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Talk About Travel: Travel Staffers Help You Plan Great Escapes

The Flight Crew
Washington Post Travel Section
Monday, August 17, 2009 2:00 PM

Have 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 17, at 2 p.m.

You may also browse an archive of previous live travel discussions.

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Christina Talcott: Hello, chatters, and welcome to another exciting edition of Travel Talk! We've got some special guests joining me, Joe Yonan and Andrea Sachs this week:

This year's

Photo Contest

winner, Alisa Tiwari;

camera-phone photo whiz

Roy Furchgott; and Deals maven and former Travel writer Carol Sottili, who's now

tweeting deals

on Travel's Twitter page.

This week, ask Alisa or Roy anything about photography, and the best question earns a 2010 Lonely Planet calendar, which is full of lovely photos from around the world.

Ready? Let's go!

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Arlington, Va.: Hi Flight Crew! I love your chats and am excited to finally have a question to submit. My husband and I are going on a trip to New Zealand in February. It looks like airfare is $1700+. Is this normal? It seems high even though February is the tourist season (unfortunately, our dates are non-negotiable).

Carol Sottili: That's too high. Start tracking the sales on Qantas and Air New Zealand. And look at ticketing separately into Los Angeles or San Francisco and then from one of those cities to Auckland. There are frequent sales from the West Coast to Auckland, and sometimes they are also offered from the East Coast. Right now, admittedly for off-season travel, the round trip fare from LA to Auckland is $834 all in. Add a $260 or thereabouts round-trip fare from here to Los Angeles, and it's good news.

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Anonymous: Hello Fight Crew, I'm going to Boston next week for a weekend retreat (1st time visit). Anything I shouldn't miss (especially great places to eat)? I'll be staying on the waterfront end of town. Thanks.

Joe Yonan: Absolutely. You'll be staying near the fantastic three-year-old Institute of Contemporary Art, whose gorgeous 80-foot glass exterior practically merges with the water. Definitely hit that. Also nearby are two new places by one of my favorite Boston restaurateurs, Barbara Lynch: her modern twist on a lunch counter, Sportello; and her great cocktail joint, Drink. Nothing is too far in Boston, really -- you're also near arguably the best restaurant in town, the super-creative (and expensive) O Ya. You can also hop on the Red Line and easily get to Cambridge, where there's the fun Southern-influenced Hungry Mother and one of my other faves, Oleana. That's just a smattering of places; Boston's a great restaurant town.

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Cornfield, Ill.: Last week you gave a reader this information about getting to Wrigley Field: "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" Actually, they should get off at the Addison stop (1 block walk vs. 8 blocks). Just follow the wave of Cubs fans when you exit the station.

The game is definitely doable in one day as we frequently take the train up (2 1/2 hours/one way) for games and back in the same day (leave at 7am, catch the 6pm train back). The only thing I would caution is to check the transit schedule to see if they are doing maintenance work. I was there two weeks ago and they were single tracking due to construction.

Christina Talcott: Thanks for writing and for catching my gaffe. You're right - Addison's the stop for Wrigley Field. And good call about checking the CTA Web site before you go. Maintenance work (as Washingtonians know too well this summer!) can really mess up plans if you don't know about them in advance.

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Garden City: I always love your photo contest, but I'm very puzzled by this year's winners. Who judged this contest? In past years, it has been your photo staff, correct? I've learned a lot from them. This year's group seems like amateur hour (I have to admit I've entered and lost this contest many times, and I always understand why when I see the winners. This year, not so much). A huge disappointment.

Joe Yonan: Really? We have to beg to differ with you on this one. We had help judging from our photo department again, and thought our lineup was fantastic. But you know what they say about beauty, right?

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Leesburg, Va.: Hi - Next month we'll be flying with two children. We need to take refrigerated medicine for the 2-year-old and I'd like to pack a two 8 oz bottles of pre-mixed formula for the 8-month-old. In the past, TSA has required us to throw out frozen our frozen gel packs, bags of ice, and liquids formula at the security check points. Thus, we start our trip with a stop at the food court to get more ice/outrageously priced bottles of water. (I've even brought print outs from the TSA Web site with their rules, but we're still told to throw the items out at IAD.) Are there any TSA approved ways to get these items from home to hotel?

Carol Sottili: Have you gone through the family/medical lane while going through security? I haven't flown out of Dulles in quite some time, but many airports now have special lanes dedicated to families. Those TSA employees should know the rules, which do allow baby formula in excess of three ounces.

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Washington, D.C.: Crew -- Husband and I have not taken any vacation time since the Holiday season 2008. We really need a good relaxing vacation, preferably to somewhere relatively close by (less than 4 hour flight), not a city setting, and not an all-inclusive resort. We're looking at 10 days in Vieques, PR (we've been before) in October. However, October is apparently the rainiest month. So . . . questions, by rainest month, what are we talking about? Storms in the afternoon or constant rainfall? And although happy to relax indoors a little, is there an alternative to Vieques that we could explore?

Andrea Sachs: Good call on Vieques, though I do have to warn you that when I was there last October, it was rainy-- due in part to an oncoming hurricane (it is The Season, after all). It's tough to be stuck on that island during long downpours, since most activities are outdoors. One alternative is to go to San Juan, where you can visit museums, historical sites and shops, and explore other parts of the island throughout the week, such as the coffee plantations in the center of the island or the surfing and beaches on the west. If it looks like the weather is going to behave, you can book a last-minute flight (or ferry) to Vieques for a couple days. This is shoulder season for them, so hotels should have availability.

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Washington, D.C.: Lately I've been thinking about going somewhere (anywhere) for a week... just to get away from my family for a while. I'm single, but the bickering between my parents and siblings has become one long headache.

