Talk about travel: Travel staffers help you plan great escapes
Monday, November 2, 2009; 3:00 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, Nov. 2 at 2 p.m.
Browse an archive of previous live travel Q&As.
Joe Yonan: Welcome, travelers, to today's chat. What's on your itinerary this crisp fall day?
Our agenda, for the next hour anyway, is clear: Help give you advice on where, when, how and why to take a trip. In addition to Zofia Smardz, Becky Krystal and myself from the staff, we have help from the ever-capable deals-minded Carol Sottili, coauthor of our new Going Our Way column; and the consumer-obsessed Christopher Elliott, the guru behind our new Navigator column.
To start the ball rolling, I'll throw out our prize challenge this week. The winner is the person who has my favorite answer to this: Tell us about your all-time best fall walk. Can be urban, sub-, ex- or downright rural, but we want to hear what you saw that made it so special. You'll get an appropriately walking-oriented prize.
Here we go...
Joe Yonan: Oh, before I forget, the reason Nancy Trejos isn't chatting with us today is because she's on what we're dubbing her Road Twip, trying to see how far she can get on $500 and taking suggestions via Twitter along the way. Sign up to follow her @travellog or @nancytrejos. She's currently headed for Chattanooga and looking for ideas for where to stay or eat -- cheaply. Sign on and give her some possibilities. Who knows? You might even be quoted!
For those of you who don't have Twitter, and don't want to sign up, but want to weigh in, email us at email@example.com, and we'll forward the ideas to Nancy.
E. Shore, Md.: Help! I love Europe, but my husband is no longer willing to fly steerage on long-haul flights (I can't really blame him), and we are not able to afford the typical $3000+ business class fares. What are your thoughts on Open Skies, the British Airways-affiliated all-business class airline that flies between New York and Paris? Given the short lifespan of several other all-business class airlines, is it likely to still be in business next summer? They are currently offering round trip fares of about $1500. Also, I have read that Open Skies flies in/out of of both JFK and Newark, but when I plug in dates for next June-July, I only get results for JFK.
Do other airlines ever run sales on business class seats for international travel? I was able to score a good price on business class seats to Vancouver last summer with a sale on Air Canada's executive class, but I've never seen similar deals to Europe.
Carol Sottili: British Airways has been looking for a buyer for OpenSkies since July. I'm not sure I would book with them too far in advance, although I would likely take the chance any time in near future.
Legacy airlines occasionally offer business-class and first-class sale fares. United, Virgin Atlantic, British Airways and American have all offered these type sales to Europe from time to time.
Anonymous: We found that Delta Airlines has a policy against allowing computers or computer-related items in checked luggage, since these are considered dangerous cargo (along with liquor over 140 proof-- something the airline does not serve, at least in coach), though "small" laptops are permitted in carry-on bags. This is apparently airline, not FAA, policy. Do you know if all airlines have the same policy? I recently carried a disk drive in my checked bags. Should I turn myself in?
Christopher Elliott: You better turn yourself in.
Delta's policy is pretty clear: no computers in checked luggage.
Read it for yourself right here.
A check of FAA regulations suggests a computer can be checked, as far as the government is concerned. Here's a helpful guide (PDF) published by the agency.
I'm not aware of another domestic carrier with the same policy, but airlines change their rules so frequently (and often with little notification) that you're better off calling the airline before you start packing -- just to be sure.
Herndon, Va.: Re: Telluride question from last week.
When we went to Telluride a few years ago, we flew in to Montrose, CO (about 60 miles from Telluride) and took the Telluride Express to the ski resort. It was cheaper to fly into Montrose from Dulles than either Durango or Grand Junction.
The shuttle trip from the airport to Telluride took around 90 minutes, with a round trip fare of about $100. Check here for more information.
Carol Sottili: Good option. United is offering a sale fare starting at $274 r/t from Washington Dulles to Montrose. Compare that to the $750 it would cost to get to Telluride. Even with the $100 r/t transfer, you're saving lots of money. Would be worth it.
Arlington, Va.: Maybe this is me being too grouchy, but shouldn't a carry-on bag fit vertically (wheels facing inward or outward in bin)? I had to check my (truly) carry-on bag this weekend because everyone who carried on a suitcase stored them the long way, blocking any room for me.
Christopher Elliott: It is generally understood that a regulation carry-on bag will fit vertically, to give other passengers room for their personal belongings. Today's wheeled luggage is designed to fit in the overhead bins on all but the smallest planes (those infernal regional jets we all like to complain about) in that position.
So why do people insist on squeezing their luggage in the wrong way? A few answers come to mind: 1) They don't know any better (tourists!); 2) Their carry-ons are not regulation (call a flight attendant!); or they are bin hogs.
Don't even get me started. I'll have to write about this topic soon.
Central Va.: I wrote in last week about fares to France ... from IAD to Paris and returning from Nice to IAD. I kept watching the fares and when there was a special at $731 per person, we grabbed it. Yes, we have to change planes in Amsterdam ... but the KLM price was $150 less than most other airlines. Thanks so much for your help!!!
Becky Krystal: Aw, thanks -- we blush. It pays to do your research. Happy traveling!
Washington, DC: This may seem like an odd or stupid question, but is there a way to search for the cheapest fares from an airport without specifying destination? I would like to start taking weekend trips places around the country. I want to see America while I can, but for now price may be the deciding factor. So for example, how could one check for cheap fares from DCA for, well, anywhere? I have a lot of thoughts of mortality these days because of a medical condition (not contagious) that makes me feel very uncertain about the future.
