Talk About Travel

The Post's Flight Crew: (from left to right) John Deiner, Carol Sottili, Steve Hendrix, Anne McDonough, Gary Lee, K.C.
Summers, Cindy Loose, Andrea Sachs.
The Post's Flight Crew: (from left to right) John Deiner, Carol Sottili, Steve Hendrix, Anne McDonough, Gary Lee, K.C. Summers, Cindy Loose, Andrea Sachs.
The Flight Crew
Washington Post Travel Section
Monday, March 26, 2007; 2:00 PM

The Post's Travel Section Flight Crew will take your comments, questions, suspicions, warnings, gripes, sad tales and happy endings springing from the world of ... the world. Of course, the Flight Crew will be happy to answer your travel questions -- but the best thing about this forum, we insist, is that it lets travelers exchange information with other travelers who've been there, done that or otherwise have insights, ideas and information to share. Different members of the Crew will rotate through the captain's chair every week, but the one constant is you, our valued passengers.

We know you have a choice in online travel forums, and speaking for the entire Flight Crew, we want to thank you for flying with us.

You may also browse an archive of previous live travel discussions. For daily dispatches, check out Travel Log, the Travel section's new blog.

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Andrea Sachs: Hey travelers! We are back for another escapist hour of planning and dreaming. Speaking of which: M.L. Lyke, author of Sunday's lead piece on travel planning (winging it vs. micromanaging), will join us today. So ask away! (She also is an expert on Mexico.)

As for the chat topic of the week: I just returned from New York City and, as usual, was struck by how friendly everyone was. I was called sweetheart more than once--lovingly, not sarcastically. So, tell us about your favorite encounters with locals. Maybe we can eliminate some bad reputations in the process.

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Tour company for India: Last week someone asked about this topic. My family and I were very happy with last year's trip of Rajasthan with General Tours. We had a car and a friendly driver for two weeks, and a courteous and helpful rep from the company plus a knowledgeable guide met us in every city (except for Pushkar). We started and ended in Delhi, with stops in Agra (for the Taj Mahal), Jaipur, Jodhpur, Pushkar, Ranthambore Wildlife Preserve, and Udaipur. The price was reasonable, too. My parents used General Tours before, for a trip to China, and are big fans, as is their travel agent.

Anne McDonough: Thanks for chiming in--this sort of detail, from someone who has been there, is exactly what folks need when choosing between myriad companies.

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Hapuna Beach Prince Resort, Hawaii: Two weeks ago a reader posted a question about whether this was a good resort. I was there at the time so now I'm posting.

The resort's property was purchased by Laurence Rockefeller so that the area would be preserved. What a location! The two best beaches on the entire island. Because its sister property, the Mauna Kea, had to close for rehab after last October's earthquake, there's two beaches and two world-class golf courses with half the people on both. The Hapuna Prince is an oasis of peace and quiet, beautiful views and excellent service. All the rooms face the ocean, where we saw several whales. Down the road are some high-end shopping areas and more restaurants. I recommend it highly.

Anne McDonough: And another--thanks, anonymous loyal chatsters, for traveling widely and then giving us a report!

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Downtown DC: I just bought, online, an Amtrak ticket to Montreal. The form wanted to know what documentation I was going to use to cross the border. Not knowing my passport number, I said I'd use my birth certificate. If I show up with my passport instead, will it matter?

Andrea Sachs: It should not matter. That might have been a subtle reminder from Amtrak to bring documentation and have something on record. As long as you have legitimate ID, you should be fine crossing the border. If you worry, though, call Amtrak and switch your form of documentation.

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Atlanta, GA: Quick question:

What is considered a good time visit Costa Rica? Would June be a bad month - i.e. rain, etc.?

Thanks

Cindy Loose: Generally Dec. through April is the so-called dry season and May-Nov. is the rainy season, but two things temper that info: 1. Costa Rica has microclimates, and it can be raining in the mountains but not on the coast, along the Carribean but not hte Pacific etc. and 2. even on a rainy day it tends to rain late in the day or the evening and you're still likely to get 5 or more hours of sunshine.

Bottom line, June would be fine; chances are you'll have mostly good weather, although of course we won't guarantee it and the chances of seeing rain are better in june than Dec. to April, when in some areas it doesn't get a drop.

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Washington DC: Hi,

I bought an ecotourism trip at The International Ecotourism Society's gala last year that I need to use this summer--it is for rafting in Sweden. The flights that I'm finding are quite expensive--any tips on finding cheap airfare to either Stockholm or Oslo? Dates are somewhat flexible at this point, but it will need to be this summer. Also, better to book now or wait a bit?

Thanks!

Carol Sottili: Scandinavia in summer is always expensive. There are occasional sales (Finnair is offering a great sale out of New York, but for spring, not summer, travel). only for flights through May 19). Try Icelandair (www.icelandair.com) out of BWI: It has decent fares for summer travel of about $900 round trip with taxes.

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Last week Paris, this week Olney: Last week there was a question about tips for site-seeing in Paris. I would like to recommend L'Orangerie, a museum that was closed for renovation for several years for the reinstallation of the Monet Water Lily murals. Located on the southwestern corner of the Tuileries, it was one of the highlights of our trip. There is a permanent collection of French paintings on the lower level. A great place to relax after the museum is Angelina's Tea Room at 226 Rue de Rivoli for amazing (and iconic) Hot Chocolate. Additionally, we were very impressed with the Paris Metro. It was super easy to use, a 10-pack of tickets was around 11 euros and can be used by anyone in the family and we were often entertained by musicians both in the trains and on the platforms.

KC Summers: Hi Olney. I totally second your recommendation for L'Orangerie. I visited last month and loved both levels -- the waterlilies were amazing, of course, but the permanent collection on the lower level was just terrific too. The only downside: a mediocre-to-bad amateur clarinetist playing for small change while we waited in line to get in. Actually, that was the other (surprising) downside: the long wait in line, about an hour, during off season. Based on that, this summer will be horrendous.

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Washington DC: I know dichotomy makes for a good story, but you can both plan and be spontaneous. We research our vacations and get an idea of what we want to see, but save time to wonder around. We reserve hotels in advance, but only if it's going to be crowded or if we know exactly where we want to be. When we have weeks, we plan a lot less than when we have days. Our goal is neither to be so planned that we kick ourselves for not being able to do something we learn about on the trip (like the woman I met in France who was following a typed hourly schedule), nor so disorganized that we get home and read about something in a guidebook that we wished we had seen on the trip.

M.L. Lyke: This sounds like a reasonable way to travel: a little yin, a little yang, a little planning, a little free-wheeling adventure. I'm learning to put Nellie to rest, and taking this last Mexican adventure as a lesson in balance -- which I think you've nicely accomplished. ML

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Honeymoon Help!: I'm in the process of planning our (delayed) honeymoon this summer, most likely to Europe. I've been abroad a couple of times, but my future husband hasn't traveled as much as I have (but is adventurous and willing to try anything). I've "done" Italy, and we've both "done" Great Britain, so ruling those two out, if you had 10 days to go travel around Europe, where would you go, OR would you take a Mediterranean cruise (our other option)

Thanks so much! I'm a regular chat junkie!