Where is a good place that is cheap and quiet? Sightseeing isn't a priority. I'd just like to sit and read a few books, do some work on a laptop, and have a few good nights of rest and sleep.

Christina Talcott: Oh dear, I feel your pain! Sometimes family is much more lovable from afar...

It sounds like you could use a little R&R in the woods. Pitch a tent, rent a cabin, check into a B&B or find a mountainside motel somewhere and you can feel your stress melting away (well, once you

get the campfire lit

...). Here's a list of

Maryland and Virginia state park cabins

for rent.

Page County, Va.

, is known for its wealth of rental cabins, too. One of the most peaceful places I've visited in recent years is

Bear Mountain Wilderness Retreat

in tiny Monterey, Va. I'm also infinitely charmed by

Bath County

and Warm Springs, Va., and remember thinking RoseLoe Motel would make a great, inexpensive retreat, since rooms there come with kitchenettes.

I'd also recommend having a conversation with your family about your needs, boundaries and some ground-rules for co-habitating, but maybe that should come AFTER your week-long getaway. Good luck!

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SW D.C.: Quick beef -- why no consistent style for the info boxes that accompany travel stories? In Sunday's piece on Lake Hope State Park, you failed to mention nonstop flights out of BWI (that can often be $100 cheaper than what your writer paid) -- yet in other stories, you discuss flight options out of all three area airports (sometimes nonstops only, other times nonstops + connecting). And what's the cut-off for driving? At less than 7 hours each way, some readers may find it easier to take their own car instead of flying into Columbus and driving 74 miles in a rental. Why not mention drive time in this case?

Joe Yonan: Hi, thanks for reading carefully -- I'm not sure why we didn't list BWI, but we'll watch this and be better about it. On the driving issue, though, the Lake Hope story was our Long Weekend, don't forget, so we're offering the specifics that we think would appeal to somebody trying to do the trip in such a time frame. Seven hours each way would take a day off the trip in each direction.

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Props to Continental: Hi Flight Crew, There's a lot to complain about on the airline industry these days, so I wanted to share a GOOD experience I had this past week with Continental airlines. I was flying from DCA to Sweden on a 3 p.m. flight and had a tight connection in Newark. At 10:15 a.m., Continental called to say they were worried the weather was going to delay the 3 p.m. flight and asked if I was willing to take the 1 p.m. flight. I agreed, and when I arrived at the airport at 11 a.m., the people at check-in rushed me through security and HELD THE PLANE to get me on the even earlier 11 a.m. flight!

On top of that, I accidentally left my iPod on the plane when we arrived in Sweden. I didn't realize it for a couple days, and by then, I figured it was long gone. When I got to the airport for my return flight a week later, I asked about the iPod -- which they had found and then delivered to me on the plane!

The one blemish was that the video monitors on the backs of the seats were touch-screens -- no remote controls. Movies, TV shows and the radio are no problem because they only require a few light touches of the screen to get going. But playing video games means you're repeatedly touching the screen. The guy behind me was playing games the whole flight, and my headrest was constantly being shaken and jostled through the whole flight. This seemed to me to be an awfully obvious design flaw.

But, on the whole, I was THRILLED with Continental's customer service!

Carol Sottili: Always good to hear positive airline news. Continental does average/above average in most service categories. Go to the federal government's site, http://airconsumer.ost.dot.gov for details. Another interesting site for info on airlines is www.airlinequality.com - includes reviews from passengers.

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Christina Talcott: Sorry, looks like the Twitter link didn't work. Here it is again: http://twitter.com/travellog.

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Alexandria, Va.: Loved the photos from this year's contest. As a travel photographer myself, I love it when I see young people create breathtaking images like Alisa's. So my question to the photogs on board: where are your favorite places to shoot? What's your dream place? My favorite, so far, has been Barcelona, but I keep finding new places all the time! Keep shooting!

Roy Furchgott: No such thing as a favorite place, but there is a favorite time. When my shadow gets longer than I am tall, it's time to break out the camera. It's that hour after sunrise and before sunset that offer dramatic lighting.

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washingtonpost.com: 2009 Travel Photo Contest

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2nd place: I would love to hear from someone on the photo staff about why they chose the second-place image. As a photographer myself, I just don't see what makes this anything more than a snapshot. There are so many things, starting with the composition, that could make this photo better. I thought the first place image was stunning though!

Joe Yonan: Our photo editor is busy at the moment, but I was in on all those conversations, and what he (and we) liked about that shot was indeed the composition -- the way the boys' faces appeal exactly in between the geeses' necks, as well as the two lines of movement, the geese going one way and the boys another. And of course, the energy is just delightful. If you have snapshots like that, submit them next year!

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Adams Morgan, Washington, D.C.: Re: traveling with baby formula. I don't travel with formula, but I usually import frozen crawfish when I go home to New Orleans back to Washington. I always pack it with bags of frozen corn/peas, which are allowed in and I've never had a problem getting them through security. Might be worth a shot if you can't get your ice packs in!

Carol Sottili: Frozen corn and peas - good for so many things. I like using bags of peas on sore muscles.

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Rockville, Md.: Dear Flight Crew, I have been charged with planning a trip for my family (parents, husband, sister, 2-year-old) over the Christmas holiday. We would love to go somewhere warm, but not too expensive (flights to Arubs were almost $1K!). I think my son is still too young for Disney. We recently enjoyed a week in February in Atlantis, Bahamas, and loved it! Any suggestions for a moderately-priced vacation in the sun that will be fun for my son?? Thanks for your thoughts!!

