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Your "Flight Crew," sitting from left: Christina Talcott, Andrea Sachs, Cindy Loose. Standing from left: Scott Vogel, K. C. Summers, John Deiner and Carol Sottili. (Julia Ewan -- TWP)

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The Flight Crew
Washington Post Travel Section
Monday, March 17, 2008; 2:00 PM

The Post's Travel Section Flight Crew takes 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.

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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.

A transcript follows.

You may also browse an archive of previous live travel discussions.

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Andrea Sachs: Happy St. Patrick's (and Travel Chat) Day!

Hopefully, some of you are celebrating on the Emerald Isle and toasting the rest of us, who will be stuck drinking weak green beer at a local pub. In honor of the Irish, tell us your best luck o' the travel stories for a prize -- the time you lucked out on a cheap airfare, or some nice stranger found your passport and returned it to you without a scratch, etc.

And, of course, send us all of your travel questions and we will work like leprechauns to give you an answer.

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Stockholm: Hi! What would you guys do with three days in Stockholm? I know all of Europe is expensive with the dollar now, but I hear Sweden is especially expensive - any money-saving tips/cheap hostel recommendations?

Thanks!

KC Summers: Hey there. Sweden is indeed ridiculously expensive. We'll post a link to a recent piece we did on three bargain restaurants in Stockholm. Anyone else have budget tips for the Swedish capital?

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washingtonpost.com: Sweet on Stockholm: Three Places to Dine (Post Travel Section, Aug. 20, 2006)

KC Summers: Here you go, three budget restaurant suggestions for the Stockholm-bound. Thanks Elizabeth!

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Washington, D.C.: Hi, Flight Crew. I have to catch a plane from Dulles straight from work in the Farragut North area of downtown. What's the best way to get over there without a car? I think I heard of a $9 shuttle from West Falls Church? Any better options? Money is more of a concern than time, but comfort is key, too! Thanks!

Andrea Sachs: I often take the #5A Metro bus from L'Enfant Plaza or Rosslyn station. It costs $3.10 and leaves often. Info: http://www.wmata.com/timetables/dc/5a.pdf

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Salt Lake City, Utah: I just wanted to say "Thanks" for the nice story by Andrea Sachs on Salt Lake. It was fun to pull up the WaPo Web site this weekend and see the photos. Great job on the story -- I learned a few things too. I'm an east coast transplant since a few years ago, and this is a great place to live.

washingtonpost.com: Salt Lake City: Mild-Mannered City by Day, Party Town by Night (Post Travel Section, March 16)

Andrea Sachs: So glad you enjoyed the piece. I too learned a lot about SLC from that trip!

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Reston, Va.: Hi,

I am a first time cruise traveler. I would like to do a cruise that is kid-friendly. I have looked at Disney cruises and the prices are too high. My questions:

1. What is the best way to look for deals?

2. What is the most reliable place to book one?

3. Is there any other cruise line that is similar to Disney - family-oriented and kid-friendly?

4. How much should one be paying for a ocean view room ?

5. What is the best time to book a cruise that will be economical?

Thank you for all the answers ...

washingtonpost.com: Cruising Travel Stories (washingtonpost.com Travel Section archive of cruise-related stories)

Scott Vogel: Finding a reasonably priced kid-friendly cruise can be a challenge. The good news is that Disney didn't invent the concept; it's merely the genre's biggest proponent. Both Carnival (with its water slides, bowling alleys, etc.) and Royal Caribbean are known for their kids programs. My 7-year-old recently had a great time on an NCL cruise (consider a less common port of embarkation like Charleston, as we did, and you might save a bundle). As far as discounts, I've consistently found good prices at Cruise.com, although you should check sites like Expedia too.

Other suggestions regarding kid-friendly lines are always welcome...

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Washington, D.C.: I'm starting grad school in the fall, and am planning to go to Denmark this summer to spend a month with family and friends. Flights seem to be terribly expensive into Copenhagen. Since I have time, but not so much money, I was thinking of flying into a bigger airport and then take a train or Ryan Air. What are the big hubs in Europe where I might find cheaper flights?

Cindy Loose: Please don't shoot the messenger, but everywhere in Europe tends to be expensive. London and Frankfurt are the two best bets for cheaper, but still not cheap.

In recent months I have seen two sale fares pop up, buy now for summer. I assume the airline needs a quick infusion of cash or something. I'd watch the travel section in case another sale pops up, but wouldn't count on it.

I'd suggest you sign up at sites like Travelocity and Orbitz for email alerts when they have sales, and keep looking. Try naming a price at Priceline.com. At airfare.com, a friend of mine just yesterday got a $450 plus taxes fare to and from Rome for this week. Not summer, admittedly, but at under $800 including taxes it was half what other airlines were charging.

I wish you luck. If you decide you're going no matter the price, then I advise not waiting too long for a deal, because you're gambling that fares won't actually go up. But if you won't go unless it's affordable, shop hard and best of luck.

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Alexandria, Va.: I have a gift certificate good towards a B&B, practically anywhere; where would you suggest, say late summer/early fall? I thought of the Shenandoah Valley, as we've been there for the day, and it seems it's worthy of at least an overnight visit. We like hiking, exploring, water activities,etc and having lived in Northern VA now for 3 years, we haven't found much time to explore the rest of the state.

John Deiner: Hey, Al. No shortage of BnBs in this area, and late summer and early fall is a fine time to stay in one (you avoid the busy summer season and are ahead of the leaf peepers). One area I'd suggest is Solomons Island -- fun collection of restaurants, the maritime museum is super interesting, there are nearby parks and gardens to explore and some nice bed-and-breakfasts. One bnb I like is the Back Creek Inn, which sits on, uh, Back Creek and is lovely. Check www.backcreekinnbnb.com for details.

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Alexandria, Va.: Did Ms. Sachs enjoy her visit to Salt Lake City? From her article, I wasn't sure if she even liked the city and I'm curious to know why or why not.

washingtonpost.com: Salt Lake City: Mild-Mannered City by Day, Party Town by Night (Post Travel Section, March 16)

Andrea Sachs: Yes, I really enjoyed SLC, especially the lake and mountains. I had an "interesting" experience at Temple Square, but I love "interesting" too. Adds to my life lessons. I would highly recommend the city.

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Baltimore, Md.: I visited Ireland last summer. I hope to go again some day, but I will never, ever drive in Dublin again. What a nightmare! Confusing layout, one-way streets, impossible-to-see street signs, and of course they drive on the left. I had to leave my downtown hotel at around 5:00 am to head to the airport, and got hopelessly lost. I finally spotted a taxicab, and pulled up alongside and asked him for directions. He said, "Follow me!" and led me in the right direction. He saved the day.

Andrea Sachs: Your luck really was Irish!

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Glen Allen, Va.: Travel luck: On the morning I was to leave Nottingham, England and fly home (out of Heathrow), the expected car service didn't show up. Once that was taken care of, the driver found out that the "lorries" were staging a traffic block on the motorway, so he took a very, umm, scenic route to avoid all that. When I got to the Virgin Atlantic counter, it was well past the check-in window and I was looking a disheveled mess, but I meekly handed my ticket to the woman and started to explain the delays. She did that worldwide standard tap-tap-tappy thing on the keyboard then looked up at me and said very drily "Oh, I'm terribly sorry..." My heart sank. "...but I'm going to have to place you in Upper Class".

I didn't get a free massage though.

