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From Mount Katahdin in Maine's Baxter State Park, a hiker can travel more than 2,175 miles to the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. But walking from south to north might be a more enjoyable and less demanding experience.
From Mount Katahdin in Maine's Baxter State Park, a hiker can travel more than 2,175 miles to the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. But walking from south to north might be a more enjoyable and less demanding experience. (Robert F. Bukaty - AP)

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The Flight Crew
Washington Post Travel Section
Monday, March 30, 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: hiking the Appalachian Trail, visiting the coast of Brittany and sailing in Vietnam. The Flight Crew also had a special guest member this week: Jan Stowell, author of the Appalachian Trail story.

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.

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Scott Vogel: Hi folks -- and welcome to your Internet home for travel talk and vacation planning. Today, we'll be joined by our regulars -- Nancy McKeon, Christina Talcott and Carol Sottili -- as well as Jan Stowell, the writer of yesterday's story on the Appalachian Trail. He'll be here to answer anything and everything hike-related.

In honor of our guest, today's contest is this: Tell us about the most amazing/exhausting/exhilarating hike you ever took. I'll post the best entries; the very best will a receive a travel book to the destination of his or her choice. All right, let's hit the trail...

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Bethesda, Md.: Easy question for you frequent international travelers from an international traveler novice... flying out of Reagan with eventual destination of Rome. However, first leg is Reagan to JFK (from JFK we'll cross the Atlantic). Do we need to arrive at Reagan three hours before scheduled departure as if we were flying on an international flight, even though we're really only flying from Reagan to JFK? Does the three-hour rule have to do with where you're being checked through to or where your leg of the journey is taking you? Thanks, from a couple who would like to avoid killing an extra hour in the airport.

Nancy McKeon: Funny, I ask myself that question EVERY TIME I fly internationally through JFK! I usually compromise by getting to Reagan National just slightly less than three hours ahead. But really, with the various check-in lines (including sometimes an extra screening line for checked luggage) and security lines and such, it just doesn't feel as if there's that much extra time. Others may disagree, but I think it's a case of being better safe than sorry in case there's some real snafu at the airport. Others?

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Riverdale Park, Md: Hello FC,

Which sections of the Appalachian Trail have the fewest trees? I have nothing against trees, but I'd rather not hike mile after a mile through a forest. Big, open views are what I want.

Jan Stowell: Hello, Riverdale Park --

Maine and New Hampshire offer by far the greatest number of views. Because of their northerly latitude, a hiker can be above tree line at an elevation as low as (particularly in the case of Maine) 4000 or so feet. Conversely, the southern mountains offer the fewest views. Clingman's Dome, in TN, is the highest point on the AT but is treed all the way to the summit. The view there is from an observation tower.

Yes, try Maine and NH, but be advised that those states are also the most demanding to hike.

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Seattle: Airline question for you all and for those out there... Does anyone know which airlines are the most friendly when it comes to travel for medical reasons? The surgery is highly specialized but an outpatient procedure (no open heart) so I figure I will travel for a week and stay with family while there. Of course complications could arise so I may need to stay there 3-7 days longer so I would like to find an airline that is friendly with changing planes without having to pay with the left kidney or first born.

Christina Talcott: Where are you going? If Southwest flies there, that would be my first recommendation, since you don't have to pay to change your itinerary (except if the new ticket costs more). But if you're flying internationally or Southwest wouldn't work, let me know. And please pipe up, anyone out there who's had good experiences with an airline when medical issues arose...

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Travel blog: It appears the travel blog has disappeared from the web site. There is no longer a link to it at the top of the page along with the discussion link.

Nancy McKeon: This is a good opportunity to repeat the message that was posted on the site last week (perhaps too briefly). The Travel Blog is no longer with us. Frankly, with our much-reduced staff (we're half the size we used to be) we were no longer able to keep it up to the standard demanded by readers, who, believe me, noticed (and weren't shy about telling us they noticed!). What we're doing instead is rolling out advance travel copy on a daily basis rather than uploading it all on Friday afternoon in advance of Sunday publication (if that word means anything anymore).

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Columbia, Md.: I've always wanted to do a long hike. Now I want to try the AT, as a warmup for the Continental Divide Trail, with my four and seven year old sons. I don't plan to quit my job to do it and, at 47 now, don't want to wait until they are both out of high school to start. How soon should we start and how many years should we take?

Jan Stowell: Hi, Columbia --

I've never done long-distance with very small children, but from what I've seen of other family groups I've encountered it looks like a challenge. Certainly, little kids make for slow going. But what's the hurry anyway, eh? I think it would be a great thing to do.

Don't worry about being 47. That's exactly how old I was when I did the AT. And I have to say that the AT probably isn't a warmup for the CDT or any other hike. Really, there aren't any warmups for long-distance hiking. You just go and do it. No number of weekend hikes, for example, can get you hardened into shape for being out there for months on end.

Good luck. I'd like to know how you and the kids fare. Well, is my guess.

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San Francisco, California: Hello Flight Crew,

I will be traveling to Paris, France (my first time) for three weeks in Sept. and I cannot find a place to stay at a bargain. I'm not sure if it's because I am traveling alone. But I've been to just about every online site there is and no luck. I cannot even find a private hostel -- as they want to charge you for two -- which is upwards of $70.00 per night.

Since I will be there for about three weeks I need to find something in the range of $30 to $50 per night. Do you have any suggestions?

washingtonpost.com: I think you'd be hard pressed to find a hotel or hostel that cheap anywhere in the U.S., let alone in one of the world's most expensive cities. I would suggest looking at Craigslist Paris and similar sites to see if someone has a room to rent in their house or apartment, which isn't private, but would be a lot more affordable. Or, since you live in another very desirable city, maybe you could arrange a fair trade through an apartment swap site. -- Elizabeth

Christina Talcott: I second Elizabeth's recommendation for a rental or house swap since you'll be there for such a long time. Other options: I just came across a Web site, EuropCheapo.com, that lists super-cheap hotels or hotel/hostel combos.

Another option might be a pension de famille, which is sort of a boarding house/B&B that serves dinner and breakfast every day and has discounts on longer stays. I stayed at Les Marronniers (www.pension-marronniers.com), right across from Luxembourg Gardens, and next door is Pension du Palais (www.hotelresidencedupalais.com). You could try doing a search on "pension de famille" and see what else you can come up with.

Anyone else have ideas?

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Silver Spring, Md.: Dear Travel Chat: I had submitted a question to you about a month ago to this chat asking what to during pre-trip preparations in addition to copying my passport. Chatters who read my question also submitted additional tips and advice such as ensuring to copy down my credit card numbers and their customer service numbers, should my cards be stolen or lost, calling credit card companies prior to the trip to alert them that future transactions will happen overseas, and other valuable advice.

I just want to report back that I did everthing chatters had advised, and I felt a lot more a ease traveling those 3 weeks because of those extra precautions I took. I now see doing stuff like this almost akin to taking an umbrella with me if there's a slight chance of rain: it most likely won't happen if I've got my umbrella. So I'd like to send a 'shout out' THANK YOU to all who had send in their pre-travel tips in response to my question. You all helped make traveling those 3 weeks on the other side of the world easier. My husband and I just got back from Australia and New Zealand and had a wonderful time.

Scott Vogel: Thanks for reporting back and glad your trip was a success. Once more, the wisdom of the crowd is proved.

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Q for Jan: Hi Jan,

I enjoyed your article on thru-hiking the AT. I have hiked most of the AT through Shenandoah NP and have great respect for those, like you, who have hiked the entire length. Why did you choose to hike north to south when most do the opposite? Can you outline the details of an average day in the life of a thru-hiker? Was it hard to adjust to the old lifestyle after 6 months on the trail?

Jan Stowell: In answer to Q for Jan --

I hiked south because I got a late start and was utterly clueless. I'd done plenty of camping before -- primarly wilderness canoe trips in Canada -- but the AT was an altogether new experience. Maine practically killed me, which is one reason I suggested going north.