Andrea Sachs: My sister, bro-in-law and bitty niece recently stayed at a villa in Belize. While the fares might be higher than, say, the Bahamas, once there you won't have to spend much, since expenses are lower in the Central American country. Another idea is to rent a place along the Gulf Coast islands of Florida, such as Longboat Key, or else Sanibel Island, which has mounds of shells your little one will love to collect. In a similar vein as Atlantis, you can check out package to the Dominican Republic. Many of the resorts there are very kid-friendly. Final idea: a cruise around the Caribbean. I believe there babysitters on board!

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Got To Get Out of D.C.: Good afternoon Flight Crew!

I need a break from D.C. as soon as possible! It just so happens, that as soon as possible is looking like Labor Day weekend. I have a friend I'd like to visit in Chicago, but it looks like flights for times when I can leave from National (after a half day of work, and arriving before 10p or 11p at night - sadly a near 2 hour train ride to get to my friend once I get into Chicago) are $350 to $400 roundtrip. Any chance - even slight to remote that these may go down?

Also, looking to maybe hit up some friends in lovely Scotland over a nice sort of winter work break after Christmas. Flights are looking to be around $880, which seems really high to me even for holiday time. Thoughts?

Thanks Flight Crew, you're the best!

Carol Sottili: Airlines often launch last-minute Labor Day deals - if one airline starts it, the others join in. But no guarantee this year, with fewer flights and planes going out fuller. You'd have to be willing to wait for it and to take the chance. Meanwhile, also look at nonstop flights from Dulles to Chicago Midway on Southwest - round-trip fare is as cheap as $243 leaving Friday late afternoon, coming home Monday morning.

Carol Sottili: As for Scotland, $880 r/t with all taxes isn't all that high for the week between Christmas and New Years.

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Asheville, N.C.: Hi Christina,

As a photographic artist and musician in Asheville's River Arts District, I want to thank you for the great article about Asheville in yesterday's paper! You really captured the varied sounds, textures and flavor of my adopted home (I used to live in Fairfax County). We love meeting visitors year round in our open studios in the River Arts District: it's great fun to be able to meet people where we work. We have more than 120 studios here and you can almost always find someone open and working!

Thanks again for the article. I can tell you had a good time! Laurie McCarriar

Christina Talcott: Hi Laurie, thanks so much, and I'm glad you liked the story. Asheville really is an incredible place to visit, and it must be even more fun to live and work there. As for the River Arts District, I was thrilled and surprised that so many studios were open when I visited late on a Saturday afternoon. What a welcoming place!

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Silver Spring, Md.: I am doing a bike ride in Salisbury, Md., in October, so my wife and I are making a three-day weekend of it. Other than St. Michael's, where we've stayed before and enjoyed, are there cute towns where we could stay? Looking for good dining, shops, dog-walking.

Christina Talcott: What a great part of the world! Easton has a lot of good eating, plus a quaint downtown good for strolling and shopping. Nearby, Cambridge is another good option, with a couple of B&Bs, a revitalized downtown with some good restaurants and shops, plus interesting sites: the Harriet Tubman Museum downtown, and Tubman's birthplace just outside of town; the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge is nearby, too. Also nearby is Vienna, Md., and mellow Oxford.

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Mount Pleasant, Mich.: Dear Flight Crew: No question this time, just a big thank you for all that you do. Know your budget and people have been cut, and I appreciate your expertise and professionalism -- particularly when you get snarky complaints from readers. Thanks so much.

Joe Yonan: Aw, shucks. Thanks.

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Photo content: Maybe it is just me, but when I first laid eyes on the winning (train) photo, I literally gasped out loud. It is amazing.

Alisa Tiwari: Thank you so much! It was a difficult shot to take but I clicked at the right moment!

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Falls Church, Va.: Hi Flight Crew! I need your travel advice. Me and a few girlfriends are thinking about Vegas for Labor Day weekend. It will be the first time for all of us! We're thinking a "last minute deal" would be our best bet? What do you think?

Carol Sottili: Last minute could work, if the airlines decide to offer those deals this year. I'm not sure that it'll happen, as flights have been reduced, and planes are going out full. But if you won't be broken-hearted should the plan fail, it may be the way to go. Right now, round-trip fares leaving Friday and returning Monday are running very high - $550 and up.

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Falls Church, Va.: Going to Toronto in a week and wanted to know your thoughts on currency exchange. Is it better to do ATM withdrawals to get Canadian currency or go to a bank in Toronto to exchange U.S. dollars for Canadian dollars? Is it best to avoid the airport foreign currency exchange places at the Toronto airport? Some places in Toronto will accepts U.S. dollars, do you recommend for or against paying with U.S. dollars in such places if it is not a big purchase? Thanks much for your help.

Christina Talcott: I've never had a problem just using Canadian ATMs the way I would here. I wouldn't bother with exchanging currency unless you have a bunch of Canadian dollars left over that you want to exchange into American $ at the airport when you're leaving. As for paying American dollars for small purchases, I don't have any experience with that. Anyone out there have advice on that front?

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3-1-1 question: I'm confused! I'm traveling from NY to Paris and will need to check my luggage. I'd like to not check my makeup, just in case my bag gets lost. My moisturizer comes in a tube that is 2.4 oz. Does that mean I can just leave it in the original tube, and put that in a clear plastic bag, and I'm a-ok?

Andrea Sachs: Yes, that is exactly correct. Leave it in its original container (just be sure it is 3.4 ounces or less), then place it with your other liquid-y, gel-y items in a clear quart-size Ziploc bag. TSA just wants all of the questionable items in one sac, for easy viewing.

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Photo contest: What I wish you would do, and I am sure many would agree with this suggestion, is post say 40 other photos submitted and have the readers vote.

