Talk about travel: Customs experiences, airlines altering flights, NOLA, Heathrow Express, fun in the sun

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The Flight Crew
Washington Post Travel Section
Monday, December 7, 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, Dec. 7 at 2 p.m.

Browse an archive of previous live travel Q&As.

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Joe Yonan: Welcome to today's chatty flight, travelers. What's on your minds? We'll help guide you in the right direction -- or else bat the question back out there to the crowd to help answer by consensus.

For our giveaway prize today, here's your challenge: Tell us about your most, well, interesting experience going through Customs.

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Washington, DC: I liked the article in yesterday's paper about Global Entry but when it calls on you to attach passports and drivers' licenses, how do you do that? It left me confused.

washingtonpost.com: Customs process becomes welcoming for trusted travelers (Post, Dec. 1)

Zofia Smardz: I'm afraid I'm not following your question. I just zipped through the application instructions on the Global Entry Web site, and I don't see anything about attaching passports and drivers' licenses. You just have to provide passport and DL information on the application. Then if you're conditionally approved, you have to set up an appointment for an interview at an enrollment center, at which time you BRING those documents along with you. You never send them anywhere, from my reading. Or am I missing something?

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Fairfax, Va.: Hello, My question has to do with airlines changing flight routes and departures. I booked a trip for my family for a short four day weekend to Orlando on AirTran. The flights were direct. I just received an email informing me that my flights are now no longer direct but have a layover. The flights they scheduled for me now depart at 6:30 AM from Dulles (layover in Atlanta) and arrive at nearly 4:00 PM in Orlando - absolutely unacceptable! I could nearly drive there in that amount of time. My question is what is my recourse? - I have a number to call them if I don't accept the schedule change- but from what I see on line they don't have direct flights to Orlando.(although they are still offering direct on Kayak.com for AirTran) Can I get my Money back and just reschedule with another airlines? or am I stuck trying to make this work?

Christopher Elliott: You're right, that's totally unacceptable.

Most airline contracts say that when a flight change is made, you have the option of 1) a full refund or 2) a flight of the airline's choosing.

Your best bet is to ask AirTran for a full refund and to book another nonstop flight. I just booked an AirTran flight from Washington to Orlando, and there were at least two nonstops every day, so you shouldn't have a problem finding an acceptable flight.

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NOLA bound: The travel article on New Orleans was perfect timing as I'm heading there next week. I lived there in the 1990's, so I'm excited to try some of the newer dining options (thinking Cochon, Herbsaint, John Besh's restaurants), but there are so many to choose from. What would you recommend as the top 3 places to dine in NOLA these days?

washingtonpost.com: In the Big Easy, go with the flow (Post, Dec. 6)

Joe Yonan: Glad you liked it. You'll have fun in NOLA; it's pretty impossible not to. Besides Cochon, I'd put Stella! and good old Commander's Palace in my top three, but I also like Herbsaint, Galatoire's, August, Patois, Dooky Chase, Willie Mae's Scotch House, Parkway, Luke, many more for many different reasons. You should check out my friend Brett Anderson's reviews here at NOLA.com to look at what else he puts in his top 10. The man eats around.

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20003: Hi Gurus!

So, I consider myself a seasoned traveler - and know luggage rules off the top of my head. But on a whim I checked Delta's website prior to an upcoming trip to Kenya, and found this:

International

- Economy Class - the United States (including San Juan and the U.S. Virgin Islands) and Europe - 1st bag free, 2nd bag $50: Passengers traveling from CDG and AMS will not be subject to this fee

- Effective for tickets issued on/after 01 November 2009 and for travel on/after 01 November 2009, Delta will charge EUR 50 (or equivalent currency) each way for the second checked baggage for travel between Europe and the U.S.A and also between Europe & Canada

- Economy Class - All other international travel - 1st bag free, 2nd bag free

- Economy class checked baggage allowance above is applicable to reservations booked on or after May 23, 2009 for travel on or after July 1, 2009

- Economy class checked baggage weight allowance is 50 lb. and maximum size of 62 linear inches. Over those limits, extra fees apply.

I have to admit, I have no idea where that leaves me. I thought the rule was 2 bags, 50 pounds or under for int'l flights (and that that was true for almost all airlines). Now I have no idea - and can't figure out which of the above applies to me! I'm flying TO Europe, but am connecting (on the same flight/airline) to Kenya. Am I in the US/Europe category? Am I "other international"?

Thanks for taking my (long) question!

Christopher Elliott: You stumped me on this one. Had to go back to the contract and look it up.

According to Delta's Contract of Carriage, it's the first set of regulations that govern your entire trip.

Rule 1, D (3) of the international contract says, "The applicable fares, rules, and charges for carriage of passengers and/or baggage shall be those in effect on the date of commencement of travel on the first flight coupon of the ticket."

I hope this helps.

Christopher Elliott: PS - Just to clarify, the operative words here are "on the first flight coupon of the ticket." As I read that, it means the rules on the first ticket last the entire trip.

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Falls Church, Va.: My daughter is going to Spain with a school group over spring break. I'd appreciate your advice regarding the safest and most secure way for her to have spending money. Travelers' Checks, cash, prepaid credit card? What would you suggest?

Carol Sottili: My daughter went to Spain with a school group over spring break when she was in 10th grade. I got her a prepaid Visa debit card, and it worked out fine - I think it's now called a Student UPside Visa Prepaid Card. I also got her a regular credit card on my account with her name on it, with the caveat it could only be used in case of emergency: Be careful about doing this if your child is not super responsible.

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Fairfax, Va.: We're going to Santiago, Chile in March. We've booked a flight to Rio using US Airways miles, then are catching a separately-booked flight on TAM to Santiago. Will we be permitted when checking in with US Airways to check our luggage all the way to Chile? Any other tips for our transition from one airline to another in Rio? Thanks so much.

Andrea Sachs: You can only check your luggage on flights that are part of the same itinerary. So, after you deplane the US Airways flight, you will have to collect your luggage, then check in at TAM. The best tip is to try and go carry-on only, so you that you can easily move from one flight to another. Otherwise, pack light and compactly. If possible, check-in online for all of your flights and get your boarding passes in advance. If you can't check-in online for the TAM flight, see if you can check-in at your first departure airport. And remember, you will have to pay for checked luggage.

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Washington, DC: My husband and I want to take a trip over Presidents Day weekend with our 17 month old son. We are stumped for where to go. We'd like to go somewhere warmer than here but open to ideas. We don't want to go skiing or anywhere that is a "winter destination." We thought about Charleston- would that be a good place to go in February?