Daily life was... hard to explain. After a while it seemed like an uninterrupted daydream. Walk, eat, walk, rest, walk, eat, walk eat, sleep. Repeat. It was wonderful, really. Never in my life have I felt so completely in control of my days.

Aarrgghh... there's a third part of your question that I've already forgotten. If you're in the chat we can talk about it.

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15th & L : Hi,

A friend and I are headed to the Grand Canyon for two days next month, and we want to do some hiking. Do you have any recommendations for intermediate hikers?

Thanks!

Jan Stowell: Hi, 15 & L --

I've hiked to the bottom three times over the years and I can tell you that it's very hard work -- even harder if you have only a couple days for it. The Bright Angel and South Kaibab trails (I'm assuming you'll be at the south rim) are probably your best bets. So I imagine you'll do a day down and a day up. Call the park and ask ahead about camping options at the bottom -- they may be strictly limited. You're going at the best time of the year to find water, by the way. Still, you're going to be carrying some weight in water, and you'll need to.

Of course, nothing requires you to hike all the way down to the river. There are many shorter hikes that you can take. Again, contact the park.

As I said in the AT article, use poles. First time I tried the Canyon, I didn't have them and I'd have happily donated a kidney for them.

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Bay Area, California: In a few weeks, my 16-yr-old son plans to fly to LA with two of his friends to visit the older brother of one and tour his college. This would be his first solo flight. It just occurred to me that he does not have a driver's license nor a passport. What kind of ID will get him on his Southwest flight?

Christina Talcott: According to TSA rules, he doesn't need to have an ID to fly until he's 18, but you might consider giving him a copy of his birth certificate just in case. I think it's always a good idea to carry ID, no matter how old you are.

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10th and Penn, NW: I really enjoyed the story on hiking the Appalachian Trail... What sort of food/cooking arrangements are available in the shelters you describe? And how do hikers going long distances on the Trail resupply themselves as they go along? Thanks.

Jan Stowell: Hi, 10th & Penn --

You bring along your own cooking gear -- stove, pots, utensils, and pretty much shift for yourself. While the weather was warm I did what is called "going cold", meaning that I didn't have warm food at all. I just ate cheese and cold cuts and cereal and a squillion M&Ms.

The trail isn't often far from one road or another. You just find a lift into town every few days (or for however long it is that you care to go between resupply missions) and load up as you go.

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Arlington, VA: Hi there,

I am dying for a beach vacation. Any suggestions for the best place to take a three day weekend beach vacay (from the perspective of someone driving from DC)? Also, is it too early to start looking into accommodations, or is this the time to do it?

Carol Sottili: Lots of nice beaches within fairly easy driving distance of Washington. If you like action (clubs, restaurants, shopping, etc.) with your beach, try Rehoboth in Delaware or Ocean City, Md. If you're more family oriented, Fenwick or Bethany (both in Delaware) are nice. If you like to camp, consider Assateague in Maryland. Virginia Beach has lots of nice accommodations. Outer Banks are a little quieter, especially if you head south to Cape Hatteras area. Jersey Shore has lots of different types of beaches. Closest beaches are Rehoboth and OC.

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Washington, DC: Enjoyed the article on the Appalachian Trail! For those of us that are looking for a shorter version (say something close to the DC area you can do over a long weekend) what section of trail would you recommend?

Jan Stowell: Hi, Washington DC --

Well, it's hard to beat Shenandoah. But I think one of the secret gems of the AT is -- no kidding -- New Jersey, and it's not a very long drive from here.

Jersey is altogether unspectacular. It's also lovely and bucolic and easy hiking. Very pretty. It was one of my favorite parts of the AT.

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Washington, D.C.: I -loved- the article on the AT, thanks so much! One question I hoped I'd see answered in the article but did not was whether you could recommend any specific pieces of the Trail for a pair of hikers/campers who want to do some 3- or 4-day weekend hiking trips. We have a car, and could drive a couple of hours in any direction from DC, but it's really hard to find any information about whether there are specific sections of the AT that would work well for a just a few days. We've done some hiking in Harpers Ferry before, but the sections of the AT we walked on there were less spectacular than many of the other hikes in the area (maybe we just hit the wrong spot). Any advice or tips on where the best place to experience just a bit of the AT is?

Jan Stowell: Hi, Washington DC --

As I mentioned to another poster, I loved New Jersey for its unassuming loveliness. But honestly, pretty much anywhere you want to drive to is going to be nice. Much of central Virginia is good hiking with good views. You might want to explore the Grayson Highlands in southern Va.

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Vienna, Va.: Hi Flight Crew. My fiance and I are planning a 1 week honeymoon in June. We think we'd like to go to Spain. With only a week to spend there, what cities or regions would you recommend visiting? We like to eat and drink, like to see beautiful architecture, like to hike, like mountains and coastline... the one thing we have never been very fond of on vacation is long strolls through art museums. Thanks for your thoughts!

Carol Sottili: I'm partial to the Costa Blanca coast. I'd probably start in Valencia, spend a few days there and then head south along the coast. There are lots of small fishing/tourist towns on the water that are quite nice - I quite liked Moreira and Calpe. I'd avoid Benidorm and Alicante.

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Most amazing hike: You'll probably get a lot of similar responses, but the most amazing hike was down and then back up the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. My husband and I planned this for a couple of years, staying at Phantom Ranch for two nights after hiking down the South Kaibab Trail, then hiked up the Bright Angel trail. Being able to see the canyon from the inside, at different times of day and in different light, was incredible. And it was really a feeling of accomplishment for two 44-year olds to manage the trek back up! One of the best parts was seeing and talking to others who had done it before, including some who actually run the whole route (!!) and a 74-year old woman we met at the top of the South Rim who had just hiked through the canyon from the North Rim.

I would love to do it again, going from the South to the North rim this time, but not sure if I'll be able to talk my husband into it again!

Scott Vogel: Sounds beautiful -- our first contest entrant (btw).

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Arlington, Va.: Hello Crew, Was wondering if you all (or the chatters) had any ideas for good travel gifts? A good childhood friend of mine is getting married and she and her fiance love to travel so I wanted to get them something nice they could use when they take trips. Maybe even something I could have personalized? Any ideas? Thanks!

washingtonpost.com: 2008 Travel Gift Guide (Post Travel Section, Dec. 7, 2008)

Scott Vogel: Have a look at our recent gift guide above. Hopefully it will generate some ideas for you.

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Bowie, MD: Crowd-wise, is mid-September a good time to visit the south rim of the Grand Canyon? I'd prefer to drive up from Flagstaff AZ for a day trip, but I don't know when the heavy summer traffic abates.

Jan Stowell: Hello, Bowie --

The Canyon can be prety crowded throughout September as it's not *quite* as hot as during June, July, and August. That said, go anyway. Go anytime you can. Always go to the Grand Canyon if you're within a day's drive. It's too mind-boggling to ever pass by.

Hint: Shoshone Point. Ask around. And keep it to yourself.

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Cruising during hurricane season: My husband and I were thinking about booking a cruise out of Baltimore for our August vacation. Obviously we would want to get some sort of trip insurance in case there's a hurricane (we figure if we're sailing out of Baltimore, it'll be easier to deal with if the cruise gets canceled). What do you recommend we look for in trip insurance? Is this something we can book through the cruise line or do we have to do it separately? Any advice you could provide would be appreciated! Thanks

Carol Sottili: My guess is that insurance won't cover you, even if there is a hurricane. Cruise lines very clearly state that they reserve the right to alter itineraries, and that's what they do when there is a hurricane. As long as the cruise is operating, insurance won't kick in. Try comparing policies at a site such as www.insuremytrip.com or www.squaremouth.com. Read the fine print.

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Europe!: Do you know of any good deals to Ireland or Italy? Or anywhere else in Europe for that matter? We want to go sometime in August & are looking for deals or links to sites offering the best travel deals.

