Talk About Travel
Monday, February 23, 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.
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A transcript follows.
Christina Talcott: Welcome to this week's edition of Travel Talk. I hope everyone had a nice weekend, and if you stayed up late to watch the Oscars last night, I hope you're not too tired to send us your questions, comments and recommendations for all things travel-related.
Here's this week's question: Have you ever made a major life change -- in career, lifestyle, relationships, etc. -- as a result of a trip somewhere? Winner gets a handy Travel section tote bag.
OK, ready to chat? Let's go!
Washington, D.C.: Hello Flight Crew,
I'd like to take a trip to Kyoto this October, flying into Osaka (and then I'll take a train to Kyoto). Right now, round trip airfare is about $1450. Is this a good price? Should I wait until later in the year to book?
Thanks for any ideas!
Carol Sottili: That sounds high, plus you have plenty of time. Start checking on a regular basis, and sign up with the varous third-party booking sites (Kayak, Expedia, Priceline, etc.) for fare notifications.
Chicago or Bust!, Md.: Good afternoon!
My best friends from high school and I are thinking of flying out to Chicago for a sort of mini-reunion over Memorial Day weekend. I'm, unfortunately, going to be out of vacation days by this time, so I need to leave from work on that Friday evening. The flights I keep seeing from National to Midway are about $250. Is this too much? About right? Do you think with the economy people will travel less on Memorial Day weekend and the prices may go down?
Thanks! Love the chats! They always make me wish I had 3 times as much vacation so I could go to all these amazing places!
Carol Sottili: I don't think airfare prices are going down because of the economy. I've noticed more sales, but they're not giving the seats away. You can do better if you fly into O'Hare -- flights are about $200 RT. There could be a sale between now and then into Midway, but $250 doesn't sound bad for prime time during a holiday weekend.
From D.C. to Paris: I want to go to Paris in early December of this year, and I'm surprised to find flights so expensive -- more than $900, on more than one airline. If I wanted to go next month, it would be $550.
Early December and even late November shouldn't be high season for airfares, should they? Should I wait and hope for better prices?
Andrea Sachs: Flight prices change as much as Madonna's boyfriends, and are just as confounding. The reason for the November-December increase most likely is because of the holidays (lots of Americans spend La Jour de Turkey in Paris). Since you have a lot of lead time, I would hang tight and watch for sales.
summer airfare predictions: In the last two weeks, two of my three siblings-in-law have announced their engagements, with weddings coming this summer on the opposite coast. Given the precarious state of the economy and the pending end of my own one-year position, I am dreading the thought of shopping for tickets. One will be a June wedding, the other September. I'd appreciate your thoughts on strategizing for minimal economic damage -- I'm seeing thousands of dollars in travel costs starting to add up and freaking out.
Carol Sottili: You can buy tickets now. Go to www.kayak.com to get an idea on prices. You didn't say where you're going or where you live, but fares to California have been very cheap -- some are as low as $211 round trip with taxes. Take a deep breath.
Four Corners, Md.: Due to an itinerary change by American Airlines, I'm now going to have a 9 hour layover in Miami. I assume I am able to leave the airport during that time? Do you have any recommendations for something easy and cheap to do during that time? Or should I just bring A LOT of books?
Nancy McKeon: I'm assuming you're going to be in the Miami International Airport, yes? On the airport's Web site (www.miami-airport.com), under Passenger Information, then Passenger Services & Amenities, there are suggestions, under Things to Do, for passengers with 3 to 5 hours at the airport (guess the airport has to update to the new world of air travel). Anyway, it obviously depends on what hours you're going to be there, but it suggests visiting the Museum of Science/Planetarium in Coconut Grove, or that city's Vizcaya Museum and Gardens (gorgeous Italian Renaissance-style villa and formal gardens; there are guided tours, but you can also tour on your own). You can go swimming at the Venetian Pool in Coral Gables, or go to the movies at one of 5 nearby theaters (catch up on Oscar winners, maybe?). And there are spa facilities on concourses G and H.
McLean, Va.: We want to take our 17-year old son snowboarding in the last half of March. We need a place that will still have good snow, and will have something for the non-boarders/skiers in the family to do. Any suggestions? We've considered Park City -- think they will still have good snow? All suggestions welcome.
Carol Sottili: It hasn't been an awesome season for snowfall totals in Park City, but I think you'll still have decent spring skiing conditions in late March. The Canyons and Park City proper are great for snowboarders. Deer Valley is fantastic for skiers. Skiing out West in March is iffy -- We went to Park City one year in March and had great conditions, but a couple of years later, we went to Steamboat Springs in Colorado and it was soupy.
Silver Spring, Md.: Hi guys,
We are a family of four going to Zihuatanejo in June. I've been looking at airfare but it seems so high -- lowest right now is $692 for a flight with one stop in Houston. Is this normal? Is there any way to see what the norms are and when might be the best time to book? Thanks so much.
Carol Sottili: That seems high (Zihuatanejo is the airport near the resort town of Ixtapa, Mexico), so I'd just start tracking it now. As always, look at several different Web sites, and sign up for alerts (I know, I keep repeating this advice, but there is no one magic booking site that gives you the lowest prices. Try lots, plus identify the airline that flies to where you are going, and check with them directly).
