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Talk About Travel
Trips with pets, Berlin, Quebec City, Sonoma and more

The Flight Crew
Washington Post Travel Section
Monday, March 16, 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: Driving cross-country (with beagle on board), visiting water parks in Germany (and closer to home) and dancing the night away in Miami.

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: Hello, and welcome to this week's edition of Travel Talk! Hope you're staying warm and dry after this dreary weekend and the apparent (and unwelcome, in my book) return of winter.

How cute is the road-tripping beagle, Darwin, whose pictures illustrated yesterday's story on driving cross-country? Have you ever done a similar trip with your dog, or had other travel experiences with a pet? I want to hear your companion-animal-as-travel-companion stories, and I'll pick one winner to receive a blue and orange pet carrier (for pets up to 17 pounds) from JetBlue's

JetPaws

program.

Of course, we also want to hear all your travel-related questions, comments and tips. Let's go!

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Chicago, Ill.: This is not a fun travel topic, but I want to remind readers headed out onto fabulous trips to PLEASE PLEASE get up and move around the cabin. Take extra precaution if you're a female using oral contraceptives.

Friday I discovered I have a pulmonary embolism, most likely caused by the increased risk of a clot that comes from a combination of a long trip and contraceptives. I'm 27. It's not fun. So I'm on a crusade - be careful!

Scott Vogel: Granted, it may not be the happiest subject in the world, but important information it is. Thanks for telling your story, and hope you feel better soon.

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Alexandria, VA: Flight Crew,

Can you tell me anything about Friendly Planet tours? My wife and I couldn't pass up their Taj Mahal express trip to India in September that was printed in the Post last weekend - we've always wanted to go and the price was incredible. Also, what's the word on Air India? Good airline? Thought I'd ask since we'll be on a 14 hour non-stop from JFK to Delhi.

Carol Sottili: Friendly Planet has been around for some time -- I think they started in the early 1980s. It's a member of the trade associations and have an A- rating with the BBB. I've never received a reader complaint about them. As for Air India, I'm not as familiar with that operation. Anyone ever fly them?

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Rockville, Md.: Hi there. It's been quite awhile since I've rented a car and will be needing one in L.A. in June. Am I better off waiting for deals closer to my travel dates or book now? Better to use the companies' own websites or sites like Kayak, Orbitz, etc.? Any good places to find coupons these days? HELP!!

Carol Sottili: I've had great luck with Hotwire.com. It consistently offers very good deals.

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Washington, D.C.: My fiance and I will be leaving for our Italian honeymoon in a few weeks (yay)! But we have a nine-hour layover in the Newark airport on the way out (boooo). Is that enough time to go into the city and come back? If not, do you have any recommendations around the airport itself?

Nancy McKeon: Well, this may seem a bit odd, but Newark is adjacent to the big Ikea in Elizabeth, N.J. Now, living in D.C., you have adequate access to Ikea (three of them), but it's just a thought (and an opportunity for those Swedish meatballs for lunch). Also, across the way is the Jersey Gardens Mall, which has the state's largest movie theater (of course, you're soon going to be sitting for nine hours, so that might not appeal). Elizabeth is a city that's busily rebuilding itself, and there are plenty of Italian and Portuguese food places, so that might appeal. Go to the Elizabeth Web sites and see if something strikes you; go to www.elizabethnj.org/attractions.html. Anyone else have ideas?

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Tallahassee, Florida: I am flying to England in July. Should I purchase my ticket now or wait in hopes the price will go down?

Carol Sottili: Depends what prices you are finding. I've been seeing prices as low as $800 round trip, with all taxes included, for summer nonstop flights. Historically, that's a good price for summer travel. Sales have been strange in recent months. There are a lot of them, but they're often short-lived and they come with many restrictions. That said, you may want to hold out.

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Northern Virginia: Scott, I thoroughly enjoyed your article on the huge waterpark near Berlin, especially the (so true) comment by your son, "It's like Naked Town"! It brought back fond memories of when we lived in Berlin with our kids about 10 years ago and the visits we made to the local indoor pools and waterparks. One thing I missed in the article was a sense of the attractions in the waterpark itself, e.g. how many slides were there?, was there a wave pool and/or lazy river?, etc. Also, our experience 10 years ago with the Berlin pools and waterpark was that these places did not seem to have the same safety standards as U.S. waterparks. We found they had a lot fewer lifeguards and many fewer restrictions on the waterslides. Did you experience the same thing at Tropical Islands or have things there, hopefully, improved in the last decade?

Scott Vogel: Hey there -- Thanks for your nice words. There were indeed a few water slides at the pool that required a separate 3-euro admission fee. Nothing too exciting, at least by comparison to the rest of the place, which is truly unique, for better or worse. Also, there are a few gentler slides in the main lagoon area that are part of the regular admission charge. There are no wave pools or lazy rivers. (For more info, take a virtual tour at www.tropical-islands.de.)

You make an interesting point about lifeguards and water safety. I heard far fewer whistles from the lifeguards there than I'm used to, and yes, there seemed to be far fewer lifeguards period. My advice is for parents to stick close to their kids.

