Talk About Travel: Paris in the Springtime, Free Cruises and Penny-Pinching Travel Tips

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D.C. to New York travelers are lining up for high value as start-up bus companies give older bus lines a run for your money. Video by Andrea Sachs/The Washington Post ALSO READ: Back on the Bus Video by Andrea Sachs/The Washington Post

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The Flight Crew
Washington Post Travel Section
Monday, August 31, 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 31 at 2 p.m.

Browse an archive of previous live travel Q&As.

The next Travel chat will be on Monday, Sept. 14.

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Joe Yonan: Hi, travelers -- welcome to this week's chat. We're here to help you get out of town, sooner or later. Did Andrea's piece on bus travel resonate; are you on top of the bus-to-NY trend, or did it inspire you to get on board? Do you agree with her assessment of the lines? Did Brigid Schulte's tale of a recession-proof trip to the Cape put you in the mood to take a similar approach to your next vacation (if you haven't already)?

This week, your challenge is to brag about your own penny-pinching ability when it comes to traveling. Tell of us a time you worked the system(s) and came away with much more than your money's worth. For our favorite, a prize will await.

And we're off...

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Alexandria, Va.: Thanks for the bus update. I just got back from NYC- I elected to be extravagant and ride the train, but if I went more often I would definitely take the bus. I just want to give a shout out to the book "The 50 Greatest Photo Opportunities in New York City" by Amadou Diallo. It gave some great tips on where to get some of the iconic shots. For example, he recommends walking the Manhattan Bridge with a tripod to get great pictures of the Brooklyn Bridge lit up at night. And if you're interested in photography, definitely check out B&H, the world's largest camera store. You do your shopping on the 2nd floor and they send your purchases along tracks down to the 1st floor for you to pick up on your way out. Remember, it's run by Hasidic Jews so it's closed Friday night and Saturday.

washingtonpost.com: Back on the Bus (Post, Aug. 30)

Andrea Sachs: So glad you enjoyed the piece. I envy your train travel, but thanks for the book tip. It will be a great distraction for my next bus ride. And, yes, I have heard that B&H is amazing.

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Bethesda, Md.: Hi Team -- Here's a thank you and compliment. I asked you about 2 months ago for suggestions for a stopoff on the return leg of a trip to Chicago. Your suggestion of Fallingwater was perfect. It's magnificent and a great way to break up an otherwise monotonous 12 hours on the road. Great suggestion. Thanks.

washingtonpost.com: Fallingwater

Andrea Sachs: So glad our suggestion worked out. Fallingwater is pretty spectacular. (If only we could live there and not have to leave at the end of the day.)

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Chevy Chase, Md.: Was your article on bad food encountered in France intended to be helpful to readers/travelers or was it shilling for the book? While bad or indifferent food can obviously be encountered in France, would it not make sense to suggest to readers how to deal with it, avoid it, or find better food?

washingtonpost.com: An Unsavory Holiday in France (Post, August 23, 2009)

Zofia Smardz: The piece was intended as an essay-cum-book review, something we do from time to time. I hoped it would serve as a heads up to readers and point to a worthwhile read for anybody who might be headed to France while also providing a good read itself. Obviously our standard destination pieces tell people where to find good food, and we did run online Tom Sietsema's Postcard from Paris listing some good places to dine while there. I wanted to get people talking and thinking, and I do believe the piece served that purpose, because I'm *still* hearing from people about it!

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Washington, D.C.: I just want to thank the chatter who recommended Snooze in Denver last week -- because of the shout-out, I went last week and had one of the best breakfasts I've ever had. In order to pay it forward, I'll recommend that visitors to Philadelphia (where I also was last week) check out Nodding Head, a brewpub that's brewing some really unique beers (lagers with lemongrass, weizens with woodruff syrup, et cetera).

Andrea Sachs: We will pass along that thanks, add one of our own! Thanks!

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I see London: I see France. Or at least I will next year. A delayed birthday trip to London and Paris with my sister. Unfortunately she's a teacher and can only travel over Spring Break (the week before Easter and Easter weekend). Will it be crowded? Cold? More expensive? Are we better off waiting until the end of June?

Christina Talcott: It might still be chilly and drizzly in London and Paris, or you could luck out and get some nice weather. It'll certainly be less crowded than in June, and you might be able to save some money simply because you'll have more choice in lodging than during the busy summer season.

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Arlington, Va.: Am trying to find a trip destination that both my boyfriend and I can agree on. He's interested in Disney World or Graceland! I could live with a day or two at DW, but would be more excited about it if there were also a beach-y area nearby, too, for just sunning and relaxing. I have no desire to go to Graceland, honestly, but would take one for the team if there were some cool, non-kitschy things to do nearby. Any suggestions? Thanks for your help!

Christina Talcott: While you can reach the Gulf Coast beaches a couple of hours from Disney World, you could also do some sunning and swimming without leaving the DW area. There are pools and beaches on lakes that are connected to hotels/resorts at Disney World, so maybe one of them could substitute for an actual on-the-ocean beach.

If you picked Graceland, though, you could take advantage of being in the heart of

Memphis

, with live music, good soul food, museums, walking tours, urban parks,

marching ducks

and more.

Joe Yonan: I would absolutely vote for Graceland, for the reasons Christina described. There's so much to do there.

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Arlington, Va.: when traveling northbound past Baltimore, either on 95N or BW Parkway, what is the faster route - The Harbor Tunnel or Fort McHenry tunnel?