I would like to the pictures that missed it to really understand what they are looking for.

Are they looking for uniqueness?

I wish you had seperate categories because many readers may not be able to go to some of the exotic locations. An idea what be to have seperate categories in foreign locations, american locations, nature, and wildlife photography.

Also how do you know if someone didnt photoshop their pictures?

Joe Yonan: We certainly could add voting to next year's contest, absolutely. I'll keep that in mind; thanks! As for what the judges were looking for, it's something that really captivates us and, yes, uniqueness certainly counts. There's composition, drama, humor, beauty, all coming into play. I love Alisa's shot because of the light and because even though I've seen shots of trains outside windows, I love how the reflection is so vibrant across the train that the horizon is uninterrupted. I've already talked about 2nd place. For third place, it's the juxtaposition of the frilly dress and the skinny cow -- different textures and attitudes -- that made it stand out. ...

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Favorite place to shoot again: You took the easy way out! Every photographer knows that is the best time to shoot :)

Alisa Tiwari: My favorite places to shoot are New Delhi, India and Serengeti, Tanzania-- the range of colors and different backgrounds gives you the opportunity to capture many different shots. Also, Niagra Falls is one of my other favorites.

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Photography : Most of the time I travel on my own to different parts of the world and even though many people think I'm [an] adventurous person actually Im very shy and introverted. Photography is my hobby so when I travel my big SLR camera is my companion and I love to take pictures of people in their own routine and environments without disturbing them but sometimes I find this very difficult because my camera is highly noticeable even though I try to be discrete. Due to my introverted nature I'm not just going to take a picture and keep going and I'm not either going to ask permission to take picture so the question is: How I can manage to take good people pictures without them noticing me and of course without disturbing them. I can't sacrifice my camera so to change to a point and shoot camera is not an option. Help!

Roy Furchgott: The obvious answer is use a longer lens. That will compress the image somewhat, but that often gives a flattering effect. Something else to consider, if you are using a digital SLR you can turn off the shutter sound so that you are less obtrusive. And you can also set you camera on a tripod, frame the shot, the fire away when you aren't looking through the eyepiece. When your face isn't glued to the camera people sometimes assume you can't be shooting and relax. Best of all would be overcoming your shyness. I think it makes for a better travel experience and better photos when you meet some folks along the way.

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Freezer packs for meds: A few steps if problems occur:

1. ask to talk to the supreme TSA leader

2. Get a letter from your doctor.

If this doesn't get anywhere get the information of the supervisor and write a letter to your congressperson and file a lawsuit against TSA because icepacks for medication because they need to remain cold is something the TSA CANT touch.

Joe Yonan: Thanks!

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D.C.: For the person looking for a family vacation. I went to the Dominican Republic a few months ago and had a great time. The resort I stayed at (Club Med) had activities for children (for a cost). The children looked like they were having more fun then the adults.

Andrea Sachs: Thanks for the first-person account!

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Maine: Hi, I'd like to plan a quick weekend trip to Maine. Any places in particular I should visit? Also, what was the website that's been mentioned here for getting cheap tickets? Thank you for your help!

Joe Yonan: Ah, Maine. Love it. Well, I think you can't go wrong flying into Portland, because there is such good food there, and you can drive up and down the coast from there. Cape Elizabeth is gorgeous, with my favorite lobster roll at The Lobster Shack. There's great little towns galore not too far: Kennebunkport, Ogunquit, York. As for the cheap-tickets website, do you mean Kayak.com?

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American/Canadian exchange: To do currency exchange I would suggest going to a bank to get the absolute best exchange rate possible.

Since you live in the D.C. area and if you watch the exchange rate daily you could go to some places and get some currency exchanged initially.

For small purchases at local shops you arent likely to get that much of at all if the exchange rate is around 5-6 percent.

With ATMs -- each bank/credit card is different when it comes to foreign withdrawls from ATMs. So me will charge fees.

Christina Talcott: Here's a different take on exchanging Canadian and U.S. dollars. Thanks!

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Chicago, Ill.: My wife and I are looking to go to Argentina and Chile in late December. Knowing our work schedules will prevent us from doing the planning ourselves, do you have any suggestions on finding a reputable travel agent who specializes in these types of trips? Thanks.

Andrea Sachs: Word of mouth is great, of course, but if your friends have not traveled there, check with ASTA (www.asta.org). The travel agent organization has an online data base of agents and their specialties. You should also check with the tourism offices of both countries, as they might have a list of certified operators.

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Columbia, Md.: I loved looking through all of the winning photos in this year's contest--so much talent out there!

I have a question about night time photography for lazy photographers. It seems that wherever I go, the most interesting things I see are at night (most recently on a trip to Ireland and Norway I wanted to get photos that really captured the feeling of the pubs at night and the not-quite-dusk of midnight in Oslo). But, as I say, I'm lazy and don't like to haul around a tripod (and don't like to feel that conspicous anyway). I've had limited success with propping my camera on solid surfaces (stick in most pubs, as it turns out!) and setting the ISO as high as it'll go. Any tips? Besides becoming less lazy?

Roy Furchgott: You are kind of out of options. You need to stabilize the camera in some way. If you don't want to carry a tripod how about a monopod? Still too much? You can find some clamps with a camera mount that you can attach to railings, chairs, whatever you find. One fun option is the Joby Gorillapod [http://joby.com/gorillapod/original/]. It's a stabilizer and a conversation starter.

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Massachusetts: Hi crew and photography winners,

I have a question about photographing people, particularly locals in a foreign country at a close distance. Do you ask before taking someone's picture? Offer some money? And what is the protocol with children?

