Talk About Travel
Monday, December 22, 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.
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A transcript follows.
Christina Talcott: Hello, chatters, and welcome to this week's Travel chat! We're here to answer your questions and pass along advice about all aspects of travel.
This weekend, my beau surprised me with an early birthday present - an overnight trip to one of my favorite places, Warm Springs, Va., where we stayed at the Inn at Gristmill Square, ate at the fabulous Waterwheel Restaurant and soaked in the thermal baths at Jefferson Pools. It made me think about how wonderful gifts of travel can be, and also how planning a getaway for someone can be challenging. Share with us your favorite travel gift - whether given or received - and we'll send a tote bag to whoever sends in our favorite response.
Ready for takeoff? Let's go!
20009: Hey Crew! What do you think the airports are going to be like on January 20? I'm flying into IAD at 10:00 pm, and live in NW. I have the option of pushing back my flight for a day- would you suggest I do this? Or do you think that I won't have too hard of a time getting home from Dulles?
Carol Sottili: I would take a chance on that, especially since it's late and it's Dulles. Might be worse the day before or the day after.
Falls Church, Va.: It's been a while since I've flown -- can I take a bottle of nail polish in my carry on? Or am I inviting trouble?
Christina Talcott: You can, but only if you put it in your one-quart zip liquids baggie.
Falls Church, Va.: I would like to get some beach time in for me and my 8 year old daughter at the end of January. Is Miami far enough south to be able to swim in the ocean? Do you have any recommendations for a short 4-day jaunt?
Scott Vogel: Here's the number to keep in mind -- 71. Is 71 degrees (the average water temperature in Miami in January) warm enough for ocean swimming? Kinda depends on one's internal thermometer. Miami is otherwise a great January destination, especially if you find a hotel with a good heated pool. I'm finding great prices for flights from National to Miami in that time period: some as low as $136 round-trip.
Arlington: Hi. Are there any video stores in the Washington area that specialize in, or at least have a good stock of travel videos? Sometimes a well-made documentary can be the best introduction to a place that you are going to visit for the first time, but the chain stores are stocking fewer and fewer of them. (There are internet sites that sell travel DVDs, but rental outlets seem to be rare.)
Scott Vogel: Since you're in Arlington, I can't resist mentioning the Arlington Central library, which has one of the largest selection of travel-related videos and DVDs that I've seen (as well as a great selection of almost everything else). I agree that such videos are of great value, and becoming increasingly hard to find.
Cleveland Park, D.C.: Hello Flight Crew! I'm sure that you have been innundated with questions regarding getaway vacations for Inauguration weekend, but here is one more to add to the stack. Are there any great deals for a three night stay somewhere in the Caribbean (flight/hotel)? Preferably, Saturday through Tuesday.
Carol Sottili: I'd try one of the companies that specialize in Caribbean deals. They include www.vacationexpress.com, www.applevacations.com, www.cheapcaribbean.com and www.faredeals.com. And, once they give you a price, make sure you compare it to what you could get booking each component separately.
Miami: Hi Flight Crew: As a former South Floridian, I wanted to respond to the chatter excerpted in the travel section on Sunday about things to do in Miami. Besides your excellent suggestions, here are some others: The hiking trail at Shark Valley in the Everglades isn't far. Or he could go for an airboat ride. It's an hour drive to Key Largo and the incredible snorkeling at John Pennekamp State Park. There are the art galleries in lovely Coconut Grove and sailboat lessons in Biscayne Bay. The old Parrot Jungle, now Pinecrest Gardens, is still incredibly beautiful, as is Fairchild Gardens. For the touristy cheese factor, there's Coral Castle and the new Parrot Jungle on Watson Island. For a taste of traditional Cuban Miami, there's Versailles restaurant, best visited after midnight where you might run into a Cuban wedding party.
In other words, there's a lot more to Miami than beaches and the Beautiful People.
washingtonpost.com: Chat Plus: Martin Luther King Jr. Day Getaways to Miami (Post Travel Section, Dec. 21)
Scott Vogel: Thanks for YOUR excellent suggestions!
Rockville, Md.: My flight leaves Dulles at 5:30 pm on Christmas Day. How empty will the airport be? Will I be able to find parking in the satellite lots? Also, how do you pay baggage fees? Is that taken care of at check-in?
Andrea Sachs: It should be a bit quieter than, say, the day before, as most people try to be at their destination before the stroke of Christmas Eve. Parking may be tight, but Dulles has so many spots (25,000) that you will find something, even if it's back row Siberia. For parking updates, call 703-572-4500. You can pay for your bags at check-in, though some airlines allow you to pay online if you check-in 24 hours before departure.
D.C. on a weekend?: My husband and I are coming to D.C. from Pittsburgh the first weekend of the year for the Pitt-Georgetown basketball game. We're staying at the Hyatt in Arlington, arriving Friday evening and leaving Sunday afternoon. Are most things open on the weekends? We'd like to get in some touristy-type stuff. Both of us have visited DC before, but not recently. We'd love your suggestions!
Christina Talcott: All the museums and the vast majority of tourist activities are open and available on weekends. You should be able to get in trips to museums on and off the Mall, get around easily on Metro or buses and visit stores, restaurants and other attractions around town. The one exception I can think of off the top of my head is the new Capitol Visitor Center, which is closed on Sundays. Anyone have specific weekend-visiting suggestions?
Carry-on Question: My daughter leaves Christmas Day for a 3 week trip to Australia. She and her boyfriend will be spending 5 days in Sydney before renting a camper van for a roadtrip to South Australia and Kangaroo Island.
The camper van company suggested soft luggage as the best way to pack due to limited space. Right now she plans to check a large rolling duffel and would like to take her medium-sized (65 liter) backpack as a carry-on. Do you think that United will allow this? I am pretty confident that the backpack will fit through the security x-ray device and I have certainly seen people bringing larger items on board.
Christina Talcott: I don't know which backpack your daughter has, but I'm pretty sure it would exceed the 45-inch limit United has on carry-on bags. It's possible that she'll be able to get away with using it, but I hate to push my luck. So if she has a smaller backpack, I'd recommend using that as her carry-on. (Remember, even a messenger bag or large purse can be her "personal item" under United's rules.) However, if the 65-L bag's her only backpack, she could try packing it about 3/4 full, then cinching it to make the height + width + depth total less than 45 inches. She'll have to do this on her way home, too.
