Talk about travel: Your best camping stories, Southwest Early Bird check-in, Seattle and the San Juans, Vancouver, beach houses, the Florida Keys, Croatia, more

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The Flight Crew
Washington Post Travel Section
Monday, March 29, 2010; 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, March 29 at 2 p.m.

Don't forget to submit your vacation photos and photos of your pets on vacation to our photo galleries.

You may also browse an archive of previous live travel Q&As.

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Nancy Trejos: Good afternoon travelers, and thanks for joining us today! Your flight crew is here, ready for your questions and comments. We hope you got a chance to read yesterday's wonderful stories on camping in Australia and Italy. I haven't gone camping since I was a teenager, but those stories made me want to take a camping trip soon. We're sure some of you out there have had some interesting camping experiences--good, bad or scary. We'd love to hear about them. Best camping story wins a prize. Ok, let's chat!

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Fairfax, VA: I am wondering whether anyone has tried Southwest's new Early Bird check in option. Is it worth the $10? What kind of seating can one expect if you don't pony up the $10? Thanks!

Christopher Elliott: I wrote about the Early Bird program when it took off a few months ago. At that time, the reviews were mixed, but leaning positive.

Since then, I've heard a lot of criticism from Southwest customers who are worried -- and rightfully so -- that if too many people pay the extra $10, then we'll be right back where we started: Lots of passengers waiting to get on the plane, and Southwest has collected $10 a head.

I'm flying Southwest in a few months with my family, and we are going to stand in line with everyone else, and without paying an Early Bird penalty.

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Dupont Circle, DC: Any suggestions for a nice bed and breakfast in Charlottesville? Something not too far from Monticello, if possible, since that's the main reason we're heading down there--although suggestions for other things to do in the area are most welcome!

Becky Krystal: How about the appropriately named Inn at Monticello? I've never been but have always been interested. It seems to get almost universally good reviews on TripAdvisor.

At Monticello, you'll also be close to one of my favorite C'Ville spots,

Carter Mountain Orchard

. I also think no visit to the area is complete without strolling the U.Va. Grounds, but then again, I'm a biased grad. And there are tons of wineries to check out as well.

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Cleveland Park, DC: Dear Flight Crew, We are planning a week in Paris in mid-July; our dates are pretty much fixed because of work/school/camp schedules. Right now, round-trip nonstop fares are about $1560, and round-trip one-stop fares start at $1200. We've signed up for Kayak daily fare alerts and are hoping to see fares dropping come May. Are there other things we should be doing? Thanks!

Carol Sottili: I wouldn't completely rely on Kayak. Sign up on a couple of other sites, including Yapta and FareCompare. I'd also look on my own every few days, and I'd keep close tabs on the Air France and United sites.

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Washington DC: Asking early because of a meeting - I'm planning my fall vacation early this year. I've found a ticket to go to Spain for $700, including taxes. Does this seem reasonable, even for 6 months in advance? Also, if you had a week in Spain, what would you suggest? Loaded question, I know. Thanks!

Carol Sottili: Yes, $700 is reasonable. I like the Costa Blanca coast north of Alicante - lots of small, accessible fishing villages with nice beaches and cafes. But if you've never been to Spain, you may want to hit the bigger venues.

Zofia Smardz: We ran a Going Our Way column with a proposed trip to Spain just a few weeks ago that might give you some ideas. Check it out.

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Tenleytown, DC: Looking for non-stop flights from DC to Burlington, VT for a long weekend during fall folliage season. Is round trip for $220 a good price, or should I wait to see if it drops?

Joe Yonan: That sounds like a pretty great price to me...

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Ellicott City, MD: In 2011, my husband and I will both turn 50, our daughter will turn 21 and our son will turn 18 and graduate from high school. What are some suggestions for a perfect family vacation before the kids get out of the house? Preferences: somewhere in the US or Canada, mix of sightseeing and hiking, love the mountains, flying or driving okay. Thanks!

Andrea Sachs: I have so many ideas, but if I had to pick one family vacation I would recommend Seattle and the San Juan Islands. Spend a few days soaking in the great culture and outdoor activities in Seattle, then catch a ferry from Anacortes (it's a lovely drive, especially if you take the longer route through Bainbridge Island) to the San Juan Islands. You can ferry hop around the islands, spending a night or two on each, or pick one as base (Friday Harbor on San Juan Island, perhaps) and explore from there. I did this trip a few years ago with my family and we still talk about it!

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Jamaica excursions: I have just made arrangements to travel to Jamaica the end of May. Any suggestions on things to try while there? If there is something that you thought was not worth the time or money, that information would be helpful as well! Thank you.

Nancy Trejos: Andrea traveled to Jamaica late last year and wrote great story. You should be able to get some good suggestions in that piece.

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Washington, D.C.: Hey Crew, Sort of a weird question... I won't eat buffet food. I've avoided cruises for years over it. Now I'm wondering about all inclusive resorts. Is the food served buffet style or table service? Is there any way to know before you get there? (I'm interested in someplace in the Caribbean if that helps.)

Christopher Elliott: You'll find both at all-inclusive resorts. Breakfast and lunch typically is served buffet-style, and at the larger all-inclusives, you'll have several sit-down dinner options with traditional table service.

I can't blame you for staying away from buffet food, particularly in the Caribbean. Have you ever watched a buffet line? In a warm climate, the flies enjoy the food as much as the human guests. Yuck!

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Silver Spring, Md.: We want to take our 15 year old grandson on a west coast trip that will begin with sailing on a cousins boat in Sequim, WA. What do you suggest after the sailing is done. Would Vancouver offer anything after the Olympics or should we head south along the Pacific Coast? What to see and do?

Becky Krystal: I think Vancouver has tons to offer. In fact, I'd much rather being going after the Olympics than during! We have quite a few recent stories on our Canada page. I think that'd be a good place to start.

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Washington DC: Can any one recommend a good property rental company for the Rehoboth Beach area? Thank you.

Zofia Smardz: My husband and I have used both Jack Lingo, 800-345-3469; www.jacklingo.com and Coldwell Banker,www.coldwellbanker.com, and have had good experiences with both.

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Rockville: What are the legalities and insurance issues if I want to rent a car in Seattle to drive to Vancouver and back? Or is it more trouble than it's worth?

Joe Yonan: You mean because you're going to Canada? I rented a car several times to drive from Boston to Montreal, and never had any issues that were substantive enough to prevent me from doing it -- or, frankly, that were substantive enough for me to even remember!

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DC: Parents and I are heading off to Barbados in a few months, and I'm looking for hotel suggestions. I saw that in last week's chat someone recommended the Crane Hotel, but rates are more than $300 a night. Any cheaper suggestions? We don't need fancy -- just clean and comfortable, and close to the beach!

Nancy Trejos: I was there recently and ate at the Round House Inn and Restaurant. I didn't get a chance to look at the rooms but the lobby was cute and the restaurant was great. We had a nice, relaxing lunch overlooking the water. It's in Bathsheba on the east coast of the island, which is not as touristy as the west coast. I much preferred the east coast. Bathsheba is a fun surfing town. The Sea-U Guesthouse is also in Bathsheba and by the beach. It looks like you can get rooms in both hotels for less than $200 a night.

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Wellsville, PA: We are traveling to Miami for a getaway from Friday May 28 to Friday June 4. We would like to drive through the keys and stay somewhere on the keys for part of the trip and stay a few nights in Miami with friends Do you have any recommendations for places to stay for two couples part of a week, around $100-200 a night or so for a budget. Thanks.

Christopher Elliott: I used to live in the Keys, and one of my favorite places to stay was the Hawk's Cay Resort on Duck Key, which is just north of Marathon. They have villas just behind the resort that are ideal for larger groups. I've stayed in them, and although they might stretch your budget, they're well worth the splurge. I think Duck Key is also pretty centrally located -- you can get up to Key Largo to do some diving, down to Marathon for Fishing, and Key West is a 1 1/2 hour drive, at most.

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Takoma, D.C.: I can't believe you published the "hint" on how smokers can get away with smoking in a non-smoking hotel room -- by claiming that the previous occupant created the smoke! That should not have made it past the editor's eye.