I spent some time in Guatemala and felt an uncomfortable dynamic between tourists wanting photos of indigenous rituals and clothing and the indigenous people who didn't always want their picture taken. Any advice or lessons learned personal experience about this?

Alisa Tiwari: Hey! As an amateur photographer, I would say it depends on the situation. If it is for my own personal use, I don't usually ask permission. However, if I intend to submit it to to a contest or show it to a number of people, I will always ask permission (especially with locals in a foreign country).

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D.C.: Wedding in November in Cabo. Best prices I've found are around $460. At that rate + hotel + car rental makes it unlikely I'll be able to attend. Would a package deal be better? Will flights go any lower to Cabo?

Carol Sottili: Package probably won't be any better, plus you'll probably want to stay with the rest of the guests, so your choice of hotel will not be wide open. And $460 to Cabo isn't a bad price - it's far away, and it's not a very popular destination from the Washington area, so competition isn't fierce.

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L'Enfant Plaza: I was just in Toronto and I did not change money, just used ATM and credit cards. I also paid for things in U.S. dollars. Most vendors do NOT honor the exchange rate when paying with U.S. cash. If it's $10 CAD and you pay $10USD. No change.

Christina Talcott: More on Canadian money. Has anyone else seen people charge the same dollar amount in Canadian and American? I wonder if there are any laws about that.

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San Diego, Calif.: I am going to Australia in February (when it is August weather) and would like some advice as to when to start looking for a cheap flight. My itinerary is LAX-Sydney and my return would be Melbourne-LAX. Since I can't buy a round trip, any advice?

P.S. I am going to get away from the San Diego winter (it goes down to 60 degrees days and 50 nights in Feb, so don't think Southern California is exactly Hawaii!)

Andrea Sachs: Start looking now, especially at Quantas and Air New Zealand, which frequently have sales from the West Coast. They might also be flexible with different arrival and departure cities.

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Arlington, Va.: I'm headed to Miami Nov 13-15 and flights are around $210. Is that a good price, or should I hold out?

Andrea Sachs: Excellent fare. And book one for me too, please!

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Last minute fares: How great are last-minute fares? I have a last-minute wedding in Salt Lake City and I'd love to go, but it's in about three weeks and airfare is too high for me. Any chance I could book cheaper between now and then, or will fares just go up and up? I'll keep my eyes peeled as late as I can; I was mostly just wondering.

As an aside, doesn't it seem like fares are always fanstastic to everywhere except where you need to go? :)

Andrea Sachs: Last-minute fares, to be honest, make me nervous, especially if I really need to get someplace. That said, I am currently seeing fares for about $330 on Delta. You should also try Southwest, where fares start at $99 to SLC. In fact, Southwest might be a good option. You can book there, but if you find a lower fare, cancel SW and hold onto the ticket for later travel. The airline does not charge for changing a flight time or destination.

And I totally agree that the last-minute ones are never where I need to go. But how great is the demand to fly to Hartford to visit my parents?

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Arlington, Va.: Typically the exchange rate you would get at places in Toronto that accept U.S. dollars is not so great.

I think the ATM or bank exchange question depends on a number of factors. The uppermost being fees. Does your bank charge you a fee for using an ATm that's not part of its network? Does it also charge a fee for using an ATM out of the country? Check to see if your bank has any affiliates that allow you to use their ATMs without a fee. Bank of America has some foreign partner banks so you can avoid some fees. But if you use a non-partner bank they lay on the fees. It's a pretty big ripoff frankly. I think they are now charging $5 plus 1 percent of the withdrawal amount.

Likewise, does the bank you want to change currency in have a fee for that service?

Usually it is just easiest to get Canadian dollars at an ATM. Get enough to cover all of the expenses you expect to have at one time. That way if there are fees you don't have to pay them more than once.

Christina Talcott: More thoughts on Canadian cash...

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Harrisburg, Pa.: RE: TSA and "ice"

I find that a bags of (supermarket brand) frozen corn or peas work very well as "ice packs" to keep food, etc., cold and they're allowed by TSA. Just don't eat them once they've thawed!

Carol Sottili: Another vote for frozen peas or corn!

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Herndon, Va.: Alisa/Roy: What is the most important "attachment" or "extra" that most photographers don't carry, but should?

Alisa Tiwari: For amateur photographers, I would say tripods. Yes, I know they are bulky and awkward at times, but they can be very useful if you want to take a panorama or a steady shot. Also, a tripod always seems to be useful when I do not bring one!

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Canadian money: The Canadian dollar is pretty close to the U.S. dollar these days, gone are the days when it was a bargain to shop in Canada. So no big deal for them to accept $10 US for an item costing $10 Cdn.

Christina Talcott: More on Canadian money...

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Chicago, Ill.: The "Props to Continental" writer reminded me of a tip I want to pass along -- whenever I have to make connecting flights, I go to the airline web site and note all the scheduled flights between my destinations for that day, especially for international. Since I ususally arrive 2-3 hours before departure as recommended, I've been able to wrangle an earlier departure, if my own flight is delayed which would jeopardize the connection. It is amazing how receptive the check-in staff can be if you present sollutions, instead of problems to solve. American once put me in 1st class ORD to LAX so I wouldn't miss my connection on Cathay. Same with trips to Mexico connecting through Dallas - but this only works if you haven't already checked luggage or have carry-on only.

Carol Sottili: I'm one of those types who do lots of homework re: schedules before I go. Never a bad idea to have too much information. Good point on checked luggage.

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Washington, D.C.: Re: Family trip w/2-year-old son: I would opt for a Caribbean cruise using a family-friendly line such as Carnival or Royal Caribbean. All of your meals, entertainment, most activities, transportation and room are included as a single price. Moreover, with these lines, there will be age-based kid "camps" w/counselors for each age group.