Zofia Smardz: Seems as though we've answered this question a couple of weeks in a row now, but yes, there are Web sites that let you determine a trip based on cheap fares. Check out Voyij and farecompare.com's dealfinder. I'm sorry about your medical condition -- travel might be a good tonic for taking your mind off it. So happy travels!
Washington, DC: What is your favorite thing to do on a fall weekend in New York? I get up there several times a year and have another trip this month. Any suggestions?
Becky Krystal: Can I be cliché here? On a crisp New York fall day, I don't think anything beats rambling for hours through Central Park.
Pisa, Italy: I've heard that Air France is going to charge for the second piece of luggage starting Nov 1 on international flights. I've booked with Air France for December and bought my ticket in October. Does this still apply to me?
Christopher Elliott: It shouldn't. In the past, the Transportation Department has warned airlines against imposing a luggage fee retroactively. But just to be safe, I would call the airline before you fly to get some clarification. If they insist on charging you, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll do my best to help.
Becky Krystal: You should be safe. The new policy applies to tickets purchased after Nov. 1.
Hagerstown, Md.: Hopefully you can help me out. Will be flying out of Dulles on an early am flight. I usually fly out of BWI and stay at a hotel that offers parking/shuttle service. Do any hotels around Dulles offer that service-stay the night, shuttle you to airport, park for free? Thanks.
Becky Krystal: Here is a list of hotels to get you started. Good luck!
DC to Death's Waiting Room: I will be flying down to the Cocoa Beach area of FL in mid January for a family reunion. Two questions - when is the latest I should book a flight to get the cheapest rate, and is it worth it to shell out extra money to be on the beach in January?
Zofia Smardz: There is no magic moment we can tell you of when you're guaranteed to get the cheapest rate. Best thing to do is to keep checking cheap flights sites like Kayak and track prices through farecompare.com or yapta. Right now on Kayak, I'm seeing prices as low as $139 roundtrip to Orlando in mid-January, which strikes me as pretty cheap. I'd go for that, but only you really know when the moment has arrived when you have to pull the trigger.
As for the beach in January -- that month is not the hottest in Central Florida, but it's still beachable. I lived in Orlando for a couple of years, and we spent a lot of time at Cocoa Beach in January and February.
Best fall walk: One recent autumn morning, I got up early to take a stroll from my townhouse in Rosslyn, stopping in awe as Marines raised the flag over the Iwo Jima monument, and I continued through the peaceful Arlington Cemetery. I made my way to Roosevelt Island, feeling transported out of the city into the calming nature setting. I ended my journey by returning to the hustle and bustle of our capital, making my way across Key Bridge to Georgetown, where I stopped for a coffee at Le Pain Quotidien. In just about an hour, I felt like I had seen so much and came home rejuvenated and ready to take on the day!
Joe Yonan: Lovely.
New Carrollton, Md.: Favorite walk: along the path and Anacostia River, across from the College Park airport, fall colors, fall smells. fall sounds, birds atwittering. Saw a young deer about 100 feet from me; he stared at me, I stared at him. We had a "moment". I've seen deer on this path before; it never grows old.
Becky Krystal: Sounds inspiring!
Audacity of nope: Just say no to all those wedding destinations. Airfare, parking, car rental or cab fare, hotel, attire, gifts, 'on the road' overhead - with all those weddings you are into the thousands. Even if you sofa surfed and had a bottomless pit of freq. flyer miles there is a lot on the line. Just say - nope. And wish them well from your home base, not their fantasy 'destination.'
Zofia Smardz: I'd generally agree with you about destination weddings, which may save the happy couple money but end up costing everybody else a small fortune. But then I went to a destination wedding recently in the Outer Banks, and it was. . . wonderful!
What do you think, folks?
Alexandria, Va.: I received my credit card statement containing an upcoming cruise I booked around Asia. Although the cruise liner is a US company and I used US currency, VISA added a foreign currency conversion fee to my bill (it was 1% of the cost of the trip). I called VISA and they took it off, but how loathsome of them to add it in the first place. Fortunately, I knew that this charge was added in bad faith after reading it in the Post's travel section yesterday. Thank you for the timely advice.
Christopher Elliott: Thank you! I'm amazed at how easy it is -- at least for now -- to get credit card companies to remove the fee. I think they know better, and are just testing the waters to see if people like you will put up with the charge. I'm glad you didn't.
Joe Yonan: Here's Chris's column on the subject of credit-card fees from yesterday's section.
Paris: I know many people rent apartments in Paris rather than staying at a hotel. Does anyone have experience with this and how do you go about doing it? pros vs. cons as well - thanks
Joe Yonan: Yes, I've done it! Had a blast with my friend Rachel at a fab apartment on the Ile-Saint-Louis in the spring. The first place we had booked, where she had stayed with her parents in the Montmartre (and had great things to say about this agency), ended up needing construction, so rather than deal with the scaffolding/netting blocking our view, we switched to the more expensive spot in the Ile, booked through this agency. We stayed right above one of the city's best cheese shops and across from the fantastic Mon Vieil Ami.
Pros: The ultimate in flexibility, fantastic location, a little kitchen, great penthouse deck for breakfasting.
Cons: The one we switched to was pretty pricey, much more than I'd usually pay for a hotel. But that's not the case with many of the places. And, of course, we didn't have maid service -- but that can be seen as a pro, actually.
Paris-loving chatters, what say you?
Early a.m. arrival at National: We have a flight coming in to National at 12:30 a.m. on a weeknight. We will have to wait for checked bags -- it's an international trip and one checked bag will be necessary. (We will do customs in Miami) It will be too late for Metro. Will there be plenty of cabs, even at that late hour, or should we book a car service?
Joe Yonan: You shouldn't have any problems getting a cab.