This has bothered me for years, as on the map, the Harbor Tunnel looks like a more direct path, but some people are adamant that Fort McHenry is the way to go.

Thanks.

Zofia Smardz: Having taken both, I think it's pretty much six of one, half a dozen of the other. If anything, the Harbor Tunnel may be somewhat less traveled these days, so if traffic's heavy going through the Fort McHenry, it's a good alternative.

That's what I think, anyway? How about you, chatters?

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Wisconsin: Off to London in a couple of days. We'll have a couple of suitcases with us -- is a (pricey, I'm sure) taxi ride the best way to get from Heathrow to our hotel? I don't necessarily mind the cost as long as it's fairly hassle- free, but...

Any advice for this London first-timer? Thanks!

Joe Yonan: I'm not sure where your hotel is, but assuming it's in central London, you'd be better off taking the fantastic Heathrow Express right into Paddington station, and then going from there, either by subway or (indeed, pricey!) cab.

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Reston, Va.: Received a post card saying I was selected for a complimentary cruise for two on Carnival or Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines. This is not a timeshare or land sale offer. Call 1-800-313-5032. Is this legitimate?

Joe Yonan: If something sounds too good to be true, I'd say it probably is. I can't imagine that they don't want to try to sell you something.

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San Francisco- hotel: Help. My husband and I will be in SFO from 4th-8th Sept. and haven't gotten any hotel booked yet. Do you have any last minute tips for hotels around Union Sq or Fisherman's Wharf? Thank you!

Christina Talcott: You could try the Joie de Vivre hotel group, which has a number of California hotels, including a bunch in the Union Square/Marina area. Or you could try the SF tourism site. Don't forget about the big third-party booking sites, like Hotels.com, Hotwire, Priceline, etc., where you can get a deal and even bid on your room.

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Houston, Tex.: Is October late enough in hurricane season to safely travel to the Caribbean? I don't want to get stuck in a storm on my honeymoon!

Zofia Smardz: October is still very much hurricane season in the Caribbean. Read what our Chat Plus had to say about it just yesterday.

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Downtown, DC: Where are the best places on a budget to eat and drink in Barcelona?

Christina Talcott: Here are some suggestions from a friend of mine who spent the summer studying in Barcelona. Thanks, Al!

"For typical Catalan food, go to

Origens

. There are several locations. For cheap food, not necessarily Catalan, get a Doner kabab. Or pop in a supermarket with a bakery and buy an empanada! Also, there are people selling beers on the street for a Euro and, late at night, even samosas for a Euro."

Anyone have other suggestions?

Joe Yonan: You should check out Pinotxo, the great tapas bar inside La Boqueria. And also look for Cal Pep. Both are reasonably priced.

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Falls Church, Va.: Hi all!

I love your advice and really need your help! I am in bad need of some beach! I was thinking about going to Cancun over Columbus Day weekend. Is that a bad time for rain/hurricanes? I'm going to get travel insurance, but I want to make sure I'm not being too risky before I book the trip.

Joe Yonan: As KC Summers said in yesterday's Chat Plus, indeed, it's still hurricane season, but less risky than August and September. She suggests some other nearby islands that might be safer: Aruba, Bonair, Curacao.

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Easter in Europe: I've been to London twice in March the last few years and had several sunny days to balance out the rainy ones. Just remember LOTS of places will be closed on Good Friday and on Easter Sunday in London and Paris!

Christina Talcott: Thanks!

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you'd be better off taking the fantastic Heathrow Express right into Paddington station, and then going from there, either by subway or (indeed, pricey!) cab. : I'd just like to second that. I was in London this summer and used it for the first time and left very impressed with how organized it is (very accurate Next Arrival screen) clean and fast. Also made me wonder why we (especially in DC) can never manage to have good transit system like that, but that is probably a question for Dr. Gridlock

Joe Yonan: Yes, I love the H.E.

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Washington, D.C.: To London/Paris for spring break

I would definitely recommend Paris in early Spring- the crowds are much smaller than Summer and every time I have gone during the last week of March, the weather has been beautiful- think high 50s, sunny, and lots of flowers blooming. There may be a bit of a wait for things like the Eiffel Tower, Louvre, etc. but it will be nothing compared to what you would experience in June.

Christina Talcott: Here's one chatter recommending Spring Break in Paris...

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For the Spring London and Paris Visitor: The week before Easter can be tough. France, while claiming to be secular, is a pretty Catholic country, so things are closed for Good Friday or people are traveling to visit family, so it can make Paris feel a little less lively. London, while definitely secular, has a bank holiday on Easter Monday, so people will be traveling for the long weekend. If given a choice, for a first time trip, I would hold back until June, and take the extra months to save up the money for a summer air fare!

Christina Talcott: Thanks for chiming in! Good point about things being closed on Good Friday in France. Maybe if the sisters go over Easter it would make sense to visit Paris the first half of the trip then London the second half. Or they could go in June, like you suggest. Anyone have other opinions one way or another?

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Washington, D.C.: Really? Someone gets a postcard out of the blue saying they won a free cruise and thinks it could possibly be legitimate?? I can think of a dozen different ways to scam from that starting point, credit card for "incidental" expenses, SS# and other ID info to book cruise, etc. Ask yourself, why would someone I don't know give me a cruise?

Joe Yonan: Exactly. I mean, you could certainly call and quiz them about what it is they're offering (something I used to relish doing), but do NOT give them any identifying information that could help them perpetuate a scam.