For the person going to Chicago: A friend and I planned a similar trip a few years ago and it was worth it to us to fly into Midway -- a newer, nicer airport and it has a stop on the "El" (the subway system) which made getting to our downtown hotel much easier and cheaper than had we flown into O'Hare.
Carol Sottili: I guess it depends on how many people are traveling and how much you save.
to Germany: I want to go to Germany this spring for about a week. My plan is to take about a week, land in Berlin and leave via Munich. I was thinking I could take a train between the two, maybe stopping in Wiemar or Dresden. Does that seem doable? I found a ticket for about $550 from Dulles, and I think one of the flights might have been non-stop (but I don't know). That comes out to be about $900 with taxes - is that reasonable? Thanks!
Carol Sottili: If you want one of the flights to be nonstop, it'll cost about $900, but you can save $100-$150 if you stop once in both directions. I think a train ticket will cost $150 to $200.
Pittsburgh, Pa.: Looking with some help picking an excursion for one of the ports (Juneau) of the Alaskan cruise my husband and I are going on in June. Of all of our ports, Juneau is where we are having trouble figuring out what to do. While we would love to do one of the fancy helicopter tours, we'd like to do something more affordable. Any suggestions from you guys or the chatters as to what's the best to see and do in Juneau on a cruise stop? Thanks!
Andrea Sachs: I would suggest a glacier cruise, and to save money, book with any of the adventure companies in town (cheaper than the cruise ship, most likely). The biggie of the ice floes is Mendenhall, not far from downtown. For warmer excursions, you can tour a seafood cannery or brewery, or shop and museum hop (state museum, mining museum, etc.) in Juneau. Or, learn to grill squid or octopus with Chez Alaska Cooking School. You also get a lot of scenery for only $25 on the Mt. Roberts Tramway. If you do want a splurge, consider a zipline adventure through the Alaskan rainforest or a sled dog tour on a glacier.
Arlington, Va.: Thinking of spending three days in the Loire Valley and/or Burgundy region of France. Any suggested must sees? Also - an important question - how much wine can I bring back to the U.S. before customs gives me trouble?
Christina Talcott: If you like opulent architecture, gardens and outrageous stories about the rich and famous, you'll love chateaux-hopping in the Loire valley. Base yourself in Tours and take day trips to Chambord, Villandry, Chenonceau (my favorite) or any of dozens of others. There are also vineyards aplenty in that area, and Tours is a lovely, small city with plenty of good restaurants and charming cobblestone streets. The Burgundy area isn't so shabby either, from lovely Beaune to incredible wines. Back in college I spent a month in the Tours area, so I'm biased towards all things Loire Valley.
As for bringing those wine bottles home, here's the word from the Customs brochure, "Know Before You Go":
"Federal regulations allow you to bring back more than one liter of alcoholic beverage for personal use, but, as with extra tobacco, you will have to pay duty and Internal Revenue Service tax. While Federal regulations do not specify a limit on the amount of alcohol you may bring back for personal use, unusual quantities are liable to raise suspicions that you are importing the alcohol for other purposes, such as for resale. CBP officers are authorized by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) to make on-the-spot determinations that an importation is for commercial purposes, and may require you to obtain a permit to import the alcohol before releasing it to you. If you intend to bring back a substantial quantity of alcohol for your personal use, you should contact the port through which you will be re-entering the country, and make prior arrangements for entering the alcohol into the United States. Also, you should be aware that state laws might limit the amount of alcohol you can bring in without a license. If you arrive in a state that has limitations on the amount of alcohol you may bring in without a license, that state law will be enforced by CBP, even though it may be more restrictive than federal regulations. We recommend that you check with the state government before you go abroad about their limitations on quantities allowed for personal importation and additional state taxes that might apply. In brief, for both alcohol and tobacco, the quantities discussed in this booklet as being eligible for duty-free treatment may be included in your $800 or $1,600 exemption, just as any other purchase would be. But unlike other kinds of merchandise, amounts beyond those discussed here as being duty-free are taxed, even if you have not exceeded, or even met, your personal exemption. For example, if your exemption is $800 and you bring back three liters of wine and nothing else, two of those liters will be dutiable. Federal law prohibits shipping alcoholic beverages by mail within the United States."
The short answer: You can bring home any amount of wine, as long as you declare it and are willing to pay any duty fees (though you probably won't have to as long as it's under a certain amount, usually $800). Just make sure you pad it really well and put everything in some kind of leak-proof container just in case.
washingtonpost.com: A Celebration Of Burgundy, Served Chilled (Post Travel Section, Dec. 23, 2007)
Christina Talcott: For the traveler interested in Burgundy.