Silver Spring, Md.: Suggestion: a survival guide for those of us visiting relatives in the Boynton Beach area this winter. There HAS to be something more to do than movie theaters and early bird dinner.
Becky Krystal: Be nice! If you're willing to head north toward Boca Raton, the awesomely named Gumbo Limbo Nature Center sounds like it might be worth checking out.
Arlington, Va.: I've been traveling from DC to NY the past two years via bus, for less than parking in Manhattan, and I'm a little worried about the profit margin. When you add it all up something has got to give. What is your opinion?
I was talking to a pilot at the airport in Boston a few weeks ago. He has a second job to make ends meet. Should this concern fellow travelers?
Joe Yonan: I don't think the bus lines have too much to worry about. Their traffic is increasing all the time, and clearly their business model is a profitable one. Worry, more, about Amtrak.
Is that pilot you spoke to full-time at the airline? That's something that would worry me, if he or she is overly tired from moonlighting. God forbid they, I don't know, fly 150 miles past their destination because they're distracted or something.
Holiday Travel: Hi, Travel team!
My girlfriend and I are looking to get away after Christmas and maybe into the New Year. We don't get away often, and would like to go somewhere nice, and not have to worry about a lot. We are on a budget, but do not mind spending a little extra if it means better service. What are your suggestions? Thanks!
Joe Yonan: Could you hum a few more bars for us, please? That's to say, it's a big world out there, so a little more direction would be appreciated. Are you thinking warm-weather, beachy, fly-and-flop kind of thing? Or urban culture-hound escape? Foodie gorge-fest? Nature-loving, adventure, hike-y something? Regional, domestic, foreign? How much time?
Obviously, I'm stalling here -- but for good reason!
Washington, DC: A few months ago I got an airline ticket from Travelocity. Flight, experience, was fine.
But afterward I started getting two $19.95 charges on the credit card I used for subscriptions to Passporttofunplus.com and a.savingsace.com. I did not knowingly order such subscriptions, but apparently somewhere in the process of buying the ticket there was fine print. I canceled the subscriptions, but am out $120 or so. Travelocity had to give them my credit card info. Is this practice ethical? Legal? Shouldn't consumers be warned of this practice? JL in Woodley Park
Christopher Elliott: That's no good.
It appears that when you purchased your ticket (and I wouldn't know unless I saw a screen shot) you had a few pre-checked options that you would have had to uncheck in order to opt out. One of those was probably from the passport service.
You shouldn't have to pay $120 for something you never wanted. Please email me at email@example.com and I will take this up with Travelocity.
Bethesda, Md.: How to handle a 18+hour flight? We'll be traveling in December to India on the new Air India flight from Dulles to Delhi and on to Kolkata. Any advice from you or fellow travelers will be appreciated.
Zofia Smardz: That's a grueling flight for sure, but better, I think, than having lots of stops and connections. Be sure to bring lots of good reading material, get up and stretch periodically and remember to stay well hydrated in the air. For tips on sleeping, which can certainly help make the time pass, check out this article we ran just a month or two ago. If you manage to catch some zzz's, you'll be better off when you arrive at your final destination, and ready to plunge into exploring a most fascinating country.
Other tips, travelers?
All time greatest walk: It was a gray day last fall, with an excellent chance of some rain, not warm and therefore perfect for a hike along with Billy Goat Trail in proper attire (good boots, rain gear, etc). I took the new boyfriend who had grown up out in Annapolis but had never seen it. We only ran into a couple of groups of people (the masses were waiting for nicer weather) and the sounds were just wonderful. The rain on the leaves, the water over the rocks -- very peaceful, and we got to take our time at the places we wanted to stop, and didn't feel like we were taking up someone else's sitting place. The best time to do that trail is on a day when you really don't want to go outside. Dress properly, bundle up and go find nature.
Becky Krystal: You all are doing a great job motivating some of us on the Flight Crew to get off our duffs this weekend...
San Antonio, Tex.: Responding to the question in the Oct. 26 post about cruise cabin selection. When I booked our last cruise via phone with the cruise line, the very helpful lady gave us this advice. She said she was choosing a cabin on a high deck (all same price) so that if there turned out to be a free upgrade, it would have to be to a more expensive, larger cabin. If our cabin were on a lower deck, an upgrade would simply be to a higher deck but identical room. When I originally tried to book online, I was confused by the choices; there were various combinations of letters. Turns out these were the decks. Hope this helps.
Joe Yonan: That's very useful advice. Thanks.
Carry, ON: Did Arlington attempt to turn bags to get enough room for his/her bag? I often see this problem on flights, where a little reorganization of the overhead bins goes a long way (as would airline staff not letting people on with bags that are too large to start with). I think the problem is because most people are clueless and don't care about making extra space as long as their bag fits.
Christopher Elliott: You'll often see attendants re-organizing the overhead bins in order to fit more things in. Gets worse as the weather turns cold and people bring their jackets on board.
Maybe airlines should give courses in organizing the bins and offer early boarding credit for people who pass them? ;-)
Spain: My family (two sons 30 & 28, my husband and me) bought airline tickets to/from Madrid, Spain from Dec 24 to Jan 4, 2009. Would you please plan a route for us to see the southern part of Spain and Barcelona/Madrid? Our budget is about $4000 USD. Thanks.
Joe Yonan: This sounds like a candidate for Going Our Way, our new feature where we fully plan out a reader's itinerary based on interests and budget. Go here to fill out a little questionnaire, and maybe Carol and KC will pick you.
Newtown, Pa.: I understand (kind of) that the airlines are now charging for baggage. BUT...why are they not being diligent in reinforcing the carry-on policies. It seems like people now are bringing on over-sized bags and more of them, OFTEN exceeding the airline's policy and the flight crew turn a blind eye. It makes it annoying especially for those that follow the rule AND pay the baggage fee.
