Talk about travel: Amtrak and train travel, continued volcano fallout, Banff, Memorial Day weekend trips, home swaps, solo female camper, bus trips to theme parks, more

Network News

X Profile
View More Activity
The Flight Crew
Washington Post Travel Section
Monday, April 26, 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 26 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.

____________________

Nancy Trejos: Good afternoon all, and happy Monday! Welcome to our chat. We hope you got a chance to enjoy the brief bursts of sunshine we had this weekend. I certainly did. It was actually the first weekend in a while that I've had my apartment all to myself because I've had people staying at my place the last few weekends. I recently joined an online network of travelers, sort of like a home exchange program. It works like this: You agree to host someone in your home and in exchange you can stay at that person's or someone else's place for free in whatever city they live in. Makes traveling a lot cheaper. So I'm wondering: Have any of you ever done a home exchange to cut down on your traveling costs? Or have you hosted strangers in exchange for strangers hosting you in another city? What was it like? Tell us your story--good, bad, funny, sad. Best story wins a prize.

Okay, we're ready to help you with your traveling needs. Let's chat!

_______________________

Boston: It was fun to see articles on those stranded in Europe due to the volcano...thanks!

Zofia Smardz: You're welcome! I think they were fun stories, too.

_______________________

Newark, Del: Going to Banff/Lake Louise for part of next week and then a few days in Monument Valley.

Any recommendations for either place?

Nancy Trejos: I went to Monument Valley in January and wrote about staying at the View Hotel, which is the only hotel inside the park. Every room has a balcony where you get an amazing view of the Mittens. If you can't get a room there, you can also try Goulding's Lodge right outside the entrance of the park. It's been there forever and has a cute museum with interesting facts about the John Wayne movies that were shot there. Obviously, you have to take a tour of the park, which takes a few hours. You can either do it on your own or hire a tour guide. I did a tour with Trailhandler Tours, run by Harold Simpson, who grew up in the park. I liked having someone who really knows the park show me around, plus there are parts of the park that only guides can get to. You can also spend another day touring Mystery Valley. I didn't get a chance to do that but I hear that it's also beautiful. If you don't mind taking a two-hour drive, you can also see the Four Corners, where four states (Arizona, Utah, New Mexico and Colorado) meet.

I have not been to Banff/Lake Louise. Any chatsters out there got any recommendations?

_______________________

Arlington, VA: Asking before the chat....

When should I plan to buy tickets to Europe for a two-week July vacation? I know tickets aren't supposed to drop that much (if at all) this summer, so how early is too early, or how late is too late, to buy tickets for such a trip?

Thanks.

Carol Sottili: There is no set formula. You just need to keep checking and to familiarize yourself with fares, so that you'll know a good sale when you see it. Target the airlines that work with your schedule. And if you find a great sale to a city in Europe that's not your main destination, then look to see if it would be cheaper/easy enough to go there and then catch a discount airline to your final destination. Euroflights lists discount carrier routes.

_______________________

A workable business model needed: An outstanding article by Mss. Trejos and Sachs. The problem with Amtrak is that it is dependent on so many things to keep it afloat: the government for salaries and administration, other railways' lines for operations, and ridership for viability. Having only a small amount of railroad devoted to high-speed rail can't help, and even though there's someone in the White House who is sympathetic to rail travel, it seems like if things continue, it will be a case of throwing good money after bad. It has been compared to the Post Office in the past b/c of the considerable loss in revenues over the years, but the main difference is this: people still need the USPS; Amtrak and rail travel? Not so much.

Nancy Trejos: Many thanks for your input. We appreciate it. Glad you liked the story!

_______________________

Los Angeles: 12 days based in Paris at the beginning of June. We've got an apartment, so we have flexibility in terms of day/overnight trips. We're thinking a couple of days in Normandy/Brittany, and perhaps a day in Bruges. Any other suggestions?

Joe Yonan: If you've never done it, you should definitely take a couple of days to go to the Loire Valley to do the winery/castle/gardens thing. Villandry and Chenonceaux are breathtaking.

_______________________

New Zealand: Hi, crew. A friend and I are thinking of a NZ vacation in November, and I'm wondering whether that's a good time to go in terms of outdoor activities and price. Looks like airfares from the west coast are $1000+. Thanks!

Zofia Smardz: That's springtime in New Zealand, so it should be lovely. I was there in winter once, and it was still pretty nice.

_______________________

Arlington, VA: Can you give me an update on what's going on with two unions' plans to strike against American Airlines? I'm asking because I booked a flight with them 4 months before I knew about this strike, and I'm scheduled to be on Bahamas cruise next month. Should I wait and see, or should I re-book?

Carol Sottili: Last I heard, the two sides had been ordered back to the table by a federal mediator. Earliest chance of any sort of labor action would be mid May.

_______________________

Alexandria, Va.: I love camping but can't seem to find anyone to go with me this summer. Are there any places you'd recommend within about a three-hour drive this summer where I can go? I'm looking for places that are safe for a solo female camper and that have some hiking or interesting nature trails nearby. Thank you for any suggestions.

Nancy Trejos: How about Shenandoah National Park? It's got five campgrounds and offers great views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Or Cunningham Falls State Park in Thurmont, Maryland? It's in the Catoctin Mountains and has a 78-foot waterfall plus a lake and a beach. Greenbriar State Park in Boonesboro, Maryland, has access to the Appalachian Trail. And the Treehouse Park in Gapland, Maryland is unusual in that it offers tree houses as well as tent camping. Any chatters have recommendations?

_______________________

Washington, DC: My sigoth and I want to go to the Caribbean over Memorial Day weekend. We are looking for beauty, relaxation, some luxury, and a non-stop flight from Washington. No all- inclusives please, some snorkeling would be nice. What are some of your recommended destinations? Thank you!