Thanks!

Scott Vogel: With regard to questions like this -- in which the destination and dates are somewhat flexible -- I really recommend Kayak's Buzz feature (www.kayak.com/buzz). You just put in a continent and a month and see what the site generates. (Just saw a good deal there on Athens in August, btw.)

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Washington, DC: With the economy being what it is and the point I am in my life, I am thinking of taking a long trip 6 months or more to India and Asia. What can you tell me about around the world tickets. I have been looking at sites like airtreks.com and they seem pretty good. However, I haven't looked into the specifics. Any advice or information you can give me would be great. Thanks!

Nancy McKeon: Our colleague Real Estate editor Maryann Haggerty popped into my office last week to announce she had just finally clicked "Buy" on her around-the-world tickets, for herself and her husband. Here's what she has to say in answer to your question:

Airtreks is reputable. They specialize in putting together deals for economy-class tickets by combining a series of one-way discounted tickets, probably for less than you could do it yourself. Their staff is very helpful.

The airline coalitions (OneWorld, Star Alliance, etc.) also have tickets, with much more complex rules. Depending on your schedule and requirements, you should weight these against what a consolidator like airtreks can do. (Among other things, the alliance deals on business or first-class are much better.)

Plan on a lot of planning. Just working out itineraries you like can take weeks... But six months is time to do the trip, at a leisurely pace.

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Washington, DC: I recently read an article about Spirit Airlines which prompted me to check out their websites. They have amazingly low fares to places in Latin America, like Colombia and Peru. Any chance you might throw this post out to the readers to ask how their Spirit Airlines experiences were and if they ever used it to travel to Colombia? (Am thinking of Cartagena in particular). Just wondering if it is really hell, or worth a shot!

Scott Vogel: Let's do it -- Come on, people, what's the verdict on Spirit?

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Native New Jerseyan: Most exhilarating/exhausting hike? Not the most exhausting, but definitely the one with the best payoff was in Glacier National Park, near The Lake McDonald Lodge - the trail to Avalanche Lake - only 4 miles RT; the lake has that opaque blue cast from glacial water, and is a moderate workout.

Great article on the AT yesterday. In the 80's,I used to go up to the NC portion near the Nantahla River Center - where the Olympic Park Bomber was hiding out. Great summer hiking, and the hummingbirds were thick in the mountain laurel. And the rafting and campgrounds beat that Atlanta heat.

Scott Vogel: A vote for one of Montana's -- and the nation's -- greatest natural treasures.

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Virginia: I'm looking for a July vacation destination for my family of four: my husband and myself, daughter (22) and son (13). We'd love to go to Europe as the kids haven't traveled there before, but both the summer heat and the crowds dim the appeal somewhat. While I love cities, the family has done well on more adventurous vacations in the past (South African safari, Alaska). Scandinavia (with its cooler temps) doesn't hold that much appeal. We were considering Turkey-Istanbul and somewhere else. Will I be able to convince my 13 year old son that it will be fun? Will it break the bank? Other ideas?

Christina Talcott: How about Iceland? It's cooler and less crowded than most of mainland Europe, and maybe its unusual features (geysers, glaciers, Viking history, etc.) would interest you more than other parts of Scandinavia. As for Turkey, Istanbul's hot and humid in the summer, though the coast might provide some relief, and you can find deals on hotels if you stay away from most Western chains. As for convincing your son, I'd try to turn the tables and have him come up with someplace he'd like to go and something he'd enjoy doing, and then trying to convince YOU that it will be fun. Have him help plan part of the trip (say, an afternoon in Istanbul, or a trip somewhere in Iceland) and you all might discover something new and exciting.

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Vienna, VA: The most amazing/exhilarating hike I ever took was on a trip to Greece when I was in High School. We had an extra day partway through the trip when the group split up to do a variety of different things. Five of us decided that we wanted to hike Mt. Olympus, but there weren't enough chaperones to take us. Rather than nixing our plans, the trip leader arranged for a taxi to take us up to the highest point reachable by road. We got there and headed on up the trail, reached a point quite a ways up before turning around because an avalanche that winter had wrecked the trail and we didn't want to get lost. We spent some time there before turning around enjoying the beautiful spring day, the views from the mountain, the snow from the avalanche that hadn't completely melted, and the fact that we were thousands of miles from our parents being trusted to behave like adults. The taxi ride back down the mountain was a whole different adventure all on its own!

Scott Vogel: A snowy hike in Greece -- sounds wonderful.

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Burke, Va.: A while back, there was an article in the Travel section about a road trip in Montana. I have searched and searched and cannot find the article. I remember that it started across the beautiful open country and ended in one of the bigger cities. Any clue how to find this article ?

washingtonpost.com: Here are our Montana Travel Archives. On the Travel Section front, find the world map and click on the continent to access archived stories by country or U.S. state.

Scott Vogel: Let us know if you're still stumped.

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cheap and very cheerful in Paris: I host for airbedandbreakfast.com here in DC - and have a great experience having people staying with me. I use my spare room for this. I suggest the people in SF looking for somewhere cheap to stay check it out - they have all levels of hospitality. It works really well.

Christina Talcott: That's a great idea. Glad it's been a good experience!

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Washington DC: The discounts on flights to Europe aren't impacting trips to Vienna, Austria. I can't find anything for under $1000. Any recommendations for ways to find cheaper flights?

Carol Sottili: You don't say when you want to fly. I'm seeing under $800 round trip on Air France for April travel, which isn't too bad.

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Hiking the AT: I wasn't sure from the article, and your name is obviously gender-ambiguous, but assumed that you were male, because one thing you didn't mention is how to deal with, um, monthly female issues on such a long hike. This question is not a joke, it was the first thing I thought about when you talked about not being able to bathe every day. Any advice you gleaned from other non-y chromosome hikers on this issue?

Jan Stowell: Hi, Hiking --

This could be the single most interesting question I've ever been asked. And the most confounding. Yes, I'm a man, so I never had to personally address monthly issues beyond, say, magazine subscriptions.

On the other hand, I've hiked with many women. Their first strategy was to complain loudly about it. Their second strategy was to favor me with level gazes to see if I was sympathizing. And I was. And do.

I think you have to just make the best of it to the extent that even out in the comparitive wild, you'll have access to water, be it from pools or streams or springs. So you really will be able to enjoy some level of hygiene, if not one of convenience. Do, um, tightly wrap up discarded, um, items. There are certain, um, aromas that *can*, at least, attract unwanted guests. If you follow me.

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From the state DMV: Anybody can get an identification card in lieu of a drivers license from most state DMV offices. If not through the DMV then through another state agency. It serves as a photo id for travel (but not a passport). What he/she would need is their social security card and birth certificate (and a legal guardian).

Christina Talcott: Good point - non-driver IDs are always an option.

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Bowie, MD: Re: Tokyo Hotels.

I know I'm probably out of my mind but I'd like to get a -reasonably priced- ($200 or less per night) hotel in the Akasaka section of Tokyo. Any suggestions? We picked Akasaka because of its central location to the Ginza, Hirajuku, Shibuya and Shinjinku, places we want to visit while we're there.

Also, there seems to be a universal hotel policy that no more than 2 adults share a double room and our family is 1 father, 1 mother and 1 18 year old daughter. Do you know why this "policy" might be in place?

Carol Sottili: Here's an item from my What's the Deal? column (Sunday's print edition). Don't know if any of these are in Akasaka, but worth a look:

Intercontinental and Crowne Plaza hotels throughout Japan will offer 50 percent savings off their best flexible rates during a three-day sale starting 11 a.m. April 1 and ending 11 a.m. April 4. The promo at the 16 participating hotels applies to stays April 2-June 30, except May 1-7. Prices vary. For example, a night at the ANA Intercontinental Tokyo in early June, usually $335 with taxes, will be $167. Info: 888-424-6835, http://www.ihg.com/japan72h.