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Dupont Circle - Washington, D.C.: I'm planning a trip with friends to Las Vegas for New Year's. Other than the normal gambling/partying (which we love), does the city do anything special for the holiday?

Andrea Sachs: Get ready for an insane time. All of the casino-resorts hold special events in their bars, restaurants and/or clubs. For example, many of the casino nightclubs will have a celebrity host counting down the minutes (admission fee required). Last year's A-listers included Fergie, Kid Rock and Pink. Restaurants also prepare set menus and provide party favors; watch out, though, for major price inflations. The Strip will ban vehicular traffic before dusk to set up fireworks along the road, which will launch from up to 10 sites. There will also be a celebration at the Freemont Street Experience (bands, food, drink, dancing, etc.). Check www.visitlasvegas.com for updates.

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New Orleans: When is the best time to go to New Orleans? Is it expensive? We went to Napa last year and spent a fortune!

Joe Yonan: I wouldn't go to New Orleans in the summer, but any other time. The weather is particularly gorgeous in October-November and in April-May, but mild in the depths of winter, too. As for other times to go, it depends on if you want craziness and crowds (Halloween, New Year's Eve, Jazzfest, Mardi Gras) or not. Having been to both N'awlins and Napa, the former is definitely more affordable, which great food on the low end and some decently priced lodging, too.

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Falls Church, Va.: Good Afternoon Travel Staff! I'm heading to Disney World next month. The problem is that I have a 5:40 am flight out of National and will be checking a bag but, I have no idea what time the (US Air) counters open! Please help!

Christina Talcott: If I were you, I'd check in and pay for your bag online the night before your flight. Then when you get to the airport you can just drop your bag off and go to the gate with your boarding pass in hand. Get there anytime after 4:30, when the ticket counter opens (I just did a search for "US airways," "counter" and "DCA").

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Alexandria, Va.: Hello. We are driving from DC to Maine in a few weeks, starting after work on Friday and driving as far as we can, and then finishing up the next day. I've heard about routes that bypass the worst of NYC traffic. Do you recommend this way, and if so, can you tell me which is the best? Thanks.

Zofia Smardz: The worst parts of the drive if you go the usual route are the GW Bridge, the Cross-Bronx Expressway and then I-95 through Connecticut which you should avoid at all costs. There are several alternatives. A)You can cross the GW Bridge, then get on the Henry Hudson Parkway north to the Saw Mill River Parkway, then the Cross-County Parkway to the Merritt Parkway through Connecticut, ti I-91, which hooks up with I-84 through Hartford.

B) To avoid the GW bridge, head to the Palisades Parkway from the Jersey Turnpike, then take the New York State Thruway east across the Tappan Zee Bridge. From there, you can either hook up with the Merritt Parkway, or head slightly north to I-84 to take you all the way through Connecticut.

OR, C) here's a route a chatter from last week offered, through Pennsylvania. It sounds a bit roundabout for my money, but here it is in case you want to map it.

The way I use, coming from the Springfield area and going to Maine, would be this:

(1) Beltway to I-270.

(2) I-270 north to Frederick.

(3) Stay straight to take US-15 north towards Gettysburg and Harrisburg.

(4) At Harrisburg, take PA-581 around the west side of the city to I-81.

(5) I-81 north to I-78.

(6) I-78 across Pennsylvania and New Jersey to I-287.

(7) I-287 north to the New York Thruway.

(8) New York Thruway east across the Tappan Zee Bridge, then stay on I-287 (Cross Westchester Expressway) where it splits off.

(9) Exit onto the Merritt Parkway north into Connecticut. It becomes the Wilbur Cross Parkway at some point, but just stay straight ahead until the road ends at I-91.

(10) Then take I-91 north towards Hartford and follow the signs for eastbound I-84. That road will then take you to the Massachusetts Turnpike.

Here's some discussion from last week's chat on this very topic.

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Washington, D.C.: A friend and I are looking to take a vacation in late November, either 3 or 4 nights. We want to go to an all-inclusive resort, maybe Mexico or Jamaica. What are the best deals?

Carol Sottili: Mexico, especially Cancun and Riviera Maya area, will be cheaper than Jamaica. There are many more all inclusives, so more competition means cheaper rates. Plus airfare is typically cheaper. Barcelo (www.barcelo.com) and Oasis (www.hotelesoasis.com) are cheap. Iberostars (www.iberostar.com) are a step up, and are having a sale right now.

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Penny-pinchers: In 2006, my husband and I were planning our honeymoon to Italy (Rome, Chianti, and Florence). We were appalled by the prices of most travel-service groups but too busy to make all the plans ourselves. So, we devised our dream itinerary, set a budget, and sent it out to about a dozen groups to ask for bids. They responded with custom-tailored packages in our price range, and we selected the most competitive one after researching their proposed hotels, etc. Our honeymoon included a private driver in Tuscany, 4-star hotels in Rome and Florence, and all kinds of other perks that, purchased separately or through an existing package, would have cost at least $2,000 more. We had the trip of a lifetime and saved tons of money through our "Lending Tree" approach--groups competed, we won. :-)

Joe Yonan: Are you in government, by any chance? This sounds like a Request for Proposal (RFP) strategy. I love it.

