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The Flight Crew
Washington Post Travel Section
Monday, February 2, 2009; 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: the annual Way to Go Guide, with money-saving airfare tips, information about regional bus, train and plane travel, 21 great escapes and more.

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.

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

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Christina Talcott: Hi everyone, and thanks for joining us on this lovely, sunny afternoon. Perversely, I've been thinking lately about flying out to Wisconsin to visit a dear friend of mine. But every time I talk to her, she's tromping through the snow, or her choir practice is canceled because of the extreme cold. Since I don't like winter or cold, going to someplace as chilly as Madison seems like lunacy, but if she invited me, I'd go in a heartbeat. It makes me wonder: Where's the craziest place you've gone to visit a loved one? I'll pick a tote-bag winner at the end of the chat.

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Rockville, Md.: Any suggestions on where to look for places in Hawaii? My in-laws want a two-bedroom condo for two weeks in Maui where they can cook their own meals, go to the beach, and relax.

I've searched a bunch of websites, but it's not clear how many of them are legit.

Christina Talcott: I'd start with HomeAway.com, which lists vacation rentals all over the world. Also, go to TripAdvisor.com for recommendations on places to stay: search for Maui, then go to Hotels & Accommodations, then Specialty Lodging, which lists resorts, cottages and other places to stay, many of them with kitchens. Of course, our chatters might have good specific suggestions. Anyone have recommendations for Maui condos?

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Washington, D.C.: Hi!

I travel once or twice a month by bus (usually Bolt Bus, which is, on the whole, pretty excellent) from DC to NYC. I've been thinking about getting a dog, however, and would want to be able to bring it to NYC with me. When I looked at BoltBus and Amtrak guidelines, however, it seemed like neither of them allowed non-service animal pets. How do people with pets travel between NYC and DC--are planes the only option?

Thanks!

Andrea Sachs: You are correct: Neither bus nor Amtrak allows pets onboard, unless they are for passengers with special needs. The only other option would be to rent a car. Most of the major companies allow pets, but call ahead for restrictions and requirements ranging from crates to clean-up-fur fees.

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Edmonton: Loved the supplement and have saved it for future reference.

However, we are planning a trip to Egypt and Jordan next year - and the company with the tours we prefer isn't listed.

Has anyone traveled with Travel Egypt, a division of World Explorer Tours and Travel Inc in Alpharetta, GA? Or know anything about them? They state that they have been in business since 1985 and belong to ASTA, OSSN and CLIA. Websites are www.travelegypt.com and www.egyptnilecruise.net

Christina Talcott: I'm throwing this one out there. Anyone?

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Arlington, Va.: Love the chats! My husband and I want to take a vacation to celebrate our 10th anniversary this October. B/c of available vacation time and to keep costs down somewhat, we are thinking of taking no more than a week off. So far I haven't come up with an idea that I'm really excited about and my husband has no ideas. Where is a good place to go in the fall? Ideally, it wouldn't be so far away that we waste a lot of our week getting to and from. If it helps, our last (and only real vacation ever!) vacation was in Vancouver, which we really enjoyed. Thanks in advance!

Nancy McKeon: What about Montreal? It's pretty close, and feels nicely foreign (everyone speaking French except when you approach them in English; shops filled with very different merchandise, a lot of it from France; great restaurants and some nice B&Bs). Or Mexico City? Or Key West? Or Santa Fe? Or San Antonio? Chicago is a great restaurant town, and you could take an Obama tour. Anyone have ideas for Arlington?

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Washington, D.C.: You know how there are all these great bargain weekends in London? Well I want to go to Paris! Any similar travel deals for me?

Carol Sottili: There aren't similar deals to Paris -- not as much competition, so carriers don't need to discount. Try www.airfrance-holidays.com, www.francevacations.net and the government's official site, www.francetourism.com.

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N.C.: Can you help me pick our vacation destination?

My girlfriend and I will be going on vacation March 9-15, flying out of the Washington area. Given the price of tickets to Europe and the relatively short trip time, we're looking for suggestions.

We prefer cities, walkable areas, nice restaurants, good hotels, cafes and so on. Beaches are nice, but we're not really beach people. Adventure tourism isn't our thing.

Basically, is there a nice European city located in the Caribbean or in Central America?

We went to Puerto Rico a couple of years ago and really enjoyed spending a few days in Old San Juan. A trip to the Dominican Republic was ok, but we rented a house and found that to be a little isolating.

We both speak Spanish reasonably well. While we'd like to get outside the U.S., we're also considering New Orleans, California wine country and Savannah.

Any thoughts?

washingtonpost.com: I haven't been myself, but family members have spoken very highly of Antigua, Guatemala. -- Elizabeth

Nancy McKeon: It's been years (hmmm, decades) since I've been to Antigua, Guatemala, but it was indeed quite, quite nice. Not what I would call a full-fledged city, though. Another thought (how's your French?) is Martinique. There are certainly beaches, but the shops and restaurants are tres francais (it's part of France, after all), giving you that European feel for a Caribbean price.

I know there are other "European" cities that would meet your criteria, I'm just not able to access that part of my brain right now. Anyone? Anyone?

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Woodbridge: As you probably know, the Sullenberger flight crew received a standing ovation at the Super Bowl last night.

Will these heroics be remembered the next time the airlines and the pilots/flight attendants unions go at it when the airlines ask for sacrifices in salaries, benefits, etc? We all know that labor relations between these two groups have been contentious over the past few years.

Nancy McKeon: What seemed to me to be most notable about that splash landing was that it was NOT heroic (a word we throw around too freely, albeit perhaps understandably). It was PROFESSIONAL, what pilots and crew are trained to do. And it was professionalism of the highest order.

Will it be remembered? Sure. Will it make a difference in contentious bottom-line haggling? Probably not. The sacrifice of the courageous pilots and crew (and passengers) of Flight 93 has not been forgotten, but I don't know that it has entered the bargaining room during negotiations.

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Arlington, Va.: Your "Passport Guide" said this:

"Do children need to carry passports?

Every underage American, from newborns to teenagers, must possess a passport to leave the country."

According to other publicly available materials that appears to be true only of air travel. The Customs and Border Protection website says this about land and sea travel:

"As of June 1, 2009, U.S. and Canadian citizens under the age of 16 (or 19, if traveling with a designated group) may present a birth certificate, Consular Report of Birth Abroad, Canadian Citizenship Card, or a naturalization certificate. Until that date, all children ages 18 and under need only present proof of citizenship)."

As a cruise passenger this summer with a child, and not planning to get him a passport, I found your statement quite alarming. Please double-check this and make sure your readers are correctly informed about this important matter.

Andrea Sachs: You are absolutely correct, and I should have been more specific in that section about travel with kids and clarified the information listed under the World Hemisphere Travel Initiative. According to the State Department, children under age 16 may present a birth certificate or other proof of U.S. citizenship when traveling to those specific countries by land or sea. Air travel, however, is all Americans.

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Eastern Shore, Md.: My husband and I will be traveling to Vancouver, BC next July. We both hate the discomfort of flying economy class long distance but don't wish to pay for first class international tickets (currently about $1500 each). We are considering flying first class to Seattle (about $800 each) and then getting economy class tickets (about $280 each) for the one hour flight to Vancouver. Does this sound like a reasonable plan? Should we buy now, or would you expect prices to fall (or rise) over the next couple of months? Thanks in advance for any guidance you can provide.