Anne McDonough: I'd go to Eastern Europe. Your dollars will go at least slightly farther so you can get some of the honeymoon element in there (choosing higher end accommodations, etc). I haven't been but KC and the numerous chatters have written in extoll the delights of Croatia--I think that sounds like a romantic adventure and in fact I believe is popular for honeymooners. I'd skip the cruise. But I'm not much of a cruise person. Chatters, where should "Honeymoon Help!" go?

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Anonymous: One thing that struck me when I was living in Italy and

Greece was what a bad idea extensive planning ahead

was--more often than not, I ended up losing money over

it (i.e. buying a train ticket ahead of time = having to take

a different train for some reason, booking a hotel =

seeing a cheaper and nicer one next door that doesn't

have a website). Obviously during the high season you

have to do a little more planning head--some high-traffic

train tickets (Florence-Venice, Florence-Rome) sell out in

Italy during the summer, and don't even try arriving in

Santorini in July without a hotel reservation, but really in

the Mediterranean flexibility is key.

M.L. Lyke: My companion Bob ("Mr. Wing-It") certainly agrees with you. I love booking rooms online. He wants to book in-country, on-site, in person -- and says what I'm getting online is often a lot of pictorial shuck-and-jive. ML

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Alexandria Va: I enjoyed the piece on planners vs. wing-its this weekend. Personally, I enjoy planning it because it lets me stretch the holiday out for weeks before I actually go.

One question: What's the current state of liquid laws and duty free? We're flying from Dulles to Prague via Paris next month and want to bring a housewarming bottle of something nice.

Andrea Sachs: It all depends on where you buy your duty-free items--or if you can find three-ounce bottles of merlot. If you purchase the liquids in a secure area (by your gate, for example), you should be able to carry them onto the plane. Just don't pass through security again. You can also purchase them on the plane. However, any liquids bought before security must be packed in your sent bags. Also, remember that if you have a connecting flight, you may have to pass through security again and will likely lose your liquids to the authorities.

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Adams-Morgan, Washington DC: Any one have experiences with Handspan or Buffalo Tours in Vietnam? I am booking a junk cruise in Halong bay for April and was curious if anyone had used either company.

Thanks!

Andrea Sachs: Nope, we have not. Chatters, can you help?

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Washington, DC: I'm planning a trip to Asia for this fall and am interested in getting traveler's insurance (which you all so wisely advocate). What should I look for in choosing a policy? Some seem to have some extreme options - like guaranteeing floral arrangements. I didn't realize that was a big part of traveling... Thanks!

Cindy Loose: When laying out big bucks of my own for a trip I want to be able to get my money back if I or someone close to me gets seriously ill before the trip, so read the policy carefully to see that it covers me if I get sick and can't go, then I'd check to make sure that I could also get refunds if my husband, child or mother got sick. (Pay attention to the criteria regarding pre-existing conditions if that might be an issue.)

Secondly, I'd want to be covered for medical problems while I was gone. If I were going to Bankok, which has some great hospitals, I wouldn't worry much about whether or not hte insurance covered medical evacuation something really serious occur, but if I were visiting Cambodia, say, or even China, I'd certainly consider whether the price of covering that possiblity were affordable.

Once you buy those two things, most policies will throw in other things for free, like insuring lost luggage. Once you've covered the cost of the prepaid portions of the trip in case you have to cancel, and you know you're covered for medical expenses if you get sick or injured, to me the rest is nice to have but not critical.

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Romance in Manhattan: I'm looking for a romantic and stylish hotel in midtown Manhattan. I'm not on a budget. Any suggestions?

KC Summers: Ooh, this is the kind of question I love (and that we rarely get): a non-budget NYC hotel recommendation. In Midtown, here are a few choices: the Peninsula (about $600 a night this spring), the Essex House, the Dylan, Chambers... There's a W in Midtown too, at 49th and Lex, if you like your romance a little edgy.

Anyone else have recommendations for Romance?

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washington, d.c.: My Spanish is decent, but not great. When trying to make arrangements via Email with a hotel in a Spanish-speaking country, which do you think I should do: write in English? Write in Spanish? Or enlist a Spanish-speaking friend to write the Emails for me? When I did this with Peruvian hotels a couple years ago I'd write them in Spanish but they'd always write me back in English that had clearly been run through Babelfish -- dead giveaway when the person's surnames get translated, so you get a message signed "Thank you, Patty Hair Walls Head." Any thoughts?

Cindy Loose: If it's a really big chain hotel I'd go with English. A smaller place, I'd go with the Spanish-speaking friend, should you have one handy.

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Washington DC: When I was a student living in Spain, I was often met with unfriendly stares or comments (my blonde hair and blue eyes made me stand out a bit). However, once when lost on the bus, I gathered my courage to ask directions from this older gentleman, who not only gave me directions, but actually rode with me to my stop and got off and made sure I found my way. He totally redeemed the image of his countrymen for me!!

Andrea Sachs: I love it when a local takes the time to escort a visitor to the destination. So much nicer than a map.

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Safari: Anyone ever heard of the tour group Foreign Independent Tours (http://www.foreign-independent-tours.com)? I got their name from a travel magazine and am considering one of their tours and would appreciate any feedback anyone has. Also, can anyone recommend a tour group for Africa?

Cindy Loose: We don't know that one off hand. Has anyone else used them?

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Chevy Chase, Md: I am planning to fly to Louisville, KY in early August. Some people I am going there with have already bought tickets (Southwest, about $200 for a direct flight). I am wondering: should I go ahead and buy them now (I feel it's too early) or are they likely to go down in price before August? How early is too early to buy tickets and are there other airlines that fly to Louisville from DC direct besides Southwest?

Another related question: what site do you recommend to sign up for so they can send me daily quotes for my particular flight dates so I can monitor the prices over the next month or so? Does one like this even exist?

Carol Sottili:$200 round trip is about as cheap as it gets for nonstop to Louisville, unless you luck out and find a Ding fare (Southwest's downloadable sale fares). But if you have to be there for specific dates, Ding isn't really an option. US Airways flies nonstop from Reagan National, but it's more expensive. I don't think it's too early to buy now if you have definite plans. You can sign up at various sites for email notification of fare changes. Try www.kayak.com, www.farecompare.com, www.farecast.com and www.orbitz.com.

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Pittsburgh: First of all, a shout-out to John Deiner for his great article a week ago on vacationing in the Azores during off-season. I forwarded the article to several friends who've been to the Azores, and all enjoyed it. My only quibble is that, when I was there a few weeks before the reporter last March, I didn't encounter as much precipitation as he did, only one really rainy day, otherwise just occasional showers.

Re being treated well by the locals in NYC, I've never encountered the supposed nastiness of New Yorkers that is such a cliche. Maybe it improves one's odds if a tourist is nice to the locals. (A general observation, not just for NYC). Heck, even the Azoreans have a saying for this: "Com vinagre nao se apanham moscas."

KC Summers: Thanks for the kind words, Pittsburgh, we'll be sure to pass them on to John. Re New Yorkers' friendliness, I completely agree. I think New Yorkers definitely get a bum rap. Yes, they're direct and don't put too much stock in social niceties, but time and again I've seen them go way out of their way to help a bumbling tourist with directions or anything else they need.

