Talk About Travel: Travel Staffers Help You Plan Great Escapes

The Flight Crew
Washington Post Travel Section
Monday, August 10, 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. They were online Monday, August 10 at 2 p.m.

Browse an archive of previous live travel Q&As.


Zofia Smardz: Hello, folks, and welcome to another session of Travel Talk. I'm Zofia, your pilot today.

Well, it's the dog days of August here in Washington, and lots of people, including our beloved legislators, have flown the coop for parts more exotic and enticing. But your trusty Flight Crew -- Joe, Christina, Andrea and I, and back for a special return engagement, Carol Sottili! -- are here, ready to take all your travel questions. We can dream about vacations, anyway, right? Or, being stuck in town, we can plan a great staycation. In fact, let's think about the best staycations we've ever had. Tell us about the times you've managed great fun and play without going away, and the best story wins a handy-dandy food carrier to take on your next staycation picnic. Okay, we're off.


Washington, D.C.: Eliminating luggage fees would do more for airline on-time averages than any other action. I've been on about a dozen flights over the last three months, and every last one of them has been delayed because the overhead bins get full before the plane does. People are bringing everything short of livestock on board, and are forced to hoist their roller-bags overhead and swim upstream because nothing more fits, even as others are trying to cram more on board. It's all very developing-world.

Don't airlines grasp how foolish this is? They're really not benefiting from this quite like their accountants think they are ...

Carol Sottili: I agree with you except airlines are making money by charging all these extra fees. For example, American airlines made $108 million in the first quarter of this year in baggage fees. I think they are here to stay.


Dallas: I'll be in Boston over Labor Day weekend and wanted to take a day trip (most likely via ferry) to Cape Cod. It looks like the best option stops in Provincetown, what are the things to do and see there?

Is there any way we can squeeze in Martha's Vineyard and/or Nantucket? Any ferry tips? This is my first trip to New England so not sure what to expect at all.

Thanks for the great chats!

Joe Yonan: Have fun! I was just in Provincetown and Truro. Lots to do in Ptown: Gallery hopping, dune tours, whale watches. If you've never done the latter, you absolutely should; Stellwagen Bank is one of the world's best places to see whales. And take the one run by the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies, because they're not only very careful about not disturbing the whales, your fee goes to support their very important conservation/protection work.

On your other question, if you're talking about squeezing in the Vineyard and/or Nantucket on a day trip, sorry, no way. The ferries leave from different places: Ptown leaves from Boston while MV and Nantucket leave from Woods Hole or Hyannis or Rhode Island, etc. Can't do them in one fell swoop, which is fine because there's more than enough to occupy you in Ptown anyway...


Empty Nester in Arlington, Va.: My husband and I will be empty-nesters at the end of August and will, therefore, have more free time to travel, especially during the non-peak times. We won't be able to travel last-minute, but I would like to be able to find some good deals on short trips (e.g. I'd love to go to London for a few days sometime). How do you suggest I go about finding these deals? Are there any websites I should especially look at or sites that I should sign up for? Thanks!

Andrea Sachs: Kid-free travel! No more spring break! Go celebrate with a trip. The best way is to check sites that compile different deals, such as TravelZoo and SmarterTravel. Also look at Gate1Travel and the biggies, like Orbitz and Expedia.


Brussels, Belgium: Hi Crew!

Love the chats, even more today because I just know that you'll know this answer. My parents are coming for a visit. They'll fly from Denver to Frankfurt to here. Where will they have to clear customs and immigration- in Frankfurt, their first stop out of the U.S., or Brussels, their final destination? Thanks in advance for making this visit easier ...

Christina Talcott: That's a great question. Here's the deal: When your parents arrive in Frankfurt, they'll have to go through immigration, then they'll go through customs in Brussels. They shouldn't even have to take out their passports when the arrive in Brussels, since both Germany and Belgium are in the Shengen Area. If they're simply connecting on the same ticket, their bags should go all the way to Brussels, and they shouldn't have to go through security again in Frankfurt. That said, make sure they have a long enough connection time in Frankfurt, because those passport control lines can be long.


Bethesda, Md.: I'm getting married over Labor Day weekend and am hoping to plan a one or two night "Mini moon" on Maryland or Delaware shore, which I confess, we've never visited. Can you suggest a romantic inn that might be nice after the week after Labor Day? Thanks.

Zofia Smardz: The Atlantic hotel in Berlin, Md., just had a complete makeover to restore it to its romantic Victorian past. It's not on the water, but isn't far from Ocean City and definitely has the kind of charm that would make your mini-moon special. If you want to be right on the water, I actually like the Boardwalk Plaza in Rehoboth Beach. It's pricey, but the decor and the access to the water are worth it. Try to get at least an oceanview suite so you can sit on the balcony.

There are nice places in Lewes, Del. too. The Blue Water House Inn is a lovely B&B.