Andrea Sachs: That is VIP luck.

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Arlington, Va.: I'm about to spend $1400 coach to fly to Berlin this summer which gives me heart palpitations - given that I've been paying $450-600 this fall and winter. Do you think it best to buy now - yapta.com the flight and cross my fingers - or should I wait? I just can't imagine that they can fill flights at this price with the lousy exchange rate in Europe, but I also don't want to pay $1800 in a month.

Carol Sottili: That sounds steep. If you need to be there on specific dates, and you have no flexibility, you may have to pay. But you could devote some time every day to checking the fares. The sales we've seen to Europe have been very quick - just two days or so, and then they're gone. Sign up on several Web sites (www.priceline.com, www.farecast.com, www.kayak.com, www.orbitz.com) to be notified of fare reductions. And figure out what airlines fly to Berlin and check their Web sites every couple of days. You could get lucky.

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Miami, Fla: Best travel luck I had was putting up a HORRIBLE joke last week, and you published it!!

Andrea Sachs: If only you could cash that joke in for an airplane ticket around the world.

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Arlington, Va.: With the dollar getting weaker by the day, any suggestions on places to travel that would minimize the impact of the weak dollar? We're planning to spend a week somewhere in early May, and we're adventurous and open to anything (other than SE Asia, as we've done most of it already). We're thinking Argentina, but do you have any other suggestions?

Cindy Loose: Argentina would come first to my mind, too. Check packages if that's your decision, because for odd reasons I don't understand you can often find flight plus six nights in B.A. for the same price as the flight alone. Even if you don't want to stay in B.A. the whole time, its still worth having what is basically a free night or two or more in the city.

Also check out other options in South and Central America. Eastern Europe is cheaper than Western Europe, but the extra flight from a big Western airport often eats up too much of the difference.

Already seen everything you want to see in the U.S.? The dollar still works pretty well here, at least if you avoid overnights in NYC.

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To Denmark poster: Have you tried Iceland Air? It's a little no frills & always stops in Iceland along the way... Perks are that you can usually include a few days in Iceland for no additional cost on flights.

Cindy Loose: Sad to say Iceland Air stopped flying out of Baltimore, but she could check prices out of New York and decide it's worth the trip there to catch Iceland Air. But allow lots and lots and lots of time to make the connection, since if your flight from D.C. area to New York is late and you miss your flight on Iceland Air, you'll simply be considered a no-show, and get no help on getting on the next day's flight.

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Bowie, Md.: IRELAND here we come.!!

My husband and I are going to Ireland in April for 6 nights. Staying one night near the Shannon airport and then 4 nights of B&B's. We plan to travel through the west coast and then go south along the coast as we head to Dublin. The last night is Dublin at the Ritz Carlton. Any suggestions as to things not to miss? This is our first time to the country. Any recommendations as to B&B's and restaurants/pubs would be very much appreciated.

KC Summers: Hi Bowie, you're going to have a blast. Good idea to focus on the west coast, it's one of the prettiest places on earth. In fact, I do believe the Dingle Peninsula IS the prettiest place on earth. Plus the pubs are awesome. So don't miss that as you wend your way down.

Other places not to miss: Galway, the Burren, Connemara (if you make it that far north). I personally wouldn't stay near the airport that first night -- not much to see there -- but get right out on the road. Allow a lot more time to get around than the map might indicate, because the roads and winding and narrow. Watch out for flat tires (a definite possibility), stone walls and no shoulders to speak of.

I'll post a link to my story from a few years ago with B&B and restaurant suggestions. Good luck, and let us know how you manage.

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washingtonpost.com: Driving: On an Irish road trip, it takes courage -- not to crash into the scenery. (Post Travel Section, July 13, 2003)

KC Summers: Irish driving trip suggestions here. Thanks Elizabeth!

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Bethesda: Hi, I am planning a trip to Italy in the 3rd week of June 2008. I found the Budget Travel link to be quite useful. The question- as a first trip to Italy for a family of 4 with some international travel experience, would you recommend buying a tour package or renting an apt. for the 6-7 nights in Rome and traveling on our own to Venice and Florence? Any other travel information sites would be welcome. Got the Fodors and Rick Steves from the Library already.

Andrea Sachs: If you are pretty self-sufficient and well-traveled, I would go with the apartment, then plan day trips on your own (or sign up for some daily tours if you want someone else to drive and explain the sights). However, if you want someone else to plan the trip from A to Z or prefer to have a local speaker and guide, I would sign up for a tour group. However, with a family of four, it is sometimes nice to have your freedom.

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Chicago: Couple of friends and I want to plan a group trip together to either Mexico or Puerto Rico, but cannot decide on a specific location. Ideal travel time is between mid-September and early October. The maximum duration is one week although 4-5 days would be more doable. It will be a small group of mid-20-somethings with a wide range of interest (culture, food, beach, and night life) and varying budget concerns. None of us speaks any Spanish and the worry-wart in me is concerned about us getting hopelessly lost. Please, any suggestions to a location that would satisfy most of our criteria? Many thanks for taking the question!

John Deiner: Hey, Chicago. I'd vote for Puerto Rico here, though you can't go wrong with either. The culture mavens will find plenty to see and do in Old San Juan, while there are great beaches just across town (and throughout the entire island, for that matter). As far as nightlife goes, there's gambling, nightclubs, great restaurants. Hop in a rental, and you can get around the island with ease. Also, the farther you get away from the heart of Old San Juan, the cheaper the lodging will be, which is a good thing to keep in mind. English is spoken everywhere, and locals are incredibly helpful if you get lost (just carry a good map around!).

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Gov't cubicle: Just won tickets to fun places in Orlando. Any chatters have any first hand experience with the Auto Train? Might make sense as we'll need a car there.

Andrea Sachs: Have you thought about renting a car in Orlando? The Auto Train is expensive and time consuming. Unless, of course, you drive a Bentley. Then I understand.

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Alexandria: Do you still have that feature where people report on their vacations? There's no reference to the rules on your Web site. If you do, can you post a link?

KC Summers: Hi Alex. If you're talking about our monthly Your Vacation in Lights feature, yes, we do still have it. It runs the last Sunday of the month -- we'll post a link to the rules.

But maybe you're talking about the recent feature where we planned several readers' vacations for them? That was a one-time feature, although we're considering making it a regular occurrence -- it was THAT popular.

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D.C. -- Please help me plan a 30th birthday gift!: My boyfriend turns thirty in a few weeks, and because he is a big outdoors fan, I would like to plan an outdoor adventure weekend (I'm thinking about white-water rafting or fly fishing). The weekend would have to be sometime in June or July (sounds crazy, but that is the first availability that both of us have). Do you have any recommendations for a weekend getaway location that includes outdoor fun and adventure (preferably something that is a reasonable drive from the D.C. area....and a flight is okay, too)? Thank you so much!

Christina Talcott: Wow, what a lucky boyfriend! My first inclination was to recommend flying up to Burlington, Vermont, where you can find wonderful activities and places to stay right nearby. But if you haven't explored nearby options - like rafting on the Shenandoah River in Virginia or the New River in West Virginia, I'd highly recommend looking into that. Try the National Park Service and the Virginia and West Virginia state park systems for recommendations, or look in our archives for ideas, under Mid-Atlantic/Virginia/West Virginia. When I went caving a couple of weeks ago, I went with Lester R. Zook, a guide who takes people on caving, rock climbing, canoeing and hiking trips, and it was a fantastic experience, one I'd highly recommend. A good guide can arrange a private excursion and tailor it to your skill level/needs/wishes, and make it a safe and fun time.

