Talk About Travel: Travel Staffers Help You Plan Great Escapes

The Flight Crew
Washington Post Travel Section
Monday, September 14, 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, September 14 at 2 p.m.

Browse an archive of previous live travel Q&As.

The next Travel chat will be on Monday, Sept. 21.

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Zofia Smardz: Good afternoon, and welcome back to Travel Talk, all! Did you miss us last week? We had a little withdrawal on this end -- hardly seems like a Monday without a travel chat. But we're back and raring to go. Joining the Flight Crew today is a special guest -- the awe-inspiring Maryann Haggerty, who went around the world in 30 days and lived to write about it in yesterday's Travel section. Were you as blown away by her story as we were? She's here to answer any and all questions you may have about how she pulled off that amazing feat, and how you, too, might make your dream of circumnavigating the globe come true. So feel free to bombard her with questions -- and to share your own stories of your own most breathless trip. Best tale of down-to-the-second organization, whisker-close connections and super-minimalist packing wins a prize. Okay, ready for takeoff. Here we go.

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Oakton, Va.: Hi,

I really enjoyed Maryann Haggerty's RTW travel article.

My wife and I would also like to do some serious international traveling, but we're not sure how to go about it. We're both 63 and healthy, retired and blessed with money to travel. We've been on a short Elderhostel tour to NY City. It was good, but we wouldn't want to be led around by the nose for weeks on end.

Is there a middle ground where we could get good deals on planes and hotels and see what's worth seeing, while keeping our independence? A RTW trip for us would truly be the trip of a lifetime!

Thank you for your help!

Maryann Haggerty: I think the Internet makes it a LOT easier to plan out a trip that gives you whatever degree of independence you want. It takes time--a lot of time--to make your plans, but you can settle on whatever mix you want of working with local operators/just taking a bus/signing up for short packages. If you want to try it out, consider an independent overseas package that also includes someone meeting you at the airport and giving you a half-day tour of the target city. (I've had good experiences with these packages at gotoday.com)

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Logan Circle: My parents, my sister and I have decided to spend Christmas at the beach this year. Our first thought was Key West, but hotel rooms seem to be pretty expensive there over the holidays. Any suggestions for other Caribbean destinations that tend to run a little cheaper? We're hoping for a three star or higher resort with pool and close to beach and nightlife. Casinos are a plus. Willing to spend up to $250 a night.

Carol Sottili: Dominican Republic, Bahamas, Jamaica and Cancun are arguably the cheapest islands. DR and the Bahamas offer casinos. Try Barcelo (www.barcelo.com) in DR. The Comfort Suites Paradise Island is usually cheaper than Atlantis, which has a casino, and you can use all of the facilities at Atlantis.

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Portland: Good Afternoon--

I am going to Boston for the last week of October and am pretty sure I have a good itinerary of what to see and do but want to make sure. Any thing I should make sure to do/see? Any restaurants not to be missed?

Thanks for any and all advice.

Joe Yonan: There's so much to see and do in Boston, it really depends on your interests. I'm assuming you've heard of and decided on the major attractions, so I'll tell you about a few of my favorites that you might not have thought about:

1. The Arboretum in Jamaica Plain. Beautiful walks and views and stunning trees, and in late October you'll still have some colorful foliage, I'd imagine. While you're there, you can rent a sailboat or rowboat on the gorgeous Jamaica Pond. And you could have dinner at Ten Tables.

2. Or, if you want to bike there, you can head over to Cambridge pretty easily, and on Sundays you'll have Memorial Drive to yourself (well, yourself and hundreds of other bikers and bladers and strollers and joggers). Lots of great food near there, including Craigie on Main in Central Square and the fabulously hip Southern place Hungry Mother near the Kendall Square cinema.

3. Hit the serene and stunning Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, the first landscaped cemetery in the country when founded in 1831. (Pick up a great lunch nearby at Sofra, Ana Sortun's delish spot.)

4. Go to the stunning and (relatively) new Institute of Contemporary Art in Fort Point. Eat before or after at Sportello, Barbara Lynch's fun twist on an Italian lunch counter (you can eat dinner there, too), and then go downstairs to Drink, her amazing everything-to-order cocktail bar.

5. For the opposite end of the spectrum, hit the Museum of Bad Art in the basement of the Somerville Theater in the hip Davis Square. Nearby get great homestyle Mexican at Tu y Yo.

6. For a break-the-budget meal of the best sushi of your life, starve yourself all day and then go to O Ya.

Oh, my. So much I've left out. There's the South End, North End, Newbury Street, blah blah blah. But hopefully this is enough to work with.

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Washington, D.C.: Where, in Maryland, Penn. or Virginia is there a 1st class spa with an indoor pool, a la Palm Springs?

Zofia Smardz: In Virginia, Wintergreen resort in the Blue Ridge has indoor and outdoor pools. And of course there's the Homestead, speaking of first class.

Other places, chatters?

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Washington, D.C.: My sister and I are currently planning a month-long trip around the world, so I was thrilled to see Sunday's article! A few questions--ultimately, did you book your trip via an airline alliance or a consolidator? What was your biggest unforeseen expense? And what is the one thing you wish you had packed, but didn't? Thanks so much!

Maryann Haggerty: We booked our trip ultimately using the OneWorld Alliance's Global Explorer ticket. It went where we wanted, when we wanted.

Travel insurance covered what would have been our biggest unforeseen expense, an extra day in Delhi after our plane was cancelled. (On balance, we landed up paying a bit more for the travel insurance than they ended up paying us, but the peace of mind was worth it. It was sheer luck that errors did not begin cascading on us.)

As I wrote in the article, I ended up buying "adventure pants"--those totally geeky but ultra-practical high-tech cargo pants. One more fast-drying high-tech T-shirt, NOT WHITE, might have been welcome, too. (White gets dingy after too many sink washings.)

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Fortaleza, Brazil: In mid-October, my wife and I will be driving a rental car from Detroit (where we'll meet some relatives of mine) to Montreal (where she'll attend a medical conference). We've decided to stop at the Bruce Peninsula, on Lake Huron, and were then going to stop for a couple of nights in Ottawa, a city neither of us has visited, largely because of the glowing reviews of the city in the Lonely Planet. But after reading more about Ottawa, I'm considering instead spending those nights in Toronto, even though it would involve extra driving. Are you familiar with either city? I did see the recent item on Montreal in the fall and winter in the Post. Thanks!

Christina Talcott: It actually looks like Toronto's a better mid-point than Ottawa. We've run numerous stories on Toronto, including one on a couple of art museums and Toronto in winter. See more Canada stories here.

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Potomac, Md.: Leaving out of any of the three Washington/Baltimore airports - which airlines have non-stop flights to which Caribbean islands?

We would like to go away to a Caribbean island for 4-5 days in January 2010, we are flexible about the island but want a non-stop flight.

Suggestions? Advice?

Carol Sottili: I'll take a quick stab at this:

BWI offers the most nonstop flights to Caribbean. AirTran and USA 3000 fly to Cancun; Air Jamaica flies to Montego Bay, Jamaica; USA 3000 flies to Punta Cana, DR; AirTran and American fly to San Juan, PR.

Out of Dulles, United flies to both San Juan and Cancun.

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Reston, Va.: I loved Maryann Haggerty's article about her around-the-world trip, but I missed the detailed info the Post usually supplies. Can we get any information on the consolidator and airline she used, hotels she stayed in, and some idea of what the whole thing cost?