But if you really want romantic, I'd consider hopping the ferry and heading over to Cape May. It's loaded with romantic small hotels and B&Bs. And the last surviving grande dames of its big-hotel era, the Cape May Inn and Congress Hall are fabulous getaways, too.

Other suggestions for these honeymooners, chatters?


Grahamstown, S.A.: Here is a cautionary tale: My husband and I notified Chase Bank on their automated telephone system that we would be traveling to South Africa for four months to be volunteer instructors at a small college. Nonetheless, they considered our purchases at the local grocery store to be "suspicious activity" and closed our Visa account without consulting with us. When the card was rejected, we called their international help line only to be told 'sorry -- we'll send you a new one.' Given the vagaries of international mail, we're not sure it will ever get here.

Luckily, we always travel with a second card from USAA, which has worked just fine. Visa advertises that their cards are accepted world wide. We would add: just don't try to actually use it ...

Joe Yonan: Wow. I had a similar experience when traveling through the Turkish and Greek islands several years ago. Had told my CC company (don't remember which it was, which is kind of scary), and yet when I tried to buy a rug in Istanbul, all the alerts went off and I couldn't get around it, even after calling them (from the rug shop!). I ended up paying -- gasp -- cash, which might have been a decision I made after drinking four or five too many of those lethal little Turkish coffees. I was jacked up.


Re couple motorcycling in central Europe: I forwarded your suggestions last week re Budapest to my friends who are motorcycling on vacation in Central Europe. Next they'll be heading to Ljubljana (and maybe Trieste). Any tips for them on what not to miss?

Zofia Smardz: I've never been to Lubljana, alas, but lucky for your friends, we just did a big story on it. Check it out.


Rincon, Puerto Rico: Can anyone recommend a nice affordable place to stay on the beach? We're headed down for a wedding in November. Thanks!

Andrea Sachs: I am a big fan of paradores, small family-run inns with loads of character and good rates. They are sprinkled around the country, especially on the west coast. For info: I have also heard good things about the Horned Dorset Primavera, LemonTree suites and Lazy Parrot Inn.

And if the chatsters have any ideas, please pipe up.


Mechanicsburg, Penn.: Our family of 4 is looking for a trip over the holidays - skiing or island destinations at the head of the list, but anything's possible. We're thinking of waiting until late in the game to bargain-hunt. Is this a viable idea for holiday travel, when prices for everything seem to be high? How late do we wait before jumping on something?

Carol Sottili: In better economic times, this would not be a good strategy. But you may be able to take a chance this year. As long as you'll just say "oh well" if you don't find anything. If you'll be bitterly disappointed, I'd book earlier. A good idea is to start checking rates now, and then you'll know where they are trending. I think you'd have more luck with island destinations, as it seems that ski places are very popular during holiday periods. That said, if you're willing to go to a less popular ski place, let's say Big Sky in Montana instead of Vail in Colorado, you may do better. Also, for island destinations, try tour operators such as Apple Vacations or Vacation Express for last-minute deals.


Washington, D.C.: What time of year would tickets from any area airport to Paris be cheapest?

Christina Talcott: October through March are generally cheaper than April through September, though you can sometimes find great (though short-lived) deals even for the busy summer travel months.


Houston: Hi Flight Crew!

Submitting early because, well, it's a Monday. My husband and I are headed to Paris next month for five days - my first time and his second trip. We're staying near the Louvre and are planning on hitting up all the major sites. Any recommendations for your top three must-sees off the beaten path? Thanks so much!

Joe Yonan: I'll start the ball rolling with the Canal St-Martin, which is so tranquil. On nice summer nights the young folks picnic out by the water. It's also near a great wine bar/store/restaurant, Le Verre Vole.

Chatters, your turn: Weigh in on lesser-known Paris sights!

Zofia Smardz: I would send you to Malmaison, the Empress Josephine's estate outside town a bit. It's like a mini-Versailles but without the hordes of tourists. Very romantic.


Seattle: Hi guys, this is a first-time submission from someone who loves reading your chats from The Other Coast.

We traveled to Hawaii a number of years ago and were caught by the earlier-than-expected onset of winter rains. Would like to go again, this time in March-April or whenever qualifies as the end of Hawaii's "winter." What do you consider the best time to visit? Thanks!

Joe Yonan: I'd slide your trip a tad bit later, into later April or May, because that's when the peak season is officially over, prices drop and the weather is mild. You'll see crowds and higher prices if you go during the peak season of December-March or in the summer, when Hawaiian kids are on vacation and filling the beaches. September-November are good, too.


Williamsburg, Va: My family and I are planning a trip to Italy in January 2010. Is it a good time to purchase tickets now or might airfares drop in the fall?

Andrea Sachs: My mandate is: See a great fare, grab it. Fares are as volatile as the market, but there are some absolutes: Fares are higher during the holidays, but drop after New Year's Day. Winter is also off-season, so you will pay hundreds less than peak season. That said, unless the fare is insanely low, I would wait till late summer/early fall to see if the airlines start posting winter Europe sales.