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Union Square, N.Y.: My fiance and I are planning to take a two-week honeymoon, probably around Feb or March of next year. We'd like a trip that's a combination of beachy relaxing and city/culture. Right now we're thinking of either Croatia and Italy, or Greece and Istanbul. Where would you go?

Nancy McKeon: I think it's nice when you can't go wrong either way! I fell in love with Croatia last summer, so combining it with Italy would be a wonderful idea. But Istanbul is exciting, and combined with some relaxing island days in Greece, well, that kinda spells bliss to me. Opinions out there?

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D.C. - London: Hello,

I am looking at airfares to London early this summer. Normally, I'd shoot for a non-stop but some of the flights I've seen have layovers in places in which I wouldn't mind spending a few days. Isn't there a term for getting an airfare with a layover for a few days? What is the best way to go about getting a ticket with an extended layover? When I try to price out tickets as a multi-city option, the airfares shoot way up.

Carol Sottili: Fares with layovers are usually priced differently. But some sales have been offering free layovers. Air France, for example, had one a few weeks ago with free layovers in Paris. The only way I know to book them is by using the multi-city option. They're also known as circle fares.

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Chevy Chase: We have just returned from a round-trip on Delta into and out of DCA. On both legs they told us security regs required us to be seated for the first or last 30 minutes. I thought that rule had gone out long ago, and in fact last month on USAir there was no such announcement. Is the rule back, or was Delta just trying to keep us in our seats?

Carol Sottili: We get this complaint every few weeks. I think it's just a pilot who doesn't usually fly that route and doesn't know the rule changed.

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Baltimore, Md.: Any tips for getting deals on last minute plane tickets? In ten days, I'm flying to a small, regional airport in the Midwest. I hear the cost of air travel is supposed to be down due to the recession, but when I made this same trip a few weeks ago, the best price I could find two weeks in advance was $750 after taxes. I ended up using the Priceline Negotiator and saved a lot (no affiliation), but didn't love giving up all control of times, etc.

Carol Sottili: There are plenty of airfare sales, but the best fares seem to be between larger markets. Smaller, regional airports, especially those with no discount carrier service, haven't seen these great sales. I'd try www.lastminute.com, and, if you're doing a weekend trip, look at the individual airline's last-minute Web offerings. Also, is there a larger airport within striking distance of the smaller one?

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Nashville, Tenn.: Hi Travel Crew! I just found out one of my best friends is getting married in August - in Quebec City! While I'm so excited for her, flights look to be around $680 for flying from Nashville to QC. Do you have any suggestions on other, cheaper ways to get there?

Christina Talcott: Here's a suggestion: You could do what I did last time I went to QC. I flew Southwest into Portland, Maine, and drove from there. Granted, it was super-cheap because I met friends up there and we took their car, but you can find a car-rental deal on Hotwire (I just found $23/day for August dates). From Portland, we took 95 to 104, stopped in Skowhegan (a cute town where they shot "Empire Falls," where you can scoop up discount shoes at the New Balance factory), then took 201 (stopping for a snack at Kennebec River Pub & Brewery), then across the border to QC (stop at Fromagerie Gilbert for fresh local cheese). It takes about 5 hours, but only do it during the day, since it can turn into Moose Alley up there, and you don't want to be on the road at night when a moose decides to cross.

Burlington's another town you can fly into and drive into Canada (car rentals are heavily taxed in Canada, so it's better to rent in the US). Or you could also look into flying into Toronto (AirCanada serves Nashville's airport) and either driving or taking the train to QC, though that might be more expensive than just flying to QC in the first place. Anyone have other suggestions?

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Forest Hill, Md.: Comment on in-flight entertainment thread from last week - I just purchased the Kindle 2 from Amazon. Battery operation said to last for 4 days; didn't have chance to test that claim. Did a test run on a recent flight to TX. I had 3 books downloaded. Found it a compact, lightweight way to carry along more than enough reading material for the longest flight I expect to make (14 hours to India in the fall).

Carol Sottili: Another idea.

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Friendly Planet: We did their Thailand tour two years ago and it was fantastic. Most of the people on the tour raved about other tours they did with friendly planet. So you will be in good hands.

Carol Sottili: Good to know.

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Tenleytown, D.C.: Taking my cat on vacation is not advisable since she can't make the 10 minute ride from my house to her vet without pooping or peeing on herself in her carrier. Lord knows I wish I could relate a better travel adventure with her, but that once-a-year vet trip is about all I can handle.

Christina Talcott: Yeah, sounds like she should be a stay-at-home cat.

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Delaware: Hello and thanks for the great chats every week. My question is about US Airways. I am planning a trip to NC (Greensboro) in late April and US Airways has by far the best rates. My friend says that is b/c they have had a few crashes recently. Should I be worried? Is that the real reason the prices are so low? I love the bargain (flying out on Thursday for $49 and back to PHL Sunday for $69) but it's not worth a crash!

Scott Vogel: US Airways has not had a few crashes recently. It had one crash/splash landing in the Hudson River recently and that occurred on January 15. No passengers or crew were killed. Prior to that, US Airways had not had a crash since 2003. The bargain pricing is most likely due to industry-wide desperation during hard economic times.