My recommendation? Pack less. One carry-on size bag, packed with a modest wardrobe of quick-drying clothes, maximum two pairs of shoes and travel size sunblock and toiletries should be plenty for three weeks. But not everyone wants to wash undies and tees on the road, so if she wants to check a bag, I'd just encourage her to either cinch her backpack down to carry-on approved size or use another bag as her carry-on.
Anyone have other recommendations for the Australia road-tripper?
Favorite Travel Gift: My favorite travel gift was something I never saw coming. After months of studying for the GRE, my boyfriend suggested taking a trip after the test was over. In 3 years together, he's never planned anything more than a dinner at the Olive Garden, so I agreed but didn't really expect anything to come of it. 4 months later we were embarking on a cruise (on the week of our anniversary...the first time he had ever remembered it unaided) completely and totally planned by him. He even took me on a shopping excursion in the Bahamas (one of the stops) on our actual anniversary. We're getting married in the fall and I feel like I can trust our honeymoon planning to him. :)
Christina Talcott: Aw, that's wonderful! Congratulations on your wedding!
Central Va.: No question just a comment: we were in Nuremberg earlier this year... much too early for the Christmas Market but we were there for an Italian Market... lovely glass, art, and food...
Happy Holidays to the staff... and all of the readers out there.
Christina Talcott: Glad you enjoyed Nuremberg, and happy holidays to you too!
Bethesda, Md.: Norway Summer Holiday question. We're looking for ideas for our 12-day visit to Norway in August. We're active and like adventures, but also don't want to rough it. The Western fjords interest us. Should we rent a car for exploring? Rent a house and make that our base? We plan two nights in Oslo and then are open to suggestions. Happy holidays to all.
washingtonpost.com: Over the Edge, Norway Unfolds (Post Travel Section, Nov. 2)
Christina Talcott: Here's a story we ran last month on hiking a fjord. Can anyone speak to car/house rentals and other Norway sightseeing?
Germantown, Md. working in D.C.: My favorite travel gift was a trip to Europe. After I graduated, my boyfriend and I flew to Edinburgh and London for a 10 day trip in June/July 2006. He used his miles for me and paid for our hotels. He even indulged me with a train ride out back to Cambridge so I could visit the University that brought me to Europe the first time around.
Christina Talcott: That's very sweet. Sounds like he swapped miles for major brownie points!
Arlington: Flight Crew - Which will be a worse time for a drive up 95 from DC to NY, Tuesday evening or very early Wednesday morning? I have never traveled so close to Christmas and don't want the drive to turn into one big stop-and-go traffic jam. Thanks!
Andrea Sachs: I would think late Tuesday would be better than Wednesday morning. But wait for the after-work Christmas crowd, then leave (perhaps around 8 or 9). Just load up on the caffeine.
Freezing in Va.: My husband and I are headed to Boston in April for the Boston Marathon. We plan on flying up the day before (Sunday) and back the day after (Tuesday). So far, the best rate I can come up with for two RT tickets is around $450. Any hope this will come down or should I just go ahead and book?
Also, since I'm running and he's not, any advice on things he can do to amuse himself while waiting for me to finish? Neither of us has ever been to Boston before. Thanks!
Carol Sottili: You could save $50 or so if you go up on Saturday, but the hotel would cost more than that. I don't think it's going to get much cheaper on those days. You could also look into flying into Manchester, N.H. or Providence, R.I. on Southwest out of BWI, but then you'd have to get to Boston - if you're renting a car, not a big deal, but if not, a big pain.
As for things to do in Boston, my favorites include eating my way through the North End (Little Italy), doing the Freedom Trail and exploring the various campuses (Boston College is very peaceful). Go to www.bostonusa.com for more ideas.
Winchester, Va.: I'll be traveling to Scotland for the first time. I would like to rent a car while there. I've been driving on the right side of the road for 45 years. Is it a hard adjustment driving on the other side of the road? Is there anything I can do here before I leave that might help?
washingtonpost.com: Driving: On an Irish road trip, it takes courage -- not to crash into the scenery. (Post Travel Section, July 13, 2003)
Christina Talcott: It'll be an adjustment, but go slow at first and pay attention to how much room you need to safely pass other cars and maneuver turns. In previous chats, people have recommended putting stickers in your car that say "Keep Left!" Anyone have other advice?
Annandale, Va.: For the folks whose daughter is going to Oz, she may want to try what I did. I actually packed my empty backpack in my rolling duffel, checked all of that and had a much smaller bag for a carry-on. Worked great for me twice.
Christina Talcott: Oh good, thanks for chiming in. Sounds like an excellent plan.
Washington, D.C.: Hey Crew, I'm sure you'll be getting quite a few holiday travel questions, but hopefully this will be an easy one: I'm flying out of BWI on Christmas Eve. How far in advance should I get to the airport? Should I allow more time than usual? Is Christmas Eve a super busy day for air travel?
Andrea Sachs: Check-in online 24 hours before, so you can head straight to the gate. The airport will be super busy at that time, so I would give myself at least two hours. And check that your flight is on time before you go. With this weather . ..
Moose Sightings: I saw in last week's chat someone wondered where to go to see Moose.
There are quite a few in Grand Teton if you are willing to take a certain trail. I can't recall the exact name. You can get to it by taking the Jenny Lake boats to Hidden Falls Trail and then walk up the ridge and you have a 50/50 shot of finding moose --IF-- you could actually follow the trail.
The trail is awful, the signs are not clear. It needs to get fixed and the park service needs to do a better detailed map of that area that shows all the trails clearly.
I plan on writing a complaint to the park superintendent about this.
Christina Talcott: Here's some advice for moose-seekers. Thanks for writing in!
20009: Best travel gift: My father is lucky enough to attend a series of conferences every year -- the locations change, the accommodations are always 4-star. When I graduated from high school, he gifted me with being his "plus 1" to a July conference in Brussels. I got to stay in the Conrad Hotel, eat four star meals, but was also given free rein to take day trips by myself. I learned how to use the train and went to Paris (for Bastille Day!), Amsterdam, Bruges, and Gent. It was the perfect combination of freedom, backpacking, and family time, especially right before my first semester of college.
washingtonpost.com: I've had similar trips with my dad... good stuff. - Elizabeth
Christina Talcott: Wonderful! Traveling with your parents at that age can be so rewarding.