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washingtonpost.com: Guess What's Hanging Around Under Virginia? (Post Travel Section, March 16)

Christina Talcott: Here's the caving story I mentioned.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi flight crew - My husband and I had a luggage nightmare on a trip to Alaska last August. I'll spare you the details but suffice to say that United Airlines lost our luggage on the way there and the way back, and handled the situation very poorly in both cases. For our trouble, we were given some travel vouchers. We received a total of $300 each, including two $150 vouchers with the rest of the vouchers in $25 increments. After that, we felt better about the situation and decided not to complain to customer service, figuring we could go somewhere fun with $300 each. But when we went to use the vouchers, we were told that only one voucher can be used per ticket -- you can't add them up and put them together. It doesn't say that in the fine print on the voucher, by the way. (It also doesn't say that to use them, you must travel to an airport and purchase the ticket there, another inconvenience-- but at least an over-comeable one.) My question is: Does this seem kosher to you? And what advice to you have in complaining about the situation? Thanks!

Cindy Loose: Giving you $25 vouchers that you can use only one at a time seems more like a sales technique than an apology. That fact, however, is tempered at least somewhat by the two $150 vouchers, since those represent real value as long as you can use them on an already good fare.

This is an opinion question, and here's my opinion: Whether $150 each is adequate compensation depends a lot on the circumstances of how much and how long you were inconvenienced. You could throw a hail Mary and ask the airline to combine the individual vouchers into two larger ones, but I'm not confident the effort will pay off.

By the way, if they actually lost your luggage for good, they must pay you amounts set by law--a law that applies to every airline. For temporarily losing it, they owe you nothing except what they promise to do in their contract of carriage, which you can find at their web site.

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Allentown, N.J.: I would be interested in traveling abroad this fall but the dollar isn't worth much these days. Are there any places I can go that won't break the bank?

Thank you!

KC Summers: South America, Eastern Europe, Asia (once you get there it's cheap)... any of those appeal?

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Tampa, Fla.: My husband and I will be taking a trip to Sedona, AZ the middle of June. I couldn't imagine traveling all of the way there and not visiting the Grand Canyon, but because of other commitments, we will only be able to take a day trip there from Sedona. So, if you only have the day to visit the Grand Canyon, what's the best itinerary?

John Deiner: Hey, Tampa. You raise a good point, as a day there is better than no day there. Depending on the weather and such, you won't have any problem killing an entire day on the South Rim. Visit the museums, walk along the trail and if you feel up to it, walk down the Bright Angel Trail for at least a quarter-mile so you can get a sense of what it looks like from within. Just remember you have to climb back the way you came, and it's a lot more grueling than you think.

I believe the buses are running then, so if you want to go beyond the immediate hustle-bustle of the main viewing area, you'll have to tour by shuttle. Do it. You'll be amazed how different it appears from different spots. If you can, have a meal at the El Tovar -- it's a classic Park Service dining spot, and it's terrific.

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Las Vegas, Nev.: Any suggestions for an upscale trip by train through Canada? What would be the best time of year to do this? Thanks for any suggestions you might have -- I'm planning a birthday trip for my love.

Andrea Sachs: Try VIA Rail (www.viarail.ca), Royal Canadian Pacific (www.luxurytrainonline.com/royal-canadian-pacific.htm) or Rocky Mountaineer Vacations (www.rockymountaineer.com). When you go depends so much on what you care to see and do: ski or swim, flowers or foliage.

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Luck of the Irish: OK, I'm not Irish, but my good luck struck in Ireland 20 years ago. I was in Galway when I realized I had misread bus schedules and could be out of luck getting into town from my B&B to catch a bus to Dublin. I hitched a ride with a woman who was driving her husband to work, only briefly mentioning my plan to catch a bus. I got off with him and then walked to the bus station, where I realized I had left my jacket in the couple's car. Almost immediately I saw her drive up to the station, get out of the car and give me my jacket.

Andrea Sachs: And you have never taken that jacket off since . . .

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Chicago, Ill.: Any chance you guys could expand your discussion of the declining numbers of foreign tourists coming to the USA? The blog post last week was fascinating, but it's such a significant subject for a variety of reasons I'd love to see more about what the causes are and what's being done (if anything) to fix it. It's really worrying to me knowing that fewer tourists are coming here now than did 8 years ago, even though the dollar's value has plummeted during that time. Thanks.

washingtonpost.com: Insta-CoGo: Where Have All the Tourists Gone? (Travel Log blog, March 11)

Cindy Loose: I think it's a great subject, but one better covered in our news pages. The travel section is specifically geared to help readers find good destinations and places to stay and eat, and information on how to get deals and avoid problems etc. Foreign travelers coming here aren't a major part of our readership. However, the issue is something the news section should take up.

As or what anyone's doing about it: As the blog mentioned, Congress is considering charging a $10 fee for foreign visitors who don't already need to pay for visas, this money would be matched by the travel industry,and it would be used to improve government operations, like long lines, and for a publicity campaign. Other that that, I don't think there is anything.

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Gaithersburg, Md.: Each year we travel to Maui where we meet three other couples - all coming from different airports - but all traveling on United. This year, even though travel arrangements on United were made many months in advance by each couple, we all had our schedules changed by United. Some couples had an extra stop added to their itinerary, and all four couples were rerouted through Chicago or Denver instead of San Francisco or Los Angeles - undesirable changes in the middle of a winter snow month (February). In our 8 straight years of traveling to Maui on United, this is the first year we experienced changes on our United flights (other than very minor time changes). What is behind these significant changes? Is there any way to avoid United making these changes - and informing us after the changes have been made?

Would appreciate any light you can shed on this problem. Thanks!

Carol Sottili: Most airlines are trying to save money by streamlining and consolidating. And they all reserve the right to change flight schedules. Go to www.united.com and do a search for "contract of carriage" and read pages 32-34 for details. The airline should contact you via email/phone, as long as you provided contact info. But you may also want to check with the airline to make sure there have been no changes.

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Bethesda, Md.: While living in the Netherlands, Air Lingus began a new non-stop route between Amsterdam and Cork. We got a bargain intro fare and had a fantastic vacation in that small part of Ireland. Wonderful B&Bs, food, sights we wouldn't have seen in a long weekend if we had had to fly through Dublin.

Andrea Sachs: Oh, I love Cork. What a lovely town.

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Baltimore, Md.: For the person seeking a kid-friendly cruise: seek help from a travel agent who specializes in cruises.

Now, for my real question...I will be going to Poland in September. Besides Krakow and Auschwitz, what other places should we definitely see? Warsaw, even though the "Old Town" is a re-creation? Any other places? Thanks!

Scott Vogel: Yep, a travel agent can always help. With regard to your Poland trip, travelers continue to be awestruck by the Wieliczka Salt Mine just a few miles outside Krakow. Another thought I have is the town of Zakopane, which is both a winter and summer sports destination, offering everything from skiing to rafting to you name it. Other ideas regarding Warsaw et al?

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Kid-friendly cruises: To the chatter who was looking for a family-friend cruise line, Carnival is cheaper but it is not recommended. It attracts a younger crowd that tends to drink more. (The "Fun Ships"). We have done one Royal Caribbean cruise, soon to take a second, and RCL has kids' activities for all age groups that are well-organized and well-staffed.