Christopher Elliott: The short answer is: flight attendants don't want to provoke a fight.
They know that on some level, these luggage policies don't make sense (just look at how many passengers are exempt from them) and they don't want to enforce a rule they don't necessarily agree with.
I don't understand why airlines charge for the first bag, other than that they want to make more money. Why can't they just include it in the price of their ticket, like JetBlue and Southwest?
My best advice is to not become another statistic. Pack a legal carry-on and follow the crew's instructions. And keep in mind that if flight attendants were running the airline, it would probably be a very different kind of airline.
Corte Madera, Calif.: Been to Ko Samui? I'm due to attend a conference there in December and could use some input on dining and activities.
Joe Yonan: I want to belong to your organization, that's for sure. A conference on a Thai island? Sign me up! I haven't been to KS, but I'm sure someone reading this in Chat Land has. Right?
Takoma Park, Md.: Why is it so difficult to find the travel section on the Wash Post website? There is no tab for it across the top and I couldn't find any other link on the page, either. I think there used to be a special section for it but there isn't now. Am I blind or does the Wash Post think travel is irrelevant to viewers? I don't think this is very respectful towards you, either.
Zofia Smardz: We would obviously love to have a more prominent link on the homepage, but so would every other weekly section, and frankly, there's only so much room on that navigation bar. But please look for us under Arts and Living!!
Joe Yonan: So glad you're TRYING to find us! There absolutely is a special section front page once you get there through that Arts/Living tab, or you can always go right to washingtonpost.com/travel. Also, you should sign up for our email newsletter from that page, and you should follow us on Twitter.
NYE Travel: We're looking for a long weekend getaway over New Years through the weekend that won't cost a ton. Over the weekend we saw a great hotel deal in Phoenix, but airfare was over $1000!! Any good recommendations? We're in our late-20's, no kids, no more, if possible than $500-700 for hotel and airfare from DC. Some place that does New Year's fun (we've been to Vegas twice, loved Chicago, been to Savannah (too slow for our tastes, but pretty) if that helps at all.
Joe Yonan: How bout New Orleans? Stay at the Villa Convento for practically nothing. It's not fancy, but the service is fantastic and the location is amazing: in the quarter, but not right on Bourbon Street. Plus, my favorite croissants in town are across the street. I'm seeing fares that weekend of $369 r/t on US Air, and rooms available starting on Friday at the V.C. for $165 a night. (They have even cheaper rooms, but sold out on Thurs and Fri -- but probably have a waiting list.)
That puts you a little over that budget, doesn't it? The two plane tix alone would be over $700. Shoot. Thought I had it there. Hmm. Let me mull more.
WDC: Happy Monday to you. I have been meaning to post this question for weeks and finally have the chance.
I am in need of a yoga retreat for 5-7 days in the Dec/Jan time frame. Have seen some offered in both Playa del Carmen and Costa Rica, any recommendations and/or resources that you can share? Looking to pay no more than $200 a day/night. Thanks.
Joe Yonan: I put your question to Food writer Jane Black, yoga practitioner and frequent retreater. She hasn't been to Playa del Carmen retreats, but says they are "highly recommended, but are way more than $200 per night."
If you could wait until February, she says that her teacher at Tranquil Space is planning to lead a retreat in Puerto Rico; info should show up on the Web site as the plans get finalized.
Generally, though, she says this: "My advice is to find a teacher you like, rather than a destination, and plan a trip with them."
Irvine, Calif.: When arming/disarming doors after boarding/before disembarking, the flight attendants use the public address system to announce to one another "1LNR", "2LNR". These announcements are clearly not for passengers. What do they mean?
Christopher Elliott: Indeed, they are not.
I defer to my friend Steven Frischling for this answer.
What you're hearing, he says, is an 'All-Call' to verify that flight attendants have checked the door emergency and they are set for arrival or departure. All the doors on a plane are 'armed' and need to be 'armed' to depart and 'disarmed' for arrival.
So when you hear "1L 1R" you are hearing "Door #1 Left and Door #1 Right" are checked and ready.
You can read more on this blog post Steve wrote last year.
Annapolis, Md.: We are NYC bound! I have narrowed my hotel choices to the following spots: SoHo Grand, Chambers, Loews Regency, and The Library. I realize these spots are in different parts of the Big Apple. What are your recommendations? Thanks!
Joe Yonan: Hmm. Is money no object? I've always wanted to stay at The Library; have heard great things. But it's not cheap.
New York, N.Y.: I have a few free days between Christmas and New Year's. Where can I go for a few days which is in driving distance from the city and is not too expensive?
Joe Yonan: What's "driving distance" to you? Is five hours too far? Cause that's about how long it'll take you to get to one of my favorite small cities on the East Coast: Portland, Maine. Stay at the art-centric Pomegranate Inn, where I stayed a few years ago, starting at about $140 a night.
Chapel Hill, NC: Have some free time between Christmas and January 3---what would be fun to do around DC besides the usual tourist activities?
Zofia Smardz: It's a lovely time to visit D.C. -- because it's one of the few times when there aren't that many folks around. You can check out the national Christmas tree across from the White House and the state tree display that surrounds it -- yes, it's touristy, but still worth doing. Visit some of the local grand homes that will still have their holiday decorations up -- Mount Vernon is doing a special daytime Christmas at Mount Vernon program from Nov. 27-January 6, Woodlawn, Gunston Hall and others. Wander through Georgetown -- the village is always especially pretty at the holidays -- and shop the after-Christmas sales.
Other ideas, chatters?