Zofia Smardz: My bad.

But frankly, don't you think smokers already know this trick?

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Best bets for flying to OKC: I want/need to fly to OKC in the beginning of May, end of May, or beginning of June. Right now, the best flight prices I can find for 3 people is about $1000, and that's on Southwest out of BWI. Is there a good time to look for flights going there? I know OKC isn't a popular destination, so flights are more expensive, but I was hoping to get a better deal if possible.

Thanks!

Carol Sottili: I think that's about as good as it is going to get, especially if you want nonstop flights. I see some midweek flights starting at $270 a person, but they connect. I'm seeing deep discounts only between airports where there is lots of competition on nonstop service. So if you're going from Washington to Boston or Los Angeles, for example, you'll have a much better chance of getting a great fare than if you're going to Indianapolis or Oklahoma City.

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Harper's Ferry, WV: Howdy folks! Submitting early. Regarding hotels that accept pets, my Jack Russell "Terrorist" and I often take road trips together. We search out Red Roof Inns--nearly all of them accept pets, they are reasonably priced, and the rooms were renovated in the past couple of years. There's no extra fee for pets. Be aware, however, that you cannot leave the animal alone in the room, and you must bring him or her along when you check in. I think there may be a weight restriction as well. Motel 6 also has a liberal pet policy. Some of the Affinia hotels in NYC accept small pets, too.

Nancy Trejos: On behalf of our pet-loving readers, thanks for the good tips!

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Spa, with Horse, and/or Fish: My wife is about to lose her mind, and the thinking was a little spa vaca might help her gain her stability, what would make it perfect would be a spa with the opportunity to ride horses, her current mental outlet. Even more perfect, some place that could teach her husband how to fly fish, (it's one of those things he always felt he should understand). Any thoughts?

Becky Krystal: Get thee to the Homestead. They have a spa, horseback riding AND fly-fishing. And I just got a wonderful little e-mail the other day that says the resort is offering a 48-hour promotion: Make your booking between April 1 and April 3 and you can get a free third night with your two-night stay. I'd grab that!

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Washington, DC: My new husband and I would like to honeymoon in either Morocco or Egypt. Can you please tell us if the Fall is a good time to visit either country and whether these would prove to be interesting honeymoon destinations? We're not really "lay out on the beach" types and wanted to see a part of the world we hadn't seen before.

Andrea Sachs: Autumn is a great time to travel to either location, since you will miss the searing heat of summer as well as the holiday crowds of winter. I think both are exciting destinations for a honeymoon: You can go wild with the sightseeing but also hole up at an exotic resort for some R&R. Personally, I would choose Morocco, since it's only six hours by plane from New York. Plus, I love tagine and shopping in the souks.

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To Silver Spring: We camped a few days in Sequim (pronounced "squim"), WA., many years ago, then drove to Port Angeles, where we caught the auto-ferry to Vancouver Island, where we spent an entire week camping as well as visiting BC's capital city of Victoria and doing other sightseeing (there's always Nanaimo, home of the Bath Tub races).

To the Flight Crew: For today's contest: We chose to camp in Sequim because it was said to be the least rainy area on the Olympic Peninsular. Unfortunately it rained practically non-stop the whole time, and we were accordingly miserable. Ironically, the only place on the entire peninsular we visited where it didn't rain was... the Hoh Rain Forest! Go figure.

Nancy Trejos: Ha! Ironic indeed. Thanks for sharing.

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Key West Bound: So my husband and I are headed to Key West for our first kid free vacation in over three years! We fly into Ft. Lauderdale Friday and are staying at the Marquesa Hotel Friday and Saturday night.

My question is where to stop on the way down Friday for lunch or anything else must see?

Also, we're not leaving until Monday so we were planning on heading back towards the airport for Sunday night. Any recommendations for somewhere to stay on one of the other islands Sunday night?

Thanks!

Christopher Elliott: Have a Grouper Reuben at Keys Fisheries in Marathon. And see if you can get a night at Little Palm Island, which is in the Lower Keys. The resort is crazy expensive, but worth every penny.

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22202: You've had debates before about whether travel agents are necessary -- I say plan it on your own and enjoy the flexibility! For our honeymoon last October, we went to Munich, Salzburg, Vienna, Bratislava, Prague, Berlin, Amsterdam and Brussels. When we left the United States, all we had were our plane tickets into Munich and out of Brussels and two nights' reservations in Munich. We made our hotel reservations as we went on my iPhone and bought our departure train tickets at each station as we arrived. We added two cities and changed our arrival days in other cities based on interesting things we found. None of that we'd been able to do if we were locked into an itinerary planned by a travel agent on a different continent. Yay for spontaneity!

Nancy Trejos: Thanks for sharing. I commend you for planning such an ambitious trip on your own!

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Arlington: With the beautiful weather upon us this weekend, my girlfriend and I want to go on a quick weekend getaway -- within a 2 hour drive. We have been thinking about Gettysburg, have any other suggestions?

Becky Krystal: Winchester, Va. Ellicott City. Annapolis.

Any other ideas, chatters?

Nancy Trejos: How about Chincoteague? Or Solomon Island,MD? Baltimore is fun too.

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Washington, DC: I have to work most of my son's spring break, but would like to take him somewhere fun for an overnight, even if just into the city. Any ideas for a 2-day trip for a mom and her handsome 10-year old son?

Becky Krystal: I don't know how much you want to spend, but I feel like a 10-year-old boy would love a trip to a working cattle ranch.

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Washington DC: I need recommendations. We would like to spend a week at a beach resort in August, just sit and eat by the water. Not too pricy. Is the Caribean too hot that time of the year?

Nancy Trejos: I don't think it would be too hot. Temperatures in the Caribbean in August are typically in the high 80s. Keep in mind, though, that hurricane and tropical storm season runs from June to November (Southern Caribbean islands, however, are rarely hit by hurricanes or tropical storms. Think Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao.) Good luck planning!

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Crystal City: Afternoon, Crew! I was just wondering if you or any of the chatterati have had any luck whatsoever avoiding the rebooking fees from Orbitz. Due to unforseen circumstances, we need to change our one-way Air Berlin flight date and destination. I realize this is how they make the big bucks, but we're students and broke as a joke, so willing to try (almost) anything. We attempted to go directly to Air Berlin with no luck. I suspect we've been hung out to dry, but wanted to check with the experts before we bit the bullet.

Any ideas? Thanks!

Christopher Elliott: It's hard to avoid rebooking fees, which are charged by the airline. I've dealt with Air Berlin in the past, and they like to do everything by the book. So I wouldn't even bother asking. But Orbitz, which is your travel agency, may be more persuasive as your intermediary (after all, that's what agents do). A brief, polite email to Orbitz could work. If you get a form response, here are a few higher-level contacts to whom you can appeal your case. Good luck.

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Washington, DC: After a miserable couple of weeks at work and my first 5k coming up on Saturday, I feel like I may need a beer or two this weekend to celebrate getting through all of this. Do you have a recommendation as to a brewery tour within 3 or 4 hours of DC? An overnight trip is fine if the brewery location is a fun town/city and there's other activities (preferably outdoor) to do!

Becky Krystal: Oooh, how about the Brew Ridge Trail? In and around Charlottesville and Nelson County, you'll have several opportunities for tours and tastings. Cheers!

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DC to LAX : I'm going to Los Angeles at the end of April, and meeting friends there who will all be coming in at different times of the day (on a Friday). It looks like I'll arrive at LAX first at noon and will have hours to myself. What can I do for the day that will be acceptable for me to bring my carryon luggage (duffle bag) with me? We're staying with a friend of a friend who I'll meet later that night so I don't have a hotel room to stash the bag at, nor will I need a rental car. I would probably enjoy a Hollywood tour or even just hanging out at the beach, but dragging this bag with me will be a real, well, drag.

Carol Sottili: There are tour companies that do layover tours out of LAX. You'll jump on a bus, so your bag shouldn't be a big deal. Choices include Starline Tours or LA City Tours.