Andrea Sachs: Thanks for the help!

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Cubeland: How do you balance the need to be respectful of people/cultures and capturing the spontaneity of the moment when taking pictures? We have great pictures from our travels that proudly hang all over our house, but there have definitely been times when we've missed a great shot b/c we were afraid that taking a picture wouldn't have been appreciated or been offensive. But if you ask the subject, then the "moment" is gone...

What do you recommend?

Alisa Tiwari: If you are trying to capture the spontaneity of the moment and you are in a public area, take the shot! You can always check with the subject about whether he or she is comfortable with the photograph after taking the picture.

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This would have been a nice deal: ROME -- You had to be quick, but what a deal.

A four-star hotel near Venice mistakenly offered the ultimate low-cost vacation -- a romantic weekend in the Italian lagoon city for 1 Euro cent.

Not surprisingly, the Crowne Plaza in Quarto D'Altino, 15.5 miles (25 kilometers) from Venice, received bookings for the equivalent of 1,400 room nights on the night the rate was posted on its Web site, the hotel chain acknowledged. And it seems those bookings may be valid.

The hotel first thought the offer was posted by a hacker, sales manager Fulvio Danesin said Friday. But it turned out to be human error at the Atlanta offices of Intercontinental Hotels Group, the hotel's mother company, he said.

The offer was supposed to be for a two-night stay at half price. A night at the 151-room hotel normally costs between euro90 ($128) and euro150 ($214).

The 1-cent rate was up only Sunday night, but that was long enough for travelers to book dates running from October through 2010, Danesin said. The hotel stands to lose Euro90,000 ($129,000), he said.

Monica Smith, media relations manager for the hotel group in the U.S., said Friday that some 228 guests made reservations for the equivalent of 1,400 room nights while the error was on the Web site and that the reservations would be honored.

"Although a pricing error, IHG is committed to honoring the 1-cent rate for guests who have a valid confirmation," Smith said. She added that rooms booked at the low rate "are nontransferable.'

Joe Yonan: Yes -- wild, huh? Just to be clear, this post is a reprinting of an Associated Press story.

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Harrisburg, Pa.: I have long supported Amtrak and am a member of the National Association of Rail Passengers. When I joined years ago, they sent me a membership card which I kept in my wallet for years until it virtually disintegrated. Yesterday, a conductor demanded to see the card. I told him I buy my receive my notices from the NARP online and I purchase my tickets online so there is never is a card to produce unlike the old days when I would buy a ticket at the station. I have an NARP membership number which is printed on the ticket. He did not accept that and made me pay extra for my ticket. Is this a new policy of Amtrak that they are going to start asking NARP members for cards they probably discarded long ago? Am I going to have to go back to buying my tickets from the train station where they can verify from there that I am an NARP member? As an aside, I stopped doing this because they had such trouble on their computer system with NARP members. For some reason, the Amtrak computers would take a long time for verify NARP numbers and it would hold up the line behind me. Thus, I would prefer, and I believe Amtrak would prefer, that I could keep buying online. I just hope the station people will tell the conductors that it is better we be allowed to buy online.

Carol Sottili: Went to the Amtrak Web site, and here is what it says:

"Conductors may ask to see your NARP card during your trip. Please carry your NARP card with you onboard."

I'd contact the association and ask for a new card. BTW, NARP members get a 10 percent discount on most Amtrak trains. Individual membership is $35 annually - www.narprail.org.

Joe Yonan: I put the question to the NARP directly, and here's what communications director Sean Jeans-Gail said:

"NARP's annual renewal notice for members contains a replacement membership identification card. It is sometimes the case that members end up recycling this card after they have sent back their renewal form, or if they choose to renew their membership online; in any case, NARP is happy to provide a replacement membership card at no charge. Just email narp@narprail.org or call 202-408-8362.

"Generally, our members are not asked to present proof of membership, and I would guess the conductor in question probably was relatively new to the job. However, Amtrak does reserve the right for their conductors to ask for identification, and we encourage our members to carry their membership cards. NARP continues to work in partnership with Amtrak to make sure their employees are aware of all eligible discount offers - not just NARP's - to ensure a smooth traveling experience for passengers, but as with any company, there are challenge in providing the best customer service possible. I'm happy to say this member's experience is the exception rather than the rule, and NARP is generally known by Amtrak's employees."

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Burke, Va.: I notice that many of the winning pictures include people in them. What's the proper thing to do when taking these photographs? Asking permission would likely spoil the candid shots, but should you? Or only if you want to photograph a child?

Roy Furchgott: The polite thing to do is ask. But you can assume that street performers, people calling attention to themselves with outlandish dress or behavior (holding up beers and shouting "WOOOO!" counts) probably don't mind. Technically anyone in a public place is fair game. But asking for a little cooperation from that cute Babushka is nicer, and if might get you better photos: with permission you then you can take several shots and even position your subject for the best composition.

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Airfares to Berlin: Good Day and Thanks for the chats as always! I am planning a trip to Berlin in late November and airfares are coming in at $650+. Is that the best I can hope for at this time or should I wait? Also, any "not to miss" sights besides the notable historic places? Appreciate the assistance!

Christina Talcott: According to FareCompare.com's "Best Months to Travel" feature, from Washington to Berlin in late November, $650 is the lowest you'll generally pay. As for can't-miss sights, in April Scott Vogel wrote about the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and had some ideas about things to do and see. And it looks like the Christmas market starts on Nov. 23. Any other Berlin tips?