Maryann Haggerty: For extensive detail on which flights we took, which hotels we stayed in, etc., please see my blog, http://tinyurl.com/rtw29.

We used OneWorld Global Explorer (3 continent) ticket. I checked with a couple consolidators, but this just worked better for us. They are currently quoting rates of Economy, USD 3,510; Business, USD 7,740; First USD 10,440.

I admit that I have not added up the bottom line cost on the trip. I just fear it would be a buzz kill. Hotels averaged just under $100 (discounting a couple splurges), meals were a lot less than we spend at home (discounting a real splurge for an anniversary dinner.) Internal transport began to add up--for instance, a driver from the Amman airport to Petra was $100. A bus would have been a lot less, but didn't fit our schedule.

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WAS: Hello travel crew! Do you have any thoughts on what a good fare is from DC to Argentina in the winter/spring? Thanks!

Christina Talcott: I'm seeing tickets starting around $870 year-round, which sounds about average.

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Alternate Route to Boston: Thanks to the poster who gave directions for the alternate route to Boston. I drove that way a couple of weeks ago (unfortunately was horrible rain on the way there but beautiful the day we came back) and it's sooooo much better than I95/NJTP route. Some parts are definitely beautiful if it's nice outside. Plus you save on tolls and it is possibly a shorter drive without traffic. Thanks again.

Zofia Smardz: Glad to hear this! Was this the route through Pennsylvania? I'm heading north later this week -- may be time to give it a try!

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Eye Street, NW: Hi Crew -

Great issue yesterday! Submitting early with a question on what to do in Miami for two women of a certain age not interested in the South Beach scene and who like to be asleep by midnight! I have a business trip to Key Biscayne in November and will be meeting up with a friend in Miami for two nights. We like gardens, theatre, art, shopping, and dining well. Key Biscayne seems too remote to be a good lodging location, but where should we stay? Do we need a rental car? Thanks for your help!

Christina Talcott: There's so much to do in the Miami area, you might not even have time for South Beach. Here's a list of Florida stories, with several recent ones on Miami.

You might enjoy Coconut Grove (see ideas here). If historic homes are more your taste than shopping and the Science Museum, you might like getting to know industrialist James Deering by visiting Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, his lavish home and estate right on the water at the north end of Coconut Grove.

For dining ideas, here is Tom's Postcard from Miami, though since it's from Dec. 2006, there may have been some changes to prices and menus, so be sure to call before you go.

A few more ideas here, including a recommendation to stay at the gorgeous Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables. It can be pricey, but it's currently offering a variety of packages, including spa, golfing, discounted cooking classes and dining. (I think staying off Key Biscayne is a smart move if you want easy access to some of the city's attractions - anyone disagree?)

As for the rental car issue, if you plan your activities around the public transportation (including the extensive bus system), it's possible to get by without a car, especially if you truly plan to be in bed before midnight, since there seems to be limited service after 11. Anyone have other suggestions?

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Washington, D.C.: Hi -- I'll have 45 minutes on an upcoming trip to connect from a domestic to an international flight in Miami. My bags will be checked, and I'll already have the boarding pass. Am I absolutely crazy?

Joe Yonan: That does seem a little tight. Can you tell us the airlines you're flying?

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Boston: Referencing back to Zofia's article a few weeks back about bad food in Paris. My husband and I just returned from Italy--Rome, Florence, and Bologna. In Rome and Florence I spent a lot of time planning out restaurant visits according to reviews and guides, and we had really good food, for the most part. In Bologna, all the guidebooks said, "It's really hard to get a bad meal in Bologna!" Well, guess what, they are wrong. It is really easy to get a bad meal there same as everywhere else. My take now is that if I want to have excellent food I had better do the legwork beforehand. It occurs to me that this is what I would do here, as well--if I wanted a special or memorable meal, you can bet I would be referencing chowhound, the Globe, Zagats, etc for the lowdown. I think the saddest part to me was that for the most part the ingredients used in the meals we had in Italy were of a higher quality than you get here, but when they were used indifferently that is what the results were as well.

washingtonpost.com: An Unsavory Holiday In France (Post, Aug. 23)

Zofia Smardz: I guess we've both learned the lesson -- if you want to eat well while traveling, plan, plan, plan! Thanks for sharing your experience.

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Washington, D.C.: When the idea of flying to Australia comes up, people always suggest breaking up the trip with a day or two along the route -- maybe Hawaii or Japan or Fiji.

But how do you do that without doubling your airfare? Are there package deals or travel agents that can build in that long layover?

Carol Sottili: One of the problems is that you have to find airlines that either serve all the destinations, or who have codeshares with other airlines. Try one of the airline's vacation package arms - www.qantasvacations.com, for example. And price it out in segments, ie Washington to Los Angeles, Los Angeles to Hawaii, Hawaii to Australia - this can sometimes be cheaper than doing it all on one ticket.

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Nashville: Hi Travel Gurus -

I'm heading down to St. John (USVI) for nine days in early November and wanted to see what recommendations you all have for my "must do" list.

Thanks!

Andrea Sachs: For St. John, you will never want to go inside -- or go to sleep. The island has so much protected land, so take advantage and go hiking. Check with the Virgin Islands National Park for trails and ranger programs. Some of the best hikes are around sugar mill ruins and end up in the coves, for a nice mid-hike dip. Also, head into town, which is safe and so lovely to wander through. You will find loads of bohemian shops and fresh seafood restaurants. Another fun adventure is the Underwater Snorkel Trail at Trunk Bay. The aquatic signage is a bit faded, but it's amusing to dive down to read about the fish and ecology. Also, go for dinner or cocktails at Caneel Bay, founded by a Rockefeller. I stayed at the Mayo Campgrounds, one of the pioneers of eco-lodges. They have gorgeous beaches and simple dining, if you want to swing by and check it out. You can also take the ferry over to St. Thomas for a day outing. But don't stay too long or you will start to miss St. John.

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Baltimore: My husband and I are taking a 16-hour flight in a few months. We are both a bit large, and we were thinking that with a flight this long, buying an extra seat so that we would have three seats total would make the trip more comfortable for everyone. (Business class would also work, but it costs the same as about 5 coach tickets per person!)

I have no idea how one actually goes about buying an extra seat. None of the online ticket venues have "extra seat" as an option, and when I search for "purchasing extra seat" all I get are articles about how some airlines are requiring that certain passengers buy two seats, but nothing on how to actually do it.

Do you or any of the chatters know how this works?

Joe Yonan: Our first thought was that you would probably have to call the airline, but then I tried a couple of things online, both without trouble. On Orbitz, I looked for a ticket to Australia for three travelers, and when I filled in the names, I used mine, my sisters, and for the third empty-seat ticket I repeated my sister's name. It let me do this -- and get all the way through the process to the "purchase" button. (Boy, I was tempted, but it was a heck of a fare for the "three" of us.) I tried on AA.com, too, with similar results -- this time just searching for two passengers and repeating my name. So that seems to work.