Zofia Smardz: Any time is a good time to go to Charleston, if you ask me. And you did, so I say go! The weather in February is mild, with daytime temperatures averaging around 60 or a little higher, nighttime around 40. Sometimes there may be a little light wet snow, but nothing that sticks around.

Other ideas, folks?

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Wisconsin: Hey Flight Crew! Couple of things:

1. Thanks so much to all who recommended the Heathrow Express to me a couple months ago via this chat. You guys were right; it was great and super easy to use!

2. We're going on a cruise in January and the ship leaves from Ft. Lauderdale. We're arriving a day early and so we'll have nearly a full day there prior to boarding the ship. Any recommendations on what we can do in Ft. Lauderdale in January with a short amount of time?

Nancy Trejos: Hi.

1) You're welcome! I love the Heathrow Express.

2) Ft. Lauderdale is nice. It's got museums and cafes and a long waterfront walkway. Check out the Art and Entertainment district that runs along Las Olas Blvd. That's where you'll find the Broward Center for the Performing Arts. You'll also find trendy boutiques there. If you're more of a bargain shopper, Sawgrass Mills is supposed to be the biggest outlet mall in the country. For culture, go to the Ft. Lauderdale Museum of Art. And if it's a warm day, which it should be in January, take a short cruise, go fishing, check out Sawgrass Recreation Park, or simply hang out on the beach.

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Seattle: This is not a question but a couple of months ago I did submit a question asking if anyone had used this car rental website for Hawaii. I did see my question posted but no responses so with trepidation I kept the booking and expected to be hit with a big overcharge, after all they were quoting $145.00 for an economy car on the big island while all other websites were $300.00+. The booking was with Thrifty, though I had the option to choose other name companies. It was great. My total bill with taxes was $204.00. So spread the word for anyone looking to travel to any of the Hawaiian Islands, there are still deals out there.

Becky Krystal: Thanks for reporting back! Glad to hear it worked out for you.

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Bethesda, Md.: My husband and I want to get away for New Years, we don't care where and we want to do it relatively cheaply. Where should we go to look for last minute deals and when should we look, at Christmas?

Becky Krystal: Check out this list of tips from our last-minute travel issue from July. And in there you'll find links to the other stories from that day that might provide you with some inspiration.

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Washington, DC: With all the recent media coverage of the Panama Canal, I've decided I really want to go there. Major reason why? I just love to watch those big container ships! Can anyone just go watch ships on the canal or is it restricted? Is there a fee? I found tickets for January for around $500 - is that reasonable? Thanks!

Becky Krystal: Sounds like a unique trip idea! Yes, you can watch the ships float by on the canal from a perch at the Miraflores Visitors Center. A ticket that includes access to center's exhibitions and observation decks should set you back less than $10.

As far as $500, keep looking. I'm seeing flights from DCA round-trip in late January for around $300.

Joe Yonan: And in case you want to do more than see the canal, check out these ideas for non-canal activities to add to your itinerary.

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Maryland: Does it count if it wasn't something I was trying to bring in through Customs? Coming back from a trip to England through Dulles around 10 years ago. See a Customs agent pulling someone ahead of me aside. Person in that line says they were trying to bring haggis in, which wasn't allowed.

Guy behind me says "Who would even WANT to try and bring that in???"

Joe Yonan: Very funny. Maybe he was bringing it in for an enemy, not a friend! (My apologies to all you haggis-loving Scots out there, for sure.)

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Wash DC: Two questions...with the changes at WaPo the "What's the deal?" column has been leaving something to be desired -- are there any other avenues that do the same thing to supplement what is being provided?

Second question: I am looking for a Hawaii deal (Other than Oahu) for my aunt who is a widower and getting married in mid to late May 2010 and wants to do Hawaii as a honeymoon spot. I am the person in the family that is always able to find the deals. Please help me not let her down. Looking for something about 5-7 days for 60ish couple again it's in mid-May and most deals I see right now are not extended till May.

washingtonpost.com: What's the Deal?

Carol Sottili: I tweet about deals most weekdays on The Washington Post's twitter site, so you can get some extra bargains there. I also like Independent Traveler.

As for Hawaii, places to check include

Pleasant Holidays

and

Hawaiian Airlines

.

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Vienna, Va.: I got a letter that says "In honor of your birthday, we would like to offer you a complimentary 4-day/3 night Hyatt getaway. Offer also includes two complimentary round trip airfares to any major airport in the U.S. Call 1-800-813-6994." Do you know if this is a rip-off? Is there a catch?

Christopher Elliott: Run, don't walk!

Many of the cases I have to mediate begin with an offer like this. They almost always end in disappointment. Along the way, expect unexpected fees, fine print, lies ... the list goes on.

Just say no.

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Philadelphia, Pa.: My trips through Customs tend to be relatively uneventful, although they usually are shocked by how long I've been gone (to Europe for 24 hours - that sort of thing). Also, I usually get a big smile when I inform them that the only item I have to declare are gummy bears for my husband.

Joe Yonan: Wow. I want to hear more about that 24-hour trip to Europe. Must be business, right?

The first time I went through Customs was after my first trip to Italy, and it was hilarious: The agent says to me, "Let me get this straight. You're TELLING ME that you bought 3 suits?" He ended up "encouraging" me to revise my statement.

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Spas: I want to give my wife a nice spa vacation (A 1 night, two-day sort of thing) as a present. What do you think are the best spa/hotel options within a reasonable drive from DC (less than 3 hours). I'm looking for a spa that is more classically luxurious and attentive than trendy or hip.

Andrea Sachs:

Spafinder is a great resource for spa vacations. But here are some suggestions for someone who loves her hot rock massages and rose petal baths:

The Homestead in Virgina

The Spat at Hershey Hotel in Pennsylvania

The Spa at Colonial Williamsburg, or Kingsmill Resort Founders Inn in Virginia Beach

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Capitol Hill, DC: Hello - I hope you can help me! I am trying to plan a birthday get away for my husband at the end of February/beginning of March. I want warm. What is the warmest US destination we can travel to? We probably have about 5 or 6 days for the trip and about $4,000. We're recently married and I haven't yet changed my passport so I think domestic travel will be necessary.

Thank you so much. Just knowing we have some warm weather coming our way in February will get me through the next 3 months.

Nancy Trejos: Sounds like a lovely birthday gift. I would consider Florida. I'm a big fan of Miami but the Keys can be fun too. You can also try Arizona. Maybe a romantic trip to the Grand Canyon? Southern California is usually nice that time of year. Perhaps you can try L.A., Palm Springs, or San Diego. Santa Barbara is quaint and romantic. Hawaii is nice year-round but that might require more time. Good luck with your decision!