Arlington, Va.: Thanks, Scott, for pointing out that the public library is a great source for travel-related books and videos. I'm a big fan of the Arlington libraries for travel material and have found good collections at the branches as well as Central Library. You can search online and have whatever you want sent to your closest branch with the click of a mouse.
Scott Vogel: It's a great library system, they've got. Can anyone else out there recommend libraries in other parts of the metro area for travel videos?
Washington, D.C.: Just wanted to add my two cents regarding the question about flying around the Inauguration. I was flying out of town the day before the last one around 1 pm in the afternoon. The flight was already slightly delayed due to a dusting of snow. Then was delayed again when all airspace was closed down while Agency X, Department Whatever went through some sort of route rehearsal. Ended up missing my connection in NY and was routed to Rome - via Amsterdam. So if you're making a connection somewhere, perhaps add a bit of cushion. Cheers!
Christina Talcott: Here's a vote on adding cushions to Inauguration-time travel.
Washington, D.C.: For travel DVDs, check out Netflix's selection to see if they have what you're looking for. (You can browse their catalog even if you're not a member.)
Scott Vogel: Another good source, especially on days when it's too cold to venture out...
Washington, D.C.: I'm trying to determine the cheapest way to get to Hawaii in May. How do I find out which cities have the cheapeast flights to/from Hawaii? I have been using Expedia and trying all the different combinations of mainland cities to Hawaii I can think of to see what comes up the cheapest. Is there a better way then doing this manually?
Currently, I'm finding if I book separate flights - DC to Seattle, then Seattle to Hawaii, it ends up being almost $300 less than booking directly to Hawaii. I realize there may be issues with this approach, but money is a big concern.
Carol Sottili: It is often cheaper to fly to a West Coast city and then to ticket separately from there to Hawaii. Baggage is one issue: If you're on two carriers who don't have an agreement, you need to gather your luggage and then transfer it to the next leg. But if you have enough time, that should be doable. More problematic is when your first flight is delayed and you then miss your second flight. If you're not on one ticket, the second airline could give you grief. I think I'd take the chance, but I'd give myself more time between flights. As for which cities to choose, Los Angeles and San Francisco have the most nonstop flights to Honolulu, so start there.
U Street, D.C.: Hi All,
This isn't exactly a travel question, and it's not holiday-themed either, but I'm still hoping you or your readers might help me.
I'm going to South Africa for two weeks in January (yay!) and am being hosted by a friend's parents. I'm struggling to find a cool, only-available in America host/hostess gift to bring to them. I need something non-kitschy that will make the trip and arrive unscathed. Any ideas?
They are U.K. natives in their fifties, well-traveled and have lived abroad for ages. However, they haven't been to States in decades, if ever.
I'm already planning to buy them some duty-free booze, this would be something in addition. With all our museum shops and things, I figure there's got to be something cool, right?
All help is appreciated... happy holidays!
washingtonpost.com: a few suggestions from the producer -- visit the gift shop Appalachian Spring in Georgetown or Union Station for great American craft items (quilted things, carved wooden things, other things that would travel well). I have also had success giving a Fiestaware disc pitcher in such situations -- they have a great Americana look. - Elizabeth
Christina Talcott: I'm going to throw this one out there. Any ideas, chatters?
Australia Road Trip: Having just gotten back from Australia less than a week ago I'll pass along one suggestion that I used: to pack light for the return to the U.S. You'll have more room for the presents and souvenirs if you take those clothes you won't be wearing for a while on this side of the equator (swimwear, shorts, etc.) and mail them back home to yourself. The customs duty for "used clothing" is zero, a good sized box can be bought from the Australian Post Office for under four dollars, and even when filled to the brim with several kilos of clothes, shipping by seamail is cheap. You won't get them back until March, but if it's stuff you wouldn't be wearing during cold weather, who cares?
P.S.: If there's barramundi on the menu, order it. Simply grilled, maybe with a squeeze of lemon, it's one of the most delicious fish on the planet.
Christina Talcott: Shipping home clothes - what a great idea!
Disney at Christmas: Any tips for Disney World at Christmas? Anything special I shouldn't miss?
Scott Vogel: I mean, of course there's the 200,000 lights decorating Cinderella's castle, etc., and naturally the Magic Kingdom has lots going on. Am wondering if others have done "ICE!" at the Gaylord Palms. Sounds like a rather interesting collection of ice sculptures and other stuff.
Silver Spring, Md.: I have a guest in for the holidays who is flying out of Reagan National at 6 AM on Jan 1st. The metro will not be running at this hour. I usually fly out of BWI and use Super Shuttle for early morning trips. I live in Silver Spring. Any suggestions on how to get my guest to the airport?
Christina Talcott: A cab to DCA will run your guest $20 to $30, but I'm imagining taxis might be overtaxed in the wee hours of the new year. I vote for Super Shuttle. Anyone else have advice?
D.C.: Hello Crew, My family and I are traveling to Ottawa in February for the Winterlude and to skate the Rideau Canal. Assuming that we are staying right downtown, Is Ottawa a walkable city, does it have good public transportation options, or do I need to rent a car?
Andrea Sachs: I almost went to Ottawa, but that does not help you. I did some quick research and it looks like you would have to take buses or cabs around town. (Get a day pass to save money.)It also seems like the city is not the most pedestrian-friendly. So from this research, I say: rent!
But if any chatsters have some Ottawa tips based on a visit, please help!
Washington, DC: What about BWI the day after Xmas? As bad? Worse?
Andrea Sachs: Better. Because Christmas falls on a Thursday, most people probably will take the Friday off. Sunday: bad.
Travel videos?: Search on YouTube!
Scott Vogel: All right, we will.
DCA on Xmas: I have a 6:30am flight on the 25th out of DCA -- international to Mexico. I know we have covered this before (yet my searches are not working), but what time should I get there if I have checked in before and am not checking bags?
Andrea Sachs: Two hours in advance for international trips. I think at that hour, you don't need to worry too much about the holiday crunch. To be safe, you could tack on an extra half-hour, but (yikes!) that's early.