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Rockville, Md.: Do you think airfares to Europe for July, especially places other than London/Paris(/Madrid?) will get lower over the next month or two?

Carol Sottili: I'd probably wait for a bit to buy, especially if I had flexibility with dates. Check the Web sites of airlines that fly to your destination on a regular basis - I'm seeing lots of Web-only sales.

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Ohio: I've not taken a cross country trip with my pet, but I have taken trips 350 to 700 miles one way with my now departed schnauzer "Panzer". He loved to travel and was very vocal when we passed tractor-trailers on the highway. He also did not like anyone near "his car" on foot at rest stops, etc. We ate fast food together and he was a real sweetheart. After his passing, I have got two Westies, they love to go in the car anywhere. The older one has gone on 350 mile trips with me and is a very good dog riding shotgun and "watching out" for me. The pup was gotten last summer, likes to ride, but we haven't gone on a long trip with him yet.

Christina Talcott: Oh, sounds like Panzer was a great travel companion (though I'm sure passsers-by didn't like him "guarding" the car). Hope your new puppy turns out to be a good little traveler!

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Fairfax, Va.: Re Friendly Planet tours--I went to China on a Friendly Planet tour. It was well-planned, our local guides were terrific, and the price could not be beat. The hotels were much nicer and more centrally located than in ones I stayed in when I went on my own and arranged my own itinerary. For first-time travelers to any country, I'd recommend them. Plus, the agents stateside are easy to talk to and help if you have any concerns.

Carol Sottili: Another vote for Friendly Planet.

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Washington, D.C.: For the Union Square, N.Y. couple looking into honeymoon ideas. My fiance and I leave for ours in 13 days. We had a similar set of criteria and we chose 4.5 days in Cairo, then a short flight to Cyprus for a week of mountains, wine, hikes, and beaches. We'll split our time on the island between the south EU member state and the northern non-country of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. Most people think its an odd honeymoon, but we're excited (and have been to Italy, Croatia, Greece, etc before and wanted something new).

Nancy McKeon: Okay, ideas for the Union Square honeymooners. Thanks.

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Arlington, Va.: Another term for the long layover in one city in the middle of an itinerary is a "free stopover".

The person looking for opinions on Air India should probably check Skytrax and Flyertalk. They actually have pretty cheap fares from JFK to Europe quite frequently as well since they stop there on the way to India. Their business class product looks pretty nice on the aircraft on that route.

Carol Sottili: I have mixed feelings about the many opinion sites that have popped up. I wonder whether they attract more of those who had a bad experience. And some don't require that you authenticate your identity. But they're worth a take-with-a-grain-of-sand look.

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Richmond, Va. : So, just to clarify, what is the dress code for the waterpark? I go to Berlin often and my kids might enjoy it but not if they have to see Ugly Naked Dad. They had enough of a fright last summer in France at Scary Banana Hammock Dad (dress code, not preference).

Scott Vogel: HAHA. I hear you. Most of Tropical Islands (2/3 of it) is clothing-required, including the lagoon, "rainforest" and the bars (in no particular order). The public areas of the sauna/spa area (which are not visible from the rest of the park) seemed to be about half and half, but in the hot tubs, the steam rooms, sauna, etc., everyone I saw was either nude or wrapped in a towel.

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Re: extended layover: I've obtained an extended layover on domestic flights for a small fee. This was a few years ago, but I managed to extend a layover in Las Vegas for a couple of days for about $75 extra. All it took was a call to the airline (and the knowledge that my flight path would take me through that city).

Carol Sottili: That may still be possible on certain fare codes, but you also now need to add the $20 that most airlines are now charging to book via phone instead of online.

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Midwest: Hi folks!

Just wanted to follow up -- a couple of weeks ago I asked about when I should book my frequent flyer mile tickets to London for this summer. Well, your answer certainly got us moving! Fortunately it appears we struck early enough as we were able to get 2 free tickets from Chicago over Labor Day weekend (woo hoo!) So excited -- I only wish it was coming up sooner!

Thanks for motivating us to get booking!

Carol Sottili: I think you were very lucky to get those tickets. Have fun.

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Dallas, Tex.: We have two trips coming up and I need some advice from those with experience on toddler travel. We are going to NY in June, and will not be renting a car. I'm assuming we can put a carseat in a taxi cab? Is the driver going to think we're crazy? Is the subway a better option? All previous trips have involved personal vehicles, so it was easy to snap it in. Also, we are going to Amsterdam in the fall... baby will be about 18 months. We can get a direct flight or one with a layover. Is a layover going to helpful? Would it help minimize jetlag (wishful thinking, right)? Thanks!

Carol Sottili: Who cares whether the cab driver thinks you're crazy? I just hope you can get one to stop for you. Subways are noisy and crowded and confusing to those who don't know their way around. I'd probably stay above ground.

As for Amsterdam, I'd go nonstop. Take an overnight flight, and your child should sleep. I've heard too many horror stories about missed connections.

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Alexandria, Va.: Any suggestions for side trips from London the third week of August? Thinking about spending it in Paris, but my plans are somewhat flexible still. Thanks!

