent Postcard on that topic. You have to fortify between adventures, don't you?

I'm a vegetarian and spend 2 weeks in Brussels, Brugges and Amsterdam. I had no problem at all eating, but can't recall any specific resturants. One thing - try the street friends with mayo - YUM!

Thanks! But perhaps you mean street fries? Wouldn't want you eating up your traveling companions!

Hi, Flight Crew. I'm in the early stages of planning a weeklong trip to Hawaii in November (from Denver). I've never been, so any advice would be appreciated. Would a week be enough time to fully appreciate the Big Island, and if I limit my stay to Hawaii proper, will I regret not seeing the other islands? Thanks much!

I'm in Hawaii now, and I've been here for 10 days. I feel as if I've just started exploring this state. A week is probably not enough, unless you stay on one island. I would give yourself at least four days to explore a place like the Big Island, and maybe a week on Oahu. My advice would be to get out of town a few times to see some of the areas that fewer tourists go to, like Kona on the Big Island or Oahu's North Shore. A good place to start is the official Hawaii visitors site

Have any of you participated in The Oxford Experience at Christ Church College, Oxford? It's a one week program in the summer where one lives in the dorms, eats in the dining hall and takes non-credit courses? It sounds fun, but I have not seen much feedback from participants.

My daughter did a program at Oxford called the Oxford Tradition when she was in high school, which was excellent. But I think you are referring to an adult program, of which there are many. Anyone familiar with the Oxford Experience?

If you don't want to inconvenience your guests, why not just save Oaxaca for the honeymoon, and have the wedding in a more convenient place?

I've got to admit, I'm a little down on the entire destination wedding movement. My niece is getting married in DR next summer, and, while I would not miss her wedding, I truly wish it were closer to home. I know, it's their day......

it's been a while...but they have indonesian places and indian/pakistani places all over. both of those you can get really yummy veggie food. Also - I got taken to a brazilian steak house, and there was something to eat - they even had 'vegetarian plate' on the menu. i don't suggest going to one, just cause you have more choices than I did (someone else was paying). But it wasn't a big deal, and I suppose 15 years after I've would be even less so now.

I agree with Zofia! My partner and I took the train from Los Angeles to Seattle (3-day trip), and it was hard enough to sleep in the (incredibly narrow) beds. I can't imagine trying to sleep sitting up for that long. That said, it was a great trip, and I'm glad we did it!

Southwest is my favorite airline...but they only flew 737s. Do you know if that is going to be true for the combined fleet?

It appears they're going to keep the 717s.

Down to Charlottesville on Saturday during the football game, visit Jefferson, Barboursville and Veritas wineries. Tour UVA & downtown Charlottesville on Sunday before returning.

If you can fit it in, make a rez at Barboursville's Palladio restaurant. Really nice brunch. And for other C-ville restaurant ideas, see this piece Jane Black wrote (that I had the pleasure of helping her research).

Hello! I was lucky enough to win a 3-night stay at a hotel in Vieques. We were hoping to make it a pretty cheap getaway. When is the off/low season there, and what's the cheapest way to get there? A quick search for flights on Bing came back with flights to Vieques costing nearly $1000; but if we fly into the San Juan, it's around $250. Is there a ferry or other affordable way to make the rest of the journey from San Juan to Vieques? Thanks for your help!

You can either fly from San Juan to Vieques for about $150 roundtrip or take the ferry from Fajardo. You'd have to drive to Fajardo. A cab from San Juan to Fajardo would be about $55. The ferry ride itself is only $2 to $5. 

I've only been to Malaysia and Singapore, but I loved Melaka on the Malay Peninsula and Kuching in Borneo. Both are really friendly and inexpensive once you get there. Melaka has some great cultural attractions, while Kuching has more nature and hiking.

I think the question is, how "out of the way" do you want? There's not really all that out of the way like Luang Prabang which I really enjoyed. Or there are tons of interesting places all over Thailand. I had fun touring Khmer sites in NE Thailand...Phimai, Phnom Rung, Muang Prasat Thom... And there are some really nice national parks in the north central part of the country around Phitsanulok, which is also close to Sukhothai and the ruins there and nearby Si Sitchanalai historical parks. In Cambodia there are out of the way places like Kep and Kampot down on the coast.