Scott Vogel: Here's a vote for Royal Caribbean.

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Luck O' the Irish Travel Story: We were in Ireland a couple of Junes ago, and my daughter and I (she at the wheel) were exploring north of Galway towards Westport (my husband had presciently decided to stay back at the hotel). The day started gray and by the time we were in a really scenic, virtually unpopulated area, the skies opened up. The road at this point was little more than a paved track, but no cars approached--until a small truck came our way. Pulling over to let it pass, my daughter backed into a ditch, and there we stuck. The truck didn't notice and kept going. No more cars, only two houses in sight. We went to the one with smoke coming out of the chimney. The older man who opened the door barely spoke English, but he called his daughter, who went out to the road with us and waved down her husband, who was working in a field up the slope. He got his car, attached a rope, and managed to drag us out--with no damage to our rental car (though we were more than slightly wet). And off we went, to friendly waves all around, none the worse for our little adventure!

Andrea Sachs: That sounds like a scene from a movie. Or an ad for Avis.

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Luck o' the... Portuguese?: My first morning in the hotel dining room for breakfast in the Azores I met a casually-dressed middle-aged couple, who thank goodness spoke fairly good English. Turned out the husband was the equivalent of a cabinet secretary in the Azorean government, and he and his wife were like me on vacation. By the end of their stay we'd become friends, and the husband gave me his business card, insisting I drop by his office as soon as I arrived on his island the following week. This I did, and he set up an appointment for me to meet with one of the Azores' leading poets (to whom I had a letter of introduction already from someone in the US). I've seen all three of these friends on each of my subsequent Azores visits.

On the same trip I also met another government official who just happened to be grocery-shopping on his lunch-hour in an open-air market, where I was struggling with my halting Portuguese; being fluent in English, he volunteered to interpret between the merchant and me, and I've wound up becoming friends with him and his family. And I got to see him when he came to the US on business a couple years later, as well as each time I've gone back to the Azores.

And thanks to the convenience of exchanging email addresses, nowadays it's so easy to stay in touch with new friends like this (almost) anywhere in the world!

Andrea Sachs: Thanks for sharing your story of friendship.

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Best Travel Luck ever...: Ok, this is a long answer to your query for lucky travel stories, but the amazingness is in all the little details!

A few years ago, friend and I climbed Adam's Peak in Sri Lanka, finished the climb at 9am, ate breakfast, then got on a 10-hr hard seat train ride. As the end of the ride approached, we were really sore, tired and starving. We began vocalizing our fantasy scenarios... it went almost exactly like this:

Her: I hope some young helpful guy is waiting when we get off the train, and can take us to a hotel that has hot water AND toilet paper in the bathroom!

Me: I hope they offer to bring milk coffee to our room.

Her: And for dinner, I want a heap of coconut sambol.

Me: And jackfruit curry!!

Her: And I want them to have a hook-up for an ayurvedic massage. My muscles are killing me.

So, we got to our destination, got off the train (we were the only foreigners) and there was a guy with a minivan, almost as if he was waiting for us! He took us to an adorable little Muslim hotel run by a group of sweet, helpful young men, featuring immaculate bathrooms with HOT showers and toilet paper! Five minutes later there was a knock on our door-- a pot of coffee and condensed milk!

We showered then went to dinner and ordered the vegetarian thali and sure enough-- coconut sambol (not too unusual) and jackfruit curry (fairly unusual.) By that point we could not stop giggling. Needless to say, the next day, they took us to a "clinic" for fabulous ayuvedic massages. We felt like the universe was watching out for us!

Andrea Sachs: I need to speak out loud more often and maybe "someone" will hear my wishes. Love the story, and the details!

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re: the big 3-0: go for broke and get him parachuting lessons

Christina Talcott: Ooh, that sounds like fun! Do you know where to do that? If not, I'll look into it and see what I can find.

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Bethesda, MD: Luck of the Irish...

Standing on a street corner in Bamberg, Germany, looking at a city map and discussing with my German friend that Germans would never (as opposed to Americans, who do it rather frequently) randomly stop to help confused-looking tourists, and -lo and behold- a local walks up to us and says, "Brauchen Sie hilfe?" (Do you need help?) You could have knocked me over with a feather. Not only did he help us find what we was looking for, but told us that we -need- to see a particular church. The church was way up on the hill, and we'd never have gone up to see it, but were very glad we did - it was absolutely gorgeous.

Andrea Sachs: Luck of the Germans, indeed.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi,

I am going to Lima in May. What's the best airline to fly down there on?

Carol Sottili: By best, do you mean fastest or cheapest? Or both? American is fastest, Spirit cheapest, Taca in the middle. Compare American (www.aa.com), Spirit (www.spiritair.com) and Taca (www.taca.com) to find your dream date.

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Arlington, Va.: I'm going to Barbados (yay!) on Friday for a few days. Any suggestions for fun stuff to do (aside from lying on the beach)? Also - anything I should be prepared for (like departure fees, travel warnings, etc)? Thanks!

KC Summers: Arl, first off I'd like to congratulate you for saying "lying on the beach" instead of "laying on the beach." Thank you. Now on to your question. Barbados is a great choice for people who want to be active -- it's a really interesting island with lots of stuff to do. Definitely check out the underground caverns, which have been recently restored, and take a four-wheel-drive tour of the island to check out the amazing scenery (parts of it look like Scotland; on the rugged east coast, the scenery is really dramatic with pounding surf; the west coast is more typically Caribbean), old English architecture, old sugar mill plantations, etc. But my absolute favorite thing to do there was the Oistins Fish Fry. It's a Friday night scene where the locals congregate in the town of Oistins and eat the best fresh grilled fish ever, at great prices. Link to our story coming up....

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washingtonpost.com: Barbados: Flying Fish and Chips, and Other Britishisms (Post Travel Section, Feb. 23, 2003)

KC Summers: For the Barbados-bound. Thanks Elizabeth!

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Down South: Hey Flight Crew. Just got some bad news. I won't have my tax refund to travel with this spring. In fact, I OWE. Where can I go in the southeast for a long 4-day weekend either within driving distance or a direct flight (Ha!) from Huntsville, Alabama? Please don't say Birmingham, Gatlinburg, Memphis, Atlanta, Nashville or the Beach. Been there done that and looking for something new. BTW wifey is preggers (6 months) so this is really the last hurrah that we will have prior to the little one coming into the world.

Cindy Loose: Hey--You've got lots more options for non-stop flights (note: direct doesn't mean you don't stop, it just means you don't have to change planes when you stop.)

To see all the non-stop choices, go to www.hsvairport.org, click Huntsville International Airport, then airline info. Among the options you did't mention that appeal to me: some destinations in Florida. How about Chicago--great city. Every been D.C.--if you like museum's they're almost all free. Denver.

Driving from Huntsville we don't know so well, since we don't live there. Anyone from Huntsville do a lot of driving to nearby wonderful destinations?

Hey, sorry about that refund thing.

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Washington, D.C.: Re: Temple Square. I went there a few years ago during a trip to SLC, and although it appeared to be pretty interesting, I bailed on it because the workers would NOT leave me alone! I just wanted to walk around and look at the various displays and plaques, and the workers just kept coming and coming. I wasn't able to go 2 minutes without being asked,very politely, if I could be helped. Just let me look on my own, for Pete's sake!! I gave up and went to the genealogy center, instead (which was great, by the way).