As for room policy, not sure about that.

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Virginia: August, 2008, Kenai Peninsula, Alaska... Our hike started with an adrenaline rush (of the negative kind) when the float plane we had boarded initiated its take-off. With a serene lake in front of us, the pilot inexplicably turned the plane around, facing the narrow end of the lake and the overhead power lines. We came THAT CLOSE to hitting the lines. Once airborne, we enjoyed the flight up to another lake further up the mountain. Deposited at the top, we hiked down for 8 hours, through uncleared brush, brambles and allergy-inducing weeds. The brush was so high that we couldn't see any views left or right- only the backpack of the hiker ahead. Oh, and we constantly (8 hours worth) kept up a repetitious chant to warn bears of our approach. Guess it worked. We never saw a bear- or a deer, or a moose or an elk. Nuthin but mosquitos. Thank God for mosquito nets! And did I mention that it began to rain??

Scott Vogel: On the other hand, you really got to practice your chanting skills. (Wonder what makes a great bear-repelling chant, by the way...)

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Pittsburgh, PA: Most amazing AND most exhausting hike - three of us (including a high school biology teacher) were backpacking into a lovely spot named Devil's Canyon (Arizona) and got a little bored of an uninteresting trail. We decided to use our topo maps to bushwack it back to our vehicle, but should have heeded the name more carefully! After about four utterly draining hours of alternating between swimming (in our clothes floating our packs in front of us) through stinky, stagnant pools, climbing up giant boulders using our flannel shirts tied together for ropes, and bushwacking through spiny shrubs, we thought we were pretty much done for. Then all of a sudden the canyon opened up a bit, and the next thing we knew we were standing on a road not 3/4 of a mile fom our car. We'd followed the map to a tee, hadn't gotten lost at all, just didn't realize that Devil's Canyon is considered highly technical climbing/bouldering and there's a reason the trail was so boring! It was fantastic to realize we could rely on our own wits and improvised gear to get ourselves out of a sticky situation. And it was a huge relief to come upon the car after thinking we'd be stuck in that canyon forever! The nasty infected ant bites I got near one of those stagnant pools (the ants crawled all over my arms and legs, and the blisters a few days later caused a nurse to ask my doctor if he'd ever seen anything like that before. His answer - no - was not terribly reassuring) only add to the fun in re-telling the story, at least now that several years have passed.

Scott Vogel: Yikes!

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Alexandria, VA: The AT story was very interesting. As a one-time Boy Scout it's the sort of trip I've always thought would be interesting to make, yet the days where I didn't mind not showering for several days and sleeping on the ground seem to have faded well into the past. So yesterday when we were looking at the paper my girlfriend said, "This is all very nice, but you mean you don't wash each morning? And where do you 'go'?" I told her you "go" behind a tree and if you want to wash up you can use a stream, but she still thinks I'm nuts. Is there a better answer I should give her?

Jan Stowell: Hi, Alexandria --

In fact, I washed daily. I just didn't shower daily. I even shaved every couple days as I dislike the scratchy sweatiness of a beard.

And yes, you go behind the tree. For peeing, anyway. For more complicated operations, you use the pit toilets at the shelters. Increasingly, those pits (which were as appropriately named as anything I can think of; God, they're awful) are being replace by MUCH nicer compost toilets.

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Rockville, Md.: Hi all,

I want to go away for a couple of days in late May or June to unwind after finishing grad school with some friends, but since we're all going to be recovering grad students, money is an issue.

Which of the following would you recommend for an inexpensive beach trip where there might be something to do in the evening: Virginia Beach, some place on the Outer Banks, or one of the Delaware beaches?

Carol Sottili: I'd go to Rehoboth/Dewey. Outer Banks is quiet. If someone wants to argue for Virginia Beach, I'll post - I haven't been there in years.

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DC: Hi there-

We are looking for a nice size cabin (two families) to vacation to somewhere in VA. We want: rustic, hiking, water (lake or river) nature, etc. Any good suggestions? Somewhere in middle VA, due to driving issues. Thanks in advance for any suggestions you might have.

Nancy McKeon: We're also looking at cabin culture for a story later this spring. Here are a couple of ideas to start your search, compliments of freelancer Nathan Borchelt: Westmoreland State Park along the Potomac (full-service cabins); the Lewis Mountain Cabins in Shenandoah National Park; also, the cabins in Virginia's Duthat State Park.

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Springfield, VA: Most amazing hike I remember? Funny, I was a Boy Scout and did the 20-mile hike for the hiking merit badge, along with many others, yet the hike I remember most is when I was 9 years old and we were on a family vacation in Newfoundland. We were "camping" (in an RV, hence the quotation marks) in Gros Morne National Park and one day we went up to Western Brook Pond. To get there you either take a commercial boat trip or you park and walk. The walk in was not, in retrospect, strenuous, perhaps 3-4 miles each way, but for a 9-year-old (and for my 7-year-old brother) it seemed like a long way, but we loved it anyway because parts are through thick forest and others are across a boardwalk-type surface where the ground turns to tundra (as little kids we thought that was really neat). You're rewarded when you reach Western Brook Pond by the scenery: It's a lake that looks like a Scandinavian fjord. Someday I'd like to go back to see more of Newfoundland, and I'd probably make that hike again. Somehow I think very little will have changed since that prior trip in 1982.

Scott Vogel: You really should. Imagine the memories you'd be flooded with...

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My amazing victory hike: A few years ago, I was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer & was Stage 3. My sister offered to come take care of me & help out w/my kids for a week during chemo. I asked her to save that week for my post-chemo celebration vacation. After 101 rounds of chemo, radiation & biotherapy, my husband & I went to the Grand Canyon. After spending months in hospitals & chemo rooms, it was exhilarating to experience extraordinary depth, scope and grandeur of the Grand Canyon. Despite my doctor's orders to the contrary, I was able to hike several miles down & back up again. I'm so glad I did. I must have looked pretty crazy (my hair was just coming back in again & I looked like a very skinny Bozo the Clown). I didn't care. Despite my looks & everything else, hiking that trail, I finally felt like me again. That victory vaction/hike was the first time in almost 2 years that I knew for sure that I was fine. Being able to do that hike marked the beginning of a new healthier chapter for me. Now I'm cancer free & making plans to take my kids to do the entire Grand Canyon hike hopefully, this year.

Scott Vogel: Wow. Just unbelievable. And terrific.

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Question about transporting alcohol: Dear Crew and chatters,

I want to take a small amount (12 oz) of a specialty, very-hard-to-find liqueur on a trip with me to the Caribbean. The bottle that the liqueur comes in is very big, made of glass, and able to contain many more ounces than I want to bring.

Can I decant the desired amount into a smaller plastic bottle and put it in my checked bag? What I'm asking, I guess, is whether you know of any rule that specifies that alcohol can be transported only in its original container.

Sorry for the weird question, and thanks!

Christina Talcott: Here's what the TSA says about traveling with alcohol in your checked luggage:

"Please note, you can't take alcoholic beverages with more than 70% alcohol content (140 proof), including 95% grain alcohol and 150 proof rum, in your checked luggage.

"You may take up to five liters of alcohol with alcohol content between 24% and 70% per person as checked luggage if it's packaged in a sealable bottle or flask.

"Alcoholic beverages with less than 24% alcohol content are not subject to hazardous materials regulations."

There's nothing that says it has to be in the original container. That said, you might want to stick your own label on the bottle in case your bag gets randomly searched.

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Paris traveler: Sometimes colleges and universities rent out rooms for cheap if they're available. Paris traveler might try that.

Christina Talcott: Good idea. Thanks!