Nancy McKeon: Paris is never a bad idea, but what about Brussels? The frites are fine, and the new museum for the surrealist painter Rene Magritte opens in June. Go to www.visitbelgium for details.

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Philadelphia: Re 30 minutes outside National airport: It's also sometimes the flight attendents who claim that, to avoid having people moving around the cabin. It's the same as some flights they're adamant that people can't move among cabins (for example, the people in the first row of coach aren't allowed to slip up to use the business class's toilets) because they say it's a federal regulation, while other flights don't care because the only reason people are moving around is to get to the toilets or to bypass an attendent's cart.

The times that annoy me are when the pilots forget to turn off the "Fasten Seatbelts" sign. I was on a trans-Atlantic flight where that once happened - about five hours into the flight, with no turbulence, clear skies, no clouds, and with attendents having served beverages and "meals" already, a number of passengers gave up waiting for the sign to go off and rushed to use the toilets. An attendant came on over the intercom and very angrily told everyone to sit down; thirty seconds later the light went off.

Carol Sottili: More theories.

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Alexandria: Loved the cross-country trip story, especially since our family is planning something similar in 2010. Instead of dogs we're taking our small kids. One aspect that was not clear from the story is how long each trip took. I'd like to stop and see the sights but ultimately arrive in Seattle with some time to actually unwind before turning around and coming back (via a different route, of course).

Christina Talcott: Melanie's first trip took 30 days, and her second took 18. I guess it depends if you want to do the southern route, northern route or both. When my sister and I were 10 and 11, our folks took us on a six-week-long cross country trip, first driving south through Texas and the southwest, then up the California coast and home via Montana, South Dakota, Minnesota, etc. We camped and visited as many national parks as possible, staying two or three days in some places (Yellowstone, Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Denver) and doing day-trips to most other places (a day at the Monterey Aquarium once we finally hit California, a half-day in Vegas, etc.) It was a looong time for my parents to take vacation from work, but I wouldn't have wanted any less time.

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Sarasota, Fla.: I've traveled several times with my own Shih Tzu, but most interesting travel adventure was driving around Brittany and Normandy with Waldo, a 70-lb. standard poodle belonging to a friend who was living in Dinan for six months. France is incredibly dog-friendly anyway, and we had no trouble finding hotels to rent a room for the three of us. But it was out on the street that Waldo shone... he was super-gregarious, and virtually every French person we passed would stop to comment on and coo over him. So much for the French being cold and aloof--a big friendly and charmingly attractive dog will break the ice every time!

Christina Talcott: You're right about how pet-friendly France is. Waldo must have loved all the attention!

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Washington, D.C.: I travel frequently with my Labrador. Though, unless you were close to the car you'd never know - he's asleep within 15 minutes on the highway and would just as soon stay in the car on rest stops. We've surprised a number of people when he just pops up and they're next to the car. I guess they weren't expecting to overlook a 100 lb black dog.

Christina Talcott: Wow, that's a big dog. Guess he needs his sleep, huh?

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McPherson Square, D.C.: Help Flight Crew,

Really want to get away with the kids (who range from HS freshman - kindergartner) for a few days over spring break but scared of the hordes at places like DisneyWorld, etc. We've done off-season Ocean City a few times with success but looking to branch out without breaking the bank this year. Any ideas?

Nancy McKeon: What about a more general destination, like Lancaster County and nearby places in Penna? That way you could do Hershey park and mayhe historic York (great Amish market) but also perhaps tour pretzel factories (and there's always the Harley Davidson factory exhibits). It would be a more varied experience than a Disney World or the beach.

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Travels with My Cat: Many, many years ago when I was a young lass, I lived in Munich for a few years and was bringing my cat back to the U.S. with me. I was flying Lufthansa and traveling with my cat in a cat carrier in the cabin. I was seated next to an older German man who decided that the best place for his hand was on my thigh. To get his hand off my body, I tried non-confrontational actions such as shifting in my seat and "accidentally" brushing his arm away, but his hand kept wandering back to me. Of course, these days I would call a flight attendant or use my limited German and tell him to get his -@#! hand off me, but I was young and stupid then. So, I decided to use my cat to my advantage and pulled Blackie's cat carrier onto my lap. The man must not have liked cats, because his hand stayed in his lap for the rest of trip to Frankfurt, where thankfully, he got off the plane. (And the Lufthansa flight attendants didn't care that I had the cat carrier on my lap as long as the cat remained inside.) Blackie lived many years and we had lots of travel adventures, but while this first trip together was memorable for me, Blackie slept through the whole thing.

Christina Talcott: I've heard of watch-dogs before, but never cats deployed in self-defense. I'm sure the flight attendants were relieved to not have to deal with the lecherous guy!

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Philadelphia, Pa.: Members of the National Association of Rail Passengers (NARP) get a discount on Amtrak tickets. Yet for some reason, it is the most difficult thing to process. At the Amtrak ticket counters, it usually takes them several minutes, often with the assistance of a manager, to process the discount. I would use the computer ticketing, but it doesn't have list the NARP discount as one of its discount options. I don't expect you to have an answer, yet I am hoping if Amtrak officials finally notice this problem, they will do something about it.