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The Train: For the first time ever, my daughters (6 and 13) and I are taking the train from DC to CT between Christmas and New Years. Any tips on train travel? I'm shipping the gifts ahead of time and limiting us to two suitcases and we'll each have a backpack. Gramma will be passing through in a few weeks so any gifts received up there will be traveling back with her. What about food? Is it ridiculously overprices? Should I plan on packing most of the lunch? Is it easy to get 3 seats together?

Zofia Smardz: Yes, the food is overpriced and it's not really very good, so I'd definitely pack a good lunch for the three of you. But your girls might think it fun to walk back to the food car for a snack at some point -- my boys did when they were kids -- so I recommend doing that. It breaks the tedium some.

To sit together, the best place is the seats at the front of the car that face each other, and I believe there's only one set like that in each car, so get to the station early to get a good place in line before boarding begins. I find, though, that people are generally considerate of a parent with young children who want to sit together, so a polite appeal on your part should you have difficulty getting three seats together will probably do the trick. Have a good, safe trip!

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Customs sniff?: I've traveled internationally quite a bit. I was even born abroad so my mother likes to say that I was an international travel in utero.

I never have any issues getting through customs; know the rules, be prepared, keep it moving. However, on a return flight into Newark Airport, the customs/bomb/drug sniffing dogs and their handlers were out in full force. No big deal at all. Like any other working dog I knew not to pet it or pay any attention to it. The dog was there to work and that was fine with me.

Puppy takes a first pass around our suitcases as we awaited the baggage carousel next to Customs-all is well. Puppy makes another pass and becomes VERY interested in my crotch. Yup, no nice way to put it, I got the typical doggie hello but, knowing not to touch the working dog, couldn't do what I'd do with a normal pup and just nudge it's head out of the way.

Of course, pup and handler moved on quite quickly but I'm sure my fellow travelers were wondering for a minute or two if I had black market goods in my underpants!

Joe Yonan: Wow. I've always wondered how in training they tell the dogs to turn off all their other sniffing instincts in favor of the new sensitivities. At least in this case, obviously the training hadn't quite taken hold!

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LAX to AUS: I was typing something to you but my computer shut down and I don't know if it was sent or not. Long story short is that my grandfather is dying and my parents are guilt tripping me into going to see him while they are there. They want to see me. They are going from Dec. 17th until Dec. 26th. I love my Papa Doc but I am not sure whether or not my issues with my parents will create more stress for him. I know my grandfather loves me and he knows I love him. However, I figured if I go it will be from the 17th to the 19th or 20th. My parents are coming from VA and I would be flying from CA. Do you have any ideas how I could afford this? My parents want to pay but they aren't doing so well financially and I am not either.

Carol Sottili: I'm no Carolyn Hax, but you're definitely going to want to keep the drama away from Papa Doc. On the other hand, you'll probably feel badly if anything happens to him and you didn't visit. I think it's usually a better idea to spend money on visiting the living than to spend money on traveling to a funeral. If you're willing to leave from John Wayne airport in Orange County and make a connection, you can get a round-trip fare of $238 on American departing Dec. 17 and returning Dec. 20: That's a good deal.

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A question of semantics: Back in the day, "direct flight" meant staying on the same plane for an airplane trip of two or more legs. Nowadays it seems to be used interchangeably with "non-stop," which gets confusing. Could we please start a movement to differentiate once again between these two phrases, in order to reduce confusion?

Andrea Sachs: I will wave that flag proudly. I agree with your definitions: Nonstop is "without stops;" direct is stops but without deplaning. Let's spread the word!!

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Are Secrets Revealed Worth Excitement or Worry?: Someone in the travel blogosphere discovered recently that the secret TSA screening manual was actually posted on the Internet by the government about nine months ago.

Did you go through it yet and find anything worth reporting on?

Christopher Elliott: It's an interesting document. Who knew that diplomatic pouches and foreign dignitaries were exempt from TSA screening?

It looks as if someone should have done a better job redacting that manual. Better yet, they shouldn't have released it at all.

I'm not sure if any of this matters. Since

my last column about the TSA

, I've been in touch with insiders who tell me these procedures are not always followed. Maybe it's worth a follow-up column?

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Silver Spring, Md.: Hi Crew - We'll be flying Virgin to LAX from IUD next week with our two kids - 4 and 5. We want to take advantage of the entertainment, but the last time we flew an airline with entertainment, the headphones were too big for my kids and kept falling off. Are there fairly cheap headphones designed for little heads? Thanks!!!

Becky Krystal: There sure are. Look at a few options here.

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New York, NY: Have you read the recently discovered "redacted" content from the TSA's Screening SOP and if so what are your thoughts on the content deemed supposedly too secret for public consumption?

Watch lists of specific countries? Instructions for how to wash hands after a positive ETD swab? How to calibrate the WTMDs?

More info here.

Christopher Elliott: As I've already said, the document is interesting, but I'm not sure if there's anything in there that is worth stopping the presses for.

Now, if you have a copy of the unredacted document, please send it along ...

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Annandale Va.: Zofia,

You're absolutely right about the Global Entry program. You enroll on line and then bring your identification, including your passport, to your interview. I had mine at Dulles in a "secret" room!

Zofia Smardz: A secret room at Dulles? So intriguing. Glad to hear you can now whisk through customs!

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North Bethesda, Md.: (submitting a little early due to meeting) BF and I just booked our first holiday! A Caribbean Cruise. One stop is Samana, DR. We'll be there Jan 11 -- too early for whale watching? The season is reported to be Jan 15-March 15 but I'm sure the whales don't have a calendar ;-) any ideas on how to get recent info? Also I've read about some tour companies, but they all leave before the cruise ship comes in. The ship does not offer this as an excursion. Ideas? Other "must sees" in DR that's easy to get to from Samana? We're more inclined to take the local bus than hire a taxi. Thanks!!!!!

Andrea Sachs: Before you start planning a full day of adventures (which I would be prone to do as well), check the length and arrival and departure times your port visit. You might have only a few hours and/or will be visiting at odd times (one of my cruise stops in Key West was from 7-10 a.m. Not much going on that early). For accurate whale migration information, I would contact an esteemed foundation or group, such as the Atlantic Whale Foundation (www.whalenation.org). They might even have suggestions on tour groups with expert whale guides or companies that donate a portion of the ticket cost to conservation efforts. It is surprising that the ship does not offer this shore excursions. Could be the timing or the season. However, you can ask the activities desk for suggestions. They might have some contacts (but hint: book independently for better rates).