China Help!: I'm leaving in two weeks to China; I'll be visiting Shanghai & Beijing. What are the must sees in Shanghai?
Also I was planning to do a 4 hour hike in the Great Wall but it snowed in Beijing a couple of days ago so I was wondering if anyone has done some hiking in the Great Wall in winter time...is it OK to keep thinking of a 4 hour hike or is not recommendable? I'll be traveling on my own if that matters.
Becky Krystal: Staff writer Andrea Sachs just wrote this article a couple of months ago about Shanghai.
Chatters, any experienced Great Wall hikers out there?
Rockville, Md.: I saw a notice in the travel section a couple of Sundays ago about requesting help from the travel staff on planning a trip with a certain budget, destination, etc. Has the ship sailed on that?
I would like to take my mother to Ireland in the next year or so, probably for a week to 10 days, with many of the common tourist destinations but also to a couple of her ancestral locations. The latter means a tour bus is probably out (not sure how I feel about that anyway). I'm a little scared to drive on the left but could probably get over that and rent a car. I basically have NO idea where to start to plan a flexible itinerary for us. Any pointers to get started? (Of course, if the help option is still available, I'll submit my info to that.) Thanks!
Becky Krystal: I believe you're talking about our recently introduced Going Our Way feature. It appears weekly, and we're definitely still taking submissions. Here's where you can fill out the form.
Carry-ons: I don't know about that -- my carry-on bag fits the required measurements (and I've been using it for years), but I had a couple of domestic flights this year (not on regional carriers) where I was surprised to find I could not fit my bag in vertically.
My pet peeve is with the larger jets that have two seats on either side and a bunch (5 or 6?) across the center -- the bins along the side are standard-sized but the ones toward the inside are tiny, so there's not nearly enough room for the number of passengers. Maybe that makes sense on international flights (like one I'm taking soon), but the last time I flew on one it was a domestic flight to a hub where many people would be connecting. I was one of the last people on the plane (not by choice -- United in its infinite wisdom decided that people who paid extra for Economy Plus and chose an aisle seat should board dead last, as group "D") and considered myself extremely lucky to find the very last spot in a bin that was ten rows behind my seat. (And before the chorus of "you should have checked your bags anyway" starts, I would add that I was stuck with a very short connection, which I very nearly missed as it was, and the carry-on bag contained a suit that I needed to have with me for a relative's funeral -- so it was just one of THOSE days...)
Christopher Elliott: I feel your pain. Those are two separate issues -- boarding priority and overhead bin capacity. Both column-worthy topics, certainly. A good friend of mine who is a flight attendant says there are more flights over carry-on luggage than anything else on a plane. I believe it!
Rockville, Md.: I'm planning a trip to Italy for next fall. I know to include Rome, Florence and Venice, but where else (2 or so others that are not to be missed) would you and your clicksters suggest?
Zofia Smardz: I would not miss Siena. Also loved Verona and Padua.
Chatters, what do you say? Or Carol -- your thoughts?
Carol Sottili: I love the Dolomites in Northern Italy, specifically Val Gardena - it's not a bad trip from Venice. You can hike from village to village, the food and wine are lovely, and if you need a city fix, go to Bolzano, where you can see Otzi the Iceman at the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology. I've not been to the lake district in northern Italy, but I hear that's lovely.
Orlando Nan: to the Cocoa Beach traveler - skip the beach surcharge for a hotel room. Set that cash aside for some of the new tours at Kennedy Space Center, esp. if kids or teens are on board. The meet-an-astronaut deal is fun and interesting, and then follow that with a (slow) car tour of the wildlife preserve surrounding the space center. Eagle, turtles, etc. and a slice of wild Florida. You can stroll the beach on your own. Hotels are cheap in January. Get a deal off the beach.
Becky Krystal: Sounds like a reasonable suggestion!
Columbus, Ohio: Best fall walk: October 24 I drove to Steubenville, Ohio to view the murals. At the end of the day, I stopped at Franciscan University to visit the Portiuncula Chapel, a replica of the chapel in Assisi. The chapel was set in a grove of golden-leafed trees and surrounded by shrines and a grotto containing a Nativity scene. As I was about the enter the chapel, the setting sun broke through the overcast. As its rays struck the yellow leaves, it cast the entire grove in a radiant golden glow. With that vision in my head, I entered the chapel. In the pew, I found a sheet that began with the meditation "A leaf's true beauty is only revealed when it dies..."
Joe Yonan: Chills.
Germantown, Md.: Do you have any suggestions for the region of Costa Rica to visit for a honeymoon immediately following Christmas? So far we've been looking at hotels in Jaco or Manuel Antonio. We'd like to enjoy the beach, be able to explore the ruins as well as the wildlife...
Carol Sottili: I was in Costa Rica last year, but did a wildlife tour that wouldn't really be appropriate for a honeymoon unless you were both nature geeks. Did stay at two nice hotels: Hotel Bougainvillea (www.hb.co.cr) outside of San Jose and Selva Verde Lodge (www.selvaverde.com) Anyone have beach favorites? Costa Rica also has a good tourism Web site - www.visitcostarica.com.
Fall walks: My best fall walks were simple ones when I was a kid. My dad would grab a backpack and me, and we'd walk across the road to my grandmother's, out her back garden gate, across a hay field and into an apple orchard. Along the way we'd talk about whatever crossed our path, or why hay was or wasn't being cut, or what was the yummiest kind of apple. Sometimes we'd stop to play in the neighbor's hay barn, because it's a lot of fun to jump into a pile of loose hay. It's like the world's biggest pile of leaves, and no raking. Once we got to the orchard, I would get to climb trees - thanks, Dad! - and we'd fill up his backpack with just enough apples for a pie. Then we'd head home (there was usually a detour to my grandmother's kitchen for a molasses-M&M cookie in here), and my mom would make apple pie for dessert. With a scratch crust, no less. Thirty years later, both my grandmother and my father have passed on, and my mom no longer bakes, but man, those were special pies, and special times.