Travel Test for Marriage: Hi Crew -- Travel did alter my life because a trip with my then-boyfriend convinced me that we could have a permanent future together. After a year or so of dating, we decided to go to Costa Rica together. We were poor young professionals, and we opened a joint savings account to which we each contributed according to our means. This was our travel fund. We planned the trip together(pre-Internet) and as expected when you don't know the language, have never been to the place, and are traveling on the cheap, there were several snafus. Arguments ensued, compromises were made. Plus, one of us experienced Montezuma's Revenge. On that one trip we learned how to handle "sickness/health, richer/poorer and better/worse." But we had a fantastic, romantic time and 13 years of marriage and world travel later, it is the benchmark by which all other trips are ranked!
Christina Talcott: What a lovely story! Glad to hear it worked out!
Washington, D.C.: I just returned from a great trip to London with my fiance. I just wanted to give people a heads up that are traveling there about a great musical. We saw Billy Elliot, based on the film, and it was a spectacular show! I am sure a number of the other musicals in London are great too. I also give high remarks to the Royal Ballet. I can hardly wait for their appearance at the Kennedy Center in June.
Christina Talcott: Thanks for the tip! FYI "Billy Elliot" is also playing on Broadway now, one of the survivors in a rough winter that's seen many popular shows shuttered prematurely ("Gypsy," "Spring Awakening," etc.).
Bethesda, Md.: Cruising -- have you heard any reviews about the outlet Cruises-N-More? I've seen mixed reviews, but their prices are the best for the vacation in which I'm interested.
Carol Sottili: It has an excellent rating with the Better Business Bureau. But if you have doubts, try getting other travel agencies to bid on your trip at www.cruisecompete.com.
Major life change as a result of a trip somewhere: On my first trip to the Azores (after only two years of college Portuguese coursework) I took advantage of an email-of-introduction to meet a well-known author on the island of Terceira. On my next trip there two years later, I offered to help proofread the manuscript of an English translation of a book of his, by a friend of the author's. One thing led to another, and I finally figured out what I wanted to do when I grew up: become a Portuguese-English translator!
Christina Talcott: That's great, thanks!
Alexandria, Va.: Just wanted to give my fellow freezing D.C.-ers a heads-up that American is running some ridiculous sales on flights to Florida and other warm weather destinations right now. I booked a flight to Miami this morning for a weekend in May, leaving out of DCA on Thursday evening and returning Sunday afternoon. Guess how much? $157 with taxes. It is just the kind of warm weather pick me up I need to get me through the rest of winter!
Keep on rocking Flight Crew - love you guys!
Carol Sottili: Thanks for the tip.
Travel Insurance?: Dear Flight Crew:
Do you ever recommend travel insurance? I'm looking at a policy that provides medical benefits, evacuation, trip cancellation, lost baggage, rental car, and other coverage. As in most cases, I'm sure, there are lots of exclusions. On the whole, however, it looks like a decent package. The total cost is about $200 for two people for a five-night trip, which is 10 percent of our budgeted trip.
Thanks for your thoughts.
Carol Sottili: Have you shopped around? Go to www.insuremytrip.com or www.squaremouth.com to compare different policies. And read the fine print.
Hartford, Conn.: Hello Flight Crew. We went to New York for a few days last week and stayed at the Doubletree Suites in Times Square for less than $200/night. Because I am a regular reader of your chat I know your readers are often looking for good NYC deals. The room was a suite, very clean and nice, we slept four and could have had one more. Great view of Times Square. I have a question, though, that might be outside your subjects, but I'll ask. We had tickets to see a Broadway show. The two stars of the show did not appear that night and there were preprinted inserts in the programs saying the understudies would perform. Because they were preprinted, it seemed to be a clearly planned absence of both stars. Do you have any options with a Broadway theater when this happens? We paid a lot for tickets to see these stars perform. Thanks very much.
Andrea Sachs: From what I know about theater (not enormous, but some), I would say those inserts were preprinted for the same reason understudies practice their lines: They are both ready to go in case of an emergency. It is unfortunate that you paid for the second string, but unfortunately that is one of the risks of theater. One idea: Call the theater the day before to see if the stars performed. If not, and it seems they could be out again, see if you can swap nights (if you have that flexibility).
Re: Juneau: It was somewhat expensive, but I really enjoyed doing a zipline excursion outside of Juneau. Lots of fun!
Andrea Sachs: Thanks for the zip on the Zipline.
Anonymous: Hi, What are some good resources for a single woman who wants to travel? Can you suggest any travel agencies that cater specifically to women and organize tours for groups of women?
Nancy McKeon: In our annual Way to Go issue, we mentioned several tour group possibilities, though they focus on singles, not necessarily women. Solo Travel (www.solotravel.org) lists solo-friendly cruises and packages. Connecting: Solo Network (www.cstn.org) is a membership group with newsletter and chat board. Through Rick Steves' Europe Through the Back Door tours (www.ricksteves.com), same-sex singles bunk together and avoid those single supplements. Eldertreks' land trips offer the same deal (www.eldertreks.com), as does Grand Circle Travel on its cruises (www. gct.com). Any of those would allow you to dip your toe into travel.
Washington, D.C.: I, my husband, and our toddler are going to Hawaii this fall. We're only willing to fly from National, only willing to make one stop, and need to get to Lihue. I have found that coach tickets (on US Airways) are about $900-$950 pp, but first class seats (on Alaska airlines) are about $1700. Is it just me, or is it a really good deal to get first class seats for less than double the price of coach? It's really tempting to have a big seat, etc. for such a long trip. Do you think that seems like a good price?