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Broomes Island, MD: I was driving up a dark mountain in Italy near my lkate grandfather's birth town in the middle of a rainstorm, when my car stopped. I had my wife, sister in law and 2 children under 2 in the car. I sat in the car for several minutes considering my options, when a small truck pulled over in front of me. The occupants, a man and a woman approached my car, asked in broken english if I was having a problem, and offered their cell phone for me to call a tow truck. I moved to the cab of their truck and began talking about our trip (we had been visiting Italy for 2 weeks) and how I was looking forward to meeting some relatives, if I could find any. When the tow truck came, I thanked the people for stopping, and introduced my self to them. The wife looked at her husband and told me that they had the last name as me. While we weren't related (it was a common name) they were able to point me in the direction of some relatives. We still send Christmas cards!

Andrea Sachs: What a wonderful tale. And now you have a place to crash at if ever in Italy again.

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Chicago Ill: Last Monday I mailed my expedited passport renewal application. The new passport arrived today - only 7 days later! I know they've been having some problems, but big shout out from me. That's good stuff.

Cindy Loose: Congrats. The State Department has staffed up and is running some centers 24 hours a day to keep up with increased demand. Even so they've warned it can take up to 10 weeks, as the CoGo column reported this week. Hope you have a great time somewhere good soon.

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Columbus, Ohio: Hi! I am headed to NYC at the end of this week. I am looking for some great shopping -- I am not really interested in the 5th Avenue/Madison Avenue shops. Do you have any suggestions for unique shops/boutiques? Thanks!

Anne McDonough: Hi Columbus, coming up should be a link to an issue we did a few years ago that's all about shopping in New York and Brooklyn. Of course there have been a ton of openings since that issue ran--UNIQLO, a Japanese store at 546 Broadway, between Prince and Spring Streets, is one that comes to mind. Pick up a Time Out New York and/or a New York magazine when you get there; they will have listings of what sample sales are on when you're there as well as boutique openings.

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washingtonpost.com: Shops and the City, (April 11, 2004)

Anne McDonough: Here you go, Columbus!

Thanks for the post, Kim!

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One more passport question (sorry): I am going to Puerto Rico this Sunday. I know I don't have to bring the passport, but should I? Will it be a more effective ID? Or should I leave it home to keep it safe and just use my driver's license as a form of ID? Thanks!

Andrea Sachs: You don't need a passport for Puerto Rico, since it is a U.S. territory. So, travel with whatever ID you are most comfortable with--and is easier to replace if lost.

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Backpacks and museums?: Hi there!

Heading to Paris soon with hubby and 6 year old. Want to take a backpack while we tour during the day to make it easier to carry jackets, water bottles, tour books, extra clothing for child, etc.

I read somewhere that "large" bags are not allowed in museums. Does that mean backpacks, even if they are searched? Will we have to check it? How safe is that? I know, I wouldn't leave anything of value in it, but it would be a huge hassle to have it stolen.

Thanks!

KC Summers: Yep, that can definitely mean backpacks, but it's no problem checking them -- at least, I've never had any. I haven't lost a coat, backpack or shopping bag yet checking them in museum cloakrooms.

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FOR: Honeymoon Help, Baltimore: Next on my list: Prague, Vienna, Krakow circuit. These cities appear so beautiful, I think it would be a very romantic honeymoon trip.

And even though you've "done" Italy, I have to say, in my travels, Venice was the most romantic place I've ever been.

Anne McDonough: Great ideas, Balto-and the Post Magazine had a piece on romantic Venice this past Sunday, as well.

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Susquehanna Twp, , PA: I just wanted to say "Thanks" for for mentioning the special deals in your blog last week. We booked the JetBlue $69 fare to Las Vegas for a June vacation. Now we just need to decide whether to spend 9 days there or do a side trip to the Grand Canyon or Long Beach. Any suggestions?

Cindy Loose: I think 9 days is longer than you need to do Vegas quite throughly unless you're really committed gamblers.

You have so many good options from there. You could head to the Grand Canyon, or head towards Hoover Dam then continue on to Zion or Bryce national parks, both of which are beautiful.

If you chose the Grand Canyon, check out the new Skywalk option I mentioned in the CoGo column this weekend.

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RE Amtrak Border Crossing: When I booked recently (from Toronto to NY) on Amtrak, they required the number from the document I would be traveling with (in my case the passport). This information is not for Amtrak, but is given to US Customs (or Canadian if going the other way). So, to eliminate problems at the border, I would suggest giving Amtrak the passport number (assuming that is what the poster will be traveling with).

Of course, the issue could be is that I am coming into the US on this ticket and the other poster is entering Canada.

Andrea Sachs: Good point. To be safe and avoid hassles, it would be wise to call Amtrak and submit your passport info.

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Central Cal: For M.L.Lyke: I have been to Mexico many times to the usual spots: Cancun, Puerto Vallarta, etc. I can speak basic rudamentary Spanish. I am ready to go to a more out-of-the-way place to get away from the touristy stuff for the most part. History and archaeology is my thing. Any suggestions?

M.L. Lyke: I'm primarily a beach girl when I hit Mexico, so my knowledge on history and archaeology there are thin (though the archaeology museum in Mexico City is killer; worth booking an extra day in the city enroute to somewhere else). But if you want to get away from touristy destinations, my two favorite spots are little La Manzanilla, about an hour north of the port city of Manzanillo, and Chacala, the end-of-the-road town I talked about in Sunday's article. La Manzanilla has tourists, and gorgeous tourist accommodations, but it's still free of credit-card machines and Dairy Queens, the surf is gentle and the atmosphere laid-back. Plus, they have giant crocodiles! Chacala's even more laid-back, Old Mexico-style, with some old hippies thrown in. If you want immersion in local culture, and a brush-up on language skills, you can stay in villagers' houses through a cooperative housing program.

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Philadelphia, Pa: Hi - I'm looking for some advice on a problem I'm having with an online booking service (1800cheapseats)... I tried to book an itinerary with them for travel to Europe, and their web site wouldn't book the fare it advertised... so I called them up and asked what the problems were... I got a very "helpful" associate to try and book this for me herself... Of course, she booked me at a higher rate than what was quoted on-line with a story that airlines change their fares at all times (sure) and this was the new "best" fare. So I agreed to it, the total I authorized to be charged to my credit card was $693. Lo and behold, my card was hit for $857. I called back, they claimed that there was an error, but it would take 30 days for them to review it. And of course, the cheaper fare still showed up on their website. Being told I'd have to wait 30 days - just for a review - is not the answer I had hoped for. When I mentioned going to my credit card compnay they said that if that was my intention, they'd stop the review immediately. So I told them I wouldn't... What can a buyer do? I can also book a reasonably similar intinerary on USAir for even less than what they quoted me... But I can't afford to get stuck for both fares.

Carol Sottili: Why is it important for them to review it? I'd call my credit card issuer immediately and dispute the charge. Sounds like a bait-and-switch to me. I know I'm going to annoy all those third-party booking sites, but I always book directly through the airlines. Why pay booking fees at third-party sites unless the fare is cheaper? And why add another player to the mix: In case there is a problem, the airline often points the finger at the booking site, and vice versa. And I rarely, if ever, find cheaper fares on the third-party sites. Anyone else out there agree/disagree with that logic?

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friendliness with the locals: Here's a recent story from my adventures with friends in the Dominican Republic. Since we are young and adventurous, we decided to go to the Haitian border..but of course, you always gotta be careful in Haiti. So we stayed at the border town in the DR side, and ate dinner. This is where we met the restaurant owner who turned out to be one of the friendliest people i've met abroad. He was the son of a Haitian diplomat, and had pictures of his dad with Che Guevara & Nixon. The next morning, he took (all 10 of) us in his van to the border and a very interesting border market. He showed us his free clinic that he runs in the country, and without a doubt, he really made our visit to the border more enjoyable.