Joe Yonan: I can smell that pie. Thank you.
International ATM fees: Before I went to Europe last month, I read that the best way to get cash was to use an ATM card, so I did. Now, I see that my bank statement includes fees of $5 or more per transaction, which seems like highway robbery. Do these fees sound right to you?
Christopher Elliott: They sound right -- and wrong.
Remember, it's not just the bank that's charging you the fee. Often, it's our own bank back in the States that's taking a cut.
There's no sure-fire way around it that I'm aware of. Some credit unions will waive ATM fees or offer reduced fees on outside ATMs.
Using an ATM to withdraw cash may still (even with a $5 fee) be a better deal than paying with plastic, if your credit card imposes a less-than-favorable exchange rate on top of a foreign exchange fee.
Destination weddings....: If they are at a good location and I have the money and time, I love them!
Was in a wedding in Belgium earlier this year and since we were paying money to fly there we figured why not make a vacation out of it. We were able to stay at the chateau for the entire week as part of the wedding party, then added another week for vacation. Of course, if we hadn't had the time or money to do it, that would be unfortunate.
Zofia Smardz: Sounds lovely! But yes, they do require time and money.
re: going our way: What if I can't take the trip right away? Can I still submit my dream trip?
Carol Sottili: Doesn't have to be a dream trip, and don't need specific dates. But we need a general idea of time of year you'd like to go, as that can affect your budget.
Arlington, Va.: Last week a reader asked about FourWays in Bermuda. We stayed there about 2 years ago for the Labor Day weekend - never ate in the restaurant. The location is good, but you will need transportation to get anywhere. The rooms were clean and large; we stayed in the "cottage" by the pool and had patios overlooking the pool. Our only issue was the service which was lackluster and the sincerity artificial. One night as we were getting ready to go out, the water pipes broke. My Aunt was taking a shower. No water to rinse off the rest of the soap! Apologies were made and our champagne we had that afternoon offered to be comped. The champagne was not on the bill when we checked out, but about 3 weeks later a charge showed up on our credit card (for the champagne!). I had to exchange a couple emails before it was removed. Given their presentation of themselves as a high-class institution and the price we were paying, we were disappointed.
Joe Yonan: Fascinating. There's gotta be a term for this. A backhanded comp, maybe?
Annandale, Va.: For Chapel Hill looking for something to do in DC at Christmas. the Terra Cotta Warriors are on display at the National Geographic HQ.
Zofia Smardz: Thanks for that reminder!
Monterey Park, Calif.: Please discuss handicapped travel, particularly for wheelchair bound.
Christopher Elliott: I have two thoughts:
First, the Air Carrier Access Act will take full effect next year, and it promises to make air travel easier for those with disabilities. Part of this law is already in effect, but it will begin applying to foreign air carriers in 2010.
Here's a link to the rule.
Also, there's a great site and newsletter devoted to disabled travel, edited by my colleague Candy Harrington. It's called Emerging Horizons. Here's a link.
Sale fares to different places: For the person who wanted to check sale fares to different destinations from DCA, you can sign up for daily alerts for sales from a particular airport on airportwatchdog.com.
Zofia Smardz: There you go!
Washington, DC: Hello! I'm thinking about possible honeymooon destinations for next August. Thus far, we've come up with Italy & Hawaii. We're looking for someplace that would involve both time spent on the beach relaxing as well as fun sightseeing/day-hiking, etc. Any recommendations? Thanks!
Becky Krystal: I'm going to go out on a limb here and suggest Vancouver, both because of Remy Scalza's great story from this weekend and the fact that it was high up on my list for my honeymoon. (We did Cape Cod instead -- another possibility!)
Take a look at some of the beaches suggested by Tourism Vancouver.
Washington, DC: We would like to travel to Granada and Cordoba next March. What would be the easiest way to get there from a city like Madrid or Barcelona, figuring that would be where we would land? Is there an AVE train? Or bus service?
Joe Yonan: Get on that train: Indeed, there's an AVE. All the major cities in Spain (and plenty of the minor ones, too) are connected by it.
Naples, Italy: I am looking at flights to Naples for July 2010...they average $1400 round trip. Is this a good price, or should I hold out for a better deal?
Carol Sottili: That's too much. Hold out for a better deal, and keep tracking it at sites such as Kayak.com and Bing.com/travel. Also, look at Eurofly (www.euroflyusa.com) out of New York.
Laurel, Md.: My brother has just invited me up to Boston for his first thanksgiving married & in their new house. I checked Southwest but a flight in & back on the same day seems to be scheduled so that the pilots can catch the evening football game. Am I likely to find a compressed schedule with all the airlines? I don't mind flying early & late -- am I likely to find a schedule that will let me spend more than 5 hours there?
Becky Krystal: Did you go to Southwest's Web site? Looks like it was going to let me snag an 8 a.m. flight out of BWI with a return flight out of Boston at 6:30 p.m. Does that give you enough time?
Joe Yonan: BTW, on sale fares, that's airfarewatchdog.com (not airportwatchdog, which doesn't exist -- although I suppose it could...).
Orlando Nan: to the Cocoa Bch. traveler - we are not death's waiting room. Florida has 1% more elder people than North Carolina, and fewer than some other states. That's an old saw, and has been wrong for decades. Meh.