Andrea Sachs: Yes, that was what I found, too. I wanted to hear about the religion at first, but not over and over again. After a while I was telling them the story of Joseph Smith.

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Anonymous: Any suggestions on places to see in and around Santiago, Chile. Would visiting a winery there be pretty much like visiting one in the States?

Cindy Loose: Readers---we need help on Santiago. Anybody know it?

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Luc, Ky.: I was about a week or two into a 4 month study abroad living in Switzerland, when I left my purse on a train from Milan after a weekend away. My purse, with my wallet, credit card, debit card, passport, etc. in it. Fortunately this was before the borderless EU so the train stopped at Chiasso for a border/passport check and the conductor found it and picked it up. I was able to get it back the next day with nothing missing. Talk about lucky!

Andrea Sachs: Wow, that could have been a lifelong study abroad program in Switzerland. Lucky you.

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Auto train - how about an answer?: Instead of a snarky reply, how about an answer? Some people like trains (like my 2 boys), the price difference isn't that huge for 4 people when a compact isn't an option, we won't have to worry if the car seats fit the rental, and I fly 50 K a year and want to check out other options. Again, does anyone have any experience with the Auto Train?

Scott Vogel: Aw, I don't think Andrea meant to be snarky. But to your question: My boy loves trains too so we tried it last year. It was definitely an interesting experience, in lots of ways. On the one hand, it was worth it to avoid the ridiculous trouble that airlines often put you through these days. On the other hand, to this day, my kid still says the most interesting part of our trip to Orlando -- not excluding Disneyworld and everything else -- was when the train stopped in rural North Carolina in the middle of the night so we could throw a belligerent drunk off (we were met by local authorities). Take that as you will.

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Arlington, Va.: I will be visiting India in August 2008 to attend a friend's wedding. I plan on being in India for two weeks. I need to be in Hyderabad for the wedding, but other than that I'm only limited by my imagination. Where in India should I consider visiting?

Andrea Sachs: Since we have never been to India, we'd love to get the chatsters to weigh in with their suggestions.

Chatsters, please come forward.

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Washington, D.C.: Anyone flown Smartwings? I have a flight booked with them next month from Rome to Prague, but am worried as I have heard that they regularly cancel flights with no notice and refund your $$.

Any experiences?

Carol Sottili: Discount carriers in Europe are multiplying like Tribbles (creatures in Star Trek episode that were born pregnant): It's difficult to keep track of which ones are good, bad and ugly. Smart Wings started in 2004. Last year, it was taken over by Icelandair, which has a pretty good rep. Anyone out there flown Smart Wings lately?

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HELP! Public TRANSPORTATION!: My family is arriving at Dulles on a Saturday around 9:55pm and they need to take the metro to finally arrive at my home. According to the Washington Flyer schedule, their last bus departs at 10:20 pm, so probably they will not be able to catch it. I know that bus 5A that goes to Rosslyn Metro will be one option, but I was wondering if there is another option besides taking a cab which will be a lot of money (Dulles-Rockville). Blue shuttle or whatever their name is, is definitely not an option (I missed a flight because they never showed up and insisted that I should wait for them to come; never reimbursed the money, terrible & unreliable service). I don't have a car and can't rent one (I don't drive).

Suggestions?

John Deiner: Hmmmm. This is a good one. Could they just spring for a cab to the Metro station instead? According to our Way to Go issue, that would cost about $45, which isn't cheap but it gets the group to the West Falls Church Metro stop without a whole lot of pacing about. Anybody have some other suggestions?

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for traveler headed to Poland: I just came back from to Poland, so I second the suggestion of the Wieliczka salt mines, and yes, I think Warsaw is worthwhile - the old town is a reconstruction but I think that makes it kind of fascinating. And the Museum of the Warsaw Uprising is fantastic. I only left an hour for it and wished I'd had at least two. It's very big, with tons of documents and videos and pictures and interactive stuff, too, and good English signage.

Scott Vogel: Wow, great suggestion regarding the Warsaw Rising Museum. Travelers interested in knowing more should visit their Web site at www.1944.pl.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi,

My husband and I are interested in learning how to kayak, so I was thinking that for his upcoming birthday, it would be a fun weekend trip to spend the weekend on a river or ocean somewhere within a few hours drive of DC. Is there anywhere that you would recommend? Ideally, it would be somewhere where we could learn how to kayak during the day, but have a nice place to relax at night!

Thanks.

Christina Talcott: That would be a lot of fun, I bet. Weekend reporter Ellen McCarthy wrote about a company that does kayak and wine tasting trips in Virginia's Eastern Shore, and they also have lessons and other kayak trips. Weekend also had a story about paddling at Fenwick Island, between Ocean City and Bethany Beach. You could try that, and stay either in Fenwick or at a nearby beach town. Links to both stories coming up...

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washingtonpost.com: Searching for the Last Vestiges of Quiet (Post, May 19, 2006)

Christina Talcott: Kayaking at Fenwick Island...

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MP: Hi Travel Crew! I know you have addressed this before, but I will be in Old San Juan for 4 days in April. Any recommendations? Restaurants? Outside of the city, is a rainforest tour a good idea? I will also be at the Naval Station in Mayport, Florida near Jacksonville, for a training. Any ideas there, particularly restaurants as I will be in class all day long? Many thanks.

KC Summers: Hi MP -- I love Old San Juan. There are tons of great restaurants (not to mention shopping and galleries) -- we'll post a link to our Puertopalooza story from a couple of years ago. Two restaurants I loved: Baru and the Parrot Club. Also, if you like museums, don't miss the Museum of Art of PR in the Santurce neighborhood. Fabulous.

Re Mayport, Fla., can't help you there. Anyone??

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washingtonpost.com: A Corker of a Kayak Trip (Post, April 25, 2007)

Christina Talcott: And kayaking off VA's Eastern Shore...

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Allentown, NJ: Could you give me three or four tips on how to stretch a dollar during a 5 day vacation (without clipping coupons). I want to have a good time but would like to keep costs low at the same time.

Thank you!

Carol Sottili: If you're going with a group, rent a condo, house, townhouse instead of staying at a hotel. Rent the smallest car possible. Whether you stay at a hotel or rent a condo, make sure you have a small kitchen so you don't have to eat at restaurants. Do research on free attractions before you go. Contact the area's tourism authority, and get them to send you info, including any free coupons that they offer. Once there, look for giveaway tourism newspapers and magazines (often in the entryways of stores and restaurants) - they often offer coupons. Any other ideas from our chatters?

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For First Time Cruiser: You asked about "ocean view room" rates. IMHO, you're wasting your money on pricey suites. You'll be sleeping and changing your clothes there, and not much else, assuming you are taking advantage of the ship and shore excursions. A lot of the cruising is done at night, so not much to see! You could get interior (or lower deck) cabin(s) -- if the kids are old enough/responsible enough -- get them their own cabins so the parents can have some grownup time. Good ship's kids programs pretty much guarantee you won't be seeing the little darlings all that much.

Scott Vogel: I agree with this poster's views regarding ocean-view rooms, especially when you're on a budget. Pretty they are, but honestly, if it's just a window you've got, that's not going to keep the kids' interest very long.

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parachuting lessons: I'd guess any of the local airports have them (meaning the small municipal airports for small planes, not BWI or National or Dulles.)