Andrea Sachs: They does not sound bad at all, especially considering the long flight time. My guess is that with tourism down in Hawaii, the airlines can't afford to spike prices in any class.
Potomac, Md.: Hello, our family of four (2 adults, 1 child and 1 infant in lap) is looking at 2 week trip in early July to London to visit relatives. We can either travel out of DC or NYC (we could always drive up to visit relatives & friends there for a day or two on either side of the London trip). Right now, the best fares out of DC seem to be about $2,600 or $2,450 out of NYC. Should we bite now or see if fares go down in the near future. The time period is fixed, but the exact dates are not.
Carol Sottili: Farecast.com says to wait - it predicts fares will go down with 78 percent certainty. I'd agree. Wait and watch.
Chicago, Ill.: Do you know if you can take pre-packaged individual servings of applesauce on the plane?
Andrea Sachs: As long as it is in a container three ounces or smaller. Or, you carry the apples and turn it into sauce on the plane.
Alexandria, Va: Flight Gurus --
I'm leaving for a two week London/Paris holiday this week. Last time I went to Paris, one of your former crew, Gary, gave me a recommendation of a budget 10-20 euro restaurant for lunch/dinner (La Mere Agitee) which was excellent. Anyone have another similarly priced restaurant recommendation?
washingtonpost.com: I am JUST back from Paris myself, had an amazing dinner at L'Avant-Gout near the Place de la Bastille, which has a 31-euro menu for 3 courses, and I think has a cheaper lunch option. Also check out the websites chocolateandzucchini.com and davidlebovitz.com which have some great recommendations in all neighborhoods and at all prices. -- Elizabeth
Carol Sottili: Thanks Elizabeth.
Washington, D.C.: We are driving to and from Asheville, N.C. for Christmas next year and are looking for places to stay overnight on the way down and back. We were thinking of taking 81 one way and 85 the other. Looking for a place with quaint inns, something to see, and good eats that will put us/keep us in the Christmas spirit!
Christina Talcott: Don't miss Santa rappelling down Chimney Rock when you're in the Asheville area - it's a hoot! I'd definitely recommend taking 29 to 40 instead of 81 - it's pretty and doesn't have all the trucks that 81 has. If you take 29 you can stop in Charlottesville and stay in a B&;B. Foxfield Inn was voted one of the country's top B&Bs by TripAdvisor readers, and there are plenty of other charming inns down there, too. A little further south is Lynchburg, Va., where the Federal Crest Inn gets rave reviews. I've never taken 85 from NC before -- does anyone have recs for Greensboro, Durham and the stretch from Durham to Richmond?
Soon To Be Aussies: Lifestyle change because of travel? How's this? I visited Australia for the first time in the 1980s because it seemed smart to be impractical with about 25% of a one-time financial windfall. Fell in love with the place and the people and have returned every couple of years ever since. We'll be retiring to Perth next year.
Christina Talcott: Wow, sounds like a great place to retire!
Bethesda, Md: Going to Spain in a month and would like to know if I can bring hard cheese & cured ham in my checked luggage; do I need to report this somewhere?
Nancy McKeon: Cured ham is still generally a no-no (the Daniele prosciutto and Spanish serrano ham now allowed into the U.S. are processed at plants that are inspected by the USDA). But most of the prohibitions on hard cheese are based on quotas, not safety. There's a maximum dollar amount of hard cow's-milk cheese allowed in (I'm way out of date, but it used to be $30 wholesale value); for sheep's-and goat's-milk hard cheeses there wasn't a limit. But to keep everything on the up and up, you would simply show the cheese to the Customs agent and mention whether it is cow, sheep or goat; he/she would then send you to the USDA inspector, if deemed necessary.
What stays in Vegas...: Where do you recommend finding deals on flight and hotel from DC to Vegas? I'm a little overwhelmed by the options.
Andrea Sachs: Check TravelZoo, Cheaptickets.com, Priceline, Expedia/Orbitz/Travelocity. Check both packages and flights and rooms a la carte, since Vegas is giving away rooms like they are party favors.
Oviedo, Fla.: re: women travels solo -- try Canyon Calling for rugged and easy outdoor adventure. all ages, down to earth female company owner and no foot rubs for strangers rule like some outfitters. they will bunk you with other women to avoid solo supplement, or you can pay more for private room. they go to beautiful places...
Nancy McKeon: Here's some help for Anonymous.
Life altering trip: But first, trip insurance: make sure bankruptcy by the carrier is included. We had trip insurance for a cruise last year -- they went into administration (UK Tour). The insurer said that wasn't covered. IATA reimbursed us. For the replacement, we made certain bankruptcy was included in the coverage. Life altering trip: Australia on miles in business class. We married to make it our honeymoon. I learned how good he was at planning everything, even working out tram timetables in Melbourne. I know I'd have languished in Cleveland Park otherwise.
Christina Talcott: Good tips, and congrats on marrying an ace travel planner! Fearlessly decoding timetables can be so romantic sometimes.
