Talk About Travel
Monday, April 7, 2008; 2:00 PM
Got a travel-related question, comment, suspicion, warning, gripe, sad tale or happy ending? The Post Travel Section Flight Crew is at your service.
On the itinerary this week: affordable European options in these dollar-unfriendly times; a stay in a Pennsylvania caboose; and for all you cowgirls out there, a women's rodeo camp in Delaware. All other travel topics are open as well. If you have insights, ideas or information to add to the discussion, just press the call button above your seat and we'll get to you as soon as we can. 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.
A transcript follows.
John Deiner: Good afternoon, everyone, on this drizzly day in Our Nation's Capital.
We have nearly a full team on hand to take your questions, including Sue Shuman, who did a lot of the reporting for our special section on budget digs in Europe. And Cindy Loose is standing by to chat about her experience when she went van camping in Italy.
Also, I'll post the blog item I did this morning on tipping, which has been getting some spirited responses. Feel free to throw in your two cents -- or two dollars -- here or on the blog.
And finally: your job today. I keep thinking about that photo we ran of the drainpipe in Linz, Austria, that you can sleep in, and I'm pretty certain I wouldn't sleep there myself. But do share: What's the weirdest place you've ever slept in on the road? Your Ford Pinto? A bathtub? A bench in a train station?
The best/funniest/most illuminating post gets a cool twofer from Air France: a plane on a spring for your desk (okay, it's not so cool) and a really nice document holder. Really. It's nice.
Let's get this flight started, shall we?
washingtonpost.com: The Monday Rant: The Trouble With Tipping (Travel Log blog, washingtonpost.com)
John Deiner: And here's the link to the blog on tipping.
Noise!: Tom Sietsema is doing a chat on noise levels in restaurants, and I noticed an ad for Virgin Atlantic (and new electrical outlets at every seat) showing a woman blow-drying her hair in a plane, with the caption Arrive Beautifully.
Does the airline really mean this? I would hate to be sitting next to someone doing this, or using an electric toothbrush, etc.
Scott Vogel: Right. Then comes the portable chainsaw -- I mean, where does it end? Apparently Virgin Atlantic is serious about its passengers arriving beautifully, however, to the detriment of those around them. My only advice is to call dibs on the outlet not occupied by the hair dryer and plug in your white noise machine.
International travel...: I feel silly even asking this question, but I'm headed to France for the first time in a couple of weeks and am wondering if I should exchange my dollars for Euros at home or wait until I get to Europe? What's the best way to stretch that weak dollar? Also, any other international travel no-brainers that I should know, but probably don't?
Thanks, love the column and the chats!
Sue Kovach Shuman: Hi. It's probably a good idea to have a few euros in your pocket when you land, but not everyone agrees on that. If you belong to AAA, you can get enough to take a cab or the bus from the airport into the city. There are also currency exchange places in D.C. The airports have ATMs and currency exchange desks, and it is convenient to get a few euros there--but rates might be higher at the airport exchange than in the city.
Kamuela, Hawaii: HI - this week someone asked about the Big Island volcano. Here is the phone for updates: The lava hotline phone number is 961-8093, which lets you know the lava viewing hours for the day ahead. The lava hotline automated message is updated every day at 10 a.m.
FYI - volcanic fog, vog, is full of heavy metals - if it is voggy when you are here, it helps to take selenium, molybdenum and Vitamin C. I guess that would help with DC smog too. And bring eye drops - it can be irritating.
John Deiner: Good stuff, Kamuela, and thanks for the assistance. And great advice on the "vog." Never heard of it before, and hope never to encounter.
Washington DC: Took the Boltbus to NY this weekend. Trip there was fine aside from an unannounced 15 minute stop at a rest area in NJ (evidently this is common practice).
Trip back however, from the 33rd and 7th stop. Arrived at 11AM for the 11:30 bus which DID NOT arrive. 11:50AM the 1:00PM bus arrives and the driver attempts to find out what happened. Tells us (around 15 of us) that the 11:30 made it's pickup and departed on time (after we'd been standing in the cold for an hour).
We get accommodated on the 1:00 and they have a 1:30 "special" because of "overbooking".
Bottom line, 15 unhappy passengers delayed for over 1 hour and 45 minutes.
Given I'm standing outside Penn station, 99% probability I will be taking the train next time. Obviously to Boltbus's disadvantage that they have internet because I'm posting this before we've left NYC.
washingtonpost.com: We Were There: Boltbus's Inaugural Run to NYC (Travel Log blog, washingtonpost.com)
Christina Talcott: Haha, using the bus's free WiFi to lodge your complaint? Well played, my friend! Also, I was surprised to see your questions, because my beau was among ye unhappy 11:30 Bolters yesterday. I encouraged him to write to the company to ask for a refund, and you should too. Dunno what you'll get, though. You kind of expect spotty service from a new restaurant, but what about a busline? BTW five of us from the Flight Crew are taking the Bolt to NYC on Friday for a group project, and, after hearing about this snafu, I'm getting a little nervous. Anyone else taken Bolt since it started? Good/bad stories?
Falls Church, Va.: Here's a travel problem you probably don't hear about too much: Pirates. My mother was scheduled to take a Mediterranean cruise in May on a French cruise-liner, but over the weekend that ship was seized off the coast of Africa by Somali pirates. It was crewed but carrying no passengers then.
At this point, no one knows what's happening, and the first priority of course has to be the safety of the crew. We have emailed the American travel company through whom she booked the cruise, and she will try to call them today to see what their contingency planning might be.
As a general matter, when a cruise ship becomes catastrophically unavailable, what does a travel company do? Is my mother likely to be offered a refund? Credit to another cruise? What about her airfare from DC to Malta?
Cindy Loose: Pirates off the coast of lawless Somali have been a problem for some time, and I thought ships were taking long swings away from the coast to avoid them---maybe a precaution they don't take when only crew is aboard.
I can't imagine the cruise line won't make some accommodations so your mother either gets her money back or an alternative cruise. If you feel in the end she is not being treated fairly, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, but do please try to work it out with the line first.
Rockville, MD: This June, my husband, 2 kids, and I will be flying out to Las Vegas for my brother's wedding. This is the first big trip we've taken as a family. And I'm shocked at the prices of airline tickets! The lowest price I've found for all 4 of us is $1600, and that's taking red eye flights on JetBlue. I'm nervous about taking overnight flights with a 7 and 10-year-old, because they will be tired and grumpy. The lowest price I've found for non-red-eye, direct flights is $2000 for the four of us. I've been using websites like Expedia and Travelocity to find these prices. Is their some other method for finding cheap flights that I'm not aware of??
Any help would be appreciated - thanks!
John Deiner: Hey, Rock. If you haven't already, I would try Southwest.com, which should be cheaper than $1,600 for all of you if you hit a sale, and whose fares don't show up on many of those other engines. And try kayak.com, which does a great job of sorting through all of the fares available for you. And Carol is a big fan of Farecast.com, which helps predict when fares will go up or down.
One good thing about SWA is that if the fare goes down, you can rebook and bank the savings for another trip without a fee.
