Talk about travel: Your best (and worst) vacation fashion finds, budget NYC hotels, pre-reclined airplane seats, more
Monday, May 3, 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, May 3 at 2 p.m.
You may also browse an archive of previous live travel Q&As.
Becky Krystal: Good afternoon, everyone! Thanks for joining us for another edition of Travel Talk. Didn't you love the evocative piece about Girona by Jane Black? Or how about the story on sartorial steals in Mexico City? Which brings me to today's question. Tell us about your best -- or worst -- fashion find on vacation, born out of necessity (hello, ketchup stain!) or, well, necessity (I MUST have those neon green Bermuda shorts!). Most stylish answer gets the prize.
Chicago IL: I will be taking (solo or with my wife) a month long bicycle trip to Germany and Austria and perhaps other countries. I have taken the trip seraval times before but now with a different set of circumstances regarding my health. I have had a kidney transplant and a below the knee aputation. My doctors say I am good to go but suggested I get a good health insurance plan which would cover med expenses, medical evacuation and cover pre exsisting conditions. Any suggestions? I am 62 and plan to spend my birthday there.
Carol Sottili: There are several very good Web sites that compare/sell travel insurance policies. Make sure you read the fine print before you buy. Go to InsureMyTrip, SquareMouth or QuoteWright for more info.
Headed to Montreal in July: Both time and money are important. Of the following options what would you do?
United/Air Canada is hovering about $570 for near empty planes for a 90 minute flight! (I can fly to Russia in the fall for less!)
USAirways offers longer travel time and stop in PHL for $550 so not saving much.
Or, redeem 40,000 UAL points plus pay $55 for the convenient nonstop option
I'd really rather save my miles for another trip. With the near empty UAL/Air Canada flights what are the chances they reduce fares considerably in order to drive sales or do airlines even think in that manner? Are the seat maps showing empty seats online even accurate? Thank you.
Christopher Elliott: Don't save your miles. Miles do not appreciate over time, so if you try to redeem your points in six months or a year -- and especially given the United/Continental merger announced today -- there's no telling how much your miles will (or won't) be worth. I say, burn 'em.
Charlotte, NC: I have to make a last minute trip to Rwanda. I'll have 3 or 4 full days to explore in early June. Any advice on specific things to do with my father (he's 65, in good health, we're both vegetarian)?
Any advice on how to get there? Thanks so much.
Becky Krystal: OK, this is one I'm going to put out for the chatters. Anyone with Rwanda advice?
Budget Hotel Recommendations for NYC: My girlfriends and I are planning to go to NYC for the Memorial Day weekend. We wanted to stay in a budget hotel, and splurge on food and a show. Only requirement is that we need access to the subway to New Jersey - will be parking there. Any recommendations?
Andrea Sachs: I am a fan of the Chelsea Star Hotel, a hostel-ish hotel with private theme rooms near Penn Station (as well as the subway to Jersey). You could also try the Pod Hotel, which feels like a sci-fi peapod. For other hostel ideas, check out this listing: http:/
Rockville, MD: Any suggestions for where my wife and I should spend a long (4-day) Memorial Day weekend? The only requirement is that is be extremely awesome. We like the West and were thinking about a quick trip to the national parks in southern Utah. Any other thoughts?
Nancy Trejos: Great idea! I loved Monument Valley and stayed at The View Hotel. It's the only hotel in the park and every room has a balcony with an amazing view. Zion National Park is also fantastic. I have not been but I hear great things about Bryce Canyon, the Canyonlands, and the Arches. It might be too much to do in one long weekend so you might want to pick one or two.
I got a baseball cap that says: Scars are tattoos with better stories.
Becky Krystal: Ha!
DCA: Hi Flight Crew:
I have been trying to buy tickets for our annual trip to Santa Fe since last November, but the prices are outrageous this year! $550 per person?!? Last year we paid $180! We've never paid more than $250-$300 for these tickets -- what gives?! Will it get better? I'm getting worried about not finding tickets for November if I wait too long -- how long can I safely wait before giving in and paying these extortionate prices?
Carol Sottili: Airfares are very high this year. I just paid $330 to Indianapolis for a weekend trip in June. That said, $550 is too high for Santa Fe. Wait and watch, or consider flying to Albuquerque - much cheaper. One caveat - if you are flying Thanksgiving weekend, you will pay up for that.
DFW, TX: I need to rent a car for a last-minute trip to San Jose, CA this week (Wed-Sat). San Jose has lousy transit, in my experience. I'm not picky about size, but I'm seeing prices of $50/day which seems really high. Am I missing something? I rarely rent a car, but $50 a day for an economy car seems ridiculous. I've been trying to Priceline something all morning, unsuccessfully. Ideas?
Becky Krystal: Ugh, I feel your pain. Based on my experience, it seems like it's just more expensive to rent a car in California. (I'm about to get one in Chicago over Memorial Day weekend for, oh, something along the lines of $15 a day!) It sounds as though you're probably doing everything right, but look into Hotwire for something slightly cheaper. I'm seeing prices starting at $39.95 if you rent at the airport, a little less elsewhere in the city.
I've also gotten fairly decent rates through Costco.
Chatters, any other ideas?
New York, New York: I'm going to Prague this summer and was really surprised at how expensive the tickets were. Is there any chance they'll come down? Do you know why they're so expensive? Also, do you have any suggestions for other places to go in Eastern Europe that would be (relatively) easy to get to from Prague? Urban/Countryside/costal...I'm open to all suggestions.
Christopher Elliott: It's really difficult to say if prices will come down as the summer approaches. Consider monitoring the airfare on a service like Yapta. In terms of day trips from Prague, you might try Desden, Germany or Plzen (as in, beer) or if you want a nice scenic drive through the countryside, you can make it all the way to Vienna. All fun places.
Washington, DC to Las Vegas: What is the best non-stop carrier to arrive LV from Washington DC or Natonal?