Carol Sottili: I don't track business-class seat prices, so can't give you an educated guess on whether fares will go up or down. But your plan makes sense. You'll have to connect anyway to get to Vancouver, so this sounds like a good way to save money. Try to fly the same airline (Delta or Northwest are probably best) on both legs.

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Washington, D.C.: Can you recommend a place to stay in Berkeley Springs? Your article a few weeks ago was great, but I'm looking for an inn or B&B on par with maybe the Five Gables in St. Michaels. Clean, up-to-date, comfy, good spa? I'm looking for a romantic overnight.

washingtonpost.com: Sisterly Bonding on a Budget (Post Travel Section, Jan. 4)

Christina Talcott: The Berkeley Springs Spa and Inn has gotten good reviews, and it's couples only, with meals and a spa. Has anyone out there been? Or is there another place in Berkeley Springs that's romantic and Five Gables-like?

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Brooklyn, N.Y.: Hi!

I just got a last minute reprieve from work allowing me to take President's Day off. I'm not really sure where I want to go, I just know that I want to go somewhere warmer than here. Preferably somewhere either very relaxing or very warm so I can purse some outdoor activities (hiking, swimming, tennis, etc.). I'd be going with my girlfriend too.

Do you have any ideas about how I can find a last minute deal for next weekend WITHOUT KNOWING specifically where I want to go?

Is there a site that will show you all deals departing from a city (like NYC) on a particular weekend?

Thanks so much for your help.

washingtonpost.com: Try "lastminute.com" -- I've had a good experience in the past. -- Elizabeth

Carol Sottili: Also try www.airfarewatchdog.com and www.kayak.com/buzz. And for more ideas on finding bargains, make sure you read our Way to Go section, which was published Sunday, at www.washingtonpost.com/travel.

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Kent, Ohio: This is probably a "it depends" question, but when is the best time to buy plane tickets? I'm worried if I wait too long, the price will rise, but I'm also hoping that if I wait a bit longer, I'll be able to find a deal.

If details will help, I'll be flying into St. Thomas (so Farecast is no help) in the beginning of June. Tickets are $368 right now.

Carol Sottili: $368 round trip to St. Thomas is a good fare as long as it includes all taxes, and the flight times/connections are convenient. I'd buy.

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NoVa.: Hi Crew, Looking for a getaway to Vegas in the next couple of weeks, any recommendations for packages or last minute deal sites? Thanks.

Andrea Sachs: I always go straight to the big online booking sites, which often have great air/land deals: Orbitz, Cheaptickets, Priceline, Expedia, etc. Then, I choose between the best finds but also compare the packages to the rates a la carte, as some hotels offer great deals during slow weeks. Before you book, though, read up on independent reviews: Those $39-a-night lodgings are so cheap for a reason. I, for example, recently snagged a great package at the MGM Grand, a grand experience indeed. To save even more, stay on the Strip, so you can avoid cabs.

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Delaware: Just got back on Tuesday from a trip to Iceland. We stayed at the Hilton, which was very convenient as they had a shuttle going from downtown to the hotel. I highly recommend staying there. We walked to the center of town a few times and it wasn't too bad. Got to see the Northern Lights, visited the Blue Lagoon, explored Reykjavik, drank our weights in Iceland water, and ate some great food. The government stepped down the day before we left and it was business as usual. We checked out the protests that were going on around the city. Everything was very peaceful. We met some great people there. Coming back to the US was sort of a drag as we got used to the Icelandic hospitality. For those considering a trip over there. Do it! It is a beautiful country with great people. Pretty much the only reason we went was because of the Washington Post's stories on the country!

washingtonpost.com: Iceland Heats Up (Post Travel Section, Dec. 7, 2008)

Christina Talcott: Wow, I'm so glad you had a good time and enjoyed our stories on Iceland. It must have been incredible to be there when the gov't stepped down. I truly hope the Icelandic people can weather this economic crisis without too much pain. Thanks for the report!

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Washington, DC: Hawaii condo: We've stayed at the Dolphin's Point in Kihei on Maui and just loved it. They have a two bedroom unit, as well as smaller ones. http://www.dreambeachmaui.com/

Christina Talcott: Great, thanks for the tip!

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Central Cal: My favorite aunt had a job as a fire lookout in the Coastal Mnts of central California. It was about a 4 mile hike from the end of the road. Not too tough, but at 11 years old, I thought it was K2. She had a wonderful view, though I'm sure it got old over the months. Since then I have visited a few other lookouts that I was near to. Boy, are they glad for some company.

Christina Talcott: Wow, four miles is no joke! She must have really appreciated the visits.

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Washington, D.C.: This summer, I'm going to a wedding in Louisville. Airfare looks pretty high (I was seeing fares around 400$ for that weekend), so I'm thinking of driving. Would love to split up the drive and stop somewhere interesting in between for a night. Any recommendations?

Christina Talcott: Weston, WV, is about halfway between DC and Louisville, and it's got some good restaurants and nice places to stay, including Natural Seasons Bed & Breakfast, a totally eco-friendly house in the middle of town. In the fall, we had a story about touring the now-defunct Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum in Weston (link coming up). It's also near the lovely Stonewall Jackson State Park. Anyone have other suggestions for stopping points?

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Wisconsin: Book now! We are in what passes for a warm spell... 38 yesterday (Milwaukee). Snow is melting. It is colder today and tomorrow, but headed for 40 on Saturday. WOOHOOO!

(I am a native of the D.C. area, and often ask myself what possessed me to move here...)

Christina Talcott: Haha, thanks for the report! Doesn't sound much colder than here...

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Belize: I wanted to add a couple of comments following on last week's discussion of Belize. Why limit yourself to either the jungle or the beach? It's a small country; you can do both, with a little planning. On my trip, I spent four days in a jungle lodge, where I was able to visit Mayan ruins, go canoeing and hiking in a cave (amazing), and hang out with people from all over the US and Canada doing some interesting things. I then spent a few more days on Ambergris, eating, drinking and snorkeling.

Christina Talcott: More on Belize, from last week...

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Chevy Chase, Md.: Hi Travel Crew! I have a relative that is in a semester abroad program in Glasgow, Scotland through the end of March. She wants me to come visit her. Is it worthwhile to go? What is there to see and do? Any info to help me make the decision would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

washingtonpost.com: Scotland Travel Stories (Post Travel Section archives)

Christina Talcott: Well, I'm never one to pass up a travel opportunity, especially to see someone who's living abroad and can give you an inside look at a place. If you have the money and the time for a visit, why not? Plus, I've heard raves from readers about Scotland; in fact, back in the summer we had a chat chock full of Scotland suggestions (link coming up). Sounds to me like a trip there should include visiting a few different places; Edinburgh's a quick bus or train ride from Glasgow and has some stunning architecture, and Aberdeen's just a short hop up the coast from there. And Glasgow itself boasts the stunning Victorian Glasgow Necropolis and lots of good museums. Can anyone think of any reason NOT to go to Glasgow between now and the end of March?