Capitol Hill, D.C.: Hubby and I are moving to Vienna, Austria in late February. One of the things I am most looking forward to is the weekend trips around Europe. Budapest is definitely on the list. Are there any other weekend trips you recommend leaving from Vienna?
Christina Talcott: Vienna is so centrally located, you can travel so many different places on the weekend! Prague, Bratislava, Brno, Linz, Munich, Venice, the Dalmatian Coast... Anyone have other recs for short getaways from Vienna?
Seattle, Wash.: HELP!! Our United flight today from Seattle to our home town of Washington DC was canceled. We are coming home for the holiday. United tells us the earliest they can get us there is Friday. Any suggestions that might get home for Christmas?
Carol Sottili: I just checked United's schedule and there are seats on flight 916 on Christmas Eve, arriving at Washington Dulles at 3:35 p.m. I can't tell, but they look as if they may be business class, and United's contract of carriage (the legal stuff) says they don't have to put you in a business-class seat. But I'd ask anyway. Also, the contract of carriage says that they have to put you on another carrier if they don't have room on their flights. You need to research all flights going to Washington from Seattle to see if another legacy carrier has room. As long as you're willing to connect and fly into any of our area airports, I would think they'll be able to get you here.
Arlington, Va. - Scottish Driving: It takes time to make a habit of looking right before left in traffic and looking to your left for the rear view mirror, but that all comes with experience. And if you stay out of larger cities, it should be easy. Highland roads are quiet and incredibly scenic. Scottish roads generally are much better than Irish ones, and Scottish drivers are especially attentive and courteous on one-lane roads, where you take turns passing oncoming traffic. Go for it!
Christina Talcott: Advice for left-side driving...
Left-sided driving tips: I went to Ireland for the first time this summer for a driving vacation. The best advice is to prepare for the possibility of flat tires and other mishaps: have a cell phone that works in that country, make sure you have the number for AA (that's their version of AAA), and get insurance.
Hopefully you won't need it, but it IS nerve-wracking enough driving in a foreign country. Also: build in a lot more driving time then you would normally give yourself for that distance. The last thing you want is to feel rushed.
It takes some getting used to, but by the second and third day driving, I was feeling pretty confident.
Christina Talcott: More on driving on the left...
Baltimore, Md.: Hi Travel Folks,
We're going to be flying with a baby for the first time next week and I am wondering what I can take in his carry-on. Any unopened bottles of formula if they are over 3 oz.? What about wet-wipes? They are not liquids, but they are soaking in liquid and the whole thing weighs more than 3 oz.
Andrea Sachs: Wet wipes are fine and baby formula falls into the medical care category, which means you can exceed the three-ounce limits. Just keep the items out and show them to TSA officials at security. For more info: http:/
Silver Spring, Md.: Does Super Shuttle go to Reagan-National? It does not appear to according to their web site.
Scott Vogel: They do. Just check their Web site, www.supershuttle.com.
Harrisburg, Pa.: RE: Hostess gift for South Africans
I think the perfect gift would be some Obama/inaugural memorabilia. Shouldn't be hard to find in D.C.
Christina Talcott: Ooh, good call!
Gaithersburg, Md: My favorite travel gift was when my husband surprised me for my birthday with a long weekend to St. Martin in the Caribbean. He planned the whole thing and even asked my manager for my time off so that he could surprise me with the tickets on the morning of departure. Unfortunately, my actual birthday was a few days before the trip, so I was mad at him for "forgetting" my birthday.
Christina Talcott: Wow, asking your manager for leave is a biggie. What a guy!
Favorite travel gift: Our favorite travel gift was to ourselves when my husband completed his Ph.D. We spent a whole month camping in the Pacific Northwest before moving East. I'd never been to the Grand Tetons, Yellowstone, Mt. Rainier or Olympic National Parks before. We also discovered some less-famous spots along the way that turned out to be delightful surprises: Ruby Dome (south of Elko, Nev.), Cache Creek (outside Logan, Utah), Bear Lake (Utah/Idaho state line), Craters of the Moon (Idaho) -- and Vancouver Island (BC), where we spent a full week exploring! Hubby took lots of photos, which I keep meaning to dig out and scan into my computer (probably need a little correcting for years of fading, etc.) -- hmmm, that might make a good winter vacation project this year, if I can still find them.
Christina Talcott: That sounds amazing. A photo album of that trip would make a terrific gift!
Travel Gift: My favorite travel gift, for the past five years, has been my parents paying for my trips home for Thanksgiving and Christmas. As a poor grad student living here in D.C., there was no way I could have afforded to go home for the holidays without the help, and the one Thanksgiving I stayed here made it clear that I wanted to be home. I think it is as much a gift for themselves as for me, but I am completely grateful for it! Happy holidays, all!
Christina Talcott: Yes, I agree, being able to travel home for the holidays is a great gift.
Seattle: Flying to Hawaii on the cheap sounds really nice right now.....
Scott Vogel: Can you go in January? A random search on Expedia brings up lots of flights in the $440 round-trip range...
Super Shuttle: DO NOT rely on them. They have let me down dangerously a few times.
It's bearable from the airport home, but not reliable from home or office to the airport.
Scott Vogel: Thanks for the heads-up.
Arlington, Va.: Flying to New Orleans the day after Xmas from BWI. What time do I A: need to leave Washington and B: get to the airport for a 1:45 flight? Is security going to be slammed the day after Xmas? Never been to BWI, want to leave enough time to maneuver it.
Carol Sottili: Day after Christmas may not be that bad because it's a Friday and return trips will be spread out over the weekend. I leave my house in Northern Virginia at least 2 1/2 hours before flight time. You may be able to cut it a little closer. Aim to get there at least 75 minutes before flight time. BWI security is usually a breeze, especially if you are used to the lines at Dulles.
Hawaii On Sale on American Airlines: For the person trying to get to Hawaii in May: American Airlines is currently selling a round trip ticket from Washington National or Dulles to Honolulu for $348 ($405 with all the taxes and fees). It's available through what they call "end of schedule", the full 330 days in the future that the airline is selling tickets, and I just went to AA's website to confirm that the sale fare is still available in May.
Scott Vogel: Or maybe try this...