Philadelphia, Penn.: My daughter and grandchild are arriving from Canada for two weeks in August. I would like to purchase travel health insurance for them since they have Canadian insurance that won't pay for any problems they may have here. I can't figure out how to just get the coverage of health care part of travel insurance. Do you know how to/if you can do that?

Carol Sottili: Contact one of the companies that specialize in travel insurance -, or


Staycation: Not very exciting, but I holed up with my favorite foods and lots and lots of books and didn't venture outside once, except to garden, the entire week! I reported back to work completely refreshed and didn't spend a single cent!

Zofia Smardz: Sounds ideal! I dream of vacations like that.


Washington, D.C.: I would love to start traveling, however I have two problems: I don't know anyone who I would be compatible with on a vacation and the few people I do know don't have the money to go where I want to go anyways. I'm kind of tempted to go on a Mediterranean, by myself, but something tells me that may not be the greatest idea. Are there any destinations, or maybe tour groups for singles? I'm not looking for a travelling dating service. I just want a destination where I'd be relatively safe on my own.

Zofia Smardz: We had a similar question not long ago. here are some recommended Web sites for solo travelers:

Grand Circle Travel

O Solo Mio Tours

Connecting: Solo Travel Network

Women Traveling Together

Hope that helps!

Hope that helps.


San Francisco: I swear I read somewhere that TSA was close to getting rid of the ridiculous 3-1-1 liquids rule. Is there any possibility of this happening soon? I look forward to being able to leave all my lotions and potions in their original containers again.

Andrea Sachs: Last we heard (a few months ago), TSA was reviewing its policies and could feasibly ease up on those [add adj.] rules this year. However, more investigation is needed, so stay tuned . . . and don't toss the powdered shampoo just yet.


Vancouver, B.C.: Spent months planning a week's trip to Vancouver, BC in July without any help from the Washington Post travel section. Finally read the article about sushi in Vancouver online as my husband and I sat in our room at the Wedgewood Hotel awaiting our 6:30 p.m. reservation at Hapa Izakaya. For the poster from last week looking for a Vancouver Hotel, I highly recommend the Wedgewood - not cheap, but perfectly located, comfortable, and with a touch of elegance. I also enjoyed Hapa Izakaya (and this from someone who swore she'd NEVER eat raw fish!).

I wrote in to the chat last spring asking for suggestions to avoid flying coach to Vancouver. After lots of research, I reluctantly bought two refundable business class tickets on AirTran to Seattle for $1900 and planned to take Amtrak from there to Vancouver (which involved an extra hotel night each way). Six weeks before our trip, I received an email alert from Air Canada about a sale on executive class fares. I canceled the AirTran tickets and scored executive class seats direct to Vancouver for $365 each way ($1600 total for two)! On the flight back, we even had the individual pod seats that fold flat for sleeping. I don't know if I'll get that lucky again, but business/first class is definitely the way to go!

Joe Yonan: Great story. Good job on signing up for the email alert -- and on having refundable tickets to work with. Were those original ones $1900 r/t apiece, or for both? I almost jumped out of my seat when I first read that $365 number, until I got to "each way." Still, sounds like you flew in style for a reasonable ($800) fare.

Zofia Smardz: Thanks for all the comments and tips! Hope you'll be reading the section all the time now!


Fairfax, Va.: My husband and I are planning our first oversees trip (to London) in September 2010. To avoid all of the extra fees and get the best rate ... is it better for us to exchange the currency before we leave or wait until we arrive in London. Is it better to exchange using credit cards or traveler's checks or cash? What about making purchases while in London? Is there credit card that has a lower transfer/exchange fee? Thanks!

Christina Talcott: Overall, I've always found it's always easier to keep track of spending when you use cash. To get pounds, I'd recommend simply using your ATM card for withdrawals once you get to London, since changing dollars to pounds here usually has a hefty transaction fee. You could also bring traveler's checks with you to exchange at the bank. As for credit cards, the ones with the best rates seem to be Capital One cards, but I'll throw this one out there in case any chatters have credit card recommendations for this London-bound couple.


Parents are coming to visit in late August -- help!: Thanks in advance for answering my question. My parents are visiting D.C. in late August (the weekend of the 22nd) for an extended weekend. They prefer the rural scene (hence the first visit to DC in many years), and I am looking for recommendations for great day trips (and/or overnight trips) from D.C. Annapolis was the first thought that came to mind, but I wondered if you might have some other ideas ...

Zofia Smardz: Annapolis is a great idea. But so is Frederick, under an hour away and worth a visit. Be sure to hit Harper's Ferry in West Virginia, just an hour and a quarter from Washington (Fredericksburg's along the way). Great Civil War town, site of John Brown's raid on the armory there, lots of history, plus moutain scenery and hiking, if you like that. Just down the road apiece is Charles Town, also pretty and historic. Ellicott City, Md., is a funky small town that's worth seeing.