Silver Spring, Md.: Looking for a place to get away with the neighborhood moms this summer ...
Need: spa, walk to shops and restaurants and a couple hours from DC. But, not St. Michaels which is where we've gone before.
washingtonpost.com: How about Berkeley Springs, W.Va.? Sisterly Bonding on a Budget (Post Travel Section, Jan. 4)
Carol Sottili: Berkeley Springs may work. I like beach venues. Maybe Rehoboth? But it is a three-hour drive and not sure about spas there.
Washington, D.C.: I have gotten it in my head that I'd like to walk part of the Camino de Santiago this summer. I'd like to go as part of a small guided tour, and there seem to be a few out there, but none that I've heard of. Do you have any recommendations on how to start the planning process?
washingtonpost.com: Here's an article about the French leg of the journey: Walk This Way (Post Travel Section, July 8, 2007)
Carol Sottili: Here's a starting point from Elizabeth.
Washington, D.C.: I'm heading to the Loire Valley soon too. What about staying in Blois? Does Tours have some advantage that merits the slightly further trip from Paris?
Christina Talcott: Nope, I think staying in Blois sounds great, too. Will you come back and tell us how it goes?
Silver Spring, Md.: I am traveling to the UK (London) soon and am wondering how to choose a prepaid mobile phone to use there for my 6-day stay. Any suggestions (for phones or for websites where I can find trustworthy info on this)? Ideally I would like to be able to make calls to and receive calls from home (Maryland) and make a few local calls as well... Thank you!
Carol Sottili: Buy it in London. We bought ours at the Carphone Warehouse (www.carphonewarehouse.com) at a local mall in London.
Flying to Florida: Following up on the traveler who found $157 to Florida -- I just flew to Fort Lauderdale from National for $110 on Spirit. I've heard mixed reviews but had no problems myself. You just need to know that choosing your seat in advance is an extra charge.
Carol Sottili: And you need to be flexible in order to get the cheapest deals.
Miami airport layover: go to Vizcaya -- and wear shoes you can walk the garden in. It is a nice doable chunk of the tropics and a lovely estate. be sure to walk to the seawall and look back -- you are a baron surveying your astounding realm. Be sure to see if the taxi driver speaks a common language with you! And prebook his return pickup for you... .have him pull over at a miami subs for a fast, fun bite you can tote to MIA.
Nancy McKeon: Hey, Four Corners, Md., this is for you! A vote for Vizcaya.
London, U.K.: Sorry, this is a rather broad request for advice, but I'm hoping to visit Greenland at some point this year. Right now, I'm feeling a bit overwhelmed trying to start narrowing down my choices. Have any of the chatters been/does anyone have suggestions of a reliable company that can make the arrangements if supplied with a few ideas of what I want to see? (I know I want to see some of the ruins, but beyond that my opinion changes to whatever was prominent on the most recent Web site I saw.) I'm moving to NYC in a few months, so am comfortable using either a U.S. or U.K. based company. Thanks.
Christina Talcott: Boy, I have to throw this one out there. Anyone?
Boston, Mass.: How can I book internal flights in South America? Do I need a travel agent? If so, how can I find one? Thanks!
Andrea Sachs: You can book internal flights online, just as you would U.S. or even international flights. For example, TACA flies all around South America. For travel agents, check the list of agents approved by the American Society of Travel Agents at www.asta.org. The site lists agents by expertise and zip code.
Herndon, Va.: Gurus: My wife and and are taking a one-week mid-March trip to London. Any suggestions from you or chatters for anything which might not be featured or is overlooked in the multitude of guidebooks?
washingtonpost.com: A Londoner's London (Post Travel Section, June 15, 2008)
Carol Sottili: Start by reading this article.
Advice for Lihue Travellers: And if you choose to fly Alaska Airlines it's worth noting that, including the bonus miles for flying in first class and the 30,000+ bonus miles currently available for getting an Alaska Airlines credit card (a link is on their website) and using that to buy the tickets, you'll earn enough miles for free round-trip tickets in coach to anywhere Alaska flies in Canada, the U.S. or Mexico. So you'd really be buying two trips for the (higher) price of one.
Andrea Sachs: That is pineapple sweet. Thanks!
Alexandria, Va.: I spent several days in Juneau last year. My husband and I really enjoyed a floatplane flight over the glaciers, the Mendenhall glacier, and going up the Mount Roberts Tram. Depending how much time you have, you could probably do a couple of those things. I do not recommend the Mendenhall rafting trip.
Andrea Sachs: Thanks for the great tips, and warning.
Wine duty: It's only about a dollar a bottle. That said, make sure what you buy isn't available at Total Wine already. It's a global market.
Christina Talcott: Good to know about the cost, and I concur: Smaller vintners are way more fun to visit anyway, with the guys who paste their own labels on the bottles...
Longyearbyen, Norway: Been trying forever to win that tote bag without success, but maybe this is finally the magic question. I came to this tiny town about 800 miles from the North Pole a year ago January to cover a seemingly absurd event called Polarjazz, which is the world's northernmost jazz festival and held in the middle of a four-month polar night. The enthusiasm of performers to be somewhere so exotic and locals embracing the rare chance to hear unfamiliar music was amazing. It also had the warmth of a 2,000-person small town combined with natural Scandinavian friendliness. Plus the area is stunningly beautiful, even if you need a rifle outside of town to ward off polar bears.