Fairfax, VA

Andrea Sachs: What an amazing experience you had. We are duly impressed.

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Oakton, Va: A couple of weeks ago I asked you about going for a guranteed cabin on an upcoming cruise. I wanted to let you know, we received our cabin assignment and we received a double upgrade. The gurantee did say you would be assigned a cabin of equal or better quality.

Andrea Sachs: What a happy ending. Glad it worked out so well.

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Arlington, VA: I volunteer with Travelers Aid at National, and am always surprised at the number of people who "wing it" by showing up with no hotel room for a holiday weekend, and then balk at the cost of said room, if we can even find them one.

M.L. Lyke: That's one of my arguments for reservations. You can find the room you want, and often get a discount, by booking in advance on hotel.com, orbitz.com, etc. (Or the room you think you want, until you get there and find out the view from the lanai is a quarter-inch of sea.)

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Cheap local travel: That's right, camping. I'm fairly new to DC and would love some recommendations for a fun weekend tent-camping trip. Mountains or beaches are both nice. Bonus points for being able to reserve a spot in advance (yes, I'm more planner than wing-it).

Cindy Loose: My favorite tent camping is on the beach, on Asseateague Island. Sites are available in either the state or national park, and you can reserve.

As to mountain camping--there are tons of options in Va., Md., Pa. W. Va. and beyond. Anyone have a favorite they'd like to recommend?

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McLean, Va: While flying back from a vacation I'm taking in August, I have a 7 hour layover in Amsterdam. Is it possible to leave the airport for a few hours so that I can explore the city? I'm not sure if there are any regulations regarding this.

Thanks!

Anne McDonough: You certainly can. The airport is close to the city so you could do a whirlwind trip BUT make sure you have enough time to get back through security, etc. to make your flight. The airport (www.schiphol.nl), a great one for on-site activities as well, offers suggestions on what to do with a layover of four hours or more.

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NYC Shopping: My favorite place to shop in NYC is Century 21. Designer clothes, not designer prices! We were just there a couple of weekends ago and got $600 worth of clothes for $200. Also a good location for a bit of touristing (right across from the WTC site and near City Hall).

Anne McDonough: Century 21 is a shopping marvel-you're absolutely right.

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Arlington, Va: I'll be working in Barcelona for a month this summer, and plan to take 2 weeks off afterwards to run around Europe. It'd be easier to accomplish this without my suitcase in tow, but the suitcase shipping companies want to charge $700 for delivery. I'm also leaving Europe from Paris Orly and there doesn't seem to be a left luggage office or lockers. Does anyone have an idea about what I could do with my bag?

Andrea Sachs: If you are spending the night near Orly before you fly out, you could perhaps ship your suitcase to the hotel and have them hold it for you while you travel. You might also look into train stations, which might have lockers, or youth hostels. Otherwise, pack really light or wear disposable clothes.

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Do TSA agents like cookies?: I'm flying to Boston on Thursday for a bridal shower. As one of the hostesses, I'm bringing a tupperware container of chocolate chip cookies (130 total!)in my checked bag. Somebody made a joke about how they hoped the TSA agents wouldn't eat all of them to make sure the cookies were safe. That got me thinking, is it actually something that could happen? Should I duct tape the container or am I way overthinking this?

Cindy Loose: Do NOT duct tape it, as that would likely cause security to be curious and perhaps even alarmed. I don't think they'll eat your cookies. Thinks like chocolate and books should be distributed around a suitcase rather than stacked because anything too dense can't be x-rayed and that prompts security to open bags. But I doubt your cookies will be dense enough to set off alarms. It wouldhn't hurt anything to add a note saying--cookies for bridal shower.

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McLean, Va: I'm going to Amsterdam for a short trip next week (arriving Sunday morning, departing Wednesday around noon). It's my first time there, and I'm not sure what to concentrate on in such a short time. I know I want to go to the Van Gogh museum, the Rijksmuseum, the Anne Frank House, and the Heineken tour. It's been a while since I've seen you guys do anything on Amsterdam, so I was wondering what else is an absolute must for my list?

KC Summers: Hi McLean. You're definitely starting off with the right stuff -- my two most memorable Amsterdam attractions were the Van Gogh Museum and Anne Frank's house. Also, try to fit in the Rijksmuseum and Stedelijk museum. And I'm sure you've heard about the 'coffee shops' -- those are a must for some.

We ran a fun Amsterdam story from last year that focused on chocolate -- the writer really loved a trendy restaurant called the Supperclub, and also the outdoor markets, including Noordermarkt, known for its Monday rummage sale of furniture, tableware, secondhand clothing and costume jewelry. Link coming up.

Anne also recommends getting out of the city on a bike. The cycling in the Netherlands is really great: totally flat, great scenery, special traffic lights for bikes, etc.

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Central California: Locals: I have travelled some and I must say on my recent trip to Ireland, I was MADE to feel like a local. Complete strangers in a pub would notice you, and greet you like one of their own, that they hadn't seen for a month. It was almost unnerving at times. Throw in a guitar and sing 'em some Johnny Cash and they might offer you a room and a job.

Andrea Sachs: Must be something in the water, or the Guinness.

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The yin and yang of trip planning: Because I use public transportation exclusively, I most obsessively research transportation options. So, if I don't like a place and need to move on, I always know how. No time wasted figuring out bus schedules (though this can be fun),

I don't plan things "to do" because my favorite thing is to wander and just enjoy a place, but research is almost as fun as travelling--knowing the history and highlights of a place before heading there allows you to dig deeper and find off-the-beaten-path places and tailor your trip to your own interests.

M.L. Lyke: Sounds like smart traveling. I agree, research is half the fun. I love wandering around a new city, getting a little lost, with a headful of history and a map in the back pocket (just in case). But when I hit a big city like Barcelona, and I have a limited amount of time, I come with a list of must-sees and check them off as I go.

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Arlington, Va: What are some reputable flight consolidators? I'm trying to get to Mali in December/January, and Royal Air Moroc wants over $5k to do the job!

Carol Sottili: Consolidators are not anywhere as common as they once were, and very few work directly with consumers. You could contact a travel agent that specializes in Mali: Try www.spectortravel.com. Is there a reason you need to fly Royal Air Moroc? Air France has fares of about $2,000 round trip.

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washingtonpost.com: Amsterdam Good Chocolate, (Feb. 13, 2005)

KC Summers: Here you go, for the Amsterdam-bound. Danku, Kim.

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For the Louisville Traveler: Louisville is my hometown, so I'm back and forth there all the time. We always take Southwest from BWI, but rarely pay $200. For a weekend in May (Friday-Monday travel), we paid $130 roundtrip. If we could have gone on Thursday or Saturday, it would have only been $100. Even without a Ding fare, you can get $49-$69 oneway fares fairly often, just not on Friday or Sunday.

Carol Sottili: Seems very cheap, but I believe you!

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Silver Spring, Md.: Japan already has a fantastic reputation for niceness, so I can't really improve on it. But here's my story anyway: I was in a small town in Japan with my parents one late afternoon in winter. (We lived in a different city in Japan at the time.) We hadn't eaten since lunchtime and my mom was getting cranky. We were trudging along the side of the road toward the train station, about a mile away, where we were going to catch a train to some other town.