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U Street, DC: In 2000, I booked a last minute flight from NYC to Australia, via Singapore Airlines. I had just...resigned from my job and wanted to get away. There was some good karma with me this trip: traffic wasn't moving because of a snowstorm, so I took the subway to JFK, but even that was late. Fortunately, the flight was delayed (naturally), but the gate agent liked me (a little TOO much?) and bumped me to Business Class -- to Singapore! via Frankfurt.

In Singapore, I stayed with my friend's family, but was bored stiff after 3 days. Booked a week in Thailand -- and paid something like $400 for an amazing week (not hostels) incl. the flights.

Australia was supposed to be 2 weeks. I met a girl, ended up staying 2 months nearly rent free, and miss it every winter! Oh, to top it off -- my return flight, I had torn ligaments in my ankle, so was bumped to Biz Class again (at least to Singapore) and was given the bulkhead seat next to the exit so I could raise my leg. AHH, SingAir!

In total: 2.5 months, excluding flights, approx: 1200 bucks, double that to include flights.

Joe Yonan: Not bad, but you're leaving out the "cost" of that torn-up ankle. I'm almost afraid to ask, given the setup, how that happened...

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Best "Bump" EVER: There was this trip three years ago where I think I worked the system pretty well.

I went to Key West in November, flying back the day after the big powerboat races. Knowing from being there in past years how overbooked the puddle-jumping commuter flights out of 'The Rock' are right after that event, I went to the airport early to inquire if my flight was overbooked and if they might be needing volunteers to take a later flight. Yes, the American Eagle gate agent replied, all their flights were heavily overbooked not just all day but all the next day, too.

Looking at my flight and the amount of time I had until my connection in Miami took off for DC he gave me two options: a $250 voucher for future travel plus two nights in a Key West hotel on the airline's dime or a $350 "bump" voucher and American Airlines would pay for the rental car if I'd drive myself up the Keys to Miami.

Two more days of music and margaritas sounded nice but after thinking about it a little bit I took the larger voucher and the rental car. So the counter agent printed out a car voucher and suggested I take it to the car rental firm to get a car while he completed the other paperwork.

At the rental car counter the agent told me he only had two cars left that would be available for a one-way rental to Miami.

A full-sized Buick sedan...

...or a Mustang convertible.

Did I mention that this was a perfect Keys day? In the low 80's with bright sunshine?

So I went back to the airline counter and signed for my larger travel voucher and when I told the American Eagle agent what car I'd gotten, his smiling response was, "if I called you what I want to call you I'd get fired, but the sentence starts 'you lucky son of a...'."

So I hopped into the Mustang, put the top down and headed up the Overseas Highway, one of the most beautiful drives on earth, with a $350 travel voucher that I later used when an airfare sale rolled around to buy myself a ticket to Dublin for under $100 round-trip.

Did I work the system acceptably?

Joe Yonan: Oh, man. Did you ever. That's a downright inspiration.

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Barcelona eats: I'll second Cal Pep for some good eats but I wouldn't say it's cheap. I think it ended up being about $50-60 per person with wine but it's a great experience!

We had an apartment on our stay and ended up buying fresh food from the markets each day to cook. The Boqueria is great!

Joe Yonan: Cheap is in the eye of the spender, absolutely. You got a lot of food and drink, though, didn't you?

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Native New Jerseyan: Well done, Travel Staff! Loved the grid for the NYC buses. I've been a devoted Megabus rider, but they've changed NYC locations a few blocks south; I may try Bolt or Vamoose. Their one misstep - last year we took Megabus to see a play and do the Christmas Shops in Bryant Park. The driver couldn't get the luggage door closed, and we spent 45 minutes in White Marsh, until a man who was dropping off his wife for the next bus showed up and HE got the door closed. I hope they've solved those things. We barely made the 2PM curtain time. Other than that, I've been satisfied with Mega.

Andrea Sachs: It's always an adventure on the bus, that's for sure. Thanks for sharing your favorite-ish bus line.

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Alexandria, Va.: I commuted through Baltimore for a year and half, and found that my satellite radio traffic report was the key to navigating the tunnels. Generally, I found the Harbor Tunnel a better choice, but the trick is to drive the speed limit for about five miles before and after it--that road is a major speed trap.

Zofia Smardz: Thanks for this advice! Wasn't really aware of those speed traps!

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To the Arlington traveler with boyfriend travel dilemma: If he likes DW and you would rather do a beach, what about doing Disneyland in CA? I realize that's a new option but you all could do a few days around LA for DL and then go stay on the beach either south to San Diego area or coastal LA area. I think there are some pretty decent rates to the west coast now. Just an idea!

Christina Talcott: Thanks for the idea!

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RE: Pennypinching Travel: In the years before we had kids, my husband and I would purposely book the earliest flight of the day out of Miami on the Sunday after Thanksgiving (my folks lived there). We would wait for the oversold announcement and run to volunteer to give up our seats for vouchers and to be re-booked. Then we would grab a snack or a meal, and then saunter over to the next gate and do it again. Our record was 4 bumps and $1500/each in vouchers. What made it work was that we always took a cab to the airport when we left DC, so we had the flexibility of re-booking our return to any of the three area airports, and we didn't have any kids or pets to slow us down. This was almost a decade ago, so I'm not sure if it would still work, but it was fun and profitable for us back then!

Joe Yonan: Wow. That is pretty amazing. Where did you go on all those vouchers?