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Atlanta: Last second fun? We were in Spain, had to get up way early to get to Malaga (2 hour drive, if I remember correctly) to return car, catch plain to Madrid. So, we get to the car return place, and there's no one there to return the car to. Well, so eventually someone comes on by, with seemingly not one iota of the idea we're all returning cars at an AIRPORT, so maybe we need to go somewhere. So we return the car. We get to the airport and we check in, then we're sort of told that they're not sure what's going on- they can't assign us seats. So, we're confused, we get to the counter and there's basically an angry mob waiting for flights to Madrid. Basically all of us are Americans, and trying to get back to the states. SO, well, we're just all waiting. we didn't even check our bags since we weren't allowed to cause we aren't sure why...but we weren't So we have our bags, are waiting in a crowd (hardly a line). and there's someone saying something, but we're in the back. I keep leaving my husband to find out what she's saying. then I go and ask her what's going on - and she says: we're calling names. I think there was maybe a strike? and they canceled some flights? So, we're waiting and waiting. and well, while I'm going up front (leaving husband with the bags) she calls my name and my husband's name (and plenty of people think it's cause I spoke with her a few minutes before, but I didn't give her my name, I think it's cause we had first class tickets - from an upgrade - for the flight to the states).

So there's like 2 minutes till the plane's supposed to take off, we run thru the airport, they don't even xray our stuff (this was in 2000). We just leave our bags right near the plane (gate check) and hope for the best. So we get on the plane. Then a crew member gets on, he argues with the pilot for a while. Then, we have no idea what's going on. some money was exchanged (my husband thought they were arguing about a poker game or something like that) and the pilot goes to the cockpit and the crew member gets off. So we're in the air, we get food (so unusual these days). feeling kinda sorry for all those people who aren't going to make their connections to the states. so then we're ready to land, they make the announcement - but we all have trays and food in front of us! we don't know what to do - we are good Americans, who know we're supposed to have our trays up and our seats in their upright position. But so we're stuffing things in the seatback, etc.

Our flight to the states was less eventful, but all those antics - especially so early in the AM, gave us a great story.

Zofia Smardz: That's a hilarious story. Glad you made your flight, and thanks for sharing!

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Arlington, Va.: I enjoyed the RTW story. I think I may do that one day. I suspect I would take longer than a month but I would certainly see the main sights wherever I happened to visit. I didn't realize the RTW travelers were supposed to be snobs that avoid the main reason for going to any particular country. Why didn't the author want to visit Thailand though? Is it just because it is what you are "supposed" to do? Thailand is a great place for a visit. Personally I think I would skip the beaches and spend more time on culture and history. Stop at Angkor. Maybe try to see some of the Silk Road cities. Perhaps Turkey or Greece. Maybe North Africa.

Maryann Haggerty: When we were planning the trip, protestors had taken control of the Bangkok International Airport and the political situation was hazy. I do not like civil wars--I once missed one by a few days, and it is a weird experience.

On top of that, Thailand just wasn't on our must-do life lists, and Bali was. We made that trade-off in the interest of a sane schedule.

That said, when (note not if!) we do a more intensive southeast Asia trip, I know we'll base a big part of it out of Thailand. (which was another reason not to bend over backwards to include in this trip)

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Harrisburg, Pa.: Not that I expect anyone cares too much, yet I will update my Amtrak experience. I am the long time NARP member who in over 30 years of riding trains has never been asked to show my NARP membership card. In fact, I didn't have one even though I purchase tickets online using my NARP member ID number. When I could not produce the ID, the conductor charged me an extra $4.50 and gave me a receipt and told me I would be reimbursed at the station once I received an NARP ID card. NARP mailed me the card, yet when I went to get the refund, the station employees laughed and told me the receipt the conductor gave me was useless and they could not issue any refund. Anyway, I mailed the receipt along with the explanation, and Amtrak wrote stating they would be mailing me my refund. Thank you for your help in alerting NARP to this and to NARP for mailing me a membership card.

Joe Yonan: Glad it worked out!

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Netherlands follow-up: I'm the poster who wrote in a few weeks ago looking for advice on beaches in the Netherlands. Just wanted to let the chatters know that my husband and I took a tram from Delft to Scheveningen on the coast, a location someone from the chat had recommended. The weather and scenery were lovely all through the ride, until we got to the beach, at which point it started spontaneously hailing ice the size of golf balls. Ah well.

It did not hail the next day, however, when we rented bicycles and took the ferry from Amsterdam to Amsterdam Noord, then rode through the countryside to Broek in Waterland. Our favorite thing, highly recommended.

Christina Talcott: Thanks for checking back in! I'm so glad you enjoyed your trip, despite that nasty hail. The bicycle/ferry excursion sounds lovely.

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Travel insurance & flu: Is there travel insurance available if you get stuck in another country with the (swine) flu, or your plans get canceled because there's an outbreak where you are going?

Maryann Haggerty: Yes, if you get sick and stuck. Yes, if flights/tours are cancelled. Read the fine print on the insurance policy before you buy. (ie, it won't likely cover you just get nervous)

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Seattle: Hello everyone, I have submitted this question a couple of times and as of yet have not seen an answer. With the cost of everything going up from airline "fees" to rental cars, I was shocked to see the price Hawaii is charging for rental cars, the funny thing is the bigger the car the less it cost! I found this website that offers very reasonable rental rates at all of the major companies, it is http://www.discounthawaiicarrental.com/index.htm they do not require a credit card you pay when you pick-up the car, I was wondering if anyone out there has used them. We are going to Hawaii (big island) in Nov. and do not want to show-up to pick up the car and have sticker shock.

Thanks.

Carol Sottili: Anyone out there used them? I believe they act as a broker for car rental agencies - they don't have their own fleet.

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Bologna, Italy: Hi! I'm currently looking at tickets to go home to Maryland for Christmas - right now I'm looking at $920 round trip, more or less. I know that the general wisdom a few months ago was to wait and see, and I've been rewarded for procrastinating on buying tickets in the past ($620 round trip Bologna-Atlanta with a layover at CDG!), but I'm not sure if that's still the case.

(Incidentally, the tickets prices from Milan and Rome aren't very different, and the price of train tickets these days usually renders them more expensive unless the price difference more than $100.)

Carol Sottili: Airlines are cutting flights, which generally means fewer seats and higher prices. There will be sales, but they are less likely for holiday travel. That said, $920 does sound high. I'd track it for at least a few more weeks before swiping my credit card. Have you looked at Eurofly into New York? Go to www.euroflyusa.com.

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Shuttle service between downtown San Jose and SFO?: We'll be renting a car in San Jose for our trip in California soon. Could you please provide a link for shuttle service between downtown San Jose and SFO so we can get to the airport after dropping off our car? Thanks!

Andrea Sachs: The SFO Web site lists a slew of shuttle options: www.flysfo.com/web/page/tofrom/transp-serv. Also check out the options on this site: www.sftravel.com/shutl.html. You might also look into taking public transportation, such as CalTrain.

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San Antonio, Tex.: I want to give a "shout out" to the Sixt rental car company in Germany. I just returned from a 4 week trip to Europe that included 4 days in the Mosel Valley with my younger son for some private wine tastings. He reserved a car in a Rail Europe train/rental car combo. When we got off our Rhine River cruise in Cologne, he inquired at a souvenir kiosk where the Hertz office was. The kind owner spent a good half hour on her cell phone trying to track down our car. Finally we took a bus to the train station where there was a central rental car pick-up office. The friendly person there discovered that Hertz had no record of our confirmed reservation and no cars. She called every single company until she located the last car in Cologne--a mini car at Sixt. At the Sixt office we signed the rental agreement and were getting directions to our destination. Because the internet printout was in German, the entire staff was helping. While this was going on a man came in with a car transport of rental cars he had picked up. A staff member suggested that we needed a car with GPS and grabbed the pile of keys and left, returning shortly with a different car. We ended up with a new BMW with GPS--AT THE SAME PRICE AS THE MINI CAR! Hats off to Sixt car rental and all the nice people who helped us that day.