Driving on the Left: I hope the traveler who will be driving in Scotland has a companion along. I spent a week driving around Ireland, and the traffic circles were the worst thing. If my son hadn't been sitting beside me watching traffic, I would have had several accidents. I was always looking the wrong way for oncoming traffic, and I drove in the wrong lane in Dublin once.
Christina Talcott: Good point. Having someone else (a grownup!) in the car to help out, no matter where or under what conditions, can make driving much easier.
Anonymous: My favorite travel gift was sending my boyfriend to golf school. We had taken golf lessons together, and he really got into it. So, about 7 months before Christmas, I secretly booked him at an elite golf school in a warmer climate and made plane and hotel plans. I thought I was being nice by including his frequent flier number in the reservation. Unfortunately, about 4 months before the holidays, the flight changed by about 10 minutes and he got an email alerting him of the change. He calls me up asking about this flight he knows nothing about, so I quickly make something up about my dad taking us on his work trip with him as a holiday present and my dad wanting it to be a surprise. My boyfriend totally fell for it, and the Christmas surprise was kept. When we arrived down south it turned out he was the only student and got private lessons for 4 days! Unfortunately it was crazy weather and snowed for the first time in about 15 years, but we had a great time anyway.
Christina Talcott: Wow, the whole thing could've been blown, so good thinking! Sounds like a wonderful treat.
Advice for driving on the left: Driving on the left is not that big a deal, but there are a few things that you should remember:
First, if you can't drive a manual-shift car, request an automatic when you make your reservation. Most rental cars in the UK are manual, and while shifting with the other hand is no big deal if you're used to driving a manual, you don't want to be learning how to do it when you're also adjusting to the other side of the road.
Second, if you have the chance to drive around a little on the airport property (especially if you are not flying into Heathrow), I suggest you do so. Edinburgh, in particular, has a road that dead-ends down in the freight area of the airport. Driving down that sort of road, which has very little traffic, is a good way to get a feel for sitting on the other side of the car and for how you want your mirrors set. Remember the rearview is to your left!
Third, if you're going to be on the rural roads off the motorway, you might want to consider tilting your passenger-side sideview mirror (the one on the left side of the car) down a bit. You lose the ability to see traffic coming from your left, but the rural roads are narrow so that's no loss. Tilting it down can help you judge where the edge of the road is if you're uncomfortable.
Fourth, remember lane discipline on the motorways (Interstate-grade highways). Keep left except to pass, get out of the right lane (the passing lane) as soon as you've made your pass, and never pass on the left unless you're in heavy traffic and that lane is simply moving faster. Passing on the left (or "undertaking" as it is known) is strictly prohibited.
Fifth, if you've never been to the UK, you'll find that some of the symbols on the road signs are alien, and in general there are fewer signs than in the US. The Brits presume that the driver knows what the law is (including the speed limit, who has to give way to whom, etc.) and they don't normally post a sign if the normal rules of the road apply--they post the sign only when there's an exception. So I recommend you look at the Highway Code online (http:/
Sixth, be aware of the protocol for using your turn signals (Brits call them "indicators") at roundabouts. If you're taking the first exit (turning left), approach in the left lane, signal left before entering the roundabout, yield if someone is already on the roundabout, then make your turn. If you're taking the second exit (going straight), approach in either lane, don't signal, yield if you need to, then signal left when you pass the exit before the one you want, and take your exit. Most importantly, if you're taking the third exit (turning right), approach in the right lane, SIGNAL RIGHT before you enter the roundabout, yield if needed, CONTINUE to signal right as you proceed around the island, then SIGNAL LEFT after you pass the exit before yours, then exit to the left. Roundabouts work best when no driver has to guess what any other driver is doing, and the use of the indicator is CRUCIAL for that because when another driver is approaching the roundabout, your use (or disuse) of the indicator tells him--if you do it correctly!--whether you are exiting (in which case he need not yield) or whether you are staying on the roundabout (in which case he must yield). American driver's education wrongly omits the step of signaling for a left turn when you're going three-quarters of the way around. Don't make that mistake in the UK. The Highway Code will explain all this with diagrams. It's a lot easier than it sounds...I don't know why Americans find roundabouts intimidating. They're much better than all the silly four-way stops we have in the US!
Seventh, British traffic lights have a four-step cycle instead of the three-step (red, green, yellow) cycle we have in North America. The extra step is at the end of the red phase: The red light and the yellow light come on at the same time to tell you that the light is about to go green. If you're first at the light, be prepared to move immediately when the light turns green. You will quickly find that you love the red-yellow cycle and you'll wonder what idiot decided that we shouldn't have that in North America.
Finally, be careful in indoor car parks. While driving on the other side is very easy to adjust to, the one place that can be really nerve-wracking is parking garages with pillars, simply because the bulk of the car is on the other side from what you're used to. Take it slowly and don't hesitate, if there is room, to wave people around you if you need to give yourself more space.
I know all this may sound intimidating, and I was a bit nervous the first time I drove in Scotland. It's really not bad at all and I think you'll find when you come back to the United States that you'll prefer driving in the UK. It's a much more civilized experience to drive in a country where people know the rules, respect most of them (speed limits excepted of course!), and are assumed to be able to exercise due responsibility. Driving on roads that don't have constant stop signs and red lights at every intersection lest someone not yield properly is a real treat!
Christina Talcott: This is wonderful. Thank you!
Washington, D.C.: Has anyone been to Myrtle Beach in mid-January? Is it too cold to sit outside on the sand and catch up on reading? I am looking for a place to get away from the Inauguration crowds and found some really great air/hotel prices there. Is there a more pleasant part of the town - N. Myrtle vs Myrtle? Happy Obama won, but content to watch it from TV. Cheers and Happy Holidays!
Carol Sottili: Yes, it'll probably be too cold to sit outside and read, unless you get lucky. Typical temps are in the high 50s. North Myrtle is generally more upscale than Myrtle, but farther away from the airport. I usually stay at the Hampton Inn in Myrtle - big rooms and nice lobby.
Arlington, Va.: Happy Holidays Flight Crew,
The hubby and I are planning a post Valentine's day trip to Jamaica the end of February, when is a good time to buy airfare? We are thinking about staying at Half Moon in Montego Bay, do you think it's worth the money? We are looking forward to being warm and pampered, without the spring break crowd.