Carol Sottili: You can get that sort of info for any city at the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority Web site. Southwest & United from Dulles; US Airways from National.
Egypt bound: Hello, I am considering using my frequent flier miles for a trip to Egypt. How friendly is this country for lone-female travelers? I would rather travel by myself, but if a travel group is recommended, does anyone have any suggestions? What are the "must see" areas aside from Cairo and the pyramids? I was thinking about scuba diving in the Red Sea and a trip to Mt. Sinai...
Nancy Trejos: It is generally safe for a woman to travel alone in Egypt, especially in large cities such as Cairo. But I would dress conservatively. I was there with friends, but I still wore loose clothing with long sleeves and pants. And take precautions you would normally take when traveling in any country--as in, don't walk alone down a deserted street.
Definitely do the Red Sea and Mt. Sinai. Alexandria is also nice. It's a quick train trip from Cairo. I also did a day trip to Saqqara, which is famous for the Step Pyramid, the oldest known pyramid in Egypt. You will find more pyramids nearby in Dashur. Farther away from Cairo, and worth doing if you have time, are Aswan and Sharm el Sheikh. You'll have a great time. Enjoy!
Fairfax, VA: Travel fashion - I flew to a friend's destination wedding in Mexico, and missed my connection in Miami. I arrived in long black pants and a sweater set, and needed to buy clothes to tide me over until my bag made it. Unfortunately, I had worn black undergarments, which meant I had few options when it came to my hotel gift shop purchase! I have never worn the top or shorts I bought again, but I always take one change of clothes in my carry on if there is a change of planes involved! Lesson learned!
Becky Krystal: Good lesson.
Baltimore, MD: Any thoughts on why flights from the East Coast to LAX are so ridiculous for June? I can't find anything desirable under $500, and even flights with two stops or are overnight run at least $450. It's like that from any big East Coast city I've checked (I prefer BWI but have tried Dulles, Philly, and even Boston and Atlanta). What gives? Should I wait it out? The prices have hovered right around those numbers since at least a month ago. Thanks!
Carol Sottili: I'm going to try to answer this question one more time: Airfares are high because seats are being sold at those prices, and planes are not going out empty. Simply stated, when load factors go down, prices go down. Discount carriers are not giving it away anymore. Southwest is the only one not charging baggage fees, so it can't also offer very cheap fares. And Southwest really drove the sales here for many years. Of course, there are other reasons, but these are some of the high points.
Straight up, please: Have to weigh in on the piece about "pre-reclined" seats - and paying for carry-on!
First of all, not everyone reclines. Some of us are height challenged. Some have back issues. Please tell me this will NOT be a trend?!
$ for carry-on....TSA is gonna love me for wearing all my changes of clothes. Or my seat-mates are gonna hate me for wearing the clothes I've been wearing all week...or...any rules on flying naked?
Christopher Elliott: I certainly hope it won't be a trend -- but you never know. If Spirit starts making lots of money, I wouldn't be surprised to see other airlines try the same thing. In terms of flying naked, it's not a bad idea in theory, and you wouldn't have to worry about those full-body scanners, but something tells me might be arrested.
Threadbare white blouse...: Airline lost my luggage on my way to teach a 2 week class for adults in the Republic of Georgia. I went to the market to buy a few basics for the very hot, summer weather. Got a white cotton blouse which I washed out every evening to wear the next day. It got thinner by the day...and I was appalled to find out that the men in the class were taking bets on how long it would be before it fell apart. (luckily, my luggage arrived on Day #9 and my wardrobe and modesty were intact!)
Becky Krystal: Oh, dear! Hopefully you weren't wearing black undergarments, like one of your fellow chatters.
fashion find...ish: My little sister threw up on an airplane-- we got new souvenier t-shirts on the layover!
Nancy Trejos: Oh my! Well, glad you got something out of it!
Maryland: I think I'd like to try a Rhine cruise this Christmastime with my BF, but I don't know much about them or how to go about choosing one. We're around 40. What's the age range on those cruises, and are they offered around Christmas? Do you have any recommendations or can you tell us how to find one? Thanks!
Ireland driving: My husband and I drove all over for our honeymoon. My recommendation would be to get a really good map, stick to the bigger roads (their small roads are sometimes single lane/not paved), and ignore speed limits that seem really fast/high...in some places they were 20klm higher than the flow of local traffic. We were pretty freaked out the first day before we realized most busses/trucks/local cars were going wayyyy under on the side roads.
Becky Krystal: This is a follow-up from a thread on last week's chat about driving in Ireland. Thanks!
Beliez Honeymoon: Hi Crew - My husband and I are finally taking a belated honeymoon to Belize in August. Flights and hotels are booked, but we're struggling with booking activities while there. We don't want to book a cruise excursion type trips, but we also don't want an irreeputable service. Any tips from you or the chatters?
Becky Krystal: I think this Going Our Way might help you. Tips from fellow travelers?
Southern Utah trip: For a 4 day weekend you really limit yourself to one or two parks given the relative isolation.
Salt Lake City is 4 hr drive to Moab, Las Vegas is 2 hrs to Zion,, 4 hours to Bryce, 6 hrs to South Rim.
Phoenix is 5 hr to the South Rim, 6 hrs to Monument Valley.
Some options for a short trip:
1. Fly to Las Vegas spend an evening there. Day 1 drive to Bryce canyon (4 hrs) stop at Cedar Breaks and Kolob Canyon part of Zion. Day 2 Bryce Canyon, Day 3 drive to Zion and spend the day there. Day 4 return to Vegas for your return flight. An extra Day then travel eith to Page arizona or to the North Rim of the Gran Canyon.
2. Fly to Grand Junction or Durango and spend a long weekend in Moab. Moab is 2 hrs drive from Monument Valley and 2 hrs from Cortez and Mesa Verde (they are 2 hrs from each other).
3. Fly into Phoenix or Flagstaff and go to the South Rim and then head up to Monument Valley, and return by stopping by Canyon De Chelle and Painted Desert on the return.
Nancy Trejos: Thanks for thinking this through so thoroughly! Good suggestions.
Washington, DC: I was on a work trip to Chihuahua, Mexico several years ago. It seemed like all the stores in the area we were staying in sold one of two things: boots or bridal gowns. Not needing a wedding dress, I went boot shopping. I wandered into one promising shop and did my best negotiating with my 20-year-old high school Spanish. The clerk's English was a little better, but not by much. I finally settled on a beautiful pair of armadillo boots. When I tried to pay with a credit card, the clerk said I had to go to another store because they couldn't process them at that store. So we walked down the street to a much bigger store, where the clerk that helped me spoke excellent English! I think I enjoy my boots even more because of my success with Spanish/English as a second language encounter.
Becky Krystal: Armadillo boots. Wow.
NW DC: Any update on the American Airlines strike potential? I'm scheduled to be flying May 14-18 and feeling a little nervous.
Christopher Elliott: Last I heard, both sides were talking. I think you're going to be fine.
Cincinnati, OH: Regarding the question on driving in Ireland; I did so with a cast on my right wrist a couple of years ago. Did not have an issue with the rental, reserved an automatic so I did not need to shift and I urge the use of a GPS, especially for Ireland. Drove around the country for 10 days but not in Dublin.
Becky Krystal: Yes, two things I would never consider driving in Europe without -- automatic and my Garmin.
LA: Hi Crew! I'm going to LA later this month for a conference, and due to flight times have two half-days to myself to explore! I am very excited, and am already making lists of what (and who!) I want to see. But I wanted to get your and the chatters thoughts - what one things should I not miss in LA? (I'll be staying downtown, if that makes any difference.) Thanks!!
Nancy Trejos: I lived in L.A. for a year. Very fun city. Of course if you're there, and have never been, go to the Hollywood Walk of Fame. It's touristy, but worth seeing once. Also go to the Getty Museum. It's gorgeous. One of my favorite things to do on a Saturday afternoon was to just drive up the Pacific Coast Highway and hit the beaches. The Santa Monica pier is fun. Malibu is beautiful. Venice Beach is wacky and fun. Lots of street performers. If you want to check out the party scene, go to the Sunset Strip. There are lots of fun bars and clubs. And just so you can say you've been there, even if you can't afford to buy anything there, take a walk down Rodeo Drive.
re: Egypt: female here who just came back from 3 weeks. Red Sea and Mt. Sinai were the best! Stay at the monastery near Mt. Sinai an extra day. I did a sunset climb - lovely and less crowded.
For the Red Sea, I loved Dahab and recommend Sheikh Salem House -- not only a great place, but you can easily and reasonably hire one of their guys for a day of snorkeling and touring.
I DO NOT recommend Aswan. It was horrible! People are only out to rip you off as much as possible. They tried to charge $8 for one falafel ball! Go to Luxor and enjoy the sites there. Plenty to keep you busy.
I was with a friend but we often split up and I felt totally safe alone.
Becky Krystal: For the lady thinking about Egypt. Thanks.
Foreign Fashion No-no: While in Egypt, I spent a month wearing a male Bedouin headdress (I'm a female). My husband kept saying, "you know, only men wear those." I think he was really embarrassed. But I didn't care - it kept my head and face really cool. It was better than the female headdress which covered my neck uncomfortably. Also, I learned after our trip that I was pregnant at the time, so I feel justified in being as comfortable as possible. The Bedouin men were the ones to teach me to tie it properly!
Becky Krystal: Hey, you gotta do what you gotta do. Nice solution.
Aruba with a toddler: We are thinking of going to Aruba with our 18-month-old. We'll probably be there for 5 days (4 nights). Do you know of any hotels there that have suites (2 bedrooms and a kitchenette)? Our son goes to bed by 7:30pm and it would be nice for us to be able to have dinner in the room after he goes to sleep. Thanks!
Andrea Sachs: Most resorts have suites, such as La Cabana All Suite Beach Resort and the Tamarijn Aruba All Inclusive Resort. To winnow down your options, consider hotels with babysitting (Holiday Inn SunSpree, for one), kids' pools and activities, and easy access to the beach. Another idea: rent a villa.
Italy Fashion: Not a new purchase, but I once did two weeks in Italy. After Rome, we drove into Tuscany and our hotels went steadily downhill. The night before we turned the car in in Florence, the hotel in Pisa was the pits and infested with mosquitos! As we got to the hotel in Florence, we nearly cried - it was so clean and they were so nice, and insisted on doing our laundry. I had a shirt with me that I loved, but had had a stain on it for years - and they got it out! We call it the miracle of Florence.
Becky Krystal: Now that's service.
Augh!: I have written this before, so it irritates me when it happens again and again. At least four times now, I have been on a plane that has been delayed during which another plane to my destination departs before my designated plane. I am always told I can't switch to the earlier flight because I have checked luggage. Yet, why can't they check to see where my luggage is? Once again, I arrive at my destination and my luggage is sitting there waiting for me. I feel lucky that no one has ever walked off with it. I just wish I could get the same consideration that my luggage gets.
Christopher Elliott: Congratulations, you've become the victim of a rule called "positive passenger bag match" which says your bag has to be on the same flight as you are. It's not always enforced, though. Go figure.
Arlington, VA: Are high fares also a factor of decreased supply leading to higher demand? Routes have been slashed, frequencies decreased, smaller aircraft employed....it all leads to fewer seats available. Maybe we are finally be charged what we should have been all along. It's just that we have become conditioned to low fares and easy of travel. So now it is shocking to see such huge increases in such a short amount of time. Won't this eventually just mean fewer people traveling altogether? Or are we so used to traveling now that we will just pay whatever it costs?