Zofia Smardz: Here's to you, Sixt! What a class act. Glad you had such a positive experience, and thanks for telling us about it!

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Burke, Va.: My husband and I are going to Italy during the first two weeks of October. We'll be traveling to Rome, Venice and Capri. I have no idea what kind of clothes to pack. We'll have one piece of luggage each. Any suggestions?

Thanks.

Joe Yonan: Well, the weather looks like it's generally going to be gorgeous, if historical patterns hold true. On average, the weather in Rome that time of year has the highs in the mid-70s and lows in the mid-50s. In Venice, it's a little chillier, with highs in the mid-60s and lows in the low-50s. Capri is mild: Highs in the low-70s and lows in the mid-50s.

So it seems a little layering is in order: light things you can wear during the day (with comfortable shoes) while you're walking around, but lightweight wraps and jackets for nighttime. On Capri, of course, you should consider wearing those cropped pants: What are those called again? The name's escaping me ... ;-)

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Burke, Va.: Close connection...

By far the closest connection I've ever had was when my wife and I were coming back from Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. Our connection time was just over an hour (booked through a 3rd party), but I had never been told about the customs problems at IAH, so we stood in the line for nearly an hour even though we had just a single bottle of tequila to declare. By the time we got through the ridiculous line, we had to run from the international terminal to terminal C, zipping past George H.W. Bush's statue with our terminal gate just in sight as our departure time ticked past. We made it onto the jetway just as the door closed behind us. To be sure, we will never go through IAH internationally without at least 90 minutes to connect, and probably more if we can swing it.

Zofia Smardz: Close call for sure!

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Baltimore: I have free tickets on Southwest that expire in November and a free hotel stay. What would you recommend as a quick 3-day weekend to use both?

Andrea Sachs: Whenever I earn a free ticket on Southwest, I always try to fly as far as possible, which means the West Coast. Since you only have a short time, choose a nonstop flight to a place you've never visited before, or have always wanted to return to. For example, I might hop over to Seattle or Albuquerque or Austin or Jackson, Miss. A friend of mine also uses only one portion of the ticket and pays the cheap one-way fare, then uses the other half for another trip.

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Alexandria, Va.: For spa's in PA, I'd also highly recommend Bedford Springs. It's been newly restored, and has a beautiful indoor pool that I think is one of the first ever built in the U.S.

Zofia Smardz: Terrific, thanks!

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D.C.: A couple years ago Travel published a detailed guide to traveling light and packing smart. Any chance of providing a link to those stories, maybe augmented with your best current advice?

Christina Talcott: Here's a link to that issue. Hope it's useful!

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Fairfax, Va.: Hey there,

Any advice on the best place to stay near Manuel Antonio park in Costa Rica? We're going in January and looking for a moderately priced, but nice place. Thanks!!

Maryann Haggerty: Obviously there are a zillion places, but I have greatly enjoyed the Karahe Hotel, which is on the beach side in Quepos, rather than the cliff side, and is a 10 minute walk--yes, walk--along the beach to the park. (Extra charge for a beach front room there was worth it.)

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Chicago: Most breathless trip? United has been offering same-day returns with it's weekly e-fares; so last month I flew to NYC for the day (via Newark)for $141. I was in Times Square by 10 am, bought a ticket to Mary Stuart- matinee at the Broadhurst Theater then headed uptown to the Metropolitan Museum. Went through the Egyptian galleries, and saw the temporary exhibit "Michelangelo's First Painting." I grabbed a sandwich at a deli - and headed to the theater, where I saw a brilliant performance. At the curtain fall - I ran to the subway (ack! entrance closed! - found detour) Penn Station, and back to my 6:44 pm flight - where I was finally able to enjoy that sandwich I bought. (I think it's a fair trade-off, a few too few hours, but no hotel bill or bags to pack! I hope to do it again.)

Zofia Smardz: I'm breathless just reading about it. Thanks!

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Washington, D.C.: I would like to take a vacation early next year. I enjoy traveling in winter because destinations tend to be less crowded and there is still plenty to do indoors. I don't mind the cold. Last winter, my husband and I had a fabulous time in Vienna. Any suggestions for Feb 2010 travel?

Zofia Smardz: A little hard to answer because you don't tell us much about yourself and your likes and dislikes, and because, well, there's a whole big world out there. If you liked Vienna, you would probably also love Prague and Budapest, or a little further north, Warsaw and Krakow in Poland, or Berlin. But if you wanted a change of pace this time around, and maybe a little bit warmer weather, you might consider going further south. The Dalmatian coast is beautiful, for instance, or there's southern Italy.

Chatters, what do you recommend?

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Guides and world travel in VA: Maryann and the Crew: I'm intrigued about hiring private drivers/guides, and was wondering if you could share any resources or experiences. We're heading to Argentina and Chile, and we want to make the most of our short stays there by hiring a guide for the day. And, of course, we're looking for a great guide at the best price, so want to make the most of our research.

Maryann Haggerty: I've had generally good experiences with drivers/guides, when needed. Essentially, what you're looking for is a local travel agent--and the Internet makes them easy to finds, if you have patience. Try tripadvisor, thorntree, various guidebooks, etc., for recommendations. Don't forget to ask your friends, too.(Warning: If you are staying at an expensive Western-style hotel, you do NOT want to use the driver they recommend; it will cost 3 times as much as the going rate. A local hotel, however, is a good resource to find trustworthy drivers.)

That said: Buenos Aires and Santiago are both cities where you don't need a guide or driver; getting around is just SOOO easy. Cabs and public transit will do it. And if you're going, for instance, to the wilds of Patagonia, an adventure trekking company might or might not be a good place to look.

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Warrenton, Va.: Submitting early as I have a work schedule that won't allow me to participate in the chat.

Due to kid and school schedule, we're going to Cairo in June 2010. When's the best time to buy airline tickets? And can you recommend a travel insurance company?

Thanks in advance!

Carol Sottili: Go to www.insuremytrip.com, www.quotewright.com or www.squaremouth.com to compare insurance policies.

As for when to buy, start tracking fares now on a site such as www.bing.com/travel or www.kayak.com to get an idea of what's high/low. And consider flying out of New York - Egypt Air flies nonstop from JFK to Cairo.

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Bethesda, Md.: My husband and I are heading to Norfolk this Saturday, just for an overnight to visit my aunt. I'm looking for something for the two of us to do while there or on the drive down or back that we haven't done before. In the running: Nauticus, Chrysler Museum, Jamestown, a James River plantation or two. Anyone have an opinion, yea or nay, about any of these, or other suggestions?

Zofia Smardz: I vote for the James River plantations. They're beautiful, and the drive (and the river)is gorgeous. That said, Jamestown is also very interesting. Your vote, folks?

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Arlington, Va.: Best story I have on tight connections....

I was scheduled to fly from Canberra to Sydney and then a flight with one stop to London to make a morning meeting on a Friday. My connection in Sydney was pretty tight.