Nancy McKeon: I don't know if any Amtrak officials are chat regulars, but ya never know!

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Annapolis: I think the person with the question about a layover at the Newark Airport wanted to go into The City (i.e., Manhattan); there's a Jersey Transit rail stop at the airport that takes you into Penn Station - I think it takes about 20 minutes, if that. There's a schedule on the Jersey Transit website.

Nancy McKeon: I think you're probably right.

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August Side Trip From London: As well as Brussels, I'd suggest the Belgian city of Bruges (Brugge if you prefer Flemish). A lovely city with much to see and do, very walkable, and once you see the canals you'll know why Brugge is known as 'the Venice of the North'.

Nancy McKeon: An excellent idea. Bruges is lovely. No reason not to do both, either.

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Chicago, Ill.: I am sort of an international travel novice - but always wanted to go Istanbul. Trying to go the first week of July -- this is a very basic question - but where do I start looking? Expedia/orbitz/hotwire type sites? Or are those only really good for domestic travel? What sort of fare should be I looking for?

Thanks!

Carol Sottili: You can start by looking at the third-party booking sites, such as Expedia, Orbitz and Travelocity. Also try a couple of metasearch sites, such as Kayak.com and Farecast.com. And then go directly to the airline sites - Lufthansa and Air France are two airlines that fly to Istanbul. It's expensive to Istanbul right now - at least $1,000 round trip. Maybe there will be a sale.

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Silver Spring, Md.: I'm headed up to Boston at the end of next month. Do you know of any really good airfare/car rental deals between here and there, or am I probably better off packing up the car and just driving the 8-9 hours or so?

(Between getting to the airport early to check in and getting my bags and whatnot, I suspect the time difference between flying and driving will honestly be fairly negligible; what I can't decide is if airfares a month or so out will be more or less than the cost of fuel.)

Christina Talcott: Airtran's flights from BWI to Logan start at $69 one way, and you can find cheap car rentals through Priceline or Hotwire. Check in online before you leave for the airport and go right to the gate if you're not checking bags, and you'll shave off a bunch of time by flying, not to mention avoid traffic. You can calculate fuel cost on fuelcostcalculator.com; my guess is you'll save a lot of money by driving, if that's your bottom line.

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2 responses on rental cars: Remember, Hotwire does roundtrip rentals only. If one wants to rent a car in the U.S. to take into Canada, they need to check with the rental company in advance. Not all localtions permit it. And you need to get a form when you rent the car to show at the border. And in all cases I found, you need to return the car to the exact same rental location where you got the car. Otherwise, we had no difficulties at all (we rented and returned the car in Boston, and drove to Quebec). By the way, if one does not want to drive from Portland, they could look into flying to Montreal and taking the train to Quebec.

Christina Talcott: Good points, thanks!

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Berlin: Dear Travel crew,

I'm an "expat" from Berlin living in the DC area and I always love seeing articles about my hometown and vicinity in the paper. This one got me steaming, though. Not because I'm in a sauna, but because ...

Well, for starters do your research. Cargo Lifter probably built the hangar, but not to have one, but to house a huge blimp, capable of carrying cargo -- the Cargo Lifter.

And with a little bit of surfing the Web the author would have realized that saunas and spas in Germany and several other, European countries are best visited wearing a towel. And I'm sure he/she was offered one.

And last, but not least, what's with the "bad European bathing suits"? How are they different from American bathing suits? As they're probably all made in China, I'm wondering....

All in all, I would have expected better from someone affiliated to the Post. More tolerance, less arrogance, and certainly more research.

Thanks for letting me vent!

Scott Vogel: Aw, come on. Okay, let's take this point by point.

-- Indeed, CargoLifter did not build the hangar just to have one, but "to construct a heavy-lift aircraft," as stated in the article.

-- The author was not offered a towel. He was offered the chance to buy one for the equivalent of $20.

-- I agree that it was perhaps wrong of the author to generalize about European bathing suits. In his defense, the author was himself steamed, partly over the lackluster reaction his hibiscus-print trunks had generated.

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Car Seats in Cabs: This is very difficult. It is hard to get the cab drive to stay still long enough to get the seat properly installed. Then you have to deal with toting a bulky car seat around NYC which is not fun or convenient. We purchased a portable travel car seat of our kids' visits to NYC. It easily fit in the diaper bag and was fairly quick to install in the cab. But I have to say I do not tote booster seats to NYC for my 4 and 7 year old. They ride seat belted in the back of cabs but home in Maryland always use boosters. I have no idea what NYC laws are in regards to car seats.

Carol Sottili: I believe taxis are exempt from child restraint laws in New York.

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Air India: There are media reports Air India is about to announce it will be joining the Star Alliance airline consortium, so that should give the folks worried about flying that airline a bit of confidence about the quality of the in-flight service.

Carol Sottili: Thanks.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Hello,

Do you or your readers have good ideas for fun things to do in and around Sonoma, CA that do not involve wine? We are traveling with a three year old and I am pregnant, so winery tours are out. Thanks!

Nancy McKeon: The Sonoma County Farm Trails association offers guides and maps that take you from farm stand to you-pick places, also to events such has the Gravenstein Apple Fair, in August in Sebastopol. Go to www.farmtrails.org. There are also spas and charming little towns like Healdsburg, just for wandering and sampling good food.