McLean, Va.: I was writing about how much I enjoyed Cindy Loose's story about traveling through Rome via a van when my comments disappeared. I probably hit the wrong button -- just like Cindy apparently missed the entrances to her campsites. I laughed so hard reading the article that I woke family members who were still asleep Sunday morning. Well, call me crazy, but I'm going to try to take a van trip through Italy myself. I think it's the only way we can afford to take our family of four. I'm wondering what would be the one thing she'd do differently to minimize the misadventures. Maybe, I can learn from her experiences. Thanks for the great article and a fantastic travel section on Sundays.
Cindy Loose: Thanks. If you have a good map and someone on board who can help you navigate you shouldn't have my problems. I'd also map out key destinations at a Web site like www.mapquest.com before leaving home. It's very nice to have words in addition to a map, and know exactly how far it is between turns.
Reston, VA: It wasn't a particularly weird place to sleep, but I visited my boyfriend when we were studying abroad in different countries and napped in his room while he was at class. I guess I slept through a cleaning woman coming in, who decided I wasn't supposed to be there. Apparently, there was a memo later that week reminding everyone that overnight guests weren't allowed in the dorms. Oops.
John Deiner: Ah, school days. How I miss 'em (and those prohibited overnight guests, for that matter). Thanks for starting things off.
Munich, Germany: For the person looking for Asparagus in Munich from last weeks chat, I can recommend the Restaurant Zur Schwaige beside the Nympfenburger Castle. I haven't been there for a while, but on a nice day, its beergarden is wonderful. They don't have a web site in English but there are a few pictures at http:/
Christina Talcott: Asparagus-seeker from last week, are you back? Here's more advice for you!
Takoma DC: The Cappadocia region of Turkey is famous for its soft rock (sedimentary, not musical), which people in the area used to take advantage of by hollowing out homes, churches, and everything else a person might need. So the coolest place I've ever stayed, for sure, was a hotel whose rooms were carved into the side of a valley. All the corners were rounded, the windows were round, and it was just the neatest place.
John Deiner: Hey, cool, Takoma. You recall the name of the place?
Washington, DC: I have some British pounds left over from a trip to Scotland. Will I have a problem using them in England since they have the Royal Bank of Scotland on them? Can I exchange them for "English" pounds?
Scott Vogel: I haven't heard any instances of travelers having trouble exchanging Scottish notes for British pounds, and in most cases you should be able to use them throughout England, as far as I know. Has anyone had any trouble?
Fairfax, VA: I recently napped in an out-of-order handicapped bathroom--hey, it was a separate room with a door that locked!!--when I had a few hours to kill before a conference started and had been up way too early that morning. It was perfectly clean and had a lovely little sofa. And since it was out of order, I wasn't keeping it from anyone who needed it.
John Deiner: "Perfectly clean"? We'll take your word for it, Fairfax!
Washington, DC: My brother and 3 of his friends want to plan a college graduation trip to Europe. They want to visit 3-4 countries and are open to suggestions. I was thinking Italy would be fun but was unsure as to what other countries they could visit. They could also go the London, Paris, Amsterdam route. Any ideas?
Sue Kovach Shuman: You haven't mentioned whether any of them have been to Europe before, so I'm assuming these new grads want to pack in a lot of sights on a little cash. The places you mentioned are expensive--especially Italy and London--but if they don't mind staying in hostels, it can be done. And with four young people, that could be a very fun option. Plus, they will meet other travelers. I'd look for airfares to London, which are a bit better than to the other places you mentioned. The train goes to all the cities you mentioned, so I'd look into raileurope.com for the best package. If they're under age 26, they can get much better rates than you might think for train travel. If they travel in the wee hours or late at night, better yet to save money. London to Paris is quick by train. Italy's big--Rome is more expensive than other places. Maybe a tour through a region could be good. Check out guidebooks online for exact routes.
Strangest place I've slept....: While camping on Myall Lake in NSW, Australia we were woken in the middle of the night by the park forest and told there was a forest fire coming our way and they were going to dig trenches around our sites but we needed to immediately evacuate until things were under control. Since we had gotten to our site via boat (i.e. we didn't drive or hike in - we were in the middle of no where), we spent that night in the boat in the middle of the lake watching helicopters scoop up water to put out the fire! Not the most comfortable night, but pretty exciting! (and the fire never reached our site and we were able to go back the next day)
John Deiner: Wow! That's amazing, and frightening.
Salt Lake City, UT: Very timely blog entry on tipping. We usually stay in inexpensive/midrange hotels (Quality Inns, etc), and leave a small tip in the room at the end of the stay.
We were out of town last weekend to a family wedding and stayed in a very nice (and pricey) hotel for four nights, and planned to leave a tip (larger than in our usual hotels) at the end. We got back to the room on the third day, and had just listened to a voice mail from the head of housekeeping that we should let her know if anything was amiss when someone from housekeeping knocked on the door to see if anything was wrong. It only occurred to me later that maybe they were expecting a tip every day? Are we wrong in leaving one tip at the end? It rubbed me the wrong way, but of course we still left a tip.
I would be so happy if gratuities were just included in the bill!
John Deiner: I'm with you, SLC. If you want to tip, I think one tip at the end of the stay is fine.
Charlotte, NC: I'm not sure if you'll know the answer to this, but I am traveling to Philadelphia and need to quickly travel to City Center after my flight arrives. Do you have any idea how much a cab would cost from the airport to downtown? I know there is a rail line, but my past experience was that it was very slow and may even be worse on the weekends. Thanks for the info on this subject as well as all your travel advice!
Cindy Loose: Center City is about 7 miles from the airport, and the flat rate is $26.25 no matter how many passengers, so it'd be great if you found someone in line going your direction.
Otherwise, the train is $7 one way. By the way, you can get info about grand transportation at www.phl.org.
Houston, Tex.: On the prowl for a good travel agent with whom to book my October honeymoon in Italy. Have any of the chatters used European Destinations or Virgin Vacations?
Scott Vogel: All right, chatters -- anyone have experience with these tour companies?
Tipping: I always tip maids about $3-5 a day because I figure the bellhops get tipped all day long for a minute's work (luggage, cabs) because they are visible to the traveler, but the maids get stiffed (ahem John) even though they are working harder because they are invisible. Also, I leave a tip every day v. at the end of the stay because I find it pays off for me in better service, more candy on the pillow, the occasional fruit bowl or flowers. I tip the redcaps because it is the right thing to do, they didn't start the airline fees and I am sure their tips have plummeted. Also, that can help them forget to weigh and count bags when we are traveling with the kids. There you have it 60% altruism, 40% self-serving.
John Deiner: Good points all, including that throat-clearing at my expense. I haven't used curb service in a long time, and I always used to tip when I did use it. But I do understand why people don't want to tip on top of that fee (and I hope the skycaps win that suit, by the way).
washingtonpost.com: I worked as a Cape Cod motel maid one summer after college (hello, Falmouth Inn!) and since then always leave a little something for the housekeepers. It's such a lift to get an extra few bucks. - Elizabeth
John Deiner: Hey, Elizabeth...chime in again here. How often did you get tips? Most of the time, rarely, 50 percent of the time?
Dulles, Va.: Thanks for taking my question last week! Unfortunately, only half of it got answered... I was wondering if anyone knows how I can book a train ticket from Salzburg to Vienna, how long it would take & how much? The Austrian rail website is only in English until you attempt to book a ticket...
Carol Sottili: Go to www.raileurope.com. It takes about 2.5 hours. Cost is about $86 for a 2nd class ticket. You may get a cheaper rate at www.oebb.at - click on English as language on the top of the page.