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My best hike: My best hike was at Angel's Landing in Zion. I am a pretty anxious person by nature, and was very nervous about the hike, after reading the description. But me and a good friend headed up. She is far more bold than I am but was supportive the whole way. It started out pretty easy, and then became more intense once we got to the chains. I focused on what I wanted to do, and got myself to keep on keepin on. When I got myself up to the (first) landing, I was so proud of myself, and loved what we had just done. Then, reality set in, as I realized we still had more to go. It involved walking over a 1-2 foot wide path that had no railings and just a long fall on each side. I couldn't make myself do it. But I told my girlfriend to go on without me. I sat back and waited, looked out all that the beauty and chatted with the other nervous folks that couldn't get across. There's something to be said for accepting your abilities, and your limitations!

Scott Vogel: Yes, and it's a piece of advice waaaayyy too often overlooked by travelers.

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Greensboro, NC: A friend and I are thinking about hiking the AT from Northern Virginia to Penn. in mid-May. Will that stretch of the trail be packed then?

Jan Stowell: Hi, Greensboro --

The trail will be *fairly* crowded, as a number of the northbound through-hikers will be closing in on you. But most will still be south. And many will abandon the trail in mid-May to go to the Trail Days in Damascus, Va.

But remember that even when the trail is crowded, it's still pretty empty. It's only the shelters that can get cozy. My strategy was always to hike very early in the day (many of the college-aged hikers are inclined to stay up late and sleep in) and get to a shelter around 2 or 3pm. That way I almost always got my pick of where to toss my bag (always by one of the walls) and had the rest of the afternoon to happily laze away.

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Spirit to Latin America: I will never fly them again. I was booked on Spirit though a package tour to Peru. They lost my luggage for 4 days (with no compensation for toiletries or anything. The plane was full with luggage for the first leg (New York). I saw a family take 4 100+ bags out at Lima. My bag weighed 18 pounds total. Go figure.

On the way back was forced to sit on a red eye flight next to a visibly drunk and alarmingly stinky drunk man. The flight attendant did give us coffee in a filter to neutralize the air. Thank god he didn't touch me!

Scott Vogel: I'm gonna guess this is a thumbs-down.

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International flights: To the poster asking about how much earlier they need to get to the airport, especially since they are flying domestic before international (DC to JFK to Rome). I used to get to the airport 2 hours in advance for this sort of arrangement. And depending on the airport (Dulles) would continue to do that but when I fly out of National, I get there an hour before the flight and its fine. My reasoning is since I am going to a domestic destination, the 2-3 advance arrival doesn't apply. I've done this when going to the Dominican Republic and Costa Rica, where we had a connection in Atlanta and no one gave me a hard time about it.

Nancy McKeon: Okay, the argument for NOT getting there earlier.

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Flight fares: I am wondering where people always find their cheap flights? I am not a flyer at all, but now am considering a trip to the west coast. I saw non-stop flights at like $450+.....is that normal?

Carol Sottili: OK, I'm going to again shamelessly plug my "What's the Deal?" column, which can be accessed online at www.washingtonpost.com (or you could always buy a Sunday paper).

Good sites to look at for sales include www.travelzoo.com, www.smartertravel.com and www.independenttraveler.com. $450 is way too much for nonstop flights to the West Coast. Recent sale fares have been about $219 round trip, with all taxes.

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Washington DC: While I admire the thru-hikers, I've decided after a few nights of camping that while I love long walks and wilderness, I'm more of a shower and comfy bed kind of traveler. The upside of dayhiking is that you can travel lighter, and thus faster. My favorite hike was the High Divide Loop in Olympic National Park. Many people take two or three days to traverse the 18 mile loop, but since we were just carrying food and water, we did it in a day. It's the only place in the U.S. - and for all I know the world - where you can start in a rain forest in the morning, have lunch on a 5500 foot peak with views of elk herds, then continue through subalpine forests before you return to the rain forests and your car. And it's just a 10-minute drive from the trailhead to a pool fed by natural hot springs. (Details here: http://www.nps.gov/olym/planyourvisit/high-divide-loop.htm)

Scott Vogel: Wow, only one day....

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Spirit Airlines: Okay, here's the deal on Spirit. If you have a lot of flexibility and very little money, then I think it's okay. Other than that, don't do it.

The service issues are all annoying but manageable -- you have to buy water or drinks, you're crammed into your seats, you pay for checked luggage, and if they can figure out anything else they can charge you for, they probably will. But the big problem with them is that they operate a very small fleet on a tight schedule. If you are on a flight that is delayed or cancelled, you are basically screwed.

Example: I was in Detroit, a Spirit hub, when my Sunday afternoon flight got cancelled. Spirit offered to put us on a new flight back to New York FIVE DAYS LATER. This was unacceptable: I had to work on Monday. We ended up having to purchase walk-up fares at Southwest. They still have not refunded our money from the cancelled flight.

Honestly, if you're retired and you want cheap flights to and from Myrtle Beach, go for it. If you're trying to get to a wedding or back in time for work or anywhere with a specific timeline in mind, I wouldn't touch them with a ten foot pole.

Scott Vogel: More thoughts on Spirit -- thanks.

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Washington, DC: I have a question about a free ticket (from a voluntary bumping) on United. The ticket is good for a year from the issue date. Does this mean I have to use it by a year from then, or just that I have to ticket a trip by a year from then?

If you had a free ticket for anywhere in the continental US, where would you recommend? I was thinking maybe the pacific northwest (Seattle, Portland), unless I get better suggestions.

Thanks in advance.

Carol Sottili: I believe you must travel within one year.

I'd go to San Diego, but Seattle sound good, too.

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comment on Reagan and JFK traveler: It may depend on whether you're on the same airline out of Reagan that you're taking to Europe. If it is the same airline, then they are shuttling all (or many) their international flight passengers on this Reagan flight and are checking passports/visas etc. I miscalculated once, thinking that the Reagan flight was 'domestic' and didn't get to Reagan 2+ hours in advance. Howver most of the travelers on this flight were headed to Europe, the check in process took a lot of time per passenger and I almost didn't make the flight cut off time. The lines were long and the airline announced they were going to close receiving baggage less than 40 mins before flight time. I had been in line for 40+ mins and had to beg the counter staff to accept me and my luggage. So, Travel Crew advice is smart....get there on the early side. I've seen a three hour advance of flight turn into less than 1 hr with overweight baggage hassles, ticket problems etc. And it doesn't have to be YOUR problem, but someone else traveling that holds up the whole line. Bon Voyage.

Nancy McKeon: Uh-oh, a caution for the JFK traveler. (perhaps my caution is justified after all.)

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Most "something" hike: Way back in high school (about 18 years ago!), my now husband and I went out for a hike in Big South Fork (Tennessee). Since we were all of 17 and all about insisting we were independent of our parents, we just told them we were going hiking in Big South Fork, no mention of the trail name, or even where in the park. There was a part of the trail that was supposed to follow the creek, but we lost the blazes and didn't quite realize the trail was the creek. We circled for about two hours (or so it seemed) and we kept passing the same few points. I was terrified and crying by the time we finally found a blaze! We made it out alive, but there was a point where I was wondering if that would happen.

Scott Vogel: Gee, I'm getting the feeling that hiking is about escaping one's parents.

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re: amazing hike: I have done a lot of hiking but I think the most amazing was with my then-boyfriend, now-husband in North Wales, where we hiked on sort of a misty, but not cold day and finally turned a corner to see a beautiful lake. Of course, it wasn't just the scenery, it was the company (this was our first overseas trip together.) this weekend we just celebrated our daughter's first birthday!

Scott Vogel: Makes ya wonder what went wrong!

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Arlington, VA: You can find a gazillion cabins organized by state at http://www.mountain-lodging.com/

Nancy McKeon: For the DC cabin seeker.

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Cabins for camping: Though not in Virginia, fairly close by in western Maryland, New Germany State Park. Its beautiful and less than a couple of hours from the District. http://www.dnr.state.md.us/publiclands/campinginfo.html

Nancy McKeon: A non-Virginia response for the Virginia cabin-seeker.