Thanks to some helpful Qantas people in Canberra, they got me the last seat and were just able to check my bags earlier flight that allowed me to go from the domestic to the international terminal with plenty of time.

And when I showed up in London, I was able to check in to my hotel earlier, so that I could shower and attend the meeting without smelling like old socks.

Zofia Smardz: Whew! Especially that old socks part. . .:-)

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Rockville, Md.: I've had a couple of people tell me that the travel discounts (hotels, cars, etc) available through AAA make becoming a member worth the cost. In your experience, are AAA's discounts better than what I might find by searching the web on my own?

Carol Sottili: If you don't yet qualify for AARP membership, it's a good deal, especially for hotel room discounts. I have found that membership in either group gets you about the same discount. Sometimes hotels will offer their own promos that are cheaper than AAA rates, but if there is no ongoing sale, AAA rates are almost always cheaper than best available.

Maryann Haggerty: Can I add to this? You can frequently get the AAA discount at hotels that don't market via the Internet--ie, roadside motels in mid-America. I more than save my annual AAA membership with these discounts on road trips.

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Help me! : I'm going to Turkey on my well-needed vacation. I've decided that since I'll be alone I'd like to take a tour. Just a few questions: 1. If the tour company is a member of the ASTA (their American branch guy is a member) should I take that to mean that it's a reasonably safe bet that they won't steal my money? (they are members of TURSAB as well). 2. have you or anyone heard of One Nation Travel or All Istanbul Travel Tours?

Andrea Sachs: If they are an ASTA member, you should feel confident that you will not be fleeced. I have not heard of those two tours, but check consumer-feedback sites for real-life comments, or ask the companies if you can contact past travelers for a critique. Also check the Better Business Bureau for any complaints or infractions.

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Someone else's legwork: About to head to Rome and Florence and admit that I haven't done enough research on where to dine. So I'd love the benefit of some suggestions from the chatter!

Zofia Smardz: Are you out there still, chatter?

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Around the World?: Hey Maryann - your trip sounds amazing. We are planning a similar 30-day trip, but we have a catch: 2 younger kids (ages 5 and 3). They are well-behaved and good travelers on planes, etc. If you had kids along, what about your trip would you have changed? What did you see that was really kid-friendly (I'm thinking India would be good with kids, but I don't know)? And for the sheer "this'll wow 'em at home" factor, what was the most amazing sight/experience on your trip.

Maryann Haggerty: If I had kids, I would seriously consider a shorter journey --ie, still 30 days, but fewer stops and fewer plane trips, perhaps an exploration of one region instead of the whole circumnavigation. This much plane time and running around is physically trying. It made us grumpy sometimes, and we had control of the situation. My first recommendation would be Latin America, where jet lag is not a problem, costs are reasonable and everyone loves kids. You could see great things, experience different cultures, and not exhaust everyone.

The biggest wow? That could be that we were at the Taj Mahal AT DAWN, BEFORE ANYONE ELSE GOT THERE. So our lovely pix have no other tourists in them. That, or Petra, which was breathtaking.

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Free Beer In Boston: Neither is exactly a restaurant, but the person visiting Boston next month might enjoy taking the tours (and the samples of their microbrews) of either the Samuel Adams brewery or the Harpoon brewery.

Joe Yonan: Cheers!

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Timonium, Md.: Good afternoon, Flight Crew: During the last forum session, there was discussion about means of transportation from Heathrow to central London. I'd like to offer another option. The National Express offers a door to door shuttle bus service called dot2dot at a price comparable to the Express. Two benefits of the bus service are an opportunity to see London neighborhoods not seen from the Express or Underground and having someone else lug your suitcases. Last week, the time from the airport to Mayfair District was less than one hour. The buses hold no more than 10 passengers so there are not nearly the number of stops as a transit bus. Another email two weeks ago recommended asking for the business lounge floor at hotels to save money; suggesting that the room prices are the same. As an elite member of both Marriott and Hilton, I know it isn't so. Hotels use a pricing model similar to the airlines and there is a premium for the "free" food and drink in the lounges.

Zofia Smardz: Thank you for this very useful information, on both scores.

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Arlington, Va.: For the Canada driver I would say that Ottawa is definitely worth visiting for a couple of days. There is not as much to do as in Toronto, but there is still plenty to keep you busy for a short time. I was there in summer which was beautiful, but October shouldn't be too bad. You can visit Parliament, the National Gallery of Art, and just across the bridge in Hull, QC is the Museum of Civilization which is interesting. It's a pretty little are. You can take a boat trip on the Ottawa River or the Rideau Canal. With only a day or two Ottawa might be a better choice than Toronto which really requires more time to see. Plus if they are going via Lake Huron it may be a more direct drive to Montreal than swinging down to Toronto.

Christina Talcott: Thanks for the Ottawa recommendations, and great point about a smaller place needing less time to explore. I like how you think!

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Richmond, Va.: Hi there! I have a bit of a challenge for you guys today that I am hoping you can help us out with...My fiancé and I are planning a 5-6 night get-a-way in early December and are trying to figure out where to go. Here are our requirements/desires:

Date: Early December Sat or Sun - Sat

Destination: Caribbean resort or area, not a long flight away. We can leave from either DC or Richmond and would prefer a direct flight or keep travel time minimal.

Hotel: We have done all-inclusive and liked the ease about it, but are willing to try another hotel or resort if we can easily get around without a car and feel safe.

Budget: Ideally we would spend $2K maximum for the two of us (includes most meals and drinks), but if we got over a few hundred its okay because I'll consider it my birthday gift.

Our Personalities: I like dining, bars/lounges, relaxing on the beach, pools, snorkeling and dancing. My fiancé would like us to have beach/area activities available as well.

Can you help us?

Thank you so much!!!

Carol Sottili: I'd fly to Cancun and then go to a resort farther south in Playa del Carmen or Tulum. Try the Dreams chain - www.dreamsresorts.com. I just priced out a six-night package with nonstop flights out of BWI, and came up with a price of $2,200 for two.

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D.C.: I was looking at flights to Montana on Orbitz, and some of the connecting times in Minneapolis were only 30 minutes (NWA and Delta). Is that crazy? I won't be checking luggage.

Maryann Haggerty: I just returned from a long weekend in Montana (and North Dakota); it was fascinating. I hope you enjoy it.

And with all the time I have spent on planes this summer, I feel qualified to answer this: 30 minutes is a legal connection, but it is nerve-wracking. Every minute your plane is late taking off, you are worried.

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Arlington, Va.: The large travelers flying for 16 hours should contact some consolidators who specialize in business class seats. There are some real deals out there these days as companies cut their travel budgets. Once in a while airlines will run 2 for 1 sales on business class seats as well. It will most likely be more expensive than 3 coach seats but depending on the airline the level of comfort will be a great deal higher as well. I am a small person. But I would never fly that distance in economy. I either use miles for a business class ticket or upgrade or bite the bullet and pay.

Joe Yonan: Thanks for this.

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Italy Bound : I'm going to Italy next week for 10 days as part of a group tour. We're spending one or 2 nights in each city and then moving on. Any advice for how/what to pack when I'll essentially be living out of a suitcase for 10 days? Also, any advice for a good, inexpensive folding bag I can put in my suitcase just to use for the return trip? Thanks!