NW DC: Due to the economy I have decided to scale back my summer vacation plans. Now I realize I am already late anyway. I wanted to do a Caribbean island with the kids, but now I would settle for an Atlantic Beach resort within a day's drive of DC. any suggestions?
Christina Talcott: How old are your kids and how long will you be going? Long Beach Island in New Jersey, Rehoboth and Bethany beaches in Delaware and Ocean City in Maryland all have nice beaches, a range of options for lodging and plenty for kids to do if the weather doesn't cooperate. Anyone have advice on anything further south, like the Outer Banks or the Virginia beaches?
Silver Spring, Md.: Hi. I bought an international ticket on American a couple of weeks ago. I now see that the same flight is cheaper. If I call, will American refund the difference?
Carol Sottili: No, but they may give you a voucher for a future flight. Doesn't hurt to ask.
washingtonpost.com: I almost never got tips! I did sometimes get random left behind stuff like paperback books. And if your kids leave sticky juice on tabletops and cheerios under the bed, you should DEFINITELY tip! - Elizabeth
John Deiner: Ewww. And good point!
DC: I shouldn't admit this, but I actually spent a night sleeping in a gutter in Istanbul.
Long backstory here, but suffice to say it had a happy ending. I'm still here to share it.
John Deiner: DC, that's a story we'd probably all want to hear sometime.
Falls Church, Va.: "Cheap Sleeps Across the Pond" presented some pretty depressing options. We wouldn't spend money on a luxury hotel even if the dollar were strong, but I find part of the fun of a trip is staying in places that are at least cheerful and don't make me feel like a 50-something student. Been there, done that. The article said little about B&Bs or small inns. We went to Scotland in 2006 (and 2004) when the exchange rate was not quite so bad. I spent a lot of time researching online (national tourism sites and TripAdvisor.com) beforehand and found very attractive and welcoming accommodations for 25 to 30 L (pounds)/person/night, (40 in Edinburgh) breakfast included, private baths. No hostels, mismatched curtains, or drain pipe sleeps required.
Sue Kovach Shuman: You're right--and there just was not room to write enough about those options in the published article. I've been to Scotland a bunch of times and have had good luck with small B&Bs and guest rooms, as well as small hotels. And online researching was crucial before going Not every place has mismatched curtain! I like the more personal, even if barebones, places. But with the dollar's decline, everything is more expensive than even in 2006, plus hotel rates have climbed in the U.K. Small places away from the big cities have some nice options--above pubs, for instance.
Arlington: Flight Crew, I finally just got enough flights to get a free round trip anywhere in the 48 states from Southwest. I have never been anywhere in the US besides the east coast. I like beaches - so California seems like a good idea. Please guide me to the right random city! Thanks!
Cindy Loose: I think you're right to use your free ticket to the West Coast, and you have wonderful options. Southwest flies to airports in and near Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco. Also into Seattle. Any of these is a fine choice. Personally, I'd go for San Francisco (Oakland is basically a San Francisco airport). It's a wonderful and very accessible city, meaning you can get around easily and there is great food and scenery and fun stuff to do. If you then rent a car you can head either north or south of the city for fantastic beaches and scenery. Be aware however that the northern coast has water that is quite chilly--some people take quick dips or surf in wetsuits. If you want to swim then head to southern California.
Arlington, VA (ie. Napping!): When I arrived for my exchange year in Germany with 60 other Americans, we were sent a language institute before heading to our host families around the country. On the chartered bus from the airport in Frankfurt to our little institute town, I decided the best place was to lie down and sleep in the aisle. The German counselors for the month moaned and rolled their eyes, but from that point forward any day trip we had to fight to be one of the 6-8 (depends on size!) who could fit down in the aisle for the prime napping spot. I'm positive the adults hated that trend....
John Deiner: Hey, Arl. While we're on the subject of sleeping on gross floors, I've always wondered how people sleep on airport terminal floors.
Takoma, DC: Oh yeah, I was a hotel housekeeper one summer in college and tips were very rare. I did very much appreciate the one family who left a note (and a tip) to tell me their kid had wet the bed. Much better than finding out about it the hard way.
John Deiner: Oh, gosh. that would be horrible...and I'd bet it happens more often than you'd think.
Thanks to you folks, I know that I can take several bottles of the same product in the 1 quart plastic bag in my carry-on luggage.
But why should that be necessary -- if toothpaste was sold in 3 ounce sizes, then 1 tube would get me through a week trip.
Instead, you can only get toothpaste in 0.75 or 0.85 ounce tubes, barely enough for 2 days -- the next biggest size is 4 ounces and up. So, I have to buy several of the 0.75 ounce tubes to get me through a 3-4 day trip. Yes, I've checked CVS, Rite Aid, and Safeway, to no avail!
Christina Talcott: Wow, you really use 3 ounces of toothpaste per week? How many times a day do you brush? I'd recommend buying a tube at your destination if you use up a .75 ounce tube. Sometimes other countries sell toothpaste and other goodies in different sizes - just don't exceed .88 mL, just to be safe, if you plan to take it back with you in your carry on.
Fayetteville, Pa.: I have e-tickets for Seattle in August to travel on ATA which has just closed their doors. Is there any chance another carrier will honor these, at least partly? I can't really afford to pay twice for the trip. Thanks!
Carol Sottili: I'm afraid you may be out of luck. If your purchased with a credit card, contact your issuer immediately and contest the charge. But if you bought more than 60 days ago, that could be a problem. Some airlines, including Northwest, Delta and United, are helping by offering $100 tickets for each leg of an ATA flight, but that offer ends by early May, so it won't help you.
Switzerland Bound: A couple of my friends and I are planning a trip to Switzerland to see a friend on 4th of July weekend. We would like to rent a car and drive to the city where our friend lives. We were thinking of flying to Milan but flights are well over $1000, and for a 5-7 day trip it seems too much for our budget. Any recommendations?
Sue Kovach Shuman: You're right! Switzerland is not cheap, it's just that it's easier to figure out the exchange rare. Consider flying into Frankfurt, cheaper than Milan (unless there's an airfare deal), and then taking an intra-Europe flight or even a train to Switzerland. Swiss trains are efficient and clean and you'll see a lot of the country that way.
Arlington, VA: re: hotel tipping. I never used to tip the housekeepers, but recently did start doing so. I usually tip a few bucks every day instead of at the end. I think you are apt to get better service and little things like extra chocolates and stuff like that during your stay.
I never ever tip the door man. I figure I am perfectly able to open the door myself. I will tip the bell hop a little if they bring my bag to my room, but I typically resent it because I am perfectly able to drag my wheel-y bag behind me on my own. However while I am checking in they seem to just swoop in and snatch my bag away from me whether I want them to or not. I guess maybe I shouldn't stay in such "nice" hotels.
And why is it that cheaper chain hotels/motels invariably have free WiFi internet while business class and higher-star lodgings charge an arm and a leg for it. That one always frosts me. I suppose they figure everyone is on an expense account so they can steal from your company even though I am paying out of my own pocket and am not traveling on business. Just include it in the rate instead of nickel and diming me. Just like all of these stupid airline fees.
John Deiner: Hey, I'm frosted now too, Arl. I agree about having your wheelie whisked away -- but there are a lot of people who like not to worry about carting it themselves. And good question about the free WiFi and such. I'm guessing the bigger, more expensive hotels charge for it for one simple reason: Because they can. People are willing to pay for it.