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College Park, Md.: Hey Flight Crew,

I was wondering if you knew about any travel companies that specialize in young traveling. Almost like a study abroad type trip but with post-graduates. Basically I want to travel to Europe/Australia/somewhere outside USA with others (not including my friends, ha).

can you help me?

Christina Talcott: Hey there, STA Travel (www.statravel.com) isn't just for students and offers group tours and packages. Travel agents there might have other ideas, too. Anyone out there have other suggestions?

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RE: Spirit Airlines to South America: I scored a pair of cheap tickets on Spirit from DC to Lima, Peru last winter--at least $150 cheaper than the next-cheapest flight--and I can say that the savings were just not worth it. It ranks as the absolute worst flight experience I've ever had. (I've survived wind shears going into the old Stapleton airport in Denver, issues with the hydraulic system leading to dumping fuel in-flight and an emergency landing in Miami, and bad pizza in Honolulu that led to an hour of puking out into the little barf bags. I would take any of those experiences over my Spirit flight.)

On the way home, after a night of no sleep and being forced to deal with another snafu, the agent I was dealing with said "don't cry, don't let this ruin your nice memories of your trip!" Wish I had thought of that before I was seduced by the low prices :)

Really, you'll regret not spending a couple of extra bucks. I've flown Spirit multiple times on short trips to Miami with no problems, but international flights are a whole 'nother ball of wax.

Scott Vogel: Don't cry?!

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for Tokyo hotel: Akasaka is a great neighborhood, but the subway system in Tokyo is so extensive and easy to use, just be sure to be close to the subway. We stayed at the Dai Ichi Annex, much cheaper than the Dai Ichi. We had no trouble getting ground transportation arranged through a desk at the airport to Dai Ichi. We are in the annex across the street and under $200/night. Room was small but has everything, including free internet. We were near the Shimbashi metro stop. There's also a Rail station at this location. This is walking distance to the Ginza, but an easy subway trip to Akasaka

Carol Sottili: Thanks!

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Cheap flights out West: For the person looking for a cheap flight to the West Coast: Jet Blue currently has a deal to Oakland from Dulles for $109 each way.

Carol Sottili: Yup, among others.

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Most amazing hike: The best one I have done and its not be judged by ease or difficulty but for something that will likely be gone in my life time that is not a glacier....the hike to delicate Arch in Arches national park. Did it in the morning before the temperatures went up. I did it alone but there was a group of about 15-20 of us early hikers who did the trek and spent about 2 hrs there before anyone else started to come. When I was there I saw 2 people actally climb to the top (I have pictures of it--though not digital).

Scott Vogel: A truly endangered hike, that.

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Washington, D.C.: We are going to Istanbul in June for 4 days before embarking on a cruise to the Greek Isles. What hotel do you recommend in Istanbul, preferably in the Old City ??

Nancy McKeon: The grande dame of Istanbul, the Pera Palas is under renovation till late this year. It's where Agatha Christie would hole up, and it kept(I assume still will) Ataturk's room and office intact. Anyone have other suggestions?

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Md: Most interesting hike - Fish River canyon in Namibia. Second in size only to the Grand Canyon, but without all the sissy guard rails and such. we were all the way down, dead tired and really having a hard time making it back up after roughing it for a couple of weeks prior. Motivation: our stuff was already unpacked and set up in the campground, and the once the gates closed at sundown they don't open until Sunrise. momentary panic at the end, but we did make it.

Scott Vogel: Guard rails are for sissies -- says Md.

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Pittsburgh, PA: Females on long hikes - for the person asking about this issue, the baby wipes that come in soft plastic packs are extremely handy (for long camping trips and just about any travel, too), and it's easy to carry a bunch of ziploc bags to pack out various forms of waste.

Jan Stowell: Yes. And said much more succinctly than I could have.

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Parisian cheap digs: Years ago, as a starving grad student, I stayed at a convent in Fiosele ... . Not sure if Sisters in Paris take in guests ... .

Christina Talcott: There are rooms at Sacre Coeur, but they're mainly for spiritual pilgrims. Here's the Web site: www.sacre-coeur-montmartre.com/us/pele.html.

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DC: I'm desperate for a dive trip toward the end of April, and got a week off but don't know where to go. Time's getting short, so I think it needs to be in Central America or the Caribbean. But I also don't want to be surrounded by a herd of drunken, over-sexed spring breakers. I like a chill beach, with a few nice bars to hang out at--nothing too hectic.

Help?

Carol Sottili: I'd look at Bonaire or at Roatan, Honduras.

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Lansdale, Pa.: Hi... I will be spending three days in Paris in May. Can you give me a list of the must-sees that one can fit into 3 days?

washingtonpost.com: There are so many great things to see in Paris, it would be helpful to know a little more about your interests -- art? history? shopping? That said, a trip on one of the sightseeing boats that run along the Seine gives a great overview. See a big museum, like the Louvre or d'Orsay, and a small one, like the Cluny or Rodin. Visit Notre Dame and take the time to walk around behind and visit the Ile St. Louis. -- Elizabeth

Nancy McKeon: Seems like sound advice! And if you can stand the crowds, climb up to the top of Notre Dame, walk around the parapet.

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amazing/exhausting/exhilarating hike : When I was in high school, I was a member of Girl Scout Troup #2, the trailblazer troup. Spring vacation my junior year we did a week-long hike along the Appalachian Trail near Mount Washington. We rented a bus to take us from Manchester, Conn. to a side road in New Hampshire where he pulled of to the side of the road and let us all out. Each girl carried a back pack with her stuff and some troop stuff. Packs ranged from 25 to 40 pounds; everything that we needed for the next 5 days needed to be carried up that hillside. We looked up the hill at what seemed to be a streambed; the leader informed us that this was a place where the AT crossed a road, we could tell that our bus was not the only vehicle that had pulled off there but there was no "parking space". The first day we hicked uphill until we arrived at the "lodge" that we had reserved for the next two nights. We cooked over an open fire, washed in the stream, and slept on the wood platforms in our sleeping bags. During the day we hiked over various trails. On the last day, after a long hike that included a traverse across the top of a mountain where the cross wind was so strong two of us needed to hold onto the smallest one so she did not get blown off the time of the mountain, we ended up at the Mount Washington Resort where the bus was scheduled to pick us up and take us back to Conn. What a sight that was, seeing that huge, white hotel in the middle of a mountain wilderness!

Scott Vogel: Going into the homestretch now and will try to publish as many of these as I can. Lots of great ideas for present and future hikes here.

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Fairfax, VA: Regarding Spirit, Please, whatever you do, do not fall into the trap! I flew them to Santo Domingo to visit my family and they were late on the Fort Lauderdale-Santo Domingo leg, and the same thing returning back to Fort Lauderdale a few days later! My mom's friend also vowed to avoid Spirit when she flew from Orlando to Lima, where she was very late.

Scott Vogel: Once more, dishonoring your Spirit.

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DCA international travel: Admittedly, this is not the same situation but ... stuff happens. I was flying Air Canada from National to London changing in Toronto. I got to the airport a huge amount of time ahead and they only had -one- person checking in!! Stuff happens - why risk it?

Nancy McKeon: More on the three-hour arrival time.

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Northern Spain: Two friends and I hiked for 120 kilometers on the medieval pilgrimage to Santiago, Spain. On our first day, not only did in rain, but we got lost 35 kilometers out of the way! As we plunged our way through rainy forests, soaked fields, past cows, sheep and horses and eventually up a very large mountain we begun to wonder if we'd ever approach our next destination. Though we had to be driven back to where we started we did get a chance to see a very untouched part of Spain and a dazzling view once we emerged from the forests onto a hilltop where we could see all the way to the coast.

Scott Vogel: Lost in Spain -- thanks!