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washingtonpost.com: Travel Talk chat transcript (June 9, 2008)

Christina Talcott: Here's that chat with lots of Scotland suggestions.

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washingtonpost.com: Haunting History at an Old W.Va. Hospital (Post Travel Section, Oct. 5, 2008)

Christina Talcott: Here's the story on Weston, WV, for the Louisville-bound.

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Bowie, MD: Not sure if you can call it the craziest place... but years ago had to go to a Ukrainian senior citizen home near New London, Ct to visit my wife's Aunt. We were the 'guests of honor' at this dinner and they were THRILLED we were there because that evening they were serving one of their favorites... Filbunke, aka Sour Milk Soup. Let's say it was an acquired taste, but being the proper guest, I ate every drop (while my wife just played with hers). Well, the Ukrainian seniors were so thrilled about my appetite, they brought ME all sorts of fantastic cold cuts and fresh made bread, thinking I was the hungry one (and yes, the ICY stares from my wife were priceless). Who knew I loved Filbunke!

Christina Talcott: Haha, that's terrific. Maybe you can find a nice recipe for Filbunke and prepare it for your wife.

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Chicago, Ill.: I've spent the weekend scouring sites, checking package deals against the individual components for a 10th anniversary trip to Hawaii. It looks like there are some great savings with packages, but I have two questions. The first is, is cheaptickets a reputable firm? It's a few hundred dollars less expensive than the others and includes a car. The second question is, can I still earn my hotel and airline points while purchasing through a packaged site, or would it be worth using one of their vacation packages (for the same flight/hotel combo)?

Thanks! And go to Wisconsin! It's cold, but the city won't be shut down by the weather and you can drink beer and eat cheese regardless.

Andrea Sachs: I frequently use Cheaptickets and have had very good experiences with this company, even when I had to rearrange my travel plans at the last minute. I also was able to accumulate miles on flights booked through a third party. I usually give my frequent flyer number to the agent at the gate. But call ahead to be sure; policies vary so much these days.

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Friendship Heights: When I was in college, I went BACK to freezing cold Wisconsin over winter break (during one of our freak warm spells, no less) to visit my then-boyfriend in his hometown of Rhinelander, WI. For those who aren't in the know, that's up in the big woods, by the upper peninsula. It was NEGATIVE 40 with the wind chill, I didn't have the clothes for it, and I was trapped inside the whole time with his family, in a small town with very little to do. Needless to say, that's one relationship that didn't work out.

Christina Talcott: How can people live in a place that's negative 40?!?

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flagged for extra screening: I know that booking a ticket at the last minute can cause a passenger to get flagged for extra security. Is that something triggered by the TSA or by the airline? If it's the airlines, they ought to fix the system so that they don't flag people flying on bereavement fares. They've already received proof of why the person booked last-minute.

Carol Sottili: These are TSA standards. I don't think the system is sophisticated enough to note why the ticket was just purchased.

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Washington, D.C.: What can be done about non-refundable "amenities" fees? I view them as deceptive -- the hotel really just has a higher nightly rate -- and will not stay at hotels that use them. But when I was researching hotels in Miami Beach for an upcoming trip, I was often close to selecting a hotel that seemed cheaper -- only to find out that it appeared cheaper because I was unaware of the amenities charges. These deceptive charges are not only unfair to consumers but to competitors who do not charge them and therefore may appear to have a higher rate.

Carol Sottili: These fees are here to stay. Hotels have figured out that they are an easy way to raise revenue. But, unlike airline fees, they are usually charged across-the-board, regardless of whether you use all the amenities. I'm with you -- they bother me. I'd rather just have it all included in one price.

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Arlington, VA: Is anyone else out there having a hard time "pulling the trigger" on a trip this year? I really want to go back to Asia. But when I add up the expenses for a worthwhile trip I feel like I should just stay home. And the weird thing is that I have enough money and could afford it. Something about traveling with the depressed world economy just feels wrong somehow. Even though I know that it would be more helpful to the world if I spent my money. The airlines are all making big service cuts but fares still seem quite high. Does it make sense to wait them out for a trip in Oct/Nov? I'd hate to buy a ticket now and really overpay. I figure if the planes are still flying at all there are probably going to be plenty of empty seats.

Christina Talcott: Again, I think if you have the chance and you have the money, you should go. Follow Carol's advice on finding deals on airfare, and you should be able to get a decent ticket price, especially if your travel dates are flexible. You could book through Orbitz, which has a "low price guarantee" - they'll refund the difference if the ticket price drops. Bottom line: Go! You won't regret it!

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Kingstowne, Va.: "Where's the craziest place you've gone to visit a loved one?"

New York. Three days after Sept. 11. My cousin's second child was being baptized that Saturday and we weren't about to skip it. Very somber reception afterwards, though.

Christina Talcott: Oh wow, that must have been a bittersweet christening.

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For Wash going to Louisville: When I lived in Kentucky, you could fly Southwest from BWI to Louisville - maybe check those fares before driving.

Christina Talcott: Great, thanks! It looks like flights start at $78 one way.

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Annapolis, Md.: In reference to the above question: I have used VRBO.com to rent houses in various cities. I think they area owned by Home Away.

Also, how soon before departure date should I book a cruise? Does it always pay to wait?

Andrea Sachs: My mantra is: If I see a great rate, I grab it--whether it is weeks or days before I wish to depart. Some of the cheapest deals are about 48-72 hours before the ship sets sail, when the cruise line is eager to fill a cabin (check online cruise booking sites for sales). Conversely, Carol has found some great cruise deals six months to a year away, and some lines will throw in free airfare or other perks to award these astute planners.

In addition, if you book with a cruise specialist, ask them if they will readjust the price if the fare drops. Then, you can't lose!

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Reston, Va.: It wasn't so much a crazy destination as a crazy way to get there. When we were in college, my now-husband and I studied overseas the same semester. I was in Manchester (UK) and he was in Switzerland, and I had a long weekend ("reading weekend"--oops), so I booked an air ticket out of Liverpool, about an hour away, because it was very cheap.

Except without a car, that hour's distance meant I had to take a bus to one rail station in Manchester, then a train to another Manchester station for a connection to the train to Liverpool, then a bus between the Liverpool rail station and the Liverpool airport, then the flight, and then two buses to the dormitory. To sum up: a bus, and a train, and another train, and a bus, and a plane, and two buses.

Christina Talcott: I hope he was very appreciative when you finally got to Switzerland!

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Seattle: A few postings I comment on....

1. for the Vancouver traveler. Why not end your flight in Seattle and either rent a car if you are planning on doing that and drive or take an Amtrak train?

Why not travel to Quebec City instead of Montreal? More history and walkability, and they will have some special stuff because its the 250th anniversary of the battle of Quebec City between the French and British.

Another option for the Caribbean is St Martin/St Marteen

Nancy McKeon: Here are some thoughts for the Vancouver traveler and the reader looking for something European closer by.

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Minneapolis, Minn.: So, my parents (mid to late 50s and mostly computer/internet literate) have decided that they want to get away during the season known around here as "still winter". They've been thinking about a cruise, but have never been on one and unsure about their options. Do you have any recommendations about sites that review different types of cruise lines and what they offer, or an alternative source of information gathering/method of figuring out what to do?