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New York, NY: My most interesting experience going through Immigration and Customs was in April of 2007. I am a Virginia Tech alum and was in South America during the shootings. When I came home a few days later, I was wearing my traditional travel outfit - comfy pants, t-shirt and long sleeved t-shirt. Only this time, my long sleeved t-shirt was a VT shirt. I got to the immigration guy and he looked up at me, saw my shirt, and immediately asked how I was, did I know anyone, etc. and waved me through with no actual questions about my trip. Same thing at customs, not a single question about where I'd been or what I'd done. I joke now that I could have smuggled in a person for all they cared.

Becky Krystal: Yes, there's something both heart-warming and unsettling about this story.

Joe Yonan: Wow.

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a toddler in Charleston? fail: I like Charleston also but not dragging a toddler around, esp. in winter. Antiques, parade grounds, walled waterfront - not. There are many more child friendly locales. Atlanta is about the same distance and has a good aquarium, kids' museum, cool underground etc. Something for all. Also the Olympic park with fountains. Be sure to situate the hotel choice well to avoid getting stuck in traffic. and eat at the Varsity, grease and all.

Becky Krystal: OK, a different opinion on Charleston.

Joe Yonan: Just my two cents: a vote against the "FAIL" thing that's been so popular in Twitterland and elsewhere in the blogosphere making its way into common usage. To a Southerner like me, even a snarky one, it's an etiquette FAIL.

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Washington, DC: Hi Crew! I'm going to NYC next week for one day only (bus both ways) simply to see the city at Christmas. I've been there several times, but never at the holidays. Of course, I'm hitting Macy's and 30 Rock, but what else is a must-see this time of year there? Any great holiday markets? I have about 7 hours to fill. Thanks!

Nancy Trejos: I love New York during the holidays. I will be up there next week myself. You're totally right about 30 Rock and Macy's. They're a must. Just strolling down 5th Avenue to check out the window displays is fun, though it will be crowded, especially on a weekend. I love Central Park during the holidays. If you have time, take a walk through the park. The ice skating rink in there is nice. If you're there during the weekend, the Time Warner Center in Columbus Circle has a light show and fake snowfall. There are also tons of holiday markets. Grand Central Station has an indoor market. There are also very nice outdoor markets at Bryant Park, Union Square Park and Columbus Circle.

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For Capitol Hill Feb/Mar getaway: Are you a base ball fan? Is he? Could you bear one day of it? Spring training baby, spring training.

Joe Yonan: Ah, of course. I never would've thought of that, but it's a fair question.

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Athens, Ga.: Going through Canadian customs, the woman ahead of us was acting totally bizarre. Going up to random people in line and examining their wedding bands, commenting on how she went to Disney World and the only Chippendales she saw were Chip and Dale, telling the customs agent she thought he was hot (she was around 70 or so). It went on so long the agent kept asking her if she needed him to call a doctor for her. I think, if she hadn't been a Canadian citizen, he wouldn't have let her in without a medical examination.

Joe Yonan: And she would've LOVED that.

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Washington, DC: You folks have written that the best deals on cruises are way ahead of time, or last minute. So what's a good resource for finding last minute cruises?

Becky Krystal: Ask, and ye shall receive. Here are our tips on last-minute cruises.

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DC to Tokyo: If you had one free day in Tokyo, how would you spend it? Thanks!

Joe Yonan: Eat ramen. Eat sushi. Eat tempura.

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Arlington, Va.: Any suggested activities in the Napa area that don't revolve around eating and drinking?

Nancy Trejos: Why don't you try hiking in one of the many parks, such as the Robert Luis Stevenson or Alston Park? Biking and golfing is great fun there too. If you want to relax, there are many spas around Napa. There's also great shopping in downtown Napa. And if you're really adventurous, take a hot air balloon ride or a safari tour (yes, there is a safari there!). There are usually musical festivals going on throughout the year. Or take in a show at the Opera House.

Joe Yonan: But ... you ARE going to also eat and drink while you're there, right? I mean, it's Napa!

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Baggage Follow-Up: So, even though I have a round-trip ticket to Kenya, I'm bound by U.S.-Europe route rules? And if so, that means ONE 50-pound bag?

Thanks!

Christopher Elliott: Yes, that's how I read it. You would be governed by the terms of the first coupon.

I should say that I have asked Delta for its official interpretation. I'll update this answer if I hear back.

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Customs: Back before the new liquid rules my husband and I had an amazing trip to Italy and came back with 20-some bottles of wine, grappa, etc., a small wheel of cheese and small amount of cinghiale, wild boar, all wrapped in our luggage and carry on bags. We declared a small amount of wine and got away with not having to pay anything on the lot of it. Our cinghiale, however, was unceremoniously dropped into a trash bag in front of us (whether that worker ended up cooking it that night we'll never know. We hope at least he got to eat it.)

Customs was easy and inexpensive. The memory of wrapping all twenty-some bottles in our clothes and lugging seriously heavy luggage on trains and taxis is a great one. The wine's still in the cellar and I'm sure it's good!

Becky Krystal: Wow. Cheers!

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Chantilly, Va.: Any advice on booking a Mediterranean cruise for July 2010 for 8 to 10 people? For example: best/better cruise line, best time to book and lock in cruise fare costs, best time to book airfare? Also - any suggested web sites that offer good deals?

Carol Sottili: Most cruise lines operate in the Mediterranean in July, including Holland America, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, Costa, Celebrity, Azamara, Crystal, MSC, Princess, Regent Seven Seas, Seabourn and Silversea. As for which is the best, that depends on your budget, ages, expectations, etc. Lower budget lines include Norwegian, Costa, Royal Caribbean. Middle of the road: Celebrity, Holland America, Princess. High end: Regent, Seabourn, Silversea, Crystal. Take a look at Cruise Critic for a good description of lines. The sooner you can book, the better. Go to Cruise Compete for deals. As for airfares, look at what the line is offering and then compare to what you can get directly through airline.

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Washington, DC: Easy request. I need a warm destination for two from around 12/28 - 1/3. Not cheap, but inexpensive with beach, fun, and sun.

Nancy Trejos: Are you thinking domestic or international? I often suggest Miami because you can find affordable flights and you can lounge on the beach all day and party all night (and by the way, I just booked a weekend trip there for next week and the flights were quite inexpensive). If you are willing to go farther, consider the Bahamas or Cancun. Los Angeles might also be an option. It will be warm but it might be too rainy.

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Washington, DC: Hi, folks. An early holiday travel question. We purchased our tickets to California in August. Last week, I received a recorded message stating that the flight times had changed. Instead of departing from Dulles at 9:15 am, now we depart 6:44 am. We bought the tickets based on timing. We need to get from northwest DC to Dulles for an early morning flight. Now, the flight is earlier than anticipated. What is the best way to go? Should we receive a taxi the night before and cross our fingers that it comes? Is Supershuttle a good option for early morning? Thank you!!