I've been a journalist for more than 20 years who's always hoped to edit his own newspaper (preferably an alternative weekly), but with the industry collapsing in the U.S. that seemed increasingly unlikely. So I took the ultimate dare and sold all of my possessions except my computer and camera equipment, and moved here in November. Now, after enduring another polar winter, I'm launching my "world's northernmost alternative newspaper" next month. Am I feeling totally secure? No, but then again the world is a very scary place for a lot of people right now and if I fail at least it's in pursuit of a dream.
Christina Talcott: What a bold move! Best of luck to you!
Dupont, D.C.: Can I go snowboarding in the Pa. area in mid-to-late March? Am I just too late to jump on this bandwagon? Any other ideas for something close-by or, if i have to fly, cheaper than the Colarado resorts?
Carol Sottili: No hard-and-fast answer on snowboarding in Pennsylvania in mid-to-late March. If it stays cold, maybe, but I wouldn't count on it. Have you looked at Snowshoe or Canaan Valley in West Virginia? They will probably still be open.
Major life change: Four years ago, I visited a friend attending Thammasat University in Bangkok, Thailand. I also thought I would use this first trip to Thailand as a chance to meet face to face with someone I had been corresponding with via email for a long time. Yadda, yadda, yadda and four years later I am in a long distance serious relationship that has its roots in that first trip. Now, my entire year is centered around preparing for travel back to Thailand and having him travel here. We both have very good careers in our respective countries -- he is an architect there, I work for the feds here, but we hope to get him here permanently soon. Needless to say, it is a very expensive situation, but I have become an expert in airfare hunting and FF mile usage. We generally see each other about 6-7 months of the year, so it's not bad, but still very tough on the emotions when we have to part each time. I would marry him if I could, but as we're a same-sex couple... We're pursuing other ideas and we hold out hope for the Uniting American Families Act that has been bouncing around Congress for years. I really do not want to give up my citizenship in exchange for being able to marry in say, Canada, but I will if I have no other option. To sum this up, I have never been so happy with someone; I truly, truly love him as much as anyone can love another person, but have never been so frustrated and emotionally torn about my country. We consider ourselves married, but that doesn't hold any legal weight. It's very hard but I wouldn't give him up for anything.
Christina Talcott: Wow, that sounds like quite a challenge, and I hope you'll find a solution soon. Hang in there!
For Chicago: Personally, I think $50 is worth it to avoid O'Hare given my last experience there! Depending on the where the chatter lives, they should check out flying Southwest from BWI to Midway, often that's a really cheap flight.
Carol Sottili: Southwest prices haven't been very cheap, but sign up for the airline's Ding fares -- you could get a deal that way.
Chicago, Ill: Both O'Hare and Midway are on the El, just on different lines. Midway's a little closer to downtown and probably $10 less for a cab ride, but it's not like National vs. Dulles or anything. More like Dulles vs BWI.
If O'Hare is appreciably cheaper, I'd fly in there. You've got more airlines to choose from and more options in case something happens to your flight.
Carol Sottili: Another opinion.
Change: In 1998, I was a high school junior hell-bent on a career in politics. I came to DC on a Model UN trip and skipped a plenary session to tour Georgetown, my dream school. And... it didn't do it for me. It was impressive and all, but I just didn't get that "yes, I can see myself here" feeling.
Ended up going to college in upstate New York and majoring in English--a subject that had always been my strength. Oddly enough, I did end up here in DC, but doing something totally different than I planned on eleven years ago. If I hadn't visited Georgetown then and realized it wasn't for me, my life might have been totally different.
Christina Talcott: Boy, if that's not a lesson to trust your gut, I don't know what is. Thanks!
York, Pa.: Dear Flight Crew: We want to drive down Rt 83 from York, and somehow park, and take a rail (Light Rail?) to the Lincoln Memorial. Is there a way to get something above Baltimore (near Rt 83), and end up there? Or do we have to drive south of Baltimore and pick up a rail? Thanks much. Somewhat confused in PA
Nancy McKeon: It's east of I-83, but the MARC trains' Penn line runs up to Aberdeen and Perryville (they're closer to I-95) and all the way down to Union Station in D.C. At Union Station you can buy tickets on a Tourmobile or other sightseeing bus that will take you to the Lincoln Memorial. Hope that helps somewhat.
Alexandria, Va. (life changed by travel): How my life was changed by travel: I was living in Ohio, working for a member of Congress, I used to travel to DC a few times a year. It is one of the only places that literally made my stomach get butterflies when I landed at the airport (in a good way) -- the view of the Capitol dome and monuments never failed to move me. It was this feeling that finally prompted me to move here, where I met my now-husband three days later! Sometimes when I get bogged down by the city or overwhelmed by work, I go back and read my journal entries for those days and remember how lucky I am to live in a place I truly love.