In Virginia, there's Fredericksburg, which is lovely, but you have to battle the I-95 traffic. Maybe head to Leesburg instead, down Rte. 7. Or Charlottesville; it's a little farther away, but everyone should Mr. Jefferson's University and Monticello.

Other thoughts, folks?


Europe in December?: Hello Crew!

So my boss is coming back from maternity leave in early November and I am eagerly awaiting her return so I can take a much-needed vacation.

My current plan is to take 7-9 days either before or after Thanksgiving and go on a beer-cation to Berlin, Munich, and Prague. First off, is that doable in that time period?

Second... are there particular guide books that you recommend for central Europe or for young solo travelers, with suggestions on hostels and the like? I've had success in the past with Lonely Planet, but I'm curious to hear your suggestions.

Thanks so much!

Joe Yonan: Sounds fun! Have some ale for me. I think you could definitely do what you're thinking in 9 days (7 might be a little tight, given the fact that you'll lose a couple to travel time). I've never been to Germany (can you believe it?), but one of the great things about traveling there, in addition to the beer, is access to the high-speed Intercity Express trains, which also go to Prague.

On the book question, I like Lonely Planet, absolutely, but you might also look at National Geographic guidebooks, which I think are great. Chatters, what other guidebook ideas do you have for young solo travelers?


For motorcycling friends: I hope your friends got to the Transportation Museum in Budapest. Cool old motorcycles and more.

As for Ljubljana, one place not mentioned in the Washington Post article is the Postojna Caves, not far from Ljubljana. Very cool! (Figuratively and literally). Just be sure to keep your whole self well inside the little train.

Zofia Smardz: Thanks for the tip!


Beverly Hills, Fla.: We have paid for a January 2010 cruise in full. Is there a way to reduce the cost of that cruise in view of the softness in the cruise market?

Carol Sottili: You need to read the fine print on your contract to see if you're liable for any penalities if you cancel your existing reservation. Most will refund your money if your cruise is at least 90 days out. Has the price gone down significantly since you booked? Or are you having buyer's remorse? Try shopping your itinerary at to see the going rate.


Falls Church, Va.: Hello! I am looking for some advice in planning a girls' weekend for this fall. We'd like a location that is a direct flight from D.C., warm weather for the pool and beach, and some decent dining/night life. Any recommendations?

Thank you!

Andrea Sachs: How about Charleston, Miami or Tampa. For the latter, I would recommend driving over the bridge to the St. Petersburg area, which has gorgeous beaches and great seafood and beer shacks.


D.C. solo traveler: For the D.C. solo traveler. I am a single gal and travel all over the world alone all the time!

Stay in nice areas, do day tours on your own via a well known company and enjoy.

It is a great way to see the world, and journal as well as take pictures to document your adventures. Also, I have a global cell phone which I have with me at all times. Just in case ...


Zofia Smardz: Thanks so much!


Arlington, Va.: Though I've lived in the area for years, I've never flown out of Dulles (always National and BWI). I have a 7:50 AM flight there this Thursday. I've heard that Dulles' security lines are horrific compared to National's. How early should I arrive to make it through?

Christina Talcott: Yes, those lines at Dulles are ridiculous. The airport's Web site recommends arriving 1.5 to 2 hours before your domestic flight, or 2.5 to 3 hours before your international flight. Sometimes the line goes fast, but sometimes it's excruciatingly slow, so I'd get in line by 6:30 if I were you, just to be safe.


Napa, Calif.: Have you heard anything about Ryanair's transatlantic plans? Supposedly in 2009. If so, from where to where? And we all know that a $10 ticket is never $10. Will they charge for life vests? Thanks.

Carol Sottili: The airline has been talking about starting transatlantic service for nearly a year. When it was first announced, they were talking about offering flights for as little as 10 GBP (plus all the fees, which would have increased the amount significantly). One of its spokesmen was recently quoted as saying they were still in talks with various airports, including BWI, but that establishing transatlantic service was "not a priority." I wouldn't hold my breath.


Springfield, Va.: I turn 40 on January 3 and am trying to decide on a fun trip. Any ideas? Thinking the best dates would be right after Christmas for a few days before school starts. Thanks!

Joe Yonan: Can you give us some more parameters? If it's just for a few days, I suppose you want to stay domestic? One of my most relaxing solo trips was to San Juan, where I stayed at a little place right on the beach and took a midnight dip every night, then fell asleep as the breeze blew through the open windows in my second-floor corner room.


Seattle: Thank you for taking my question. I would like to travel to Namibia either the end of December or the end of January and would like your advise to which is the better time to plan a trip there.

What is your experience/advice for a single, 50-year-old woman traveling on her own in that part of Africa?