Conde Nast current issue has a great article on Phom Penh in the current issue. Sorry my wife and I refuse to go to destination weddings. Sorry Sandals or some similar all inclusive resort just doesn't excite use. We prefer something along the line of the One and Only, Pink Sands or Goldeneye. Destination weddings should be banned.

I don't know any tour groups, but I would also encourage the young woman to not join a tour if she doesn't want to. One option might be to see if you can sign up for a day-long tour of say London, so you can hit the high points but then see the rest on your own. Obviously, you have to be careful re safety pretty much anywhere.

I went to Barcelona a couple years ago in early December. It was quite chilly...bring warm clothes. That said, I had a week without rain and was still able to explore the city. As a bonus, Barcelona has a great Christmas fair with chocolate and churros. Yum.

There's so much to see (Gaudi-focused and not Gaudi-focused) and eat in Barcelona. Yum indeed.

Drive down the South Branch Valley of the Potomac through Moorefield and Petersburg WV and take Rt 33 to Elkins WV--lovely mountain scenery. Visit Helvetia, a nearby village with a strong Swiss traditions, architecture and food.

Sounds lovely. Thanks!

Last year my husband and I traveled in those cities with another couple, one of whom is a vegetarian. I don't remember specifically where we ate, but he was always able to find vegetarian options. Every restaurant posts their menu outside so you can check before you go in. And in Amsterdam there are lots of Indian and Thai restaurants, so extra veg-friendly.

I love Solvang!

Oh yes. I have  not been but hear it's great. Thanks!

Is it worthwhile to purchase a membership in an airline's airport club? Generally, an annual membership is around $250 - $300. I travel frequently domestically and internationally, but I've never joined any sort of club. Thanks.

If you're a frequent traveler, and need a quiet place to work at the airport, then buying a club membership can be a good idea. However, many loyalty programs will grant you entrance into one of the clubs at no extra charge, and you can also get in with the right credit card -- in other words, while the idea of a club membership might make sense, there could be more cost-effective ways of getting in than paying an annual membership fee.

I did it last year, taking a Shakespeare course. My classmates were from the U.S., Australia, New Zealand and and Italy. Most of the attendees were older Americans, it seemed to me. Christ Church is an amazing place architecturally, although the dorm I stayed in was spartan, but my room had a mini fridge and private bath. (You pay about 150 pounds extra a week for that, but for me it was worth it.) Depending on the course, there are excursions that will involve a small outlay of extra money, but the fee for the course and room also includes three meals a day. The food was more than adequate, but not special, except for the last night dinner, which was excellent. The courses are not rigorously academic and there are no exams--you are literally there for the experience. The one thing to bear in mind is that Oxford is incredibly crowded in the summer with everyday tourists and especially with high school aged students from all over Europe coming to take courses, not necessarily in one of the university colleges. As one of the bluff, bowler hatted guides told me, "Yes, in the Summer, they send their brats here and we send ours over there."

Hi Crew! Two of us are driving cross country. Why? - we're delivering some estate pieces we don't want to ship. We'll visit family in WA and need to be somewhat efficient with the travel time. We plan a northern route out to hit Mt. Rushmore, through Spokane and to the WA coast. On the way back, we'll cut to the south to go through Denver. We have three weeks. What strategy would you use for hotels and food on this sort of adventure? Any must see stops to consider? Thanks.

I've done it both ways driving cross-country -- just stopped overnight at chain hotels along the way one time, pinpointed specific hotels the other. I think I prefer the latter approach, mostly because I like to stay in historic hotels. So I pinpointed some along our route and made reservations and then we'd drive whatever the distance was to the next hotel each day. It's more expensive, though, than staying at Comfort Suites or Best Western or whatever, so your pocketbook may help dictate what you decide.

As for what to see along the way, let's let the chatters give you some guidance. Folks?