Christina Talcott: Aww, I love it when people fall in love with a city, especially my enervating, dysfunctional but lovely hometown.
Midwest : Hi folks! My husband and I have a TON of American Airlines FF miles stored up and would like to use them to go to the UK in late summer. At what point should we aim to book our tickets? I don't know if I'm 100% ready to commit to exact travel dates just yet, but I also don't want to miss our chance at "free" seats...
Thanks for any insight you can pass along (and thank you so much for doing these chats! I am a longtime fan.)
Carol Sottili: My guess is that you won't be able to get FF seats in late summer -- most likely sold out. You need to plan way in advance. The schedules are posted 331 days beforehand for most legacy airlines, so that's when you need to call.
Washington, DC: HELP..NEED HONEYMOON TRAVEL HELP.
Wedding in mid-September (12), and want to go on a 10 day-2 week trip. Starting with a few days of relaxation on the beach, then some touring.
Was thinking Italy. Is there a beach town on Italy we could go to relax for a few days, then travel around the country? What about the Greek Isles than Italy?
Any suggestions of towns, costs, etc?
Carol Sottili: Read the blog on I wrote on Friday. Go to www.washingtonpost.com/travel and click on blogs.
Alexandria, Va.: major life change? I got that nailed down. I had a "pen pal" from India for a couple years. Just friends. He offered to show me around if I ever went there on vacation. I took him up on his offer. We fell in love, and decided to marry. I went back once more to make the arrangements, then ended up moving there for 2 years! we're now happily married, living back in the States and have an 18 month old daughter!
Christina Talcott: Congratulations! Boy, aren't you glad you kept writing those letters?
Washington, D.C.: Any suggestions for a Honeymoon in the South of France in Mid-Sept? We want to relax for a few days, then tour.
Nancy McKeon: Aix-en-Provence, Arles, Nimes, all drippingly romantic. Get a car and drive up into the wilds of Haute Provence, Cezanne country. Go to Moustiers to buy wedding china (okay, faience) you'll treasure the rest of your days (you'll have to -- it's expensive).
Washington, D.C.: I'm going to Istanbul next month. On the way home, I have a 5 hour, 15 minute layover in Amsterdam. Is that enough time to make an (extremely) quick jaunt into the city, taking the train to Centraal Station or Leiden? I've gotten conflicting advice.
Andrea Sachs: The train station is RIGHT THERE at the airport, so you have easy access to the city, which is only about 15 minutes away. I would say, as long as you have only light carry-on (and can move fast) and know where you want to go and when the trains depart, I would take that quick jaunt (especially if you are already checked into your flight). Just keep track of time and don't bring back any liquids that would slow your trip through security.
Booking internal flights in South America: Booking internatal flights CAN be easy as in the States, but not always. On Gol Airlines here, for instance, you can't book with a foreign credit card (I've heard some people use the Argentine site of the airline without problems). TAM Airlines is easier, since it has offices overseas and is a code share partner with United.
Andrea Sachs: Good advice. Thanks!
Arlington, Va.: I studied abroad my last semester of college because all of my older friends had already graduated from my U.S. university and I was bored. While studying in London, I took a "pre-law" class and knew in that instant that I wanted to become a lawyer. I came back, graduated from undergrad, went to law school, and the rest, as they say, is history (for better or worse!). It's particularly odd because I hadn't even thought of going to law school or becoming a lawyer until I took that class. Anyway, on to more exciting topics --I am going to France this September to celebrate my 40th birthday. I am joining a small group tour of the Loire Valley, so my dates are not flexible. I need to fly out on September 25 and return on October 5. In doing some online fare shopping for direct flights from Dulles to Paris, the absolute dirt cheapest tickets are still closet to $1,000. I know you don't have a crystal ball, but what are your thoughts on waiting till later to see what happens to the fares? Good idea or bad idea? Thanks!
Carol Sottili: $1,000 sounds high. Wait, but keep tracking.
Edmonton: I haven't made a big change because of a trip I made -- but set one in motion for my nephew. He was stuck in a major rut after high school, worked in a department store, had hardly traveled away from home, didn't know what he wanted to do with his life. I sent him air tickets to Columbia SC where I was working at the time. We went to Savannah, Charleston, and Hilton Head. He couldn't believe the world that he saw -- things he had only read about before, especially the Mercer House. He went home, quit his job, became a bus driver, then quit that and started college, taking education and psychology. He's now on a break for several months and touring across Southeast Asia with friends.
I'm glad his siblings are more grounded -- none of them have needed a trip like that to get themselves going!
Christina Talcott: What an incredible gift you gave him!
London, U.K.: I've only seen a few Broadway shows, but have seen many over here. My suggestion is that if you buy tickets for a show based solely on one actor (or even two), then always go for a Friday or Saturday night. Avoid matinees, and also often try to avoid Thursdays or Tuesdays, as those tend to be when understudies perform. Not always, so spend a few minutes poking around online to see if you can find any fan dicussion of that show. (If you're coming over here to see something, check out the theatremonkey Web site for lots of useful information -- seating arrangements, dress, behaviour, who's more likely to sign autographs, etc.) But Friday and Saturday nights are generally the big nights, and so someone who feels "iffy" is more likely to perform then than perhaps on other nights. Or, if the show is not in huge demand, you can buy your tickets the day off, when there is less chance (barring accidents, sudden illnesses, etc) of someone backing out -- this works best if you have many possible days for it.
