Talk about travel: Waylaid travel plans, Iceland's volcanic 'ash cloud,' travel insurance, green hotels, Annapolis, D.C. staycations, New Orleans warehouse district, travel bags, more

The Flight Crew
Washington Post Travel Section
Monday, April 19, 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, April 19 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.


Andrea Sachs: Welcome journeypeeps to another Monday Travel chat. Today, Carol is out, but the rest of the gang is here to answer all of your travel queries and requests.

For our Question du Jour, we want to know if anyone had their plans delayed or canceled because of last week's freakish volcanic ash spew in Iceland. Or, do you have friends or family who were affected by the gray cloud over Europe? (On a bus, I sat next to a woman who received a fuming text from a friend reading, "I am stuck in London because of some !*#$&% volcano.") And if not the volcano, have you ever waylaid travel plans because of a bizarro reason?


New York, New York: Hey Travel Crew--

A friend and I are going to New Orleans for the first time in June. Do you have any suggestions for neighborhoods to stay in? We've vetoed the French Quarter, because it's a bit too touristy for us. But are open to other suggestions.


Joe Yonan: Look into the Warehouse District, which is right near the Quarter but much less stumbling-around-drunk touristy.


Puerto Rico-bound from DC: Hi. Happy Monday. I'm heading to Puerto Rico in a few weeks and will be staying in Isla Verde (near San Juan). Could you recommend a beach within 2 hours driving distance where my boyfriend could rent a board and surf? Thanks kindly.

Nancy Trejos: Hi. I asked a friend who grew up in Puerto Rico for beach suggestions. He said that Ocean Park is about a half hour west of Isla Verde. Luquillo is about one hour east of San Juan in good traffic. Those beaches, he said, are better suited for surfing than Isla Verde's. Isla Verde is more for swimming. Have fun! You'll love it.


Clifton, VA : Folks flying to Europe in next 6mos need to be aware that this will probably not be the only volcano in Iceland to erupt. One of Iceland's largest if not the largest always erupts when this one does.

Just fyi. Consider trip insurance and having a plan if life becomes an ash cloud.

NATO f16s were damaged flying in the dust clouds. Sorry I wouldn't take the chance flying if my airline said it would. Losing all the engines is never a good thing.

Zofia Smardz: I agree with you. I don't think I'd dare get on a plane until I was absolutely certain all the ash was gone with the wind, so to speak.


Day in Waikiki: I am meeting up with my sister in Hawaii. My flight to Honolulu arrives at 7:30 a.m. and she doesn't get in until 2 p.m. and then we fly together to Kauai. Any ideas from the Flight Crew or the others on what do to while I wait for her? Thanks.

Andrea Sachs: The airport has many outdoor areas, so you can read and relax under the sun. However, if you want to get out and explore, I would recommend grabbing a cab and visiting the Arizona Memorial or the Battleship Missouri. For more beach than education, take a bus or cab to Waikiki or Ala Moana beach park. There are shopping centers and restaurants near both. Just remember to set an alarm to return to the airport for your sis.


Dallas, TX: Hi Flight Crew!

I've always gotten great advice from the chats, hoping you can help me out with this one: My parents and I are thinking of going to Ireland this fall. Knowing our travel style, a guided tour with a set itinerary would be best to make sure we see everything. We're also pondering doing a little genealogy research/exploring. Any reputable Ireland tour operators you or the chatters recommend? There seem to be so many, I'd like to hear about a good experience with one in particular.

Thanks in advance!

Zofia Smardz: This recent Going Our Way on Ireland features a tour operator you might check out. Beyond that, I think this is one for the chatters. Anybody had actual experience with tour operators in Ireland? Let's hear from you!


Concerned to fly once ban is lifted: I'm probably one of many with "ash cloud" questions today. I am scheduled to fly to Amsterdam in a few weeks. What happens if the governments over there allow flights, but it is not clear its completely safe to fly? Any chance I could re-book another time (without a change fee) when I'm more confident of my safety? I'm already a nervous flier and I don't want to be one of the first flights out!

Christopher Elliott: I highly doubt that any airline will operate if it isn't safe to fly. No one really knows what will happen in three weeks. The volcano could continue erupting, closing down air traffic again, or not. But no responsible airline is going to risk flying an aircraft under dangerous conditions.


Oakton, VA: Thinking about going to Spain this fall... maybe 4 days in Madrid, 4 in Barcelona, and 4 in Andalusia. Does that seem about right, or should the time be allocated differently?

Joe Yonan: Generally, sure -- although I might suggest that you take a day off of each of those in order to add a few days in San Sebastian... Especially if you're a food lover.


Takoma Park, Maryland: Great story on green hotels -- but don't you mean "recycled toilet paper" instead of "recyclable toilet paper"?

And, whatever happened to common sense? Flushing a clean toilet multiple times in order to "guess" at the water volume does not save water.

I think this story could have benefited from an eagle-eyed copy editor.

Nonetheless, keep on trying! Bed Check: Fairfield Inn and Suites is first in Baltimore to reach LEED environmental standard

Andrea Sachs: Yes, it was toilet paper made of recycled material. My apologies. (And our copy editors are pretty eagle eyed, but we all sometimes miss things--or mistakenly use the wrong word.)

As for my toilet test, I am very wary of hotels' green claims, so part of my reason for calling for help was to really make sure that these toilets were indeed water saving. However, I was also having some fun with it. And I did not drink liquid for the rest of my visit.


Maryland: I will be going to Venice in June (assuming the volcano ash situation calms down). I have never been there before. What should I pack? I don't want to look too ugly American. I realize the city's economy is based on tourism, but I don't want to seem too touristy. Can you help?

Joe Yonan: I would say that they key would be to wear an oversized NY Yankees T-shirt, brand-spanking-new-whiter-than-white sneakers, and a ginormous fanny pack bulging with camera equipment and guidebooks. You'll blend right in.

Seriously, if you want to blend in in Italy, think about looking stylish, not comfortable. And do it in an understated, elegant way.


Hamilton VA: Could not agree more with the article on Cape Breton. We were there in 2005. Stayed at Baddeck, visited Sydney & Louisbourg, great trip. Cannot tell you how incredible the Cabot Trail is. Makes the Skyline Drive seem like a trip down Rt 7. A score of music, culture and scenic villages in Nova Scotia

Zofia Smardz: Thanks so much!


waylaid travels: I was stuck in Bangkok for an extra week when the airports were closed by protesters a couple of years ago. I had already been in SE Asia for about 4 weeks. Killed some extra vacation time I wasn't planning to spend. And I had to pay for hotels I hadn't planned on either, but my travel insurance covered about half the extra costs. But the weather was absolutely gorgeous. And everyone was very embarrassed about what was happening and did their best to make the stranded tourists happy.

Andrea Sachs: How nice, an unplanned extension to your vacation.