Andrea Sachs: I would start looking for airfare now, because you are going during high season. Check Air Jamaica for specials. I have heard only strong praise for Half Moon, which I have seen but never spent the night at. You might also consider Jake's or Strawberry Hill.
Ottawa in Feb: The last two times I've visited Ottawa I used their excellent bus system.
BUT Ottawa is in the middle of a transit strike so public transportation is not available right now. Hopefully it will be resolved by February!
Andrea Sachs: Amazing, crucial tips. Thanks!
Snowed In in Seattle: I have heard in the local news of some travel horror stories because of flight cancellations.
There was this one family who was planning on traveling to Southern California over Christmas and likely doing Disneyland. Their flight was diverted from flying into Seattle and instead went to Portland, where they are now stuck till Christmas.
Carol Sottili: You take a chance every time you have to connect, but I'd take the gamble to get home.
Bethesda, Md.: Best travel gift ever was when my husband took me to Iceland in early February to celebrate my birthday. This was in the late 1990s, when Icelandair still flew to Baltimore - and before the post-9/11 security kicked in. When we got to the airport, we found our flight had been canceled because of mechanical problems. My husband mentioned it was a birthday trip, and for some reason the ticket agent was sympathetic and booked us to fly to NY to catch the NYC-Reykjavik flight. But that cut it too close - we missed that flight, so the agent booked us through Boston. The Boston flight was delayed, so when we landed we figured we'd find a hotel in Boston and try again the next day. An Icelandair agent met our plane, took us to a different terminal, and got us on the plane - which they'd held for us. And when we tried to thank them, they passed it off by saying they weren't ready to leave until we got there.
Oh, and Iceland itself was just magical - but the funniest thing was all the locals telling us we really should visit in the summer.
Christina Talcott: Boy, you sure had some obstacles getting there, huh? I bet there were moments on the BWI/NYC/Boston schlep that your husband thought, "I should've just gone to the mall," but I'm glad to hear it all worked out. Sounds like a fabulous trip. I agree, Iceland is incredible, even in winter.
Falls Church, Va.: Favorite travel gift: Back in 2003, my husband and I were reading the Travel section over the MLK holiday weekend. We noticed a travel package deal listed in the What's the Deal section -- 4 days/3 nights in Vienna Austria, for $1100 a couple. This included the nonstop airfare from Dulles to Vienna, 3 nights' hotel (a pleasant business hotel right near the Naschmarket), and breakfast every day.
We decided to do it, and 3 weeks later we were spending Valentine's Day in Vienna, enjoying the city's museums, ice skating in front of the city hall, eating wurst and drinking coffee, and walking about in the Viennese snow!
Definitely the best Valentine's Day ever!
Carol Sottili: As the author of that column, I love hearing these success stories!
For trip to Boston: I go up to Boston every year for Patriot's Day (Marathon Monday) and $450 is way too much. You should shop around and not settle for anything more than $200 ($150 fares are out there if you hit a sale at the right time).
Carol Sottili: Depends how flexible they are. If they are willing to go out of any of our area airports and to stay over a Saturday night, I think you're right. If they want specific dates/times/airports, $250 is more like it.
DC: Any thoughts on 95 south from NY back to DC on Monday (the 29th)? I'm wondering what time I should leave.
On a semi-related note, what is wrong with all the people who drive anywhere in the VA-Massachusetts corridor, even once a year, who don't have EZ Pass???
Andrea Sachs: If you have the leisure of time, I would again leave late at night.
Ottawa: The prior poster said he's staying downtown. If you know all the attractions you want to see are downtown, you can dispense with renting a car; the central area around Parliament, the Fairmont Chateau Laurier, and the Rideau Canal is all easily walkable (though a bit chilly at times during the winter). If you plan to go to a Senators game, you'll need a rental car, and it's easier to go out Sussex Drive past the PM's house and along the cliffs with a car as well.
BTW, the food at Wilfrid's in the Chateau Laurier is outstanding (I had rack of caribou and loved it).
Andrea Sachs: Thanks for the advice!
Washington, D.C.: Hello Flight Crew! My fiance and I are leaning towards Italy for our honeymoon, but have a few questions we're hoping you can help with. First, we'd arrive during the week leading up to Easter - do we need to worry about a large number of restaurants and/or attractions being closed that week? Also, we are considering visiting Rome, Naples, and Sorrento during our 10-day stay, but have heard mixed reviews about Naples - what are your thoughts? Also, is there anyplace else in the region that we shouldn't miss? Thanks!!
Nancy McKeon: Italy travels at Easter--to friends, family, other nearby countries. But the rest of Europe fills up the towns the Italians leave behind (kinda like the proverbial Paris in August). So rather than finding things closed, you may simply find them booked. (Just for fun, you should get in line at some fancy pastry or chocolate shop and watch as the locals spend pots of money on fantasy towers of goodies. Amazing to watch--and you'll be tempted.) Which suggests making bookings now. As for Naples, I highly recommend it. I hadn't visited for 30 years and had built up some weird fear of the place. I'm glad I got over it--the museums are great, the food wonderful, it's the gateway to Pompeii and Herculaneum (and Stabiae, which we wrote about a few months ago), and there's an amazing marble statue of the Cristo velato, the Veiled Christ, in the Sansevero chapel in the via Francesco De Sanctis. There's also a whole street where artisans make creche figures in the best Neapolitan tradition (and don't forget to visit the Banco di Napoli on the main Piazza del Plebiscito to see its famous, enormous creche scene, all the figures from the 18th century).
For U Street: For the chatter hoping to find a uniquely American host/ess gift, I'd recommend the gift shop at the National Archives. TONS of fantastic American history stuff there. I moved from DC about 2 years ago and I've still got a stack of postcards featuring Nixon's resignation letter!
Christina Talcott: That's a terrific idea. Back to the Obama idea (and in a shameless plug), you could buy a copy of The Post from Nov. 5 announcing Obama's win; available at http:/
Dilemma-ville: We have a 17 month old, and we're flying out of National at 9 PM on the 23rd. We would like to drive to the airport but are scared there will not be parking available. We want to drive so we use the baby's car seat (but we're not taking it on the flight since we have a car seat at our destination already).
The problem is that if we take a cab, we'd be holding the baby in our laps, and that is not safe. But if we drive, we risk getting there and not finding a spot.