Christina Talcott: Maryann's article on her round-the-world trip had lots of great suggestions for what to pack if you're living out of a suitcase. You can't go wrong with some lightweight, fast-drying staples like undies, tees and other base-layers that pack up small and can be washed in a hotel sink if need be. Bring a zip baggie of powdered clothes detergent and a small clothesline, if possible. If you need to do a quick wash, do it the first night you get to a city to it'll be sure to be dry by the time you leave two days later.

Bring a lightweight trench, jacket or other overcoat and some lightweight sweaters, maybe a fleece and other tops for layering since the weather there this time of year can be as unpredictable as it is here in Washington.

Shoes are always a challenge; in Italy in October, you want to ditch the sneakers in favor of dressier but still comfy walking shoes, if you have them.

Now, unless you're going to have people (porters, bus drivers) whose job it is to carry your luggage from coach to hotel room and back, you'll want to make sure you can carry it yourself up at least one flight of stairs.

As for a packable bag, there are so many out there now. I have this Baggallini tote and have used it on all kinds of trips, leaving it in the bottom of my suitcase/backback till I need it. It's washable - which was key when I dropped it and shattered a wine bottle - and is sturdy enough to withstand getting checked (sans wine!). Magellans, Travelsmith and travel stores (plus even Target and Container Store) carry a variety of packable bags in a range of prices.

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New York: For the whisker-close connection question: I was flying from DC to Seattle, via New York. I was switching airlines in NYC, where I was also meeting friends. After problems on the ground in DC, we arrived in NYC with 15 minutes before the flight to Seattle was supposed to take off. I had informed a wonderful flight attendant of my predicament and she let me exit the plane first. I was told that I'd need to go through security again. I (who was at the time undergoing physical therapy on my knees) somehow ran through the pain to security, got through, and arrived at the gate where my friends were waiting and doing a one-step forward, two steps backwards dance to try to delay boarding. They took one look at me, and saw that I had forgotten my suitcase. It was back at security. I ran back (by this time in much pain) to security, grabbed the bag and sprinted to the plane. They'd made my friends get on by that point. I boarded, the doors were shut, and off we went.

Zofia Smardz: A real powering-through story! (Forgetting my suitcase at security is exactly the kind of thing I would do.)

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Cancun Caribbean?: Since when is Cancun a Caribbean Island? Wouldn't it be a Mexican Island?

Carol Sottili: Yes, Cancun is not the Caribbean, I know that. But it's a warm and tropical destination that is often lumped in with Caribbean islands because of similar vacation experience.

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Alexandria, Va.: For the person going to Boston, we were there in June and if you're a sports fan at all, I would highly recommend taking the guided tour of Fenway Park - you get tickets right at the ticket booth of the stadium.

Joe Yonan: It's true: Boston is a sports-lover's paradise.

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Oneworld vs. SkyTeam: I have 133K on NWA/Delta. How much longer will I be saving for a RTW ticket?

Maryann Haggerty: It looks like you might be closer than you think. It appears an economy RTW ticket on Skyteam is 180,000 miles; business class is 280,000.

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Arlington, Va.: Your "Long Weekend" article on Cumberland Island from August 30th sure came in handy for us! We were already planning a 4-day weekend at Jekyll Island and had friends joining us there for a couple of those days. Since they are not the "beach-o-philes" that we are, we wanted to find something to do with them that did not have to do with a beach. After reading the Cumberland Island article, I forwarded it to them and they were enthusiastic about going on a day-trip there. We had a great time! We wished that we could have gone to the north end of the island to see the attractions there, but without motorized vehicles permitted, there is no way to get there and back to the dock on a day trip. However, in a presentation at Sea Camp at the end of our visit, the park ranger mentioned that the Park Service finally had permission to start motorized tours to the north end of the island. (The African Baptist Church where John F. Kennedy Jr. was married and other historical areas associated with the Carnegies and the freed slave population are located up there). You might want to write a follow-up article then.

washingtonpost.com: The Long Weekend: Exploring Cumberland Island, Ga. (Post, Aug. 30)

Joe Yonan: Thanks! So glad it helped. And thanks for the follow-up info.

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Spaville: I concur with Bedford Springs and also recommend the Hershey Hotel.

Zofia Smardz: Great, thanks!

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Arlington, VA: Hello!

I am going to the Loire Valley in a couple of weeks, and due to poor planning on my part, I arrive at CDG at 6:15 am but my train to Tours does not leave the airport until 1:30 pm. Is there anything to do at the airport? I am going to have my big suitcase with me, so I don't think that leaving the airport is a viable option. Any ideas? I had a great massage at the airport in Amsterdam, but that does not appear to be an option at CDG. Any ideas are most welcome!

Joe Yonan: You absolutely can get a massage at CDG, at a spa called Be Relax. You can also get a manny/pedi, hair removal (no judgments!), or a facial -- even one described as "Anti Jet Lag, the ultra-hydrating, shock treatment to combat fatigue." Shock treatment? Wow! There's also a men's lounge for facials etc. geared to men, a Playstation area for video game addicts, and of course shops galore.

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Washington, D.C.: I'm going to a wedding over Columbus Day weekend in West Palm Beach Florida. Any suggestions as to what to do during my free time? The wedding is Saturday but I'm not leaving until Monday morning. Thanks!

Andrea Sachs: In West Palm, check out the Norton Museum of Art, McCarthy's Wildlife Sanctuary and CityPlace, for shopping, eating and drinking. Also stroll historic Clematis Street and take a manatee eco-tour. Once you have checked off those attractions, head over to Palm Beach, one of my favorite places in Florida. When I was there, I rented a bike and just cruised around, staring agape at the manses. You should also visit the Flagler Museum and pop into the high-end shops. And don't forget the legendary Breakers hotel. Non-guests can eat and sip there, but no one has to know the truth.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi - I've booked a trip to Rio de Jeneiro and I'm looking for any advice you have regarding where to stay, safety, public transport, excursions etc.

We're there for a week and are thinking about the Ipanema or Leblon areas to stay.

Many thanks!

Maryann Haggerty: I vote for Ipanema. I thought the beaches there were cooler.

Also, I felt safe on public transport in Rio, including both rail and buses. They were quite easy to deal with, as was walking.

Rio of course is a city of both extreme poverty and affluence. As a tourist, you won't be dealing with "City of God" unless you choose to do so. But you also don't want to be stupid--ie, don't flash cash around, leave expensive cameras on the beach, etc.

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Connections in Miami: If both flights are with the same airline, not only should the traveler be in the same terminal (I.e., not have to go through another security line), but if the airline sold the tickets together, they are saying it's within the minimum connection time and should put the traveler on the next flight with empty seats (NOT always the next flight) if they miss the connection. American gives a 45 minute minimum time for connecting domestic to international. If flights are on different airlines, fogeddaboutit.

Joe Yonan: Yes, it is the airline's responsibility here. That's good to know that American has a 45-minute minimum. That tells me that the 30-minute layover the chatter wrote about is indeed too risky.

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Washington, D.C.: Crew -- a few friends and I want to go to Las Vegas next month for a long weekend. Flights seem really expensive right now ($400). Any chance they'll go down? Or does this price sound about right?

Carol Sottili: If you want to fly nonstop, that seems to be the going rate for weekend travel. I looked at www.bing.com/travel, which predicts whether prices are going up or down, and it advises buying now. But it does sound high to me. If you're flexible as to which weekend you fly, I'd hold off and keep checking for sales. Also, have you tried packages? Vegas.com has cheaper deals, but all flights have one stop.