Nancy Trejos: The last time I checked these were the islands you can get to non-stop from Washington: Aruba, Bahamas, Barbados, Bermuda, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, St. Thomas, and Tobago. You can also get to Cancun and the Dominican Republic non-stop. I went to Puerto Rico and Barbados recently and loved both. (I also went to the Bahamas during Spring Break in college, long ago. It was fun, but probably a much different experience than I would have now.)

Joe Yonan: "Sigoth": That's a new one on me. (I have to say, it sounds like a character from "Clash of the Titans," doesn't it? "Release the sigoth!")

Andrea Sachs: I just checked to see if those were still nonstops, and from what I can tell, a lot of the carriers have stopped nonstop air to most of those destinations (blame the economy). However, Puerto Rico is nonstop and, if you don't mind a second short plane ride, head to the island of Vieques, where a W hotel just opened (though I am a fan of the architecturally interesting Hix Island House). Or, try Jamaica and the Strawberry Hill resort.

Nancy Trejos: Thanks Andrea for getting the latest information on flights! Sorry I gave you outdated info. Ignore my earlier response. Listen to Andrea.

_______________________

Arlington, VA: Hey Travel Crew, I loved the Amtrak story. Thought you all did a very good job. However, I thought it was more of an A Section story than belonging in the Travel Section. I'm a huge Amtrak supporter and thought it did a good job describing the many woes of Amtrak and the why of the woes. Shoulda been a front page contender, I think.

Zofia Smardz: Thanks for that vote of confidence!

_______________________

Boston, MA: My husband and I are looking for a Memorial Day weekend getaway within driving distance of Boston. We've been to the Cape a ton so we're not looking to head there. We also love Acadia, but are planning on going there later in the summer. We'd love someplace where we could do some easy mountain biking, hiking, or kayaking but we'd also be happy just sitting and relaxing somewhere. Any ideas?

Zofia Smardz: Have you been to the other Cape -- Cape Ann? Rockport is a lovely little town, and you could certainly hike and kayak there. Or what about a New Hampshire lake? Newfound Lake is less well-known than someplace like Winnepesaukee, but it's beautiful, secluded-feeling, and perfect for either relaxation or water sports, depending on your mood.

Other thoughts, chatters?

_______________________

Dupont: I'm spending a long weekend in San Fran in June. My ticket there was a gift, so I'm just responsible for the trip back. Is $150 from SFO to Dulles a good deal? Is there anyone who flies direct to National? Thanks!

Carol Sottili: $150 is a good one-way fare. Try AirTran out of Reagan National, but you'll have to connect. Out of Dulles, try Virgin America. JetBlue flies out of Dulles to Oakland. Southwest flies between BWI and San Francisco.

_______________________

Alexandria, Va.: Christopher, I know you hate airline miles programs. I just got a MasterCard application/offer from Capital One bank that includes 30,000 bonus miles (they come in increments over two years). But it says the miles don't expire and you can fly on any airline with no blackout dates or seat restrictions. Can this be true?

Joe Yonan: Chris is elsewhere today, but let me weigh in a little on the credit card offer you're describing. Even if all that's true, do you get other mileage points from regular use of the credit card? If not, that doesn't sound like that good of a deal to me, given that it'll take you a couple of years to get the miles and that depending on the airline it can take 50,000 miles or more just to get a ticket.

_______________________

Amtrak traveler, washington dc: Interesting article on Amtrak. We have traveled all over Europe via Eurail. It was a great experience. Have traveled on a short trip on Amtrak, no complaints so far!

My spouse and I will be traveling by Amtrak from NY to Montreal, Canada this May.

We have had good reports about this trip, specially about the scenic view along the way etc.

How about delays? Does this train reach Montreal on time? As first time travelers to Canada we would like to reach on scheduled time. Any experience from other chatters or the crew? Would love hear about other experiences on this route. Tips and advice most welcome.

WPost travel crew and this chat...what a great service and thanks for this great opportunity to chat with fellow travelers.

Anxiously waiting to hear from you. Thank you.

Nancy Trejos: You can actually go to www.amtrak.com and check your train's on-time performance rate. There's an icon near the bottom of the home page called On-Time Performance. You can check it by route or train number.

Thanks for reading the story and have a fun trip!

_______________________

washington dc.: The link to Euroflights(discount flights) did not work.

Carol Sottili: Try Euroflights.

_______________________

Slow Train Blues: Yes, yes, yes. Nancy and Andrea, you hit the nail on the head- great article. I want to like Amtrak, but I have been burned way too many times to ever really consider it as a viable option anymore. You raised an excellent point in that Amtrak doesn't own the tracks, and that they are on someone else's schedule, but too often there's little accountability to their passengers. I was actually surprised that they provided free drinks and snacks; more often than not, if I would even DARE to ask why the train was delayed, I would get a surly response.

Nancy Trejos: Hi. Thanks so much for reading the story. We're glad you liked it, but sorry you've had such bad experiences.

_______________________

San Francisco, CA: My husband and I are flying to Spain in late May and we'll have a 12 hour layover in DC (Dulles). Is there a simple way to pop into town to see one or two of the museums and then back to Dulles? The Air and Space and National Gallery are the top two. Thanks for any advice!

Andrea Sachs: The Air and Space Museum has a branch near Dulles, and a shuttle run between the museum and the airport. To go downtown (12 hours is a long time!), I would catch Metrobus 5A to L'Enfant Plaza, which is near the Mall and all of the Smithsonian museums. (Pick up the bus at Ground Transportation; ask a Travelers Aid volunteer for help if you get confused.)

You can also take the Washington Flyer to the West Falls Church Metro, but then you need to take the Metro downtown. Check the airport's Web site for various transportation options, but I am a fan of the bus (and it's only a few bucks to boot).

_______________________

Philadelphia, PA: Hi. My son and his wife have a significant credit banked with a major airline for unused tickets -- unused due to a sudden death in the family last December. They're attempting to transfer the credit to me so that I can use it for the cost of a flight to Calif. They were within the one-year term for using the credit. Airline is balking at transfer. Any recourse you can suggest to them/us? Thanks.