Family is meeting Gramma and Grampa in PA near the Delaware Water Gap. Six of us ages 7 to 79. A couple of questions...are there good hikes that everyone can handle? What about restaurants? Any suggestions?

Yes, there are some easy hikes. National Park Service lists them. My family also likes Bushkill Falls

Autumn Glory Festival in Garrett County is Oct 8-10

I don't really have a question, but I wanted to comment that I was thrilled to see an article about Tasmania in the travel section! It's such a beautiful place, and even though it takes forever to get there from here, it's so worth it. Did the writer visit any other areas, and will we see more articles in the future?

So glad to hear comments like yours! Another editor here and I were commenting after reading the story that it really made us want to go there, but we were daunted by the zillion-hour flights. Perhaps we should face up to the challenge, though!

I don't believe this particular writer will be doing anything more from Tasmania. At least he hasn't pitched me anything. How 'bout it, Nate?

The idea of joining a tour of London reminded me that my partner and I did a bike tour there several years ago. We rented bikes from the company that ran the tours. There were various lengths of time for the different tours. We did one that was 3-4 hours, and we loved it!

Sihanoukville is a great little town on the Cambodian coast with good food, good vibes ,and good beach. Also, I've heard, good diving, though the sea was too choppy when I was there to give it a try. You can get there by bus from the capital or by ferry from Koh Kong (I think), Thailand.

I received an e-mail from US Airways this weekend stating that my (piddly) 4,100 miles would expire in 2 months if I didn't add to them. Being that I am one of those who travels based on price and not airline, and the 2 falls trips I have planned are already booked on other airlines, I went to the website to see if I could use the miles for something other than a flight. While not as handy as Delta (which I have gotten store gift cards for my miles), US Airways offered the option of either magazines or charitable donations. While People magazine seems nice, I went the other way. They had 4 charities to choose from, and I opted to donate my miles to The Fisher House, which is a home for military families visiting their wounded warrior loved ones at base hospitals. Many of our military families live at or below the poverty line, and without help from this (and other) charities, they would not be able to spend time with their loved ones when they have returned home wounded. I urge everyone who does not have a use for their extra miles to donate them to this and other charities, every mile adds up to a flight for a family member, and I am sure they are eternally grateful.

Great idea -- thanks for sharing!

For the poster spending a week in Hawaii, don't try to do it all at once. Maui is a bit more compact than the Big Island, and has many of the same attractions, so if you do want to island-hop, Maui is a good choice for four days or so. The Big Island is my favorite, particularly the Volcano Park, but it does require more time to get around, and it is much quieter than the other islands.

Agreed. We spent a fun-filled day at Volcanoes National Park last week. We've added it to our list of favorites. It would take at least a month to explore all of the islands.

I am not sure if this is the same route that you are looking at but I did join a train in Raton NM to Albuquerque ( The trip started in Denver, but it was a bus from there to Raton) I think the train name was the Southwest Chief. While a train is much more comfortable than a bus, I agree a sleeper is much better to sleep in. Also take into consideration that with a sleeper your meals are included. Also allow xtra time for delays along the way.

I WALKED across Scotland solo (mostly along roadways) and never felt unsafe. Just use the same precautions you would use here about staying out late alone in urban areas, drinking so much you lose your judgment, etc. Take busses instead of trains. They're far cheaper, and go to the same places using the same routes and usually leave at the same time. If you think of buying a bus or train pass, work out the cost of using regular "cheap" tickets first, and compare. You have to spend a lot of time on train/bus before the cost works out in favor of the pass.

Since you'll already be in South Dakota, gotta check out Wall Drug (it's like the South of the Border of the midwest). But also, just outside Mount Rushmore is a place called Reptile Gardens which -- in addition to reptiles -- has a chicken that plays tic-tac-toe. Sadly, when my friend and I did our cross-country drive, we arrived just after the place closed, so we didn't get to experience it and thus I can't promise the level of awesomeness inside. But I do think "chicken that plays tic-tac-toe" kind of speaks for itself.

It absolutely does! I wonder whether that chicken knows the secret to winning. . .