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Cape cod on a "budget": I had to laugh at the article on Cape Cod. Admittedly, I loved hearing about the National Trust properties, and I almost feel as if the author could have written a more credible article having that as the lead, versus the penny pinching failure. There was the $400 canoe, the unplanned $200 Newport hotel room, miscellaneous bakeries and coffee houses, and the $130+ splurge on dinner. They should have left on time and not had to stay in R.I., gotten cookbooks from the library and cooked local/seasonal ingredients, and not bought the canoe (borrow one? rent one locally?). I wonder if that canoe was used one or two times during the week? Bikes were a great idea, but for frugal travel tips I'll turn to other sources. Newport, the canoe, and the dinner out really told me that this family had more money to spare than one who is really on a budget.

Joe Yonan: Appreciate your thoughts, but the definition of "on a budget" is pretty loose, don't you think? I thought they did really well; no, the trip didn't go perfectly -- where's the fun in that? That dinner out was their one splurge, but most of the time, when it came to food, they indeed did cook fresh produce from roadside stands. And don't forget that they can now use that canoe on their next trip for no more money.

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Central Cal: Penny pinching: Besides budget eating and taking local buses and the like, I have had extremely good luck traveling in the off or shoulder season when it is so much cheaper. I went to Ireland at the tail end of winter and only had one day of bad weather. Mexico and the Caribbean have been good to me the last few weeks of Hurricane season in October and had great weather every time. But alas. I'm dating a teacher and looks like those days may be over.

Joe Yonan: Yes, when looking for deals, timing can be everything.

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Hi Travel Gurus!: Driving to northern Westchester County, NY (via NJTurnpike) from Annapolis for the long weekend. Should I go Friday afternoon or Saturday morning? Any advice appreciated.

Zofia Smardz: I'd leave as early as you can on Saturday morning, hoping for a little lighter traffic. But there's really no optimal time for that stretch.

Chatters, what do you recommend?

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Saving money: Since there are London travelers chatting, I'll pipe up and say that a good way to save money there is to attend Evensong. St. Paul's and Westminster Abbey, among others, charge admittance (the former charges over 15 pounds per person, if I recall), but Evensong is free. Both last less than an hour, although you can enter and leave St. Paul's during the service. So if you don't mind not getting to see who-is-buried-where, it's a great way to see them. I also went to Evensong at Windsor Castle after it had closed for the day, and I was one of maybe a dozen people in attendance. One of the employees was from my home province of Alberta.

Joe Yonan: Thanks!

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Cheap-o travel: I'm not a budget traveler now - which is probably why I'm more of a staycationer in practice - but as a kid, if you could visit a place and stay in a tent or trailer, my family visited it. (Two teachers + one kid = road trips!) National parks, state parks, major cities, distant family, minor cities on the road to somewhere else, we did it all. Needless to say, I've got a few "maybe we should have shelled out a few bucks for a hotel" stories, most of which involve tornadoes. But probably the best is this: We decided that the annual trip would be to New York, Philly and Cape May, with NYC as the first stop. (This was 1982 and we had a trailer for this trip.) Somehow, we found what had to be the only campground in Weehawken, New Jersey; we took NJ Transit into the Port, where after a day of sightseeing I was so tired I fell asleep on the floor waiting for the return trip - and that's not the best part of the story. I was about 9, and a veteran of chatting up campground neighbors as a way to ease the boredom of hanging with the 'rents 24/7. My parents didn't usually mind too much, but in this instance, the campground neighbor I wound up chatting up taught me all I needed to know about cooking crack cocaine. My dad was seriously unamused.

Joe Yonan: Parents, are you reading?

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Queens, NYC (sill love my Sunday WashPost): I saw this Sunday there was a deal to Madrid for 500 round trip. I've been seeing those a lot lately. Is there something special about Spain?

And if I go there how hard/expensive is it to rent a car (I'm 23)?

Carol Sottili: If you're talking about the cheap fare to Madrid starting in March 2010, it's being offered to introduce United's new nonstop service from Dulles. It's an odd one - Aer Lingus is actually operating the flight, but United is selling it. Buy by Sept. 7. You'll be able to rent a car, but you may have to pay a young driver surcharge - Hertz, for example, charges 15 euros per day.

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L Street: My wife and I have gone to New Orleans the past 3 years to visit family there. Since it is just the two of us, carry-ons only, I tend to book flights with the intention of getting bumped.

Two years ago, we got bumped both ways, and last year, we got bumped one time. Advantage: she has family in Charlotte, so some bumps, we get to see her family for T-giving too! Otherwise, we use the bump tix to see them some other time.

Joe Yonan: I had no idea that there was a cottage industry in bumping. I have to try to get in on this sometime.

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Washington DC: Best gaming the system: Christmas, 2001, flying SFO to MKE on Delta with fiancé. I was a poor grad student, he was an inner city high school teacher. Got to gate, and agent offered us (without us asking) $500 each in flight vouchers to get on next later flight. After conferring with parents and schedules, we said sure, and we'd be willing to be bumped again. Jackpot! took 2nd bump to the tune of $750 each, and asked for food vouchers and wondered if they could get us a discount at flight crew hotel at SFO. Got vouchers and a completely comped room. We're ahead $2500 for being 15 hours delayed. =) To top it off, fiancé headed to Rome shortly thereafter using these free tix, and was also bumped, delaying his trip by 1.5 hours, and they gave him $600 in vouchers. The most priceless part of the whole experience though was fiancé's students, after seeing his clunker of a car in the school parking lot, but knowing that he was traveling A LOT that year, wondering aloud if the car in the driveway at home was really a Benz but that he just wouldn't drive it into the 'hood.