I will say that I called the parking hotline and the woman said our chances were pretty good at getting a spot.
What would you do??
Carol Sottili: We can't give you permission to drive around with your baby on your lap. Can't you convince a friend to drive you? Maybe if you offered to pay a friend? I agree that you should be able to park on the 23rd, but there is a small chance that you won't find a spot, especially in economy.
Oz Carry-On...: Thanks for the advice on the 45 linear inches...I should have checked that on the UA website. I think that she can cinch it down to meet the size limit, relying more on her FREE checked bag for most of her stuff. Her personal item is a good-sized for a couple of books and her iPod.
Fortunately, she is a fairly frugal packer and she won't need heavy, warm clothes since it is summer down under.
Christina Talcott: That's true, summer clothes can be much lighter than winter ones. Thanks for writing back!
re Seattle/Portland: My son's flight out of Portland was canceled yesterday and he was told the next flight they could get him on would leave the evening of 12/24. He rented a car and drove to Sacramento (where he had a flight booked for today). It's ugly out there.
Carol Sottili: Your son is a creative thinker, which is necessary in these days of fewer flights.
"be aware of the protocol for using your turn signals": I found it relatively easy to adjust to driving on the opposite side of the road (just keep the driver closest to the center line) but the one thing I couldn't stop doing while driving on the left side of the road in Australia (yes it's me again) was that about every other time I tried to indicate a turn I started the windshield wipers instead. The control stalks are on the opposite sides of the steering column of a right-hand drive car.
Christina Talcott: Good point, thanks!
Detroit bound: Can you give me weather odds on making it from DCA to Detroit for a connecting flight to Tokyo this coming weekend? I can pay you your winnings in miso or wasabe. I was stuck in Omaha during this past weekend's weather woes, and the thought of flying through Detroit this time of year has me more than a bit worried.
Andrea Sachs: Though I love miso, I can't take the risk. Just watch the Weather Channel religiously, pack light so you can run fast to the terminal and, as backup, see if there are other flights you can hop on in case yours is cancelled.
Washington DC: I'm envious of the people going to Austria. Remember that your weekend trips don't have to be limited to ground travel anymore. We're in the age of cheap intraEuropean flights. Check out this list of destinations from Vienna: http:/
There's a dozen cities in Italy, about 20 in Germany, plus plenty in Greece, Spain, Portugal, Scandinavia, northern Africa, and many more countries. And if you're willing to suffer a bit of sleep deprivation, you can even hop a 5 hour flight to Dubai!
Christina Talcott: For the Vienna-bound...
Arlington, Va.: I guess this may be too late for the Ottawa question, but I went there several years ago and found it very walkable. The main attractions are located on or near Parliament Hill. If you are staying in one of the hotels in that area of town you can easily walk if the weather is good. I didn't try the buses, but there is no other public transit. Ottawa is a fairly small city. Be sure to check out the Museum of Civilization across the bridge in Hull, QC. I was there in summer so walking may have been easier then than it will be in the cold of winter.
Andrea Sachs: Thanks for the suggestions. I think our Ottawa traveler should be ready to go.
Lots to say: Can I comment on 3 things? 1. Chaperoned several HS band trips to Miami in Jan. The ocean was fine for swimming even when it had been cold the day before in Orlando. 2. The German Christmas markets are wonderful... lived there years ago and loved them. 3. Planned a surprise trip for Hubby's 60th BD. Rented a oceanfront house at Nags Head and even invited his sibs and families. We had a great week, he was so surprised that I had done this. We all want to go back. I did a lot of prep work but then he found out because my neighbor spilled the beans not knowing it was a secret. (and they say women talk too much!) He did have fun making a few decisions before we left.
Christina Talcott: That's funny - it's hard to have a trip planned for you if you're used to doing some or all of the legwork yourself. Then again, it can really feel fabulous!
re: Vienna: What? No mention of Innsbruck or Salzburg for weekend trips?
Christina Talcott: Consider them mentioned. Thanks!
Alexandria, Va.: Hi, and thanks for taking my question. I'd like to plan a trip to Paris for my 40th birthday in February (yes, I know it will be cold and rainy, but it's Paris!). Right now, flights seem to average around $750. I figured flights would be cheaper at that time of year. Should I buy now or wait in hopes of cheaper fares?
Carol Sottili: Yes, they do get cheaper than that. You can find flights as low as $600 or so when a sale hits. But will a sale be offered for the dates you need? That's anyone's guess.
Driving on the left: Simple - just remember the driver is always next to the center line. Now, that's assuming there is a center line...
Christina Talcott: Another left-driving tip...
Travel Gift: A few years ago I treated my 85-year old Dad to a trip to Austria - Vienna and Salzburg - as a thank you present for sending me abroad my sophomore year in college. He couldn't visit me then as he was working to pay the bills. Wonderful to take him around two cities I loved then.
Christina Talcott: Wow, what a great present. He must have loved it!
San Diego, Calif.: I am sitting in San Diego, and it is raining. I was feeling very sorry for myself until I heard the Portland/Seattle stories. Thank you for the gift of reality!!
Happy Holidays to all from not so sunny Southern California
Andrea Sachs: The sun'll come out . . . if not necessarily tomorrow than soon: It's San Diego! (At least you are not freezing your ears off like we are here in D.iCe.)
Anonymous: I lived in both the UK and Japan, which both drive on the left - two tips.
When you first start, don't take risks - try to follow other cars heading the same direction, then it's easy to know which way you should be going. You'll get used to it quickly.
Also, when on the motorways in the UK, the fast lane is only used for overtaking. When you've passed, change back to the slower lane until you need to pass again. A law I wish we'd adopt here - traffic would move more smoothly if we could ticket those slowpoke left lane hoggers on 95!
Oh, and watch out for the speed cameras - they're very obviously marked, so there really is no excuse for a ticket.
Christina Talcott: and another left-side tip...
Trip to Boston: For something to do during the race, the Red Sox play at home at 11 AM that day every year (earliest local start time in the Majors). And Fenway is pretty close to the finish line so he can meet up with the poster after the game. I often go up there just for that day, best day to be in Boston, really!
Carol Sottili: As a fan of the NY Yankees, I say don't do it!!
