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Travel Q&A

For Teens: Paper or Plastic?

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By K.C. Summers
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, October 26, 2008

Q. My 15-year-old daughter will be accompanying her high school class to France for 10 days. Can you advise us parents on the best way for our children to take spending money on this trip?

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Diana Schneider, Olney

A. Credit cards and teenagers usually are a bad combination, but in this case, think plastic. Traveler's checks can be a hassle to use, and fewer merchants accept them these days. And your child shouldn't carry a lot of cash, for obvious reasons.

Send your daughter off with a few euros, though, for incidentals and emergencies. Kelli B. Grant, senior consumer reporter for SmartMoney.com, advises ordering foreign currency from your bank before the trip, since you'll pay high fees at airport exchange places. Most banks will do it free, she said, especially if a few parents get together and combine their order.

For purchases and withdrawing money from ATMs, you can make your child an authorized user on your own credit or debit card. But many parents prefer buying their child a prepaid ATM debit card, Grant said, which entails less risk: The cards are easy to replace if they're lost or stolen, you don't have to worry about identity theft and you can reload them from home if the kids need more money. On the downside, the cards have high setup fees and other annoying charges. Grant recommends avoiding cards targeted to teens, such as Visa's Buxx card, in favor of one designed specifically to be used abroad. Visa's TravelMoney card, for example, comes with perks such as lost-luggage reimbursement. For more info: http://usa.visa.com/personal/cards/prepaid/visa_travel_money.html.

Whichever method you use, Grant said, be sure to have a frank discussion with your child before she leaves about budgeting her money throughout the trip. "I remember going on my own trip as a high school student," she said ruefully. "It's very easy to go through all your money at the first stop."

I'm looking for easy, comfortable round-trip transportation for two from D.C. to New York in early December. We also need reasonably priced, clean lodging for one or two nights.

Sandra Herbert, Oakton

Formerly a die-hard Amtrak rider for trips to New York, Travel Q&A now swears by the new generation of express buses between Washington and Manhattan. The upstart coaches are winning raves for their convenient pickup and drop-off points, plush seats and clean lavatories; some have free movies and WiFi. And with travel times of just over four hours, they don't take much longer than the train.

Fares vary depending on when you book and when you want to travel, but when we plugged in early December dates, we got a round-trip fare of $38.50 for two on Megabus ( http://www.megabus.com), a British company, and $71.50 for two on the Greyhound-owned BoltBus ( http://www.boltbus.com). Round-trip fares on Amtrak start at $259.

Reasonably priced lodging isn't quite as easy to find, especially during the holidays. But if you're willing to share a bathroom, you can score a room for under $150 a night. At the Chelsea Lodge (318 W. 20th St., between Eighth and Ninth avenues, 800-373-1116, http://www.chelsealodge.com), doubles go for $129 a night. Or consider staying in Brooklyn or in New Jersey. The Ramada Limited Jersey City (65 Tonnelle Ave., Jersey City, 201-432-6100, http://www.ramada.com) has kitchenettes, a fitness center and easy access to New York via the PATH train. Rooms start at $129 a night double, including continental breakfast.

Send queries by e-mail (travelqa@washpost.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.


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