San Francisco, CA: My fiancee and I are considering a honeymoon in Cabo or someplace else in Mexico, preferably on the Pacific coast. We'd love to find a mid-range resort that's on a swimming beach and walking distance from town for food and shopping. Do you have any recommendations? What do you think about hotel vs. all-inclusive? Thanks so much for your help! I'm totally overwhelmed!
Cindy Loose: Since a honeymoon is hopefully a once in a lifetime trip so you shouldn't risk making travel mistakes, and because it needs to be planned at a time when you're already planning a lot of stuff, I advise seeing a travel agent. Tell them what kind of budget you have in mind and what you're looking for--quiet nights looking at the stars or music and dancing; nature or revelry--and let them help you.
Takoma DC: re Cappadocia hotel - I don't remember the name, no. It was about 10 years ago, so who knows, it may have changed names anyway. I do know it was in the town of Göreme, and I'm pretty sure my mom found it in the Lonely Planet guide.
John Deiner: Thank gosh for Google, TDC. Sounds wonderful though!
London Bound: Hi Crew! Love the chats. I'm finally booking my first trip to London (yay!) for the fall. My husband and I decided on October to miss the high tourist season. We already found a great apartment through VRBO.com (which I highly recommend), but my question is about flights... Seems like we're seeing a lot of good sales for the spring and summer, but flights for mid-October are running about $900 per person with taxes and fees--the same price as Virgin's -premium- economy seats for the spring! Should we buy now to lock in, or hold out and hope there's a sale on fall flights later?
Carol Sottili: I'd live dangerously and wait for sales. Sign up for fare notifications at a few Web sites, such as www.orbitz.com, www.farecast.com and www.kayak.com.
Bethesda: Strange place to sleep: In the 70's I slept in the passenger seat of a friend's car along the road somewhere in Bulgaria.
The weird thing about it was that the car was a tiny TR-7 and we're both about 6'2". Took me a couple days to get my back into alignment after that.
John Deiner: Man, that'll do it to you. And you were actually able to sleep in it? Jolly good show.
Hi -- reading about the new Gaylord National Hotel in PG County, the WaPo reporter said it was the "largest non-casino hotel on the East Coast."
That made me wonder what is the largest hotel of any kind on the East Coast? I am guessing it must be in Atlantic City, or perhaps Foxwoods or the other Native America casino resort in Connecticut? Any suggestions?
Scott Vogel: I can't find anything larger than the Gaylord Opryland, which has 2,881 rooms. Am I missing something? The largest hotel in Atlantic City, by the way, is the Tropicana, which appears to have a bit more than 2,100 rooms.
Tipping: I understand (possibly incorrectly) that redcaps don't get paid, or at least they rely on tips to pay the rent, you know?
John Deiner: Almost certain that a big percentage of their income comes from tipping. Can anyone out there verify?
Scottish Bank Notes: I've lived over there--both Scotland and England. Scottish bank notes are supposed to be legal tender all over, but are not so easily used much south of the border (e.g in Northumberland and Cumbria). Best thing to do: use your Bank of England notes first. Go to a bank and ask that they exchange your Scottish notes for B of E notes (they will do it for no fee, but may grumble). The Royal Bank has branches all over England, and they would be most willing to do the exchange. Scottish bank notes don't count against the reserve requirements that banks have to meet and Bank of England ones do.
Scott Vogel: Here's some good advice from someone who's dealt with a similar problem to the one above.
Arlington, VA: I travel frequently in developing countries and find that leaving a small tip on my pillow everyday ensures that my room is cleaned well and that none of my stuff goes missing... Also, I can't guarantee that my tip would get to the right people if I just left one lump sum at the end.
John Deiner: Ah. That's an excellent point, Arl, though I'd hate to think you have to tip to avoid theft.
London, UK: Hi all! I really enjoyed the cheap lodgings in Europe story! Even though I live in London, I'm always on the look out for cheap places to stay when I go to continental Europe. Just one comment though on the mention of Kings College student halls as a cheap option for London. The article says that Kings College is located in Covent Garden but then mentions accommodations on Great Dover Street. Great Dover Street is in Southwark, near Borough Market and Elephant and Castle, not Covent Garden. It is still considered Central London, but it's a far cry from staying in Covent Garden!
Sue Kovach Shuman: Oops. Sorry. The college has several locations that it rents rooms in (I think four), so I probably mixed apples and oranges when I wrote that.
Frederick, Maryland: Ninety-nine percent of the time, I leave a tip at the end of my stay for housekeeping because I figure they have to need the money. Once, on a business trip, I dropped a breakfast tray, and the glass coffee carafe shattered in the bathroom. Though I cleaned up as much as I could, I had to leave some of it for the housekeeper, and so tipped her extra for that.
John Deiner: I have to say I've had the same experience (well, not exactly the same). Without going into too much detail, it involved a stomach virus and a $25 tip (and an apology to the front desk).
Washington, DC: it can't top a gutter in Istanbul but I did sleep in a suite overlooking the Sea of Moons in Tahiti, can't be described.
John Deiner: Blech. Ick. How could you?
European Train Travel: We are tentatively planning on taking a train from Budapest, Hungary, to Lvov, Ukraine ... does anyone know of a website that we could use to look at fares and schedules? Rail Europe doesn't recognize Ukraine cities. Thanks so much in advance.
Scott Vogel: I feel for you. The Ukrainian national railroad site would normally be a good bet (http:/
San Diego, CA: Two friends and I slept in an unoccupied train in a station in Budapest. This was in the spring of 1990 (i.e. shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall) when tourism in Eastern Europe was still fairly tightly regulated. The next day, we had a difficult time explaining to the Yugoslav border guards why we didn't have the requisite proof of lodging from the previous night.
John Deiner: Interesting, SD -- glad you made it back to tell the tale.
Washington DC: For the reader with Scottish pounds -they will not be accepted most places in England. On a recent trip there, our taxi driver from the airport would not accept our Scottish money. Fortunately, the Marriott we were staying at exchanged the money for us (without a fee!) so we could pay the cabbie - after a sound lashing about how we were not in Scotland!
Scott Vogel: Another review regarding Scottish bank notes.
Cappadocia cave hotels: there are actually several of them, we stayed over the years at several in beautiful Uchisar (a little away from Goreme, the more well known area, but that's lovely too). they are all equally delightful, pretty easy to find with a google search, choosing based on your price point is a pretty good way to go (they vary widely, especially off-season).
(as a travel aside, the first time there was during the total solar eclipse in 2006. what an amazing place to see that!)
John Deiner: WOW. And thanks for the info on the hotels.
Washington, D.C.: Hi all,
This my be a strange question, but here goes... my fiance and I are thinking of rebelling against the traditional wedding and having a destination wedding with only our immediate family members. Is it really financially possible to have a wedding in Ireland or Italy ( I know, I know, it depends on where) for a price that won't put us in debt forever? We're in our mid 20's and just think it would be great to get married in Europe rather than here with the DJ and whatnot. Is it legal to do? We're both Italian-Irish, but have no family connections there anymore.
Obviously you can't give too detailed advice based on this, but if you could point us in the right direction (a travel agent who specializes in this or handles these type of trips?) that would be great. Thanks!