Christina Talcott: Oh, great tip. Thanks!

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washingtonpost.com: Puerto Rico Punch (Post Travel Section, Feb. 26, 2006)

KC Summers: Names and places for the San Juan person. Thanks Eliz.

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Union Station: Hi guys! I really enjoyed today's article on Salt Lake City, which is actually perfect timing as I'll be traveling there the week of May 19th for work. Unfortunately, I'll only be arriving and departing in Salt Lake City because most of my work requires me to stay in the Logan area. 1. do you have any suggestions on places that I definitely must see or stop by at in Salt Lake City in one night as I may be staying there for just a night before driving to Logan and 2. any suggestions on how I can find things to do in Logan in May? Thanks!

Andrea Sachs: If you have only a short time in SLC, definitely go to Great Salt Lake for some amazing scenery and Temple Square, which is open late. After-hours, hit downtown for dining and drinking. I really liked the Red Door and Squatters, and Metropolitan gets raves for its New American food. I did not make it out to Logan, but its tourism office seems to list some good diversions. Info: www.tourcachevalley.com.

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In Dublin Last Month: Someone in Bowie, Md. asked: "Any recommendations as to B&B's and restaurants/pubs would be very much appreciated."

I'd suggest trying a place in Dublin called the Porter House on Parliament St. near the river on the fringe of Temple Bar; they make their own beer, including stout that they boast is better than Guinness. But is it boasting if (in my opinion) they're right? Good food, too.

KC Summers: Boast away, sounds fun! Thanks much.

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washingtonpost.com: Your Vacation In Lights February winner - includes submission rules!

KC Summers: For the person who asked about our Your Vacation in Lights column -- we're having some difficulty finding them all together on the Web, but here's last month's winner.

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Austin, Tex: my luckiest travel story - this October we were in Hawaii for our honeymoon, leaving Maui to fly to Kauai. Well, my husband decided to not put my bathroom bag into the trunk and left it behind the car while packing up and we drove away without it! Luckily we had stopped near by for coffee and while there someone found it in the parking lot and called me! Imagine my surprise that it was missing and not in our trunk but I have no idea what I would have done if we hadn't discovered it missing until the airport! I felt really lucky that day (and this reminds you of the importance of luggage tags with your current phone number!)

Andrea Sachs: A good lesson for us all--luggage tags, and fill them out! Thanks for passing along your good luck.

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Harrisburg, Pa.: my favorite St. Patricks Day was observing people doing a pub crawl through several Chicago pubs. They printed the names of the pubs they were hitting on the back of t-shirts worn by all the group. Two gentlemen wondered which bar was next, so they tried to read each other's t-shirt. Unfortunately, as each moved forward to read the back of the other's shirt, one could not read his other's shirt, causing both to run in drunken circles attempting to read their shirts. I think, though, they were having a good time overall.

Andrea Sachs: Hope they also wrote on the T-shirts: If lost, please return to . . .

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Washington, D.C.: Hello Travel Crew!

I'm planning a trip for my boyfriend's birthday in June. I've decided on Cabarete in the Dominican Republic. I've been tracking flight prices and they've gone down a tiny bit to $513/person. Planning on flying American because we have vouchers with them. Any advice on whether this fare may go down, or should I pounce on this fare?

Thanks!!

Carol Sottili: Too bad you're not going in April or May. American is holding a great fare sale to Caribbean and Mexico for travel then. $513 in June sounds like the going rate. My old mantra - if you need to be there certain dates, and you're not flexible, you should probably buy.

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Washington, D.C.: Just booked a trip to Thailand (flying in and out of Bangkok) for 10 full days in mid October, and would love advice on how to structure our trip. We want to do some beach time in Thailand, the elephant trip that you all did a story on last summer, as well as a side trip to Angkor Wat. Would appreciate your insight on how to lay out the vacation. Thanks!!

washingtonpost.com: Where the Deer and the Elephants Play (Post Travel Section, Oct. 21, 2007)

Cindy Loose: I'd plan to stay the first night in Bangkok even if you're not that interested in the city, cause you need to recover from the trip.

I believe you'll have to fly out of Bangkok to reach Ankor Wat, so do it either at the beginning or just before the end of your trip. I'd highly recommend the beginning, cause otherwise you'll be worried that your return from Ankor Wat will be late and you'll miss your flight home.

The answers to the rest are a bit different depending on whether you have ten days for the trip, or ten days on the ground, since there is a difference of two days in there.

If you have 10 days on the ground I'd say day 1 in Bangkok, day two fly to Ankor Wat, day three in Ankor Wat, day four fly back to Bangkok. If you're very eager for the elephants then let's say you arrive at the Bangkok airport early enough day four to fly into Phuket or one of the other towns where the elephant resort people will pick you up. Stay there day five and six and seven, day eight and nine the elephant place, then fly back to Bangkok.

Which beach in southern Thailand is up to you. I didn't find the perfect one. Phuket was too overdeveloped for my taste, although on the other hand it as a result has a wide range of nice places to stay and wonderful choice of restaurants. Khao Lak has some great beaches and a few beautiful hotels and isn't overdeveloped, but then again there isn't much of any kind of town, which is something I like.

But, while neither is perfect, both are fine, and the drive into the national park is very beautiful.

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Annapolis, Maryland: Salt Lake City area was a wonderful place to visit. I plan on returning. I stayed in Park City, Deer Valley Resort, just 20 minutes from downtown Salt Lake. I took my son (age 23)on my business trip there. It was very easy to get out of the airport. We visited the Olympic Park and had a fabulous tour of the facility and watched athletes training. Saw where the luge goes down and stood at the top where the skiers go straight down, pretty scary! Saw also where the skeleton goes down. I met Picabo Street at the conference I attended and got to hear her story about growing up skiing and winning the gold medal. She lives in Park City. There is a great museum there also. I did the tour of the Temple and had the somewhat corny tour. If I did it again I would take my own self guided tour as I felt hostage by the two young women who at the end sang a song to our group. They weren't particularly informative and it was too long. I would like to have seen more of downtown sites but short of time. The visitors center helped me know where to take a scenic drive(s) and provided very clear maps of the scenic drives in the area - into the Wasatch Mountains north form Park City to Mirror Lake towards Wyoming. What a fabulous and beautiful drive. Scenery is breathtaking especially the waterfall we happened upon, like out of a movie. We encountered cows in the road on the drive up. The next day we had another fabulous drive to Sundance. Went up on a very high mountain that had scenic overlooks and took pictures. It was mid week so no traffic. I bet on weekends it is packed. We stopped at the Sundance resort on the drive down the mountain and happened upon the chairlift for a fee of $8 per person it was well worth it for the very relaxing ride with spectacular views.

Of course, downtown Park City was trendy with shops and the "Zoom" restaurant owned by Robert Redford. I want to return to South Utah to see the National Parks. Travel books are a great help here. It was too long a drive for one day from Salt Lake. Being an East Coast girl, the mountain views were something I have never seen. It was Glorious! I highly recommend a visit to this area!!

Andrea Sachs: Thanks for your additional insights. I wish I had been able to spend more time there, especially since I was in SLC during Sundance.

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re: Huntsville Excursion: I've heard great things about a country inn over the border in Tennessee -- the Inn at Blackberry Farm. A little pricey but food I believe is included.

Andrea Sachs: Thanks for the suggestion.