Carol Sottili: All good points and questions. I know that I've just sucked it up and paid, even though it hurts. When you want to see your daughter or go to your nephew's wedding, you'll pay. Will it mean that there will be more people going to Rehoboth instead of Miami for vacation in the future? I guess that depends on the economy.
Washington DC: Planning a 4 day weekend in NYC this October. Any suggestions as to fun/interesting things to do while we're there? I think a Broadway show would be great but would like some other ideas. Thanks for your help!
Becky Krystal: Oh my goodness, this answer could go anywhere with so much to do in the Big Apple! What do you like to do so we or the chatters can narrow it down? In the meantime, check out our New York page for many archived stories that might give you ideas for your time in the city.
Alexandria, VA: The to-be wife and I are planning on doing our honeymoon in Montenegro. We are trying to decide between renting an apartment for the duration of the trip in Kotor or somewhere else centrally located in the country and staying a series of hotels in various towns. I feel like renting an apartment of the duration of the trip will ensure that we end up getting to know at least part of the country really well and help us saving money on lodging. If we do this would we be able to make visits to places such as Herceg Novi, Peter II's Tomb, etc... into day trips or are the driving times just too long? The country isn't terribly large but I'm told that the roads move very slowly. We'll be renting a car so we won't have to rely on bus service between towns. Do you or any readers have any other thoughts on a trip to Montenegro?
Andrea Sachs: Never been, so we definitely need some help from the chatsters on this destination.
Falls Church, VA: I like the pre-reclined idea. At least that way I will know how much space I have and won't have to worry about some boob in front of me pushing all the way back even during food or drink service.
Christopher Elliott: It's happened to most of us (including me). And on Spirit, no less.
Alexandria, Va.: Are there any alternate ways to get to Virginia Beach other than driving?
Becky Krystal: Well, you can try taking Amtrak to Newport News and then a bus (also through Amtrak) to Virginia Beach. Greyhound is another option, with a transfer in Richmond.
NYC: So I'm going on this birthright trip to Israel in a few days. And after that I was going to travel to Spain to visit a friend. But it would cost roughly one thousand dollars to travel from Israel to Spain back to the USA.
I looked at prices and it was around 500 round trip from NYC to Madrid. But then looked again around the same dates and it jumped to about a thousand.
Any advice on when a good time to go would be and when the best deals would be. I'm traveling to southern Spain but wouldn't object to fly to Madrid or Barcelona to spend a few days before meeting up with my friend around Valencia.
Andrea Sachs: It is best to travel to a major hub, like Madrid. Prices are cheaper on more popular routes. Also, travel between peak seasons (holidays, summer). March, for example, or October. However, these days, fares are all over the place. So if you see a good price or sale fare, grab it.
Washington, DC: My mother (60s, active) and I had been planning a trip to Greece, likely Athens + 1-2 islands, over 8-10 days in late June. Given recent events we're not sure about actually making the booking. Would you go? If it falls through, what might you suggest as another destination? She's interested in going somewhere new (which essentially rules out Italy and Turkey) and -warm.- No interest in cruises or nightlife. Thanks! Love the chats!
Becky Krystal: See, I would still go. You can keep apprised of any warnings on the State Department Web site, but as a couple of us were saying here at the office, now might be a great time to go and get a good bargain. In fact, we just ran a story on Greece.
Chicago: I like today's question - I always wondered who shops on vacation, or why there are so many jewelry stores in Cabo. I'm a guy who doesn't like to shop for clothes (I go online now); I do however, want to get at least one travel souvenir from every destination, but not the junk in the gift shops. Since vacation is the only time I find myself in shopping areas, I've been getting accessories - belts, sunglasses, wallets, watches which I can use every day. My sunglasses are from Hong Kong, my Swatch watch is from Acapulco (where my last watch died)and my wallet is from Vakko in Istanbul. These are much more useful than a souvenir that sits on a shelf like a velvet sombrero or Japanese fan; and I get compliments on some unique items I have. Before Zara came to the US I would shop their european outlets - now its Uniqlo from Asia, and C&A.
Becky Krystal: Practical souvenirs. I like it.
Tampa, FL: My husband and I will be traveling to San Francisco in mid-July for about 4 days. We will be staying in the Nob Hill/Chinatown area. We will be renting a 2 bedroom condo, and will make a few meals ourselves, but would also like to have a couple of nights to eat out. Can you recommend some affordable dining out options? We will have a car, so we can venture out to other parts of the city.
Becky Krystal: Lucky you! Here's a recent Postcard From Tom that should make your mouth water.
I also highly recommend doing a movable feast in the Ferry Building. I could have spent an entire day there.
Logan Circle: My best fashion find is also my best fashion regret! In 2000 I was in Stockholm and found this amazing 60's wool houndstooth shift dress in a vintage shop. It was pure Audrey Hepburn, but of course not my size. I thought about getting it and having it altered, but in my 20-something budget state of mind, just didn't get it. Instead I came home with an ill-advised pair of gaucho pants (they looked so good on all the hip, leggy Swedes!) that I rarely ever wore. Still regret not buying the dress!
Becky Krystal: Gauchos. *shudder*
RE: Southern Utah: Great destinations, but that's a loooong way to travel for a four-day weekend. You'll spend the better part of two days just getting there by plane and car!
Nancy Trejos: True. It is far away. But definitely worth doing at some point!
Don't save your miles. Miles do not appreciate over time: But don't they get stale, like extra phone minutes do?
Christopher Elliott: Yes, they expire. And they also lose value over time. Talk about a lose-lose proposition!
Orlando, FL: for the Ireland-bound driver: Don't worry!! Hubby & I spent a week in Ireland 2 years ago - I spent weeks beforehand worrying about the driving! It's true - once you get the hang of it (which will happen very quickly) the US way seems strange. A word of caution, tho, map distances can be deceiving and you should allow yourself extra time. Many roads are just 2 lanes and, yes, you do get stuck behind tractors and sheep!
Enjoy - it was one of our best vacations and we hope to go back soon!