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Washington, D.C.: What, in your opinion(s), is the most beautiful Caribbean island? My husband and I have only been to Puerto Rico (San Juan), and we want to visit another island (or another part of PR) this year. We don't care much about nightlife, we just want a gorgeous beach to walk along - preferably no more than 5 hours' flying time from DC. Oh, and any super nice hotel recommendations (prefer hotels that are not full of screaming children) are also welcome (this is a splurge- we're budgeting $400-600/nt). Thanks!

Nancy Trejos: I have not been to all the Caribbean islands but I thought Barbados had spectacular beaches. The ones on the east coast were expecially gorgeous and not overrun with tourists. If you feel like splurging, I would stay at the Crane Hotel. I looked at a couple of rooms. They were very charming, and you can get one overlooking the water. Atlantis Hotel is also supposed to be quite nice.

If you decide to go back to Puerto Rico, have you gone to Vieques yet? It's gorgeous.

Any chatters want to let us know what their favorite Caribbean island is?

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Omaha, NE: Would it be unbearable in terms of heat/humidity to visit Hong Kong/Taiwan in July/August?

Andrea Sachs: All we can say it: It's hot, it's humid. But so is Washington and that does not stop people from visiting. It all depends on how well you can tolerate such weather conditions.

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Bloomington IN: Hi - posting early so not to miss next chat...have just sent hefty deposit for an apartment in Paris this fall from Sept. 18 - 25. Would like to take the only non-stop flight from Cincinnati to CDG which is listed by Delta @ $1,066, and others (same flight times) up to $1,223. Since there is only one flight we can take on the 17th (if we want non-stop on this date which we do) should I nail this one now, 6 months in advance? I'm afraid it may sell out in the meantime. Also I'd like to ask the chatters about 1-2 day barge or boat excursions in Burgundy or Loire or other scenic rivers or canals in France. All the ones I've found are for around a week and are described as "luxury" cruises. We don't have the time, money, or desire for that. We would prefer shorter length excursion on a smallish somewhat intimate barge or boat and we also don't want to rent a boat ourselves. I know this is a lot of prerequisites, but I'm hoping the chatters out there would have some suggestions. Thank you for these chats - I've learned a lot in the few years I've been following! Susan

Carol Sottili: I'd buy the air tickets now given your circumstances. As for boat cruises, we'll see if our chatters can help. The only ones I know of are a week long.

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Chantilly, VA: Ah, so many great camping stories over the years - where to begin. Being overtaken by cicadas several years back, literally being blown away camping on the beach at Rehobath, or almost being attacked by bears. So many great memories. But the best is the bears. A group of us (about 6 tents) were camping in Northwestern PA, and, we heard a bear outside rummaging around the campground. Not a peep was made by any of the campers. The bear stomped around and carried a coleman cooler. Next morning, we could see his teeth marks in the cooler from carrying it. Never looked at a cooler the same since ...

Nancy Trejos: Scary! Glad you survived!

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Alexandria, VA: Hi! You guys always come up with great answers so I'm hoping you'll be able to help me! My boyfriend and I are looking to go somewhere for a 4-6 day vacation sometime this summer. We need a good mix of relaxation (preferably on a beach) but also need lots of stuff to do (both indoor and outdoor). We're both into seeing historical things and doing things like parasailing and kayaking. The only restrictions are 1) it doesn't take more than 5 or 6 hours to get there and that 2) it has cheap airfare as I'm a poor nonprofit worker. Any suggestions? Thanks!!

Becky Krystal: How about Cape Cod? You'll probably want to rent a car to drive from Boston, but between Southwest and AirTran at BWI, you should be able to find a good fare.

Other suggestions?

Nancy Trejos: You can also get some decently-priced flights to Puerto Rico. And it doesn't take too long to get there.

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Volunteer Vacations: A friend is interested in doing one, and I can't find the piece you did on this topic in your archives. Can you post the link? Thanks!!

washingtonpost.com: Smart ways to make a volunteering trip worthwhile (Post, Dec 13, 2009)

Becky Krystal: Thank you, chat producer Andrea.

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Columbia, Md.: Why is air fare to Ireland so much higher this summer relative to the past few years? Not just a little, but 40% or more higher. Last summer, and every summer for the past several years, we have been flying to Ireland in August. Air fares were around $700 from the Washington, DC area to Shannon or Dublin. Today, fares to Shannon, Ireland are well over $1,100. We've been watching the prices since November 2009, and there has been very little up or down movement in that price. In the past, there was usually a good sale in February. Not this year. Do you think there will be a real summer sale? Or do you think that fares have peaked or will go even higher? Thank you, Joe Wasserman

Christopher Elliott: No one knows for certain. Air fares are set by sophisticated computer algorithms that estimate demand and predict what passengers would be willing to pay for seats. And this year, people like you are on the wrong side of the formula. For now, at least.

No one knows what will happen in the future, but if past performance is any indication, then there will be sales. The best way to find out is to track your desired city pairs on a site like

Yapta

, and to book when you feel you can afford the ticket. And also -- and this is really important -- don't look back to see if the prices go lower. That'll just ruin your vacation.

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Rosslyn, VA: I'm asking this out of curiosity. I used some miles to book a one-way flight on U.S. Airways from Providence to National, with a stop in NY LaGuardia. When I checked in, I paid to switch to a non-stop flight that left 20 minutes earlier. Eventually though, my flight to NY LaGuardia was cancelled. Because U.S. Airways would have had to I book me on a different flight anyway, could I have asked for a refund of the $50 I paid to transfer to the non-stop flight?

Christopher Elliott: Yes. But the time to have done that would have been at the gate, as opposed to later. Agents are empowered to issue fast refunds in a situation like this. Later on, it becomes more difficult.

Still, it's worth a try.

Here's the form.

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Metro Center: Years ago, my family went camping and set up our tents in absolutely beautiful weather. Not realizing that a storm was coming, we didn't stake the tents down. So my sister (9 years old at the time) was sleeping in her tent when the rain came. With the rain came wind. And with the wind went my sister inside of her tent. My father and I ran after the tent and finally got her to stop tumbling before she went into the lake. Needless to say, my sister isn't the biggest fan of camping.

Nancy Trejos: I'm so sorry! I'm glad you rescued her!

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San Juans all wrong: There are no mountains on Washington state's San Juan islands per se, they are wooded and hilly but far from exciting. Pretty scenery would not be an ideal match for the family who wants to escape together (kids 18 and 21.) They said nothing about boating or fishing. A climb in the Andes or Rockies would be a better goal and they could train together, maybe have a blog or Ning for this to update ahead of time and get excited. They could tackle part of the Appalachian Trail together or hit the canyons and mountains of Utah, maybe climb as well as hike. Your San Juans idea meets none of their reqs. Did you read their question - your family's trip irrelevant here. Sheesh.

Andrea Sachs: I said that was one idea, and I still stand behind my suggestion. And there is more to the islands than just scenery. There are art communities and whale watching tours, for example. Also, Seattle is wild with activities, from Pike Place Market to Mount Rainier. But thanks for the ideas, though the Andes might be out of their reach and I am not sure the AT meets the cultural requirements.

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Arlington, VA: My boyfriend and I are headed on a Caribbean cruise in early May. We're visiting St. Thomas, St. Kitts, St. Maarten, St. Lucia, Dominica, and Barbados (RT San Juan). We are cruising on Carnival and I have read conflicting views on shore excursions. Some people say you should purchase through Carnival because it is unsafe to leave the ship in these areas without the cruise tour escort. Others say the cruise excursions are way overpriced and you should book on your own with other companies or simply just wander the islands by yourself. Do you have thoughts? And if we do not book with the cruise, any suggestions for reputable tour companies we could book with or should we go it alone?

Carol Sottili: I've done it both ways, and I think it depends on what you want to do. If you just want to go to the beach and snorkel, you don't need a shore excursion. Just figure out where the nearest nice beach is located and take a cab. But if you want more specialized activities, the ships' excursions may be an option. For example, we wanted to Snuba last time we cruised, and the only company that was reputable and offered the trip would work only through the cruise line - we couldn't book independently. Another time, we wanted to go to Atlantis, but we were cheap and went on our own. As a result, we couldn't use any of the facilities. But many other times, we've just jumped in cabs and been perfectly happy going our own way.