Zofia Smardz: We appreciate the gentle reminder. :-)
Lithium batteries: What's the rule on lithium batteries, in either checked baggage or carryons? I thought I read at some point that TSA limits how many you can have with you, including ones that are installed in devices. I have an upcoming trip to Europe, and plan to take my iPod (not sure what kind of battery that has), my Bose headphones (QC3, which has a rechargeable battery -- again, not sure what it is), and two digital cameras, one of which has two rechargeable lithium batteries (and I would like to take norechargeable lithium AAs for the other (the cameras don't share the same kind of batteries)). Will I have any problem?
Christopher Elliott: As of last January, the Department of Transportation no longer allows loose lithium batteries in checked baggage. So unless you're carrying a lot of spares, you should be fine, and you can carry the remaining batteries in your carry-on bag.
Here's the full rule.
Fall Dreams: When I was 10 years old I started having a repeating nightmare that my 2 year old dog, Shadow, got out during the night and ran away. He always ran into the woods behind our house and I chased after him. When I entered the woods it became daylight and Shadow would always stop and look back at me and as I started after him he would turn and run again til I lost him. One day, not night, he did get out and ran into the woods. It was fall and it made it easier for me to see him when he stopped to look back because there wasn't any greenery there to hide him. I kept after him following him through piles of leaves until I stopped and realized I was in my dream...well, it really felt like I was. I screamed and turned around and hurried back through the trees to my house. When I got home I was crying and freaked out. But Shadow decided to follow me back. That was the best fall "walk" I ever had because my dream didn't come true and Shadow came home.
Joe Yonan: You and your Shadow had yourselves an adventure.
Food on Jetstar Asia: I encountered something I have never seen or heard of before, in many years of air travel. I recently flew Jetstar Asia from Singapore to Bangkok, and from Saigon to Singapore, and both times the flight rules specified that no outside food could be consumed on the plane, unless you had a medical condition that required it. They were selling food (and drinks, including water), which was presumably the point. Not a big deal on such short flights, but have you ever heard of this before? Jetstar is an Australian airline, by the way, and has dirt cheap fares.
Carol Sottili: That's a new one. I believe that federal regs require airlines to allow passengers to bring on their own food, but your flights did not involve the United States. Discount carriers that operate outside the United States aren't subject to our rules. I know that discount carriers in Europe, including Monarch, Ryanair and Easyjet, allow food to be brought onboard.
Washington, DC: To Great Wall Hiker:
Actually, it only snowed in Beijing the other day because the officials were practicing their cloud-seeding techniques -- seriously!
But if you're really going in the dead of winter, you'll be fine as long as you bundle up. Beijing's winters are dry cold, compared to Shanghai's wet, humid damp, so they are much more tolerable. Comparable to NYC winters, I think. I say this as someone who's lived there 2+ years.
Anyway there are fewer people who hike the Wall in winter, and the snow on it, if you can get out there just after a snowfall, is otherwordly. Gives you a real feeling of being out there facing the northern invaders for whom the wall was supposedly built.
Consider hiking the not-so-well-traveled sections of the wall -- Since you say 4 hours I assume you mean the Jinshanling to Simatai hike, which is the best-known "off the beaten path" hike. Also consider Mutianyu and the very rugged Jiankou (technically closed to visitors). Most hostels in Beijing can get you a tour to most of these.
Becky Krystal: You guys really are a fount of knowledge!
San Francisco: Three of us rented an apartment in Paris in March 2008, and our reviews are mixed. The location was fantastic, as we knew by mapping it out beforehand. The apartment itself was a letdown, though, kind of dingy and small, considering what we paid (about $300/night for a 2-bedroom).
We enjoyed having a kitchen and being able to grocery shop. We did not enjoy discovering, upon arrival, that there wasn't a scrap of toilet paper in the apartment.
Overall, I would take the risk in a city I've been to before where I speak the language. Bear in mind that in an apartment, you do not have a concierge to help you with anything. Seemingly simple tasks, like using a foreign phone, take some getting used to.
Zofia Smardz: Good points all!
Washington, DC: Hi Travel team! I'm looking to go to New York next month, and need a place to stay for one night. I'm looking for cheap - like a hostel, but with my own room so I know I'll be paying a bit more. Any suggestions? I want to be in Manhattan (any part is fine). Thanks!
Joe Yonan: How about the Jane? $99 rooms designed like train sleeper cars. You have your own room at that rate, but share a bathroom.
Great Wall: I went in December of 2008. We just walked around the tourist section and it was frigid, though better when you get moving. The tourist section is more restored so it kind of depends on you taste - restored touristy tourist section you can do at your own pace? Crumbling wall with hikers? I think that may have been the coldest I have been in my life. Bring a hat and a few pairs of gloves and keep moving. Those winds off of Mongolia are wicked.
Becky Krystal: I knew someone would come through for the China-bound chatter.
Weekend flights : To the poster looking to see the United States on short weekend trips:
Many of the airlines post special weekend fares Tuesday morning. These prices are usually good leaving late Friday night or anytime Saturday . . . and returning the following Monday or Tuesday. I know that United does the best job of posting these every week but I'm pretty sure American and US Airways have them each week too. They also have options for the following weekend too - so you can plan a week in advance.
Also, you can get a quick summary of sale fares from IAD, DCA, and BWI at airfarewatchdog.com. They also summarize all of the last-minute weekend fares that I mentioned earlier. This is nice because you can see all of the sales on one page.
If you can easily get a Monday or Tuesday off work at the last minute, these deals are usually pretty good!
Also, when Southwest has a sale, book some upcoming weekend flights you MAY take, even if you aren't 100 percent certain. Then if you have to cancel, you have a year to reuse the funds . . . and no change fee!