Becky Krystal: More advice for last week's Ireland-bound travelers. Happy driving!
DC: This isn't a terribly exotic find, but it was a great deal. I love visiting consignment shops in other cities. It's a fun way to score some deals and check out the local fashion scene, plus they are often located in less-touristy but hip neighborhoods. Recently I was in Chicago and found a new-with-tags Kate Spade purse for $18 (original price tag of $230) at a store on Armitage. It was a spring bag, so it had lingered in the store for months with the price steadily declining until I stumbled upon it. Then we had lunch at a great Spanish restaurant across the street to celebrate!
Becky Krystal: Consignment tourism -- cool.
Falls Church, VA: We have tickets (and also purchased non- refundable ground package from another vendor) on United's new direct flight to Ghana. However, United apparently has not yet received landing permission from the Ghana government. Can you give us any insight into this situation? Any advice would also be appreciated.(Needless to say United is providing no useful updates.)
Christopher Elliott: Consider making alternate plans. And the reason why I would recommend doing so sooner than later is that if United fails to operate the flight as scheduled, it would only owe you a refund -- it doesn't have to buy you a ticket on another airline. (Details are in United's contract of carriage on its site.) I would inquire about your flight and secure a refund as soon as you're able.
dreaming of Italy: I'm considering a trip to Italy in October. Was thinking of dividing a week between Rome and the Amalfi coast. Any suggestions? It would be my first extended visit to Italy (though I know a week isn't exactly extended), and I'd rather do a couple things well rather than trying to cram in all the "must see sights". Appreciate any and all suggestions and what/where to focus on. Recommendations on guide books would also be great! Thanks!
Carol Sottili: Take a look at the Going Our Way column I wrote about these destinations.
Rockville, MD: Thank you to the poster for the great southern Utah itineraries!!
Becky Krystal: Consider your thanks passed on.
Lexington, Ky.: Family going to Europe this summer, what plans should they make for obtaining EUROs as not to accrue more fees than necessary? Clark Howard mentioned CapitolOne savings account or ATM.
Nancy Trejos: I am in the middle of researching this exact topic. Experts have varying opinions on what is the best way to exchange currency. Obviously, avoid exchanging currency at the airport or hotels. You'll end up paying more fees and you might not get the best rate. Many say using an ATM in the country you are traveling to is the best bet, but you have to check with your bank to find out what currency conversion and other fees they might charge. Same thing goes for credit cards. Another option, if you're a AAA member, is to buy a pack of Euros before you travel. You can get them at some of your local AAA offices.
Pittsburgh: For the past 30+ years I've made it a point always to buy myself a souvenir T-shirt wherever I travel. Not only do they make great remembrances of the exotic (as well as mundane!) places I've traveled -- I have quite a large and varied collection by now! -- but unlike most souvenir tchotchkes, they're actually useful.
Becky Krystal: 30 years? That's a lot of shirts!
A Few Dumb Questions: Hi, I know you must have the answer to this, but I cannot seem to find on your site or its site or anywhere else whether Supershuttle runs from BWI at 12:30 at night? I have a flight coming in from San Diego then and need to get back to Alexandria.
In terms of getting there for the outbound flight, I will be leaving from work in Rosslyn. It is a 6PM flight. Would you recommend Amtrak? That would get me there at 4:30. Is that too late? I won't have checked bags. Thanks much.
Andrea Sachs: From my understanding, SuperShuttle will still be running at that late hour. (I tried to book online and it allowed me to plug in a 1 a.m. pick-up time). Best to call and reserve a spot. For getting to the airport, I would recommend the MARC, if you are leaving during the week and can get to Union Station. From the train station, you just grab a shuttle to the airport (only takes a few minutes). I usually give myself an hour of travel time, but check the MARC departure times. Arriving at 4:30 is more than enough time. Just be sure to check in online 24 hours in advance so you can go straight to the gate.
Egypt Must-sees: I would skip Sharm-el-Sheikh and do Dahab instead. Cheaper, more laidback. And if you like camping, I highly recommend a tour in the Western Desert with the Bedouins. www.Dakhlabedouins.com does an AMAZING tour.
And one more point on traveling as a solo female - I second the point that you should dress conservatively. Learn to tie a headscarf before you go - you'll still get accosted, but perhaps not by every single man. One advantage of traveling with a group is that you do not have to worry about dressing quite so conservatively - your tour guide will protect you. That way when it's really hot (and it will be), you can wear shorts or a skirt on a temple visit and not feel completely exposed.
Nancy Trejos: Thanks for the advice. And yes, do carry a head scarf around. I didn't wear one when I was there but it's good to have. And you'll need it if you want to enter a mosque.
Bethesda, MD: I'm going to Kingston, Jamaica in June or July on business (I didn't pick summer, my organization did). What's a safe, economical way to get to Montego Bay on a Thurs or Fri after the meetings to enjoy a fun weekend before flying back?
Carol Sottili: You should fly.Air Jamaica, which is in the process of being taken over by Caribbean Airlines Limited, plans to continue its flights between the cities - expect to pay about $150 each way.
Washington, D.C.: In 2000 I visited a friend in Cambodia, where a lot of American clothes are made. They're sold in piles at the markets. It's not entirely clear whether you're seeing rejects of the real clothes, or something else that has had the label sewn in. Anyway, a pink Ann Taylor Loft (or "Ann Taylor Loft") blouse that I bought on that trip was one of my favorites for many years.
Becky Krystal: Interesting!
Fashion statement: I was about twelve on my first trip to Paris and was obsessed with finding a red beret, which I deemed was the ultimate Parisian fashion statement. I dragged my parents all over Paris looking for one (my mother was NOT pleased with me). Ultimately, I found one in the U.S. Embassy gift shop. Quel surprise!
Nancy Trejos: And I'm sure the red beret looked great on you!