Joe Yonan: Hmm. Chris, our resident airline-recourse expert, isn't in the room today, but you should email him at celliott@ngs.org. Not sure if he'll be able to help, but worth a shot.

_______________________

Leesburg, VA: I've been stuck in Paris (I know, how horrible...) since Monday the 19th of April due to the volcanic eruptions. I'm due to fly to Dulles tomorrow morning. According to European regulations, Air France should reimburse me up to $150 per day due to the cancellation of my flight (for food, housing, etc costs). Many European countries have made the appropriate claim sites available through the media, but I haven't seen this in any media coming out of the States. I'll send in copies of the receipts to AF about .5 seconds after I get home, but to whom do I turn if they rebuff me? Thanks so much! Hanging in there, LV

Carol Sottili: For details on passenger rights and the volcanic ash situation, contact the European Union's site.

_______________________

Alexandria, VA: To the person going to Paris in June: If you're at all into cooking, you might consider a day course at Le Cordon Bleu. I took the course that included a trip to a local farmer's market and it was a great way to experience a bit of "every day" life in Paris.

Nancy Trejos: Great tip. Thank you!

_______________________

Foggy Bottom dweller: Your article on Amtrak issues was spot on. I routinely took trains when I lived in Europe and Japan and would love to be able to rely on them in the U.S. too. When my daughter tried to take a train from the Bay Area to visit relatives in Southern and Central California it didn't go well. The first time she ended up taking a bus becasue the train was over 12 hours late. The second time she arrived over two hours late because the front engine malfunctioned and they had to do a U-turn so that the engine on the back could be moved to the front. (It seems that it takes a very long time for a train to do a U-turn.) Anyway, she won't be taking a train again for a long time. If the system isn't reliable, people won't use it.

Zofia Smardz: That's Amtrak's major problem in a nutshell. Thanks for writing in.

_______________________

Washington, D.C.: My husband, 1-year-old (paid seat) and I are flying Frontier this week on economy fares. The agent on the phone told me they don't have assigned seating for our class of ticket, nor do they have preboarding for families-"but our flight attendants don't want to babysit your child, so they don't mind you playing musical chairs."

Hey, sounds like fun! Do any of you or the chatters have experience with Frontier seating adventures and whether the flight attendants really will (and can) get us to sit together?

Carol Sottili: I haven't flown Frontier, but have seen this on other airlines. Was on a Southwest flight once where a family with two small children showed up late to board, and there were only a few individual seats left on the plane. The flight attendants asked people to move, and they did, although some were not happy. Get there early.

_______________________

With Volcanic Eruptions A Bit of Luck Always Helps : The Backstory: Some months ago booked RT flights from IAD to Paris for an 11-day Internet-free vacation ("April in Paris" and all that). Scored biz-class seats with miles and a few dollars. Had a great flight to Europe, wonderful sunny, but a bit cool weather; enjoyed ourselves enormously, went to CDG, checked in, boarded the plane and had an equally great flight home.

The News Story: The return was on Wednesday the 21st, on the first United flight to IAD from Paris in just about a week. We did have some anxious moments due to CNN's 24/7 travel chaos coverage, and tracking more and more canceled flights on the UAL web site (Should have stayed off the internet as planned!), but the travel gods smiled on us and about 350 other travelers that morning for which we are properly thankful.

BTW, if "Concerned to fly once ban is lifted" from last Monday is so nervous a flier as to require a flight to be completely safe to fly, he/she will never fly again because that condition is totally impossible for any airline to meet.

Joe Yonan: You skated by -- how great...

_______________________

Germantown, MD: Last year I booked a discount business class ticket on UAL to Tokyo, but ended up canceling. They deducted their $250 change fee and left the rest online as an electronic ticket. I booked another flight using that ticket as an exchange. They sent me the balance as a paper ticket - about $2500. Now to use this, I need to either carry the paper ticket - after booking online - to an airport, or mail the thing in. I can't do an immediate confirmation of seats or upgrades until after the ticket is issued, and they can't confirm the upgrade is available at the airport desk. So I've got to make sure my upgrade has cleared just before I get to the ticket counter and even then I could lose it.

It feels like they are making it really hard to use my existing balance. Got any ideas on how I can get around this?

Carol Sottili: Not sure about this one. Have you tried contacting a travel agent?

_______________________

Baltimore, MD: Hi, I wrote in a few weeks ago to see if you had any tips on finding bus trips to nearby theme parks like King's Dominion, Busch Gardens, or Six Flags, since I don't own a car and am too young to rent. I've checked as many bus operator and tour company websites as I could find, but the only place anyone seems to go is Atlantic City. I was hoping you or other readers may have heard or thought of something I didn't. Thank you!

Zofia Smardz: Hmmm. There are charter buses to Kings Dominion, but I don't know of any regular bus line that travels there from these parts. Maybe you could take Greyhound or Amtrak to Richmond, then get to KD from there, if there are buses from Richmond. But I don't know whether there are. Anybody out there have more info on this?

_______________________

Banff/Lake Louise: You can still go skiing if you'd like; Sunshine Village and Lake Louise are open right now and if you keep an eye on their websites you can find out if they're still going (Sunshine has a 57 inch base as of this morning).

While in Banff, bring a swimsuit and go to the hot springs for a dip, even if the weather's cold. If you're not staying at the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel, which has its own springs, you can go farther up the mountain to the Upper Hot Springs (when I was there in 2007, I got a discount with my AAA card).

Both the Banff Springs Hotel and Chateau Lake Louise have public areas and restaurants if you want to visit. You can also walk around the right side of the lake, and whether you can make it to the waterfall depends on how much the snow has melted. Lots of great hiking in the area too. For a lovely and not-too-strenuous hike, I recommend Johnston Canyon, which has two waterfalls.

With respect to dining, while in Banff I had really nice dinners at the Keg Steakhouse and at Maple Leaf Grille. Finally, keep your camera handy at all times, especially if you're driving, because sometimes bears, moose, and bighorn sheep will be beside the road or (in my case) on the road.