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For the Round the World traveler: I took a round the world with my frequent flyer miles. It did take a lot of planning, but you need to do this with the airlines, since only they know where the free seats are. They have a reservations division for this. We spent 2 hrs on the phone plotting out the places and dates. We were limited to their Alliance partners and there were such rules as "no more than three stops on a continent (stopovers/changing planes doesn't count)" or especially no backtracking. They use longitude degrees to determine this. Because our objective was to circumnavigate the globe and have fun along the way, we called in August for a trip to occur in Dec and January. Since we didn't care where we went this was fine. If you have your heart set on a certain country, you'd want to start much earlier. Less restrictions with a plain old regular RTW ticket. I have to say we had 6 great vacations in a row over a period of 6 weeks. 6 months would have been heaven!!!

Nancy McKeon: This took stamina!

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San Diego, CA: Most exciting hike:

Shimokita Peninsula, extreme northern Honshu, Japan. Drove an hour and a half from the nearest city (no trains up there!) to an unmarked base, then made a short hike of 2 hours, clapping our hands the whole way to let bears know we were nearby. Also, I later found out, passed through some fields farmers in the area use to grow materials for, ahem, supplemental income.

Finally, at the end of the hike, we reach the top, on the other side of which is a 200 foot cliff of solid stone. From there we can see all three peninsulas that make up Aomori Prefecture, the Sea of Japan and the Pacific, as well as the Tsugaru Strait and Hokkaido on the other side.

Basically, it's the Japan you never hear people talk about. Avoid the cities, head to the countryside.

Scott Vogel: Great advice there, thanks.

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Harrisburg, Pa.: The most amazing hike I ever took was in a park in Connecticut. The hike had a number of trails color coded onto trees, and we had followed every color code, blue, red, yellow. One day, we noticed a new trail had opened: an orange trail. It was the most interesting trail yet. It zigzagged through all kinds of challenging terrian, but we made it through. We later ran into a Ranger and we mentioned we had completed the new orange trail. The Ranger, though, burst into laughing. It seems the trees market "orange" were the ones designated to be chopped down.

Scott Vogel: Ha! -- there's a post I can relate to.

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Durango, Colo. (but on long trip in Switzerland/Italy: Hey all! I have a special shopping warning, and a question. I've been humiliatingly scolded in shops in Italy and southern Switzerland twice -- and today was made to buy something I didn't want...when you go in a store with perfumes, lotions and gels, you evidently do NOT pop open the top of a shampoo bottle or lotion to smell them. I always forget my previous scoldings - its a habit, I guess, and today, one MADE me buy the lotion I had sniffed. I'm wondering if I'm going to run into this in Paris next week? Elsewhere in Europe?

Christina Talcott: Hmm, my advice is... STOP DOING THAT! My guess is, if the laid-back Italians are scolding you about something, it's going to tick the Parisians off even more. Remember that here in the U.S. most stores have "sample" bottles that you can open. Even if shopkeepers don't mind you opening bottles, it would only garner you good will to ask before you do it.

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nice size cabin (two families) to vacation to somewhere in VA: George Washington National Forest in the Shenandoah valley also has cabins of various sizes. I believe that they are on the Forest web site.

Nancy McKeon: For our cabin seekers. Thanks!

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Best hike: When we lived in California, we used to take week-long backpacking trips in the Sierras. One trip, our route took us up to where the snow was still melting. As you walked across each slope, there were little rills of meltwater every few feet with wildflowers peeking out from under the remains of the snowdrifts. The water was icy cold and delicious-this was before giardia colonized so many of our wild waters. And there were fewer people around then-this was 35 years ago-so we seemed to be the only people around in this vast tumble of mountains with the sky a brilliant blue during the day and so many stars at night!

Scott Vogel: You should return. If you do, by all means report back.

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Washington, D.C.: For "young" trips: check your school's alumni association. Mine offers a variety of trips, often with professors accompanying as guides. They sound pretty great.

Christina Talcott: That's perfect. Thanks!

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for College Park: I traveled through Europe with Contiki - which is for 18-35 year olds - and I HIGHLY recommend it.

Christina Talcott: Another excellent idea for young travelers.

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Washington, DC: Question re airfares to Europe: During the recent sales, I was pricing air fares to Barcelona, both leaving from Dulles and connecting through a European city and non-stop from JFK. The JFK fares were several hundred dollars cheaper. In looking at Orbitz where they break out the taxes, there seemed to be a lot more taxes on the European connection. Are fares out of Dulles more expensive? Is that generally the case that there are big taxes if you connect in Europe. In that case, it seems you might be better off going to JKF first. Thanks.

Carol Sottili: Your theory on taxes is interesting, but my guess is that would depend on what cities within Europe you're flying from/to. JFK is generally cheaper than Dulles to Europe because there is more competition, but that's not always the case. You're smart to price out the flights using different routes to figure out which is cheapest.

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Washington, D.C. : Here is my hiking story. I went on a tour to Thailand that included three days of hiking to visit Hill tribes. Had I realized this was part of the itinerary, I probably would not have gone on the trip. I am out of shape and cannot handle the heat. In anticipation of the trip--and truth be told with the fear of dying of heat stroke at the forefront of my mind--I started walking 8 miles a day, but only had a month to prepare. I headed off to Thailand after instructing my next of kin not to waste the money bringing my corpse home. The hiking was a challenge--the first day a cardiac challenge as most was uphill, the second day a balance challenge because many of the paths were on the edge of steep hills, and the third day a joint challenge because there was a lot of downhill. Each day, however, had a fair bit of uphill and downhill hiking. Whenever we would ask the guides how much longer, they always replied: not much farther and the easy part is coming up (whether we asked at the beginning or the end of the day). While we were all struggling with the hiking, the porters were carrying all of our drinking water, wearing flip-flops, smoking hand-rolled cigarettes, and having no difficulties whatsoever. At the villages, we slept on the hard wood floors and used the squat toilet facilities (if you don't know about those, don't ask). Obviously, I survived the trip. But more importantly, it was fantastic. I am so glad I did not back out. It was physically very difficult, but our porters and guides were amazing, the people of the Hill tribes wonderful (all the Thai people I encountered, actually), and the country beautiful.

Scott Vogel: And now, a vote for NOT respecting one's limitations.

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Horseback riding on the Trail: Are there any outfitters that run tours on the trails for a few days or a week via horseback?

thank you!!!

Jan Stowell: Hi, Horseback...

That's a very good question and I'm afraid I don't know the answer. However, I'd call the ATC at 304-535-6331. Ask for the info desk. They're very helpful indeed.

Jan Stowell: I should add that horses aren't permitted on much of the AT. I do know that the trail is shared with horses in much of Great Smoky Mt Nat'l Park.

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Rockville, MD: Hi Flight Crew! I've always loved traveling. After two recent trips I decided that I really want to be a travel writer. My current career is in no way related - although I am a very talented writer. How do you get in to travel writing and do you have any tips to help an aspiring flight crew member?? Thanks!

Jan Stowell:

Hi, Rockville --

Just write, write, write. Write about what interests you, as your own enthusiasm for a subject will carry you through some of the tedium of writing (yeah, it can sometimes be tedious) wears away at you. Submit to publications that you think fit your bill and vice versa. Try to anticipate, as best you can, the seasons. Don't write a Christmas piece in December; write it in August, as magazines, at least, are planned many months in advance.

And most of all, persist and do not be discouraged by rejection. It's inevitable and never personal.

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Most memorable Hike: Was when I was a teen. My friend and I hiked 12 miles one way from the suburbs to a park in the city on the off chance we would see a boy we (me) was head over heels about. Then we had to walk back! This was in the days before bottled water but we had a transistor radio with us! Those were the days.

Scott Vogel: What city are we talking? DC?

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Sacramento, CA - Most exhausting hike: In 2004, immediately after an eight-hour bus ride from Hiroshima, our group of about 30 started around 7 p.m. at the fifth station of Japan's Mount Fuji for what should have been a relatively easy hike. ("Kids do it! 85-year-olds do it!")