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For the folks with the luggage problem...: Last July I took US Airways to Tbilisi, Georgia for work. I checked a suitcase of clothes and another with gifts for my students and hosts. Luckily I carried my teaching materials with me -- I went from Mineapolis to Philadelphia to Paris on US Air, then transferred to Georgian Airlines. US Air in MSP said my bags were checked through to Tbilisi. Long story short, neither bag got there and I was without my clothes, hair dryer, undies, shoes, etc., for 9 of my 12 days there. US Air kept insisting I make lots of phone calls to various places, that Ihave someone go to the Paris airport to check (!), and other such nonsense. The clothes arrived 9 days later, the gifts were returned to me in the US one month later, and I had to spend $100 to send them to Georgia.

I had had enough of dealing with US Air personnel here and in Paris, so I wrote directly to the president of the company. I got reimbursement for the clothing I had to buy, for the postage to send the gifts to Georgia, and for the cell phone calls made at the insistence of US Air staff.

My advice? Write to the head of the company -- he or she will likely never see the letter but the folks in the head office will, and they will do something!

Cindy Loose: Thanks. And before you do that, check what the airline promises in it's contract of carriage, so at least you'll know what you're owed as a starting point for negotiations.

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Alexandria, Va.: Top of the afternoon Flight Crew!

I have my heart set on going to Belize. When is the best time to travel there?

KC Summers: Belize is the best! Go pretty much anytime during our winter -- that's the dry (and high) season. The rainy season is summer through early fall -- hurricane season, basically.

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Salt Mine Advice: If you go to the salt mine in Poland (which is fascinating), don't take a dare from your sister and lick the wall when no one is looking. It just tastes like salt.

Andrea Sachs: Hmm, and how would you know, SMA? (Need a glass of water?)

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Birmingham, UK: I don't know that the U.S. really needs a publicity campaign to let the world know about it - I haven't yet met anyone over here who isn't aware of the U.S. and its many vacation possibilities (note: I'm an American on temporary assignment). But on top of all the political reasons people might feel less inclined to visit, there's also the simple fact that it's rather a hassle, at least for people heading west. It's fine to lose sleep if it's at the beginning of a vacation, because you're still going to feel eager and refreshed and relaxed. But if someone has to fly overnight to show up for work the next morning, they're not going to be as quick to jump on a semi-low fare when they can spend the same amount to go somewhere else without the depressing return.

(Yes, U.S. entrance policies and certain politicians don't help, and our visa requirements also can make it very difficult for people who want to visit to be able to. And certain airports - I won't mention any names but I will say the one I'm thinking of is in a large city in Georgia that may or may not have been hit by a tornado this past weekend - don't exactly encourage someone to return.)

Cindy Loose: But do you know how much Americans love you and want you to come?

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Stockholm: Walking around the old city cost nothing and is worth a day.

If you can bear the cost take the boat to the summer palace (Drottingholm?). Find sidewalk pubs at 4 and have a beer - you can sit for hours watching the people pass by.

If you're the museum type consider a city pass for unlimited transit and discount admissions.

I want to go back!

KC Summers: Thanks much for these tips.

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River cruiser DC: Another cruising question. We're thinking about taking a river cruise in Europe next year, partly as a way to get an all-inclusive package that will minimize dollar vs Euro shock. Has anyone had experience with Globus/Avalon or Viking river cruises or any other you would recommend?

Carol Sottili: European river cruising is all the rage, and there are many companies plying the waters. Go to http://smallshipcruises.com/rivereurope.html for a list of options. And add www.vantagetravel.com and www.oattravel.com to the list. Figure out what size ship you're looking for first, and go from there.

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Arlington, Va.: For the person who wanted to learn to Kayak, Garrett County in Western Maryland has a whitewater center that can control the flow of the water and teach you how to navigate a river, they have a lot of professionals to really help even the most inexperienced. They also have a lakes, and rivers to kayak after you have learned how. It is about 3 to 3 1/2 hours.

Christina Talcott: Great tip! We'll link to the article Chris Davenport wrote for Weekend about Adventure Sports Center International last July.

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Riverdale, MD: For the Berlin traveler with sticker shock, try Orbitz again, but don't just look, start to buy the ticket. Sometimes the price will actually drop. I recently saved $500 this way. Don't know why this happened, but it was great! Of course, more often, the price will increase, but then you just hang up.

Carol Sottili: That doesn't happen very often.

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For the person who wants to kayak: I learned to kayak from Bay Trails Outfitters in Matthews County, VA (about 3.5 hours from DC). I had an amazing time. They offer several different tours depending on the season. I went during blueberry season and we went on a kayak tour and picked blueberries! So much fun!

Cheers!

Christina Talcott: You guys are the best! Keep the tips coming!

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luck in France: Hi,

20 years ago, I was a 3rd year university student studying in Avignon, France, had to have an emergency appendectomy which caused me to cut short my trip.

I took the normal speed train from Avignon to Lyon, then barely made the TGV (fast train) that I needed to get to Paris in time to take my flight. I didn't know I needed to buy a first class ticket to ride the TGV (having barely made it), but the conductor just looked at me a moment, and handed me back the 2nd class ticket without comment. Then, I reached Paris, not knowing the airport was an hour away. By now I was exhausted, having just gotten out of the hospital the day before.

I walked up to a taxi cab, and asked him how much the fare was, and found I was 25 francs short. He saw my face fall, (and I must have looked quite sick), and he just said, "whatever you have will be enough....I remember when the Americans liberated Paris."

Sounds like a fake story, but it is the honest-to-goodness truth!

Andrea Sachs: You poor thing, but thank goodness for history and a Frenchman who never forgot.

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washingtonpost.com: Simulated Currents, Authentic Thrills (Post, July 20, 2007)

Christina Talcott: Another kayaking story...

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Eurostar?: Hi Crew!

Heading to London in one week, and considering taking the Eurostar train over to Paris for a (long) day trip. Is it hard to catch up to the Metro to get around? Have any of you ever done this? Yea,or nay? I realize it'll be a long day.

Many thanks!

Andrea Sachs: Sorry, can't answer that one. Can anyone help out Eurostar?

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About the Auto Train: We traveled several times on the auto train with our two boys. We got a family cabin, which is the width of train with a window on each side and two child size bunks. Our boys loved it. It was much easier to travel with little kids since all the luggage and gear can stay in the car. But my sense is that the trains were getting more and more run down each year. Now that my kids are older, we fly.

Scott Vogel: Here's one helpful answer regarding auto trains to Florida.

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lucky break: My mother and I were traveling in the Netherlands and had made reservations for a very modest room, which turned out to be quite depressing when we stepped in: dark, very cramped, with a tiny bathroom whose shower was simply a fixture on the wall and a drain on the floor next to the toilet. Oh well, you get what you pay for . . . except: less than an hour later, I was talking to the desk clerk, getting recommendations on where to go, and as a sort of by-the-way, she said that since they were underbooked, her manager had given her permission to upgrade guests' rooms. Would we be interested? In short order we moved into a luxury room with water view, bathroom with bidet, large tub, etc... My kids still think I shouldn't chat with people when we go places, but it definitely paid off in this case!

Andrea Sachs: See, friendliness gets you somewhere --like into a luxe guestroom.

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Auto Train: I have found that if I'm going to FL for two weeks or more, then the Auto Train is worth the cost/effort. But if the trip is a week, or less, it's not worth it, since it takes 24 hours to get to Florida via auto train, including the drive to/from stations. If you do travel AutoTrain, remember that they give a discount to AAA members.