One more thing: Check to see if your bank has agreements with banks in Canada; for example, Bank of America customers can use ScotiaBank ATMs without ATM fees.

Nancy Trejos: Wonderful! Glad there was someone out there to complete my answer to that question. Thank you!

_______________________

Peesville: I heard a rumor that some airlines will soon charge to use the bathroom. Say it ain't so!

(and if it is...no TSA rule about bringing an empty bucket, right?)

Carol Sottili: Ryanair, which doesn't fly in the United States, has been floating this idea from time to time for the past couple of years. I have my doubts as to whether the airline will ever go through with it. I don't think it's on the table for any airline in the United States. We don't have a history here of paying for public restrooms, as is common in some parts of Europe. That said, the European discount carriers were the first ones to charge for food and for seat assignments.

_______________________

Fairfax: I found a camera in about 4 feet of water while snorkeling on vacation last week. I took it back to the shore and let it dry off then hit the power button. It turned right on and had some pictures on the memory card that were almost two weeks old. The last picture is taken from in the water of the same bay so that camera must have survived those two weeks underwater. Any thoughts on how to reunite the camera and/or pictures to their owner?

Zofia Smardz: Wow, that's some camera! What kind is it? We should all invest in one. :-)

As for reuniting it with its owner, some time ago we ran a

Coming and Going

item about a Web site called TigerTag (www.tigertag.com) that aims to bring lost articles and their owners back together again. We have never used it, but you might give it a try (and tell us whether it works!).

Other than that, I don't have any bright ideas, but maybe our faithful chatters do?

_______________________

Poughkeepsie, New York: My husband and I promised to go Florida around Christmas to spend time with family. However, prices now appear to be $300 per ticket one-way. $1,200 for 2 roundtrip tickets seems ridiculous. Are these the prices we are going to be stuck with?

Carol Sottili: Don't know which airports you are looking at, but you should be able to do better than that. Look at larger airports served by discount carriers. May be worth driving a while to save lots of money. And you may have to try different dates. Flexibility is the key to getting low fares.

_______________________

Washington DC: We did a home swap a couple of years ago, and the good news for us - but bad for you - is that it was drama free. For a weekend, we swapped our reasonably clean and well-located Capitol Hill house for another family's reasonably clean and well-located mid-town NYC apartment. We arranged it through Craigslist.

Nancy Trejos: Well, I'm still glad you had a drama-free exchange!

_______________________

Eurobound: Hi Travel Gurus,

I'm moving to Germany this July for my job and will be taking my cat with me. I need help with finding a carrier. Do or your chatters have any recommendations for carriers? My cat is small about 10 lbs and I'm looking for a soft sided carrier since she will be flying in cabin with me. I have called the Airline (United) and they just mentioned the dimensions but didn't say a particular type.

Thanks!

Joe Yonan: How bout this?

_______________________

For the Alexandria Camper: I am a single woman and I went camping in Gettysburg, PA the summer or 2008 and I felt very comfortable. It was beautiful and there is a lot to do there. I stayed at a campground though, as I would not be comfortable camping in the woods alone. I highly recommend it.

Nancy Trejos: More camping advice. Thank you!

_______________________

Airline compensation for delayed luggage..really?: Hi guys,

I spent my weekend putting together my travel insurance claim for among other things luggage delay and the following question is on the form: "have you filed a claim with the carrier? If not, do so immediately"!! Since when do carriers indemnize pax for delayed carriers? What is your reaction?

Joe Yonan: I'm not sure I understand, but it sounds to me like the travel insurance company just wants to make sure the delay is documented, right?

Carol Sottili: I'm also a bit confused, but you need to file a claim with the airline. You should have done that at the airport. That's what the insurance company wants you to do.

_______________________

Grand Rapids, MI: I'm getting married in mid-July and my future wife and I would like to go on our honeymoon to Cape Cod/Martha's Vineyard/Nantucket. Which one of the three would you choose and do you have any specific recommendations for a place to stay?

BTW, we are both 60 and of moderate means-- not rich/poor.

Thanks!

Andrea Sachs: All three are pretty crazy over the summer, but I would choose the Vineyard, because of its diversity and size but also compactness (in other words, you can explore far or stay close and near and never be bored). When I visited, I rented a cute cabin built for two (the other was my sister, not very romantic). Check www.mvol.com/vacationrentals for listings. For hotels, you will find better rates at properties a bit out of Edgartown and Vineyard Haven, or in one of the smaller villages, such as the Nashua House in Oak Bluffs.

Congrats!

_______________________

Banff Eating: http://www.saltlik.com/

It was two years ago but it was delicious. There's also a small sushi place off Main that was great. The British pub downtown...meh. Good poutine though.

Secondly, cut Amtrak a break. The feds should have nationalized the rails years ago and given people priority over freight. This is privatization and capitalism at it's worst. Give me the TGV and French "socialism" anyday.

Nancy Trejos: More Banff advice. Thank you! And we appreciate your input on Amtrak.

_______________________

Rockville, MD: I would probably use the train more if it wasn't such a pain. Right now, the only reason I do so is if I want to save on gas and tolls, and not add so much mileage on my car. Otherwise, it's just not worth the hassle of having to be there for the ONE TRAIN out to Philly from PGH, or how long it takes from DC to NYC (and I don't care what they say- Acela is just not that great).

Joe Yonan: When I lived in Boston, I called it "Decela" for a reason. When I was REALLY angry, I expanded that nickname to "Decela Depress." I wish it weren't true, but...

_______________________

Arlington, VA: I'm considering a cruise next January out of the Port of Miami - www.miamidade.gov/portofmiami/- do I need to get to Miami the day before or can I fly in the day of my cruise and take a cab from the airport to the boat?

Carol Sottili: I have taken several cruises out of Miami, and have always arrived on the day of departure and taken a cab to the cruise. But I make sure to get the earliest flight out, and to have a back-up plan re: other flights that could get me there in case mine is canceled. If you are a worrier, go the day before.