Andrea Sachs: Wow, that is brutal! Do you have a car? I would suggest driving, if possible. SuperShuttle is an okay option, but I have heard that sometimes they don't show or are late. Just be sure to reserve the shuttle, then call to reconfirm.

You could also book taxi the night before, but again, a few times, a cab I had ordered the night before did not show up. (I ended up flagging down one on the side of the road). So again, call to hire, then call again to reconfirm.

You could also call the airline and see if there is a later plane they could put you on. Or, if you want to start your holiday earlier, book a room at an airport hotel that offers a free shuttle to Dulles. Good luck!

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Customs Story: Here is my customs story. We arrived at Dulles early one morning from South Africa with a decent amount of wine in our luggage. When we went through immigration, the agent noted we marked that we brought in food, she asked what type, we said wine, and she asked how much. When we told her, she got very agitated and said that is more than you are allowed to bring in, etc, etc, etc. We mentioned that we had done this before, we would declare the wine and pay the duty, it was not a big deal. Well, I guess the customs folks don't deal with this very often, and rules for determining the duty is rather complex. After several agents spent a bit of time looking through several publications and consulting amongst themselves, they just told us to have a nice day and sent us on our way.

Joe Yonan: Cheers.

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Cleveland Park, DC: Hi Travel Crew - I have a question about how long in advance of passport expiration I should renew my passport. I plan to travel to Italy next fall, and my U.S. passport expires in December 2010. Do foreign countries differ in their requirements about the amount of time that must remain 'til expiration, when you enter their countries as a tourist? Thanks!

Andrea Sachs: Expiration windows vary per country. I would suggest renewing as soon as possible, but not letting it go more than six months out, the cut-off date for many countries.

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The Unredacted Document Is What's Online: What makes the posting of the TSA screeners' manual interesting is that whoever redacted it didn't know how the software works. They put black boxes over certain sections of the file, but if you highlight the sections blacked out, then copy and paste into your word processor, the material under the black boxes is revealed. To save people the effort of going "Ctrl A/Ctrl C/open a blank Word file/Ctrl V", cut-and-pasted versions without black boxes are now widely available on the Internet.

Christopher Elliott: No kidding. I just extracted the whole document, without redactions.

So much for the black boxes.

This could be interesting. Thank you for pointing that out.

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The train...: I like your recommendations. I took the train out of DC last night - and they let seniors and people with kids board first ("small" kids - but use the excuse) - that will help you get three seats together (getting on the train first). Take your own food and snacks, the snack car isn't that great (unless you are on a train with a true dining car). Upgrading to biz class can help - more room and generally less crowded. DC to CT is a long trip so kids can get bored. Take things for them to do - games/iPod/etc. Last of all - ask for help from a conductor if your seats are not good for you - they are very helpful. Now, if you are on the Acela, then you are in great shape already...

Becky Krystal: Thanks for the pointers.

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Customs: A recent experience returning from Southeast Asia. Immigration guy asks what we do, and we both say we are attorneys for different federal agencies, one of which in particular has been getting a lot of (bad) press lately. Immigration guy starts on a bit of a tirade against said agency and moves on to describe his somewhat Libertarian political tendencies. All while a line of people are waiting their turns. Of course, we took it all in stride, because the last thing you want to do is get into a political argument with an immigration official!

Joe Yonan: Disturbing.

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To Santiago travelers: We were on two separately booked tickets and Northwest booked our bags through (granted, it was entirely within the US). But they said that they would do it for anyone who has the interline (?) agreement, that all you needed was your continuing boarding pass or the confirmation of your itinerary. You might try and see if US Airways will do the same for you.

Andrea Sachs: I think you are referring to code share or the Star Alliance, the consortium of airlines. I do not think US Air and TAM are partners, but it does not hurt to check,

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Native New Jerseyan: NYC at the holidays - I'd like to second your suggestions (especially the Bryant Park Christmas Market)and add one: the train show at the New York Botanical Garden (nybg.org) in the Bronx. You can take a Metro North train up there from Grand Central, I think. It would take some time, but really, it doesn't take all that long to take in the Rock Center tree and Macy's (Macy's will probably be open while you queue up for the bus). Other favs: walking up Madison Ave from 49th - to 75th and windows in all the dept stores. Enjoy!!

Becky Krystal: More tips for the New York-bound traveler.

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Baby it's COLD outside!: We're thinking of taking a winter break to the warmer climes of the Caribbean, and would like to explore somewhere new. Saint Lucia looks fascinating and lovely - plenty to do! - but we're having a hard time figuring out where it would be best to stay. Any hints or experience? Thanks!

Carol Sottili: I haven't been there, but perhaps our chatters can help. Have heard very good things about Ladera, but it's pricey and not on the beach. For a full list of accommodations, go to the St. Lucia Tourist Board.

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New York, NY: I am fairly well traveled (from Morocco to Costa Rica) but somehow have never made it to France. A friend has invited me to join her for a conference in Toulouse for three days and then three days in Paris in mid-January. Is this trip "worth it"? Or will it be too much time in Toulouse and too little in Paris. And how is Toulouse in the middle of winter? Thanks!

Zofia Smardz: I've never been to Toulouse, but if someone asked me to join them there for three days, I'd go. It's France, after all! There look to be a number of good museums, lots of beautiful historic medieval churches. It's known as the Pink City because of the bricks used in a lot of its architecture. I'm sure you could manage to while away three days there pleasantly enough. As for Paris, there's never enough time for Paris, no matter how long you spend there.

What do the rest of the chatsters think?

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Customs story: Back in the early 2000's, my husband and I flew to Australia to visit his family. After what always feels like the longest flight ever, we landed in Sydney and made our way to customs. I of course felt gross and exhausted, as you do after flying from Washington to Sydney, and I didn't quite understand when a woman with a dog approached me and asked if I could help her. I said sure, not quite realizing that she wanted help training her drug-sniffing dog! Luckily for me, the help just consisted of holding an umbrella (that I guess must have smelled like drugs), and waiting for the dog to sniff me out. He did, he got his treat, I didn't get arrested for holding fake drugs, and I eventually got to a hotel for a shower, so it all worked out fine.

Joe Yonan: You can now add "dog trainer" to your resume.

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We declared a small amount of wine and got away with not having to pay anything on the lot of it.: Please do not reward what essentially amounts to smuggling.

Joe Yonan: Sigh.

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Bethesda, Md.: Is there a Priceline equivalent website for hotel rooms in Europe?

Andrea Sachs: Well, Priceline does cover hotels in Europe. Is that equivalent enough, or was there something in particular you were looking for?