Scott Vogel: And here's another.

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D.C.: I'm renewing my passport. There's an option to pay more money to get a passport card. When is this a good idea?

Cindy Loose: I thought the passport card was cheaper, but good only for crossing U.S. borders with Mexico and Canada.

If you have a passport, good for anywhere in the world except Cuba, which the U.S. government says Americans can't visit, then I don't see why you'd want a passport card too. I can think of only one reason: If you lived near the border and was crossing every day maybe you'd worry about losing your passport.

I'd say, go for the passport. And anyway, I have to check my notes but when I last wrote about this, not that long ago, the passport card wasn't actually ready for public consumption yet.

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re: HELP! Public TRANSPORTATION!: : It seems silly to have your family run around like that after one bad experience with SuperShuttle. Yes, they have bad customer service and are sometimes unreliable, so I don't have them pick me up anymore. But I don't think a ride from the airport is a big deal. It's much easier than doing a bus-cab-whatever trip. Just a thought for your family.

John Deiner: As long as SuperShuttle or whatever shuttle is waiting there when you get off the plane, that's a great solution -- and it's definitely easier than doing the bus-cab thing. But I wouldn't be too thrilled to be sitting around waiting for it to pick me up, or to be sitting in the van's waiting area waiting for more passengers to show up, especially since it will already be sort of late.

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Dumb TSA question: I know the rules re 3-ounce containers and the plastic bag. But is a passenger allowed to have more than one 3-ounce container of, say, shampoo or toothpaste, provided everything fits in the single plastic bag?

Christina Talcott: Yep! You can have a quart-size bag full of nothing but 3 oz containers of, say, nail polish, just as long as it all fits in that one baggie.

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d.c.: Any tips for snagging a last minute deal this Easter weekend? I decided too late that it would be nice to get home to see the family. Am checking the airlines' Web sites daily...any other ideas?

Andrea Sachs: Just the usual routes: Check their Web sites, try Kayak.com, TravelZoo.com, etc. Or, if times don't matter, name your own price on Priceline.

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Alexandria, VA: One person's nightmare might be another person's luck. I was caught in the British Airways wildcat strike a couple years ago. First bit of luck was that we were on our way home from Guernsey, and due to new security regulations we were not able to check our luggage straight through and had to take it from Gatwick to Heathrow. Second bit of luck, my husband overheard senior BA staff telling first class passengers that all flights had been canceled. We were on Heathrow Express, with our luggage, before the general announcement was made to the thousands of stranded passengers whose luggage was already through security. Third bit of luck we got three extra days in London ALL at the expense of BA. Fourth bit of luck, because we are Executive Club members we got 150,000 miles deposited in our account as an apology. Now I know people starting their vacations or having to get somewhere were quite disrupted by the strike, but we still remember our very lucky free weekend in London.

Andrea Sachs: Whoa, that was a triple dose of luck!

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to Lima: If you want to go to Lima, Peru, go via COPA. You can get seats for 500 dollars. Only problem is that the flight leaves IAD at 5:00 in the morning, and you return home at midnight.

Carol Sottili: COPA may be the way to go.

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New York, NY: Suggestion for the Chile traveler -- A couple years ago I went to South America with two friends and we went whitewater rafting and horseback riding near Santiago at Cascada de las Animas (www.cascada.net). It's one of my favorite travel experiences ever -- a family-owned place at the edge of the mountains, with horseback riding, hiking, kayaking, rafting, camping and a lodge.

Santiago itself was fine but not so memorable. A day trip from there to Valparaiso (which included a visit to Pablo Neruda's home) and Vina del Mar (a beach resort) was also a lot of fun.

Andrea Sachs: Thanks for the suggestions.

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Miami, Fl: My co-worker invited me down to Brazil to visit in Sao Paolo. How is Brazil? Is it safe for Americans?

Everytime I mention to people that I want to go to South America, people tell me stories of kidnapping, murders, etc...

Scott Vogel: You know, I've definitely heard the same warnings as you, but all I can say is that during my trip to Sao Paulo in December, there was very little evidence of a threatening climate. Sao Paulo is the third-largest city in the world, which means it's going to have its share of crime. And there's also a not insignificant percentage of the population living in poverty. But don't dismiss Sao Paulo so fast. I found it fascinating, not least because it's much less overrun than the usual -- and allegedly safer -- suspects.

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Help for this weekend, please!: Hi, Crew. Have any of you ever checked out the Carter Family Fold out in Hiltons, Va? I'm headed down to southwest Virginia next weekend and want to check it out while I'm down there, but I'm hesitant to go without hearing any first-hand accounts about the place. I'm wondering if it's worth a visit. Do you or any other chatters have any advice for me? Thanks!

http://www.carterfamilyfold.org/

Christina Talcott: My Weekend roots are totally showing this week... Richard Harrington wrote about the Carter Family Fold and other sights along Va's Crooked Road for Weekend back in Sept. 2006, and it looks like a lot of fun. Go for it!

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Baltimore MD: Travel luck long ago: In 1973 my friend drove me at breakneck speed to Heathrow to catch a Pan Am (told you it was long ago) flight back to the States. As soon as I walked in, I learned that there was a wildcat baggage handlers strike and all flights would be long delayed, as executive airline personnel were being gotten out of bed (it being Sunday morning) to come in and handle baggage. I looked forward to a boring god knows how many hours when Pan Am suddenly announced that all its stranded passengers were going to be given free drinks for as a long as it took. It took quite a few hours and let's say I had an interesting flight home--as did much of the plane. The booze did give me a chance to learn that the walking stick I had purchased at a London flea market was, according to the retired British Army guy I drank with, a Sgt. Major's regimental baton. I still have it.

Andrea Sachs: Cool story, thanks!

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India: For the person traveling to India, go to Agra and then move on to Rajastan. The distance between Agra and the major tourist destinations in Rajastan isn't very far (traveling within India can be time consuming -- a problem if your trip is short). You can hire a car and driver to take you around Rajastan for a reasonable price. The major tourist destinations in Rajastan are pretty varied so you definitely won't see the same thing/have the same experience in every city.

If you're a water/beach person Kerala is also great.

Andrea Sachs: Thanks for the tips on India.

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Washington, D.C.: After a long six months of being treated for breast cancer, my husband and I would like to get away for a few days. We'd like easy to get to, relaxing (no roaming cities or hiking mountains) and without a lot of other people's children since we're not taking ours. We were thinking direct flight to an island, or somewhere within a 4 hour drive or so, or a spa. Money no object (you only fight this once, right?) Where would you go for your recuperation? Repairmoon?

KC Summers: Congratulations on your recuperation, Wash. You have a lot of good choices within your parameters. Keswick Hall in Charlottesville (about two hours from DC) is a lovely spa hotel with afternoon tea, golf, horseback riding, etc. (The Greenbrier and the Homestead are equally luxe, but a little farther away.) Or if you like the water, consider the Inn at Perry Cabin on the Eastern Shore. It's a wonderful old building with fine dining and lots of luxury-quirky touches (a secret passage!), and St. Michaels is fun to wander around in. If you'd rather fly to an island, some nonstops from DC are Bermuda, Bahamas, Cancun, St. Thomas and others. See our recent story:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/02/29/AR2008022901400.html. Best of luck to you and your family.

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