Volcano: I have a friend who lives in Switzerland who is stuck in Nairobi because of the volcano. She says she's reading books by the pool--I'm not feeling too sorry for her!

Andrea Sachs: The Ash Plume Felt Around the World.


a bizarro reason??: Is a thunderstorm over Cleveland Ohio a bizarro occurence? Flying from BWI to Cleveland, we flew down as far as Mansfield and then north out over the lake before finally landing at Cleveland.

Andrea Sachs: Yikes. I'd rather be on the ground for that bizarro storm.


Washington, DC: Dear Travel Gurus,

My husband and I are planning a last minute getaway this weekend to Philadelphia, driving there Saturday morning and coming back Sunday night. Can you PLEASE tell me where we should stay, and what we should do? We enjoy museums, urban outdoor spaces, window shopping, art galleries, and good, healty eats. Thanks!!

Nancy Trejos: If you have the budget for it, the Rittenhouse Hotel is supposed to be wonderful. For something a little more budget-friendly, Zofia recently stayed at the Conwell Inn and wrote a review. This Postcard from Tom Sietsema is from last year but gives some good restaurant ideas. The last time I was there, I went to the Continental Restaurant and Martini bar and really enjoyed it. Philly has some great museums. There's an interesting Picasso exhibit right now at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. I've never been (and I really want to!) but the Barnes Foundation is supposed to have a great collection. Everyone who's been there raves about it. But get your tickets ahead of time because they sell out. And of course, it's always great to check out the historical sites, such as the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall. Have fun!


Re 2nd Icelandic volcano: If that other Icelandic volcano erupts, how much farther south and east in Europe would winds be likely to blow its ash, compared to the current situation? Would it be a lot worse than right now?

Andrea Sachs: Good question: Any meteorologists or volcanologists out there?


D.C.: My co-worker had her trip to Germany cancelled on Friday and she went to Aruba instead. I know it was disappointing and stressful, but I think she got a pretty good deal!

My strangest waylay is that one time I was on a flight from Shanghai to Tokyo that was delayed for 12 hours because the plane had a flat tire. The airline had to fly a new tire from Tokyo. I remember having to call my boss in Tokyo to explain why I would have to miss a day at work and thinking that no one would ever believe me.

Andrea Sachs: Not a bad place to wait out the ash.

And that is hilarious -- a flat tire. Couldn't they call AAA, or I guess in this case, FAA?


Flushing a clean toilet multiple times in order to "guess" at the water volume does not save water. : Please. It's not like he did the test a million times.

Andrea Sachs: Yes, we only flushed a few times. I did not hear Mother Earth crying.


Washington, DC: Any suggestions on towns to make a night stop along I 81 from Tennessee to Virginia (Roanoke is out)? We would like to explore the area the next day. We are not into museums or shopping but love small towns, cafes and nature.

Zofia Smardz: Not sure why Roanoke is out, but I love Lynchburg, which is only a little bit out of the way, maybe 20 or 30 minutes east of I-81. Lovely little city on the hills above the James River. Or there's Lexington, a little further north, just off I-81, home of VMI and Washington and Lee University, burial place of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. Very pretty and historic. Closer to the Tennessee border is Abingdon, also very nice.

Other thoughts, chatters?


Wilkes Barre PA: Submitting Early, because I will probably be sleeping at chat time. Last Week someone was looking for things to do while stuck at a time share in Shawnee on the Delaware in July. I am guessing they are there for the week, and here are some suggestions on places to visit in the area.

They mentioned Scranton, and a good place to go there would be the Coal Mine Tour and the Steamtown Train Museum, which are close to each other, this could be combined with a trip to Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs in Wilkes Barre, if you are into gambling, or possibly a minor league baseball game with the WB/Scranton Yankees at PNC Field.

About 15-20 minutes away is Bushkill Falls, which gives a nice opportunity to hike and get out into nature a little bit. As long as the water isn't low, it should be worth the cost since it is on private land. Rafting on the Lehigh River might be an idea for the more adventuresome, Contact Whitewater Challengers.

Another bit of History can be visited at the Eckley Miners Village near Hazelton. That could be combined with a stop in Jim Thorp on the way back, which has some neat little shops and the Asa Packer Mansion can be toured.

If you have some kids, or just need to escape the heat with a splash, Camel Beach (a ski area that features a water park in the summer) is about 15 minutes away. If rides are more to their liking Dorney Park/White Water Kingdom is about an hour away near Allentown.

If you want to go into NYC for the day, Martz Trailways has a number of trips each day from the Delaware Water Gap ( about a 90 minute ride ). Check out their website, they do offer special rates for groups, and they do have Shoppers Specials. Just one tip, make sure that you get a seat reservation for the bus you want to come home on, when you get to NY, and arrive at the station 30 minutes ahead ( coming and going). Another gambling option is the Mt. Airy Lodge that is about ahalf hour away. Hope this helps !

Zofia Smardz: A wealth of possibilities! Thanks for this.


Arlington, VA: My uncle flew small, regional cargo planes for a number of years. He once had to delay a takeoff because someone was asleep on the runway. Apparently a little too much to drink leads to trespassing onto the regional airport's only runway.... A friend of mine has been put on a bus for several hours in order to get to his destination because the plane was so delayed that the airport shut down in order to work on the tarmac overnight. I've spent more time than I care to think about getting re-routed thanks to mechanical failures. We once flew from California to Louisiana and ended up with a 4 hour stopover in Kansas City to fix something with the landing gear leading to 2 hours circling Dallas and then an overnight in DFW before heading on the next morning. I was once on a direct from northern Germany to Mallorca. We flew all the way to within 20 minutes from Mallorca and then flew back to Germany (Hannover... not quite a far north as I started my day) because the part and machanical expertise needed to fix the plane was not in Mallorca and could not get there until the next day. After a few hours we took off again and this time made it to Mallorca.

Andrea Sachs: Hope you got twice the frequent flier miles for that extra in-air time.


Chicago IL: Weirdest travel cancellation for me was the time I was on a shuttle flight from LGA to National that was trying to get there ahead of an approaching hurricane. We flew all the way down to DC and tried, twice, to land at National despite the worst turbulence I've ever experienced. Seriously, I'm a regular flyer and I was terrified. Finally the pilot gave up and we turned around and flew all the way back to LaGuardia, arriving at the same gate we'd left from 3 hours earlier. It gave "round trip" a whole new meaning, and if I remember correctly they didn't even credit us the miles!

Andrea Sachs: That would've been good if you realized you left a pie in the oven. Otherwise. . .


Arlington, VA but stuck in France: Parked my car at Dulles for the first time in years as I was taking only a one week trip to France. It has now turned into a 2-week trip due to the volcano, and could be worse. Any thoughts on whether there is a chance of forgiveness of part of the fee? Cannot even get someone to move it as I have the ticket, at their suggestion to take it with me so I can pay in the terminal!