Thanks

washingtonpost.com: Spring 2009 Cruise Issue (Post Travel Section, Jan. 18)

Christina Talcott: I'd look at cruisecritic.com, where cruisers post reviews of their trips and have lots of tips for first-timers. And read our cruise stories, too, for more advice.

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Washington, D.C.: I have a question for Scott about Kentucky. I am resolved to finally do the Bourbon Trail this year but I have two questions. What is the best time of year to do this, given both weather considerations and open/close dates of the distilleries? And would you recommend flying (and then renting a car) or driving to Kentucky considering both its distance from D.C. and the current liquid restrictions on planes? (I'm hoping to find unique bourbons to bring back.)

washingtonpost.com: Driven to Drink in Kentucky (Post Travel Section, Sept. 28, 2008)

Nancy McKeon: Scott is off doing his next story, but I just talked with a couple of bourbon distilleries to get you some answers. Weather? They had the same ice storm we just got last week. Maker's Mark just got its electricity back yesterday, apparently. Main roads are clear, but smaller ones are impaired because of fallen trees. That said, they had the same balmy weather yesterday that we had. So you could drive even though it's a long way--but I would watch long-term weather forecasts before making that call.

If you fly (renting a car locally), remember you can pack bourbon bottles in your checked luggage, avoiding those carry-on restrictions. The distilleries don't seem to sell those plastic polyfoam boxes that Napa wineries sell, but they swear their bottles are thicker and tougher than wine bottles. Wrap the bottles in clothing in the center of your luggage, they say, and you should be fine. You can tuck smaller bottles in your packed shoes. Maker's Mark, for one, gets a lot of tourists from Japan who take back bottles just this way. If you really want to go crazy and bring a ton of interesting bourbons back home, I guess driving is what you want to do. (I'm not up on any restrictions there might be on transporting liquor between states, another thing to think about. Every state seems to want to get its cut of the taxes on booze, a state-by-state crazy quilt of regulations that dates from our dalliance with Prohibition.)

But the distilleries are open year round and eager to welcome visitors.

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Flying fish: Has anyone flown with frozen fish as checked baggage? Can it be done? We will be in Alaska the summer and want to do some fishing. You can have the fish processed and then FedExed home. We were thinking it would be cheaper to FedEx it to our relatives in Seattle, then pick it up before our return flight from Seattle. It would be $25 to check it as a "bag." Could we just take a cooler and pack it full of dry ice and fish (making sure to keep it under 50 lbs)? Maybe some duct tape to keep it closed?

If it matters, it's AirTran ($212/pp round-trip to Seattle, direct flights to boot!)

Nancy McKeon: Now that's a packing job I would leave to the pros! Just think how delicious halibut or Copper River salmon is when it's fresh caught and think how stupid you'd feel if you screwed it up! Maybe I'm just a wuss, though. Has anyone attempted what Flying Fish wants to do?

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Washington DC: What is a good fare for Montreal from DCA? I have been getting $341.00.

Andrea Sachs: It all depends on when you are traveling, but I did a quick airfare search, and you, my friend, have found yourself a great fare. Bonus: Leaving from DCA!

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Philadelphia, Pa.: Good afternoon -- I'm going on my honeymoon in July to Northern CA. Napa, Yosemite, San Fran, and the coast down to Big Sur are on the itinerary. I've been to SF many times, but not the other places, my fiance has never been to any of them. Any suggestions on must sees (other than in SF), places to stay, or good sites to help us plan? We have 12 days. Thanks!

Christina Talcott: This is really random, but I'm dying to visit the Sutro Baths next time I'm in SF. Also, consider renting a cottage at the Apple Farm in Philo, a beautiful spot in the Anderson Valley near Booneville (also a nice spot). Other suggestions?

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Arlington, Va.: Some friends and I snagged $170 RT airfares from DCA to Vail for 3/20-25 and now we are looking for hotel/ski packages. We've gone to Breckenridge for the past two years and thought we'd take advantage of the great fare to try a new place. A couple of emails to on-line booking sites have turned up land packages of $900-$1,100+ for ski in/out. We knew Vail would be pricier than Breck, but this seems really steep. Do you think we should wait for spring sales? Any suggestions for a value ski vacation booking site or travel agent?

Carol Sottili: I think it's cheaper to book separate components, unless you want to stay in a ski-in, ski-out place. You can sometimes get cheap accommodations through owners - try www.cyberrentals.com, www.vrbo.com, www.rentalo.com. As for lift ticket discounts, there are plenty on eBay, although I don't know how reliable they are. For packages, try www.snowsportvacations.com.

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RE: Visiting Wisconsin in Winter: It's funny you should mention visiting Wisconsin in winter. I have a friend who just recently flew out to visit me here in southern Wisconsin over a weekend -- in January (granted she is from an also-pretty-cold part of the country.)

When she mentioned that she was considering the trip back in the fall, my first reaction was "You DO know how awful it is here in January, right?!" I've learned a true friend is one who will brave a Midwestern winter to visit you, haha!

Christina Talcott: Ok, I'm checking airfare when this chat ends...

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Bowie, Md.: Just a reminder to everyone that different countries may have different rules about what is acceptable in carry-on bags on flights. Returning from Mexico (Cancun) on Friday, my mom had a small pair of scissors (fine with the TSA) in her purse confiscated at the x-ray checkpoint.

Carol Sottili: I had batteries taken from me coming home from Jamaica. Go figure.

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Airfare advice forgotten: You forgot to mention WHEN you should look for airfares.

Usually sales occur midweek. Southwest issues its sale between Tuesday and Thursday. On airlines tend to lower prices on airfares on Wednesday.

By booking midweek you could save between $100-$200/pp on flight costs.

Carol Sottili: This used to be true, but I'm not convinced it still applies across-the-board. Southwest, for example, has released sales on Fridays, and its Ding fares come out randomly (some were released this morning).

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Washington, DC: Are guidebooks worth the money these days? Or is it better to rely on the Web? There's also the question of their weight -- they can seem like a load after a day of touring...

Christina Talcott: There are lots of ways to gather information online and, say, send it to your phone or print it out, but overall I find guidebooks to be essential when traveling, thanks to the mix of maps, listings and background information. My former boss, KC, used to rip out the guidebook pages she wanted instead of carrying heavy tomes around when she traveled. If weight's your worry, just rip!

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Travel to See Someone: If crushes count, this is a pretty good story. I fell for this girl I went to school with, only she finished a year ahead of me and went to Thailand for work. I had regretted not taking a chance while she was here so figured "why the heck not" and even if this blew up in my face I'd end up with a trip to Thailand. I looked for a cheap flight to Bangkok (got a great deal, under $900 RT, use Chinese travel agencies for Southeast Asia). Got to see Asia for the first time including around Bangkok and the beaches near Phuket. The best part is I was with someone who knew the language and was willing to show me a good time. Funny thing was though, I realized I actually didn't like her as much as I had thought when I planned out the trip. But considering that I flew to the other side of the world for someone, it did give me a great story, so no regrets.

Christina Talcott: That's terrific! Sounds like a very worthwhile trip.

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Bethesda, Md.: Hey Crew, A question about the supplement: is there any chance 'couples' will get a listing in the special interest travel section? My wife and I can't have kids and prefer to vacation in places geared towards adults. It seems like travel for couples is an underserved niche.