Some nice middle-aged lady pulled up next to us, asked where we were going, we all got in for a ride to the train station - and she decided she might as well just drive us to the town where we were going, maybe 20 or 30 miles away. She got to practice her English; we got a very comfy ride with no more cold trudging.

Andrea Sachs: I just returned from Japan and also was pleased to see how friendly and helpful the Japanese were. One woman came into a store with me to help me negotiate a price for a Buddha sculpture. And whenever I even opened a map, someone was at my side showing me the route.

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Portland, Ore: Cindy, in your Sunday column where you talked about the skywalk: a suggestion would be for people interested in look to see if there would be an combo trips where you can see the skywalk and havasu falls (on the other nat am reservaion next to GC)

There are cheaper overlook in two locations...

1. Along 89A near Lees Ferry where you have the navajo bridge.

2. Near Page, AZ there is a pull of with a short walk that takes you to the edge of the cliff(with no railing) that you can view a few thousand feet down to the river below and possible see some rafters.

Cindy Loose: Hey, thanks for the tip. I'll probably go out there to check out the skywalk sometime soon, and will try out your other suggestions too. Thanks.

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Washington, DC: In yesterday's travel section someone asked about Easter in Sofia, Bulgaria. I spent some time there a few months ago. I highly recommend dining at Pod Lipite located at 1 Elin Pelin Street. (Tel: 866-5053 or 855-5059) Have fun, it's a great town.

KC Summers: Great, thanks much for the tip.

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Bajan locals: I was in my late twenties traveling with two girlfriends to Barbados. I'm pretty well traveled in the Caribbean and consider myself immune to the generic "hey, pretty lady" island-man response to a group of female tourists. But, man, do those Bajan men have game!!! We got some of the sweetest, most creative, and most sincere-sounding compliments in the most non-threatening way from all kind of average Bajan Joes (shop-keepers, fruit vendors, policemen ...). It still makes me giggle and that trip was like 5-6 years ago. What an ego boost (when I just happened to really need it ...)

Andrea Sachs: And, of course, the accent doesn't hurt either.

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Washington,DC: Has anyone had any experience with a website called hotelclub.com? They provide discounted hotel rates but it is a pre-pay and they send you a voucher. It seems legit but I always have concerns. Thank you.

Cindy Loose: No one in our office has used hotelclub.com. Anyone else out there?

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Arlington, VA: re: nice locals

This may be a cliche that is true, but everywhere I went in Thailand everyone I met was super nice and friendly. One thing that sort of stands out though was a concert that was going to be performed by my fave Thai rock band. The band is actually very accessible even though they are huge over there and the guitar player was helpful in giving me the phone number for the band's manager so I could get details on the gig because it was in a part of Bangkok that is off the tourist trail. I had my Thai tour company call and they were put in touch with the club manager who faxed us a map to the club and directions in Thai and they reserved us a great table down front and center. Everyone went out of their way to help me out...then the coup happened but that's another story I have told too many times.

Andrea Sachs: VIP treatment, nice. Though I am curious about the coup story (you haven't told us yet). Maybe I will have coups and political protests as my next chat topic.

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Washington, DC: Two 30-somethings need a week off in May to recover from daily DC life and decompress, enjoy each other's company. Would like to do 8 days or so for $1500-2K. We like to be outside, like romance, and good food. We were thinking Maine. Or Southern Florida -- Miami and the Keys. We need somewhere that is easy to get around by car and will make us forget our Blackberry-heavy DC worlds. What do you think of our 2 choices? Other places we should consider?

Anne McDonough: I think it depends on what weather you want: Pretty much guaranteed warmth in the Keys or cool nights in Maine. To get you started, we're linking to two stories: the Florida Keys issue we did and a piece by Cindy on restaurants in Portland, Maine.

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"Done" Italy: I bet you've never been to the deep south. Puglia is one of

the most romantic places there is. Peschici (or all of the

Gargano Penninsula) is one of the most beautiful towns

I've ever been in--whitewashed Greek-style with little

twisting cobblestoned streets, perched on a cliff

overlooking the turquoise sea. (Google image-search it!)

And it's cheap, as most of southern Italy is. It's a bit tricky

to get to (you have to manage the Ferrovia Gargano, so

bring a phrase book) but the journey is gorgeous--a little

train that twists its way through stark landscape covered

in vines and ancient olive trees and oxen wandering by

the side of the road. And don't even get me started on

the food, which outshines anything northern Italy has to

offer by far.

Anne McDonough: This I believe is for the honeymooning couple...

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Falls Church, Va: Hi Travel Crew - Rain this weekend in Asheville, NC has us reconsidering a 3-day stay and driving onward with husband and 6 yr.-old to sunnier Charleston, SC instead. Is this a doable long weekend driving trip? Anyone have any suggestions for what to do in Charleston with a 6 yr. old? Thanks much!

Cindy Loose: Falls Church to Charleston is an 8 hour 19 min drive each way, according to www.mapquest.com, so I'd say that's out of range for a weekend trip.

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local camping : Berkeley Springs, WV is an easy drive from DC. Cute crafts shops, and historic warm springs (same springs as the expensive place down the road, but the state park prices are lower). Beautiful art deco bathhouse. Cabins.

Cindy Loose: Thanks.

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New York: Local girl checking in: NYC was just mentioned in a reader poll (Conde Nast Traveler, maybe?) as one of the 10 friendliest cities in the world, so clearly we're doing something right.

I'd say we're accommodating of tourists who are accommodating of us. If I see a group of people off to the side with a camera, I'll ALWAYS offer to take a photo if I have time. If someone has a map and looks confused, I'll ALWAYS stop and ask if they need help.

But if they walk slowly in a pack of four across the sidewalk so I can't get by, I'll shout "excuse me" as loudly as possible. If they walk on the left side of the street/sidewalk, I'll push past them. If they stop at the top or bottom of an escalator and cause a potential pile-up, I will use my elbows. If they stop short in the middle of the crosswalk to suddenly look up and point, I will walk right into them.

Stay out of our path, and we'll all gladly help you find the right one.

Andrea Sachs: Spoken like a true New Yorker. Guess I was not blocking anyone's escalator exit, since everyone was super-cordial to me--except one man in the rotating door at the museum of natural history. (My apologies, I got stuck in the door with all of my bags.)

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Southern Maryland: We want to visit Yellowstone and stay in the park or is there any place else to stay? What is the best way to visit Yellowstone and how far in advance do you have to make reservations? We have one teenager who will like to do some trailriding also. What are the must sees and the overlooked treasures??? Thanks so much!!

Carol Sottili: We did the Yellowstone/Grand Tetons trip with our kids a few years back. We stayed at Roosevelt Lodge because it was cheap, but it was really barebones, and clientele was a little rough that weekend (drunk arguments in adjoining cabins). I liked the looks of the Mammoth Hot Springs lodging, although we didn't stay here. We really loved Signal Mountain Lodge in the Grand Tetons, and I'd also highly recommend Chico Hot Springs Resort, located north of Yellowstone (it has wonderful trail riding).