However, the monsoon weather made for the most physically miserable time I've ever had. Fifteen minutes into the seven-hour hike up the mountain, my clothes were completely soaked through. An hour into it, the weather was so bad that we later found out they closed the trail five minutes after we'd passed the checkpoint. I remember literally hanging on to a chain and pulling myself up an incredibly steep part of the trail that had turned into a mini-waterfall. At one of the rest stations about an hour from the peak, a group of about 15 of us were told that if we wanted to stay over there, we needed to get naked since our clothes were drenched. After protesting, since we were a mixed crowd and had only known each other for about a month at that point, we were allowed to "sleep" in our still-soaked clothes in the non-heated room. We got to the top in time to see the sunrise but, of course, with that weather, all we could see were clouds. And since the official climbing season had ended a week before, nothing at the top was open. I stayed up there for about two minutes, took a photo with my rain-soaked camera that never recovered, then immediately started the five hour hike back down. I'm glad I did it once, but never again.

Scott Vogel: Wow, another cautionary tale.

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Angel's Landing: I agree with the previous poster about the Angel's Landing hike in Zion Nat'l Park. I did it, but it is extremely scary, and you really have to know your limits. The week before I was there, a man had died after falling from the trail. The place where the poster waited for his friend is sometimes called "Quitter's Corner," though I think it should be re-named "Sane Person's Corner"! And remember, once you get to the end/top, you still have to get back down...

Scott Vogel: And another.

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Exhausting hike: Well, I've been on many exhausting hikes, but the one I remember best was in Northern New Mexico. I was about 12 years old, and was attending a music camp (Hummingbird Camp). One evening, the entire camp went on a hike. It was brutal because of the altitude (we were at about 8-9,000 feet) and it was a difficult hike straight up a mountain. Each of us had been given an orange to eat at the top, but we had to carry it. I didn't have a pack and had to carry my orange in my hand. The scenery was gorgeous and I was really looking forward to eating my juicy orange at the end. Suddenly I slipped and fell, and dropped my orange. In despair, I watched it bounce down the hill, lost forever. I'll never forget how terrible I felt, watching it roll away. I was absolutely crushed. Luckily, my friend shared her orange with me at the top.

This is why I like hiking in Switzerland: you take the ski lift to the top and then walk down. Much easier!

Scott Vogel: Thanks.

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Looking for killer deals to Europe: Hi, I'm sending my question in ahead of time in hopes you & your readers will give us some suggestions. I'm a single mom & though money is tight, I really want to take my kids to Europe. It's a stretch financially but they'll be off to college &a out of the house in a couple of years so I really want to travel w/them this summer. Do you know of any incredible deals? Also, aside from the obvious, Expedia etc., what are websites that offer killer deals that will give us a huge bang for our buck? Thank you!

Nancy McKeon: I'm afraid there's no one answer to your question. Or one site that will meet all your criteria. Go to our site and look up the 2009 Way to Go issue. We list lots of sites (yes, a lot of them are the obvious; they're obvious because they have the stuff) that can start you on your trip. But it's gonna take a lot of work, trolling for deals, signing up for fare alerts. You can pay big bucks and just go, or pay few bucks and use sweat equity, but only if you're incredibly lucky can you get a combo or cheap AND easy. Good luck!

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Turkey Hotels: There are great small inns on the Sultanmet side of the city near the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia and Topkapi Palace. Range from $60-160 and they are just around the corner from the Four Seasons, so you're in very good company. If you're going off season, you could probably just show up and find a room. The small inn we stayed at was written up within the last year in a NY Times Travel article on Istanbul.

Nancy McKeon: Thank you, for our Istanbul visitors.

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Anonymous: It wasn't amazing/exhausting/exhilarating, but it was funny. Shortly after college, a friend remembered a hike in the VA mountains he had done as a kid so we all geared up and off we went. He was concerned about the several non-hikers (girls!) and so we carefully rationed out goods and gear, leaving precious beer behind, planning on a 3 hour trek. 45 minutes late we had arrived at our destination, so a couple of the guys walked back to the car and brought the whole cooler back with them. We had great fun camping and we "hiked" back out the next day.

Scott Vogel: Thanks.

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re: AT: I can't believe no one has mentioned Bill Bryson's book A Walk in the Woods. Hilarious (and informative) account of hiking the AT.

Jan Stowell: I always wanted to meet Bryson. And to strangle him with my bare hands. The guy hiked something like 860 miles and got a book out of it. I hiked 2160 and got a 12-piece series in a small paper. We were out at about the same time... within a year of one another, I think.

Well, that's what I get for not being as transcendentally talented a writer as Bryson, heh heh. Love that guy's stuff.

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Baltimore, Md.: I've never hiked the entire Appalachian Trail, but I've hiked many parts of it in Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania. It's good trail etiquette to share your food with any thru-hikers you meet - they REALLY appreciate any food that's not freeze-dried, and any drink that's not water. It's easy to spot the thru-hikers. They're wearing ratty clothes and carrying large backpacks.

Jan Stowell: Hi, Baltimore --

You got a grin out of me when you mentioned the ease of spotting thru-hikers. Ratty indeed, so true. After I'd been on the trail for a few months, I was able to identify thru-hikers at distance. I'm not even sure I can explain how. Just something about the way they walked that was like a signature. One thing I knew for certain: if I saw a hiker with a Sierra cup dangling from a little lanyard, he or she wasn't thru-hiking. Thru-hikers never had *anything* dangling.

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New York, NY: Hi Crew,

There have been some amazing international fare deals out there recently- Moscow, Rome, Bermuda, etc. Are places like these "seeable" for a weekend trip? Right now my bf and I can't really get away for more than 3-4 days, but can't stand the thought of these fares getting away from us. Or for that amount of time, should we just stick to old standbys like beach trips or Europe?

Christina Talcott: Short trips can be great, especially if they whet your appetite for longer visits. The thing is, you'll have to take into account travel time, since you don't want to spend one day on either end in transit, with only one or two days on the ground. Plan your days in your destination really well to see and do as much as you want, and you can get a taste of someplace you might not have seen before. Of course, that kind of travel is the worst kind for the environment - longer trips are always better, since air travel is hugely polluting - and this might not be the last time you'll see cheap flights, and then there's the economy... But it's up to you to decide. Will the environmental impact/money spent be balanced out by the educational experience/bonding time/chance to meet different people?

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Re 15 & L: For the person going to the Grand Canyon next month, I concur with Jan's advice. Definitely get poles, you will be very very glad you did. Your knees will thank you on the way down. Also, reservations for Phantom Ranch, the hostel at the bottom of the canyon, fill up early (like a year ahead of time), but you can call and see if there are cancellations. I don't know what the camping opportunities are, but the obvious advantage of Phantom Ranch is that you don't have to carry a tent or food other than what you need for the way down. My only other piece of advice would be to take it slow. People like to talk about how fast they were able to hike up, but there is no point in rushing it -- enjoy the beautiful views, and take your time!

Scott Vogel: Thanks.

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menstrual issues: I hope I can sneak this in last minute! Check out menstrual cups to manage periods. DivaCup, MoonCup, et. al. They're online and make camping/hiking easier.

Jan Stowell: I am learning new things every day. Moon cups. That's... evocative.

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Scott Vogel: Well, time for us to take a hike, I'm afraid, but thanks to all of you for making the hour so enjoyable. And special thanks to our guest Jan Stowell, who jumped in with both feet and did a terrific job answering your questions today.

Finally, just wanted to bid a heartfelt goodbye to Elizabeth Terry. You guys may not know her but you've certainly seen her terrific work. As the producer of our chats at washingtonpost.com, she's never been less than a true pro, and an unfailingly enthusiastic one at that. As she moves on, the entire Flight Crew is really gonna miss her. Best of luck to you, Elizabeth.

Oh, and the person who thought they were hiking the orange trail and instead were hiking past trees marked for chopping --- e-mail me at vogelsi@washpost.com to claim your prize.

See ya next week, everybody.

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