Thanks!

Christina Talcott: That's a good idea, Bethesda. We'll take that into consideration next time.

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Charleston, S.C.: Planning a long weekend in Charleston in June. Would it be best to drive or fly from the D.C. area? The flight prices I see now are about $350. Seems high for a short trip.

Any places you would suggest staying or eating or seeing? It is two old high school friends meeting for a long weekend with no kids or spouses -- a girls' weekend!

Thanks!!!

washingtonpost.com: South Carolina Travel Stories (Post Travel Section archives)

Carol Sottili: It's expensive to fly to Charleston, although you may do better if you're willing to connect through Atlanta on Airtran. I don't know much about the city, but please read our archived stories.

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Berkeley Springs: Berkeley Springs lodging is going to be more cozy than elegant. I've stayed at Highlawn Inn several times (lots of antiques, Victorian, cluttery) several times and enjoyed it. There are many spas in town, and Atasia is wonderful. The Inn/Spa is more Best Western than Hilton, but it is convenient to have the spa in-house.

Christina Talcott: Thanks for the report!

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Washington, D.C.: Hello travel gurus! A friend and I are looking at a few days in the sun in Puerto Rico this fall, probably late October, early November. We are in our late 20s, looking for quiet beaches, quaint, beautiful, rather than the singles/club scenes that are sometimes associated with vacations in the Caribb. Any ideas about where on the island(s) we should narrow our focus, as well as going the all-inclusive route or not?

Andrea Sachs: I am a big fan of getting out of the San Juan area and heading west (Rincon/Isabela region), where there is a big surfing, beach scene. I also shy away from all-inclusives because, while easy, they also feel a bit canned, depending on where you go. Last year, I enjoyed staying in paradores (www.gotoparadores.com), small inns and guesthouses, often family run. There are a slew along the west coast. Another option is Vieques, a small isle off the southeast coast. The island is hardly overrun and has pristine beaches, untouched nature and a mellow vibe.

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Arlington, Va.: Most unusual places to visit? I'm planning to visit Zhyotmyr, Ukraine this summer to visit my former exchange student. I'm not sure what we'll be doing there, other than I've heard everyone she tells I'm coming wants to practice their English. I look forward to having fun meeting Ira's family and bonding with Ukrainians!

Christina Talcott: Sounds like fun, and a great opportunity.

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Arlington, VA: Cleveland, to see a girl I had a crush on. I arrived to find out she had a boyfriend.

That weekend was so very not fun.

Christina Talcott: Aww, sorry to hear!

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RE: Maui and Australia: First thing: Maui Kaanapali Villas was a nice place when we stayed there about 3-4 years ago and would probably fit what the poster was looking for. I believe it has changed management hands since then but it might be worth investigating.

Second thing: I'm going to Sydney, Australia for 2 weeks (tagging along on a family member's business trip.) Because my fellow traveler will be working a lot of the time, I will be on my own a lot. Additionally, I'll be going when it's winter in Australia. I've been to Sydney once before but I'm not sure what I can do on my own for 2 weeks (but a nearly-free trip to Australia is just too good to pass up!) Any suggestions for me?

Christina Talcott: A suggestion for the Maui-bound couple - thanks! As for Australia, I'm throwing this one out there to the chatters.

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Peru Travel Companies from Last Week: I was too late to reply to last week's poster who was looking for outfitting companies in Peru. Last summer, eight friends and I used Quechuas Expeditions, based in Cusco. http://www.quechuasexpeditions.com/ Wayra, the owner, was fantastic and very responsive via email prior to our trip as we were planning things. Our group did two day trips near Cusco through Quechuas (white water rafting and an archeological tour on horseback), as well as a four-day hike on the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. Our guide on the hike was great, the food prepared on the trail by our cooks and porters was fantastic, and the equipment we rented from Quechuas(tents, sleeping bags, coats, hiking poles, etc.) were all in great shape. Highly recommend them!

Christina Talcott: Better late than never. Thanks!

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Eye Street: Hi Crew -

Submitting early. Great annual special issue!

I am planning a trip to the Mexican Yucatan, south of Cancun to the Tulum area. My biggest question - should I rent a car to transport my family of 3 around to the ruins, sights, etc.? Or is it better to rely on public transport and taxis? I am a confident driver with an international driver's license, but have never driven in Mexico before. We are going during Spring Break in April.

Thanks for your insight.

Carol Sottili: The roads are very good in this region. But taxis are also plentiful and reasonably priced. Depends on how much driving you plan to do. If you want to go on daily sightseeing trips, a car will probably be cheaper.

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Atlantis Resort in Bahamas--TV Commercials and Good Deals: I keep seeing commercials for Atlantis in Bahamas. I know it is pretty pricey per night and was wondering what the Flight Crew thinks about the resort. My husband and I are in our mid-thirties and dont have kids. When we go to a beachy location--we want to relax, lay on the beach, snorkel and eat great food. We are not big on being around little kids or around adults that are partying. Would we like Atlantis??

Carol Sottili: I had a great time there, but I had my kids with me. It's very family friendly. I don't think it's a good fit for what you've described.

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Dupont: Hello! This question might be better for a legal/finance expert, but I thought I'd give it a shot. My fiance and I have booked a room for our wedding night at a hotel that apparently went out of business over the weekend. We did not suspect financial problems and prepaid for the room. Is there anything we can do at this point to recoup those expenses? Many thanks!!

Carol Sottili: If you paid via credit card, contact your issuer and see if you have any recourse through them.

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Leesburg, Va: I'm a single guy who would like to visit the Liverpool School for the Performing Arts - and perhaps become a student. Plus, I have always wanted to see Portmerieon in Wales.

Seeking advice on the best way to do this. How does one get a passport? If I am careful on spending, can I approximate a dollar figure for a two week visit?

Nancy McKeon: Another "Prisoner" fan--YES!

But it's a good thing you want to be a student cuz you've got some homework ahead of you.

First, to get a passport, get yesterday's Travel section out of the trash and see our instructions there (it was the annual Way to Go issue), or find it online at www.washingtonpost.com/travel.

And yes, if you use all the online sites available, including the British Rail sites (some of which will give you the fares to your destinations), you can get pretty close to how much your trip will cost.

As for Portmeirion (for non "Prisoner" fans, this is the fairy-tale-looking village in which Secret Agent Patrick McGoohan is trapped after he quits his spy life), it has its own Web site (www.portmeirion-village.com. And it's only a couple of hours by car away from Liverpool, so if you have the courage to drive on the left (it's not that hard!), you can rent a car and drive over. Be sure to rent your car Stateside, where rentals can be arranged more cheaply. Good luck!

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Arlington Va.: Question about flying business from east coast to Seattle, and then economy from Seattle to Vancouver - can this be done on the internet? I tried to play with a few sites but cannot see this option. Thanks.

Carol Sottili: You'd need to book the tickets separately. But if it's on the same carrier, you can get them to send your luggage through.

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Dupont: As for the craziest place to go for a loved one... All of my family lives in a remote village in South India. It takes about two days to get there- we fly to Europe, from there to Bombay, then another flight to Hyderabad and THEN a local train ride. There is no indoor plumbing in the house or air conditioning. And my extended family all lives together so I end up sharing a bed with my parents and brother.