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Bronx, NY: In response to your question about "friendly locals" --

although I work in NYC, I'm not from there, so this

incident really struck me: One afternoon, about 5:00pm, I

was walking down 57th Street in front of Carnegie Hall;

the sidewalk was full of New Yorkers, all rushing along on

their business. All of a sudden, one woman went down in

a heap (I think one of her heels snagged on a subway

grate . . .); in an instant, the seven people closest to her

on the sidewalk converged on her and came to her aid,

checking to make sure she was all right, gathering her

spilled belongings -- and once she was on her feet and

reassuring everyone she was fine, her helpers disappeared

back into the crowd. So visitors, please be assured,

although New Yorkers may appear to be "off in their own

little worlds," they really are attentive, and will come

through for you should you ever need them.

KC Summers: Thanks for sharing. Similar story: A couple of years ago I took my mother up to NYC on the train from DC, figuring she was still spry enough to negotiate the stairs and general mayhem at Penn Station. Well, she wasn't, and by the time I realized we needed help, redcaps were nowhere to be found. But before I could even ask, wonderful New Yorkers saw us struggling and were offering to help us with our bags, help her up the stairs, etc. It was truly heartwarming. (And on the trip back, I made sure to snag a redcap in plenty of time!)

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Washington, D.C.: Wonderful locals:

In college I studied for a semester in Brazil. The first five weeks were intensive language training, but I didn't know any Portuguese before I went, so my Portuguese was still pretty weak by the end of the five weeks. Nevertheless, we had a week off, and I was determined to take advantage of it, so I went, by myself, to Recife, in Northeastern Brazil. My Lonely Planet book recommended a museum and listed the bus route to get to it, so one day I set out to find it. Embarrassed by my poor language skills, I didn't talk to the bus driver or ask where the stop was. Before long, the bus had left the city and gotten onto a dirt road. I panicked, got off the bus, and crossed the street to wait for a bus going the other direction. An hour or so later, a bus came - the same one I had gotten off of earlier.

The bus driver and another bus company employee recognized me immediately (white American who got off the bus at a strange spot) and wanted to know what I was doing. At that point it was getting late, and I was over the museum - just wanted to get back to my hotel. The bus company employees, as well as passengers who overheard, were very patient with my halting Portuguese and knew exactly how to get where I needed to go. The bus wasn't heading that way, but they detoured enough to get me to a transfer stop, wrote down the bus number I needed and the name of the place I needed to get off, and gave me a free bus-transfer. Then they made me promise that I would talk to the driver of the next bus. I did, and he made sure I got back safely.

Moral: talk to people, even if you're afraid you'll sound silly.

Andrea Sachs: A great moral to your travel story.

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Tall Timbers, MD: Loved the article yesterday & planning vs. not. I am a planner & trying to free myself. We have travelled twice to Mexico, both times to the state of Oaxaca. Both times we visited the city of Oaxaca, but last year we also spent a week at Puerto Escondido on the Pacific. Would like some other options for beach communities in areas not heavily populated by the usual tourist crowd. PE is delightfully Mexican and a great eco touring spot.

M.L. Lyke: It's hard to get those inner-planners to quiet down. For me, it means a big breath, letting go, giving in. Especially when I head south of the border. If I have everything under control (reservations, medications), nothing can go wrong, right? I'm getting better, but I'll never be a total free-wheeler.

Places in Mexico: My two favorite getaways, beach towns not yet on the big tourist maps, are Chacala, which I wrote about yesterday, and little La Manzanilla, north of the port city of Manzanillo (you can look up story in WP).

Both laid-back, tourist-shoppe free, no banks, no Dairy Queens, sweet swatches of fine sand and gentle surf. La Manz is developing fast, though.

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Amsterdam:22 March to 20 May is flowering time at Keukenhof--when you can see zillions of tulips and other bulbs.

http://www.keukenhof.nl/nm/english.html

KC Summers: Oh, of course. How could I forget? Obvious, but wonderful.

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McLean, Va: For "Romance" in midtown Manhattan, check out the Michelangelo. My wife and I stayed there a couple of years ago, and it was very romantic.

KC Summers: Oh thanks -- I've never stayed there, but it looks great. Actually, my favorite romantic NYC hotel isn't in Midtown so I didn't recommend it before -- but if the poster is ever on the Upper East Side, by all means stay at the Hotel Wales. It's very European, elegant and cozy.

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Washington, DC: While backpacking in the late 80's in Greece with college friends, one of them used contact lens cleanser - not saline solution - and hurt her eye. We looked in our Let's Go Europe guide and found an emergency clinic. Somehow they understood us but indicated (after giving my friend an eye wash) that we needed to go to the hospital. The nurse wrote the name of the hospital in Greek on a piece of paper and told us to give it to the bus driver. We got on the bus and showed the driver who seemed to understand - our stop was the last one on the line and as we were taking our friend off (with her eye patch) he asked how she was, and was it her eye - in German! Thank goodness, because I could actually respond in kind! And thanked him for his help in getting us to our destination. Danke Schoen to the Greeks!

Andrea Sachs: Quite the cross-cultural experience you had. Wearing an eye patch, no less.

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Washington, D.C.: We are debating whether or not to bring our one-year old son to Corfu. Do you or your readers know if Corfu is a family friendly locale? Any tips for having fun with a young one in Greece? Thanks.

Cindy Loose: Confu should be fine for a kid. On the one hand Greece doesn't create things specially for a one-year-old, i.e. you'll find no Chuckie Cheese and I don't remember seeing any playgrounds as such, but you should be able to find ways to entertain a one-year-old---in my experience, if you don't overtire really young kids or expect too much from them, you can find ways to entertain them most anywhere. Like, a puddle of water or a puppy used to be the top highlight of even the most exotic trip for my daugther.

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Arlington, Va: the coup follow up. Actually I think I have mentioned it here before, but the night of the concert ended up being the night of the coup, September 19. We were at the club and during the change over between the opening act and the headliners the big screen TVs flashed up CNN's coverage of the coup! I asked my guide if that was happening right now?! He said yes it was, he got a text message but was going to wait until after the show to tell me so I wouldn't worry during the concert. The band came out and played half a song before the club manager shut them down because martial law had been delcared. It was going to be one of the highlights of my trip...but now I have a story I can tell forever. So I have to go back later this year to try again.

Andrea Sachs: And when I post my coup question, please come back and tell us again. A priceless story.

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Arlington, Va.: Hi M.L., loved your story! Just wondering about the reaction of your friend who planned the first half of the trip -- the one with the color-coded freezer. Did he mind that his half of the trip came off a bit, um, boring?

M.L. Lyke: Thanks. No, my friend read the story and laughed. Honestly, he's an anesthesiologist, and the kind of guy you WANT to plan trips (and log the contents of a freezer onto a spreadsheet). ML

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Silver Spring, Md: I have spent some time in Japan. The people there LOVE to practice their English so getting the chance to help a lost tourist out is actually beneficial to them as well.

Andrea Sachs: Agree, but I found English was not very prevalent. And I was a horrible mime. It was fun to try out the language though.

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yuan for china: Can I buy yuan in the US for an upcoming China trip, or should I buy them there...I am going to Beijing and Shanghai for 2 weeks next month.

Thanks.

Anne McDonough: I'd just use your ATM and/or exchange dollars when you arrive at the airport-Travelex is quoting 700 yuan for $104, and the official rate right now is 700 yuan for $90. I also generally bring a few travelers cheques with me--I don't use them for most destinations but there are places in China that don't have ATMs so it's nice as a backup. In Beijing and Shanghai, though, you're all set with ATMs. Just don't use the Bank of Beijing ones; use Bank of China, HSBC, etc.