Andrea Sachs: If you have travel insurance, you could be covered.

To get your car out before your return, you might be able to negotiate with the parking lot. Maybe if you fax or email over a letter of permission with a copy of the ticket to your friend and he/she can bring it over to Dulles and explain the situation (I assume friend has a spare key?). Or, ask your friend to contact Travelers Aid at Dulles; the volunteers there might have some good advice for you.


Annapolis: I wanted to take a day trip to Annapolis this weekend. My brother is visiting me in Washington and I think he would enjoy it. Any tips on things to do, restaurants to visit, shops to see? We are in our early 30's. I was thinking we could kayaking and eat crabs. Thanks!

Nancy Trejos: Oh, fun. You must take a tour of the historic district. Check out the Kunta Kinte Alex Haley Memorial at the City Dock. Across the street is HistoryQuest, a free history orientation center. Walk to the Maryland Statehouse.And check out the United States Naval Academy Visitor Center and Museum. You can also rent a boat and take a cruise if you have time. Cantler's Riverside Inn is great for crabs and has a fun atmosphere. Reynolds Tavern is the oldest tavern in town. If you want to go a little more upscale, Harry Browne's can be quite the scene. As for shops, you'll find all sorts of cute places around Main Street and Maryland Avenue. Enjoy!


"the beer options include a handful of local brews as well as the gluten-free Green's Discovery. (Taster's review: Gluten is overrated.)": Really!? I can't have gluten and have yet to encounter a gluten-free beer that's any good. I will have to try this one.

Andrea Sachs: I thought it was very tasty. It was full of flavor with a nice heft.


Advice on New Orleans Warehouse District: The warehouse district has the excellent museum on World War II as well as lots of little art galleries and restaurants. One can also find a few hotel bargains. Plus, you are near the French Quarter but away from the noise.

Andrea Sachs: Thanks for the tips!


Harrisburg, PA : I was affected by the volcano event and was prevented from traveling to Frankfurt/and on to Warsaw last Friday via Lufthansa. Do you know what my rights are as a passenger to get a full refund? I heard from someone that the airlines based in the EU must provide full refunds if requested. Is this correct does anyone know?


Christopher Elliott: Yes and no. Under EU Rule 241/2004, your airline must refund your flight under certain conditions. But a lot hinges on its definition of "extraordinary circumstances". I explain it in more detain in this post, and there's also a link to my chat about the volcano from last week.

Bottom line: I would bet your airline will try to avoid giving you a full refund, and try to offer you credit for a future flight. My advice would be to read EU 241 carefully and don't let your airline interpret it for you.


Arlington, VA but stuck in France: Just got the Tweet below from USG re volcano:

U.S. citizen stranded due to the #volcanic #ashtag? Stay in the loop:

Andrea Sachs: Whoa! Thanks!


New York, NY: Hi FC, I'm looking for a cute travel bag that I can use on a daily basis while on vacation that will hold a water bottle, travel book, camera, etc. but that is still trendy. I currently have a cross body backpack that I love but feel like it makes me look so young and I can't really use it at night for a dinner out without looking out of place. I want a cross body bag/purse that's not huge but big enough to hold those types of things but is also cute. It doesn't have to be a travel brand either, I'm open to real brands (my mom has a cute Coach purse that she uses) if anyone has a suggestion? Thank you!

Zofia Smardz: Let's throw this one out to the chatters (but I'm wondering, if you like your Mom's cute Coach bag, is it just the price that's holding you back?)


Bay Area, CA: I'm wondering why airlines have decided its acceptable to charge for pets in the cabin, but not for infants. I was charged $100 one way to travel with my cat this past week (I'm moving, so I took her ahead of time to get settled). The cat stays in her carrier, makes no noise, and fits under the seat. In contrast, infants frequently make a lot of noise, don't fit under the seat, but they fly for free as long as someone carries them. Nothing wrong with that, but I feel like if my pet is my carry-on luggage, why do I have to pay extra? It's not like I can bring one personal item, one carry-on AND a pet. (Don't get me started on the number of "carry-ons and personal items" parents with infants and toddlers bring on). I'm not a baby hater by any stretch, but it seems ridiculous to me that airlines charge for pets but not for infants!

Christopher Elliott: I wondered the same thing years ago, before I had kids. Why should kids fly free?

It's worth noting that children only fly "free" on domestic flights, and they must be under age two and accompanied by a paying adult. Still, given the fact that airlines now charge $100 or more for a lapdog, it doesn't seem fair.

I think the answer is that passengers wouldn't stand for it any more than most air travelers wouldn't accept paying for carry-on luggage. But that doesn't mean the airlines won't someday charge us for it.

By the way, all of my kids are older than two now, so I wouldn't mind if the airlines closed this loophole.


Bethesda, Md: Planning on an Italy vacation this year, Rome to Venice with stops in Florence and Siena. Normally hubby and I would rent a car, but wonder if the bus or train would be more efficient--and just rent a car from Florence for a day trip or two through the countryside--especially since the Italian police are apparently slap-happy ticket givers...

Andrea Sachs: I would skip the car except for short drives and instead relax on a bus or train for long distances. You don't want to have to worry about signage, traffic, speed limits, getting lost.


Pittsburgh: A mid-winter flight I was booked on to California had to be canceled till the next day because the lock on the plane's door was frozen shut, and after an hour's trying the maintenance crew still couldn't get the door to open! If only they'd had a long-enough extenstion cord, couldn't they have used a portable hair-dryer handy to thaw out the lock?

Andrea Sachs: Or just wrap it in a Snuggie.


Arlington, VA: The folks going to Philly for the weekend should be sure to stop by Capogiro for the best gelato. Maybe not especially healthy, but oh so yummy.

Nancy Trejos: Good tip. Thank you!


NoVa: Do you know if Orbitz really does honor their "Price Assurance Guarantee"? I am wondering because my family is planning a trip to Rome this summer, and the lowest fare we got for 3 people round trip was ugly... about 3,800 (UGH!) including trip insurance. We had to buy the tickets now so my husband can get his visa (he is not a US citizen) but we're hoping the prices drop and Orbitz will actually honor their guarantee and refund us if it happens.

Andrea Sachs: We don't know first-hand; our knowledge comes from those annoying ads. But if you find out, let us know! (Hint: Use Yapta to track the fares, and read the small print for the Orbitz deal.)


stuck in the airport: Not a fancy story. We were stuck at dulles airport couple of years ago trying to go to Toronto. Our little 30 seater plane was delayed again and again due to thunderstorms somewhere. When we did get on the plane it was 7 hours later at 9pm. And the wind was pretty bad that we didn't think we would actually land. We got off the plane, got in the rental car and drove around for an hour trying to find the condo we rented. It was all highrise buildings and there was no names in the front of the building. We had to get off the car few times to ask people where this condo was. It was 0 degrees outside (or felt like it) and was so windy. On top of all that I forgot my phone on the plane. I thought Toronto is a city I will never come back to.