Alternatively, plan to attend during one of Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS events, if those still run in conjunction with actual performances or another charity day/performance. On those days you're more likely to see all the "names" attending.
Shows can't avoid having people out some times, though -- that's just one of the risks of live performances. Printed inserts really take very little time to print up and stick into the programmes, so it doesn't mean their absence had been planned in advance.
Andrea Sachs: Thanks so much for the peek behind the curtain. Much appreciated.
train from D.C.: If I needed to escape the city and wanted to go somewhere lovely and charming for the weekend, where would you recommend that I could get to via train (since I love the train)? I'm looking for someplace quiet, i.e. not NYC. Thanks!!
Nancy McKeon: Charleston, S.C.?
Bethesda, Md.: I've been shopping for airfare to Prague and Budapest, and it seems that a couple of sites (Vayama and flycheapabroad I think) have prices cheaper than the airlines. Are these sites consolidators, and how wary of buying from Vayama or another of these sites should I be? (I've bought in the past from consolidators, but lately I've found the airline sites to match the best fares and I prefer using them).
Christina Talcott: I've heard no complaints about Vayama, so no reasons for worry. I don't know about Fly Cheap Abroad -- anyone have experience with them?
Washington, D.C.: Last session a Kentucky native posted information about the Bourbon Trail based on my inquiry the week prior. First of all, thank you to the Kentucky person. This was exactly the insight I was looking for! Second, thanks to the Flight Crew for posting a "late" response. I think these after-the-discussion postings are very useful.
In that vein... to the person going to Dublin for a long weekend: I just got back from my second trip there. I would support the recommendation to just stay in the city. See Trinity College, the Oscar Wilde statue, and the National History Museum, which walks a fine line between creepy and fascinating. Take a tour of the Guinness or Jameson factories. Definitely go see the Gaol. (It was the last tourist attraction I visited because I didn't think I'd be interested, but it was fascinating. One of the forgotten-history stories left me stunned.) The modern art museum is near the Gaol - both a decent walk from the city center - and is housed in an old hospital. At night, check out traditional musicians at the Porterhouse on Nassau Street or Gogarty's in the Temple Bar district. If you must leave the city, do it by train or a coach tour arranged through the excellent tourism office in the city center; you won't be there long enough to get comfortable driving on the other side of the road. Enjoy!
Nancy McKeon: Washington, D.C. is passing it forward!
Rockville, Md.: Is it possible to find a 7 day package to Japan (Airfare + Hotels) for less than $2000 for a solo traveler?
Do you think arranging everything will be less expensive than buying a package?
Andrea Sachs: It can be done, though I worry that you might get stuck with paying beyond that $2,000 because of single supplement. But unless you want to stay in a hostel or cheap hotel, it usually is cheaper to book a tour that includes air and hotel, plus maybe some tours, meals, etc. Check out the offering at such big companies as Globus, Pacific Delights, Gate1Travel and Collette, which have a range of options and budgets. Also, see if they waive the supplement or have specific trips that don't have the extra charge.
Washington, D.C.: How many cities in Europe do you think its possible to visit in 14 days? We're not looking for a whirlwind tour. We'd really like to explore the cities but not to the point of ridiculous depth if that makes sense. But we're not into art, so we'd be skipping any art museums.
Christina Talcott: In my experience, go to more than three or four cities in one stretch and they start to run together. I usually find that two nights in a city is the bare minimum amount of time it takes to get a sense of a city, as long as you're going at a good clip and are willing to get up and out every morning and stay out all day exploring. But that can be very tiring, so three or four cities would be my preference.
Olney, Md.: Four of us (mid 40's) want to do a girls trip to Italy. Thinking Nov '09, for a week. We are ok with cooler weather. Big question itinerary? We want to see some of the major sights but we also want to relax (food/wine!!). Both Florence and Rome have been mentioned, as well as chilling in Tuscany. Cinque Terre also appeals. Suggestions, thoughts?
Nancy McKeon: Why not fly to Rome, rent a car and drive to Florence? You get to "chill" in Lazio and Tuscany in between (and can visit the Etruscan tombs at Cerveteri and the Orsini Park of the Monsters at Bomarzo) and then hit the museums, churches and restaurants of Florence. Drive straight back down to Fiumicino airport to leave, to keep things simple.
Edmonton again...: I've had success avoiding the single supplement by stating that I was willing to room with another single. The other singles on the trip wanted their own room -- so I got my own too! And without paying the single supplement. It may not always work out, but it has for me.
Nancy McKeon: That does happen -- nice!
Christina Talcott: OK, everyone, we've got to wrap it up. Thanks for your great questions, suggestions and life-changing stories!
I want to send a tote bag to the aunt who took her nephew on the eye-opening southern ramble, and also one to the northern Norway newspaperman -- how could I resist that story? E-mail your addresses to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Join us again next Monday at 2, and have a great week!
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