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Washington, D.C.: Hey - here's a small challenge for you... I would love to take a long weekend with my husband to a small B&B or Inn. Here are my criteria: less than 3 hour drive from DC, a pub within walking distance, hiking or biking trails nearby for foliage viewing. Can you think of anything off the top of your head? Love your chats and column. Keep up the good work!

Maryann Haggerty: Isn't that St. Michael's?

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Baltimore: Good afternoon. I am scheduled to take an flight in two weeks that leaves out of BWI at 6:50 a.m. (with a stopover in San Francisco). How early do I need to arrive at BWI? Thanks!

Andrea Sachs: At least an hour in advance. To save time, check-in online 24 hours before departure and print out your boarding pass. Also, to hasten the process at that outrageous time, go carry-on if possible.

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Costa Rica hotel: Not sure what the pricing will be in January but Gaia Hotel is the best in the area that the reader is going to. 5 star hotel in the jungle tree tops. Simply amazing!

Joe Yonan: Nice.

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Arlington, Va. (not the previous chatter): Many years ago, when I was in college, I flew from Champaign, IL, to New York, with a change of plane in Chicago. This was back in the days of student standby fares, when it was possible to fly LGA-ORD standby for $15 or $20.

Of course, Ozark Airlines CMI-ORD was delayed, I couldn't check bags thru because I was standby, and did I mention it was the end of the year and I was going home with essentially everything I owned? I got into the terminal with almost no time left to make TWA's 7 p.m. departure for LGA.

Of course Ozark and TWA were at completely opposite ends of the terminal. I piled everything onto a cart and ran all the way, arriving at the TWA gate in time to show my ticket, hear "go aboard and take any open seat" from the flight attendant, and collapse into an aisle seat, hot, sweaty and exhausted.

We then proceeded to sit at the gate for 3 1/2 hours because of a problem with the radar.

But -- this was back when they still served food on airlines, so we were served dinner while sitting at the gate. Steak, salad, the whole nine yards. And the drinks were free because we had been inconvenienced.

And did I mention that by the time we got dinner I had taken advantage of probably three free drinks -- on an empty stomach because I had run straight from a final exam to the airport?

And we got to LGA at 2:30 a.m. or thereabouts, and I had to be in downtown Manhattan at 8:00 a.m. for an appointment?

The only thing I can say is, I'm glad I was young, otherwise I wouldn't have survived.

Zofia Smardz: Ah yes, thank God for youth! Sounds like quite the trip.

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North Bethesda, Md.: (submitting early due to meeting) re: RTW trip...

Scanning passport and driver's license and sending to gmail -- UNSECURE

Keeping print-outs in the OUTSIDE POCKET of her backpack?! sounds like she's just asking for identity theft! What happened to keeping docs in your money-belt (please tell me she had one!) Chances are that her travel insurance had a SECURE website where she might have had documents uploaded.

Maryann Haggerty: OK, guess what: I consider gmail a lot more secure than a lot of other options. Passport wasn't in the outside pocket--I'm not an idiot. What was in that folder were printouts of itineraries, reservations, all that cool stuff.

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Arlington, Va.: For the person who wants to know about breaking up a trip to Australia with a stop on the way: I don't recommend it. I've been to Australia numerable times and I regret the one time that we made an overnight stop in L.A. on our way there. It just prolonged the length of the trip and added a hotel bill in an airport hotel. If you have the time to extend your trip to Australia by several days in Hawaii or Fiji, then it might be worth the time/expense. Otherwise, just get to Sydney as soon as you can. Once there, you will forget the long airplane flight and just fall in love with the city and with Australia.

Joe Yonan: Good point.

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Authentic amazing Florence dining: This place is an amazing, but more importantly authentic, experience!

http://trattoriamario.com/

Zofia Smardz: Thanks for the info!

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Edmonton : Swine Flu and Travel Insurance

I was quarantined in Beijing because the baby in the seat in front of me became sick after arriving in BJ. I had health insurance but not trip interruption and delay insurance. Health insurance wouldn't pay because I wasn't sick. My expenses were minimal because I was staying with my sister there and not traveling, but I had hoped for some of the airfare back. You are more likely to have problems because someone else is sick (so trip delay and interruption insurance would be good if you have tours planned.

China is BIG on quarantines, but have greatly reduced the number of people they quarantine now.

Joe Yonan: Wow -- you had no symptoms and were quarantined? Thanks for warning us about this.

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Cleveland Park, D.C.: For the Oakton couple wanting to travel but not on tours, try Untours (www.untours.com). You get support with apartment rentals, car rentals, itineraries, etc. but you're mainly on your own. They provide you with a cell phone and professional guide support for questions and problems. My parents use Untours and love the combination of independent exploration and expert support.

Zofia Smardz: Great tip, thanks!

Joe Yonan: Thanks for the testimonial.

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Washington, D.C.: Another great place for the Boston traveler is the Isabella Stewart Gardner Art Museum. www.gardnermuseum.org

Very unassuming building on the outside and a beautiful place inside - and it had one of biggest art heists ever. We love going there.

Joe Yonan: Yes, it's fantastic. And the last time I was there, the cafe was sweet as well. (It's been up and down in quality over the years, but it was on an upswing then, for sure.)

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D.C. - re: long weekend in MT: Where did you go?

Maryann Haggerty: We flew into Billings, headed to Little Big Horn (stayed in Hardin), then over the North Dakota border to Teddy Roosevelt NP (stayed in Medora ND), attended two small-town rodeos (very much fun)and then back to Billings for a night on the town. It was a lot of driving, but through beautiful country. It also allowed my husband to cross the 50th state off his life list.

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Virginia, US and Leeds, UK: Hello Flight Crew,

Always love following your chats for helpful travel tidbits! I live in Virginia and am currently in a long-term, long-distance relationship with someone in Leeds, England. Modern technology like Skype sure is great for keeping in touch but nothing beats those in-person visits.

My question has a few parts: Do you have any suggestions for buying UK-US tickets both in the short-term and in the long-run? Any times to look for sales or airlines to recommend? Would it make sense to look into a frequent flyer program or keep scouting out the airlines with the lowest prices for each visit like we have been?

We are planning for a long-weekend visit to the US in October, a month-long visit here in March/April, and a three month-long stay in the US June/July-September. (I already bought my ticket for a Christmas time visit: DCA to Philly to Manchester and back.)

Thanks so much for your help!

Carol Sottili: Leeds is not around the corner from London, but you'll save money flying out of London instead of Manchester because there's so much more competition. It may be worth it to take a discount flight from Manchester to London. Flybe, a discount carrier, also offers flights between Leeds and London, but they land at Gatwick and you'd have to then get to Heathrow.

I'd just keep tracking United, Virgin America and British Airways for sales from London into Washington. Or look at Delta into JFK or Continental into Newark, NJ or US Airways into Philly.

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Washington, D.C.: I visited Montreal for a long weekend in the winter a few years ago. It was a great time to visit (if you do not mind cold, snow, and ice), except that I found that pretty much everything is closed on Monday. I know Monday is the traditional day that museums close, but even the Biodome was closed. Some marketing person should convince some places to open on Mondays. Just a warning to visitors.

Joe Yonan: Yes, that's true. One nice thing about Montreal in the winter, beyond all the festivals, is that extensive underground mall system that lets you maneuver around quite a bit without coming out of doors.