Christina Talcott: Hey, congratulations on taking the plunge, and congrats on getting hitched YOUR way! Destination weddings in Ireland and Italy can be affordable if you treat them like any trip - getting low-cost lodging instead of the honeymoon suite at a big hotel, having your reception in a private room at a restaurant instead of booking a banquet hall, etc. It'll make it much easier to have just immediate family, I'm sure. Check the "making it legal" tool on theknot.com, which will tell you what paperwork you need to get married there as non-citizens. Weddingchannel.com also could help with planning. As for travel agents, I'm going to have to throw this one out there for the chatters. Anyone have advice on travel agents to Italy and/or Ireland?
Baltimore, Md.: My son wants to fly to Seoul, Korea in June to visit a friend from his study abroad semester last year. Right now, airfares are $1400 - $1500 round trip. Should I grab it now? Are hotels and meals expensive in Korea?
Carol Sottili: That sounds high. Go to www.priceline.com and check out its new product, Insidetrack, which will indicate whether fares to Seoul are going up, down or staying the same. And I'm afraid Seoul is an expensive destination.
Washington, D.C.: Help oh great flight crew! In June, my fiance and I are renting a car exploring Tuscany/Umbria. Do you know where I might be able to find a very detailed map of that area? I've been to my usual haunts - book stores, National Geographic, etc. - but with little luck. Any tips short of waiting until we're in Italy to buy a map?
Sue Kovach Shuman: Have you tried the map store near Farragut West Metro? Michelin maps for most places are there, or they can order one for you, I've used maps for the U.K. and France and Italy from them to find all those tiny towns.
Treehouses: Is there anywhere relatively nearby (via car) where I could do a weekend get-away in a tree house type place?
Scott Vogel: It sounds like you're interested in a place you might stay, but no tree house enthusiast should fail to miss the new exhibit going up at Longwood Gardens near Wilmington, DE. According to the Gardens' Web site, three incredible tree houses as imagined by three well-known designers will be on exhibit starting April 25. For more information, see the site, at www.longwoodgardens.org.
Harrisburg, Pa.: Thank you very much for the Australian travel scarf that you mailed me for winning your contest for packing something dumb. I appreciate your printing my dumbness and for sending me the gift. I especially thank you for sharing your time with your readers, and us travelers who do things like pack recyclables in their luggage. (If it helps, it was just the paper recyclables, and they were mistook for conference papers.) Yes, I did do the old blame the wife routine, but she meant well. She thought I had missed packing something for the conference.
All the best to everyone there.
Leon from Harrisburg, who takes recycling to a whole new level.
Christina Talcott: Hi Leon! Folks, Leon was the winner of the strange road signs towel for submitting his unnecessary baggage story during last week's chat. We have a riot hearing everyone's crazy travel stories every week. Keep 'em coming!
Ideas?: It's been too long since I got out of the office! I'm looking for ideas for an international destination this summer for about a week. I've been to most of Western Europe, Asia is too far for one week, and it's the wrong time of year for South America. Thoughts? I was thinking Morocco or Portugal, but I would love some other suggestions. Thanks!
Cindy Loose: Portugal is a good choice, and I give two thumbs up for Eastern Europe--Slovenia and Croatia in particular. But of course there are not direct flights to Slovenia and Croatia and you only have a week. Do you consider Canada an international destination? That way you'd spend more of your week touring instead of simply traveling. Quebec City is celebrating its 400th anniversary with special events and it feels as foreign as most Western European countries. Then you could take a lovely journey to Toronto for some theater and such.
Memorial Napping: It may not be strange, but as a female it frightened me when my other half once told me that he spent the night wandering the DC memorials and eventually sleeping a bit at the Jefferson Memorial. We were dating, both of us barely out of school and working in arts, so cabbing it home wasn't an option when a show got out so late that he missed his connecting train at Metro Center. I freaked out. From that point on he secretly slept on the prop bed on stage for the show....
Scott Vogel: Don't tell me, he's a romantic at heart!
Tampa, FL: "redcaps don't get paid, or at least they rely on tips to pay the rent, you know?"
Well, now this is many, many years ago, but my father worked at the Newark Airport as a skycap for about a year after he was laid off from his job. He did receive a salary (from the airport, since he was considered an airport employee), but it wasn't a lot - his tips supplemented his income. This was before the wheelie-type suitcases became popular, so skycaps could have busy shifts, depending. I know that on a bad night, he may only have made about $20 in tips - on a good night, a couple hundred. His best memory is carry a briefcase (yes, just a briefcase) for a guy who then tipped him $100. We always wondered what was in the case that made it so valuable.
John Deiner: Tampa, this is good to know. And a couple hundred sounds like a lot of money, but I'm sure he worked extreme hard for people who were in a big rush on the curb.
For San Francisco: Hi, San Francisco! I have a great recommendation for you for your honeymoon: the town of Zihuatanejo. We stayed at The Tides and paid for the all-inclusive package for four nights, then moved to Hotel Casa Don Francisco, where we didn't get dinner, but enjoyed breakfast by the pool, a private terrace and plunge pool, a hammock on the terrace, and a beautiful outdoor shower. I seriously couldn't have asked for anything more in my honeymoon. The beach (Playa la Ropa) is beautiful and very swimmable, and it's a short (and cheap!) cab ride into charming, still-sleepy Zihuatanejo. (You could walk it if you were really committed, too!)
If you're interested in Puerto Vallarta, then look at Grand Velas (for a big all-inclusive resort option) and Hotel Casa de Mita (smaller and more private).
Good luck! The Pacific Coast of Mexico is gorgeous, and I'm sure you'll have a great time!
Cindy Loose: Thanks. Knowing the gorgeous beaches on the eastern side and Baja, I was disappointed in the beaches of P.V.--not the fine sand I was expecting.
Re: sleeping on the bus floor in Germany: I submitted the comment about sleeping on the German charter bus. When you're 16, cleanliness isn't always a top priority. However the bus company was my saving grace in this regard: they thoroughly cleaned the bus in between each charter. My plan of attack was to get a spot going somewhere, but let the others have the dirty floor on the way back. Either direction, the bus aisle was always full of sleeping teens. The rest of the group was usually contorted into their seats against their seatmates. Yes, we tried to sit with people we could sleep on and this would be worked out once a trip was announced.
John Deiner: Ah, a person with a PLAN! Thanks for clearing that up!
Nashville, TN: The weirdest place I ever slept was on a doghouse atop a ferry between Patras (Greece) and Brindisi (Italy). It was not the way I intended to see the Mediterranean. I was using a Eurailpass that included only deck passage. When it began to rain, I started searching for a dry place to curl up, but every nook was crowded with people. Kept climbing until I reached the highest deck of the ship, and saw a wooden crate with a slat floor that looked large enough to hold me. Poked my nose in and sniffed -- I'm pretty sure it was new, because there was no critter smell. So, I left my pack outside, crawled inside, and slept the night away under my towel. It was really quite nice, especially after the rain stopped.
Christina Talcott: Ha, that's really cute/sad/funny. I really hope the dollar doesn't dip so low we have to have a "doghouses and pig sties" story in our next Europe issue!
Columbia, MD: Oddest place have slept on a trip? In a box (seat) at the opera. Yes, it WAS dumb to pay for a ticket, then to fall asleep. But it was dark and quiet...at least for a while (you DO wake up when the fat lady sings!)