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Washington, D.C.: Tell me I'm not the only one who laughed at this typo: "We'll be flying Virgin to LAX from IUD next week..." People, I know you're trying to be clever using the airport abbreviations, but you'd really be a lot safer just writing "Dulles."

Zofia Smardz: We all have those brain, um, glitches when we're typing fast. And they're often howlers.

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re: person now leaving at 644am from Dulles: SuperShuttle was late for me once -- I called the central number a few times when it was getting later and later, and finally they told me they were sending a cab, to get a receipt, and they would reimburse me. They did, it was fine. I got the cab ride for the cost of the SuperShuttle.

This was to Reagan, but they might do it to Dulles to if that was your only option -- I was pleased.

Andrea Sachs: Stressful, but a happy ending. Good to know. Thanks!

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Native Berkeleyan: When we'd be returning to the US from vacations in Canada back in the '70s, and they'd ask where I was born, whenever I said "Berkeley" we'd get the third-degree from Customs. I eventually learned just to answer "California," and never had any more hassles at Customs. Talk about profiling!

Joe Yonan: Oh, my. I'm surprised "California" worked!

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Washington, D.C.: I brought a few bottles of alcohol back from Germany this fall, as presents for friends. I didn't actually know the limits on spirits and thought I might be over them, but I figured, what the heck, if they catch me, I'll pay the duty. I went through Customs without incident, all was good.

It was only a few days later I realized one of the alcohols I'd brought back was totally illegal. It's buffalo grass vodka from Poland - they sell a version in the U.S., but it's not the real thing, which has a toxic compound in it. Oops. I discovered this when I was looking up cocktail recipes to give to the friend who was getting that bottle. (She thought it was hilarious. So, that's good.)

Joe Yonan: Now THAT's smuggling.

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Spafinder bonus: You can often pick up spafinder coupons at places like Costco for a 20% discount. Could work as a gift, or just a nice way to have a slightly less expensive spa event for yourself.

Andrea Sachs: Nice tip! Thanks. (And a get a year's worth of paper towels, too, while you are there.)

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Airline changes your flight: This happened to me too.

When you discover this you contact the airline directly...preferably through the corporate office not the 800 reservation line.

With downsizing the airlines are rerouting their planes, eliminating direct flights entirely or on limited days.

What happened with me is I was booked on a flight from Nashville to Seattle through Cincinnati. The Nashville-Cincinnati piece was a crop duster plane where they eliminated this flight from their service.

What they booked me on was a crazy alternative that was in a direct conflict with what I needed to do then on the trip. I contacted corporate and they took car of it. The one thing I discovered with Delta HQ level is they still do not see northwest flights to rebook on.

You should not have to pay the extra fare or a rebooking penalty because they canceled what you booked.

There was another time they did this with my sister with a scheduling change which made her layover in Atlanta 15 minutes....needless to say she needed to be rebooked on an earlier flight out to make her connection.

Andrea Sachs: Helpful story. Thanks!

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Wilmington, Del.: Hi, We are looking at a 7-day southern Caribbean cruise in late Feb./Early Mar. from Puerto Rico. Any suggestions on Cruise Lines or Ports? We are a couple, no kids, in our late twenties. We are not particularly athletic and I'm not a huge beach fan. I really want a place to be warm, get away, eat interesting food, and drink interesting drinks. We're also a little budget conscious because we're saving for Germany in the fall.

Carol Sottili: I haven't been on that itinerary, but I'd take a look at the Caribbean Princess or the Celebrity Summit. Both offer seven-night cruises out of San Juan with starting prices of about $500 per person.

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Last minute travel: If you were a single woman who just finished two classes this semester (while working full-time) and need to chill our for 4 days or so, what would you do? Last year, my friend and I went to Mexico after classes (Dec. 10-16) but that's not possible (and wow do they stick you if you want a single!) I already went to Europe for 2 weeks this year, so this isn't a big trip, just something to re-group. Warm is good too. Any websites I should check? This would be for next week! Thanks so much.

Nancy Trejos: Okay, this might be the third time I've suggested this in this chat but it's only because I'm heading there next week. I just did exactly what you are doing. My girlfriends and I needed to re-group somewhere and we decided on Miami. We are going for a long weekend next week (I got a direct flight from DC to Miami for $159 RT including taxes. Not bad!) If you don't have a lot of time and want to do nothing but sit on the beach and eat good food and have come cocktails, consider Miami. If you live closer to the West Coast, why not try San Diego or L.A.? Another option is Vegas. It is so affordable these days because the city has been hit so hard by the economic crisis. It's a whole different experience from what Miami or another beach town would offer, but it would be fun. Austin is also a town to consider. It's got great music and great food. Check out Kayak.com or US.lastminute.com. Expedia.com, Travelocity.com and Cheaptickets.com also have last-minute deals.

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Deep Valley, USA: I used Priceline several times in London recently, and it worked fine.

Joe Yonan: Good to know. Thanks!

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Chicago: I get raised eyebrows from customs at O'Hare when I return from 2-day trips to Mexico with just a small duffel bag. "What was the purpose of your trip?" they ask. I usually reply - "it was sixty degrees warmer there than in Chicago; I wanted to thaw out."

Becky Krystal: I'm not sure I'd be so bold as to crack jokes in that situation! Hope they had a sense of humor.

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Eastern Market: I'm so impressed by all the honest folk we have here! I "didn't know" you were supposed to declare wine, etc... that wasn't for resale... And the perplexed responses of several customs agents seem to show they agree!

Joe Yonan: You can bring in up to a liter under the personal exemption, and more than that is fine (but you have to pay duty) as long as it doesn't arouse suspicion that you're trying to sell it, indeed.

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"Customs Process" article was about Immigration/passport control, NOT customs: Surely the writers and editors of the Washington Post's travel section know the difference -- immigration checks people's identity, customs checks to see that the stuff they carry is legal to bring into the US.

How did such a glaring error get past you? Don't use the silly excuse that most people use "customs" to mean all entry formalities. I expect better of the Post --will we see a correction in next week's travel section? terms.

Zofia Smardz: Tell that to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency, which, according to its Web site, "has a responsibility for securing and facilitating trade and travel while enforcing hundreds of U.S. regulations, including immigration and drug laws." If they can use "customs" as shorthand, I'd say, so can we.

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Another Canadian Customs story: A women in front of me in customs in Toronto was trying to explain to the agent that she was flying from DC to LA with some bizarre connection through Toronto. Of course she showed up with no proof of citizenship. After listening to her explanation for a few minutes, the Canadian customs agent looked at her and said "You do realize Canada is a different country"!. He then promised to put her on a list should she ever try this trick again without proper identification, and then let her proceed. Obviously pre-9/11.