Despite all of that we went last summer to see my very sick grandfather during 110 degree weather. Still I wish I could every year. It really feels worth it to eat my grandmother's cooking and see my uncles, aunts and cousins and spend time with family.

Christina Talcott: Boy, what a trek! The cooking comment reminds me of a wonderful piece I read in the NY Times mag a few months back: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/30/magazine/30lives-t.html?_r=1

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Washington, D.C.: Hi, I am planning a long cross-country trip and I was wondering if any of the more budget hotel chains are known for being pet-friendly? The type of chain where prices will likely be around 60-70 per night... Thanks for your help!

Andrea Sachs: Chains and pets are, in many cases, best friends. One caveat: You might have to pay an extra fee for Spot, or a cleaning fee if Precious misbehaves. Pet-friendly travel sites compile lists of good lodgings for you and your BFF around the country and world. Some to check out: www.petswelcome.com, www.dogfriendly.com, www.petfriendlytravel.com and www.bringyourpet.com. When booking, just be sure to mention that you have a pet in tow and ask about certain restrictions or additional fees.

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FedEx Fi, SH: Why would it be cheaper to FedEx it to Seattle instead of to home (wherever that is)? I carried a small amount of fish on the plane when I was in Seattle (it had been properly packed by the fish monger).

Nancy McKeon: Here, from a fellow fish-lover (although our initial poster may be talking about a whole halibut, another kettle of . . . well, you know).

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D.C.: I have a suggestion for the couple that wants a "European" city in Central America or the Caribbean. I just noticed yesterday on Kayak that flights to Buenos Aires are very cheap right now -- only about $550. It would be a longer flight, but I think it's easier than flying to Europe because there's no time change. And it's a great, world-class but super-cheap city to visit.

Nancy McKeon: Fabulous idea.

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Va.: I've never really gone anywhere crazy to visit a loved one, but have had loved ones come to me. My family lived in Kuwait in the late 70s-early 80s, at a time when Kuwait was on no one's radar. My dad's company considered it a hardship tour (he was in banking). But, my adventurous grandfather, who was probably in his early 70s, flew all the way over by himself to stay with us for a month or so. I was pretty young, and was so saddened when he had to go, that I threw myself on him at the airport and screamed, "Take me with you! Don't go!" Poor grandpa!

Christina Talcott: Boy, what a great grandfather! I'm sure he told that story for years and years.

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D.C. non-stops: I checked your last story on non-stop flights to warm places from D.C., but since airlines have been cutting back on flights I was wondering if it was still accurate. Has the non-stop list gotten shorter or have any new ones been added?

washingtonpost.com: You Can Get There From Here, Nonstop (Post Travel Section, March 2, 2008)

Nancy McKeon: Wait, here's a more recent story coming up.

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washingtonpost.com: Travel Q&A: Next Stop: The Tropics (Post Travel Section, Jan. 18)

Nancy McKeon: Here you go.

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Seattle, Wash.: To Eastern Shore looking to get to Vancouver.

Although Delta and Northwest can provide you connecting service to Vancouver, check Alaska Airlines as well. They do 3 flights a day out of DCA, 2 to Seattle, one to LA. From either of those cities you can connect to Vancouver (in Seattle it would be on Horizon Air, Alaska's regional partner).

Another option would be to simply take the Nonstop to Seattle, spend a day or two and take the train up to Vancouver. It's an easy trip from downtown Seattle, and is a lot cheaper than flying. (Ask to sit on the left... that's where the water views are).

Carol Sottili: More ideas.

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Punxsutawney Phil: I work for DoD and I traveled to 2 different cities for work. I had to fly on the contracted carriers for the route. Two of the legs were on Northwest and the return Leg on United. The two NW flights I got extra screening because my boarding pass said SSSS. I made a slight change to my departure flight after it was ticketed at 72 hrs before the flight. That may have triggered it, but Northwest looked at me as a one way traveler.

I tried to talk to both TSA and the airline and neither had a clue. The ticket record in their system says I am a fed govt employee because the fed govt paid for the ticket.

I still believe if you are on the list you have a right to know if you are on it.

Carol Sottili: Maybe something is wrong with me, but if they just look through your luggage for an extra minute and wand you, what's the big deal? It's another story if you get dragged into a room every time you fly, which happens to some, but to be slightly inconvenienced from time to time doesn't seem like a big deal to me.

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Washington, D.C.: Good afternoon. I'm going to have a 4-hour layover in Raleigh (don't you just love those fantastic connections when you use frequent flier miles). Is there anything to do? Is it enough time to go into the city? My connecting flight is international. Thanks!

Christina Talcott: Boy, I'd sit tight if I were you. I wouldn't risk leaving the airport and not being able to get back in for your flight. Four hours can fly by with a good book and a meal. It also looks like that airport has a place called the Observation Park, where you can watch planes taking off and landing on the runway, get a bite to eat at the cafe and get some fresh air. Not a bad way to spend some downtime...

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For the California Adventure:: Philadelphia, PA: Good afternoon- I'm going on my honeymoon in July to Northern CA. Napa, Yosemite, San Fran, and the coast down to Big Sur are on the itinerary. I've been to SF many times, but not the other places, my fiance has never been to any of them. Any suggestions on must sees (other than in SF), places to stay, or good sites to help us plan? We have 12 days. Thanks!

For Yosemite: be sure to find a place to stay IN ADVANCE. If you want to be in Yosemite Valley, campsites and hotels book up really fast. If you have some time in the Valley, it's fun to hike up to Vernal Falls; I also have really enjoyed taking a beach chair and hanging out by the river, enjoying the gorgeous scenery. If you're looking for a fabulous B&B experience, Erna's Elderberry House, in Oakhurst, CA, is a European-style B&B and has legendarily good food and service.

The drive down the California coast from San Francisco through Big Sur is gorgeous. Start in Santa Cruz and enjoy exploring some redwood forests, and then go out to the Boardwalk for a whirl on the Big Dipper. We love Marianne's for ice cream (lemon custard is the best.) I strongly suggest stopping in Monterey for the Monterey Bay Aquarium, which is fabulous. Carmel is a great place to explore for one or two days, with delicious restaurants and art galleries. Plus there are some beautiful beaches. A little further south, you'll get to Point Lobos State Park, which is a must-see.

Bring a picnic for your drive through big sur; there's hardly anything between Nepenthe (overrated, not good) and San Simeon. But with a picnic, you can pull off the road to explore. I really like the Lime Kiln State Park, for a brief but fun hike from the beach to the redwoods to see some abandoned lime kilns. If you follow the signs to the New Camaldoli Hermitage, you'll get a great view. Unless you want to stay at the Post Ranch Inn or Ventana Inn (EXPENSIVE!), I might try to do Big Sur in one day. The other option is to stay at Treebones, in a yurt, which friends have highly recommended, but does involve shared bathrooms.

Once you pop out of Big Sur proper, you'll be in San Simeon, notable for elephant seals on the coast and Hearst Castle in the hills. Hearst Castle seems like a tourist trap, but it's not; it's amazing and definitely worth your time. Don't stay in San Simeon (not much there), but drive just a big further south to Cambria, another charming little beach town, and stay in a hotel along Moonstone Beach.