_______________________

Wheaton, Md.: Hello - Thanks for taking my question. I'll be in Copenhagen for 3.5 days in July. I've never been before but was interested in maybe going to Sweden for one of those days (maybe Malmo?) but am worried that I'll be shortchanging my time in Copenhagen for a low reward. What do you think?

Joe Yonan: I always advise against carving up a trip into too many pieces. I think you'll have plenty to do and see in Copenhagen for those few days, and would enjoy it rather than trying to pack something else in...

_______________________

For Baltimore: who is looking for bus trips to amusement parks, I know our local Parks & Rec departments sometimes offer these (Reston, Herndon). So check with counties near where you live and see if you can find a trip.

Zofia Smardz: Lots of peeps looking out for you, Baltimore!

_______________________

For the solo female camper: I too am intimidated by walking around in the woods alone. I like camping in the National Parks because during the summer months you can almost always find ranger-led activities and hikes. I am with others, which makes me feel safe, and learn so many things that I wouldn't otherwise learn. The rangers are so knowledgeable and they love to talk to visitors during the hikes.

Nancy Trejos: More for the solo female camper. Thanks for this.

_______________________

Chicago, IL: Hey flight crew! This is just a follow-up to a question I posted last month: I asked should I spend 15,000 miles and $50 to upgrade to 1st class on a LGA-ORD flight on a tiny regional jet - I really can't stand the cramped conditions. The consensus was no - not really worth it; but I never got around to canceling the upgrade request. The good news is - the upgrade request let me check-in at the nice first-class counter, and since I was early (it was Easter Sunday, so I had no idea what traffic would be like) I got wait-listed on the earlier flight. Voila! I was put in an exit row with lots of leg room - and was refunded the miles and never charged the $. This is on the airline that charges for premier check-in and premium seating; so I felt like I beat the system for a change!

Joe Yonan: Excellent! I just returned from a work conference in Portland, Ore., and tried out United's "Economy Plus" upgrade -- about $75 one-way for the two legs (DCA to ORD to PDX). Was nice and roomy for my legs, which I appreciated, but not sure it was worth the price. Your deal sounds much better.

_______________________

Arl. VA for Banff: I've been there many times. At a minimum, visit the Fairmont Banff Springs and Lake Louise hotels, even if not staying there. Drive the Icefields Parkway at least part of the way to Jasper and back (all the way to Jasper is about 150 miles from Lake Louise).

Nancy Trejos: More advice for the Banff traveler. Thank you!

_______________________

Re: Bus trips to Theme Parks: Check out Boomerang Party Bus...not sure if they do this, but they have a variety of trips they make to different attractions and it is frequented by the younger crowd.

Also, if you can't find a bus company that will take you check out meetup.com and look for different groups. These days they have groups for everything (including possibly theme parks) or join a 20s group and look for them to do a trip to a park where you can carpool with other members or suggest that they do that as an activity. I'm sure you will find that others would go. I've met some of my best friends thru meetup groups.

Zofia Smardz: Great ideas, thanks.

_______________________

Washington, DC: Going to Europe in July and with total of 9 family members. Rather than use credit cards for our hotel we are planning on paying in euros in cash. With the euro now hovering at a dollar exchange rate of $1.33 it may make sense to buy euros now, rather than wait until July. Typically, it always seemed that the exchange rate goes up over the summer. Any thoughts?

Carol Sottili: My thought is that I would be reluctant to travel with that much cash. Hope you have one of those hidden money belts. And bring a credit card anyway, just in case.

_______________________

Annapolis, Md.: If you can visit Six Flags America during the week, MARC and Metro can get you there. The C29 bus from Largo Town Center drops you off right outside the park's gates.

Zofia Smardz: Didn't know this, thanks!

_______________________

Frontier seating: You have to pay a little bit more to get seat assignments at booking (a point that is not always clear when booking through 3rd parties like Orbitz, etc that just give you the cheapest booking option). You pick your seat assignments at check-in (which you could do 24 hours in advance online last time I flew them), so I'd say set an alarm to be first at online check-in and you should be fine getting seats together.

Carol Sottili: Thanks.

_______________________

frequent flyer miles: Hi Flight Crew!

I'm flying to Europe this summer on United and a friend of mine has graciosly offered to transfer some of her miles to me so I can upgrade to business class. However, when I looked at the process to do so I noticed that in addition to a transfer fee there is a per mile fee as well so it could be be a $100 or more to transfer miles. Is this new thing they are charging for? I know using miles to get a free ticket is ridiculous, but I thought an upgrade would be okay...guess I was wrong!

Carol Sottili: Airlines have been charging transfer fees for a long time. Some charge a per mile fee, others a transfer fee, some charge both. Annoying, yes, but at least there is an option for using miles that belong to someone else. I'd gladly pay the $100 to fly business class.

_______________________

Washington, DC: I'm wondering if anyone in the travel media has looked into airlines' current pricing for pet travel? I used to take my pet along fairly frequently on flights to visit relatives, but have stopped doing so mainly because the pet fee is discriminatory. I'm charged the same pet fee whether my pet rides as cargo or comes as a carry-on with me in the cabin. Since my dog is 10lbs, carry-on used to be fine - except with a now $100 pet fee each way, PLUS a checked bag fee since I'm giving up my carry-on to bring the dog, it's not feasible. I've taken so many more trips in the car lately and the airlines have lost my business. Have you seen more of these stories - and is anyone going to call out the airlines on this?

Carol Sottili: Short answer: Airlines don't want to transport pets, so they've raised the prices, hoping fewer people will go that route. Pet Airways is devoted to transporting pets, but not humans. AirTran has the cheapest rates for transporting small enough pets in the cabin.

_______________________

Memorial Day weekend getaway within driving distance of Boston: Is Tanglewood in Massachusetts' Berkshire Mountains open yet? There are concerts there (not just the Boston Symphony) all summer, plus outlet shopping in the town of Lenox. Lots of other attractions in the region.