When I was by myself in London I did several "London Walks" walking tours including one in the evening. It was a great way to see parts of the city with a tour group for a couple of hours but not be stuck with a group for the entire trip. Highly recommend them!

we did 4 weeks cross country and return last spring. We went to Mt Rushmore, Crazy Horse, Devils Tower, Wall Drug (all I-90) plus Pigtail Highway and Needles Highway in Custer State Park. We didn't give it enough time--and wish we had at least 1 more day there. We missed the Badlands, and time to explore Lead, Deadwood, the parks between those towns and Hill City.

With nine days, I'd stick to Highway 1 as much as you can. In addition to the places mentioned, stop in Half Moon Bay, Pescadero, Santa Cruz, and Capitola. North of Santa Cruz, the Big Basin State Park edges onto the ocean. The beach is lovely, and a short hike inland would bring you to redwoods. Castroville is the home to the Giant Artichoke restaurant, and is the artichoke capitol of the world (or so it claims). In Monterey, stop for a day or two to check out the Monterey Bay Aquarium. It's really amazing, and a mid-week visit would leave you plenty of room to wander and enjoy the exhibits without the crowds. As a native of Salinas, I'd say skip it unless you're a huge Steinbeck fan. The National Steinbeck Center is interesting, but the town itself doesn't have much to offer.

Are there any airports that now require full body imaging/scanning for ALL passengers?

Full-body scanners aren't required at any airports -- yet. If you refuse, you'll be subjected to "secondary" screening by a TSA officer. I hope to write something about this topic soon in a column.

Great Falls. You can bike or walk parts of the canal, the waterfalls and river are there, and it's close to home. Lovely.

Great idea!

Boyfriend and I are headed to Costa Rica in a couple of weeks and are looking at doing guided hikes in the Manuel Antonio and Monteverde areas. It looks like there are about a million options - and appears that there may be some variable quality. Do you happen to have recommendations on guides?

I did not tour in that area of Costa Rica, but my guide along the Costa Rica Bird Route (Yehudi Hernandez) was excellent. Try Holbrook Travel for good trips/guides.

Hi! My friend and I are visiting Turkey for a week, the first week of December. We have read and heard that most touristy destinations outside of Istanbul sorta shut down when it gets cool out. A friend of mine said we could easily entertain ourselves for the whole week (well, 6 days) in Istanbul, but wanted to know if there were any day trips to take, preferably by bus. My guidebook wasn't that helpful. Any tips? Thanks!

Oh, yes, there's so much to do in Istanbul. You can easily spend your whole trip there. I've been there three times and there's still more I want to see. As for side trips, you can take the ferry to Prince's Islands. Or fly to Cappadoccia. Or go to Iznik, the pottery center. Anyone else have ideas?

Go to the tour at the Neon Graveway, It's REALLY cool. It's basicaly where neon signs go to die, many fashion and video shoots have taken place there and the $$ goes to preserve the Las Vegas Neon Museum.

I've heard of this and wanted to go; thanks for the reminder.

I think Haggis Tours (Radical Travel) does a tour of England. They cater to a younger crowd - college kids, early 20s, lots of Aussies taking a year off. That being said, I traveled alone extensively around England when I was 19-20 and never had a problem. Pretty much the same rules apply that you would use being out alone at home - extra caution after dark, be aware of your surroundings, if someone/something makes you feel uncomfortable find someone to help (or go in the nearest Starbucks, McDs).

A lot of Americans still feel that traveling via bus is a little low rent, but in the UK (and all over Europe) you see people from all classes doing intercity trips on buses, because many people either don't own cars or they just don't want to high the high cost of fuel. I've taken the CityLink service in the UK and the buses are clean, comfortable and have rest rooms.

Good to know!

Go to the Badlands and Custer State Park (in the Black Hills)- both are near Mt. Rushmore and well worth a visit. Especially the Badlands.

I grew up in the world's best place to see fall colors, the Adirondacks! I'm partial to Lake Placid (take the the chair lift up Whiteface Mountain!) and the Central Adirondacks around Blue Mountain Lake (Adirondack Museum)/Raquette Lake/Old Forge, but really - pick a town. It's all beautiful, and peak color should be this week.

Sounds beautiful. I want to go!

Sorry the bride and groom do not have the right to inconvenience everyone else and force them to pay for a trip they do not wish to take. They need to consider their quest and be a little less selfish. I won't take my family to Mexico because of the danger. Do not believe the current warnings they underestimate the real risk.

I'll argue the flip side here, even though I'm not a big destination wedding fan: No one who is invited to a wedding is forced to go. Just say no if you can't afford it, or don't want to make the trip. Re: danger in Mexico, it really depends where you go. I'd gladly travel to an all-inclusive resort in Playa del Carmen, but would not hang out in  Tamaulipas.

Indeed. And you realize, right, that one of the reasons many couples have destination weddings is to keep the guest list down? called CIAPPINO!!!!

Cioppino, actually -- but what are you referring to? I'm missing the original reference?

Hello Flight Crew, Trying to plan a getaway for a weekend in miami in February. All the hotel websites I've been looking at (, travelocity, etc.) all seem to have the same prices across the board. Any tips? Thanks!

Have you tried going directly to the individual hotel Web sites? I've noticed that some hotels often offer Web-only deals on their sites that they don't  share with third-party booking sites.

For the person asking about airline clubs, if you get a Saks Mastercard you also get a card called Priority Pass. You can use this card to get into any airline club and a $30 fee is charged to the Mastercard. You'll also be charged $30 for each guest. It definitely came in handy when I had a 4 hour delay, and is also nice because you can use it at any airport club. Only caveat is to use the Mastercard outside of Saks at least once every 4 months, otherwise HSBC will cancel the card for lack of use and send you a regular Saks store card (happened to me but I got a new account a month later).

Thank you for that information.

I agree that C'ville is a good fall weekend getaway, but do be aware of when home games are, because the traffic getting in and out of town and near U.Va. is horrific.

Ah, yes -- as a non-sports person, I thank you for this reminder.

We did Turkey in the off-season - late October, during Ramadan to be exact. We went to Cappadocia and it was amazing! We were the only ones on our tour, of the area so we basically got a private tour. Then the guy took us up to some of the old cave houses that were being restored by UNESCO - something we definately would not have done during high season. It was amazing.

Hi Travel Crew, I realized that next week I'm going to Rome, spending two days in Positano and forgot to ask you or the chatters on the best way to get there from Rome and also recommendations on things to see/eat/do. We signed up for a walking tour but I always enjoy hearing from those who have done it before--especially for things to avoid. Will you please post this? We're especially curious on how to get there beyond a train--it seems like we have to take various forms of transportation. Thank you for helping me out, especially on such short notice!

Have not done this. Chatters?

As a bride planning a destination wedding I want to say to the naysayers- don't go! We want a small guest list. If you're not excited, please don't make us pay for your attendance AND put up with your whining! Very simple.

Ha! Thanks for this. I JUST posted an answer saying destination wedding hosts often want to keep the guest list down. So there you go.

I'm against destination weddings too - but the bride and groom are not forcing anyone to do anything. Guests are invited, not forced at gunpoint to attend. As long as the bride and groom understand (and make clear to invitees) that not everyone will be able to come, let them do what they want to do

I know, such problems. Just got back from Europe and are eager to plan the next family trip. Thinking it will have to be June when school gets out. Hubby wants someplace more out of our box than we've been doing (e.g., not Europe). So, trying to decide between SE Asia, Hawaii, Japan, China, S. America, Central America. I know, vastly different places and very vague. We like to rent apartments and do our own thing for sightseeing (may need to hire a guide in Asia, for example), and it has to be someplace where we enjoy the food any may be able to visit more than 1 country per visit. Suggestions? (From DC area)

Wow. You've got a lot of options! I personally love Central and South America. I am heading to Colombia this week. Colombia and Ecuador would make a great trip. Or Argentina or Brazil. I've not been to the other places you are considering.

I'd rather spend my money going to a friend's wedding in Mexico than at a characterless hotel off the NJ Turnpike. And yes, people do use them sometimes to keep guest lists down.