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Gee Street: That adorable story about Darwin reminded me of my family. My husband and I travel with our 5-year-old lab every summer. We spend 5 days every July at the Lazy L B&B in Lewes, DE with him, where there's a beautiful dog run and lots of furry friends to meet. We first read about it in the Post. Plus Lewes is the dog friendliest place I've ever been with dogs welcome in shops and restaurants and on the beaches.

We also take him to my cousin's house in Brick, NJ, where he spends the weekends swimming in their fiberglass pool. You can't get him out of the pool without a bribe.

He's a terrific companion. He's with me at the office today in fact.

Christina Talcott: Woah, I've heard of dog-friendly hotels, but a dog-friendly office? How fun!

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Arlington, Va.: The international novice looking to go to Istanbul might also search for tour companies. They may have packages available for very competitive rates that include hotels and perhaps guides and so forth.

Carol Sottili: I assumed the reader did not want a tour, but that is always an option.

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Washington, D.C.: Cute dog to the rescue....

A few weeks ago I was pulled over by the police on my way to return my rental car on the way to the airport. It was the crack of dawn and I didn't realize that I had mistakenly only turned on the fog lights, not the headlights. Yikes, scary, I know...

The policeman was pretty abrupt at first, saying he'd have to give me a ticket. I was in a major hurry to get to my flight, had a ton of luggage and was worried about flying with my dog. I told him I was in a bit of a rush and he snapped that he'd been working all night and I needed to be patient.

When he saw my pup, however, he just totally changed his mood. He said he had a similar breed as a kid, and petted him through the window and practically cooed. He ran my license and said "be careful" and didn't give me a ticket!

Woo hoo. Thanks cute dog!

Christina Talcott: Dog lovers can be such softies, huh?

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Rental car on Hotwire: How does Hotwire work? I have the idea that it's like Priceline, where you get the price and only find out afterwards what you get.

For an upcoming trip which will involve a lot of driving through Nevada, Arizona and Utah, my husband and I want to be sure we get a comfortable, terrain-friendly car. Can we choose car type on Hotwire, and if so is it guaranteed? Or will we need to pay whatever the rental car company's rates are to be sure we get the kind of car we want?

Carol Sottili: Give it a try. It gives you all the details, including price, but does not give you the name of the car rental company until after you buy. Last three times I used it, I got Hertz.

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Silver Spring: I have a 70lb husky/border collie mix who just loves to go for rides. We routinely travel from MD to CT and he is very good in the back seat. I have never done a trip longer than 7 hours with him and am afraid he is too big for many hotels. But he would love it.

Christina Talcott: Wow, that's a big dog!

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Cat travelers: Long ago we had a big black cat who LOVED to ride in the car. He'd climb up on the shelf of the back window and snooze in the sunshine. Only problem was that other drivers would practically tailgate us in order to get a closer look, they were so amazed!

Christina Talcott: That sounds like a perfect cat perch.

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California Dreamin': I'm heading to Calif. wine country for a week's vacation in mid-May. Have a cottage reserved in Sonoma for the first four days, but I'm looking for a nice, not-outrageously-priced inn--ocean view a must--on the coast between Bodega Bay and Mendocino for the remaining three.

Have you written anything recently about that area? Do you--or your chatsters--have any inns/hotels to recommend on the North Coast?

washingtonpost.com: California Archives

Scott Vogel: Running out of time here, but here's a link to all recent stories from Travel on that area.

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Palisades, DC: As thoughts turn to summer and schedules are being finalized, when is generally the best time to buy transatlantic tickets for travel in the second half of June? What about domestic US travel? I have always bought 30 days in advance but my sister buys air tickets months ahead....

Carol Sottili: There is no best time. Just follow the sales. You need to stay tuned in - sign up for email alerts on most third-party booking sites (Expedia, Orbitz, Priceline).

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$1000 to travel to Europe: Hi Flight Crew! I bought my first condo last summer so my travel budget has taken a hit for international travel. I got my tax return and was thinking of taking $1000 to fly to Rome, Croatia or to Greece/Greek Islands. I know I can't do all three but if you had a preference, which would you pick? Ideally, I'd like the $1000 to include airfare and be able to visit the place for a week this summer (or during Sept at the latest). I picked Croatia and Greece b/c I've always wanted to go there. I studied abroad in Rome 11 years ago; I just have always wanted to go back. I'd love to hear your preferences or if other chatters have recommendations.

Thanks from a traveler with money burning a hole and getting the travel itch.

Nancy McKeon: Just a thought (YOU have to make the tough decisions!), but your $1,000 just may go a little further in Greece and Croatia than in Rome. Greece ain't cheap either, but Rome might just blow your head off.

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NARP discounts: I use the AMTRAK web site to book my tickets and the NARP discount is offered when you book (select this among other discounts - AAA, etc from a drop down list). It works great. And they have NEVER in all my years doing this asked for proof of my NARP membership either begin ticketed or getting on the train. They do ask for the mem # when booking, however. AMTRAK supporters need to join NARP!