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Ashburn, VA: I have two vacations (lucky me, right) - lined up this year.

1. Vegas in June (no kiddies) - was there 3 years ago and did basic touristy stuff, any recs to eat/party/see (staying at Mandalay).

2. OBX in September (kiddies) - going with another couple to Duck and renting a house. What are some good kiddie friendly (almost 3 year olds) activities down there?

Thanks, love reading your discussions!

Nancy Trejos: I went to Vegas in January and wrote about the new City Center, which has many restaurants and bars and a casino. I expecially enjoyed Sage, Silk Road and Julian Serrano's restaurant in there. Our food writer Tom Sietsema also did a piece on a few Vegas restaurants. For fun, I would check out any of the Cirque du Soleil shows or the Blue Man Group.

For OBX, the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island is great for kids of all ages. The Outer Banks Center for Wildlife Education in Corolla also has fun kid-friendly activities. You should also take a tour of the wild horses. Have fun!

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Arlington, VA: Not my camping story, but I'll steal it ... my family lived overseas in Taiwan for a few years, and I and my younger brother and sister attended Taipei American School (TAS), the main international school.

TAS every year sent middle schoolers to Kenting, a camp in rural Taiwan with legendarily bad food. To emphasize the "experience", the camp counselors raided contraband - i.e., all snacks.

A few weeks after arriving, my sister went on this trip. After a week, she - despite being culinarily adventurous - came back having eaten very little and turned out severely undernourished.

Two years later, when my younger brother attended, my sister was ready. She coached him on having easily-found contraband while keeping the majority of his stash hidden. He turned out much better.

Becky Krystal: Um, that's kind of scary, actually!

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Washington, DC: Hi Flight Crew! I will be traveling to Europe in June for 2 weeks with some friends. We have all our transportation needs sorted out but we still need to find lodging in Copenhagen, Berlin, and Croatia (Dalmatian coast from Dubrovnik to Split).

We don't need (and can't afford) luxury but want some measure of comfort (i.e. no hostels). Any suggestions for small hotels, B&B's, or similar places to stay along the way? (Relatively inexpensive would be nice too.)

Thanks!

Becky Krystal: See if our previous Cheap Sleeps package on Europe helps at all. And, of course, we'll see if your fellow chatters have any suggestions.

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Silver Spring, MD: Hi, I'm following up a question I posed to you a couple weeks ago. Lufthansa denied us refunds or compensation following its strike-based February 23 cancellation of a flight from Kolkata to Frankfurt. You suggested I send the airline a copy of the EU's Regulation 261/2004 regarding compensation. I did so, but it seems Lufthansa's shut the door - I've received no response at all. Apart from writing letters of complaint to the airline's CEOs - which I plan to do - am I out of luck? Thanks

Carol Sottili: The wheels may be turning slowly. I wouldn't give up totally yet. Since Lufthansa is a German airline and the flight was scheduled to Frankfurt, you could try filing a complaint with that country's enforcement body, although not sure about a letter written in English:

Luftfahrt-Bundesamt (LBA)

Customer and Citizen Services

Complaint Body-Air Passenger Rights

D-38144 Braunschweig

Tel.: +49 5 31 23 55 - 100

Fax: +49 5 31 23 55 - 707

Email: fluggastrechte@lba.de

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Camping: I surprised my now-husband with a trip to Cooperstown for his 30th birthday. Being somewhat underemployed at the time, we camped at Glimmerglass State Park. Fantastic trip, except for one little thing - the couple camping next to us. In the middle of the night we were woken up to the guy absolutely berating his girlfriend/wife, calling her all sorts of unprintable names and threatening her. We seriously contemplated calling 911. (Although, she sounded absolutely unconcerned: "Just come to bed, okay.") In the end, we didn't and eventually he must have passed out. We never heard him hit her or anything, but it was pretty distrubing to hear.

Nancy Trejos: Sorry you had such bad neighbors! I hope you got to enjoy some part of the trip.

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Alexandria, VA: I'm trying to book a beach vacation house on the Oregon Coast (Cannon Beach). I have yet to find a website that really consolidates listings or seems legitimate. Do you have any suggestions?

Carol Sottili: I'd take a look at several rent-by-owner sites, including VRBO and Homeaway. They are both reputable sites, but it will be up to you to vet the specific properties. Ask for references, look at reviews, ask for photos, etc.

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Honeymoon in Egypt/Morocco: If you go in Fall this year, just remember that Ramadan and Eid (the multi day celebration at the end of Ramadan) will impact your plans. This year it runs the entire month of September.

Andrea Sachs: Good thing to remember. Thanks.

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DC: How hard is it to see the Oberammergau Passion Play (one summer every ten years) without joining a multi-day tour? There are numerous tour companies that make the play a stop on a 10-day or two-week tour of Germany, and you can buy tickets on the official website with overpriced one-or-two-night packages that include lodging (sometimes in private homes) near the theater and meals. But is possible to stay in Munich and catch the show as a day trip? (I'm perfectly capable of getting myself to Germany. I'm curious specifically about getting to this international spectacle in an out-of-the-way village.)

Zofia Smardz: It's pretty late in the day for tickets-only -- which is an option -- because the tickets allotted for this type of purchase went on sale last April. According to the European Traveler Web site, they've sold out and there is now a waiting list. But go to their site for the explanation of how to purchase tickets only and get on the waiting list.

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Washington, D.C.: any tricks for a non-car owner to get a good deal on a one-day car rental in DC? I'd prefer not to rent at National airport. Thanks!

Becky Krystal: Not your standard car rental, but maybe Zipcar? You can also try sites like Hotwire and unselect the airport when your search results for D.C. show up.

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Kingstowne, VA: Camping stories? Wow, the stories I could tell from my Boy Scout years. Let's see...

In 1985 on a week-long trip to Goshen Scout Camps in Virginia I was sharing a tent with a new kid in our troop. I thought he was OK but some of the guys didn't like him. One night apparently they came into our tent and carried his cot out, with him in it, and put it in the woods. Apparently I half woke-up, they said "It's a bad dream, go back to sleep," and I did. My tent-mate never woke up either until the morning. Then the next day another of the new Boy Scouts decided he did not want to "sit" in the campsite's latrine (which, like many pit toilets, was disgusting), so he went in the woods and sat over a log....but when he grabbed some leaves to use as TP he managed to grab poison ivy! I also managed to get in trouble because, when I was out canoeing on the lake, I needed to answer nature's call, so I stood up in the canoe and did just that. The lifeguards saw me and were Not Amused since standing in a boat is strictly against the rules. (But what else did they think I should do? Jump in the water beyond the bounds of the swimming area and get in trouble for that?) Also, did I mention there was a skunk nest adjacent to our campsite that year?

Two years later on another trip to Goshen I went to use the showers, which were in a sort of a "building" with a brick wall but no roof. Somehow I managed to step on a bee while I was showering. I couldn't find the stinger in the bottom of my foot so I had to dry off and put my clothes on while hopping up and down on one foot, then make my way to the first-aid place.

Becky Krystal: Oh, dear. Hope you weren't scarred for life by all that.

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More pet hotels: La Quinta. No deposit. No issues.

Nancy Trejos: Thanks for the good info!

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Arlington VA: Another question about Charlottesville - in last week chat about Amtrak story, someone wrote about taking Amtrak to Charlottesville which I am interested. Is the Amtrak station in walkable distance to the downtown Charlottesville? From the map, it looks so, I am a terrible map reader.

Joe Yonan: It is...

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Schoharie NY: my best camping story was a few years ago back in Yellowstone. My husband and I had planned a series of backcountry camping trips - the first one was to Heart Lake - on the way into the camp site, the sky looked pretty ominous, but we kept saying, ok, we just have to get to our site... We got to the lake, found that our site was halfway around the lake... we're both tired at this point (somewhat weekend warriors now) and then we get attacked by swarms of spring bugs hatching along the lake...we could barely open your eyes there were so many of them. Then it started sprinkling, we got to our site, got our tent up (first time using a new tent, too!) and then the skies opened. the wind sounded like a train coming through and the tent was pounded. we didn't get to eat dinner because no way would we go out in that kind of storm. At one point the lightning was basically on top of us, and we thought that there was a chance that one of the dead trees would fall on us. We got up the next morning, found out that the next site over did have a tree fall across the site, and the trail had a tree across it as well. We enjoyed the area - took an amazing hike up to one of the peaks, and hiked out the next day, wherein we got trapped in a hailstorm! It sounds awful, but it was exciting and memorable, and we were safe. The next backcountry trip involved running into a grizzly cub and her mother... but that's another story.

Nancy Trejos: Glad you survived!

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Camping tale of woe in Delaware: A few summers ago four of us went camping in a park in Delaware. Yes, we had read that there was no alcohol allowed, but we didn't think a few bottles of wine would be a big deal so we ignored it. When we arrived we found out that this was a "family" camping grounds, which means quiet time was supposed to be around 10. Our friends didn't arrive until around then and we opened up a bottle and started catching up. We were laughing and talking but were very behaved. Well, we see two people with flashlights approach us, and they then reproached us when they saw the wine. It was awful, we felt like we were 16 (we were almost 30!!!) when they made us pour out the rest of the wine in our bottles.

Needless to say the first thing the next morning we left and went to Elk Neck in Maryland, where we could do what we wanted and had a great time. We won't be going back to Delaware again!!!

Becky Krystal: Busted.

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DC Worker Bee: Dear Flight Crew,

A major project at work is demanding long hours & it's definitely wearing me down. This project is due towards the end of April & I think for my sanity's sake, not to mention the safety of my coworkers :-), I am looking to take a few days off to decompress once it's done.

Since the point is to be away from work, I will most likely be solo on this trip as I'm not sure if any of my girlfriends will be able to get away mid-week. I'm looking for suggestions of good places to go where a solo female won't feel out of place or unsafe. I'd like to keep it w/in a 4-hr drive of the DC area, but could push that to 5 or 6 hrs if needed. The activities don't matter -- I'd be happy hiking in the mountains, hitting a spa, walking on the beach, sitting on a porch in a rocking chair reading a book, looking thru quaint stores, or pretty much anything else, too -- the point is to not be at the office and to have no demands on my time/set my own schedule for 3 days.

Budget = around $150/night. Bonus points if I can bring a dog with me.

Ideas/suggestions? Please help a girl out!

thanks!

Becky Krystal: How does a trip to scenic Bucks County, Pa., sound? You could even do one of the art workshops at the inn featured in that recent Escapes. And they accept pets in two rooms!

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Falls Church, VA: I'm headed to Vegas via LA April 15-18. I've booked my LA flight and my flight from LA to Vegas for cheap, but the return flights are super expensive thus far. Should I suck it up and book or wait for a last minute sale and risk paying even more?

Andrea Sachs: I am confused. Are you flying back from Vegas? Did you not book a round trip from LA? Or you could have done a multicity flight from DC to LA to Vegas to DC.

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Grandparents taking grandchild to Vancouver: Be aware that you will need some sort of documentation to take your grandchild across an international border--to prove you are not doing this without the parents' permission. Also, you will need a medical power of attorney to get medical attention, which I hope you never need. This medical power of attorney is much like that given for Scout trips or for day care.

Becky Krystal: Thanks for the tips.

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Washington, D.C.: If smokers already know that "trick" then there was even less point of publishing it. I've never understood why the cruise industry caters to smokers (20%) of the population--will the travel crew now be following their approach and helping smokers to the detriment of non-smokers?

Zofia Smardz: Did you read the column? It's all about hotels trending away from smoking rooms.

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Miami to Key West: Exactly a year ago we flew to Miami and drove to Key West. We planned to have lunch there and spend a few days driving back. We loved Key West so much, we stayed. We were lucky to discover The Grand, we chose it for the price, lowest than anything available, but will go back because the place is perfect. When we were checking in we were asked a lot of questions about our interests, preferences and hobbies and we got recommendations for restaurants, sightseeing and other activities that were tailored just for us.

Nancy Trejos: Sounds lovely. Thanks for sharing!

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Sequim:

You can travel to Port Angeles and take a car or passenger ferry up to Victoria and see the downtown city and take a shuttle bus to Buchart gardens.

I don't know how long you are planning your trip but there is a lot to explore in the areas of Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia.

Near Sequim is Olympic national park where its three parks in one, the mountains at Hurricane ridge, the rain forest at Hoh or Quinault, and the coastal part near Forks (also the home of Twilight)

Nancy Trejos: Thanks for the tips!

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thanks for the Armenia article: It was well-written and interesting--I'm Armenian and I sent it to my parents. I need to get there someday (ideally as a tagged on side trip when I go to Russia). Good stuff.

washingtonpost.com: Armenia shows signs of a past beset by man-made and natural disasters (Post, March 21)

Joe Yonan: Glad you liked it!

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Camping Story:

I regularly go camping every year. One of the best places was at a camping site in Torrey, Utah outside Capitol Reef National Park. There you are at a spot in the lower 48 that is about the farthest away from any signs of civilization. There you could see a lot of stars in the sky that you otherwise could not see.

Becky Krystal: Seeing stars clearly is one of my favorite parts of heading into the wilderness.

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NYC: I'd like to get to NYC for one day to see the Curious George exhibit (!)

What's my cheapest and sanest option? I don't want to end up on a party bus.

Andrea Sachs: Ooh, I want to see that too. Take a low-fare bus, such as Bolt, DC2NY or Megabus. They are sane and no parties.

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San Juan, PR: Heading there for Spring break with husband and son. Any recommendations (beyond what was published in your supplement)?

Nancy Trejos: I would definitely go to the El Yunque rainforest. And to the two forts in Old San Juan: El Morro and Castillo de San Crist bal. For great Mofongo, go to Raices or Ajilli Mojilli. If you have time, also take a trip to Vieques. And just spend time relaxing on the beach! It's a wonderful place. Enjoy.

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Ft Lauderdale, FL: The week before our 1st wedding anniversary many years ago, both my husband and I were laid off from our jobs. Doing what any normal young, out-of-work couple would do, we decided to take a vacation! In order to save money, we packed our tent and camping gear and decided to head south (we were living in the DC Metro area at the time). We stopped at Little Talbot Island, outside of Jacksonville, FL. Of course, being northerners at that time, we hadn't realized that our end-of-August anniversary put us smack dab in the middle of Florida's rainy season! Our tent kept collapsing due to the heavy rains and the fact that the wet sand would not hold the stakes. We tried to sleep in our car but the heat was unbearable. We had to keep the windows shut because of the storms, and in an attempt to save gas, we only turned on the car & its a/c for short intervals. When we tried to open the windows even a crack, we were attacked by lethal numbers of mosquitoes. When we tried to shower during the day to cool ourselves down & remove the sweat and sand, the mosquitoes got us where they hadn't been able to when we were clothed! After 3 days of non-stop rain, we decided to head back north, thinking a trip through Skyline Drive would be perfect. Temperatures there, however, dropped into the 30s at night, and our sleeping bags, still wet from Florida, did little to keep us warm. During the 2nd night, a bear came near our site (fortunately, we had stowed our food in the car so he didn't bother us). However, that was enough to make us decide to head home, look for new jobs and never camp again!

Nancy Trejos: Sorry you didn't get to enjoy your trip!

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One way rental car?: We're going to a wedding in Lake Tahoe and also want to spend some time in San Francisco while we're in California. We've been debating whether to fly into Reno and out of SF to reduce driving time some, or in and out of SF (preferable to Reno for the nonstop flights). I'm surprised to find the airfare is comparable, but getting a one-way rental car is proving difficult. Enterprise won't rent one-way across state lines; Hotwire doesn't offer one-ways. Avis will do it but it's twice as expensive. Any advice on doing the one-way rental car more cheaply?

Carol Sottili: I found pretty cheap deals on Kayak for Budget and Alamo one-way rentals. Try that.

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Homestead: Don't forget the hot water spings while you are there. The directions on their website do not make it clear that you are driving nearly to the western border of VA. Good scenic driving routes coming down from the north. You could be passing through winery country too.

Becky Krystal: Agreed on all points!

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Camping trip: The most miserable time I ever had camping was when I was a member of a High Adventure Explorer post in high school--Explorers are the next level after Boy Scouts and the groups are co-ed so I was allowed to participate. (Full disclosure: I was interested in A Guy who was a member of the post and I was trying to impress him.)

Anyway, we went on a three-day backpacking trip hiking the Appalachian trail in West Virginia. It rained most of the time and we all got soaking wet and were completely miserable (to add to it, it was the wrong time of the month for me so I was doubly miserable). The rain turned into torrents, and we all voted to go back because everything was soaking wet. (Except for The Guy, who had packed properly and was the only one with dry clothes.) We later found out that we'd been in the eye of a hurricane and the trail flooded out.

The next summer we went on a ten-day canoe trip in Quebec which was awesome and one of the highlights of my life. The Guy and I started dating after that trip; we got married after college and now have a darling baby boy. So sometimes you need to endure the bad camping trips!

Becky Krystal: Aw, how cute. Lucky Guy.

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Baltimore, MD: Good afternoon. We're contemplating a family trip to Istanbul, Turkey (two parents, and two adult children). Can you recommend any day or over-night trips elsewhere in the country?

Nancy Trejos: You'll love Istanbul. It's one of my favorite cities. There are plenty of beautiful places to visit outside of Istanbul as well. There's Cappadocia, where you can see cave churches. There's Ephesus, the best-preserved classical city in the Mediterranean. At Bursa, you can see the first capital of the Ottoman Empire. Or you can go see Gallipoli battlefields. Have fun!

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Washington, DC: Hi Flight Crew - just wanted to chime in and disagree with last week's comments that this chat was becoming too food-oriented. I'm biased, yes, because food and shopping are my travel criteria. I will lay out a travel plan to visit all the good food places that I've researched.

Aside from my bias, the Flight Crew includes other travel gurus with non-food interests. So, I love this chat for its balance of food and non-food topics!

Joe Yonan: Thanks! Glad to hear it. Although in the interest of full disclosure, I believe the previous chatter was complaining that the section itself was becoming too food-focused, not the chat. Still, always good to hear from a food lover!

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Silver Spring: I'm flying out of Reagan National Airport this Saturday in the early morning (6:30ish). I've never flown out of National before, so how busy is it in the morning on the weekends, and what time should I be there to get through security?

Andrea Sachs: Reagan is pretty quiet. I usually breeze through security. However, you are traveling on Easter weekend. I would give yourself an hour and be sure to check-in online beforehand.

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Alexandria, VA: I think you can do horseback riding at Nemacolin Woods in PA as well, and they also have an Orvis fly fishing center (if you go to the Orvis website they list where they offer fly fishing lessons by state).

Becky Krystal: Another good option.

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Falls Church: My husband and I are thinking of going to Barcelona this fall for our 10 year anniversary, either Late Sep/Early Oct. Is this a good time to go? We figured it would still be warm while not having as many tourists. Also, can one of you reccomend a hotel? I've been looking on TripAdvisor and haven't had any luck. We are looking in the Ciutat Vella, Saints-Montjuc or Eixample areas of the city. Thanks!

Joe Yonan: That's absolutely a good time to go to Barcelona. So-called "shoulder season" is always great for heavily touristed places. As for a hotel, Jane Black from the Food staff was just there and really liked Hotel Denit, near Plaza Catalunya (walking distance to La Boqueria and Barri Gothic). But she says to ask for a big room, which at 99 Euros was twice the size of the smaller ones, which went for 92. She also liked Hotel Banys Orientals in the Born.

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Hartford, Ct: Recently had a death in the family. Had to travel from Hartford Bradley to Memphis on short notice. Fare was $1900 roundtrip. No bereavement on USAirways. Offered to check my bags for an additional $23. If I had not had an emergency, my same seat would have probably been empty. How do they justify such a fare?

Carol Sottili: They don't justify it. The attitude is "take it or leave it." Most airlines are operating on a very thin margin - many don't make money - so they take it where they can get it. As for bereavement fees, many airlines no longer offer these.

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Alexandria, VA: I grew up in Southern CA, and I went to a small school where we took an outdoors class trip almost every year. 8th grade was backpacking on Catalina Island. None of us had been backpacking or camping before, so it was truly an adventure.

The first day, we got off the boat and immediately began hiking to our campground a few miles away, which took several grueling (for us) hours. There are buffalo on Catalina Island--descendants of a herd brought for a 1920's film shoot--and they happened to be congregating around our campground, which added to the whole surreal atmosphere for us.

We were all so exhausted by evening that we immediately went to sleep--a few of us in small tents and the others under the stars. The next morning, our chaperones told us that, not long after we went to sleep, a group of the neighboring buffalo started running toward our camp, while they watched in terrified horror. Somehow, the buffalo managed to avoid all of us, and when we went back to look, we saw hoofprints all around our tents and sleeping bags, some just inches away.

Although it involved more hiking with our packs, we were happy to head out to our next non-buffalo camp. After a sore back, blisters, cold showers, outhouses, and wild boars, I never really felt tempted to go camping again, although I can say that I slept through a buffalo stampede!

Becky Krystal: You all have some great wildlife stories.

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Ponies love Cheetos...: When I was a kid, my youth group, chaperoned by my mom, went camping on Assateague Island. My mom wasn't one to skimp on food, so we had a dining tent filled with the works from Costco. Mini doughnuts, hot dogs, hamburgers, chips and Cheetos galore, cereals, nuts, candy -- you name it, we had it. The tent had mesh sides and zipped from top to bottom. Our first morning there, I awoke to the sound of clanging pots and my mom shrieking, "GIT!! GIT!! SHOO!!!" We all burst from our tents to find my mom attempting to chase not one, not two, but SEVEN ponies that had chewed several pony-sized holes into the tent and were munching away on all of our goodies. As much noise as she was making, the ponies wouldn't give her more than a cursory glance. We had to watch and wait until the ponies were finished with their breakfast before we could have what was left of ours.

Lesson learned...

Becky Krystal: Ha! Great story -- I totally wasn't expecting the culprits to be ponies as I read it.

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Avoiding allergens in hotels: I read with interest that Las Vegas hotels are smokey--even in the non-smoking rooms. I have a similar problem--renovations which include new carpets and paints. How do I find out if a hotel is new/renovating? I have a month long road trip coming up with lots of hotel stays.

Christopher Elliott: That's usually pretty easy. Most hotels will issue a press release if they're renovating -- it's something they're very proud of. But the fumes aren't the only problem with a renovated hotel, a topic I covered in a recent story. Beware of flying beach balls, too.

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Seattle: You are suggesting.....Seattle to Bainbridge Island to Anacortes. Let me explain how nuts that drive is.

I think you are referring to taking the Mulkarwo-Clinton ferry to Whidbey Island and then drive up to Anacortes instead of the I-5 route.

Bainbridge island is on the opposite side of Puget Sound near Bremerton. Yes in theory you could take a ferry from Seattle to Bainbridge and then drive up Port Townsend and then take the Port Townsend-Keystone Ferry (which you MUST have reservations for). Keystone is the midpoint of Whidbey island. But this is a trip you should do over a couple of days and not a day trip.

Andrea Sachs: Yes, I know it's a longer, more involved drive, but I did it and loved it. More of an adventure than the interstate. And from my understanding, the family had some time to really explore the area.

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Camping Story: When I was a Girl Scout, we went on a weekend canoe trip on the Colorado River, and we camped overnight. First, when we set up our tents, we didn't think about the dam being opened - or it could have been closed - but whatever it was, the water rose like high tide coming in. So we moved to higher ground. Then, it rained, and in the middle of the night I discovered that I had somehow set up my tent so that the rainwater funneled directly into the tent on top of me. I had to get up, shake off my sleeping bag, and stand in the rain, trying to fix my tent. I must have fixed it because I remember going back to sleep. The next day, there was such high wind and fast currents, that the leaders ended the trip a few hours prematurely. It was quite an adventure, and when I got home, I slept for more than 14 hours!

Nancy Trejos: Wow. What an adventure!

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RE: Driving a rental car into Canada: I rented a car at SEA/TAC and then later panicked, realizing that we wanted to drive to Vancouver. I called the rental company, and they said it was fine. I think most rental companies based in Seattle allow you to drive into Canada, but you can just call and ask before you place the reservation.

Becky Krystal: More first-hand experience for the person thinking of driving into Canada.

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Dupont Circle: Re Hong Kong in July--I was there and could only spend 2 hours max outside--the heat and humidity was unbearable, even after sundown.

Andrea Sachs: Thanks for the weather report. Sounds pretty bad.

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Alexandria, Va: For the person looking for Ireland flights - we found a great deal 2 weeks ago on Air Canada. $556 each ($779 with taxes). National to Dublin via Toronto.

Zofia Smardz: Let's hope it's still available!

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NW: Camping story: A couple of years ago my family visited our Canadian relatives who are avid campers. My family, who had never even camped in our backyard even, was very enthused with the idea and really got into the spirit of things. On this visit in the middle of July we went to see them in their home just outside of Montreal and went on a 3 night camping trip a few hours north to go see whale watching near the Saguenay -St. Lawrence Marine Park. The first night halfway there it was pouring buckets and buckets of rain non-stop while we set up our tent for the first time, ever. Didn't occur to us to do trial run prior. We kept our humor despite being freezing cold, soaked, and muddy. The next day was nice and sunny, but the winds were almost hurricane strong! I thought our tents would blow away and didn't get any sleep because of the howling wind. The third night we threw in the towels and went to a hotel. Despite all this, my family wasn't turned off to camping and the whole expedition was worth it when we made it onto the boat and were able to see the blue whales splashing and putting on a show, which our guide claimed they rarely ever did.

Becky Krystal: After all that, a happy ending.

Nancy Trejos: Glad you managed to still enjoy the trip! Thanks for sharing.

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Lunch in the Keys: Another good stop for lunch between Ft. Lauderdale is the Islamorada Fish Co. in--you guessed it--Islamorada, north of Marathon. It has a big open-air, thatched-roof dining area sticking out over the water; the food is pretty good, and an exotic tropical beverages will put you in a Keys state of mind!

Zofia Smardz: Thanks for the tip!

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Arlington, Va.: I have a bit of a vent and a question. I want to fly from Dulles to Tokyo on the nonstop United flight this fall. Right now, a roundtrip ticket is running around $1800.

However, when I change the departure/return city to Newark (1 stop instead of nonstop), the price drops to $1100, even though the flight it connects to is that exact same nonstop from Dulles to Tokyo!

Recap: IAD-NRT-IAD = $1800 EWR-IAD-NRT-IAD-EWR = $1100

Is this madness to anyone else? Why is it $700 more to fly less?

Do have any suggestions on where to find this flight more cheaply? I did find it for less on Vayama.com, but I'm always wary of booking through a 3rd party. Could a travel agent help?

Carol Sottili: Airfare pricing makes no sense. It's not logical. It sometimes costs more to fly to Myrtle Beach than to London. Go figure. Competition has a lot to do with it. If one airline starts a sale on a specific route, others will match it. Re: Vayama, it's a reputable company - it has an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau - so you may want to reconsider. And a travel agent may be able to help, but you'd have to find one that specializes in fares to Japan, and you'd also have to pay a fee to the agent.

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Beach trip: A few other options for 4-6 day beach travel...would be Cape Cod...or...other options are Virginia Beach/OBX, Charleston and Myrtle Beach.

Nancy Trejos: Thanks for the input. Good ideas.

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Seattle: My hometown is Buffalo, NY and there are no rules regarding car insurance or vehicle registration or drivers license issues in driving in Canada.

You do need a passport or an enhanced ID (drivers license in some border states). Another option that does work and is legal if you work for the federal government and have a chip based ID card you use for computer access and such things ALSO can be used to cross the border.

Becky Krystal: Good to know, thanks.

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10 year old and mom: If he's never been, a night in New York City is very exciting. Took our son out of school for a day in the fourth grade to go the spring after 9/ll. Seemed the right thing to do. His eyes were like saucers the whole time. Slept on the train the whole way back. You can spend a lot in the city or not so much.

Becky Krystal: I like this idea, too.

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re: Barbados hotels: I weighed in last week too (my Dad lives there, so I've been a bunch).

Some non-Crane hotels (although I second that the Roundhouse is absolutely charming and a great area to stay in): Little Arches Hotel, Accra Beach Hotel, Coral Sands Hotel, Almond Beach Hotel

Tell the parents to enjoy! It's such a great island.

Becky Krystal: Thanks!

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Re: the cape cod get-away: Unless you need a car in Cape Cod (e.g. in Provincetown you certainly don't) the drive in a rental from Boston to the outer Cape can be a nightmare of traffic. If you want to get by without a car, take the fast ferry (Bay State Cruises is the one I've used) from South Street Seaport in Boston right to Provincetown in 1 1/2 hours while relaxing with a cocktail! The ferry terminal is a short water taxi ride or short land taxi ride from Logan Airport.

Becky Krystal: Good alternative. I got stuck in the Cape traffic myself -- in late October. Not fun but at least I was still basking in the glow of a week's vacation.

Joe Yonan: Be forewarned about that fast ferry, though: It has been nicknamed the Vomit Express for good reason. If the seas are choppy, it's, oh, really not pleasant. Not everyone is as sensitive as I am, but I have to sit at the window staring at the horizon the whole time or yikes. But sometimes it's fine -- and the slower one is always fine.

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Laurel, Maryland: What is a reasonable air fare to London, Paris or Dublin for July or August. All my searches are showing around $1,200.

Carol Sottili: That's the going rate right now. Not sure about whether there will be sales for summer travel to Europe - my guess is that they will occur, but will be of short duration and apply to very narrow dates/places. If you're willing to fly out of New York, Aer Lingus has occasional sales to Dublin.

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Foreign Transaction Fees: My husband and I are going to Scotland next month and I booked a tour (Haggis Tours) and airfare (British Airways) in US dollars in a few weeks ago. When I got my credit card statement, I was charged a foreign transaction fee for both. This makes sense for the tour - I went to a UK website for a company that operates entirely in the UK, so I expected to be charged in the UK, even though I was paying dollars. But for BA, this makes no sense at all. I went to a US website (which I actually had to choose to do) for a company with a corporate office in New York, so had no reason to believe they would process my transaction in the UK. BA's refund number in the US isn't an 800-number - it's a Queens area code.

This feels a little bit like getting charged a foreign transaction fee for shopping at IKEA. Any chance of getting my $60 back from the credit card company?

Christopher Elliott: About a year ago, most credit cards moved away from "foreign exchange" fees to "foreign transaction" fees that could apply to any transaction with a non-US company. Unfortunately, these new fees can be applied to almost any purchase for any reason, as long as the company you're buying from isn't based in the States. Ridiculous, isn't it? In my experience, a brief, polite email to your credit card company asking about the charge may get the fee waived -- but not always.

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Lunch in the Fla Keys: Mango Mama's, around milepost 20, I believe. Funky decor, great food. Popular with locals and tourists alike.

Nancy Trejos: Sounds fun. Thanks!

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Seattle: The rainy camping weather. That rain in Sequim but none in Hoh rain forest was because of Convergent Zone rain. In Seattle area because of the Olympic Mountains it splits the onshore moisture flow that then recollides and produce rain because the winds hit each other and rise creating clouds and rain, and then north and south of this it clears out because it created artificial high pressures.

The common area for this rain can be from Port Angeles, Squim, Port Towsend, Anacortes, down to just South of Everett and just north of Seattle.

In terms of rain---or lack thereof---the best time to travel to Seattle is mid June-end of September. It is mostly dry.

This winter its been dryer than normal which means water tales in September are going to be lower which also means more wildfire danger on the West side of the cascades.

Becky Krystal: A scientific explanation and everything. Thanks!

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Minneapolis, MN: My last camping trip was a planned 6 day canoe trip through Minnesota's Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) in 1999. We'd been taking annual trips there and this year we had several novices with us. It rained nearly constantly for the first 4 days, so we decided to go home early on day 5. As we were canoeing across the final big lake, the winds picked up, the small dog with us started freaking out, and the sky turned green and scary, like in the Wizard of Oz (when the monkeys are coming). We headed to the nearest shore and waited out the bad storm (straight lines winds up to 90 mph we found out later). The storm finally ended and as we hauled our equipment out over washed out paths and over downed trees, we started to realize how lucky we were. That July 4, 1999, storm caused a blowdown of 400,000 acres of trees and injured 60 people (20 who had to be airlifted out), however, we escaped wet and scared but without injury. Needless to say, none of the novices with us that year have returned to camp and canoe in the BWCA!

Becky Krystal: Holy cow. Glad you rode that out safely.

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For the Burgundy bound: There are river cruises that go through Burgundy and Provence. Most of them are 8 or 9 days. I know that there are barge tours but have had no experience with them. We are off to France for two river cruises (Paris to Normandy and back on the Seine River and then through Burgundy and Provence on the Rhone River) ... can't wait!

Zofia Smardz: Thanks!

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I admit to being picky: I am always picky when it comes to my hotel room, summer rental. I sniff and inspect. Please, people who smoke or sneak pets into hotel rooms etc. that are supposedly smoke or pet-free, and think it's okay to "get away" with it, reconsider. Your residual odors (despite management's attempts to rid room of same) don't always dissipate in the turn- around time. It's obnoxious. Own up to your habit or your pets and find accommodations that suit you, not inconvenience the rest of us.

Becky Krystal: We talked a lot about this last week. Consider your plea published.

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Santa Cruz: For the folks from Ellicott who are having all the life events to celebrate on a vacation, might I suggest to Alaska? We had a similar situation a couple of years ago, and the trip was just fantastic. We spent 3 nights in Anchorage, 3 on a Cruise West boat on Prince William Sound, 3 in Denali, and 3 in Seward. We still talk about the trip all the time (and my teenage daughter has become a total Iditiarod fan after we visited a kennel in Seward. It was a real life-event trip.

Becky Krystal: A vote for Alaska.

Zofia Smardz: Thanks for sharing! A vote for Alaska.

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For Croatia-bound: If you're not travelling in the dead of summer, there's no need to book your hotels ahead of time. Just arrive in the city, head to the tourist information office and they'll set you up with a place to stay. I did this with a friend in Split and Dubrovnik and both places were super cute, and very affordable.

Becky Krystal: I'm too much of a planner to do this, but I admire people who do.

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Early bird check in on Southwest: I am a convert to Early Bird check-in. It can be purchased separately for each leg of a flight. On a recent trip, I had plenty of time at home to sit and check in online at just the right moment. But for the return leg, while we were on vacation, it was great just to check in whenever, during the evening before we left, and still be assured of an "A" boarding pass. It handles the details when you don't have time to, and I will continue to use the process when circumstances require it.

Becky Krystal: Fair point. I panicked last week in Chicago when I realized it was only 21 hours to my flight and forgot to check in right at the 24-hour mark. The horror!

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RE: Southwest $10 early birds: We flew Southwest Detroit to Baltimore and back a couple weeks ago. Checked in 20 hours before departure and was in the middle of the A group. On the way back, we checked in about 15 hours before, and were in the middle B group. Based on this isolated experience, it appears not too many people are jumping at the early bird option.

Becky Krystal: This reader says save your $10. But I imagine things might vary based on the route you're flying.

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Camping Story: When I was about 10 or 11, my family (Mom, Dad, 3 older sibs) flew Space-Available from McChord AFB in Washington State to Oahu. We camped out on a beach near the Hale Koa hotel and Waikiki Beach. It was beautiful and an amazing, memorable trip, but there were geckos and cockroaches EVERYWHERE. My brother to this day (over 15 years later!) still thinks I put a cockroach on his plate of spaghetti at our campsite dinner one night.

Becky Krystal: Geckos everywhere? Cool! Or maybe not.

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Herndon, Va.: Camping (I received a prize recently, so I'm not eligible). In GW National Forest near Stauton, wife, me and beloved dog Sam, who's half beagle and half Heinz 57 are settled in for the night. A skunk wanders by - Sam immediately acts to protect us and gets a full charge in the face, with residue hitting the tent, fire, cook equipment, etc. We get up the next day, try to wash in a pond as best we can, and hike back to the car, trailing a stench as we go. It was chilly, but we drove back to Reston with the windows wide open, then my wife and I showered about half an hour apiece, cleaned the equipment for several hours, and washed Sam 4 times with tomato juice. He still smelled like skunk any time he was damp the next 2 months. He did not, however, try to fight again with a skunk for the rest of his life.

Becky Krystal: Poor pup!

Nancy Trejos: Hilarious! Thanks for sharing.

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To "Camping tale of woe in Delaware": I can just as readily imagine a chatter submitting the other side of your story, about how they deliberately camped at a family campground they reasonably expected to be quiet at night, then all these women started in drinking and yakking after the 10 PM lights-out.

Becky Krystal: Yeah, I was thinking the same thing!

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Alexandria, VA: From several years of working at Assateague when I was in college here are some camping stories that happened with surprising regularity:

- The person that drives out on the beach at night, pitches a blanket, and falls asleep only to be woken up by the incoming tide and their vehicle partly under water. (or the variation of the person losing their keys in the sand and no flashlight)

- The people that neglect to stake their tent down, which then becomes a giant kite when a storm rolls through.

- The people that leave their stuff out and tents unzipped only to come back from the beach and see their campsite turned inside out by horses.

- The person that kayaks/canoes into the backcountry sites, and fails to account for the tide when they beach their boat and wake up to find it missing.

Becky Krystal: I think there are some lessons in here.

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For Egypt vs. Morocco: What about a Nile cruise? I went the first week of October on one, and it was fantastic. The weather was warm, but only HOT one day. The crowds were manageable. We saw some wonderful sites that IMHO blew the Pyramids away, and we still had time to relax while we cruised. Tack a few days on in Cairo, and you'll get the lively souk experience, as well as a chance to see the Pyramids.

Nancy Trejos: Thanks for sharing!

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A smoker: Maybe this is off topic, but I've had just about enough of smoker-bashing. I, and most smokers, do not smoke in non smoking rooms. We try to be considerate of those around us and smoke in designated areas only. And in return I put up with your crying babies, your biting dogs, your fat roles next to me on planes, and your horrendous perfume or aftershave. Enough!

Christopher Elliott: Thank you for not smoking in my hotel bed. That's really all I want.

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LA-Vegas trip: It sounds like your return trip is from Vegas and you are doing this on Sunday ....most expensive day to return from Vegas. I bet if you book a flight on Monday it will be a lot cheaper.

In Vegas Friday and Saturday night stays are expensive. You can easily stay Sunday night for very cheap less than $70 on the strip (If it is not a holiday Monday weekend).

Andrea Sachs: Thanks for the input.

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Vienna, VA: Hi! Since it's Spring Break, my kids aren't going to let me near the computer in time for the chat so I'm posting early.

We're planning to take the kids (6 and 3) to Niagara Falls at the end of July. Can anyone suggest a family oriented place to stay?? I see lots of info on casinos and hot-tub suites but nothing for families with little kids. We thought Niagara-on-the-Lake might be a better choice but again, everything I've found is more geared toward the romantic getaway vacationer, not families. Any help is greatly appreciated!

Andrea Sachs: Here are some kid-friendly spots: Great Wolf Lodge, Americana WaterPark Resort, Hilton Hotel and Suites.

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Re Seattle and the San Juans: The obvious answer for adding mountains to the itinerary is to visit the beautiful Olympic peninsula. Hurricane Ridge is spectactular!

Andrea Sachs: Thanks for the suggestion.

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Arlington, VA: I went to Vietnam around July/August. The humidity was so heavy, I forgot what dry clothes felt like. The heat was so hot, that my brain activity entered a comatose state. It's doable, but if you can pick another time, I'd do that.

Andrea Sachs: Thanks for the honest critique.

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Nancy Trejos: Thanks all for your questions and comments! And your camping stories were all great. It's hard to choose the best one, but will Ponies Love Cheetos please email your mailing address to trejosn@washpost.com? Have a great week!

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