Joe Yonan: These bumping stories are just incredible. Why does this never happen to me?

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Getting to Maine: from here:

95 to jersey turnpike, to garden state parkway, to Tappan Zee Bridge, to I-684, to I-84, to Mass Turnpike, to rte 128 north, then follow local roads north

from: a girl who grew up on the Noath Shoah but went to school down here.

Zofia Smardz: I like this route, too! Thanks!

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New York: Where would you recommend going in the Caribbean during the Christmas break? We're mid-30s, not a couple, no kids.

Also, I take Bolt Bus NY-DC and it's been great. They're owned by Greyhound, so I feel a little better about them. Clean, cheap and convenient.

That being said, Amtrak is having a sale- $49 each way!

Andrea Sachs: That is such a broad question, considering we don't know your taste in vacations. But I am a big fan of St. John's, Grenada, Barbados and Tortola. However, if you want an easy trip (quick nonstop flight, all-inclusive hotel), you should look more toward the Dominican Republic, the Bahamas or Jamaica. You can find packages for those destinations, though prices will be higher for the holiday break.

And I will add your name to the Pro-Bolt column. Thanks!

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Budget trip: My best budget vacation happened last month, when I went to Costa Rica for a week. My sister is a travel writer in Costa, and a friend and I went down as "staff writers," which meant that pretty much everything we did was comp'ed. Hotel rooms, passes to volcanic hot springs resorts, canyoning (rappelling down 250-foot waterfalls), zipline tours, charter fishing... EVERYTHING. In exchange, we wrote some blog posts and took tons of pictures. All we paid for was food that whole trip... so with airfare, I spent a week in Costa for $400!

Yeah. It was awesome.

Joe Yonan: You're talking about the good old press junket. It's against Post policy to take them (or to accept stories based on them), to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest, but it's how a lot of the travel industry works, it's true.

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Memphis or Orlando?: With Orlando:

Outside of Disney world you are about 75-90 minute drive away from either coast. On the east coast you have Daytona, and Kennedy space center. On the west coast you have Tampa and St Petersburg. Thus you could have some variety. Besides Disney World, you have Universal there too.

With Memphis: Seeing Graceland is rather short. This could be done as a weekend getaway. If you do it on the anniversary of his birth or death its nuts. In Memphis you have Beale street where you have live bands. Outside and a drive around you have a few civil war battle sites with Shiloh being the biggest. Three hour drive east you have Nashville (home of country music) and 2 hours west is Little Rock (Clinton's library).

Christina Talcott: Thanks for the tips!

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Rockville, Md.: A group of friends (5) want to rent a house or cabin for next weekend. We used your links to state parks with cabins but what the parks call "full service cabins" (electricity + full kitchen) are scarce so we are now trying to rent a house using VRBO the problem is that none of us are from the area (recently moved here) and we don't know where to look. We know that we want a nature oriented place were we can do some hiking and photography it can be in the coast, forest or near a lake but it needs to be within a 2-3 hour drive of MD or VA. Please help us!

Christina Talcott: I'd try this list of Page County cabins, around Luray and Stanley, VA, about a two-hour drive. Using VRBO or a site like Mountain-Lodging.com, you could focus on the area around the northern part of Shenandoah National Park, in northwestern Maryland (between Thurmont and Cumberland), the eastern portion of the West Virginia panhandle, or south towards Charlottesville.

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Honeymoon in Italy, again: Actually, at the time, I was a contractor who did business development and was always replying to RFPs. Here's to putting those work skills to use in real life.

Joe Yonan: Yep, I thought you must've had experience with RFPs. Love it.

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NoVa: For the free cruise--I DID win a cruise one time, through a cruise company's website. If you want to confirm -- do what I did. I called the cruise company directly -- ignoring any directions in the email.

If it is or isn't a scam -- they SHOULD know about it.

Joe Yonan: Interesting, and worth a shot.

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Re: Penny Pincher: I'm the biggest penny pincher, and one of the biggest things that will drain your money is food. If you're taking a road trip, it's a good idea to take a cooler of cold cuts and sandwich stuff for lunches, bagels and spread for breakfast, and then maybe just enjoy dinner out. Many popular restaurants in large touristy cities are overpriced tourist traps. If you have use of a car, opt for a restaurant in the suburbs. This summer we visited San Francisco and I googled cheap good places to eat and the local paper actually has a guide! We found some very reasonable deals.

Joe Yonan: Yes, food can add up. I love eating out, but I try to save money by booking hotels that have at least little fridges so I can do breakfast myself, and that saves a lot. I don't like to leave the room before I'm caffeinated, anyway, so it works out.

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Moscow, Russia: Love the chats, but need to submit early because of the time difference :) I'm an ex-pat who plans to return home (more or less permanently) to St. Paul, MN, from Moscow at the end of September. Just looked at tickets and was shocked to find that one way costs around $1,000 on the usual sites (Travelocity, cheaptickets). I flew Moscow-St. Paul round trip for $600 back in May - why the huge disparity? Or should I be looking somewhere else?

Also, I know round trip sometimes costs less than one way. I don't plan to return to Moscow in the foreseeable future, but if this is the case (haven't checked yet), can I buy round trip tickets and just never use the return ticket?