One final idea: if you end up on the central coast, one fun thing is to drive down to Montana del Oro State Park. If you go all the way through the park, you'll get to private PG&E land that has just become open to hikers. There's a fun hike that takes you on open bluffs over the water, up hills, and finally to a view of the Diablo nuclear power plant. A little random, perhaps, but it looks like something out of 1960s sci fi.

Above all: enjoy!

Christina Talcott: Great tips! Thanks!

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Arlington, Va.: Hi, Flight Crew!

Your annual Way To Go Guide is great!

I'd add Virgin Atlantic (and Virgin Vacations) to the list for flight and hotel deals to London and Europe. They're always promoting 3- to 6-day packages, either only in London or combined with other cities.

Carol Sottili: Good point.

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guidebooks: I agree with everything said, and for that reason I always check out the Used Book shelves in my local library. Very often I find travel guidebooks there. I check the copyright date, if older than five years, I leave it, otherwise, I buy it. Yes, some of the info is out of date, but most guidebooks are out of date in some respect even when brand new. I am just sure to get recent entry fees/times info for the places I really want to see. Sometimes having a used book to look at at length has moved a destination higher on my "must-see" list. And of course, saving a few extra bucks just means that much more to put in the travel fund!

Christina Talcott: Good idea!

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Ottawa?: I'd love to visit Ottawa to go ice skating on the canals but the airfares seem to be uniformly $390 out of Washington. Any advice on finding cheaper ones? I am flexible about the airport.

Nancy McKeon: When we search for fares, we're flexible about the airport too. But I'm not finding much help for you!

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Longyearbyen, Norway: Craziest place I've gone to visit a loved one: My significant other and I have literally gone to the ends of the Earth. I went to Antarctica after she took a job there (I got one the following year and we made the five months there our honeymoon). A year ago I brought her to Longyearbyen, a town 800 miles from the North Pole where I live now, for the jazz festival they have in February. The crazy part about the latter: this occurred after we separated and I also paid to bring her new partner up. Long story there, but basically he's a good guy and fellow polar regions fanatic. Odd when you can say the three of us had a great time.

Christina Talcott: Wow, you must all be very secure to take a trip like that!

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Non-European European city: My family and I recently went to Quebec City, and it absolutely fits the "European City close by" description. Beautiful architecture, wonderful history and culture, lots of walk around and see and do. It will likely still be really cold there, but it is close and the flights were really affordable.

Nancy McKeon: Lovely idea. We wrote about the Rideau Canal skateway recently. Makes you want to go in the cold!

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Chantilly, Va.: Hey Crew,

Since you mentioned London sales, what is a good price for London? Planning to go in early September for a couple weeks, currently seeing $822 from Dulles, which seems high but maybe my expectations are off. I sometimes see sales come up, but always for travel within a month or so. Is that the trade-off -- if you want a better price you should wait until the last minute and hope something comes up?

Carol Sottili: I think that's generally true for London. Planning far in advance may not get you the cheapest fares. But it's a gamble because there are plenty of gaps in sales, and if your trip falls within a gap, you could wind up paying considerably more than buying in advance. $822 seems about average for early September, as long as that's for a nonstop flight and includes all taxes.

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Visiting relatives: I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area in the 1950s, and three or four times a year we would drive up to the Coast Redwoods region to visit my elderly grandparents, who lived the subsistence farming life-style there. While US 101 was still not yet a freeway, so it was about an 8 hour drive (now only about 4), even worse was the 4 miles of dirt logging road at the end of our journey, from the Redwood Highway to the remote spot where my grandparents lived -- featuring a wooden bridge over the South Fork of Eel River midway. One year we went for Mother's Day, leaving right after my father got off work that Friday afternoon, so it was late at night by the time we reached the bridge, and had been raining buckets for hours. After crossing the bridge, the road took a sharp right turn up a very steep mountainside, but our car could only make it partway up due to all the mud. After backing up and trying to get up the slope several times, my exhausted father gave up, backed up over the bridge and was able to make a U-turn on the other side of the river, so he could drive back out to US 101. There he found a tacky motel still open that late at night, so at least we didn't have to spend the night sleeping in the car.

The next morning, after the local Post Office opened, my father asked the post-mistress if he could leave a message in my grandparents' mail-box, since my grandfather (who had a sturdy truck that could navigate the dirt road) would be coming into town to buy groceries, ice -- did I mention they had no electricity or phone? -- and check their mail. The post-mistress insisted that my father had to buy a stamp and formally mail the message to my grandparents, which he found quite unneighborly, although it was probably a strict interpretation of the law. Fortunately the rain had subsided that morning, so in daylight the car was able to manage the climb up the road after the bridge and we could visit with my grandparents for what was left of the Mother's Day weekend.

Christina Talcott: Wow, what a journey!

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London, U.K.: When I fly, I pack whisky in a bit of bubble wrap or newspaper, then squeeze it back into the box (if it's a whisky with a round box - the square boxes, in my experience, nestle the bottles pretty snugly) or wrap it in some clothes. Then I put the entire ensemble into an oversize plastic bag - actually, I usually use those ones blankets come in. Not because they're leakproof - I doubt they are - but because I'm more concerned about having shards of glass everywhere if something does happen. I assume if a bottle breaks the smell would get everywhere, regardless. But I've never had a bottle break, even with suitcases going through Heathrow's handling.

Nancy McKeon: Here's a good idea for our bourbon enthusiast.

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Glasgow in Feb/March: I think the real question is, why wouldn't someone want to go to Glasgow then? It can be a bit cool and wet, but weatherwise you shouldn't have to worry about blizards (although, today, as I sit here in London, perhaps I shouldn't say such things..). Check out www.seeglasgow.com to see what's going on there - I noticed they're advertising the Glasgow Film Festival, which takes place in February. But if you run out of things to do in Glasgow, you're a very easy trip to Edinburgh - many Edinburgh Marathoners stayed in Glasgow last year and the morning of caught the train to Edinburgh, for example - or to much of the rest of Scotland, although the Highlands might be a bit impractical then for someone who isn't accustomed to their weather. If you look at some of the train companies, such as ScotRail and National Express, you should get an idea of how easy it is to get around.

Christina Talcott: Yeah, if you're not prepared, bad weather can ruin a trip. Thanks, too, for the tips.

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Arlington, Va.: For the woman who posted last week about flying with an infant: I took our daughter by plane to see my parents when she was about a month old and paid half-price for her seat. I booked the tickets through Orbitz well before she was born using "Baby" as a first name. I had a problem about something and called them. When the agent saw the name on the ticket, he called the airline to make sure there would not be a problem. Essentially, the airline said that since they don't check identification on children, it was not a problem. To make life easier, I would just put a gender-neutral name on the ticket (if you don't know what you're naming the baby yet).

Other tips: When booking your seats, make sure that the baby gets a window seat. Car seats take up a lot of room, and if there is an emergency, they could block someone in. Gate check the stroller. It makes life much easier, especially if you have to change planes. Don't be afraid to ask for help when you need it. We took our daughter on roughly 5 trips by the time she was 1, and I found that when we were traveling without my husband we got A LOT of help, from TSA employees helping with the stroller and holding the baby for me to the copilot on the prop plane to my parent's small town carrying the baby on and off the plane for me.