Joe Yonan: First, a warning. Interesting. Not anymore, eh?

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Customs story: Several years ago, I went on a backpacking trip to Peru and Bolivia. I only took one carry on size backpack with a week's worth of stuff. When I came back to the US, via Houston, the immigration people did not believe me when I said I only had a carry on and I was taken aside for additional screening. They found lots of dirty clothes, a Peruvian alpaca sweater (new), and some candy bars. I missed my connection, which was annoying (it was right before Thanksgiving) but I think they may have been more disappointed not to find any contraband.

Becky Krystal: This seems to be a common theme for our readers. Still, we will continue to espouse the benefits of traveling light.

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From last week's chat: The poster to Dulles.....I thought they had a sign that said was lots were filled or vacant. The airport that did not have this the last time I traveled out of there was BWI.

The flight time schedule changes are a game the airlines do to satisfy the BTS/FAA reporting statistics with scoring the airline. One of the measures is on-time arrivals. The way to fix this is to extend the arrivals to match what the real-time travel given routine traffic and weather issue that come into play.

Andrea Sachs: Before going, check parking updates at the airports (find the info/phone numbers on the airports' Web sites). But for the most part, they open up all of the lots over the holidays to accommodate the high volume.

As for changing flight times: I never knew why they did that. I have a flight to Quito that has been change three times so far. It adds even more mystery to the adventure of travel: not knowing when your flight leaves.

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644 to 916 change: If I were that traveler I would call the airline and nicely explain to them that it is not an acceptable change and there better be compensation for a change that dramatic. I was once on a flight to BWI that was canceled and the rebooked flight got me into Baltimore too late to take the MARC train. I explained to the AirTran agent that it was unacceptable and she rebooked me into Reagan with a $100 voucher for my trouble. Asking can get you somewhere!

Becky Krystal: Especially if you're polite.

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TSA Doc: Of course I have an unredacted copy. :)

So does www.cryptome.org.

Christopher Elliott: I see it. Very interesting.

This might make a good column, after all.

Any of you lurkers out there with thoughts on this document, you can

email me privately

.

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Most "interesting"...: Interesting or frightening?

I crossed the Georgian-Azerbaijani border by train and was held for 3 hours by Azeri border guards because I had Armenian stamps in my passport. They were convinced that I had visited the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh, which Azerbaijan claims, and was a secret Armenian sympathizer because my Lonely Planet had a separate section for N-K and didn't include it as part of Azerbaijan. LP nearly got me thrown in jail! Some smooth talking managed to get me out of it, but it was intense!

Joe Yonan: Yikes! I'm reminded of being "held" (i.e., shaken down for a bribe) in the Mexico City airport because I dared to step over a rope and try to take a shortcut. Thank goodness for a sister (angry, at that) who is fluent in Spanish!

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Silver Spring, Md.: I need to rent a car for 10 days in LA over the holidays. We'd love a mini-van, but they are several hundred dollars more than a full-sized (which seems odd). I've never used Priceline - is it worth a shot? Is there a winning strategy? I usually use National - are the discount rental companies OK - or will I have to wait hours in line?

Thanks in advance.

Andrea Sachs: I am a big fan of naming my own price on Priceline. I have a good success rate, as long as I am not completely unrealistic. (Most recently, I tried to get a rental for Biloxi. The going rate was $50 a day, I tried to get $30 a day and was rejected. I eventually went to an off-site company and got $31 a day.) When you search for a car, the site will tell you what the rental companies are offering. This is good for getting an idea of the base rate. When you name your own price, knock the price down by $10 or $15. You will know immediately if your price was accepted (and the companies are the major players, so don't worry about driving around a three-wheeled lemon).

For other tips, see www.bidontravel.com or www.betterbidding.com.

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For the person interested in St. Lucia: My husband and I stay at Tikaye. It's a small resort with excellent views of the ocean. Plus you get to stay in a bungalow as opposed to hotel room.

Joe Yonan: Thanks!

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Harrisburg, Pa.: I helped my mother fill out her customs form. All she had to declare was a stuffed bear that she had bought. After I noticed she had declared the purchase of "one bear", I suggested she indicate it was a stuffed bear she was declaring.

Joe Yonan: Very wise. Here's hoping that all it would take to clarify the situation would be display of said stuffed bear, but you never know...

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US - Warm!: You could have a GREAT week in Puerto Rico for $4000 - nonstop flight, Caribbean island - and no passport required. Or the US Virgin Islands!

Joe Yonan: Yes, that's a very generous budget. Could travel like kings.

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Baltimore, Md.: A few years ago hubby and I traveled r/t Philadelphia to Paris. All went well on the trip except on the return flight. We had landed in Philadelphia and exited the plane, standing in line to clear Immigration/Customs. I went through first and stood waiting for hubby to clear, when I realized I had left my purse under the seat in front of me! Horrors! In absolute haste I turned around and ran back through and up the walkway toward the plane, until I was stopped by an airport employee. Even though still in Philly, at this point, I was technically now on foreign soil, with a passport that did not reflect permission to be there. I was frantic, mostly to get my purse back, and my husband was frantic, as he had no idea what I was doing, and I was shouting across the turnstiles to him what I was trying to accomplish. I stood for a moment to calm myself and began approaching airport, airline and I/C employees to explain my situation. While doing so, still on "foreign" turf, I saw an air steward from our flight walking around on the US side of the gate, holding my purse aloft, asking if anyone had left it on the plane. My husband walked up and took possession of it; he wasn't even asked for I.D. I was grateful but unnerved by that one! In the end, of course, thankfully, the airline and I/C people took pity on me and allowed me back in the country, meaning to walk back through the turnstile!

Joe Yonan: This is like the beginnings of a (bad) Lifetime movie. Horrors, indeed.

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Cleveland Park, D.C.: Hi Flight Crew,

This should be a relatively straightforward question. I am staying in Palm Beach, FL over President's Day Weekend. It is about 100-150 dollars cheaper (depending on times) to fly into Ft. Lauderdale than it is to fly into West Palm Beach. How inconvenient is it going to be to get from Ft. Lauderdale to Palm Beach? Would we have to rent a car or is there a Super Shuttle option?

Thanks!

Andrea Sachs: The two cities are about 53 miles apart. SuperShuttle does not service the Fort Lauderdale airport, but you can try the Florida Sunshine Shuttle or the commuter rail (www.tri-rail.com). If your intention was to save money, then you will break even (or less) by renting a car. However, when you add up cab fares, shuttles, etc., you might in the end save money by renting--plus you have independence.