Joe Yonan: Tanglewood season doesn't start until June (same thing with Jacob's Pillow dance, another amazing attraction there), but that means the Berkshires will be a little more manageable, I'd say. (Except there is a big marathon in Lenox that weekend.)

_______________________

Suttons Bay, MI: My husband and I were scheduled to leave for Ireland this week, but now have postponed it until September. We are planning to drive (but not in Dublin). I would like to hear from folks who have driven there and also if there are any tips that would help in getting used to the "other side of the road." Thanks

Andrea Sachs: I have never driven there--any chatsters have advice for Irish driving?-- but I have driven on the opposite side of the road in Jamaica of all places. My advice: Avoid stick shift and don't overthink the driving: Just follow the car in front of you. Also, pay close attention when you take turns, and always watch out for pedestrians. For circles, go around twice if necessary. You are not in a rush. Also, make sure someone else is a navigator. And let me say again: Don't overthink it. It will strangely become natural, and then driving U.S. style will seem foreign.

_______________________

New York, NY: To the Boston couple looking for a driving-distance getaway: go north! New Hampshire and Vermont are both driving distance and offer lots of outdoor activities. Home-base yourself in a city or town (I like Burlington VT) and do day trips, sign up for a guided bike tour, or pick a lake, rent a cabin, and kick back.

Joe Yonan: I second that: Burlington is lovely. Don't count out Maine, though. Love me some Portland.

_______________________

for the honeymooners: Why not pick two? Spend a day or two exploring the Cape and then head over to one of the islands.

Nancy Trejos: Honeymooners, here's something to consider.

_______________________

Washington, DC: In your story about traveling with Amtrak yesterday, I noticed their spokesman repeating the tired canard about how highways and airports have dedicated federal funding, but Amtrak does not, which they love to blame for all of their inadequacies. The revenue that goes into the federal trust funds for highways and aviation comes from taxes and fees on users of their systems. The revenue that Amtrak gets from its users is called fares, and so far as I know that money is "dedicated" to their operations rather than being siphoned off to support other modes (as a portion of federal gas taxes are to support mass transit).

The problem, of course, is that those revenues don't cover the costs of operating the passenger rail system, let alone covering anything for capital equipment and track, despite the fact that rail fares are relatively compared with intercity bus and air fares. The result is that subsidies from elsewhere are required. You can argue why intercity passenger rail travel should be subsidized by the general public, or how cost-efficient Amtrak's operations really are, but you can't blame user-fee-based federal assistance for other modes for their problems, or pretend that dedicated revenues (from what source?) would solve them.

washingtonpost.com: Amtrak ridership is up, but passengers grouse about frequent delays

Nancy Trejos: We appreciate the input. Thanks for reading the story.

_______________________

Re: Germantown's Issue With Rebooking: I had a similar issue with United. I don't know how feasible it is for you, but what I did (since I work in D.C.) is to go to the United counter at Reagan airport, since it's easy to get to/on the Metro, and get the ticket there. They didn't care that I wasn't flying through DCA and it only took a few minutes. Hope that helps.

Carol Sottili: Good idea.

_______________________

Upper Marlboro, MD: A friend and I are taking a cruise on a traditional carrier in November. I've been on what I like to call No frills cruises in the past (EasyCruise when the did the French and Itialian Riviera). On that cruise we steered clear of the Shore excursions and ventured out on our own because we had so much time at each port.

My question is is there value added in doing the excursions with the Cruise line (since there will be less time in port: Puerto Rico, St. Thomas and St. Marteen I believe), or should we venture out on our own?

Carol Sottili: I never take shore excursions on Caribbean cruises. It's usually easy to grab a cab to a nice beach. If you want to snorkel or sightsee, do some research beforehand to find reputable outfitters and to figure out the lay of the land.

_______________________

Arlington, VA: The person with the found camera might want to check to see if there is any "EXIF" data stored in the digital files. I know DSLR's can be set up to include your name and copyright info directly into the file. I am assume the camera in question here is a more basic point and shoot model but it's worth examining to see if there is any name data in the files.

Nancy Trejos: It's a team effort to return the camera to its owner. Thank you!

_______________________

Trains: Since we're talking about Amtrak, I thought I would pass on a great website for worldwide train travel. It's seat61.com, and I relied on it for really good, basic information when traveling in Southeast Asia, including what the trains are like, how to buy tickets, schedules, etc. Also, I'm familiar with the trains in India, so I read seat61's write-up of Indian train travel, and it was pretty much spot-on (except that they rated the bathrooms as cleaner than I would have done. No affiliation, by the way.

Zofia Smardz: Very useful, thanks!

_______________________

Washington DC: Good Afternoon, Love the chats! We are looking for a spot for a destination wedding/honeymoon. Any insight on getting married and honeymooning in Aruba? Thanks! Wendy

Andrea Sachs: None of us has wedded in that Caribbean bliss, but read this important info before you start planning, as you need to be aware of marriage requirements: http://www.aruba.com/SpecialVacations/weddingsandhoneymoons.aspx.

As for the specifics of Aruba weddings and honeymoons, any Mr. and Mrs. out there with advice?

_______________________

For Wheaton going to Copenhagen: There's plenty in Copenhagen, but I'd not write off a quick trip to Sweden. Malmo's not all that interesting, but a half-day trip to the university town of Lund might be something you'd be interested in. The train from Copenhagen to Malmo is very regular and not too expensive -- and the views as you cross the Oresund are great. Malmo's train station is easy to navigate, and there are trains to Lund about every half hour or so. In addition to the University, there are some interesting churches and great cafes for al fresco dining (cheaper than in Denmark).

Joe Yonan: If you decide to go ...

_______________________

Re: Frontier: I've been in this situation a number of times (being asked to move to accommodate a family). I heartily second your advice to arrive early and also ask that the family be reasonable in making its request. If only individual seats are available, then you may need to make do with 2 seats together and 1 separate. The parents can then take turns with the child. At that point, I don't think it's reasonable to ask someone to move so that all three of you can sit together unless perhaps you are offering better seats to people.