Carol Sottili: I think you got lucky with a $600 r/t fare on this route. There must have been a sale or perhaps you were buying fare in advance. It will cost more than $1,000 to buy a round-trip ticket for the end of September, so stick with the one-way ticket. Most airlines state in their contracts of carriage (the legal agreement you enter into when buying an airline ticket) that it is illegal to buy a round-trip ticket and use only one half, but if you take the first part of the trip and don't take the second, there will likely be no ramifications (except re: frequent flier miles).

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Washington, D.C.: Although not quite as impressive as the chatter who got travel agencies to compete over an Italian honeymoon -- wow -- I did get a $240 travel voucher from Southwest for offering to take a flight back to BWI that was one gate over and left 10 minutes after my original flight. My luggage was at BWI when I got there. That was lucky.

Joe Yonan: Ten minutes later and they gave you a voucher? You deserve a "wow," too.

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Alexandria, Va.: Best budget vacation? One year some friends and I rented a family-owned island off the coast of Maine. I used frequent flyer miles to get there; we brought our groceries on the ferry, and ate mussels we picked up ourselves, and had blueberry desserts every night. The total cost of the week was about $400 per person. A bit rustic, since there was no electricity, and we heated our shower water by placing milk jugs in a black plastic trash bag, but watching the shooting stars at night was priceless.

Joe Yonan: Nice.

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Alexandria, Va.: Hey, thinking of going to Niagara Falls (ON side) next February for President's day. I know it'll be cold, but are the falls still spectacular, or are they frozen?

Andrea Sachs: The falls rarely freeze (only under freak circumstances), though ice does form. However, the Maid of the Mist stops running in October, in addition to other attractions that close for the winter. Some stay open, though, to service those insulated souls who venture out to the falls in the dead of winter. Check www.tourismniagara.com for ideas and updates.

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Fort Lauderdale, Fla.: Unfortunately, I very rarely get online at the actual time of the travel chats but always read them later in the day or week. Last week, you had asked about travels during stormy times and I can't help but recall the most "active" trip I had taken, weather-wise. In August, 1992, we took a trip to California, starting in San Diego and working our way north to Sacramento. While there, we encountered three small earthquakes (nothing like the ones we hear about with bridges cracking, etc. ... just some minor trembles making the ground feel as if it were slightly swaying) but came back home to South Florida on August 23rd. We wondered why the lines at the gas station were so long at 11:30pm, only to find out we were in the path of Hurricane Andrew! Trying to buy groceries the next day (we had been away for 16 days) was impossible, as the only things left on the shelves were peanut butter and bagels. Also, trying to do more than 2 weeks worth of laundry before the power went out, as well as storm-proofing our house, created an even more hectic atmosphere. We were fortunate in not having major damage, whereas many of our neighbors were not so lucky. However, that is one trip I will NEVER forget, and not only because of the beauty of our country's west coast!

Joe Yonan: Thanks for weighing in!

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Loose definitions of "on a budget": I'd have to agree with you and some of the previous posters on the Cape Cod story, and similar pieces you've printed in the past.

You said this was Cape Cod "on a budget". You didn't say it was on a LOW budget.

Zofia Smardz: Budgets are relative, remember.

Joe Yonan: Right. Thank you.

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Heathrow to London: There is the Heathrow Express to get from the airport to Paddington (and in reverse), but anyone using the airport should also check out the Heathrow Connect. It's a train that runs slightly slower than the Express because it makes a few stops along the way - but it's just under half the cost of the Express. It's at heathrowconnect.com.

Joe Yonan: Thanks!

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South Jersey: We are planning a trip to Ireland and taking along some of our adult children and spouses. We have the lodging taken care of. We will be flying into Dublin and leaving from Shannon from either EWR or JFK. Flights today are around $675. What is a good fare tracker for this multi-city trip? I've tried Bing and can't find the tracker feature and farecompare.com doesn't seem to do multi-city. Also, what is the best site to find rental car deals for Ireland? Please help, we are leaving in April but it is never too soon to plan. Thank You. Thank You.

Carol Sottili: I don't think there is a fare tracker that does this multi-city tracking, so you'll need to manually check it. Kayak.com is a another good site for watching fares. I'd consider paying up a little to fly nonstop from both cities - price on Aer Lingus for nonstop flights in October, for example, is about $714.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Flight Crew! I hope you can help with a London travel question. My husband has just learned he will need to travel to London in late September. He will be attending an event in Haverhill, a town about 30 minutes away from Cambridge, on Saturday, which is set to end in the evening. He'd like to book a return flight to the U.S. from Heathrow leaving late Sunday morning, but he doesn't know the best way to get back to Heathrow from Haverhill. Searching online shows train and bus options from Cambridge, but I'm wondering what would be the fastest and most reliable. Thanks in advance for any insight you and the chatters can provide!

Zofia Smardz: Not familiar with the best way to do this route, I'm afraid, but I had to pipe up on this question, because my home town is Haverhill, Mass., named after Haverhill, England! (Different pronunciation, though.)

Anyway, let's see if any chatters can help with this question?

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Arlington, Va.: re: hurricane season in the Caribbean

If you're close enough to South America, such as in Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao, you should be fine. Pick your ABC island(s) based on what you want to do (beaches and casinos, historic architecture, snorkeling).

Zofia Smardz: Thanks for this! Just what we think.