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Arlington, Va.: The other option for taking night time pictures in pubs is to use a flash if you don't have a tripod or other means to stabilize the camera. If your camera allows you to control the flash output you can reduce the power of your onboard flash so it doesn't overwhelm everyone and blow out the highlights. If you have an SLR you can also use a flash diffuser which does a great job of evening out the light.

Roy Furchgott: Flash is always an option, but it does take a little practice to master (I've largely failed). I generally save the flash for bright daylight shots. It can be used to even out harsh shadows in strong sunlight. Great suggestion, thanks.

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Alexandria, Va.: I have to head down to Litchfield, S.C., for a bachelorette weekend the weekend of September 18-20. I can fly into either Myrtle Beach or Charleston and the lowest fares I am seeing right now are about $285. Do you think they are only going to get higher so I should suck it up and pay that fare, or do you think there is a chance they could drop in the next couple of weeks? With the cost of the bridesmaid dress, heading back down there for the wedding, etc, I am trying to minmize my overal cost for the wedding. Thanks!

Carol Sottili: Buy the ticket. And pay the extra money to fly nonstop. Best nonstop prices are to Charleston (on US Airways from DCA), although that's farther away from Litchfield than Myrtle. Neither of these cities offer lots of competition, so there are rarely sales. US Airways said recently it will begin to offer nonstop service out of DCA to Myrtle Beach after it swaps slots with Delta (Delta is going to give up slots to US Airways at National in exchange for US Airways' slots at LaGuardia), but that won't help you as it won't happen for at least several months.

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Southeast Asia: Hi travel crew,

I'd like to throw this out to the peanut gallery? Have any of you had experiences traveling in Southeast Asia and which countries do you recommend?

Andrea Sachs: Bali is unforgettable. Ditto for Cambodia, which you can combine with Vietnam, also mind-blowing.

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Washington, D.C.: I had a good experience flying overseas with Continental recently, too -- I was on a flight out of Newark that had to sit on the runway for two hours because of weather. It's surprising how fast two hours can go when they turn on the entertainment system and the pilot gives regular, highly informative updates! Agreed on the touch screens, though. Very annoying to feel the person behind you poking at their screen.

Carol Sottili: So much depends on attitude. I would guess that there were some people on your flight who weren't all that pleased with the two-hour delay.

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Canadian currency: Someone mentioned this in passing earlier, but it's important enough to warrant repeating: See if your bank has a deal with a Canadian bank to allow you fee-free withdrawals at their ATMs. Bank of America customers, for example, receive this benefit at Scotiabank ATMs. (Scotiabank is all over the place in Canada.) If your bank offers this, try to find the appropriate ATM because under these deals normally NEITHER of the two banks will charge you a fee.

If your bank doesn't offer this, either bring US cash and change it at a bank up there (you normally won't pay fees), or else go to an ATM up there and withdraw a LARGE amount of money so as to minimize the need to pay further fees if you run out of cash.

The exchange rate given for using US dollars in Canada is never particularly favorable except at certain stores right near the border. I stopped at a McDonald's on the border once where the cash drawers were double-wide units -- if you paid in USD, your change came in USD; if you paid Canadian, your change was Canadian.

Christina Talcott: Wow, I would love to see those cash drawers!

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Alexandria, Va.: I also thought the photo winners this year weren't great. I loved the winning entry, and a few others, but I particularly do not like photos of people's kids (not so hard to get a cute kid photo) or friends. Photos of people you encounter while traveling are often interesting, but save those other shots for your own scrapbook.

Joe Yonan: I know what you mean about kid photos -- you should have seen the ones we rejected for that very reason, that they were just cute kids with nothing else to recommend them. The ones that made it were the ones that we thought elevated the genre in some way: the third-place photo for reasons I've already said, but the only other one of someone's own kids was of the boy in St. Peter's Square, which was composed and lit beautifully and reminded me of that classic Cartier-Bresson shot of the man jumping the puddle. I'm sure that Nan Goldin and many other great photographers would take issue with the idea that friends should only show up in personal scrapbooks.

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Mexico City, Mexico: I am a 54-year-old woman travelling alone, wanting to visit Tallin, Riga, Vilnius, St. Petersburg and Moscow... starting my trip from Rome, London or Paris... all travel agencies I've found on the internet only have packages for minimun 2 passengers! Do you know about a site/travel agency specialised in people traveling alone? Not the single's thing please! Thank you in advance! (I know I will pay the double room, no problem about that!)

Christina Talcott: Does anyone have advice for this single traveler?

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Miami, Fla.: For trips to Miami, be sure also to check fares to Fort Lauderdale. $210 to Miami is great, but my sister just booked a flight here via FLL for $180 (JetBlue) if you're looking for absolute rock bottom. Airport, while less interesting than Miami, is certainly as well less chaotic.

Andrea Sachs: Great tip. Thanks.

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Timonium, Md.: Good morning, Flight Crew: Last week a question was asked about the driest time to visit Hawaii. According to a weather website and the Hawaiian tourism website, the periods with the least amount of rainfall are the summer months.

Joe Yonan: Yes. I suggested May as a good time, or fall, because summer can get busy/pricey as lots of Hawaiian families are traveling around during school holiday.

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Can=US dollar: There are no laws with the exchange rates. Each store can do as they wish.

I was born and raised in Buffalo and at the time the exchange was around 30-40 precent...miss those days....

Now I live in Seattle and I was up in Victoria a few weeks ago where the exchange was around 8 percent. Most stores gave 5 percent, but some gave no exchange at all.

Christina Talcott: Thanks!

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State College, Pa.: RE: traveling with formula and ice packs. A few months ago, we flew to Albuquerque from BWI. BWI's TSA people didn't make us do anything with the diaper bag with the milk and ice packs and such -- just sent it on through the x-ray machine. On the return trip, TSA at Albuquerque aiport made us unpack everything and they tested all of it. TSA's inconsistency about such things is one of the most maddening things about the whole operation.

