Nov 01, 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.

Welcome to Monday's Travel chat, where we help you get out of town. Hope you all had a spooky weekend, full of chills and candy delights. Now that Halloween is out of the way, we can look forward to the next holiday, Thanksgiving.

So that raises the question: Who has already made their travel plans and who still is waiting to see if A. fares go down and/or B. your family dramas calm down enough to figure out who is hosting the dinner. Best plan/strategy/tip wins a prize.

Can you expand on the new rules? For example, I bought a ticket two months ago and I'm flying next week. Should I make sure that ticket has the name that matches my ID (which has my full name)?

When you booked, do you remember if you typed in your name, gender and DOB? These days, if you book online, the reservation will not proceed unless you input the data. However, if you can't remember, call the airline after our chat and ask the agent if the data is attached to your reservation. If not, you know what to do  . . . As for whether the name matches: If you neglected to, say, add your middle initial, you should be okay. Just next time you make a reservation, be sure to use the same name that is on your government ID.

going to FLA next week for a little R+R. Got a 2.5 hour layover in Tampa. Is that enough time to get out of the airport and do anything (in addition to breathe real air ;-) ~ thanks ~ dying to check out a restaurant with locations at 2702 N. Florida Avenue Tampa, FL 33602 and 4334 S. Manhattan Ave. Tampa, FL 33611 I'd be happy with food-to-go

I wouldn't risk it. That's just too close if you factor in getting off the plane, traveling to where you want to go, buying food, returning to the aiport, going through security... You get the idea. Do yourself a favor and stay put. Take advantage of the free WiFi and have a leisurely meal at the airport.

Hi! I'm headed to San Fran the weekend of Dec. 10th, possibly alone if I can't convince a friend to join me. I've heard great things about visiting the city-- what do you suggest I do/see if I'm alone? Any suggestions on how to dine alone? (I'm very intimidated by this.) Thanks!

I had a great trip to San Fran recently. I focused on walking, which won't be QUITE as pleasant in December, but the weather's pretty mild: usually in the upper 40s to high 50s that time of year. I just think the city is so beautiful, you'd be remiss not to get out and about to try to see some of those amazing vistas.

Any of the things you'd do with a friend you can do alone: I think the Japanese Tea Garden, Flower Conservatory and other elements of Golden Gate Park might be even nicer when you're alone. Talk about contemplative.

As for dining, you're in luck: San Fran has so many great restaurants that have vibrant bars, which is what you want when you're eating solo. When you eat at the bar, you can easily strike up conversation with your neighbors, you get good attention from the bartender/waitstaff. Try SPQR and ask to reserve at the chef's bar, where you can watch the cooks do their magic -- and you're so close you can chat with them, too. Also, Barbacco has a very long bar and great rustic Italian food. I had great nibbles, but not a full meal, at RN47 and a wonderful meal at Prospect. Both have bars.

Hello, submitting early hoping you can address this question during the chat. I noticed that the information box about travel to Sikkim said that the Inner Line Permit and the Restricted Area Permit can both be obtained at any Indian consulate. We are leaving for India in two weeks, and we have been trying to get these permits with no success from the Indian Embassy here in DC, which says they do not issue such permits. They outsource their visa service to a company called Travisa (near Dupont Circle), which is also telling us that we cannot obtain the permits here. Can you provide any more information?? Thanks.

According to the author of that article, the visas are most easily obtained in India at the resident commissioner's office at the address listed in the box. They are often issued on the spot. You may be best off just waiting until you get to Delhi. Anybody else had experience getting these permits?

Hi Crew! We are getting married in June and will be honeymooning for 2 weeks in the Pacific Northwest. Right now the plan is to fly from St. Louis (wedding) to Vancouver, ride Amtrak down to Seattle and Portland, and rent a car in Portland to drive to San Francisco for a final few days with friends. What would the best options for flights be? Book one-way travel from STL-Vancouver and then SFO-DC or try multi-city options? Any ideas on what a good price would be? I tried looking at the farewatcher website, but it doesn't appear to be active anymore. Thank you!!!

Multi-city or open jaw isn't going to work with such far-flung cities. You'll probably be able to get a good deal on the SFO-DC flight, as several discount airlines - Southwest, JetBlue, Virgin Atlantic - operate on that route and offer one-way pricing. You'll probably get fares of about $150 per person. STL to Vancouver is another story. All flights to Canada are expensive. But I am seeing some one-way fares of about $340 on Kayak, which is not insanely high. As for farewatcher, I think you may be referring to Farecompare or Farecast (now operated by Bing). May help with the SFO flight, as that's a common route, but STL to Vancouver is one you may have to just keep watching on your own. Of course, there are cheaper ways to do this trip, but it would mean changing up your itinerary.

Hi I want to take my teens to New York to see the window displays and shopping. I am not that familiar with New York. Any suggestions for shopping and/or the best way to get there. I was thinking of a day trip but am open to a weekend trip if you think that would be best. Thanks.