Nancy McKeon: Hmmm, from a NARP regular. Thank you.

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Travels with Bunny: When I graduated from college in 1986, I drove cross-country to see the Western desert states. My bunny rabbit, Hazel, was my traveling companion. He rode in the lap of luxury in the back of my station wagon, with a dishpan full of ice cubes to keep cool in the desert heat. At a Jiffy Lube in New Mexico where I stopped to get my oil changed, I was sitting out front on a grassy area. A passer-by offered to buy Hazel from me - TO EAT!!!! No thank you! From then on, I kept the hatchback locked whenever I left the car for even five minutes.

Christina Talcott: Oh no, I can't believe it! As someone who grew up with pet rabbits, I can imagine Hazel was fun to have along.

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McPherson Square: We had a fun long weekend getaway with our kids to Wintergreen near Charlottesville. There was lots of hiking, chair lift rides, fun entertainment area for the kids with a mechanical bull, climbing towers, bouncy houses etc. Prices are usually pretty reasonable at ski resorts in the off season. We stopped at Monticello on the way because I really wanted to do so but the kids enjoyed that as well.

Nancy McKeon: Nice idea!

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Washington, D.C.: Re: Sonoma. Cornerstone Gardens! No time to describe, but Google it--very cool and not wine-related.

Nancy McKeon: For the pregnant Sonoma traveler. Thank you.

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Washington, D.C.: I have four very well-traveled pets, partly as a result of moves (one of them has moved cross country and throughout the Eastern Seaboard) and partly because we rarely can overcome the guilt to leave them at home. Our golden retriever has learned that toll booths=treats (and thus goes nuts when the car slows down), the spaniel alternates between naps and looking out the window, the coton prefers the passenger's lap, and the cat hates traveling but will settle down if allowed to hide under the front seats.

Christina Talcott: Wow, that's a lot of traveling pets.

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Baltimore, Md.: My chow/lab mix, Chewy, accompanied me on a drive from Athens, GA to Missoula, MT and later from Missoula, MT to Gaithersburg, MD. She loved riding in the car. She'd sit in the front seat, and rest her head on my lap when we drove. The only thing was, she didn't like other cars getting too close to us in the other lanes, if they did, she'd growl. Good thing I like to drive fast, we'd pass by most of the cars before she had a chance to growl. She was NOT happy, though, when we got stuck in rush hour traffic outside Chicago. She was a great dog, though.

Christina Talcott: I love the name Chewy. Hmm, I wonder how she got that name...

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For the long EWR layover: Newark airport is about half an hour by NJ Transit (commuter rail) to New York Penn Station. A round-trip ticket is $15. If the couple can check their bags through at the start of their trip, there's always something to do in Manhattan. Heck, if it's a nice day, even sitting in Central Park for a while beats sitting in the airport.

They should also check out what's to do in the city of Newark, since NJ Transit trains from EWR also stop at Newark Penn Station.

Nancy McKeon: More for the Newark layover folks.

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Puppy Trails: I did a road trip just once with my greyhounds. They were good as gold in the car (DC to Outer Banks) But they were freaked out by the sand and preferred to potty on the nice white carpet of our rented condo. I spent the week shampooing the carpet.

Christina Talcott: Haha, that's awful! Greyhounds are hilarious, though I wouldn't have been laughing if I were in your shoes...

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Washington, D.C.: I'm going to London for the first time in late July/early August. While there I would love to see a play. I love drama, but I'm worried that the London Theatre season will be over. Do you guys have any idea about that, and also, if they are having plays in the summer, do you know any ones that are supposed to be good?

Scott Vogel: Don't worry about the season ending. There may not be many new productions opening this summer, lots of good theater will still be available. Drama fans ought to consider "A View from the Bridge," which currently is slated for an open-ended run, and "War House" at the National Theatre, among many, many others...

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Los Angeles: Dogs: the article made me miss my Golden Retriever who was my constant companion on long cross country drives until she died a few years ago. Although unfazed by catastrophes like spinning out into a ditch on a slippery interchange with a semi close behind, she went bananas at the sound of the turn signal. So, no turn signals when changing lanes or turning on rural roads. We were pulled over once for failing to signal but let go with a warning from the officer who didn't appreciate the excuse.

Question: I recently adopted a small 13-pound dog (could use the carrier!) and just finished arranging a new trip. Every hotel I tried to reserve wanted to charge $75 or $100 extra for the dog -- not a deposit, but an extra charge. I need to plan in advance and not drive up and negotiate for the dog, as the author did. Are there any mid-priced hotels that will take dogs anymore, or is Fluffy staying home with friends?

Christina Talcott: No need to leave Fluffy at home - lots of hotels, from Motel 6 to the Kimpton chain, take pets. Petfriendly.com has loads of listings.

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Dog Chauffeur -- Washington: The article yesterday about traveling with Darwin made me want to sent off on a trip with my dog, who was sitting next to me as I read the article. I looked at him and said aloud "Do you want to go..." and stopped myself because he perked up his ears and got that "I'm ready to get in the car" look. I have more concerns about me being able to do a trip like that than about my dog. We drive out to Delaware almost every weekend in the summer and when we turn the corner to go to our house, he knows it and starts to get very excited. He knows the route. He's a great traveler.