Scott Vogel: There's a grand tradition of this sort of thing, no? Wonder what opera it was -- we've got a staffer going to the Met later this month, and hopefully the same fate won't befall her.
Glenside: I ALWAYS take the train when traveling in and out of Philly International... it's extremely reliable, and cheap (I think to Center City - 30th Street Station - the fare is $6 one way). Trains run every 30 minutes, at about 10 and 40 after the hour outbound. Too easy, don't take a cab! Probably a 20 minute ride, with two stops before 30th street - one called "Eastwick" which appears to be for hotel employees, the other at University City, which is UPenn.
Cindy Loose: Thanks; train fare is now $7, but if it works as well as you say, still a bargain.
Green: Tree houses - try tree house camping near Harper's Ferry. Never been there, but they have a website.
Scott Vogel: Yes, it's www.thetreehousecamp.com.
Philadelphia, PA: Following up on a question from last week involving asparagus, there are plenty of great things to do in Munich. I highly recommend a trip to Olympic Park and the adjacent BMW World. Walking around the City Center is always enjoyable, and quite close to the surfers in the English Garden. (Really. I promise.) If you'd like to go a bit further away, Schloss Nymphenburg is beautiful as well. Enjoy!
Christina Talcott: More asparagus! Take heed!
Boltbus: My brother has taken that trip once and complained about the WiFi service - apparently it was spotty at best and went down several times.
Christina Talcott: Good to know. Thanks!
DC: come on, $1 or $2 or even $5 for the person working in a crappy job for you means a whole lot more to them than it does to your pocketbook. Don't be stingy. Not an attractive quality
John Deiner: Point taken, DC. Not sure that extends to Starbucks employees and the like, but I'm seeing the light.
Reston, Va.: Re the affordable European options: it's too bad Cindy's camper trip didn't work out so well. We've taken three long European trips in VW campers (a total of five months) and enjoy this mode of traveling. The most recent was a six-week Italy trip (down the west coast and up the east), which included Pompeii. Like Cindy, we had trouble finding the Pompeii campsite -- its sign advertising "secure parking" overwhelmed the smaller "camping" sign.
Aside from cost savings, camping avoids finding hotels and schlepping luggage every night; it also offers the opportunity of buying and cooking local foods. We've had terrific meals in our campers -- certainly superior to meals in budget-friendly restaurants. VW campers have the advantage of small size in comparison with typical RVs, but one needs to be adaptable to the varying quality of campground toilet facilities.
As Cindy's story implies, it's desirable to buy the most detailed map available and learn a bit of the language (the campsite host is less likely to speak English than the hotel receptionist).
Camping has its limits though. We don't use the camper when visiting major cities (Paris, Rome, Florence), but take a separate trip and rent an apartment.
Cindy Loose: Hey, thanks for your thoughts. I feel like I learned everything I needed to know on this trip, and would love to try it again.
red caps pay: They must get at least the minimum tipping wage which is usually less than 4.00 an hour. Not sure of exactly how much-it depends upon the state but this is a federal law so that the IRS and the Social Security can get their part. The check itself most likely ends up being next to nothing but that is because all the taxes have been taken out for the tips.
John Deiner: Exactly, so every dollar counts.
Dayton, OH: I crashed a conference in Hartford one time when I was 19. Rode down from Massachusetts not only in a stranger's car, but sitting on a stranger's lap. Got there at 4 in the morning and slept on some other stranger's couch with country music blaring from the second floor. I never did find out who my host was for the night.
Scott Vogel: Uh -- you don't make a habit of this, we hope?
Pennsylvania: Strangest place I've slept:
My husband and I were visiting his cousins in England (the Lake District). They live in darling, crooked little house with topsy turvy stairs. The house is called the County Line house because it sits on the border of two counties. The county line runs down the middle of the house bisecting it, including the guest room bed. So when my husband and I went to bed, he slept in one county and I slept in another!
Scott Vogel: Wonder if Four Corners has ever considered something like this.
It's All On The Internet: "John Deiner: Hey, Arl. While we're on the subject of sleeping on gross floors, I've always wondered how people sleep on airport terminal floors."
Here's a URL for you: www.sleepinginairports.com. It's a guide to the best and worst places to catch some ZZZs in airports worldwide.
John Deiner: Familiar with the site, but when I see someone sprawled on the floor in the middle of a busy terminal, I always wonder why they're not napping on a chair.
Chevy Chase, Md.: Some tips from when my husband and I, as newlyweds with little money traveled around Europe for 8 weeks with backpacks and a Eurail pass 17 years ago. We were 30 so we weren't kids, and we had quit our jobs to do this pre-kids of our own. (Exchange rate was not great in 1990 either). Go off-season if you can. Everything is less crowded. We often could get a room in a IYH hostel to ourselves even if it was ordinarily a "single-sex room." Family hostels, like the chain of Naturfreundhaus, are great also if you want to go hiking in the Swiss and Austrian Alps. (Rooms with 4-6 bunks). In cities we also stayed at pensions (usually someone's large apartment where they rent out rooms and usually they'll give you breakfast) We found great ones in Rome and Florence. Bargain if you are staying for several days. Go to open air markets for breads, cheese, pate, fruit, vegetables for lunches/breakfasts. We got a small hotpot and a slim thermos (it was winter) to make tea and coffee to take with us during the day. (Buying got expensive) Most expensive cities were London and Venice. For the same price as a very nice pension in Old Rome, we stayed in a hideous dump in Venice, and a shabby townhouse in Kensington with Aussies who were looking for jobs. (note though, we always stayed in nice parts of whatever city we were in. It may have been a dump but our motto was location, location, location.)Finally, ask your friends if they have a friend or relative that could host you for a night or two. We stayed with a really nice couple outside of Amsterdam for a couple of nights (the sister of an acquaintance). Very hospitable, gave us a glimpse of regular Dutch life and they convinced us to go to Copenhagen for a couple of days. So we did. Still hoping to return across the pond again. Bon Voyage!
Sue Kovach Shuman: And you can even do these cost-saving things with kids! I totally agree that location is THE number one thing to keep in mind. Sometimes guest rooms are offered by people just to make a few extra bucks--like the Aussies you stayed with. If you're going to take a room but have to depend on someone for transportation, forget it. Or taxis, which could get expensive. It's good to get insider knowledge of places, though, and taking a private room is one way to do it. Nothing like home-baked bread in the morning. And, yes, don't forget that you live in the Washington area, which many people would love to visit. Meeting new friends and inviting them for (short--meaning not a month) stays works to everyone's cultural (and maybe financial) benefit.
weird sleeping places: not so much the place, but the story behind it...
On a spring break road trip to the Florida gulf coast, we had 8 folks (4 boys, 4 girls) piled into an ancient station wagon. The ultimate intent was to sleep at one person's grandparents' house, but the first night we planned on a campground, and thus had brought along 2 tents. One for the boys, one for the girls --- yes, this was "back in the day" when that was standard. Those of us in the girls tent were doing just fine, when suddenly we were awakened by a piercing scream from the boys' tent....brought on by a frog landing on the face of one of the guys.
Of course, macho-ism required that the guys continue to spend the night in the tents...but we ladies retreated to the safety and spaciousness of the wagon.
Scott Vogel: file this under Weird Sleeping Companions.