Joe Yonan: Well, from my scouring around looks like it can get pretty hot in December and January, and it's starting to get into the rainy season by January. Looks like the mildest weather is in spring and fall, the best game viewing is in winter (May through September), but it can get chilly at night then. Although keep in mind that the cautions about chill and heat are relative: The average winter low in Windhoek is the 40s and 50s, and the average high in December and January is in the mid-80s. Check out this safari service's explanation of the when-to-go variables, broken down by specific location in Namibia, but also helpful ideas about other factors, including wind and rain and local holidays.

Joe Yonan: Oh, and on your second question, I don't think crime is generally a big problem in Namibia, but I'll throw this question out to chatters: Any Namibia solo-woman-travel experts joining us today?


Washington, D.C.: Hi flight crew,

I just got back from a great trip to Europe but did not have a chance to change some curreny back to dollars. Can you suggest somewhere in DC that I can do this? I work near Union Station if that helps, or is my best bet one of our area airports? Thanks for your help!

Andrea Sachs: To avoid the service charge, I would first see if any friends are planning to go to Europe and whether they will exchange dollars for euros. If not, Thomas Cook, on 1800 K St., can take your euros. And they are very kind: When I exchanged money there a few months ago, they reduced the surcharge because I was only exchanging a small amount. You could also check AAA.


New York, N.Y.: I am thinking ahead to next summer- what is the best way to find a summer rental? I am considering Cape Cod, southern Maine or the North Fork of Long Island. Any suggestions you may have are very welcome!

Carol Sottili: You can start by looking at Web sites that offer rentals by owners. They include,,, I'd also take a look at the tourism sites for specific areas: for Cape Cod,; for Maine, either or; for Long Island, or


Credit cards and London: Capital One does not charge extra for purchases in foreign countries. If the chatter has Bank of America, they can use HSBC ATMs while in the UK for free!

Christina Talcott: Ooh, great tips. Thanks!


Parents are coming to visit in late August -- help!: Gettysburg, Charlottesville among other destinations.

Zofia Smardz: Gettysburg's a great idea, too! Thanks!


Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C.: Hi - I will be traveling to Rome next week, and several guide books note that restaurant reservations are required at many of their recommended places. My question is, how do I go about making reservations when I don't speak the language?

Joe Yonan: You study up. You buy a phrase book, CD or podcast or try to find something on the Web that teaches you basic travel phrases, such as making restaurant reservations. ("Buon giorno. Vorrei fare una prenotazione per stasera.") And then you wing it when you're there. Trying to communicate can be one of the most humbling, humorous and gratifying parts of travel.

When all else fails, you can solicit help from an Italian speaker, such as the nice clerk at your hotel.

Zofia Smardz: It's absolutely a good idea to learn at least a few words of the language. People will be so grateful if you at least make a stab at communicating in their tongue. But that said, the fact is that in most restaurants, especially the higher-end ones, someone will speak English.


Hawaii: The driest time of the year is actually September and October.

Joe Yonan: Spoken with the confidence of someone who's been there.


For Rincon bound: We stayed at a lovely four-room inn/B&B directly on the beach, Tres Sirenas, last March. There's a four night minimum, but they'll "in-fill" with shorter stays. Lazy Parrot is cheaper, I believe, but not on the beach. We had an excellent dinner in their restaurant. No matter what, in Rincon you'll need a rental car.

Andrea Sachs: Gracias for the great tips!


Things to do and see in Provincetown: There is plenty to see in town, but, if you have time, take some time to get out of town and see some of the Cape itself. And don't forget to visit a lighthouse. Race Point light may be the most famous. They bring back the days when sailing ships needed to get around the Cape to get to and from Boston. Much of Cape Cod history is associated with its lighthouses, or lack of them.

Joe Yonan: I think the chatter is doing just a day trip, so probably no time to get around too much, but I second the idea to go to Race Point, which is very close. You might also try Art's Dune Tours: a great look at the beach from another perspective.


Arlington, Va.: Is October too late to visit Jackson, Wyo./Grand Teton National Park? We aren't interested in skiing, so an abundance of snow would not really be a bonus.

In terms of driving and sightseeing, should we just wait until next summer or is October feasible? Unfortunately, work demands make September travel impossible ...

Carol Sottili: If you go in early October, you should be fine. Although, if you want to stay inside the park, some of the lodges may be closed by then. Go to for details. My personal favorite is Signal Mountain Lodge, which is open until Oct. 18 - Weather will be very cool in October so bundle up.


For the solo traveler: Assuming she's a woman, the book "A Woman Alone" (edited by Faith Conlon) will be a great inspiration for traveling solo! Faith Conlon: A Woman Alone: Travel Tales from Around the Globe (

Zofia Smardz: Thanks for that!


Rockville, Md.: Can you recommend a great retreat and spa for a honeymoon this fall? We're looking for a spot within four hours drive of D.C. Quiet and peaceful, with great food.