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Washington, DC: The amount of time remaining on a passport has to be at least as long as the duration of a tourist visa (actual or implied) for the country you'll be visiting. For Italy, a tourist visa is good for 90 days, so when you enter the country, you need at least 90 days left until passport expiration. Italy is a Schengen country, so no tourist visa is required of U.S. citizens, but in all other respects, American visitors are bound by all the restrictions of a tourist visa.

Andrea Sachs: To be safe, though, it's good to have some wiggle room on your passport. From what I remember, the State Department recommends six months.

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Washington, DC: For the folks leaving early on a flight from Dulles: We've found that for most trips it's easier and cheaper to drive to Dulles and park in one of the lots. Particularly for an early morning flight, it eliminates the uncertainty of wondering whether or not the cab/shuttle will arrive on time. And most of the time it's cheaper than taxis from and to Columbia Heights.

Andrea Sachs: Thanks for the advice.

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Reston, Va.: It wasn't customs, it was security (way before 9/11). Anyway, received a hammer for Christmas which I threw into my backpack. At security, they found the hammer and told me I could not take it onto the plane. As they were telling me my options, lady behind me pulled the exact same hammer out of her backpack and said, "So, you mean, I can't bring my hammer with me either?"

Becky Krystal: Resisting the urge to sing "If I Had a Hammer" right now.

Joe Yonan: Or "Can't Touch This."

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March or April Getaway?: Hey FC I need your amazing expertise again. A friend and I are looking for a semi-warm weather getaway for 7-10 days in March/April. We considered India but she's a little worried about sanitation so she ruled it out. I was thinking maybe Portugal? I'm thinking someplace not cold (we're in NYC) and with stuff to do, but a day or two lounging would be OK too if it's beachy. I was also thinking South Africa although that will probably stretch the budget a bit more. Other ideas?

Nancy Trejos: Oh the possibilities! You've got some good options already. But let me throw out a few more: Spain, Thailand, Egypt, or Greece?

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Arlington, Va.: I wonder if it helps to get through customs simply by being honest on your form. A couple of times after long trips I have declared everything including some expensive jewelry I bought which put me way over the personal limit. All I got was a "welcome home sir" and wave through. I was prepared to have to pay.

The person going to Chile on separate tickets should at least ask when they check in with US Airways whether it is possible to check the bags all the way through. I have been able to do this on separate tickets on different airlines in the past without any issue. It can't hurt to ask. And if it works it is certainly better than going through all that trouble in Brazil to reclaim the bags and then re-check them which I assume would mean clearing customs and passport control and potential visa issues, no? Being able to stay airside would be much preferable.

Andrea Sachs: Indeed. Ask the airline. You never know.

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Washington: Re bringing back wine: I assume that even if it is within the one liter customs exemption, you still have to check a bottle of wine to avoid the 3 oz liquids rule. Is that correct?

Joe Yonan: Yep.

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passports: How do we find out what the passport expiration date guidelines are for different countries? My passport expires soon but I have trips coming up to Austria, Greece, and France. Thx!

Andrea Sachs: You need to check with each country's consulate. You can also check the travel info on the U.S. State Department's Web site, but I am not sure the passport info is that specific. As we said before: You should probably not let your passport be more than six months out.

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RE: Air Tran: Be careful on Air Tran. I booked a non-stop flight (or so I thought) on Travelocity from DCA to LAX. The itinerary showed only a departure from DCA and arriving at LAX. When I got to the gate in DCA, the gate said Milwaukee, I was confused and asked the gate agent who informed me that it was direct, but not non-stop. There would be a 45 minute layover in Mil. I would have booked a non-stop had I known on another airline, but by that time, I was already at the gate and it was too late. I guess since I stayed on the same plane, it doesn't show up, but they should it least be clear that there is a stop.

Andrea Sachs: Good point. You need to check the full itinerary as well as the flight time before you book. If a flight to Atlanta takes seven hours, you know they are detouring in Detroit.

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20008: When I was thirteen years old, I traveled to Lithuania with my 77-year-old grandmother and my 82-year-old grandfather. On the way home, we were picking up our luggage to go through Customs in Chicago, when the Customs Officer came by with one of those dogs that sniffs for agricultural products. He proceeded to ask my grandmother (who spoke no english) to open her bag and found several homemade sausages that my great uncle had given her when leaving Lithuania. The sausages were confiscated and thrown in the trash behind us. Looking quite innocent, my grandma didn't get in any trouble. As a 13-year-old, I was mortified. The minute the officer was out of sight, my grandmother wordlessly turned around and retrieved her (well-wrapped) sausages from the trash and placed them back in her bag! Clearly, Customs did not know who they were dealing with!

Joe Yonan: Your grandmother was a force to be reckoned with, and a woman after my own heart. I have tried in vain many times over the years, by the way, to get Customs people to let me hang out in the confiscation area and write something about what they do with all the stuff, particularly food, that they grab. Their official line is that they destroy it, but I have a hard time believing that.

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Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.: Hello, Flight Crew! I love your chats but am submitting early today as I am not sure I will be able to stay for the entire time. My question is actually multi-fold. We have told my dad we would take him on a cruise in honor of his 85th birthday next October. He has said that since he has already cruised the Eastern, Western and Southern Caribbean several times, he would like to cruise Greece. 1) Is September - October a good time to do this cruise? 2) Dad has limited mobility and I am concerned he may not be able to actually see the sights in which he is interested. He recently had an electric scooter on a cruise and used that to get off at each port, but is that actually viable for the Greek ruins? 3)Although most of the group will be coming from DC, some of us will be coming from other parts of the country. Are we better off waiting to get air on our own rather than booking it all with the cruiseline's group tour desk? 4) Is there a specific company that you feel is better than the others for a Greek cruise? I know this is lengthy, but I truly hope you can help us out. Thanks again for making my Mondays brighter!

Carol Sottili: I'm afraid your question is way too complex for us to answer on the fly. You could submit it to Going Our Way (email me at carol.sottili@gmail.com). Meanwhile, you need a travel agent who specializes in Greece. Contact the American Society of Travel Agents for specialists. One agency in Greece that has been around for a very long time is Dolphin Hellas.

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Joe Yonan: Please discontinue use of all portable electronic devices at this point and stow them until we're at the gate. We're done! Thanks for all your questions today, and for the group-think that helped answer your fellow travelers' queries.

Now, for the prize winner. Will the Harrisburg traveler who wrote in about the bear/stuffed bear claim please step forward to claim your prize? We promise it won't be a stuffed bear, although that would be very appropriate. Email us at travel@washpost.com, and we'll send you something fun...

Until next week, happy travels.

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Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


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