Yup, different strokes. I would rather go to the hotel off the NJ Turnpike because it's only one night. But much depends on how much money you have, and whether you share the same destination likes as the happy couple.

Just don't get upset if people don't go. Hax's chats have all sorts of brides and grooms boo hooing because people aren't coming to their wedding. Many weddings these days are 'destination,' just because bride and groom are from different places, so most people travel to weddings, anyway. But still, one can be accommodating...

Absolutely, many people travel to weddings, but there's a big difference between a wedding that's in New York City for a bride and groom who have relatives and friends there and in, say, Boston, DC and a few other places around the country, and having it in Cartagena.

I grew up in New England, but learned to appreciate the fall colors when driving back to DC from Boston one year in the middle of October. Driving through western Mass on the Mass Pike, the view of the colorful Maples and Oaks in front of the dark green evergreens with the occasional red barn and white church spires brightening the view made me realize what I was really missing about the New England fall.

Western Mass has some of my favorite foliage ever. Perhaps second only to Vermont.

Three friends and I just booked a trip for 2 weeks in South Africa over New Years. We'll be ringing in 2011 in Cape Town and then heading to Elephant Plains Park for a 4 day safari. Any recommendations for best operator for doing a cage dive with great whites? Day trips from Cape Town or Jo'berg? Is the diamond mine tour worth it? How long do you need to do Victoria Falls? PS - For the person going to Turkey. Go to Cappadocia! It is amazing!!

We happen to have done a story on cage diving in South Africa just recently. And also one on the diamond mine tour.

The best "fall color" trips I've ever taken have been in Minnesota along the north shore of Lake Superior. Starting from Skyline Drive in Duluth (where you can watch bald eagles circling below you), the road follows the cliffs and falls along Lake Suprior all the way to the Canadian border. The bright colors of the leaves, the white bark of the birch stands, and the awesome and rugged beauty of the lake -- all together in a single vista -- are an amazing combination. The only down side is that if you want to go, you'll probably have to wait until next year if you want to see "peak" colors.

40 years ago when we were young, not long after we'd moved to the DC area, we got the bright idea to go up to New England to see the autumn leaves we'd heard so much about, assuming that this must be an original idea on our part (LOL!). We flew to Boston, then when we went to pick up our rental car discovered that they didn't have the cheap compact model we'd reserved, so we had to take a much larger vehicle. Which proved fortunate because by the time we reached Manchester, NH., all the motels were full on that Saturday night! So, we wound up sleeping in our larger automobile on a near-freezing night in the Jordan Marsh department store parking lot, then lined up for breakfast at the Howard Johnson's restaurant, where as soon as they opened the doors we raced to the bathrooms. The rest of the day improved, however, as we ate a hearty breakfast at HoJo's, then hit the road hours ahead of most of the tourists for hard-core leaf-peeping country. Plymouth, NH., was one of the loveliest towns we saw. By noon the temperatures were warming and the late-sleeping tourists were emerging, so we headed out on the Kancamagus (sp?) Highway and wound up in North Conway, NH., before heading back to Logan Airport and our flight home. I don't think I'd do this trip again though -- at least not without a confirmed motel/hotel reservation, because I don't think we could spend the night in the car any more!

Travel in and around Stowe, Vermont, and find the gorgeous blaze of red, yellow, orange surrounding classic village squares and beautiful small towns that evoke postcard New England at its most colorful.

Reference was to fish stew at Duarte's in Pescadero, CA., along the Pacific Coast, for the driver thinking of driving the coast from SF to Santa Barbara. Duarte's also is legendary for their artichoke soup. Also, don't miss nearby Half Moon Bay, and Pigeon Point lighthouse.

Gotcha. Thanks.

Thanks all for chatting with us today. Great questions and tips. And the prize for the best fall foliage story goes to the person who traveled along the north shore of Lake Superior in Minnesota. Email me at for your prize.  Talk to you all next week!

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The Washington Post Travel section is your source for narrative tales and practical advice about journeys far and wide -- from weekend trips to the Eastern Shore, to two-week jaunts to the Far East -- plus consumer news, penny-pinching strategies and deals galore.
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