Carol Sottili: I don't know if this is inconsistent. TSA reserves the right to test these materials for explosives, so there is no hard-and-fast rule.

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Arlington, Va.: The package deal to Ireland you highlighted yesterday sounds great, but how cold/wet will Dublin and the rest of the island be in January? Does it snow in Ireland?

Andrea Sachs: Because of the Gulf Stream, Ireland does not get as freezing cold as other destinations on the same latitude. Temps are around 40-50 degrees, and you will more likely see rain than snow. Those are the two wettest months of the year, however, since the island is so small, you can often drive to good/better weather. Dublin County is supposed to be the driest region.

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Columbus, Ohio: Re: Toronto ATMs -- On my last visit to Toronto in August 2005, I found tons of ATMs. The catch was that they would only give cash advances on major credit card. None of the ATMs in stores or hotel lobbies would accept my bank ATM xard that was tied to my checking and savings accounts. In order to make ATM transactions with that card and avoid the cash advance charges, I had to go to banks with ATMs in my network. Not as easy as one might think.

Joe Yonan: Interesting.

Christina Talcott: Wow, that wasn't my experience last fall, but maybe I just got lucky. Has anyone else experienced this?

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D.C.: Going to Rehoboth for the first time this weekend -- any suggestions for good places to eat there or on the way there? Any other family tips? (mini-golf? Is there an amusement park?)

Christina Talcott: Last summer, I wrote about eating breakfast on Kent Island, just over the Bay Bridge, and if you're there any other time of day, get the fried chicken at Holly's. Rehoboth's turned into a dining and shopping mecca these days, but I still love Nicola Pizza's Nic-o-Bolis and Funland's rides. Nearby Cape Henlopen State Park and Lewes are lovely if you want a break from boardwalk-mania in Rehoboth.

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Washington, D.C.: I would also have to agree with the earlier poster that the photos in this year's contest were not as great as in years past. The winning photo was color-skewed, and not in a good or deliberate way (indoor-flourescent settings on an exterior shot). Many of the other recognized photos lacked perspective. Were the judges just looking for something different, or a different way of looking at things, because most of the photos showed neither, at least not in a skillful or purposeful way.

Joe Yonan: Sorry, but I have to disagree, again. I looked at last year's batch again and thought we had a stellar lineup this year. You can pick apart any group of photos, I suppose, but I wouldn't have voted for last year's photo of a jumping wedding party in Russia, or the field of flowers, or the beach crab, or the basilica interior, because I didn't find that they went beyond the standard vacation shot that I've seen many times. Of course, this is ALL subjective.

Alisa Tiwari: For me, the character in my photo came from the angle and perspective, not necessarily the color. I was looking for a way to highlight the natural beauty of Alaska in a unique way.

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East Coast: Flying to Northern California next month, riding to Artesia (in the southern part of the state) with friends who are then driving back home up north. I'll be flying home from LAX, and was wondering how to find out in advance re "limo" service (e.g., mini-van) from Artesia to the airport. Is there a resource online that lists limo service names, fares, schedules, etc. I'd need portal-to-portal service, owing to a partial disability. Thank you.

Andrea Sachs: Have you tried Shuttlefinder.net? They have a list of companies and quotes. Also check with LAX itself, which will have a roster of shuttles and car services that provide rides to/from the airport.

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Washington DC: Photo question: I'm heading out to the Rockies for vacation and am trying to decide whether it's worth taking my SLR (Canon 20D with 50 mm fixed lens) or just my point and shoot (Canon A710, if it makes a difference). The SLR is much better for portraits and indoor shooting, but will I see much difference for outdoor landscapes, where I'll have plenty of light and relatively flat depth of field?

Roy Furchgott: If you don't have an assortment of lenses, you may do just as well with the point-and-shoot. The SLR has the bigger chip, which is better for low light, but for sunlit landscapes the A710 should be fine. You might want to look into a panorama program for you favorite editing software, which will let you stitch together a full 360 panoramic view from a series of photos.

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Arlington, Va.: The person in San Diego going to Sydney and returning from Melbourne should have no problem finding fares. These sorts of open jaw itineraries are findable on all search engines these days. They might call it "multi city" or something like that. They should also check fares on newcomer V Australia (run by Richard Branson and his Virgin group).

Andrea Sachs: Great advice. Thanks, Arlington.

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Photo Question?: I took a fascinating picture of a gondolier without him noticing...Can I submit this picture for a photo contest?

Joe Yonan: In the immortal words of Austin Powers, oh, behave.

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Airfares are high?: I'm trying to book a trip out to South Dakota in mid-September (a trip I take reguarly). The airfares are very high (about $150-$200 more per ticket). After the reasonable fares this summer, are higher fares in line for the fall? Does this have anything to do with the Delta/Northwest merger?

Carol Sottili: We're hearing lots re: higher fares, especially to out-of-the-way destinations with little competition. I'd wait to buy this ticket. Go to www.bing.com/travel and track. I looked at Sioux Falls, and prediction is that fares will fall. Delta/NW deal may cause higher prices in cities where they are the two major players.

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Christina Talcott: Wow, that was fun. Thanks for all the terrific questions, suggestions and thoughts, and thanks so much to photographers Alisa Tiwari and Roy Furchgott for joining in. I'd like to send the calendar to the thoughtful questioner from Massachusetts asking about how to respectfully photograph people in other countries - send your name and address to talcottc@washpost.com. Lots of interesting things to think about!

Join us again next week, same time, same place, and happy travels!

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