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Fairfax, Va.: Can you please recommend a hotel or Inn in Charleston, SC that's not too pricey & preferably in the historic district so I can walk to everything? Will be solo female en route to Hilton Head the next day. I've been looking and the prices seem high, around $200/night. What's your feeling on bidding a hotel using Priceline? I'm a little hesitant because they don't notify you of the property until after payment.

Christina Talcott: You can find some great deals by bidding for rooms; here are a few tips from my experience booking hotels in Chicago that way (scroll down to "Bid on It"). The key is to start bidding on higher-starred places in the neighborhood you want, and go to a site like BetterBidding.com, and search for Charleston, to see what people have paid for certain hotels (expect to pay at least 50% of full price, generally). It takes some trial and error, but as long as you don't add areas you wouldn't want to stay in or go below the star level you're comfortable with, you're likely to come up with a good deal.

That said, if it's a busy weekend in Charleston for some reason, you may be out of luck for bidding. Try looking at the list of Inns on the Charleston CVB Web site.

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CPDC: Tight connection - returning from Athens to Dulles we connected through Paris-CDG. The connection was not too long to start with - about an hour and a half - but we figured we'd make it, and we met others on the plane headed to the same flight. Arrived in Paris to sit on the tarmac for 45 minutes because the jetway was broken. Eventually, the pulled over a staircase, and we all deplaned through the tail, down the stairs, and across the tarmac to the terminal, where someone was waiting, holding a sign with Washington, DC and our flight number. She proceeded to lead us (about 20) through the airport to meet our flight. I think we got a tour of the inner workings of the airport - there's no way I would have suspected to go down a creepy looking staircase in the middle of the terminal to the passport check station, board a bus, head up an escalator in what felt like a warehouse, and go back through security. We all made the flight, though we were the very, very last people to board. Cheers to Air France for doing that, though.

Joe Yonan: Fantastic -- I love it when the personnel really come through. I am infamous among friends and colleagues for cutting my departure to the airport really close (my goal is to never have to sit down or break my stride as I walk right onto the plane), and it's almost always worked out just fine. But then there was the time when I had to see an agent because the kiosks were down and she mistakenly gave me someone else's boarding pass. Didn't notice till I got to the (long) security line and the TSA agent said, "Um, your name is Sandra?" I rushed back to the ticket counter, cut in front of the person my agent was with (with a genteel smile and apology, naturally), told her what happened, and after printing me out the right one she escorted me to the front of the security line herself.

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Arlington, Va.: re: going to Australia. Some airlines offer free stopovers depending on the booking class. So you can stay for a couple of days. Maybe an airline like Air Tahiti Nui or Air Pacific would be worth taking a look at. But since so many flights to Australia are direct these days I am guessing that is less common. In the old days Qantas stopped in Honolulu on the way down under. But now you can fly in an A380 nonstop from LAX to Australia. Or you can take V Australia in a new 777. That 13 hours sounds like a long time but after about hour 4 or 5 it doesn't really seem all that bad.

Carol Sottili: Thanks for your thoughts.

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Alexandria, Va.: Maryann, Wasn't this round the world trip more like work? You were only in a place for two or three days, then the stress of having to hop up, hop a cab, hop a plane. Did you get used to that?

Maryann Haggerty: I know this is weird, but we LOVED it. These were long days, packed with high-speed touristing, but incredibly energizing. We worked well as a team and I think we became even closer as a couple. (But PLEASE, this is not something you do to make your marriage better. It can also be a lot of interpersonal stress.)

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RE: February 2010 Tripper: For the person looking for suggestions for a trip in February 2010, if they liked Vienna and really do not mind cold weather, I strongly recommend St. Petersburg, Russia. I was just returned from there and it is beautiful -- all of the restoration work they have done there over the past decade has really paid off. My last visit to St. Pete was nearly 15 years ago and the difference was striking.

Also, no matter what the weather, there is always something to do indoors, including tours of the Hermitage/Winter Palace, the Russian Museum (one of the best art museums in the world, in my opinion), and absolutely stunning churches and palaces too numerous to list here. At night, you have choices including the Marinskiy Ballet and Opera(formerly known as the Kirov), the Maliy Opera, etc.

Finally, I should note that my wife and I visited Vienna for the first time back in 2004, and our initial reaction (meant as a compliment to Vienna) was "Wow - this reminds me of St. Petersburg!"

Joe Yonan: Bonus: They'd get to buy (and then wear) one of those fantastic Russian fur hats. PETA, forget that I said that, please.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Crew--thanks for these chats. I'm going to be going to the Dominican Republic the weekend of Nov. 12 to attend a high-school friends weddings. Is $350 r/t a good fare for this time period, or should I wait for something better. We'll be on the Puerta Plata side--so any recommendations for food/activities would be welcomed. Thanks!

Carol Sottili: I've not been to Puerta Plata, so can't help with that, but $350 sounds about right. There are sometimes cheaper sales, but I'd buy at that rate.

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Info on tour operators: I have found that the Lonely Planet guide books have good, reliable information on tour operators in other cities/countries. At the very least, it's a starting off point for additional online research and comparisons for going rates and itineraries.

Maryann Haggerty: Yes, a very good start, but in some locales, you may find that those people have become FLOODED with business & thus more expensive than they once were.

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Last-minute cruising: I am thinking about taking a last-minute vacation (in a few weeks, so it isn't last- minute yet) to take advantage of my impending unemployment. I'd love to go on a cruise, but I'm single and understand that all of the great deals online are "per person based on double-occupancy." If I want to get a good last-minute deal and pay only for one: 1. how close to the cruising date should I book the vacation, 2. should I book online or through a travel agent, and which, and 3. am I going to have better luck on any particular cruise line?

Andrea Sachs: It's tough to get around the single supplement. You might want to research cruise lines online to see if any are having single sales (mainly waiving the fee). A travel agent will also be very handy in helping you find such a sale (or might have connections). You will also find the best deals closer to sailing time (a week to mere days), because the lines are getting desperate to fill cabins. At that point, you might want to call the cruise line and see if you can negotiate a deal. I would try the big lines, such as Royal Caribbean, Carnival, etc. The more upscale lines also sometimes waive the single supplement or will pair you with another solo travelers. You might also consider signing up with a singles travel group, which organizes cruises and trips kind toward singles.

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Washington, D.C.: For the Montana traveler: 30 minutes at MSP is not enough. You may get lucky and have gates close to each other, but it's no fun running through the place if they're not. I'd recommend chancing it only if there's a later flight that they can put you on if you miss your scheduled connection. Although you may be waiting for hours...

P.S. Once coming back from Canada, my connecting gates were right beside each other. C14 and C15 or thereabouts. No rushing for me. But because TSA just had to look at all the luggage that belonged to people connecting to other destinations, my bags made it to DC the next day. Sigh.

Joe Yonan: Sigh indeed.

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Zofia Smardz: And that's it for this week's flight, folks! A special word of thanks to Maryann Haggerty for joining in and providing so much great information about traveling around the world. We can all follow in her footsteps now. And thanks also to all of you who sent in your tight-connection tales. They were all quite breathtaking, but I think the prize goes to the traveler to Seattle who had to run back and forth through the terminal on aching knees. So send me your contact info to smardzz@washpost.com, and we'll send you your prize. Thanks again all, and until next week, happy landings!

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