The next morning I got up, called the airline and they had my phone in lost+found (someone did lift the battery though) and I went out to get coffee. One cup of awesome coffee and nice downtown stroll and I thought this is one awesome city :-)

Nancy Trejos: I was just in Toronto and loved it! Glad you had a change of heart (and that you found your phone!)


Bethesda: I once got a free extra day in Aruba because some gauge on the plane was malfunctioning. Whatever it was, they didn't want to risk flying without it, in case it was an actual problem rather than a screwy gauge, but they had to wait for United to fly in the replacement part the next day. Everyone got a free night at a very nice hotel. Even so, a lot of people were mad that the free meal voucher was too low. (It was, but I didn't care -- did I mention the free day in Aruba!) And the canceled flight was on a Saturday, so we got back Sunday and most people probably didn't miss work.

Another funny thing was that they had to reassign a new flight number, I guess because it was the same as the regularly scheduled United flight the next day, and we had to board by a stairway on the tarmac because the gate was occupied. And when I called United later because I hadn't gotten my frequent flyer miles, they had no record of that flight number, or that I had ever used my return ticket. I had to mail them my boarding pass (reissued with the new flight number) to get FF credit.

Andrea Sachs: The Phantom Flight. How cool.


Washington, DC: Hey Flight Crew! I will be in Prague for four days the first week of June. I'm really excited but have no idea what to plan to do besides the obvious sites. I prefer to spend less time around the tourist traps, more time exploring less obvious places of interest but am not sure where to start. Any ideas? Also, I am a woman who will be travelling alone. Is it a pretty safe city?

Zofia Smardz: The obvious sites will keep you plenty busy for four days, and yes, you must see them. (Besides, they're pretty hard to avoid because they make up most of the city.) For smaller sites, be sure to see the Lennon Wall and Jozefov, the old Jewish quarter with its amazing cemetery. The Mucha museum, with the art nouveau paints and illustrations of Alfons Mucha, is wonderful if you like that period -- and even if you don't! The Franz Kafka museum is also interesting. And the Prague Zoo is a good one.

But mostly, just walk around the city and savor the architecture and the beauty -- spared destruction during WWII, the whole city is like a living, breathing museum.


Baltimore, MD: Years ago, when I was a kid, my parents and I were driving to Canada for a short trip. After giving the border police our papers (long before mandated passports), they gave us the dreaded, "Please pull over to the side, thank you". We were there for hours while they asked my parents and me questions to make sure I was their child and they were my parents. They were apparently making checks to confirm our identities with our hometown police too, four hours away.

It turned out that, at the time, there was a wanted child abductor loose near our neighborhood and they needed to make sure my dad wasn't him trying to smuggle me, a presumably stolen child, into Ontario.

Andrea Sachs: How creepy and unsettling.


Fairfax, VA: For the person meeting her sister in Honolulu, I suggest a quick cab to the Bishop Museum (as long as it's not a Tuesday, when it's closed). It's cool and quiet and a great place to learn about the culture and history before flying over to Kauai. If the traveler does decide to go to the Arizona, go early; it's first come, first served, and you might get a tour reservation an hour or more later. The Missouri is just back from being refurbished and that is fairly close to the new Pacific Aviation Museum. (small but interesting) The trolleys run from the airport to Ala Moana Shopping Mall (and then further to Waikiki) and I highly recommend a stop at Alan Wong's Pineapple Room at Macy's for lunch. Nothing better! (No ka oi!)

Andrea Sachs: Great ideas! Thanks.


Delayed on Roatan: After a scuba diving vacation, my charter from the island of Roatan to the Honduras mainland was delayed because the pilot just didn't feel like showing up at 7am. We waited for him at the tiny airport for 4 hours. Someone told us the pilot partied too hard the night before and couldn't get up on time, which didn't really make me feel too good about getting on the plane.

Andrea Sachs: You should have just put your gear back on and swam to the mainland.


To Italy Traveler: Take the train. The wife and I did Rome to Florence to Venice last year. Rome to Florence is 90 minutes by Eurostar and Florecne to Venice is 2.5 hours by Eurostar. It's fast, it's convenient, it's incredibly inexpensive (75 EURO total per traveler for the two trips combined) and in all cities, the train station is right downtown. We considered (but did not do) the day trip to Siena and did our research... you can take the bus from Florence to Siena. Siena is not very accessible by train. In fact, I believe you have to change trains and take local trains. I would highly recommend NOT renting a car.

Andrea Sachs: Thanks for the advice. Italy Traveler, you listening?


Bay Area, California: A few years ago I was flying very early out of SFO to Houston via Las Vegas. While in Vegas, I learned that my meeting in Houston had been cancelled. So I booked a seat on the next flight back to SFO and arrived at my office around noon. Net result: instead of my usual 30 minute morning commute, that day I had a 6 1/2 hour commute via Vegas!

Andrea Sachs: Ugh. Hope you won a little in the Vegas airport for your efforts.


Singapore: I'm off to Singapore for a week in July as the best man in a wedding. I've never been to that part of the world and am looking for suggestions as to what I can do while I'm there. I expect to have 4 days that I can take advantage of. Thanks!

Andrea Sachs: Never been to Singapore, so we'd love some suggestions from chatsters. The stage is all yours . . .


Cute cross-body bag for travel: One of my favorite bags for travel is made by Urban Oxide (a sub-brand of Hobo International). It's indestructible, pretty lightweight, very modern and unfussy in design, and got lots of compliments in Paris and London! The model I have is the Big Apple Messenger; its cross-body design really helps keep your hands free and your belongings safe from pickpockets.

Zofia Smardz: Here you go, bag, um, person. :-)

Thanks for this!


Ft Lauderdale, FL: re: travel interruptions My husband and I were going to visit his brother who was living in St. Croix (we were living in WV at the time). We had a travel agent book our flights and then relayed the info to our host. We changed planes in San Juan and had a flight from there that arrived in St. Croix about 10:30pm. My brother-in-law insisted that flights don't come in to St. Croix that late at night, but we had everything confirmed so we assumed we were okay. Well, we arrived in San Juan only to find the airline counter for our connecting flight closed until the next morning! We tried to reach my BIL to tell him but, since he lived an hour from the airport, he had already left. This was 20 years ago, before cell phones, so the only thing we could do was leave him a message on his home answering machine advising him we would let him know when we would arrive the next day. We stayed at the airport hotel that night (many sailors there... I think we were the only ones using the rooms for more than an hour), got up at 6am to get to the airline counter, and managed to get a flight that arrived in St. Croix around 1pm. I felt worse for my brother-in-law than I did for us as he made the trip to the airport, waited an hour before deciding to return home, and then had to come back again. I am still not sure how we had confirmed flights that were never scheduled!