Christina Talcott: That's great! Thanks!

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Old and Confused: I understand that cellphones, BlackBerries, and computers can cause problems on airlines when landing because they they are sending and receiving signals from land sites or cellphone towers. I'm old and don't have any of those. In fact, all I use on planes is a 15 year old Sony Walkman to listen to Books on (cassette) Tapes. So I was surprised when I was told to put it away during landing. I showed the flight attendant that it was just a cassette tape player, and was informed that anything that can be turned on and off must be put away during landing. Can you explain?

Nancy McKeon: It's not just about technical interference. Attendants also want passengers alert and paying attention and not holding on to metal objects that could become unguided missiles if there's a problem. That's my guess.

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Road trip companion: I'm sure you are getting lots of dogs as companions, but my previous cat (passed away last year) LOVED riding in the car. I discovered his love for the car during a hurricane evacuation from New Orleans, and I spent the next 10 years taking all sorts of road trips with him. For many years, we drove 350 miles round-trip almost every weekend when my boyfriend (now husband) and I were doing the long distance thing. We also did lots of long trips. I had the back-seat cordoned off for him and he would stare out the window or sleep in the sun happily. He only made a noise when we stopped or were stuck in traffic. People at rest stops and fast food restaurants thought it was hysterical. He was even traveling with us when my husband proposed to me. My favorite story happened one late night on the road in rural New Mexico (not far from Roswell). I happened to look up in my rear view mirror and catch sight of his eyes glowing with the oncoming traffic, which caused me to scream bloody murder and nearly drive off the road (guess I thought it was an alien or something? Hey, it was late at night in New Mexico!). I'm not sure if our current cat has the same desire to hit the open road, but at some point we're going to give it a try. Even if she doesn't, she would look great in that carrier!

Christina Talcott: OMG, I'm so glad you lived to tell the tale! Thanks!

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fun things to do in and around Sonoma, CA that do not involve wine: Redwood Empire ice arena, built by cartoonist Charles Schulz, in Santa Rosa (Sonoma County), complete with stained glass windows of the Peanuts characters. Your husband and 3-year-old could rent skates to skate there, you could watch if you didn't want to risk the fall. Link: http://www.snoopyshomeice.com

Nancy McKeon: More on Sonoma.

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Baltimore, Md.: I have no fun pet travel stories. When in the car, my cat meows at a rate of once every 10-15 seconds for the entire trip. The longest we have gone is 2 hours when we moved from Fairfax to Baltimore County. My dog, on the other hand, throws up after 20 minutes in the car. -sigh-

On another topic, I have been coming to grips with my travel desires. I've found I love cruises and Las Vegas. Although I do also enjoy places like Sedona, Colorado, and anything else outdoorsy. Any thoughts on reconciling class with my plebian cruise lover?

Christina Talcott: Wow, I'm amazed you made it through your move! As for travel desires, embrace your quirks! You're someone open to very different types of travel, and that's a wonderful thing.

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Hampton, Va.: Hi, travel experts!

I'll be leaving Wednesday for a week in Puerto Rico, and I'm really looking forward to it. I think I've handled most of the practical prep - flights, hotel, rental car, proof my auto insurance covers me in P.R., directions, etc. But I'm still wondering about some of the "little stuff."

I've heard it's best to try speaking even a bit of Spanish: more polite, makes people friendlier towards you, etc. That just seems weird, since I know maybe 3 words of Spanish and I'm sure my accent is laughable. Is it really polite to add a mangled "gracias" after an English question, rather than saying "thank you!" to someone who clearly speaks English far better than I speak Spanish? (I do have a dictionary in case I need to look anything up, but that's no good for real-time conversation.)

Do I tip about as I would in the States? I know some European countries have different tipping practices, but I'm assuming PR is more like the US. Is there a good site you can recommend on how much to tip a tour guide, a bellhop who carries your luggage, etc? Anything more complicated than tipping a waiter leaves me flustered even at home, where I know how much is polite!

Nancy McKeon: The few words of Spanish are to be spoken on the front end, not as you're leaving (and the person already knows you're an English speaker). Hola, habla ingles, por favor? can go a long way.

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Reston, Va.: When I travel with my dachshund, it's usually by car--what can I say, I think it's silly to pay $100 each way to put my dog UNDER the seat when it often costs me less each way to put my butt IN the seat.

But I did fly with him one time, back when Independence Air was still around. As I was trying to keep a firm grip on a squirmy, five-pound dog whose carrier, leash, and collar all had to be put through the x-ray machine, the TSA agent entertained me with a story about a woman who wanted to leave her cat in its carrier and put them both through the x-ray machine, claiming that her cat liked it. Uh, how did she know? Did the cat tell her?

Christina Talcott: One last dog story...

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Christina Talcott: Sadly, another edition of Travel Talk has come to an end, which means no more hilarious pet-travel stories. For the woman who almost ran off the road when her cat got alien-eyes outside Roswell, send your address to talcottc@washpost.com and I'll send you the carrier.

Thanks for joining us, everyone, and talk to you next Monday!

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