Have a good trip.

Carol Sottili: Thanks!

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Two Comments: European City a short flight away: what about Bermuda? I went there last March, loved the climate, and the fact that I could take buses or ferries anywhere. Loved the history; very closely tied to this region. $400 flight to Louisville: Last April, when I was ticket shopping for an August wedding, US Airways fares were $600; by the time I booked in June, they were $285, and if I had held out another month, I could have flown for about a hundred dollars less. But also--Southwest flies to Louisville from Baltimore and that's always a bargain.

Nancy McKeon: Another idea for Europe close to home.

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Cheaper fares to Ottawa: Try flying into Montreal and renting a car. It's not all that long of a drive at all, but the cost of the car rental may eliminate any savings.

Whatever you do, don't connect in Toronto.

Nancy McKeon: A word about flying to Ottawa.

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Spring Fever: I had hopes of getting away with a couple girlfriends soon but it doesn't look like our schedules will allow a trip until May. We're thinking of Austin, Texas. None of us have been. Airfares are in the low $300s for now. What should 3 late 30s women see/do if we go? Thanks!

Andrea Sachs: Austin is the perfect place for y'all (impressed with that Texan accent?). Besides the amazing music scene (wander Sixth Street) and the Austin bats, there are the Barton Springs Pool, the Blanton Museum of Art, the Umlauf Sculpture Garden and Museum, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center (and her husband's presidential museum and library), Hyde Park, BBQ and beer, and so so much more.

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Heartburn over Nothing?: Hi there - a friend and I are going to Puerto Rico in March, and we booked a room at the Golden Sands Villas. Booked through Orbitz, which was having a wonderful sale (half off); my credit card has already been charged, but I wasn't too surprised by that.

Because I'm a paranoid person, I wanted to confirm the reservations with the hotel itself. I tried calling the direct number on the hotel's website, and got a recording saying to try back during business hours (easier said than done, since I'm at work during business hours and it's a long-distance call). I tried the toll-free number on the website, and got what seemed to be a recording for corporate travel club members vaguely referring to some unusual situation and high call volume. Finally, I sent the hotel reservation desk an email asking to confirm my reservation, but haven't heard back yet. That was a few days ago.

Obviously, I am going to try calling again. But now I have nagging fears that the hotel is going under, or going out of business, or something. If that should be the case, would I likely get my money back? Am I getting all worked up over nothing?

Andrea Sachs: Nope, you can never be too careful these days. I would call the Puerto Rico tourism office for assistance (see www.gotopuertorico.com). They might know the current state of that hotel or make some calls for you. Also, try calling Orbitz and see if they can send you a confirmation from the hotel that you are indeed booked. Good luck!

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Austin: Go see the Capitol! And make it to Continental and Antone's for music.

Andrea Sachs: Thanks, cowboy.

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College Park, Md.: We are visiting Naples, then Amalfi, and then Capri this spring but are flying into and out of FCO (from IAD) because that was the only option using FF miles.

Logistics are set except for our final night. We depart Capri the day (10am checkout) before our 11:20am flight and need help to figure the best option for our final night:

1) Stay by FCO airport/Lido Ostia? 2) Stay in central Rome? 3) Other options?

Any specific reccomendations?

And from final hotel to airport...: Shuttle? Private Driver? Taxi? Train?

We need to be at airport by 8:20am on a Tuesday.

Need experienced advice. Thanks.

Nancy McKeon: I've stayed at Lido Ostia, but I always had a rental car. I don't know about cabs, but I'm sure your hotel could get one for you (but you'll have to arrange it the night before, at the latest).

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Guideboo, KS: I take guidebooks out of the library. I usually bring a small one with me and sometimes copy key pages out of other books to bring with me. That way, I don't end up buying guidebooks for each trip.

Andrea Sachs: Great tip. Thanks!

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Rockville, Md.: We are looking for a day trip option from Rome, we are considering Pompeii but still looking for other suggestions. We are also looking for day trips from Madrid and we thought about El Escorial (we've been in Toledo before)... any tips or suggestions of other day trips on these two cities? If anyone knows about a tour operator for these two day trips that would be great! (We used a company a couple of years ago for a day trip in Madrid and it was great).

Also in Venice we are looking for transportation "options" through the canals... We are interested in good scenery for photography so we don't need the romantic atmosphere in the gondola...would you recommend other way of transportation through the canals less expensive but not that crowded so we can take pictures or the gondolas are the best bet for this???

Nancy McKeon: Pompeii is great, highly recommended. As for Venice, you can walk everywhere, right along the little canals where you will get the pix you want.

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Napa tips: Just wanted to send a tip to all the 'nuts reading today. I just spent the weekend visiting in Napa, and it was the most fantastic, relaxing weekend. Go see Jose at Goosecross Winery (they are 99% direct-to-consumer, so you won't find their wines anywhere else) and Lisa at James Cole (only about 1-2 years old, and they're making GREAT wine). On Saturday we went for a long hike in Skyline Park, 5 min from downtown Napa. It's only $5 to enter the park, and we did a pretty demanding 6-hour hike along the ridge that looks down into the valley. Tons of wildlife, lakes, stone house ruins, and of course, beautiful views. It was a great way to see the area. And: dinner at Uva in downtown Napa. Some of the best lamb I've had, plus live jazz and a great waitress (Christina). I didn't want to come home!

Christina Talcott: Thanks for the tip!

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One more California thing . . . : On the way back to the Bay Area from Cambria/central coast, there are a ton of vineyards in and around Paso Robles. They're really up and coming as a wine area and we unexpectedly and thoroughly enjoyed exploring the area. I'd recommend the Justin vineyard and those around it, as they're tucked into the hills and are just beautiful. We stayed at a brand new Marriott, which was lovely, and ate at Artisan, which was delicious. Paso Robles is totally off the beaten path, and we were so surprised at how lovely it was. Plus Paso Robles is on the way if you're driving from the coast to Yosemite.

Christina Talcott: More on CA...

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Arlington, VA: Cleveland, to see a girl I had a crush on. I arrived to find out she had a boyfriend. : Heck, a friend of mine in California had saved up for a year for a long vacation after completing her Ph.D., to go see her boyfriend on the South Island of New Zealand, only to discover he'd found a new girlfriend there.

Christina Talcott: Ooh, that's rough.

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Dupont circle: For the lone Sydney traveler:

Have breakfast at http://www.barzura.com.au/

Eat a meat pie: http://www.harryscafedewheels.com.au/Home.aspx?element=1&category=1

Walk from Coogee to Bondi http://www.visitnsw.com/town/Bondi_Beach/Bondi_to_Coogee_Coastal_Walk/info.aspx

I wish I could go again!

Christina Talcott: Tips for the Sydney-bound.

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Christina Talcott: Thanks for joining us today. You were on fire with your pointers and tips this week - what a great resource you all are! And your traveling-for-loved-ones stories were terrific. I was touched, in particular, by the nerve and spunk of the person who went to Thailand to visit a crush. Send your name and address to talcottc@washpost.com for your tote bag, ok?

Have a great week, everyone, and talk to you again next Monday!

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