Zofia Smardz: Hmm, very interesting.


Travel insurance: With regard to the volcano (or other natural events), I know the airlines have an "act of God" clause regarding carriage, but I am wondering if travel insurance covers such events. I know it will cover me if, for example, I fall down and break a leg the day before I'm set to travel, but if it covered things like volcanic eruptions, couldn't a company like TravelGuard be made bankrupt by a single occurrence? Thanks.

Christopher Elliott: I just got off the phone with an Access America representative, and he said "100 percent" of its policyholders affected by the ash cloud are covered. While some of its policies have exclusions for natural disasters, he said its trip interruption clause would apply to the volcano. The problem is future trips. If you book a Europe vacation now, and the volcano erupts again this summer, then you wouldn't be covered. Once the volcano stops eruption, and you booked a trip, you'd be covered.


Bethesda: Going to Europe in late June--- already paid for tickets, lodging, etc. Is there any point to getting trip insurance at this point (since it won't cover "preexisting conditions" or whatever the travel insurance term is)? (I am thinking specifically of the possibility of a volcano...). Would it matter if I waited until air travel was normal (if that happens soon)?

Christopher Elliott: Wait until the volcano stops erupting before buying insurance, otherwise you may not be covered if there's another ash cloud problem.


For the traveller looking for a bag: If you can find one, ALDO may be worth a look. I know the one near me just marked down a bunch of bags and even full price a number of them are in the $50 range, if you're willing to pay that much. I just got one that came with a shoulder strap that is big enough to carry water, camera, books and an extra pair of shoes.

Zofia Smardz: More bags. Thanks!


stayed in India for an extra week: Due to the Persian Gulf War. That was weird.

Andrea Sachs: That was historical!


Vienna, VA: Thanks for taking my question! I am in desperate need of a getaway, but I don't have a lot of money and can't get away for long. Any suggestions for a one-two night (Fri & Sat nights are best) getaway that costs under $200-300? A beach would be nice, but I would also consider a lake. I basically want something where I don't have to worry about food, activities... I just want to relax.

Andrea Sachs: I would recommend Deep Creek Lake in Maryland. There are nonstop activities in the area (or lovely, lazy views if you prefer) as well as choice options for dining. Another idea: the Outer Banks. Because it's still off-season, you can score a cheap hotel rate. But because spring is the air, more restaurants and shops will be open. You might also consider Cape May or, closer to home, St. Michaels (for a fun excursion, take the ferry over to Oxford). To stick to your budget, look into cabins or chain hotels.


Annapolis: For the traveler going to Philadelphia - we stayed at the Latham for a similar short getaway. Close to Rittenhouse Square and lots of good restaurants (try Alma de Cuba) and walkable distance from the Museum and also Independence Hall.

On what to see in Annapolis - take a cruise in the Harbor - either the Harbor Queen or, better yet, the Woodwind, a schooner that docks at the Marriott.

Nancy Trejos: Thanks for reminding me about Alma de Cuba! I ate there too and had a great meal. And thanks too for the Annapolis suggestion.


Washington, DC: We are planning a honeymoon for January and would love some ideas. Ideally, we are looking for a mix of active time and beach time. We don't have the funds for a luxury resort but want it to feel special since it is our honeymoon. Thanks in advance for your suggestions.

Nancy Trejos: Hmmm, have you considered Puerto Rico? It should be nice that time of year. There are great beaches (try going to Vieques) and a rainforest (El Yunque). Hawaii would also be great that time of year, but it would be pricier. I know there have been travel warnings recently, but Mexico is a great deal financially.You can try Playa del Carmen, the quieter side of Cancun/Cozumel. And Cancun just redid its beaches so that might be worth checking out. You can also try the Caribbean: I loved Barbados. Or how about Central America? I loved Guatemala. And I have been wanting to try Honduras (the travel warning was recently lifted there. Great deals to be had). Congrats on the wedding!


Hurricane Dodging: My plans weren't thwarted a few years ago, but they were lucky/bizarre.

Long story of why I was traveling this way, but a few years ago, I was flying up to Nova Scotia, Canada (a lovely destination for anyone to visit), and then was to take a ferry over to Maine and drive back home.

Remember Hurricane Isabella? Well, I had previously scheduled an early morning flight. When I got there, several people were arriving trying to get on it for a destination wedding etc (they made it on, but others trying to rearrange plans did not). I'm not sure if we were the last plane to leave BWI before the hurricane hit, but our fully loaded flight were the last for Air Canada.

Fast forward several days later and we're set to leave...the day before Hurricane Juan hits Canada. Took the scheduled ferry across the Atlantic, and I've never seen that water so calm--like a mirror. It was creepy. Drove through some torrential rain in New England, but for the most part, made it okay. And home survived Isabel too.

Hadn't had to rearrange anything, but it was very odd fortuitous? timing. I kept wondering if hurricanes were stalking me.

Andrea Sachs: We should lend you out to the Hurricane Forecasting Service.


Travel Bag: Yesterday, in JC Penney I saw a really cute Liz Claiborne travel tote in the luggage department that zips closed. It was on sale for around $70 - maybe less. Was allegedly half price... I considered buying it because it was so cute but I did not need it. Vera Bradley also has cute and light weight travel bags (love travel bags) and can usually be found at Hallmark stores. May be too casual for dinner though....

Nancy Trejos: I think I'll have to check this out too! Thanks for the tip.


Concord NH: Hi Crew! I work with the Portuguese Tourist Office, want to add this... Airspace in Portugal is open, according to the Portuguese Airport Authority (ANA). Yes, there are delays and cancellations to Northern European airports that are closed, BUT transatlantic service is not impacted - so flights to and from Newark, Boston and Philadelphia are flying to Lisbon, Azores, Madeira, Faro and Porto. A large high pressure system over the Azores is pushing ash north, keeping Portugal clear for the foreseeable future.

Andrea Sachs: Thanks, PTO. Glad you joined our chat and could lend us a hand.


Cleveland: I'll be in Portland for a three day weekend this summer in July. Any suggestions on things to do?

Joe Yonan: I'm going tomorrow for a conference. I'll have ideas next week, for sure...


Baltimore, MD: Hi Flight Crew - Just curious - if the hotel assigns you a room that is otherwise okay, but has a view of the hotel airshaft, a brick wall, etc., do you think it's okay to ask for a room with a better view? This happened to us recently on a trip to London, and while it wasn't that big of a deal, it took a little of the luster off the room. We'd gotten a good price for the room, but it certainly wasn't bargain basement (about $150 GBP/night). I didn't want to seem like a pushy American, so I just let it go, but I wondered if I should have at least asked.