Zofia Smardz: Great advice!
oh no!: I just submitted to Going ... and looked for a time of year button (you did have everything else covered marvelously!) but didn't find one, and didn't find a convenient place to put it. Change the code?
FWIW, the "we have no idea" honeymoon submission is likely mid-September, but really we can go whenever. After the wedding, that is.
Joe Yonan: Thanks -- we'll look into this!
Long flight advice: For the Dulles-Delhi traveler -- I have done Newark-Delhi (and back) nonstop, but was fortunate enough to be in not-full planes. However, I've also done Chicago-Tokyo (and back), each way in the middle seat, economy class, of a completely packed plane. There is no great way to get through this -- it's truly miserable at times. Just think of the people who have to do it with small children, and realize you don't have it that bad!
One small piece of advice on the time change -- change your watch to your destination time as soon as the plane takes off, and try to sleep when it's night-time in Delhi and stay awake when it's daytime there.
Zofia Smardz: Yes, this is one of those flights where you basically have to grin and bear it. Good tip on the time change, though, thanks!
McLean, Va.: To the Italy-bound traveler looking for more destinations: Do less, enjoy more. Not true for all countries, but more true for Italy than many others. Rome, Florence and Venice are plenty. Those other places will be there next time. Trust me.
Joe Yonan: Absolutely. You're a traveler after my own heart.
Destination wedding nightmare: Agreed -- just say NO. I used frequent flier miles to get a ticket for a friend's destination wedding half way around the world. Naturally I planned to travel a little, too. Then she changed dates (groom not American and allegedly having visa issues). I changed my ticket, as this was more favorable anyway (shoulder season). Then she changed it BACK to the original date! I'm keeping my ticket, forgoing the wedding and traveling.
Zofia Smardz: It helps if the couple can make up their minds. Thanks for sharing!
Reston, Va.: We went to Clearwater Beach years ago and loved it. I would like to go back to Clearwater Beach or a similar beach (low waves, warm water and soft, white sand) either at Christimas time or during spring break. I am not sure how hot FL will be in March. When we went at Thanksgiving years ago it was very hot. Any recommendations for a beach and good time to go in terms of weather and prices? Thanks so much.
Becky Krystal: Forgive us for the plug, but you may want to check out this coming weekend's section on Florida, which may give you some ideas.
Best fall walk: I was hiking in Shenandoah Park and came to a clearing that was obviously an orchard many, many years ago. I stretched out in the grass with my head on my backpack to take a little rest. I happened to open my eyes and there were 2 deer about 10 feet from me, munching on the apples from those old trees. They calmly looked up at me and then went right back to their eating. They didn't seem concerned with my presence at all. It was cool to just lie there relaxing in the beautiful trees with those friendly deer. It doesn't get any better than that.
Joe Yonan: That's the kind of thing that stays with you, doesn't it?
Washington, DC: Where are some good places to eat in Montreal? Good fall/winter activities?
Zofia Smardz: Check out this Long Weekend on Montreal that we ran just a few weeks ago.
Paris Rental: I just got back from a trip to Paris and Rome, and am soooo happy with my decision to rents apartments in both cities! In Paris I used a company based in N.J., and it couldn't have been more lovely or easy to book. (Vacations in Paris is the company, I believe.)
We stayed in the Marais in a beautiful little place, and really got a great feel for living in the neighborhood. It's the only way I'll stay in Europe from now on.
Becky Krystal: For the chatter considering renting an apartment in Paris.
Winter in Yellowstone: Which is the nearest airport to Yellowstone and how far would that be (miles and hours). Also, would rental cars have good snow tires and how difficult is the drive?
Carol Sottili: Depends where you are going in Yellowstone. Bozeman is the closest if you're going in winter. It's about miles 90 miles from the north entrance - the road stays open from the north entrance to Mammoth Hot Springs. I believe most cars from rental places in those areas are equipped with the right tires.
Silver Spring, Md.: My wife and I are planning a trip to Italy in October of next year to celebrate our anniversary. Friends say we should start planning now, including finding a good travel agent.
Can your recommend a good travel agent in the DC area who specializes in travel to Italy, especially Tuscany? We do not want to go on a guided tour, but do want to make sure that all of the arrangements for travel, car, hotels, etc. are in place when we leave.
Becky Krystal: Try playing around with this search tool from the American Society of Travel Agents.
Trains in Spain: Sorry there is no AVE to Granada, nor a direct train from Cordoba to Granada. Better off taking the bus! Buses are very nice in Spain.
Joe Yonan: Are you sure? I see trains from Madrid to Granada on the raileurope.com schedule... But maybe I'm misreading it!
Beach idea: To the reader inquiring about a beach similar to Clearwater's, I'd recommend Siesta Key, near Sarasota, FL. Our family used to visit almost every year for spring break. Beautiful water, some of the softest sand you'll ever see, and a good mix of activities for families and adults. (Check out St. Armand's Circle for dinner, shopping and fudge).
Zofia Smardz: And check out next Sunday's Travel section for more on the Gulf islands, of which Siesta Key is one.
Re "Going My Way": How long should someone submitting for this feature wait before assuming that they are not going to be picked and making plans on their own? Do you let them know ahead of time that you are working on their trip?
Carol Sottili: Yes, we do let them know. We have had hundreds of submissions, and we can answer only one a week, but we're always looking for interesting trip ideas.
Joe Yonan: Thanks for traveling with us today! Now for the giveaway prize: The chatter who wrote about the fall walk from Rosslyn that took in monuments and coffee will get it, a collection of walking tours (25 of them!) to architecture in New York City. The great basis for a trip.
Join us for more trip ideas next week...
Joe Yonan: I almost forgot -- prize winner, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with your mailing info, so we can get it to you... Thanks!
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