RE: Moose commenter: The NPS has about $5B (yes, billion) in deferred maintenance costs right now. Trails are shut in Shenandoah, buildings are crumbling. Superintendents are spending their days firing people and cutting costs in order to make do with the pathetic budgets the President has approved for Interior for the past 8 years (lower this year than last!). I guarantee you the Super knows about the trail. Lobbying for better funding to protect our natural treasures will do a lot more good. (and yes, I am an NPS employee who finally retired this year -- early -- because it was simply too depressing to go to work. I now work in a grocery store). The last 8 years have done more to destroy morale among Park employees than anything else in history. We are praying for a change so that the Parks (and Wildlife Refuges and National Forests, etc etc) can be saved, and maybe we'll even see the budgets to protect more (THAT would be a dream come true).
Sorry, it is just frustrating that so many Americans have no idea what the current Admin has done to our environment, much of it irreparable.
Christina Talcott: From a former NPS employee...
Kamuela, Hawaii: Last week someone said that barracudas will not eat you. But they can attack if threatened. A friend is a divemaster on the Big Island and during a routine dive he got too close to a barracuda hole and the fish lunged at him and severed a thumb tendon, requiring surgery. I give them a wide berth.
Scott Vogel: From the Dept of Unfinished Business...
Herndon, Va.: I'm looking into flying OUT of Dulles the morning of Jan 20th. Will that be an issue?
Andrea Sachs: The ride there could be messy and the airport will be a zoo, but you will be better off than most. (The only concern: All of the other Washingtonians fleeing the scene, too.)
Travel gift: Best travel gift was when my sister and I were 10 and 8, respectively. It was 1988 and my parents asked us if we would like to spend Thanksgiving in Disneyworld or go somewhere different. Well, different was Cancun. We chose Cancun, and back then there were only a handful of hotels so it was very quiet. We spent that Thanksgiving day on a yacht in the middle of the Caribbean snorkeling. One of the best family vacations ever
Christina Talcott: Sounds lovely! What cool parents!
Capitol Hill... favorite travel gift: I was gifted with a surprise trip to Paris by a very thoughtful boyfriend when both of us were in law school living a a very limited budget. he picked me up from work (when he was supposed to be in class) and made me pack a suitcase in only 15 minutes giving me only the high/low temperatures for our destination. As if going wasn't enough of a surprise, he proposed to me in the Tuileries Garden the afternoon we arrived. We spent the next two days eating wonderful food and wandering the Paris streets enjoying the start of our new lives. As may dad said, it takes a lot of character or complete fiscal irresponsibility to pull off something like that!
Christina Talcott: Aw, great story!
Washington, D.C.: Hope you guys can answer my question before this chat ends. Can I bring a wrapped gift on checked in backage? Thanks!
Christina Talcott: You can, but be prepared to have it unwrapped if Security needs to search your bag for any reason.
Super Shuttles: SS may not work from home but check with the hotels near your home. They often have set schedules that they run and you are not dependent on a separate van.
Christina Talcott: Good idea, thanks!
Edmonton: Norway We were there last summer. Instead of going to the normal fjords closer to Oslo and Stavenger, we visited Lofoten (renting a car and staying at Reine), then went to Aaslund and Geiranger, and took the bus and train to Oslo. A car is needed for Lofoten, but I'd suggest taking trains and buses and ferries unless you really want a car. The scenery is pretty spectacular and the roads can be very winding and often have steep drop offs on the side (similar to Going to the Sun in Montana). With the mountains and fjords, most roads are not very direct. We did all the booking online except for the bus which we couldn't. Cars are expensive.
Christina Talcott: Tips on Norway...
Severna Park, Md.: I surprised my husband (at the time, just boyfriend) with airline tickets to Singapore for his birthday to visit his brother who was living there at the time. Since we were just out of college and not entirely well off, this was a major surprise for him. And in recognition of how exhaustive both physically and economically it was for us to travel to Singapore, the brother treated us to a side trip to Bali. It was by far one of the coolest trips we've ever taken. And the fact that it was all kept a surprise on both end and the brother's end, everyone ended up with a nice, unexpected treat! I am now happy that I can call them my family!
Christina Talcott: Wow, incredible trip. Thanks for sharing!
re: Boston on Patriots' Day in April: I used to live in Boston. Here are some suggestions for things for your husband to do while waiting for you to finish the race.
First, I'd recommend checking out Harvard's campus instead of BC's, even though Harvard is in Cambridge.
But, if he's a baseball fan, THE place to be on Patriots' Day is at Fenway for the morning Red Sox game. It starts early enough to let out right around when the marathoners get to Kenmore Square. If he can't get a single ticket online before you go up to Boston, there's a small no-scalp zone near Gate B similar to the one at Camden Yards.
One of the best art museums in the world is the Museum of Fine Arts, and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is near it.
The JFK birthplace is in Brookline and the JFK presidential library and museum is in South Boston.
If he's into the sciences, there's the Museum of Science, New England Aquarium and, at Harvard, the Harvard Museum of Natural History.
Plenty to do for whatever his interests may be, but I'd go for the Red Sox game.
Carol Sottili: Not another Red Sox fan.....
20910: For the Chatters last week who asked about Puerto Rico. We just got back from P.R. and had a great time. Unless you want to stay in high rise resort style mini-Miami Beach types of place (Isla Verde and Condado), I HIGHLY suggest staying in Old San Juan like we did, where the best restaurants are, the best walking, and the best European mixed with Caribbean feel really exists. Isla Verde and other 'resort' towns felt too pre-fabricated when we walked around them--and filled with American chains. Old San Juan is authentic and yet you can still walk to a beach about 30 min away. For accomodations--we decided to not stay in a hotel and instead rented an apartment for our 6 days there at: http:/
Andrea Sachs: Thanks for the travelogue and tips, 20910!
Christina Talcott: I'm afraid we've run out of time. Thanks so much for joining us today, and for chiming in with all your hostess-present ideas, left-side driving tips and moose-spotting advice.
There were lots of heartwarming travel-gift stories out there, but I'd like to single out the person who took his or her 85-year-old dad to Austria as a thank-you for a sophomore year abroad. Please send me your name and address so I can send you your Travel section tote bag.
Since there won't be a chat next week, save your Qs and As till 2009, when our chat returns on Jan. 5. Happy holidays, everyone!
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