Silver Spring, MD: For the chatter headed to Belize, I've had very good experiences with a tour company called Seaduced by Belize.
Becky Krystal: Thanks! Cute name, btw.
San Francisco Excursions: On my next trip to San Francisco I would like to visit Muir Woods, Point Reyes, etc, but not have a car in the city. If we take the ferry to Sausalito, is it easy to rent a car there for exploring the area? Is this the best option or are there better ideas? Thanks.
Andrea Sachs: I would do a combo of bike and ferry, probably biking to and around the island, then catching the ferry back. I would skip the car; the parking and traffic will distract you from the beauty of the place. The tourism office has a list of bike rentals and tour companies: www.sausalito.org/visitor/transportation.
Chicago recommendations: Hi Crew!
Headed to Chicago next week for a family wedding. My temporarily-long-distance-boyfriend and I are arriving a night early to have some time alone. Any recommendations for a relaxed, low key dinner around Northwestern University (where our hotel is)?
Fashion finds: when I was backpacking in Ireland a few years ago, nursing a broken heart (and a LOT of Guinness), I had dinner in a restaurant/art gallery in Athlone, overlooking the River Shannon. It was a rainy night and I was drowning my sorrows and writing bad poetry. There was a jewelry display case there, and in my intoxicated state, I decided that I needed to buy myself some breakup jewelry. I think the waitress knew I was hammered, because she steered me to the most expensive set there- a handmade pendant and bracelet made of coconut shells and liquid silver. So, 500 euros later I'm the proud owner of the set. This was about the time that I chose to believe that 1 Euro = 1 dollar. Sadly, this was not a true fact. Realized this when I got the credit card bill later. But it is a beautiful set, and I've gotten more compliments on it than any other piece I own. And it reminds me to buy my own damn self some jewelry when I need it! :)
Becky Krystal: Haha, love this story.
Any recommendations for eating near Northwestern?
Egypt-bound solo female: I'm a confident traveller and have gone plenty of places by myself. But the day I spent alone without my husband was one of the most unpleasant days of my life (which, I guess, in the scheme of things, mean I've led a pretty good life in general). Every single man stopped me, tried to ask me on a date, to get me into a store, to sell me something, or to ask for money. I would highly recommend a group if you're venturing outside of Cairo and Alexandria. I would also highly recommend Gecko Adventures for that group.
If you do decide to go alone, know these phrases from the moment you get there: "La, shookran" which mean, "No, thank you." And, for really rude children or persistent men, "Imshee" which means "Go away."
Nancy Trejos: As I said, I was traveling with friends, so you have more experience with this than I do. I appreciate your input(and yes, la and shukran are very important words to know in that part of the world.) I do recall vendors to be very persistent but I also found most Eyptians to be friendly and pleasant. (One more thing I forgot to mention, whether you are a woman or not, always ask the cab drivers how much it costs to get somewhere and be prepared to bargain them down.) Thanks for this!
Rockville, Md: For less expensive rental cars, if the person is a AAA member is it always worth looking at that website. Depends on the exact dates and location, but I've found saving ranging from marginal to upwards of 60%.
Becky Krystal: Oh, good call. Love me the AAA discounts.
Fashion: I recently traveled around Southeast Asia and scored some great clothes. I am a small person and have trouble finding clothes in the US (I'm 5'1" and 98 lbs), and I realized that the average Southeast Asian woman is about my size. So I went to the high-end department stores, including one in Saigon, and got some great work clothes at decent, although not bargain-basement, prices. And I got to shop in the regular sizes, because the petite sizes were actually too short!
Becky Krystal: Smart!
Vienna: Hi there... will be spending 6 days in Vienna this July, any tips on must-see things to do while I'm there?
Becky Krystal: Here are two stories that'll get you started:
Vienna's Neubau neighborhood offers an eclectic mix off the beaten path
In the Presence of the Past
Who's got favorite things to do in Vienna?
Arlington, VA: I have to disagree somewhat on the miles use answer. If the poster is saving miles to use on an international, long-haul flight, especially in a premium class, it is well worth it to save the miles for that. It can take a long time to accumulate 40K miles. If they are just sitting in the account collecting dust it may make sense to use them now, particularly on a ticket that is so expensive. For some reason Air Canada jacked up fares from DC to Canada a couple of years ago for no apparent reason. A ticket that used to cost $180 from DCA to Toronto now costs $400-500 or more. On a regional jet. For a 1 hour flight. It's ridiculous.
I saved miles for a few years in order to use them to fly to Asia. First class award on LH, TG and UA to Bangkok cost me 120,000 miles with Air Canada's Aeroplan. The cost of such a ticket in real money would be in the neighborhood of $17,000-20,000. In that situation saving the miles was definitely worthwhile.
Christopher Elliott: Thanks for weighing in on this. I can certainly see your point. At the same time, award seats are often so difficult to secure, there can be no guarantee that you'll get a ticket on a long international flight where your miles will take you farther.
Washington DC: What price can you put on family? OK, that might be too difficult a question, so let me rephrase it in a travel-related way. I finally found a week when our schedules synch up and my partner and I can go visit my sister in England. The problem is that plane tickets are $1200 for that week (July 10-17), to fly into London, Dublin, Edinburgh, Paris, etc. I did find some packages around Ireland for $1400 per person for that week, including hotels and car, and in my panicked state that started to seem reasonable. Is it? Anyone know about the tour company Sceptre? The farecast says to wait, but what say you? Is that high price what one can expect for flying to Europe that summer? Should I bag on my sister and look into where else we could go for $3000 for a week? For that much, I feel like we could do a lot more than just putting around the Emerlald Isle.
Carol Sottili: I'm spending that much to fly to a couple of weddings this summer, so I may be the wrong person to ask. I'm one of those "you can't take it with you" family-oriented types, although I make sure my bills are paid first. Airfares to Europe, and to just about everywhere else, are high this summer. I think there will be short-lived sales, but they will be restricted in terms of dates/times/places. Sceptre has been around for a long time. And if air tickets are $1,200 and you can get a deal that includes everything (taxes, too) for $1,400 per person, that's good. Ireland is nice - you could do much worse.
20007: Fashion out of necessity - my luggage was lost enroute to Italy. Luckily, Alitalia offered to pay for any clothing or other toiletries I needed to buy for the five days it took my luggage to make its way back to me. I had a blast buying Italian leather shoes, flowy skirts and other necessities to get through. While the check the airlines didn't cover everything I spent, I ended up with a very well supplemented wardrobe and didn't regret it at all :) My favorite thing I got were a pair of brown leather sandals that I still wear each summer, four years later.
Becky Krystal: Talking about making lemonade out of lemons. Way to go.
Cheaper option for Montreal: Fly into Burlington, VT and drive up. Similarly if you want to go to Toronto then fly to Buffalo and if you want to go to Vancouver then fly to Seattle....you save money.
Becky Krystal: I'm channeling our absent editor Joe, who I think has agreed with the fly and drive option before. Thanks.
Something not to miss in LA: The traffic.....
If your off days are split at the bookends of this trip then that limits you than if it was on one end of your trip.
If its split I was do one day along the beaches. The other day seeing some sights in Hollywood or maybe spending a day in Anaheim at Disneyland.
If it was 2 days consecutively, then I would venture off outside of LA and go up to Santa Barbara area and drive up along the coast.
Nancy Trejos: Santa Barbara is wonderful. Thanks for your input!
re: pre-reclined: wondering....if I bring a big pillow or something to prop myself forward (bad back) will I have to pay for that as a carry on item?
Andrea Sachs: If you stuff it with socks, magazines, books, the kitchen sink, etc., then yes. If it's just mushy material that will stay on your seat and against your back or head, then no.
Sterling, Va.: When I lived in Venice for two months as a college student, I ended up losing a bunch of weight due to not eating a whole lot combined with walking absolutely everywhere. (Yeah, they have the vaporetto "water buses", but after you've gotten used to the city and know where you're going, it's almost always faster to walk.) Anyway, so with the drop in weight, all the pants I had brought were basically falling off. If this were happening a few years later, I might have taken the opportunity to buy some stylin' Italian clothes; as a college student my options were limited to buying a new Italian leather belt. So if belts count as fashion....
Becky Krystal: It totally does.
Arlington, VA: Last week, you got a question from someone who was taking a driving trip to Ireland in September and wanted some hints. We did an 8-day driving trip in Ireland and Northern Ireland last year and I have a couple of recommendations: 1) Take a look at the AA Ireland Route Planner online for recommended routes and driving times. It takes a LOT longer to drive places in Ireland than you would think just based on the mileage. It should give the person a good idea of how far they can actually drive in a day. 2) Get a good map or GPS system for Ireland. We are a family of map-readers, so we got the Rough Guide map to Ireland and had no problem getting around using it. 3) Read up on car rentals in Ireland. You need to have CDW or Super CDW in Ireland and, at least last year, only holders of World Mastercards had coverage with a credit card.
Becky Krystal: Good advice, thanks.
Harrisburg Airport Cabs: Has anyone else had this observation? I observe in reviewing receipts that it costs double for cabs to travel from Harrisburg Airport (MDT) than it takes to travel to the airport. Is there a surcharge at the airport? I tried to contact the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission to request that they review this, as I suspect the meters on cabs from the airport may be malfunctioning, but they refuse to take the complaint unless I have the cab numbers, which I don't see on the receipts. So, I throw the question out there: has anyone else observed the same thing?
washingtonpost.com: A similar question came up a few chats ago.
Becky Krystal: According to the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, yes, taxis can charge more for rides to or from the airport, according to its fuel surcharge chart.
And I would try filing a complaint again. The online form doesn't require the taxi number.
Bethesda, MD: My husband and I are looking to visit friends near Bordeaux, France, in late July or early August for 2 weeks. The best airfares from WAS to BOD I'm finding are in the $1300/pax range. Any hope of doing better or hints for getting a better deal?
Christopher Elliott: No one knows if ticket prices will rise or fall. Even the airlines don't know. We've mentioned some helpful sites that will allow you to track the price for your desired ticket in previous answers today. But it's true that often, airlines will try to price the advance-purchase fares a little high for summer and then throw a sale when seats don't sell out. However, you can't rely on that. If you're flexible, you could wait and get a good deal. But don't count on it.
London BABY!: At least I hope to be! Btw I LOVE the chats! I'm hoping to go to London with relatively flexible dates between Sept 1 - 15th. Right now I'm still seeing tickets hovering around $900 including taxes. Is this the best I can get or should I hold out until at least the first part of June?
Carol Sottili: $900 doesn't sound all that bad if it includes taxes and flights are nonstop. You may be able to save $100 or so with a sale, but I wouldn't wait too long. Keep an eye on sales from United, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic.
Kudos & Comments from Alexandria, VA: Hi Crew, I wanted to give kudos to Chris Elliot. His recent Navigator articles have been quite informative!
Also, wanted to share details of a trip from DC to St. Louis, MO on American last week. On the return flight, flight attendants asked passengers to check the size of their carry on baggage before boarding. They used that steel contraption that says, "If your bag is too large to fit in here..." For passengers whose case didn't fit, they either had to check it or were given an opportunity to rearrange items so that bags did fit. It's great to know that someone's checking and boarding seemed faster once it was determined that the bag was too big! Just wanted to share.
washingtonpost.com: The Navigator
Becky Krystal: Yes, we are big fans of Chris's too. He'll be signing autographs after the show. :)
We had some extreme examples of questionable baggage in a story by Nancy a few months ago, so I'm glad to hear someone was enforcing carry-on sizes. We've got another chatter today bemoaning people's oversized items, but this should give them a little faith.
Falls Church, Va: Can you give us an update on United flights to Ghana? Has the airline been given permission to land there?