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washingtonpost.com: Portland, Maine: It's to Dine For, (Aug. 27, 2006)

Anne McDonough: For the couple deciding between Maine...

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washingtonpost.com: All Keyed Up, (Jan. 16, 2006)

Anne McDonough:...and the Florida Keys...

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Hoi An, Vietnam: Not posting from there, but that's where our encounter took place.

My wife and I were visiting this gem of a town on a tour of southern Vietnam, and had picked one of the many riverside restaurants at random for dinner. Our waitress was a fairly shy girl, but perked up a bit when we tried our rudimentary Vietnamese with her. She was happy to help us out with our pronunciation and we helped her out with some English phrases in return.

Well, one thing led to another and next thing we know we've been invited to her sister's wedding where I worry our appearance upstaged the bride as everyone in the extended family took turns heaping our plates with food and watching us with great interest as we relished it! We still keep in touch occasionally by letter.

Andrea Sachs: You went from strangers to wedding guests!?! What do you buy a couple you've never met before?

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Indianapolis, Ind.: I am sorry if you have addressed this before and I missed it. I was unaware that new passports were being issued with GPS-type locator devices on them. My nephew just got a passport and his has one on it. I hear it is for "safety" reasons but I would be interested to hear your understanding of it. Thanks for your two cents.

Cindy Loose: The device allows an agent with a reader to see the passport holder's primary data, so it's easier for officials to make sure the passport hasn't been altered and that the person holding it is the person to whom it belongs. There have been concerns raised that bad people could get readers and pull up info about you, including the simple fact you're an American and thus an attractive target, but for now at least this seems to me a little far fetched. Moreover, officials have said readers don't work on a closed passport book.

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Locals in Japan: Before I went to Japan a couple of years ago, I was told more than once that the locals aren't open to dealing with foreigners. Nothing could be further from the truth! Absolutely everyone we met there was very helpful. We asked a lot of people a lot of questions as we tried to navigate various cities, and often if we stopped someone who didn't know the answer to our question (once they figured out what we were trying to ask!), they'd go and ask someone else. The one I remember the most, though, was when my mom and I were at a bus stop (about 20 different buses converge in one area, each going in a different direction), and we asked a lady who worked in a booth there which line we should get in. She told us, and we walked away. A minute later she came running after us to give us better directions. People there weren't just helpful, they went out of their way to give us their best.

Andrea Sachs: Agree! I was saved so many times from being utterly lost.

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Reston Va: FYI Yellow Fever (follow up on last Monday, tho' you did have several comments - not for Monday 26 discussion) I have maintained my Yellow Fever vaccination since 1968 - every 10 years, the most reaction-free I've ever had - also when living in Brazil the kids had the shot too, and husband also, none of us had any problem. It can only be given by travel clinics and other providers that are registered with the Public Health Service because it's a live vaccine and has to be kept under certain conditions and used promptly. Every doc that can give a tetanus shot would not be able to give the yellow fever shot.

Cindy Loose: Thanks for the yellow fever insight. Amazing how many experts stepped forward with info last week, and now this week. Thanks again.

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Arlington, Va: I went to Toronto this past weekend. I was scheduled to fly at 11:30 on Friday morning. I checked in for my flight online the day before since you can checkin up to 24 hours in advance. Because I had my boarding pass and no bag to check I went directly to the gate at around 10:30, only to discover that my flight had been canceled by Air Canada. The gate agent seemed surprised that I had a boarding pass but I told her I had checked in the day before. She informed me that I had been rebooked on the 5:45PM flight and not on their fligth at 1:30 which was their next flight. Needless to say I was not pleased. I was put on the standby list for the earlier flight but didn't get on. She told me I should consider myself fortunate to even be on the 5:45 flight since "some people won't be getting out today". I was not offered any sort of compensation for my 6 hours of sitting at National Airport with nothing to do. They did give a $10 meal voucher when I asked for one, but that was it, otherwise I was out of luck. Is there anything else I should have pushed for? What rights do I have in such a situation? They basically wasted an entire day of my 2-day trip. At least the new terminal in Toronto is very nice and much more efficient than the old one.

Also, why is there no wifi access at National Airport? If a rinky dink airport like Tampa can have free wifi throughout the airport why does the main airport for the Nation's Capital have nothing?

Carol Sottili: Here's what Air Canada says in its contract of carriage, a legal agreement that you enter into when you buy a ticket:

"Carrier undertakes to use its best efforts to carry the passenger and baggage with reasonable dispatch. Times shown in timetables or elsewhere are not guaranteed and form no part of this contract. Carrier may without notice substitute alternate carriers or aircraft, and may alter or omit stopping places shown on the ticket in case of necessity. Schedules are subject to change without notice. Carrier assumes no responsibility for making connections."

There are no federal requirements when it comes to air delays, although some carriers have their own rules which offer compensation.

As for WiFi at Reagan National, the private airline clubs there have access, but no common areas yet.

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Love the locals in Seoul: A friend and I took a 5-day trip to Seoul when I was visiting her in Japan. Our Korean was limited to a handful of guidebook phrases. The overwhelming majority of Koreans spoke no English and it was FREEZING (we were there in December). But we were constantly struck by how generous people were with their time and energy when we asked for directions. The older the person, the longer they stood with us pantomiming and pointing and trying to help us out. One guy even overheard us talking (in English) in a cafe. It turns out he's a grad student in California and he volunteered to show us around for the rest of the day.

Andrea Sachs: Bet he was happy to have a bit of home in his adopted country.

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Arlington, Va.: Myrtle Beach Locals: My friend and I did a Thelma & Louise two day trip down to MB in early March as a break from law school. The beach was deserted and a little chilly but we were doing our best to bask in the sunshine, albeit in jeans and sweatshirts. Looking at the wide expanse of sand, I remarked to my friend that it would be a wonderful place to ride horses with some hot guys. We dozed off, and like a dream, awakened to the sound of pounding hooves. I swear to you, two good-looking guys who ran a local horseback riding place were exercising their steeds on the beach and stopped to chat us up. In minutes we were galloping through the surf, each clasping the waist of our gallant cowboy. It was a lot of fun and when it was over and we had declined their invitations to a party, my friend turned to me with sparkling eyes and flushed cheeks and said "Wish for something else! Wish for something else!!

Andrea Sachs: Was one of those men a Brad Pitt lookalike?

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Two Threads: A few years ago, I was backpacking around Costa Rica, in a non-pre-planned manner. I managed to hitch a ride in the back of a jeep driven by two American tourists on their honeymoon for a two hour ride. We got to our destination, and I realized my pack, with everything but my purse, had bumped out somewhere along the way on the crazy Costa Rican dirt roads. As I was about to have a heart attack and was trying to calm myself with the mantra "that's why God invented credit cards," the helpful couple turned the jeep around to see if we could retrace our steps. Just then, a local man came driving down the road like a bat out of hell in an SUV. He was laying on the horn and blocking our path. We didn't know what was going on. Then, he leaned out the window and yelled "backpack?" He held up my pack. I jumped out of our jeep, and hugged this complete stranger. I was going to give him a reward, when he just wished me well, and left to drive away.

Andrea Sachs: The stranger saves the day.