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London-Paris Sisters Again: Thanks for all the advice. Sounds like March might be the best choice. We'll just make do on Good Friday. My sister's skipping the London part and joining me in Paris. I've been to Paris but not London. She's never been. It's more a trip to get a taste of Paris than take it all in for her. Maybe we'll grab a train and head out of the city just to gaze at the countryside on Good Friday.

Zofia Smardz: The French countryside is worth gazing at!

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Charlotte, N.C.: Hi all,

My husband, two kids and I would love to visit my sister in London before the year is out. While there, we'd like to make a quick trip to Paris. Do you think November/December is too cold a time of year to enjoy visiting Paris for the first time? Would our experience be noticeably different in warm weather?

Christina Talcott: In a word, yes: Paris in the winter can be cold and rainy, making it a far different place than its summertime incarnation. Depending on how old and/or hardy your kids are, it could be a wet and unpleasant experience. Paris is a wonderful place for little kids, in part, because of its fabulous parks and outdoor playgrounds, which are far more fun when it's nice out. If your kids are older, or if they enjoy museums, taking the Metro, poking around old churches and cute shops and trying new foods, it could be a great time.

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Cruise control: Where can I find objective information on the relative health facilities of various cruise lines and specific ships? I found a good article from the New York Times archives, but it was written in about 2003. I assume there have been many updates since then. My wife is interested in taking her parents on a trans-Atlantic cruise, but they are both in their upper 80s, and the mother has had a stroke and the father is diabetic, so health facilities (and possibility of being evacuated if necessary) are important.

Andrea Sachs: I would check with the CDC for health updates and also Cruisecritic.com. You can post your questions or find health-related articles as well as info on different lines. Also be sure to consult with your in-law's doctors before departing and go over their checklist of meds and emergency contacts. Before booking, contact the cruise and ask about their medical facilities. Finally, you might want to consider a cruise with multiple ports rather than many days at sea, in case they need assistance and must fly home.

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I see London: The chatter's question about traveling during various holidays prompts me to recommend to my fellow travelers to check the dates for school vacations especially when traveling to Europe since a majority of the population there tends to travel at the same time and not only hikes the rates but also crowds trains, roads and tourist sites. I travel to France several times a year and I always check their school calendar before booking my tickets. You can google the info or call the embassy.

Joe Yonan: Excellent point.

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Caribbean? Go to Providenciales: I went there in May 2008 and found it to be incredibly affordable and fun. The snorkeling was fantastic. We stayed in a "condo resort" and paid very little for a full apartment with a money-saving full kitchen and pacing-saving full washer and dryer. There was housekeeping service, a wonderful pool, and more money to spend on fun stuff (rather than a fancy hotel).

Joe Yonan: Thanks!

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Mom's penny-pinching ways: Hi--My mom travels extensively (former United employee), and she's learned to ask to be on the same floor as the "business lounge" when she travels in the U.S. Same room rate, but there's usually free food there!

Also, to save on baggage weight, and laundry costs: she packs her tattiest night garments and underwear, and throws them out as worn/dirty. That way, there's room in her luggage for trinkets without needing that 2nd bag or being overweight on any bags.

Love MOM!

Joe Yonan: Not sure about that undie suggestion, but hard to argue with Mom, isn't it?

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Direct to Puerto Rico?: Does any airline fly nonstop from National to San Juan? US Air's nonstop to Bermuda from National seems to end this month (at least I can't find it after next week).

Thanks!

Andrea Sachs: From what I can see, there are no non-stops between DCA and San Juan. Dulles has nonstops on United; BWI on American.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Week 3 of trying. I have a wedding in November in Cabo. With the hurricane closing in, will prices drop further post-hurricane or should I jump on the $350 out of Newark? With train tickets it's about the same as the $470 I'm seeing out of DCA...

Carol Sottili: I think I'd wait, but not to save money - you're not going to get fares much less than $350 to Cabo. If Hurricane Jimena hits Cabo with 135 mile-per-hour winds, there may not be a wedding there in November. And I'd fly out of Washington National - Newark has more flight delays and cancellations.

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Another Bump Story: The Key West bumpee again, with another story about my second-best bump ever. A couple of years before my Key West experience I and a friend were traveling to Hawaii, again on American. Changing planes at DFW, we got to the DFW to Honolulu gate just as the gate agent announced they needed two volunteers to take the next flight 90 minutes later, in return for $500 bump vouchers each and an upgrade to first class on the later flight.

Free first class on an eight-hour flight plus $500? Easy trade off for waiting 90 minutes. And since our luggage remained on the earlier flight, it was waiting for us at the Honolulu airport.

Joe, you have got to get your bump mojo working.

Joe Yonan: Obviously, I do.

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Richmond, Va.: When in Memphis, you -have- to go see the National Civil Rights Museum, located in the former Lorraine Motel (where Dr. King was assassinated).

Joe Yonan: Thanks!

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Joe Yonan: We're at our gate: Please wait until the captain has turned off the seat-belt sign before getting out of your seat, and be careful removing items from the overhead bins as contents may have shifted during flight.

Thanks for joining us today. Appreciate all the questions; sorry that we couldn't get to more of them, but you folks are fast!

Now for the prize winner: The chatter with the best budget-trip story, who will win the Rest Assured Travel Nook inflatable travel pillow, is ... the one who in Key West finagled not just the vouchers, but the Mustang convertible. Send your mailing information to travel@washpost.com, and we'll get you your prize.

I would normally say see you next week, but we're taking a vacation from chatting next Monday because of the holiday, so we'll "see" you all back here on Sept. 14.

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