Alexandria, Va.: My fantasy world of tipping - I wish we could keep tipping as something you do for occupations where there is a clear difference in the level of service and care among workers and where it can really encourage thoughtful behavior - servers, hairstylists etc. Otherwise, I think people should just be paid properly. There is nothing special about the fact that a bellhop takes my bags upstairs. He can't do it excellently. He either does it or not and if it is part of the job, then he should be compensated for providing the service. I don't know, maybe I'm being fussy but I don't get it - if the argument is that paying people properly would cost consumers more, well I'm paying for those tips anyway, aren't I?
John Deiner: Another opinion on tipping (and, oh, only if it were a fantasy world!).
Washington, DC: re: Scottish notes. Scottish banks issue 5,10 and 20 pound notes. They also issue large denomination 50 and 100 pound notes but tourists are best to avoid these. There are also a few Royal Bank of Scotland one pound notes still in use.
Exchange all your Scottish notes for Bank of England notes (or your home currency) before you leave Scotland. You may have difficulty in exchanging Scottish notes in parts of England or abroad.
Scott Vogel: Scottish notes redux.
Re: Last week's search for Caribbean water in the USA: Last week you mentioned MI and someone whole-heartedly endorsed the UP. Ummm... I would assume the person dreaming of the Caribbean water wants somewhere to swim and the waters of the UP will never be a swimmer's paradise. While I learned to swim in Lake Superior as a young'n, you can also die from hypothermia in late July in that region- and in many regions further south. If you want stunning nature, the UP is great. In fact, the small bays in Lake MI and Lake Superior have fantastic and clear water... that is VERY cold. Heck, even 90 minutes north of Chicago can be unswimmable based on the weather in the previous few days. My advice for those dreaming of Caribbean blue: go to the Caribbean or another blue area (Asia, FL Keys) with different colors and beaches. Sorry for the long missive, but I guess this Michigander had to get that off of her chest!
Cindy Loose: The posters last week were focused on clarity of water, and I believe we warned that some of the things we mentioned fear clear, cold water---and I remember mentioning that Mackinaw Island was too cold to consider any time of year. But the Lake Michigan area about an hour or so out of Chicago, just past Gary, has pretty warm water most of the time, and very, very clear.
I lived in Michigan for about 7 years and refused to ever go to the lakes. Later when I moved back East I discovered the lakes of Michigan and fell in love.
Sleeping arrangement: This may not pertain to myself, but my something that happened to my bro in law.. he was traveling to his childhood home, and found his old comics there that are probably worth a ton of money now... He had boxes of them and couldn't manage to take out everything in a day to take home with him... the following day, there was a repair crew coming to fix something at the house... he was so afraid to leave his valuables home, he insisted on staying in the bathroom (the only safe place) and ended up falling asleep in the bathtub! My sister found him there a few hours later! She couldn't resist turning on the shower to wake him up! He wasn't happy, but it sure made a pretty funny story for the rest of the family!
Christina Talcott: Yeah, that's funny, as long as he didn't have his valuable comic books with him in the tub...
K St: My friend slept in an elevator in a parking garage in Slovenia. He was celebrating New Years Eve with a bunch of friends and his close friends had already went home. He lost the other folks in his group at an outdoor concert and couldn't find them when the concert was over. When the parking manager woke him up, he sobered up a bit and found the piece of paper with his host's cellphone number. good times.
Scott Vogel: "Good times" indeed!
DC: I worked as a maid at a Best Western for two years during high school. Tips were definitely appreciated, but were not expected. I got tips about 25% of the time, usually in the $2-$5 range, and it really made my day. In many hotels, one room or hallway is cleaned by different maids throughout the week, so tipping each morning (if you wish to) is appreciated by maids. We didn't pool our tips at the end of the day or the end of the week.
John Deiner: Thanks, DC -- another good thing to know. So we're learning that tipping each day of the stay is better than waiting till the end.
Arlington, VA: Just some thoughts for the poster thinking of a destination wedding. My husband and I were married in a small castle near Glasgow, Scotland five years ago. I planned the wedding myself, for a very affordable price. I recommend starting with your location. Our castle was small, but frequently had weddings and events and their events planner put us in touch with a minister and florist. I found a photographer and other services through Google. You really don't need a wedding planner/travel agent for the UK, just the internet.
Italy is more tricky, as you have to pay someone to translate documents, and I believe there are residency requirements, so you may need to be there a week or two before the wedding. However, it is doable, and we have know people who took that option.
Christina Talcott: Wonderful to get firsthand advice, and terrific point about the translation - I hadn't thought about that. Thanks for chiming in!
Washington, D.C.: I have two days in late August to spend in one of the following cities that I've never been to before. Which city should I visit? Bratislava, Budapest, Wroclaw, or Krakow? Thanks for your advice!
Sue Kovach Shuman: All great cities! Bratislava is easy to do in two days--is is very compact. And take a bus to the castle outside town, Budapest is gorgeous--much to pack in, but do-able in two days. Different vibe from Bratislava, and more money, but Paris-like.
Getting married in Europe: A friend of mine shortcircuited the paperwork involved for foreigners getting married in France when she invited her minister and his wife to Monte Carlo with the rest of the wedding party and had him perform the ceremony there without the authorities ever knowing about it!
Christina Talcott: Hmm, this sounds a lot more risky than the castle in Scotland, but my mental image of a French minister and his wife in Monte Carlo is priceless. Thanks!
Washington, D.C.: Strangest place I slept was in a hammock on a small river boat going from Manaus to Santarem in the Brazilian Amazon. It was truly a unique experience sleeping in a hammock rocking on a boat bumping the people in hammocks next to me when the water was a little rough...not to mention the heat, humidity, mosquitoes, and the thrill of being on the Amazon River.
John Deiner: It sort of sounded really romantic until you got to the heat and humidity and mosquito part, but what a memory. Thanks for sharing!
DC: I'm planning a trip to Southeast Asia for July/August. I'm seeing fares of about 1600/person from DC to Singapore -- can I expect those to go down?
Also, is it difficult to travel within SE Asia once I'm there? Should I be planning everything ahead of time, or can I wing it a little?
Cindy Loose: No telling for sure what fares will do, but I think about $1,600 in summer for that distance isn't bad and I'd not wait if it were me. If there were suddenly a sale prices wouldn't likely drop more than $200, and they could go up by a lot.
It's pretty easy to get around Southeast Asia once you get there, assuming you're starting out in a fairly major city. In Bangkok, for example, there are travel agencies every few steps in the heavily touristed areas. I would however check the safety record of the carrier before buying on an airline you've never heard of.
Kamuela, Hawaii : Hi - coming to DC in a few weeks and have a DCA question. When I leave, it is on Delta, but the Priceline itinerary says it is operated by Alaska Airlines. So which terminal area do I go to - Delta or Alaska?
Also, I change planes - from this Delta/Alaska flight to an American one - with 1 5 1/2 hour layover at LAX. What would you do during that time? Is there a health club or day spa? Anything else? A nearby museum (if I check my luggage)?
Love your weekly chat. Thanks.
Carol Sottili: Good choice not to be flying Aloha or ATA.
If the flight is operated by Alaska Air, go to its terminal to check in.
LAX is not located near any great museums or any other tourism attractions. The Flight Learning Center is an on-site aviation museum at offers some cool biplanes. Go to www.flightpath.us.