Carol Sottili: I always look at where someone wants me to move to before I agree. I'm not taking the middle seat between the sumo wrestler and the European backpacker for a five-hour flight. Sorry.

_______________________

Reunite lost camera: I believe this site is the most popular and trafficked one. http://ifoundyourcamera.blogspot.com/

Zofia Smardz: Terrific, thank you!

_______________________

Re: Lost Camera in Water: Why not email the hotel and attach some of the photos? Have them circulate the pics among the staff...maybe someone will recognize them. Worth a shot (no pun intended).

Nancy Trejos: Another idea? Glad you all care so much about returning this camera!

_______________________

Charleston Bound: I will resubmit this week, hoping that I will have a bit less competition since flights the volcanic ash situation has literally settled. My best friend and I are doing a girlfriend's getaway in Charleston. We are driving from DC and wanted to see if there were any great stops in between. We're interested in food, kitsch and fun tourist traps. Hope you can make the nine hour drive a bit more fun for us! Thanks.

Zofia Smardz: If you like kitschy things (I do, too!), you might like the Ava Gardner museum in Smithfield, NC. I dearly wanted to stop there when I last drive to Charleston, but didn't have time. Next trip for sure!

Throwing this one out to the chatters for more recommendations. Folks?

_______________________

Train to Amusement Parks: It's really easy to take the train to Williamsburg. A cab to the park would probably be cheap too, but I'd recommend arranging it in advance.

Zofia Smardz: True! Forgot that it does stop in Williamsburg, so you can get to Busch Gardens no problem.

_______________________

Home Swaps: You all are so brave. I would never feel good about letting a total stranger I met through craigslist stay in my home. It seems creepy to me.

Joe Yonan: I don't know why I'm suddenly compelled to say something really sappy, such as, "Everybody's a stranger until you meet them," but I am. So there.

_______________________

Kingstowne, VA: When I read the Amtrak story yesterday I couldn't help but think of the Auto Train and how every review I've ever read says that if you MUST be somewhere in Florida at a specific time, then you should NOT take the Auto Train that will arrive that day. Seems to comport with my experience because on my trip down to Florida during Thanksgiving week in 2005, it took us over two hours just to get past Richmond (originating, of course, in Lorton) due to all the freight traffic getting priority. I suppose it was interesting to get to see the Quantico Marine Base out the window since I'd only ever seen the part that you can see from US-1, but really, TWO HOURS just to get to Richmond? The trip convinced me that if I were going to Florida for two weeks or more, the Auto Train would be well worth it because you can bring your own car, pack what you want, and not worry about the TSA confiscating everything, but that for anything shorter, forget it.

I must say, though, that on the Northeast Corridor trains I absolutely LOVE the Quiet Car and I LOVE the fact that they seem to do a pretty good job of enforcing it, at least on trains I've taken.

Zofia Smardz: Frustrating! Thanks for writing.

_______________________

Chicago, IL: For the Copenhagen traveler: I wouldn't try to go to Malmo either, but if you want a pleasant day trip - check out the Louisiana Museum - it is on the straits with a view of Sweden, and has a fantastic modern art collection; it less than an hour by train, and fun to get out and see the countryside.

Joe Yonan: Thanks!

_______________________

Baltimore, MD: My wife and I are planning on going to Annapolis for the weekend. We would love to bring our Boston Terrier with us. Are there many hotels/inns in Annapolis that are dog- friendly? Any restaurants with outdoor seating that are dog-friendly? Thanks!

Andrea Sachs: Annapolis is very pet-friendly, due to its outdoor nature and its pup-owning Annapoli (seems like every third yard has a yellow or black Lab).

Check out these dog-friendly places on the Annapolis tourism Web site:

http://www.visitannapolis.org/media/story-ideas/pet-friendly-annapolis/index.aspx

Or, from our two-legged friends at DogFriendly.com:

www.dogfriendly.com/server/travel/uscities/guides/us/cities/usonlinecityMDAnnapolis.shtml.

_______________________

Malmo: There is plenty to keep you busy in Copenhagen for 3.5 days, but the train ride to Malmo is less than 30 minutes if memory serves, so it's not a big commitment. And it was a bit different and quite lovely. When we did the trip a couple of years ago, they were celebrating the anniversary of Linnaeus' work, and being an eco-nerd I really enjoyed the botanical garden. We attended a concert at a church, saw a really interesting photo exhibit. Half a day is doable.

As for solo camping, it's the human predators that I worry most about, so I'm more of a backcountry keep-away-from-the-campgrounds girl, myself.

Joe Yonan: Another vote for Malmo!

_______________________

Just flew in from Louisville: Anyone going to the Kentucky Derby this weekend? Here's some tips: -- There's a local restaurants rewards card there called Louisville Originals. It's for about 60 locally owned and operated restaurants, many of them serving fresh/organic food. Some recommendations: North End Cafe on Frankfort Ave., Lilly's on Bardstown Rd near Grinstead Dr. and Bistro 301 downtown. -- The Kentucky Derby museum was severely damaged in flash floods last summer but was refurbished and held its grand re-opening on Saturday. My sister was there for a class reunion planning lunch and says it's awesome. -- Bringing home one of the famed Derby Pies (chocolate nut pie)? Don't pay $21 at the airport or $13 at Kroger's. Go to the Party Barn where they're $9.99. They have good deals on decorations, too. My fave is a Derby cup that lists all the horses who finished last from 1875 to present.

Nancy Trejos: Some tips for anyone hitting the Derby this weekend. Thanks for this.

_______________________

Princeton, NJ: Andrea and Nancy,

I liked your article, and was wondering if you would be working on a followup to it. Are there ways of fixing Amtrak? If there were more rail lines, would that help?

Nancy Trejos: Hi. Thanks for reading the story. This federal stimulus money should bring some changes. We'll keep our eye on it. We appreciate your interest!