Christopher Elliott: Yes, you should have asked for a better room. Years ago, I was assigned a room with a non-view in London, too, and I said nothing. I regret my decision. Hotels are in the hospitality business, and I can't believe they would want anyone to leave unhappy. Even if they couldn't find a different room, they might have offered an amenity to make the view of the brick wall more bearable. So yes ... speak up!


Wokingham UK: Greetings from the ashcloud-bound UK. What do you think of the way that the Euro authorities have dealt with the ash hazard? I note that the airlines are complaining about lack of leadership, whatever that means in this context.

Christopher Elliott: Did you say "handle"? I don't know if anyone has been handling the crisis. I've been all over Eurocontrol's website since the volcano with an unpronounceable name erupted last week, and the best I can come up with is this nifty map of an ash cloud.

No, seriously, this could have been handled better -- I think passengers and airlines are in agreement on this. There's always next time.


Travel Bag: I got the cutest bag for this purpose on the street in Buenos Aires. NYC has TONS of flea markets and outside crafts shows, right? Look there!

Andrea Sachs: Great idea. Thanks!


I don't know IF I'm a gonna go when the volcano blow: supposed to leave tomorrow night for a long weekend to celebrate our anniversary, and we have tickets to a Manchester United match. Fingers crossed, BA is supposed to resume flying tomorrow night. Wish us luck!

Andrea Sachs: We wish you luck!!!


Roundabout trips: Once while in college, I decided that I would fly home from Sacramento to L.A. instead of making the 8 hour drive. The night before the flight was very windy, knocking out all the power. When I went to leave for my first thing in the morning flight, it turned out that fog had become the new problem. The flight still took off from Sacramento, but the fog had apparently descended across the entire state because we were unable to land at LAX. After circling for almost an hour, they said we had to continue on to the next desetination. San Antonio, TX. They put us off the plane with nothing but our carry-ons. There was nothing to eat but hot dogs which neither of us ate, and nothing for our underage selves to do. We spent the day eating a bag of apple cinammon candy canes that my friend had and cursing all the people who conveniently had funerals to go to that day who were put on flights before us. Needless to say the journey took much longer than the 8 hour drive and I now cringe at apple cinnammon anything.

Andrea Sachs: How funny, yet sad for all of those apple cinnamon granola bars you will never eat again.


Travel disruption: I wasn't affected by the volcano, but I was in the air heading to Thailand when the tsunami hit a few years back. My friend and I landed in Bangkok, checked into a hotel and then started touring the city a little bit. You'd never know that anything happened, based on the way that people were acting. Our flight, of course, a couple days later to Phuket were cancelled. So we hopped on a plane over to Siem Reap, Cambodia and spent time touring Angkor Wat. What an amazing place! So while we missed out on paradise due to the terrible destruction that Phuket faced, we had a great time visiting an amazing temple.

Andrea Sachs: That must have been intense. Glad you were safe.


Venice, FL: In early May I'm flying Miami/Madrid/Rome for a week's cooking school in Tuscany. Although I am very excited, I am flying Iberia airlines, and all I've heard and read (since I booked) are horror stories. To begin with I had to rebook the first time because they had my middle name as my last name. When I called to correct it, they directed me to Madrid and I could not understand a word the person said. I finally rebooked with my correct name, but I am still skeptical. Other than using Flight Tracker and email on my iTouch, do you have any suggestions?

Christopher Elliott: You should be fine. As long as the airline has a notation in its record of your correct name, you won't have to buy a new ticket or pay a rebooking penalty. The TSA's new Secure Flight initiative is being phased in this year, giving airlines and passengers time to get used to the new requirements. If you're scheduled to fly later this year or in 2011, make sure your name is an exact match. I have a feeling the TSA will be less forgiving.


Reston, VA: Do you have any experience with tour operators in Japan? Thinking about taking a trip with teenagers this July but might want a tour package because it seems more economical at this point. Can anyone make a recommendation? Thanks.

Andrea Sachs: I would start with the Japan tourism office, which has a section on its Web site addressing tour operators. See


Icelandic Meltdowns: People have been coming up with some colorful nicknames for that unpronouncable volcano (Eyjafjallajokull), lately.

The most recent theory of the what's happened is that the Icelanders decided to pay back their debts, but since the letter "c" doesn't exist in the Icelandic language, they're paying in, um, ash...

Zofia Smardz: Funny!


waylaid/disrupted x 2: Packing up to leave Montreal for the airport on a Tuesday morning; bf says "Hey, a plane just crashed into the World Trade Center." Me: "Naaaaah." Yes, it was 9/11, and we were stranded for a week. If you have to be stranded, Montreal is a great place, but with the horror of the event, all I wanted was to be home.

In 2006, in Port Douglas, Australia, the owner of the inn told me a category 5 cyclone was headed right at us and I should get out ASAP. I called Qantas and within the hour they had me on a flight to Melbourne the next morning. I was able to get my room a day earlier, but had to eat the cost of my last night in Port Douglas. Given the thousands of folks who had to change travel plans, Qantas did a great--and remarkably cheerful--job of getting us where we needed to be. Also, when I landed in Australia, my bag got lost in the terminal so I couldn't get through customs. After 36 hours in transit (including layovers) and little sleep, I was wiped, and the Qantas representative was wonderful--tracked down my bag, rebooked my flight to Cairns, and told me it was OK to cut in line to get on it. I love Qantas!!

Zofia Smardz: Go, Qantas! Thanks for sharing.


Alexandria, VA: In Singapore itself, there is the Asian Civilisations Museum. Imagine the Smithsonian American History Museum, but for much of Southeast Asia. Then, there is the Botanical Gardens, especially the Orchid Garden. If you like orchids, you'll be in Orchid overload there.

Also, in July there is the Singapore Food Festival. One of the great things to do in Singapore is hit the state-run food hawker centers and nibble on dumplings and noodles and chicken rice.

I'd skip the night zoo, it's mostly animals that aren't really nocturnal like zebras, elephants, and giraffes, that have been trained to feed at night.

Andrea Sachs: Thanks for the tips.


Arlington, VA: Note that most trip interruption coverage has a fairly low limit though. When I was stuck in Bangkok the limit on my policy was a mere $600 which was nice to get but nowhere near enough to cover all of my costs.

Andrea Sachs: Good to note. Thanks.


Cute travel bag: The Express bag by Haiku. Very cute--I get lots of comments on mine.

Andrea Sachs: Thanks!


Portland, OR: The city is great - especially the Rose Garden or whatever it's called and the Japanese Garden. But we rented a car - one day drove west to Cannon Beach (amazing!), the next day drove east around Mount Hood and took a ferry trip on the Columbia River Gorge (beautiful!).

Andrea Sachs: Thanks for the Portland ideas.


Staycation in DC: We are long time residents of the DMV (DC-MD-VA) and are planning a staycation. What must-sees and little known favorites should we visit? We plan one day to hit the major sites, Lincoln, Jefferson, Capital, Monument, and Vietnam. We are planning to tow along a couple of female teenagers so would Eastern Market appeal to them and the Marine evening program? What neighborhoods would appeal for a 1/2 day trip? Thanks!!!

Zofia Smardz: You can't bring along two teenage girls and not take them through Georgetown! It's all there -- shopping, restaurants, people-watching, hanging with the cool people. It's way too crowded for me at my age, but for teenagers, it's nirvana. I think they'd like Eastern Market well enough, too.

There's tons more to be done and seen in Washington, but you don't say how many days this staycation is. Surely you will visit some museums? The National Gallery, the Corcoran? I like the Phillips Collection for a smaller, more intimate art museum, also the Freer.

If you like house museum, I recommend any of the following: the Decatur House, the Octagon House, the Heurich Mansion, the Woodrow Wilson house, Tudor Place or Hillwood.

If you like gardens, head for Dumbarton Oaks in Georgetown -- definitely a must-see. The National Arboretum and Botanical Gardens are also wonderful.

That's just the top of the iceberg. I'm sure the chatsters will have many more suggestions!

Joe Yonan: Those teenage girls will want to stop at Georgetown Cupcake, for sure. Also, I can't say enough about the "Running Fence" exhibit at the Museum of American Art. Stunning, really moving. Just saw it this past weekend with my visiting (non-teenager) sister.


Crossville, TN: Will there ever be more "hotel rates" and other rates consideration given to the lone traveler instead of charging extra? I seldom can find another person to share "double occupancy" to avoid high singles surcharges. More often than not I simply do not travel. One example is Star Clipper accomodations...they charge extra for single travelers.

Christopher Elliott: I think you may be referring to cruise rates and prices paid for tours. Hotels don't usually care if it's one or two guests (but they get funny when you exceed four guests, which is typically the limit allowed under fire codes -- that's a topic I plan to cover in a future column).

It's true, most tour operators and cruise lines discriminate against single travelers in this way. However, many operators will match you with another traveler, allowing you to realize the same savings as a couple. Short of paying a single supplement, that may be your best option.


Washington, D.C.: Please help! My boyfriend and I were planning to go to Peru this summer to hike up to Machu Picchu, carefully selecting a ten day period when we could both be away from the office. Unfortunately, just as we got the dates sorted out, the permits for that period dried up. Now we need a new vacation plan for mid-July. I don't want to go to Europe then or anywhere where it will be too hot. Please give me some suggestions. I'm mourning the loss of the Peru vacation and need something new to look forward to.

Nancy Trejos: I'm sorry to hear that! But there are plenty of other great places in South America to consider. What about the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador? Colombia is also a wonderful, beautiful country (Full disclosure: my dad's from there). Bogota is a lot of fun. You can also check out Cartagena and Barranquilla. My friends loved Uruguay, though it is small, so you might want to couple it with another country. And there's always Brazil. Hello Rio! Cheer up. You will have a great time wherever you go.


Washington, DC: Perhaps you were too polite to say this, but to the writer who asked "PLEASE tell me where we should stay, and what we should do" in Philadelphia: When you are going someplace and want to know what to see, where to eat, where to stay, and how to get around, you might want to go get something called a "guidebook." It's an ENTIRE BOOK written to tell visitors to a city, state, country, or continent what to see, where to eat, where to stay, and how to get around.

I love the chat and have written in with specific questions or comments many times, but it really frustrates me when people ask "I am going to ___; what should I see?" A single paragraph can't possibly do justice to that, while guidebook authors have spent many months and hundreds of pages to answer that question. (And if you don't have time to read it all, don't worry: any good guidebook will have a "highlights" or "best of" section.)

Thanks for letting me get that off my chest!

Zofia Smardz: Thank you for saying it!


Chester Springs, PA: Hi Crew! I will be travelling in NC and SC this week, including driving from Asheville to Charleston. I am considering the longer version of the drive, which takes me thru Spartansburg and Columbia on US 176. This route takes I believe 2 hours longer than the interstate highway route, plus stops. Any opinions on whether this route is more scenic, and worth the extra time, or is it inconvenient enough to be avoided. Expected departure from Asheville Friday morning. Thank you so much!

Zofia Smardz: Not really sure about the route, but wanted to share that we're doing an Impulsive Traveler on Spartanburg next Sunday, so be sure to check it out.

Meanwhile, let's ask the chatters about your route options. Folks?


Road Trip: Is this itinerary doable in 5 days by road?

DC to Montreal to Toronto to Niagara to DC

We have a two year old, so plan to drive with several stops or during his nap time.

Joe Yonan: It's doable, but pretty ambitious and more driving than I personally would enjoy. Instead, I'd make a week of it in order to build a little more down time in. You know, stay overnight in Vermont, leave a couple days for Montreal, a couple days for Toronto, amble around NY state and Pennsylvania for a couple of days on your way back to DC... Doesn't that sound better? Otherwise, you're talking something like this:

Day one: 10- to 11-hour drive to Montreal, stopping for lunch in, say, Burlington.

Day two: Spend the day in Montreal.

Day three: 6-hour drive to Toronto.

Day four: Spend the day in Toronto.

Day five: 1 1/2-hour-drive to Niagara, stay for a couple of hours, then hit the road for the remaining 8-hour trip to DC.

Of course you could break it up in other ways, but these are just some initial thoughts...


Lisbon, Portugal: I am stranded in Lisbon with a return ticket to Frankfurt and am caught in code share limbo. I bought the ticket on Lufthansa's website but the code share flight is operated by TAP. Lufthansa tells me that TAP must make me a new reservation because they are the flight operator. TAP tells me Lufthansa must make the reservation because they issued my ticket and they do not have access to my computer record. Is there a general rule regarding who should take responsibility in these cases?

Christopher Elliott: Lufthansa is responsible. I would send the airline a brief, polite email, explaining your problem. Please copy me at, and let me know what kind of response you get. I just got word that some Lufthansa flights are operating on schedule, as the volcanic dust start to settle, so to speak.


Istanbul for a week?: Me and my travel buddies are considering Istanbul for August for one week. Is this adequate time there to see ruins, shop, spa action and the travel within country to other areas? I'm tracking the flights which are ridiculous for August ($1200-1300) so I'm wondering should we shelve this trip for another timeframe in 2011 when we all have more time (10 days at least) and less pricey airfare. If so, what's a good time to go with less expensive airfare (plus good weather) and how many days will be needed for the MUST SEE highlights of Turkey?

Nancy Trejos: I've been to Istanbul a few times and have never spent more than four days at a time there and have been able to get a lot done(though it's such a wonderful city that I always wish I could spend weeks and weeks there!) In that time, you can hit the major sites: Topkapi Palace, the Hagia Sophia, and the Blue Mosque. It helps that they are all near each other. You can do a cruise on the Bosphorous another day. Then spend a morning shopping on Istiklal Street in Beyoglu or at one of the bazaars, and an afternoon at a Turkish Bath. If you can, also climb up the Galata Tower for a great view. Along the way, you can eat great food and drink some raki. (For food suggestions, go to

. It's run by Ansel Mullins, an American who has lived in Istanbul for years and really knows the dining scene, especially some great undiscovered local eateries. Thanks to him, I had some delicious meals over there.)

As for timing, keep in mind that August is one of the warmest months in Istanbul. Spring (April to mid-June) is probably the best time to visit because the weather is mild and the days are long. As for airfare, I'm afraid that Istanbul is expensive to get to from here and you're probably going to have to pay at least $1,000 for a round-trip ticket anytime you go. Is one week enough? If you're planning to travel to one other place within Turkey, I would say you could probably do it. But if you're thinking of traveling to a few other towns, you might want to give youself a little bit more time. Either way, I would encourage you to go. It's really one of my favorite cities in the world!


Carry on bag fees: Darn that Chuck Schumer! I wanted the overhead bins back--a place to put my coat, maybe my laptop, so my feet could actually go underneath the seat back that's jammed against my knees. I was hoping that planes would actually leave the gate on time, and deplaning would be lots simpler as folks weren't passing rollaboards up and down the aisle. I hope some airline has the guts to realize that the larger and larger objects being crammed overhead take up the same fuel, and increasingly, the time and attention of their onboard and gate staff. I vote for a fee for onboard items larger than a laptop bag and an end to fee hypocrisy by the airlines.

Zofia Smardz: I'm with you, absolutely!


D.C.: We are considering a short trip out of the country at Christmas or at the turn of the new year. Would you recommend Paris or Rome?

Zofia Smardz: It's not a question of "recommending." There's nothing to *not* recommend about either one of these cities. They're both beautiful, both cosmopolitan, both rich in history, culture, fabulous sights and more. The question is one of preferences, and knowing nothing about you, it's impossible to recommend one over the other. You just have to choose which one you want to see.


For Singapore: Go to the Night Safari! After dark you can walk or ride trams around when the animals are active, which is great fun (and somewhat unique). The Botanical Garden is also fabulous. Pay for the extra admission into the Orchard Garden - they have types there that exist no where else in the world. It's worth hitting one of the shopping malls on Orchard Street just to see how massive they are, and have a Singapore Sling at the Raffles Hotel. Again, touristy, but the hotel is beautiful.

Nancy Trejos: Good suggestions. Many thanks!


Ah, travel: Loved your intro. today with the "I am stuck in London because of some #### volcano." At least two things wrong with this sentence: No one is ever "stuck" in London and if travelers can't understand the occasional "act of God" then, please, stay home. A little humour, a few extra underpants, a sense of adventure, and a budgeted "emergency" fund of cash go a long way to making travel fun (or less onerous) for all around you. It's largely inconvenience -- in a few cases, yes, hardship -- but mostly it's a story to tell the grandchildren.

Andrea Sachs: Excellent point. Make the most of these surprises.


Washington, D.C.: Re: Travel distruption. Yep - I was supposed to be going to Prague and Budapest, and instead I'm going to Cancun. Completely different type of vacation, with the added trauma of having to shop for bathing suits at the last minute. But, at least I'm getting away!

Nancy Trejos: Doesn't sound too bad to me. Have fun!


Bronx, NY: My weirdest flight delay was the time I was traveling with a high school group (I was a student) in Russia, on our way to go hiking in a national park at the north end of Lake Baikal. After an 8-hour flight out from Moscow, we had to kill 12 hours in the airport at Ulan-Ude, at the southeast end of the lake, waiting for a line of thunderstorms to march down the lake so we could take off - in a DC-7, and this was 1990! - for our final destination. There is nothing in the Ulan-Ude airport: no food, no entertainment, nada. We were in the VIP lounge, because as official guests of the Soviet government we -were- VIPs, but all that meant was that we got to wait in isolated, moth-eaten-velvet splendor: the chairs were padded, unlike the chairs in the main waiting area, and upholstered in a shade of green velvet last popular in 1972. The drapes were the same color, and the windows overlooked the two runways, one paved, one dirt. It was very surreal.

Andrea Sachs: Quite the adventure.


Washington, DC: For the traveler in Italy: I went from Florence to Siena by train in 2007. It was only one train...a local train...and it took a little over an hour. It was very inexpensive and the schedule was very frequent, hourly I think. The train stops on the outskirts of Siena. The station is at the bottom of a hill, and the town is at the top, so you don't want to walk it. There is a bus that leaves from the station, or you could take a taxi. The taxis were very affordable...about 10 euros for door to door service.

I would recommend not driving in Italy, except it might be worthwhile to rent for daytrips out of Siena. The countryside is lovely, there are many wonderful places to stop off, and most of those places are not accessible by train. Just watch for the boxes on the side of the road that say "Autovelox"...those are speed cameras.

Andrea Sachs: Thanks for the help.


Arlington, VA: Travel Delays - I was in Fairbanks, AK, for work last summer, and needed to get back to DC in time to catch a flight to a wedding. Unfortunately, all flights were canceled due to zero visibility because of forest fires. This wasn't terribly surprising given that there was literally ash pouring down from the skies. But it took them forever to make this determination. They kept stringing us along with "delayed" and new flight times. Smart travelers took advantage of two charter buses to Anchorage that were offered early in the day for $100, but I stuck around and held out hope. By the time my flight was officially canceled, there were no more bus tickets available and all the rental cars were sold out. Even with a means of transportation, it was going to be hard to get to Anchorage in time for the last flight out, due to the fact that smoke on the roads meant buses could only go about 15mph while following some sort of truck with a blinking light. There were a lot of cruise passengers there and the cruise lines were organizing buses for their passengers. I offered to buy a seat on-board the Princess Cruise bus. (I think) I made it clear I was not a passenger. The lady at the counter told me since I was ready to go I could leave on the bus that was boarding and didn't charge me anything. I got on the bus thinking I could pay there, but that wasn't an option. On the incredibly slow drive back to Anchorage, I came to realize I was likely a stowaway. I spent long bus ride alternately in fear of being ejected (especially after having to sign the bus manifest) and getting irritated with the slow pace. After we got beyond the smoke, we still had to slow down for moose and then we were pulled over by a cop at one point. Anyhow, I made it to Anchorage just in time for my flight.

Andrea Sachs: This is like an episode of "Northern Exposure."


Andrea Sachs: Oh no, time is up. Thank you so much for joining us and showing that darn volcano that it can't scare us away.

For the chatster who flew to D.C. from LaGuardia, got bumped around and then had to turn around without landing, we feel your pain and want to give you a silly prize. Email me your address at As for the rest of you, so great to see that we all have a sense of humor in light of travel's little mishaps. See you next Monday, when the skies will hopefully be a bit bluer.


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