There is no spa, and no gym at the airport. But you could contact some hotels around the airport to find out if they offer day memberships.
Sky Cap: Hi Crew. I don't know how much sky caps earn, but I do know that several years ago I was scolded by one for not tipping. It was summer 2000 at BWI, 6:00am flight on Southwest. I checked one bag, and was about to walk away before the sky cap gave me a rude "talking to" about how I was supposed to tip. I then reached into purse, but he told me to "forget it, but remember it for next time." I mumbled that it was too early in the morning for him to be so mean.
John Deiner: Ack. That's an ugly little tale. I remember watching a similar scene play out once in the mobbed Vegas airport, but there was cussing involved.
Unusual night's "sleep": We were on our way home to Connecticut from college for spring break. The car had power problems that could not be fixed in the Service Plaza on the New Jersey Turnpike and we were told to get off the Pike and find a garage.
We dropped off one girl and asked her father for the location of a garage that could fix the car. We found it but they could not get the part until the parts store opened at 8 a.m. One of the boys took the front seat of the car, the other the back; which left me (a girl) to sit up all night on a hard, straight-back chair with the garage attendant's younger brother, watching all night TV from NYC while we waited for the part. This was late 1960's and all-night TV was not very entertaining and only on one channel.
Scott Vogel: Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear...
Silver Spring... nap time: Hi chatters... My father was a crew member for Pan Am (yes, that was a looooong time ago). Because of jet lag from flying around the world, he often had to sleep at "off" times. Number one on his list was to go find a movie theater that had an arts-film in whatever language he did NOT speak. That usually gave him about an hour or two nap-time. If he needed to overnight at the airport (he flew in the days when there may or may not be a hotel near wherever Pan Am landed) he found the shoe-shine stands far more comfortable than the waiting lounge. And the security guards usually left him alone.
Me? I find a hotel, hostel, SOMEPLACE... not very enterprising, I know.
Scott Vogel: Pan Am may be long gone, but luckily boring art films are eternal.
Southwest Freebie: My husband frequently travels on Southwest and we used his last freebie ticket to go to Santa Fe, New Mexico. We flew into Albuquerque and drove about 2 hours to Santa Fe. What a great vacation. The scenery, architecture, climate etc were so different than what we see in Maryland. We took a train ride through the mountains, saw lots and lots of great art and ate delicious food. The trip back to Albuquerque we drove the Turquoise trail and stopped in the small artist colony of Madrid and then at a crazy roadside attraction called Tinkertown. Really a great way to see something totally different than the East Coast.
Cindy Loose: Sounds great. If I were him, I'd check the usual prices to go to Santa Fe versus the coast; if the coast tickets cost substantially more, then he should take advantage of his free ticket and hope to travel one day to the less expensive destinations on his own dime.
Baltimore MD: Strange places to sleep: In 1970 I did the requisite post-college trek through Europe with two friends. In the west of Ireland, we asked an elderly farmer if it was alright if we pitched our tent in his field and he happily said yes. After a wonderful night's sleep, I was the first up and decided to step outside for a breath of morning air. I unzipped the tent flap, only to see an enormous bull's head staring me in the face--a head attached to the body of a bull, I might add. He looked at me with curiosity, so I zipped up the tent flap and prodded my two friends saying, "Don't make any sudden moves, guys." In a few minutes, the bull trotted away. I am just glad the tent was yellow and not red.
Scott Vogel: Love this one.
Re: Boltbus: I took the Boltbus to/from NYC (6th and Canal) on opening weekend. Was very pleased with the trip, including the internet and the quickness, but I would not expect a future trip to be so nice. Then again, I kept saying to myself that this is a $1 bus trip and I can't expect luxury.
Christina Talcott: Well, we'll report back next week about the Bolt bus after our little field trip.
Silver Spring, MD: Just got back from Switzerland. And while not on the Euro, I can assure you that Switzerland is not cheap. Prices are jacked up accordingly.
Our strategy: we stayed with friends who had a unoccupied apartment in their building that we could rent for $20/day. Very cool.
Also, buy the train pass and take advantage of the best public transportation system in the world. It's a big expense at first ($700/family) but pays off on hassle and savings later.
Big Bargain Hint: shop at second hand stores for souvenirs! You'll likely find something not made in China.
Weirdest place I ever slept? On my luggage at the Madrid Airport. Second weirdest? A bathtub in an upstate NY hotel. My room partners both snored like chainsaws. Third weirdest, out on my hotel balcony in Samos, Greece. It was the only place I could get a cross breeze. The hotel proprietor teased me about it the next morning.
Sue Kovach Shuman: You're right. Switzerland is not cheap. It's just easier to figure out prices--close to the dollar. Swiss trains are easy to use and clean. As for secondhand shops for souvenirs: yes!!! In Germany and Italy, for example, I've found some "different" clothes--for myself. You've seen the Chevy Chase European vacation movie? Yeah, clothes like that--at a fraction of designer costs--and there's always Halloween?...Umm....why did you sleep in the bathtub?
Sleeping: First trip to Europe. Overnight ferry from England to France. Very sleepy.
But then.... Paris! Eiffel Tower!
Movie in Eiffel Tower telling its story.
I fell asleep, and have been telling the story of how I fell asleep in the Eiffel Tower for decades.
John Deiner: Oh, you can read about the Eiffel Tower anywhere. But sleep? Priceless.
Arlington, Va.: How would you suggest I purchase airline tickets for international travel? When I fly domestically within the U.S., I've always bought them direct from the airline. I'm thinking of flying on a non-U.S. airline overseas (to India, specifically) and wanted to know if it was "safe" to purchase airline tickets directly from the airline or if I should use, say, a travel agent instead.
Carol Sottili: I bet the people that bought Aloha or ATA tickets thought they were safe....
Anyway, I'd do a little research on the airline and, unless it's obscure or doesn't sell directly in the United States, I'd probably just buy directly. Travel agent may work if the airline is still paying commission. Most don't anymore.
VA: In yesterday's COGO, you wrote "flight left the runway". Doesn't you mean the aircraft flew the from runway? The trucks can be on the runway too.
washingtonpost.com: Coming and Going (Post Travel Section, April 6)
Cindy Loose: It seems different entities have different definitions. The FAA counts take off and landing time as "wheels up" and "wheels down." Leaving the runway could mean the second that the plane starts moving on the runway, or the time it's in the air and the wheels move back into the belly of the plane. I didn't split hairs either way---fact is that plane was plenty late and the airline could have been more gracious about sending a letter that the couple in question could have given to their insurance company.
Washington, D.C.: My husband and I are flying Iberia to Prague next month. We have an eight hour layover in Madrid. Will this allow us enough time to go and do a little sight seeing? We'd be happy just to walk around for a couple of hours. Thanks for taking my question!
Sue Kovach Shuman: Yes, it's fast and easy to take the Metro into downtown. Leave your luggage, if you have any, of the airport. There are LOTS of steps--not escalators--in the Metro. Go to the Prado--and the cafes there has inexpensive paella. If you have more time, walk the palmetto-lined boulevards nearby.
John Deiner: Man, you guys kept us scurrying today. Thanks for the great questions and the suggestions. Good stuff on tipping as well.
Let's throw out the Air France junque to Nashville for the doghouse story. Just send your name and address to me at email@example.com.
And for the rest of you? We'll see you next week. Happy travels!
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