_______________________

Ireland driving: My parents just got back from a week in Ireland (they seem to have been on the only flight that made it to Europe last Friday) and rented a car for the week. I haven't heard all the details from the trip, but they had a wonderful time...had the driving been horrible, I would have heard. Seriously, if they can do it, anyone can.

Nancy Trejos: Good for your parents! And thanks for your input.

_______________________

Northern Virginia: First, thank you for the interesting and informative article on Amtrak this weekend. I fell in love with train travel while living in Germany for a few years and really wish the US would get more on board. (Both literally and figuratively.) Of course, distances in America are much, much greater than in European countries but positive changes, such as through better funding, would bring at least some improvements. And, wow, how ironic that a cargo train takes precedence over one with passengers?!

Second, I was hoping to make it to Germany this summer for a short trip, mostly likely in late July-early August, if I can find a good deal. Is there any chance that the recent flight interuptions caused by the volanic eruption may mean some summer deals? (Not to want to benefit from other's misfortune but, as your articles on being stranded in Europe showed, it seemed those stuck were enjoying their extended vacations!)

Zofia Smardz: Yes, German train travel is vastly superior to what we get here.

On your question about summer deals, can't say for sure yet whether the ash cloud will have that side effect, but you should certainly keep your eyes peeled. One place where you're pretty certain to get summer deals already, and not because of the ash cloud but because of the economy, is Greece.

_______________________

Ireland: Take the hubcaps off and put them in the trunk, then put them back on when you turn the car in. The one thing you might do it hit the curb a couple times. I heard this tip from a frequent irish visitor and wished I'd heard it sooner, since I had to pay for one (not all that expensive, but still).

Andrea Sachs: Clever. We like.

_______________________

Georgetown: Great issue, crew! And timely as I'm taking Amtrak to NYC this weekend.

Suggestions for a not too expensive brunch or lunch spot near Columbia University??

Andrea Sachs: Thanks, glad you liked the piece and hope Amtrak is a smooth ride for you.

For brunch/lunch, I'd recommend Tom's Restaurant from "Seinfeld" fame, or Sarabeth's (a bit south of the school), or Community Food and Juice (all organic and smart for the environment, too).

_______________________

SWDC: Re: the Amtrak package from Sunday. Based on the reader comments to the story, most people are already on the 'like' basis you say we're trying to get to (especially with other corridors and long-distance service that you didn't cover) - do you think, on reflection, that the tone was a little off, or at least colored by a Northeast Coridor perspective?

It really took up too much valuable space - hope this is not a trend for future travel stories. Strongly agree that you should have put more of the traditional practical travel-section journalism in there (you're trying to characterize a national system, but only gave us limited snapshots of two trains; the premise seems to be that the promise of train travel isn't fulfilled, but the only practical info was about finding out whether the train is on time, something all modes are struggling with these days) - otherwise, you should have just cut the piece down and given us a bonus travel story instead.

Zofia Smardz: Sorry it didn't work for you, but we got plenty of positive comments.

_______________________

Arlington, VA: For the person with only 3.5 days in Copenhagen I have to agree with you that there is plenty to do in Denmark without going over to Sweden. Lots of interesting day trips around Copenhagen as well. I spent a week in Malmo and did day trips around that part of Sweden before spending another 10 days or so in Copenhagen for a week-long event a few years ago. I had already seen most of the sites in Copenhagen previous to that. So, yeah, Malmo and Sweden are worth a visit but with so little time it doesn't make a lot of sense.

Nancy Trejos: More on Copenhagen. Thank you!

_______________________

San Francisco, CA: Hi,

Ah...home exchange. I love it. It's opened the door to the world to me. Traveling as a home exchanger is a totally different experience than traveling as a tourist. Never mind the cost savings (huge) but living in a neighborhood and actually getting to know the local culture is so different than staying in a hotel. It's more comfortable, too.

I am a senior who dabbled in home exchange, but then got so immersed in it that I wanted to make it easier for everyone to get involved in the process. So I, along with my partner started Know Your Trade, which is a directory for home exchange agencies. We rate, review and categorize agencies as well as offering tips for exchangers. It's amazing how the industry keeps evolving. Just today I came across a brand new fledgling site just for doctors!

We'd be glad to answer any questions or offer any advice about home exchange.

Leslie Nicodemus, the Exchange Queen

Nancy Trejos: A site just for doctors? Interesting. I will certainly check out your directory. Thanks for writing in.

_______________________

Everybody's a stranger until you : give them total access to your home while you are away.

Joe Yonan: Ha! Then they're an intruder?

_______________________

Driving In, Ireland: There are signs EVERYWHERE that say 'Drive on the Left' so that is a big help. The real challenge is that there are also roundabouts EVERYWHERE including on the highways. But it was a great way to see smaller towns and the beautiful countryside.

Nancy Trejos: Ohhh, roundabouts. Can't stand those. But it does sound like a lovely way to see the country. Thanks for writing in.

_______________________

For the person driving to Charleston: www.roadfood.com is a great source of food stops on road trips

Nancy Trejos: Good tip. Thanks!

_______________________

Arlington, VA: I drove on the other side for the first time in Scotland a couple of years ago. It was a bit nerve wracking the first time getting behind the wheel, but you get used to it fast. Just don't panic - if you're unsure of what to do just follow the guy in front of you and then turn around when you're more comfortable if you have to - same with missing a turn. One thing I thought was a big help is getting a rental that had a GPS system. That way you can focus on driving, and if you miss a turn, you can just wait for the GPS to re-calculate the route to get back on track instead of being distracted with paper maps.

Andrea Sachs: Thanks for the tips!

_______________________

Nancy Trejos: Thanks for joining us today. You were all very chatty about our Amtrak story yesterday! And thanks for all your tips on other topics. The prize goes to the home exchanger from Washington, D.C.. Happy stories are rewarded too. Please email me at trejosn@washpost.com to claim your prize. Have a great week!

_______________________

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


© 2010 The Washington Post Company

Discussion Archive

Viewpoint is a paid discussion. The Washington Post editorial staff was not involved in the moderation.

Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity