TRAVEL Q&A

Fido-Friendly Beaches

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By Andrea Sachs
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 22, 2006

Q. I'd like to get away to the Atlantic beaches this fall with my two dogs. Any suggestions?

Virginia Virkus, Arnoldsburg, W.Va.

A The East Coast has many beaches that welcome Spot, but hang on to that leash. According to Len Kain, co-founder of DogFriendly.com ( http://www.dogfriendly.com/ ), an online pet travel site, about 270 of 1,500 beaches nationwide permit dogs -- with caveats. "They may have restricted hours and months," he says. "Unfortunately, your region doesn't have the really dog-friendly beaches that allow dogs to go off-leash." Luckily for you, beaches tend to more lenient in the off-season, when the strands thin out.

The most permissive beaches are in California, but on the East Coast, Kain recommends Maine, Cape Cod, Mass., Delaware, North Carolina and Maryland. For beaches within a few hours' drive of Washington, Kain points to Dewey and Rehoboth in Delaware and Assateague National Seashore in Maryland. Assateague allows leashed pets on the Maryland end but not the Virginia side. Dewey is a little friendlier: Dogs can roam unleashed year-round, except during specific hours from May 15 to Sept. 15, when they're banned. Owners must purchase a $5 license from Town Hall, good for the dog's lifetime. In neighboring areas, including the Rehoboth and Bethany municipal beaches, leashed pups are permitted off-season; on Delaware state beaches, dogs have the run of the place November through April. Ocean City and Virginia Beach also are dog-friendly, but again, watch for those restrictions.

When choosing a beach area for you and your dogs, scope out pet-friendly accommodations before you go. "Policies at beaches don't tend to change much," says Kain, "while policies at hotels may change a couple times a year." Pet travel Web sites such as DogFriendly, TripsWithPets.com ( http://www.tripswithpets.com/ ) and PetTravel.com ( http://www.pettravel.com/ ) list hotels amenable to pets.

When you bring a dog to the beach, Kain advises owners to follow the rules. "If you don't keep your dog on a leash or clean up after your pet, it's very easy for the beaches to ban dogs," he says.

Our traveler's checks were not accepted in Italy; my daughters had the same problem in France. Any idea why?

Jerry and Pat Birch, Ridge, Md.

Traveler's checks are no longer easy cash in your pocket. Unlike ATM cards, which provide visitors with insta-cash and are gaining in popularity, traveler's checks can be onerous for merchants and, by extension, travelers. To process traveler's checks, businesses must pay a service fee; for mom-and-pop stores, that extra payment might not be worth the sale. Overall, however, foreign countries still accept traveler's checks -- some are just more willing than others.

"For years, we've heard complaints about France," says Ben Bell, a retail office manager at AAA Mid-Atlantic (800-436-4222, http://www.aaamidatlantic.com/ ). "The smaller, independent shops are a real problem." In the past decade, Bell says, Italy also has become problematic for check-wielding tourists.

AAA suggests carrying a "travel wallet," a combination of local currency, a Visa travel money card (which is like a prepaid debit card) and traveler's checks. But to streamline your wallet and avoid traveler's checks altogether, you can rely on your debit or credit card, supplemented by a handful of local currency for small transactions. Be aware, though, of additional surcharges the bank may charge for each withdrawal.

Using a debit card can also put your bank account at risk, whereas the travel card is independent of your account. AAA sells the card for $4.95, and you can put $250 to $9,999 on it.

We're planning a trip to China. How can we contact fellow travelers for tips?

Ruth and Dan Nieboer, Annandale

Oftentimes past travelers supply the best advice to new ones, and the Web is flooded with travel tips from the front lines. Lonely Planet's Thorn Tree Forum ( http://thorntree.lonelyplanet.com/ ) is a popular travel chat site that lets you post a question (specific or general) and read other people's queries and answers. Rough Guides ( http://www.roughguides.com/ ) has a similar feature, with unvarnished travel journals written by independent voices.

Another great source are sites run by expats living in China. ChinaExpat.com ( http://www.chinaexpat.com/ ), for one, has a lengthy list of major Chinese cities that includes an overview, plus detailed info on where to stay, eat and drink (e.g., "Tianshi Lu's Chao Shan Restaurant has good local cuisine including fiery hotpots"). The site features a resident China expert, Lucy Lu, who will answer your travel and cultural questions. For a compendium of blogs on China, check out Expat-Blog ( http://www.expat-blog.com/en/directory/asia/china ).

Send queries by e-mail (travelqa@wash post.com) or U.S. mail (Travel Q&A, Washington Post Travel Section, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071). Please include your name and town.


© 2006 The Washington Post Company


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