The best way, even with kids, is by bus. It costs about $20 each way. The main low-fare lines are Bolt, Megabus, Washington Deluxe and DC2NY. Here is a Travel piece on the different buses. The main area for holiday shopping is along Fifth Avenue and around Rockefeller Center, where you can also go ice skating under the enormous tree. But you should also branch out and explore the boutiques around Greenwich Village and SoHo and even across the river in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Or explore the museums (and museum shops) along the Museum Mile. And don't forget a stroll in Central Park, preferably eating some hot roasted chestnuts. I would recommend staying overnight, because it'll take at least eight hours round trip. But lodging can be expensive. Look for deals on the NYC tourism Web site or check out hotels in Jersey, a quick hop by train or ferry.

Taking my 14yr old son to LA for a week and April. Want to do studio tour, Hollywood, both Getty's, Huntington Museum, Tar Pits, Observatory - mostly arts and culture vs. beach and theme parks. We'll have a rental car and need help with itinerary and picking a hotel location so we can make best use of our time. Would like to keep to $200 per night for the hotel - hoping for a spot that offers parking for less than $20 per night. Any tips for this mother/son vacation?

I always stay in Santa Monica (on my way there in 10 days), but it's not centrally located, the hotels are mostly expensive and parking is a bear. I just like the beach. But enough about me.  Perhaps West Hollywood or Hollywood would be best. Try the Orlando Hotel, Magic Castle Hotel, Renaissance Hollywood  or Holiday Inn Express Hollywood.  Don't know how much each charges for parking, but my guess is that it'll be more than $20 a night.

I live near Bradley International Airport in Hartford. Yesterday the airport was evacuated because there was a snow globe in someone's luggage. Its very frustrating. Any thougts?

Well, here's the Associated Press story I saw in your hometown paper. If it makes you feel any better, it sounds like it was one terminal for about 45 minutes that was evacuated. Bringing snow globes in carry-ons is prohibited by the TSA, so travelers ought to keep that in mind. But given what was going on with explosives last week, I suppose we should be thankful it was just a toy wreaking havoc. Are those the kinds of thoughts you were looking for?

I have a last minute opportunity to go to a movie premiere in NYC next Monday. It starts at 7:30pm and I plan to take either the train or Megabus up there on Monday morning/afternoon. My dilemma is the overnight and return. I need to get back down to DC the next morning and can't afford most hotels. Can anyone recommend a cheap/safe/clean hotel, or can you recommend taking the midnight bus or 3am train? I've done the 3am train before when my connecting flight out of Laguardia was cancelled and the next flight out was at noon the next day, and Penn Station seemed pretty safe at that time of night. I'll be a single female traveling alone and I want to find the safest option (getting into DC at 4am from the midnight bus isn't the safest option either, given that metro won't be running yet and I live in MoCo). Any suggestions would be appreciated!

I would not travel that late at night. I too have considered it, but then I heard a little voice in my head (sounding like my mother) that told me it was a bad idea. Instead, look at accommodations in Williamsburg or Jersey City, which should be less than Manhattan proper. In the city, I like Chelsea Star, a hostel-hotel, or the Pod Hotel, both of which tend to be on the budget side.

Want to go in late April, but don't know where. Need a direct flight from DC area (or even Philly). Want pretty beaches, activities, great food, culture. No all-inclusives. Must be safe to travel around on our own. So, what do you suggest?

How about the Cayman Islands? You can also get to Puerto Rico easily and that has the beaches, food and culture you're craving. Another option is the Bahamas but I prefer Puerto Rico. Have fun!

Heard that some new travel identification requirements go into effect today. If true, what are they and will I need to have my passport with me if I travel within the US or will my drivers license suffice?

I believe you're referring to the updated Secure Flight requirements. Basically, this means all flight reservations will have to include your full name, date of birth and sex. No need to lug that passport for in-country travel. Just make sure your Secure Flight info matches what's on your license.

For more details, you can read the details from TSA.

Hi Trav Crew! Pls help fulfill my bday wish of a post holiday and bday trip to NYC. We're planning on going first weekend in January 2011 right after New Yrs because rates are so pricey in Dec. Do you think some of the Xmas decor will still be up that weekend of Jan.7 on the popular places like Rockefeller, Times Sq and so forth? Do you suggest staying near Times Square or more on Lower Side if we plan on seeing Brooklyn Bridge, Statue of Liberty and Little Italy/Chinatown? And most importantly, how can I check the existence of poss. bed bugs at the hotels? Or is it best to stay at bigger chains, like Hilton or Comfort Inn? Budget for hotel of no more than $150 per night, not so fancy eating either but reasonable and fun. Recommendations pls! Thanks so much!!!

The Rockefeller Center tree usually stays lit through New Year's and for the first few days of the year. Jan. 7 might be stretching it though. But New York is a great place to visit any time of the year, and you will probably see the remains of the holiday celebrations in some of the spots you will be hitting. As for where to stay, I think midtown is always a great, convenient option, and it sounds like you'll be traveling all around the city. I've stayed in the Lower East Side before, and you have some really fun neighborhoods there. But some of them can get pretty quiet at night, and if you want to check out the upper west or east side at all, it will be a long haul. For information on bed bugs, check out Andrea's recent article on preventing bed bug bites. I'm afraid to say that bed bugs don't discriminate between chain and non-chain hotels. They've been found in all sorts of hotels.

Hi Travel Gurus! I would like to go somewhere international the week of Thanksgiving. Enjoy cultural things (art museums, monuments) and also adventure type travel (hiking and riding elephants in Thailand, ziplines in Costa Rica, that sort of thing). Price is not a huge concern but cheaper is better of course. Where would you suggest?? Thanks!

Hey, the world's your oyster! And I mean that literally. Can you help us narrow things down a bit? Any continent you're particularly partial to/not enamored of?

What do you know about the new 'enhanced patdown' the TSA recently instituted? I am a 66 year old woman with two artificial knees that always set off the airport metal detectors, so I regularly get what I laughingly call 'the full grope' at security every time I fly. However, I flew out of the Manchester, NH, airport last Wednesay, Oct. 27, and it was no laughing matter. During the patdown, the (female) TSA minion jammed both hands, hard, up into my crotch several times while running her hands up and down my legs (that part is normal). It was very startling, and actually almost painful in terms of the force involved (I was wearing slacks at the time; wonder what she would have done if I'd had a skirt on). The very next night on NBC News Brian Williams mentioned that the TSA had started more 'aggressive' patdown procedures, without going into detail. Is this related to the latest terrorism threat that was announced Friday (explosive devices in cargo), or is something else going on?. And is this what I and others will have to get used to going forward? I'm certainly no prude, but this experience was quite unpleasant.

We first reported the story of enhanced patdowns in the travel section back in May. Curiously, the TSA insisted at the time it didn't have a formal program in place to give passengers who refused a full-body scan a more rigorous exam, but as it turned out, it did. That program appears to have become a nationwide policy as of today. I think details are still being worked out, in terms of how "enhanced patdowns" work. If anything, the TSA may tighten its enhanced patdown policy, particularly in light of the latest terror scare. 

Hi, I am fortunate enough to be doing a girls' vacation to Prague the week between Christmas and New Year's. We're looking to relax, enjoy time away from our families, etc. Any ideas on how we should spend our time or must-sees? thanks!

Prague is one of the world's most beautiful cities, and I imagine it might be pretty quiet between Christmas and New Year's, so it'll be the perfect time just to walk around and drink in the atmosphere (it will be cold, though, so be prepared). There's tons to see: the Old Town and the iconic Charles Bridge, the New Town and Wenceslas Square,  Prague Castle on the hill and St. Vitus Cathedral, Golden Lane, the Jewish quarter with its haunting cemetery, Mala Strana, and on and on. It it gets too cold, there are lots of museums (Alphonse Mucha museum, Museum of Decorative Arts, etc.), or hang around in some of the cafes. Other thoughts, Prague lovers?

My Thanksgiving plan involves Wednesday night carpal tunnel surgery, so my traveling is to be done the weekend before. I'm thinking NYC, but could be persuaded by cheapness to go anywhere! Then surgery on Wednesday and convincing my mom that we shouldn't drive back to northern MD from Falls Church at 5pm the night before Thanksgiving!

Hope your hand is strong enough to hold a turkey leg.

Thanks for posting my question about the Sikkim permits. I did not see any address in Delhi for getting permits (at least not in the "details" online -- I don't have the paper with me). Also, the info in the paper yesterday clearly said ILPs and RA permits can be obtained at 'any Indian consulate." Just to be clear, this is not a question about Indian visas. Thanks for any more information anyone can provide -- the Indian Embassy has been less than useful!!

Yes, the box did say, per the author, that these permits may be obtained at any Indian consulate. If this is not the case, we may have to correct that. We'll look into it. The address for the resident commissioner's office is in the box as well (I just looked), but here it is for you:

office of the resident commissioner, New Sikkim House, 14 Panchseel Marg, Chanakyapuri, New Delhi.

Posting early to say thank you for the chats. Post staff and readers are always a great resource with quick questions, and a great source of travel ideas. No question today...just saying thank you.

You're so welcome!

Hi Travel Gurus-- Long time fan and first time poster here. We are planning a honeymoon to France in early June 2011. Very exciting! The tricky part is that we are hoping to use frequent flyer miles (American Airlines) to purchase one of our plane tickets (Kansas City to Paris). We had located an available flight itinerary 3 days ago, but when we went to book--guess what? it was gone. We called the airline to double-check, but no luck. There was nothing--not on alternate dates, not from alternate cities. However the agent did suggest that we continue to check their website for flight availability every day, in case additional seats become available for purchase with miles. She said the likelihood of this happening was "greater than zero" but couldn't give us any better estimate than that. What? Was she just stringing us along, or does this sometimes actually happen? Any suggestions for additional strategies we might attempt to be able to use miles for this trip? Thanks!

Frequent flier mile seats do go fast, but it is possible that if the flight does not sell well, the carrier will release more seats. So call often. You could also check to see what partner airlines will take your miles and try to book on that airline instead. I know that when I tried to use United miles to California, I was able to apply them to a US Airways flight.

My husband and I suddenly find ourselves with two free days next week and would like to go somewhere in driving distance. We like hiking, walking through cute towns, eating good food, and are tired of city sight seeing. Where to go?

Head westward! One of my favorite day trips is to jump on 5o and stop in Middleburg to pick up picnic provisions and walk around. Then continue on to Sky Meadows State Park for a good hike -- you may even still get a little nice foliage. Next perhaps would be a meal (or overnight stay?) at the nearby Ashby Inn, which appeared in Tom Sietsema's 2010 dining guide. How does that sound?

Head to the De Young museum in Golden Gate Park -- I just checked their website, and there's a post-impressionist show going on, including a few Van Goghs. Good thing to do if it rains. You also might want to poke around the Ferry Building and check out all the food shops there.

I second the Ferry Building. Yum. It's especially good since the original poster said they were intimidated by dining alone -- just eat your way through the building and blend into the crowd.

Hi Flight Crew, we have loved our winter visits to St. John and to the BVI -- they've been perfect for us because we like to stay in a small hotel, have breakfast and/or lunch there, but get then out and be able to walk, drive or bike to beaches, bars and restaurants, and explore the island a bit. Now we're looking to go slightly farther afield -- Anguilla? Martinique? Guadeloupe? -- but the tourist info seems weighted toward either all-inclusive resorts, yuck, or villas, where we'd be totally on our own. Can you recommend a spot where we'd find the happy medium we like? No casinos or nightclubs required, just nice beaches and good food handy. Many thanks for your advice.

Maybe Dominica, especially if you're into nature, or St. Lucia? St. Lucia would offer more in way of dining, but Dominica is not as popular with tourists.

My grandmother decided that for Thanksgiving this year, she wanted something different. So she's taking me (28 years old), my sister (23 years old), and my parents on a 7-night cruise. On actual Thanksgiving, she wants to zip line in Belize. I jumped on our tickets a couple months ago. I found flights from DC to Miami for $180 round trip. For the rest of the family coming from Tennessee, I tracked them until they dropped below $300 and jumped on it. Not at all bad for flights that come back around noon on the Sunday after Thanksgiving.

You have our permission to brag a bit. Well done.

And have fun ziplining with grandma! That's awesome.

Do you need another sister (make that four sisters and one brother)?

I gave up waiting for fares to go down and bought my ticket to the Big Island for the week after Thanksgiving. Any lodging suggestions? As this is our first trip, we're going to try to take in as much as possible, so any great tips anywhere on the island would come in handy. Thanks for previous suggestions for what to do, which will be put to use!

We just got back from the Big Island, and we stayed at Mauna Lani Point, near Kona. It's a nice part of the island, and there's lots of interesting history and plenty to see. On the other side of the Big Island, we found a private home through Big Island Vacation Rentals. They have some rentals near Volcanos National Park, which is definitely worth seeing while you're there.

Hello Flight Crew, always love your travel chats! I am currently planning a winter trip to the West Coast during part of my two-week Christmas vacation to see friends and family in Scottsdale/Phoenix, Arizona and Los Angeles, California. Right now I'm thinking I'll fly into one location, drive a rental and do a bit of sightseeing in between, then fly out of the other city. If I go the most direct route, I plan to do a day-trip to Joshua Tree National Park as well as spend a few hours with another friend in nearby Riverside, CA. Here are some specific questions: 1. I'm wondering if I should use this opportunity to see more places, such as to see Las Vegas or the Grand Canyon en route or as a day-trip with friends in AZ or CA. I've been to CA before but it'll be the first, but hopefully not the last, time I've been to Los Angeles and Arizona. What do suggest for a greenhorn to the American Southwest and deserts? You have many great travel articles on Arizona that I have been reading for specific and general ideas but I'd really appreciate your take on this! 2. Do you have any advice on booking/buying my plane tickets, such as time to buy or which location to start with? (I have $400 worth of vouchers from United.) 3. Can you or your readers suggest any cheap-but-safe, non-chain motels along the route? (I had a bad experience using AAA Travel for a motel booking earlier this year.) 4. Should I consider taking Greyhound as an alternative to renting a car or would the sightseeing and flexibility make up for the extra cost? (Rental would be more expensive but I could afford a few days.) Thanks in advance! I'm submitting this early due to my work schedule (I'm a teacher) but will try to check in during the chat in case you have any follow-up questions.

I can't even begin to tackle all your questions in any detailed manner within our limited time, but I'll take a stab at them. Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon are not on the road between Phoenix and Los Angeles, but they're both doable. I wouldn't recommend day trips - stay overnight. Rent a car - it's much more convenient than bus. Re: air tickets, first call United and make sure you can use those vouchers for this trip, and then plan from there. If you can use them, they should cover most of it. As for hotels, I'll leave that to other chatters. Any ideas?   

I've never been to Hawaii, and we're thinking of going in March. If we were to sepnd about 4 days on the main island, and then 7 days on a cruise hitting a different port each day, would that be a good way to get a feel of the islands and enjoy the vacation? We  like the beach, but we're also active and like to get around and be outdoors.

By the main island do you mean Oahu? If so, hit Honolulu for its shops, beaches and museums, such as the USS Arizona and the Polynesian Cultural Center. Then head to the North Shore for some amazing waves and shave ice (Matsumoto is my fave), plus a taste of Hawaii's more agricultural side. On the cruise, you may only have a few hours to explore the ports. So first, find out how much time you have onshore, then plan accordingly. For attractions, check the state's tourism Web site, which breaks down each island. Or see what the cruise ship is offering for shore excursions, then see if you can cobble together a similar outing independently (it may be cheaper).


A comment: I thought it was great that I could go through U.S. Customs at the airport in Bermuda when returning to the U.S. It was so much more convenient. Do any other countries do this?

Yes, that happens a lot when you fly to Canada, too.

Would you know what steps Amtrak is taking to ensure that there are no bedbugs in their trains, particularly their coach seats? I have heard about isolated cases of bedbugs in the sleeper trains, but nothing about bugs in regular coach seating. Would you know if that's because there have actually not been cases of it? I am traveling to NY on Amtrak later this month and am a little nervous about finding those buggies being in the seats (especially after hearing about bedbugs in movie theatres) . Also, have you heard anything about cases of them on Greyhound buses and what (if anything) they're doing to keep them bed bug free? I haven't heard about any cases so maybe that's a good sign. Thanks!

There have been no cases of bedbugs in coach, according to Amtrak. The sleeping compartments undergo a process called "e-cleaning" which is described as an "extensive cleaning" where sheets and pillowcases are laundered. "There are occasional bedbug incidents, but it's usually contained to a single sleeping rooms," says spokesman Marc Magliari.

Does anyone have a must do list for Tokyo? I've heard that the fish market is a must-see. Any others?

Here are some interesting places to visit: the Imperial Palace, the National Gardens at Shinjuku-Ku,the Meiji-Jingu shrine. Eat at one of the many restaurants at the Ginza and hang out at Kabukicho, Tokyo's most famous and flashy entertainment district. Anyone else have must-sees?

Link this person to the Post's wonderful Azores off-season travel article! Lots of cultural activities there, as well as advntures like hiking, rock-climbing, cave-exploring, whale-watching...

Thanks for the idea! Here you go: A Man for Off-season.

Hi Gurus - For professional reasons, I use my maiden name at work but my legal last name on my license/passport is my married name (my maiden name is now my middle name). For work travel, I've always just used my maiden name for flights and haven't had any problems. With the new secure flight info, will I be denied a boarding pass since my work name (hence boarding pass name) no longer exactly matches my ID? Help!

Seems that you will have to use your married name on all flights now. That shouldn't be a problem for your work travel, should it?

We're heading to Costa del Sol in early June, and want to take a day trip to Tangier, Morocco. Has anyone done this excursion and is it worth it? Anything we need to know ahead of time.

Never done it, but I have been to Morocco and LOVED it. Any chatsters have first-person accounts of Tangier?

Remember when you're planning your flights to also check rental car prices. Soemetimes, 1-way rental prices are really jacked up. My fiance (then-girlfriend) and I picked up a car in Vegas and dropped it off in Phoenix. The only affordable car we could get was a minivan, and the 1-way charge was only dropped because they needed to get that van back to Arizona. It wasn't the coolest thing in the world as two mid-20-somethings tooling around the desert in a minivan.

Hi! We have next week off, and are thinking of doing a last minute trip for 3 or so nights somewhere warm and easy to get to. Florida or the Caribbean, perhaps. I'm checking travelzoo daily - where else should I be looking for random last minute deals with no clear destination? Thanks!

Try Expedia also has a last-minute section where you can see deals from Washington. Here are some more tips.

Last week a co-worker received word that "Snow Globes" are now no longer allowed in carry on baggage. Any idea as to why the souvenir is now on the checked baggage only list? Was there an incident that never made the headlines or did I miss something?

No, I don't think you missed anything. Actually, snow globes have been on the no-carry-on list for a few years now but only got more publicity late last year. The issue, of course, being the 3-ounce-liquid rule.

I'm thankful this year for Southwest Airlines. About 3 months ago I decided to fly to New Mexico for T-day. I made reservations on Southwest to fly from Tampa to Albuquerque Thanksgiving morning, then rent a car and drive to Santa Fe for the weekend, coming back on the Monday. The roundtrip was about $450, but I figured, 'hey, it's Thanksgiving,' and paid it. Three weeks ago I decided to change plans and leave the day before T-day if possible, even though I'd probably have to pay more for the flight. I checked the Southwest web site and not only would they let me shift my flight to a day earlier without a change fee, I just happened to hit a 'sale' day and the roundtrip fare was now $193 LESS than I had paid, for the identical flight on Wednesday, and Southwest promptly gave me a refund. That $193 will more than pay for my rental car, and buy me a nice turkey mole dinner in Santa Fe as well. Thank you, Southwest!

It's nice to hear a happy airline story every once in a while. Thanks for sharing!

In the mood for a beach walk so I am thinking of traveling for the Thanksgiving holiday. I plan on leaving on Thanksgiving day and coming back the Monday after Thanksgiving. (I am hoping to minimize the worst of the traffic) I am thinking of going to Wilmington North Carolina. Any recommendations for lost cost motels and places to see?

Don't be surprised if I-95 is still crowded. Seems as if there is always traffic, at least between here and Richmond. As for Wilmington, I've not been there in a long time, although I vaguely remember some very nice gardens (may not be the right time of year for that).  Any chatters have ideas?

If you are sticking in the city you dont need a rental car. Just look at a guide and think about what sites you want to see and then pick a hotel near those sites.

As a US Air frequent traveler, I feel bad for the flyers of the four airlines that had worse customer relations than did US Air. From my experiences, the flight attendants and lost luggage staff have always been very helpful and kind. It is the people at the gates and customer relations who strike me as often seeming to be burned out and not helpful. I too often have had hours of my time wasted because they were too busy to spend a minute in attempting to resolve a customer problem. I know it is an imposition on their time, but, it also is their job. I hope over time that the industry is realizing this and reduces the stress on its staff and encourages them to recognize that customer relations is important, especially when it is easy to switch to a competitor.

I think both passengers and airline staff should work together to make traveling the best experience possible. Now let's all join hands and sing . . .

Really it's pretty safe. More so now than when I was a teen in the 80s. When I used to take trains back to LI after partying in the city or seeing concerts wherever. If you want to spend a couple of hours in penn station, to keep more of your money and/or to get back earlier, do it. There's a waiting place for LIRR passengers, and they don't really check tickets. Seriously - you'll probably just see some other tired travelers there. Or you can hang out in some bar for a little bit, get some jazz or whatever, then cab it down to penn station about 2 or so. It's not a big deal, and you should be perfectly fine. I don't ride the subways alone that time of night, but usually they can be pretty crowded as well..

I lived in Prague in 01-02 and was back for New Year's 07.... It is one of my favorite cities in the world, so you will definitely have a blast. Make sure you are prepared for being outdoors with good warm coat and boots, and you'll do fine. Plus the cold weather gives you reason to pop into one of the many cafes for a cup of coffee or into a pub with a roaring fireplace when you need to warm up. The Christmas markets will still be up, so enjoy the food and crafts you can find there. If you'll be there for NYE, you'll want to be someplace high up to see the fireworks that go off in many places all over the city. The castle area is packed with people, but was a great location to see the fireworks. Also, we made a mistake and didn't realize there would be fireworks on both NYE and New Year's Day (nights of Dec 31 and Jan 1), so make sure to ask someone if that is still the case as we missed them on NYD. If you want to get out of town for a day or two, take the train to Cesky Krumlov for a gorgeous little town a few hours away. And above all, have a blast!

Thanks so much for chiming in and for the fireworks info!

Joshua Tree is in the high desert, so will have somewhat wintry weather in winter. Not sayin' you shouldn't stop there, just be prepared clothing-wise.


Anyone been? Where? And what were your experiences?

Yes! I've been there three times. I  just got back from a two and a half week trip there actually. It is an amazing country. It's got beaches, mountains, colonial towns. You can get pretty much any experience there. And it's much safer than it used to be. I traveled by plane and bus throughout the country and felt safe. You just have to take precautions like you would anytime you travel to another country. If you want to experience beaches with a mix of colonial architecture, go to Cartagena. If you want more of a big city experience, the capital, Bogota, is a lot of fun. Lots of great restaurants and clubs. Cali is also fun. If you love salsa, that's the place to go. I was surprised by how lovely Medellin was. It used to be that no one could travel there because of the drug wars, but it has made a lot of progress since the 80s and 90s. It has year-round spring weather and a great nightlife. Colombia also has great spots for adventure sports. I went paragliding in San Gil. It was scary but beautiful. And I found a tiny little well-preserved colonial town in the mountains six hours from Bogota called Barichara. It looked like a movie set. It was stunning. The food in Colombia is amazing and the people are warm and charming. I highly recommend a trip there!

re lodging I recommend name your own price with Priceline. If you know your neighborhoods and are flexible you can save a bundle. I've stayed in four star midtown and midtown east hotels this way for substantially less than $200 night.

Great idea. Just be sure to go for the higher number of stars, so you don't end up in sketching lodging.

I just wanted to drop a note to all holiday travelers. Remember that while you're traveling - particularly flying - it's the holiday season. Take delays in stride and always be nice to the employees that are working to get you to your loved ones. Airline employees - particularly the front line employees - have tough jobs and get yelled at a lot by customers when things go bad, but no one thanks them when things go right. I always bring something along to hand out to employees along the way to try and brighten their day. I started off in college handing out candy. Now, I go to Starbucks and buy $5 gift cards and give them out and wish them a Happy Holidays. It's a great way to brighten their day and feel better about yourself.

You are the poster child of holiday spirit. What a generous idea, and probably much appreciated.

The Joshua Trees don't bloom till March and April, so please don't be disappointed when you don't see the flowers in December and January.

She may just want to see the area.

I LOVE Wilmington! What a great town. I visit frequently, and the Blue Heaven B&B is great -- the owner Jay is very friendly, and the prices are fairly low. Also very nice is the Hilton Downtown Wilmington or, if you want to stay on the beach, the Blockade Runner and Holiday Inn are both nice. As for things to see, Airlie Gardens is still open around that time. There is also lots of good shopping and art galleries downtown and TONS of good restaurants!

I would suggest you just fly into one city and do a loop trip (Seattle or Portland). Seattle-Vancouver has only one amtrak running so the other ways are by bus. Its easier to fly into Seattle and then rent a car and drive.....or you fly into to seattle and take a bus/train up to Vancouver for a couple days and then return to seattle and get a rental car and then do a loop trip. A NW loop trip is the best because you go one way down following the coast and return inland by the mountains (crater lake, mount hood, st helens, MT Rainier). Or you fly to San fran and drive up to Seattle and Vancouber inland and drive down the coast.

Right, lots of options.

Going to Tahiti, Moorea and Bora Bora for our honeymoon next month what are the must sees/must dos?

Unfortunately never been.

Any tips for this very lucky traveler?

Walk around the Asakusa neighborhood and Ueno Park. And the Edo Tokyo Museum is well worth a visit. There is also the Sony "Museum" - really a showroom, but it is free.

We have not planned Thanksgiving, but we already have Christmas scheduled! Due to much family drama, we have to go to 1) Williamsburg VA and 2) outside Toronto. We finally determined renting a car for 2 weeks was cheaper & easier than flying. We only have to decide where to stop so we're not doing a 12 hour drive in December - Pittsburgh or Altoona PA.

Sounds like a big adventure. Have fun with it!

"Closing one terminal for forty-five minutes" sounds so innocuous, but I feel that by the time passengers (including those who had passed security and were already at the gate) get back in, go through security, etc. at least an hour and a half would have passed, and quite a few people would have missed their flights. TSA really ought to be able to come up with a better idea for dealing with suspicious objects.

I've experienced the full body scans travelling to/from Boston in the past few months (when the machine was operational - which was NOT always), and I can see considerable problems with it. It takes a LOT longer than the regular detector, plus they ask you to remove anything that is on your wrist (watches and bracelets) because the machine can't read around them. Any time the TSA asks me to remove jewelry my guard goes up. All in all, I thought it was far more inconvenient (not to mention far more time consuming) than the regular machines.

The full body scans are problematic on a number of levels. One of the biggest concerns that have been raised relate to the amount of radiation people are subjected to when they are scanned. Unfortunately, I think there could be a time in the not-too-distant future when submitting to a full-body scan will not be optional any longer. That worries me.

 I scout the security lines before committing just to make sure I don't have to go through one of these gizmos. Takes forever.

I am not at all bothered by the full body scan. I don't think they take that much more time. I walk into the chamber, lift my arms like a swan taking flight, and exit. At most, 60 seconds. And much better than getting touched by a stranger.

If you are going to Florida around the holidays, try to plan your trip with Christmas in the middle. Most people want to celebrate the holiday at home, so traveling to Florida on Christmas evening or later (or making the return trip around New Years) is always a lot more crowded and expensive than the few days before (and the few days after for a return flight). My favorite time to fly when I'm going to visit my parents who live near Orlando is the morning of Christmas Eve.

Right you are! I've spoken with airline insiders about "best times to fly" around the holidays, and they all say the actual holiday is great. Load factors drop into the 50s and 60s, meaning the plane is flying only half full. And the service tends to be a little better, because everyone is in the holiday spirit (think free drink coupons!).

The haunted Wilmington tour is pretty good (they also have one that includes a pub crawl). It's in the old section of town. As well, the USS North Carolina is docked there and can be toured.

In December it can get cold there. Phoenix may be fine and LA may be fine but the dessert areas of califonia, joshua tree, and flagstaff can get cold and get snow.

For Williamsburg to Toronto: Please do stop in our fair city en route over the holidays, as there's lots to see and do -- most folks are amazed at what a pretty city Pittsburgh is! Take PA. Turnpike to Exit 6 (Monroeville), thence a few miles into Pittsburgh proper. Departing, get onto I-79 northbound for Erie (check maps to see how easy this is). Do you have a Pittsburgh article to which you can link?

Not looking to go to Africa for this trip. Have never been to S America. Greatly enjoyed SE Asia a few years ago as well as Iceland more recently. Have seen a lot of Western Europe, would prefer to see somewhere new this time.

I'm going to refer you to Nancy's previous answer to someone asking about Colombia. I think that might work!

My husband and I are going to Argentina 11/16-12/4. The itinerary includes Buenos Aires, hiking on the glacier near El Calafate and wine tours in Mendoza. Any tips on what to bring and how to pack for such diverse climates? We are also worried about the very low weight limits on Aerolineas Argentinas - 15kg (33 pounds) per person, including the carryon.

Are you working with a travel operator? I would ask for their advice or call an outfitter that organizes such trips. They'd be great help. Otherwise, layering is always the best, especially cottons and light wools. Does the airline only allow that amount, or charge for additional weight? That might be an important to note. If it's the latter, go light on extra, such as books, toiletries, etc.

Just wanted to weigh in with my experiences with the dreaded machines: on the two occasions I was asked to go through them I had no problem submitting to them but like the other writer I found them to take a lot longer than needed, esp in winter. Wound up going through the machine 5 times and then eventually having to get pat down about 3 more times before they even let me through. I too fear sometime in the not to distant future it won't be optional.

...check out People put up their own apartments or guest rooms for you to stay in. I haven't used it yet, but have rooms booked for my upcoming trip to Germany and London. Much more affordable than hotels!

There was a time when you could buy an "open return" airline ticket, where you would choose the date of your outbound flight and leave the return date open, but lock in your price. Then you could bum around Europe until your money ran out, secure in the knowledge that you could always get home, and just make your reservation when you were ready to travel. Or you could fly off to deal with a family emergency and stay until it was resolved. Do open return tickets still exist? Or do you have to pick a date, then pay the steep change fees if your plans change? (The obvious alternative is a one-way ticket, but often two one-ways are much more expensive than one round-trip.).

Pick a date for your return, and pay the change fee.  Or go the one-way ticket route. You might find a travel agent that specializes in around-the-world tickets to book an open return, but those tickets must usually include several destinations, and I don't think you'd save any money.

Heck, we hit a blizzard in Flagstaff in early April one year!!! It's at a high elevation.

Hi there, Flying w/ 10 year old over winter break. Obviously, she doesn't have a driver's license. Do I need an ID for her? I prefer not to have to carry her passport. She's flown internationally for years, but I just realized, not domestically for awhile, & she was so little then it wasn't an issue. Thanks!

According to TSA, children are not required to show ID.

I took the ferry from Spain to Tangier as the stepping off point on a trip to morocco years ago. I really enjoyed Morocco (especially the atlas mountains and the dunes). Tangier, however, was a hole. The "tour guides" were merciless, the guide attempted to extort money from us by threatening to tell the police that we were looking for hashish (we were not); to name just two "events." I had been wondering where all the other people on our ferry had gone off to-well we found them later that night, huddled together in the train station looking like frightened rabbits. I really am not exaggerating. The mother of one of my college roommates grew up in Tangier and on her first (and last) trip back there after many, many years away, she just cried and cried at how awful her hometown had gotten.

Me too. What I do is, since I have to remove my shoes, I place small valuables inside them as they pass through the scanner, so there's less risk of their going astray.

Jew here. My in laws suggested a trip to Tampa for some sights down there, so we have the hotel, are going with my husband's parents and sisters. And the cousins. We'll drive down there(am in Atlanta), probably spend christmas at Bush gardens. Low key, but the kids get some florida fun.

I'm going to Aruba next June and am staying at one of the Marriott timeshares. Do I need to rent a car on the island. They'll be 2 adults and 2 older (19, 23) kids. I've heard mixed options whether one is needed.

If you really want to explore the island, go for it. Driving around there is easy. But if you only plan on staying near your hotel, or going short distances, taxis would be cheaper.

I suggest a round trip out of one airport...either LA or Phoenix...which ever is chaeper for your vouchers. Say you fly into then drive to LA...then you drive up to Vegas...then to the South Rim (North Rim closed then) and then drive through Sedona. The other option is the southern route where you go to Joshua Tree and then to the Sonora desert area of Arizona and over to Turscon before coming back north to Phoenix. As for hotels...Iook at sites like trip advisor.

Are the full-body scans safe when you're pregnant? I will be 32 weeks pregnant when we travel in December, and don't want to expose baby to any more radiation than needed.

You can request alternate means, such as a pat down. Or look for a line that does not have a body scan machine.

Thanks everyone for joining us. Lots of interesting travel plans and topics! For today's winner, the prize goes to the generous traveler who spreads cheer around the airport with candy and gift cards. One great act deserves another. Please message me at for the prize.

Thanks for joining us. See you next Monday!

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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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