Christina Talcott: I like Warm Springs, Va., where you can stay at the Homestead for some old-fashioned luxury and famous spa. Or you can stay at my favorite, the Inn at Gristmill Square, for a fraction of the price but some pretty spectacular digs (the Silo Room has a fireplace and a two-person tub), and they bring breakfast to your room in the mornings. There's also a nice restaurant and teensy bar on site, and it's a short drive or stroll from the Jefferson Pools. Both Homestead and Gristmill have spa services, too.

In Maryland, St. Michael's has a number of spas and hotels, including

the Inn at Perry Cabin

, and


. Lots of seafood in town.

Berkeley Springs

has some laid-back spas (though the state park baths aren't exactly romantic), and Panorama at the Peak and Earthdog Cafe are charmers. For more ideas, check out our

spa stories



Washington, D.C.: Hi,

I have to travel to Kennebunkport for work. It will be an overnight trip, maybe two nights max. How does one get there? Fly to Portland and drive in? Is that the nearest airport? Cheapest? Thanks.

Joe Yonan: Yep, you fly either to Portland (45 minutes away) or Boston (hour and 45 minutes away). I visit my sister often who lives nearby in another town in southern Maine. As for which is cheapest, I usually find the best deals into Boston, especially since I want to fly out of National rather than Dulles (where Jet Blue flies to Portland). But you might not want to spend the extra hour of travel time, although I have to say, it's an easy and beautiful drive.

Zofia Smardz: Another option is to fly to Manchester, N.H., which is about an hour and a half away. Southwest often as the cheapest flights.


Minnesota: Hi, I have (frustratingly) developed a flight phobia the last few years, and am booked on a flight to New Zealand in November. The longest I flew before was 12 hours to Japan (long before I ever felt panic.) Can you suggest any good websites for helpful info on flying, particularly in the face of all of the current news about crashes, and secondly, what can you tell me about Air New Zealand? Thanks!

Carol Sottili: Take a look at and As for Air New Zealand, it has a very good reputation for customer service and safety.


Day trips outside DC: Depends on what they are interested in. There are a ton of Civil War sites a days trip away.

Oyher possibilities:

1. Shenandoah National Park.

2. Charlotesville and Monticello

3. Charlottesville-Fredericksburg-Leesburg triangle is Virginia wine country.

4. Maryland Eastern shore. If they want to see the Ocean then go down to Chincoteague as an overnight trip.

5. boat trips on the chesapeake bay to Tangier Island in Virginia and Smith Island in Maryland.

6. Day trip drive through the rural parts of Loudon county.

Joe Yonan: Many thanks!


Staycation in D.C.: We have lived in the D.C. area for about 10 years. While we have made occasional trips with our children to the zoo, Smithsonian museums, etc. we had never taken them to the Capitol, National Archives or up into the top of the Washington Monument. Our kids are now college and high-school aged and I didn't want them to leave home without having done these things so close to home.

Therefore, last summer I planned a "Day in D.C.". I got special entry tickets to the National Archives; I arranged for a special tour of the Capitol through the office of Rep. Moran and I got tickets to the top of the Washington Monument. We also each chose an exhibit in one of the Smithsonians that we wanted to see, so we saw the Mammals at the Natural History Museum (son's choice), walked through the Botanical Gardens (daughter's choice) and visited a special exhibit on Jim Henson (my choice).The day ended with a surprise for the kids -- an evening Segway tour. All of us had such fun on that tour and we still talk about it. (In fact, a photo that the guide took of us was included in our Christmas cards.)

The kids are now both in college and I'm so glad that we spent a whole day just visiting some of the great places in D.C.

Zofia Smardz: Glad you got to do that with your kids! You really liked the Segway tour, huh?


Huntsville, Ala.: I want to take in a baseball game at Wrigley Field (never been there). We now have limited direct flights from my hometown (Huntsville, AL - I am a NASA type) to Chicago. I need transportation information (I have heard one should use rail/bus) from the airport to Wrigley. I would like to do it in one day, but do you recommend I stay over? If so, pick a good lodging spot where I can sample some local favorite food in a short distance by taxi or walking. Thanks!

Christina Talcott: Are you talking about the American Airlines flights? If that's the case, here's what you can do: From O'Hare, hop on the Blue Line train and either take it all the way into the city and change to the Red Line at Jackson and go to North/Clybourn, OR get off the Blue Line at Damen and catch the #72 bus to the stadium. That's a really confusing intersection; make sure you wait on the SE corner of North Ave and North Damon (I think there's a Starbucks there). If you decide to spend the night, try staying in the Loop or just north of it; how about the Drake Hotel? Anyone have other hotel suggestions?


Baltimore: Hello! One of our best staycations was in October 2002, long before the word was coined! We spent the week in Alexandria, visiting Olde Town, Mount Vernon and Washington D.C. This was one week during the period that Virginia was under attack from a father and son sniper team. Everyone was giving advice beforehand to be cautious; a co-worker even wanted me to wear her riding helmet when I needed to pump gas! But we were fortunate, the weather was glorious and we came home with sun tans!

Zofia Smardz: You were brave! Thanks for sharing!


Herndon, Va.: Is there a way to join a Club Room at a particular airport (Frankfurt - flying Lufthansa) for a day?

Andrea Sachs: Many airline clubs offer day passes to passengers. Inquire at the airport or call the airline before you depart.


Rome Restaurants: We ate our way through Rome ... mostly in the $$-$$$ tier of restaurants ...

What we found: we were hungry earlier than most Romans would eat, and showed up at restaurants' emptiest - never had a problem getting a table. It also helped that we were dressed presentably and not stereotypically tourist-like ... we also learned about dish names beforehand and often opted for the specials or recommendations of our waiter. We found that our attitude was open enough that waiters would be interested in chatting with us.

Joe Yonan: You're an inspiration.


Re Rincon: Our family had a lovely, affordable spring break a few years back in Rincon at the Coconut Palms Inn. It's on the south, calm-water side of Rincon. The owners formerly lived near us in Fairfax, a detail we didn't realize until we got there. They were most helpful with restaurants and other recommendations. We enjoyed the hot tub in their small but lovely garden, complete with iguanas, and walked down the beach for sunset drink specials at a local hotel's bar on the beach.

We recommended the place to a work colleague, who ended up purchasing property in Rincon on her visit!

By the way, I don't think the Horned Dorset Primevera falls into the "affordable" category. Coconut Palms Inn, Puerto Rico

Andrea Sachs: Thanks for the suggestion. Yes, indeed, I got carried away with planning on someone else's dime. Sorry.


Cruise $$: My husband and I went on a cruise in January. Our motto for cabins is "low and cheap," as you are in your cabin to sleep and dress, and otherwise are out. We noticed all of the last minute deals, of course, but had already paid. When we boarded, we discovered that we had been upgraded to cabin five decks higher! The cruise line re-sold our low/cheap cabin for the last minute rate, and rewarded the early buyers!

Carol Sottili: Very cool.


Another female solo-er:: I too travel around the world by myself all the time, and I do not have a cell phone, I stay at small hotels or hostels, and I do those local venture trips often without contacting an organizing company. I always meet other travelers and many local people this way. I do lots and lots of research at home before departing -- or not, and just wing it. I've been doing it since I was 17 and am now 48. There is nothing richer in life than travel, and doing it solo will deepen the confidence you have in yourself and inspire it in others.

Zofia Smardz: Thanks for your thoughts!


Lesser-known Parisian site: The Picasso Museum--fascinating collection plus it's in a charming neighborhood.

Zofia Smardz: Great idea, thanks!


Brussels again: First, THANK YOU for answering my question re customs and immigration for my parents' visit.

For the person who wants the Beer-cation, I would drop Prague from the itinerary. Berlin and Munich are so wonderful, and so full of things to do, that you don't want to spend a day of your precious 7-9 days on the train. Munich and Berlin are already a six-hour train ride apart, and Prague is five hours from Berlin and six from Munich. In a perfect world, you could fly into one German city and out of the other. You'll just have to go back for Prague :)

Joe Yonan: Thanks for the thoughts. Cheers!


Last minute weekend getaway?: Hi, I haven't managed to take a break at all this summer -- good thing the weather has been so nice in D.C.! But I'm hoping to get away at the end of this week, for one or two nights. I read your recent article on last-minute getaways, and wondered whether Cape May is a do-able drive, leaving D.C. on Thursday morning and returning on Saturday. I'd want to keep the drive to four hours max. Last-Minute Vacations: Cape May, N.J. (Washington Post, July 10)

Zofia Smardz: Absolutely doable. Cape May is just about four hours from D.C., maybe a tad longer if traffic's heavy. Or you can drive to Lewes, Del. (about 2 hours away) and take the ferry over, which will cut the actual travel time to under four hours. But you'd have to time the ferry just right. Check out the ferry Web site for schedules.


Christmas in Ireland?: Good idea from the D.C. area? Christmas is a Friday this year, so we can travel on a weekday, but I know holiday travel is more expensive. Other pros and cons? Or maybe I could work the dates - leave earlier and fly home Christmas day or the day after - most people will spend that entire weekend.

Carol Sottili: Aer Lingus, which often offers cheap fares on nonstop service between Dulles and Dublin, is going to stop serving Dulles effective Oct. 25. I think that's going to drive prices up, especially for holiday travel. Start tracking fares now on a or And yes, flying on Christmas Day is usually cheaper, although I have heard complaints in the past from readers whose transatlantic Christmas Day flights were cancelled (flight crews are in shorter supply).


Luggage in overhead bins: On that subject, can we please teach everyone the correct way to put luggage in overhead bins in order to make the best use of space. The bags are meant to be placed vertically (as in, the top handle faces out) and therefore maximize space. I see many people putting the luggage in horizontally and therefore taking up much more space. Regulation carry-ons will fit vertically.

Joe Yonan: The flight attendants on recent flights I've been on have been pretty relentless about reminding people of the need to save space in the overhead bins, but I still see people abusing it all the time. Airline rules about carry-on sizes are all over the place, and they don't necessarily enforce those rules, either.


Arlington, Va.: What's a good website to find restaurant reviews for restaurants in Europe? I've searched Chowhound, but not sure what other websites have fairly reliable reviews. Thanks!

Joe Yonan: Where in Europe? I like the Via Michelin site, especially for integrating road-tripping with restaurant visits. (I mostly like to go for the cheap-eats/Bib Gourmand or the one-star ones.) But I also like to visit food blogs from different European cities, such as David Lebovitz's and Clothilde Dusolier's in Paris, because I get to know their voices and likes/dislikes and can better triangulate my own feelings off theirs.


Washington, D.C.: Re: Off-the-Beaten path in Paris: Go to Luxembourg Gardens to watch kids sail their model sailboats in the fountains. Re: Frankfurt, make sure that when your folks land, it's daylight and not, as aviators would say "0 dark hundred hours," so that gate agents are available at the jetway to help passengers. I encountered the latter condition on my last trip to Europe, a year before 9/11, and I had to connect to a Rome flight. I landed at 5 AM at Frankfurt and there was nobody at the jetway to help me.

Zofia Smardz: Thanks for these!


Clueless Computer Addict: What do I need to do in order for my beloved Mac to work in Europe? (both wi-fi and power-wise).


Joe Yonan: Your wi-fi should translate without problem, and for power conversion, check out this Apple World Adapter Kit.


Columbus, Ohio: I am a 50-something, single female. Since age 19 I've also been a solo international traveler. My suggestion to my contemporaries in the same boat is to "network." Ask among your friends and colleagues if they have any personal contacts at your destination that may be willing to show you the ropes.

For example, on my first trip to Jamaica in 1980, a friend who grew up in Kingston put me in touch with his best childhood friend who still lived there. "Bertie" met me at the airport. He would show up at my hotel after he got off from work. From there he would take me anywhere I wanted to go, even the marginal neighborhoods. A highlight was driving past 56 Hope Road (Bob Marley's house). When it was time to depart, Bertie drove me to the airport. We exchanged addresses and were pen pals for many years after the trip.

Zofia Smardz: Great story, thank you!


Just wondering...: hi, how long does it take you to send out the "prizes" from your chats? I won a while ago but haven't seen anything yet. Thanks!

Christina Talcott: Uh oh, I'm sorry to hear! Send me ( your name and address and a reminder of when you won (and what you were supposed to get) and I'll get you your prize ASAP!


Rockville, Md.: We are going to Italy for 16 days and need advice on long term parking at Dulles. Could you suggest the best options for us?

Thanks so much!

Andrea Sachs: My suggestion is to take public transportation or SuperShuttle to the airport; it will be much cheaper than paying for parking. If you are set on driving, park in long-term or consider stay-and-park: Some hotels offer free parking for an extended time with one night's stay.


Luggage, $$: I think the airlines have it backwards - let passengers check their bags for free, and charge for carry ons. Anything other than a purse or briefcase gets charged (exceptions for diaper bags, medical stuff, etc.) They'd still make money, and we'd all be able to get on the planes in less than 45 minutes.

Carol Sottili: A controversial idea.....


Arlington, Va.: We will be travelling to Istanbul and Athens this October. How easy it is to use credit cards like Capital One? One of you had a problem buying a rug, what about less expensive stuff? Where should we exchange cash, at the airport? These chats help save so much time for travelers. Thanks a billion for making yourselves available.

Joe Yonan: Some credit cards are indeed easier to use than others. I've never had any problems using my Amex overseas. And you should use an ATM to get your new amounts of cash; the rates are best that way, especially if your bank doesn't charge you high foreign transaction fees.


Zofia Smardz: WEll, that's it for this flight, folks, we're coming in for a landing. Seems that most everybody did take off for August, because we only got a handful of staycation stories. But the folks with the grown-up kids who loved the Segway tour, send me your contact info at and we'll send you your snack sack! Thanks again everybody for joining us. Stay cool and we (at least some of us) will see you next week.


Clifton, Va.: Hello!

I need to book a flight for either this Saturday or Sunday. I've never had to book a last minute flight before, and I was wondering if you or anyone else had suggestions for the best places/websites to look for and book pretty good deals on last minute flights.

I'm thinking the individual airline websites probably don't give the best deals ...

Joe Yonan: Christina recently wrote up these good last-minute getaway tips that encompass flights and hotels.


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