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Washington, DC: Hello Flight Crew,

Hope you can help me with a challenge -- I need to choose a cruise that would suit me (interested in a more sophisticated and upscale experience, i.e. not a Carnival-type), my mother (a more sedentary type who would want good food), and my brother (a twenty-four old Marine returning from Iraq who will probably want to party). Any advice?

Additionally, should we look for a package that includes air and transfers?

We are all first time cruise takers.

Cindy Loose: I think you have alot of options. Keep in mind first off that while it used to be you could stereotype cruise lines, that's less and less so because there is more and more variation within a single line. These days, you have to choose the right ship in addition to the right line.

I'd say ask eveyrone you know if they know a good travel agent that specializes in cruises. If not, search at www.travelsense.org, which is operated by the American Associatoin of Travel Agents. Agents get commissions so you won't likely pay a fee for their services, or perhaps a modest fee. An agent who books a lot of cruises should know the personalities and quirks of various ships in your price range. Ask a few questions, and if it seems like she or he knows cruises, take their advice.

Have a great time.

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Flying to India: I'm so excited, but if I'm crammed in a teeny seat for a flight across the world, I will be a handful once I arrive in Bangalore! Any suggestions for the best value (not necessarily lowest price). I'm thinking British Airways? Thanks!

Carol Sottili: British Airways is probably your best bet. But it's going to cost more than $5,500 round trip for a business-class seat.

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Georgetown, Washington, DC: I travelled to the Gambia last April while living in Dakar, Senegal. Despite the fact that I was generally ok with getting to my destination, I was befriended by a man in my bush taxi from Dakar to Banjul. He helped me through the chaos and sketchiness of the ferry across the Gambian River and ended up taking me home to his house in Banjul for dinner, before riding with me in a taxi to the hotel I had chosen. I was a little sketched out at first, but didn't want to seem rude, so I went along with it. For a country where the GDP per capita is about $250, I was totally shocked that he didn't ask me for any money either, though I scrambled together what I could for him. African hospitality at its best!

Andrea Sachs: Yes, it is so nice to hear a positive story from there. Thanks!

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Washington, DC: Hello Flight Crew!

While traveling, I try to have an idea of what I'd like to manage, but have never been a serious planner.

This summer (August) my sister and I are going to Europe and we know we are moving about by train (Benelux, France & Germany).

The person who posted about Italy mentioned not buying tickets beforehand... For multi-country travel, and not on specific dates, do you recommend buying Eurail passes beforehand or buying tickets when we arrive?

Cindy Loose: Before, I'd say. In fact, you have to be careful: sometimes certain passes are available only if you buy abroad cause train companies don't want the locals using the multi-trip passes.

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Washington, DC: I am pretty sure that we used Buffalo Tours for our Halong Bay junk boat trip in April 2005. We had a great experience with them.

Andrea Sachs: Good to hear. Thanks.

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Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel: We haven't stayed at the hotel (WAY out of my price range!), but we have had dinner on two separate occasions at the restaurant (something Coast, I believe), which is incredible. Get there around 6:00 so you can get an outside table and sit watching the sunset. Did I mention the food is amazing? Pricy but amazing.

Anne McDonough: Another reader follow up-thanks!

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Friendly locals: My best experience with friendly local folks was traveling through Greece. (Mainland-- a trip to the islands is still a dream!) When we were in Sparta, it was apparently National-Take-The-Schoolchildren-To-The-National-Monuments-Day, which meant that sites there were flooded with Greek kids. Instead of this being annoying, it made for great photos, schoolchildren getting to try out their English on Americans, and the novelty of meeting Americans, which many of them haven't. (Sparta isn't high on the list of many tours.) When we were in Meteora & Kastraki, it was befriending local restaurant owners over their delicious grilled chicken dish. When we visited Hosios Lukas (St. Luke Monastery) up in the mountains, it was having local elderly parishioners so excited that we were interested in their local Saint & church that they became our personal tour guides.

Andrea Sachs: Great anecdote. Thanks.

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honeymoon: how about renting a barge and driving yourself up the canals of france? When you stop at a lock, take the bike into town for cheese and bread. oh, and wine, of course!

Anne McDonough: That's a thought, too, if they're the boating type--maybe that's how they're get their cruise in. Thanks!

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If you had 48 hours in Paris...: What would Flight Crewsters and/or chatters do? Where would you stay and eat to maximize the experience? Merci!

KC Summers: Okay, first of all, stay on the Left Bank, in St. Germain des Pres. I love a little hotel there called the Verneuil, and also the Hotel D'Angleterre, where Hemingway stayed in the '20s, when it was the Hotel Jacob. It's full of history and charm, and the Rue Jacob is the perfect Parisian street, with bistros, shops and galleries.

Where I'd eat: Au Bon Saint-Pourcain, a sweet bistro at 10 Bis, Rue Servandoni.

Other chatters, your recommendations? Vite, vite.

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Upper West Side, NYC: For a romantic weekend: the Mandarin Oriental at Columbus Circle (the NW edge of midtown), or the Trump property that's right there, too. Additionally, the NYTimes dining critic recently did a review of room service dining- worth checking out if the travellers are foodies.

KC Summers: Oh, thanks for that. Sounds great, if too rich for my blood....

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Washington DC: My teenage daughter is heading to Italy and France this week. I am confused about whether she needs to bring a converter or an adapter to recharge her digital camera and I-pod. What is the difference between the two and what does she need to recharge (and not risk damaging) her electric devices in Italy and France. Thanks.

Carol Sottili: I believe she'll need both a converter and an adapter. My daughter just got back from England, and she needed several of both to handle her iPod, computer, camera, etc.

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Tipping housekeeping:: Hotels in Europe include gratuity in thier charge. Does this mean I don't have to leave a tip for the maid each day? I'm going to be in the same place for a week.

KC Summers: No, I would still leave something extra for the maid.

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Tampa: since when does anyone consider Tampa to be a "rinky dink" airport?

KC Summers: Boy you guys are passionate about airports! We discovered that big-time on our blog over the last couple weeks, when zillions of folks wrote in defending or dissing the choices on two blog items we did on the best airports to be stuck in. Hey, you can still vote! Go to http://blog.washingtonpost.com/travellog.

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cheapseats: I'd be very wary of cheapseats

we were trying to book a relatively complicated itinerary to Europe this summer involving 3 one-ways, DC-Paris, Paris-Dublin, Dublin-DC and were getting $1400 quotes on cheapseats (which was still cheaper than the 2k quotes on air france and others). But whenever we tried to buy the tickets it would keep kicking us up to the next highest ticket price......eventually and thankfully we abaondoned and got great fares on us airways and aer lingus for half the price!!

Carol Sottili: The company has been in business for some time, but it has an unsatisfactory rating with the Better Business Bureau, which sends up a red flag.

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Washington, DC: I have lived in London and traveled throughout Europe with iPod and cell phone, camera, etc, and only ever needed to use the plug adapter to have my electronics work, and no damage was done (including to my American laptop while living in London).

Anne McDonough: The key is to make sure that your appliances are dual voltage some laptops, etc. are, some aren't)--please please please check that before plugging anything in.

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Andrea Sachs: Thanks for the lively travel chat this week. And we loved your anecdotes about friendly locals. It shows how important it is to go to a new destination with an open mind and broad smile. Come back next week for more dream', plannin' and travelin'.

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