Carol Sottili: Still pending Ghana's approval, but United says it still plans to start June 20.
Baltimore, Md.: What sort of documentation should a parent provide a grand-parent with in order for the child to receive medical attention while the parents are on vacation? Yes grand-parents will be watching little junior while we are away.
Andrea Sachs: To cover all bases, arm the grandparents with a notarized letter of consent stating that you give them permission to provide your children with medical care. Also, alert your kids' doctor to your vacation and their temporary guardians, including the grandparents' names. Of course, be sure to leave grandma and pa with all of the urgent care numbers, including hospital, pediatrician, etc., as well as the number of a close friend with nerves of steel who can help out if necessary.
Baltimore, MD: Hi Crew, Any idea why flights to LAX from the East Coast are so expensive in June? I've never paid more than $350 for a round trip ticket to LAX from BWI, and I can't find anything for under $500. Most of those aren't even nonstop. I tried looking at flights from Dulles and even Philly and Boston, and they're even more expensive than the flights from Baltimore. What gives? Any advice? I plan to wait it out as long as possible because I figure it can't get much worse. Thanks!
Carol Sottili: I'm in the same boat. Trying to get my daughter from Los Angeles to New York for my nephew's wedding in July, and looking at about $450 round trip for either nonstop or connecting. Bing Travel, which offers predictions of where airfares are headed for specific routes, says the fares will go down, but they haven't yet. I'd just keep tracking it, and hope that either Southwest or Virgin America or another discounter decides to launch a good sale. Virgin America has a sale that expires today, but dates/days are very limited. I think the airlines are realizing that they don't have to offer dirt-cheap fares in order to fill seats.
Arlington, VA: PLEASE ENFORCCE CARRY ON BAG RULES!
Will airlines ever enforce the carry on baggage size limits? I mean, they could make so much money be actually enforcing the existing rule. The last two times I have flown, one persons bag took up the entire compartment for three people.
Becky Krystal: Amen. I was on a little regional plane the other week, and you should have seen the bags people were trying to cram into the overhead compartments. AND THERE WAS GATE CHECK. Aargh.
Annandale, VA: Typical parent with a typical college student who wants to vacation in Mexico. We know that some parts of Mexico appear safe, but the violence is escalating and spreading. Should we allow our son to vacation with his friends in Mexico? I'll gladly pay for Europe.
Carol Sottili: If they want to go to Tijuana, no. If they're headed to Cancun, I'd be more afraid of them getting drunk and disorderly than being caught in the crossfire. The State Department has some good info, including specific recommendations relating to students.
Ugly black shorts: When my luggage was lost on a dive trip to the Caribbean in March, I had to purchase a t-shirt and shorts in the gift shop of our resort. There were not many options in my size so I ended up with a dark maroon t-shirt and a black pair of shorts with strips in multiple bright colors. Not the prettiest outfit and I wore it every day since all I had with me was the pair of jeans and a sweater I wore on the plane. I didn't want to spend too much since I was being reassured daily that my luggage would show up the next day. When my luggage finally showed up on day 5 and I showed up at dinner in a different outfit people were coming up to me, "oh, you changed clothes!" And "we thought you just really liked that outfit."
Becky Krystal: Great story.
For the passanger who say a later flight leave earlier.:
I could have been in the same boat as you on that Continental flight that crashed in Buffalo. The crashed flight was the one that left on time at 7pm while there was one delayed that was to depart at 4:30pm and was delayed to around 7:30-8:00pm.
I wonder how many passangers on that late flight wanted to switch planes but didnt because of these "rules"
Becky Krystal: Yikes. Fate is strange.
Reminder: You might to remind all the chatters horrified at price jumps to try cleaning out their cookies - when the website "knows" you've already looked they don't give you the lowest fares.
Carol Sottili: I'm not so sure that is true. I've been tracking one fare for about a month. I've used different computers - on some I've wiped out cookies, and on others I haven't, and the fares are the same. Just one example, but I think cookies are overrated.
Alexandria, VA: 'Fashion' find: in Rome for 5 days, Air France lost our bags and it took them 4 days to deliver. In the mean time, they paid us $100 or so to go buy some clothes to wear. My husband, a sixe 2X in the US, was reduced to wear a male bikini, the only underwear that would fit. NO ONE carries large sizes of clothing in Rome. I still have that image in my head, many years later.
Becky Krystal: Published without comment.
Boston: Planning a Christmas/New Years trip to Thailand. Will spend most of the time in Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai, but first two days in Bangkok. Think we'll have any problems? Thai's usually get over their internal squabbles but this time it looks like they are a little more serious.
PS. We always accidentally plan our vacations to a place in some sort of trouble, we're headed to New Orleans in a couple of weeks ;)
Andrea Sachs: There is no way to know what is going to happen more than six months from now. But it seems contained and we can only hope for calm to return. If you are worried, best to get travel insurance in case you need to rearrange your flights.
Favorite Fashions from abroad: My favorite fashion find was necessity. I just HAD to HAVE alpaca from Peru. I scoured the streets of Cusco and found high end and low end. On the high end I found a beautiful cowl neck burgundy poncho and at a lower end store I found a soft cap with a brim. The hardest part was the delayed gratification. I bought the items in June 09 and had to wait til our wicked winter set in to start wearing them. I got a lot of complements on both, esp the hat. Alpaca is now preferred over wool for me.
Becky Krystal: Nice!
Arlington, VA: Some old friends & I have reservations in New Orleans for early June. Not to sound selfish about the residents' plight, but realistically, are we as tourists looking at trouble here?
Andrea Sachs: Not at all. The major tourist areas are up and running. And it's very important to show your support and give the city a boost, in dollars and spirit.
Fairfax: I recently travelled through Dulles for the first time since they opened the rail service from the terminal to concourses in place of the godawful "mobile lounges." While it's a marked improvement, I was very surprised at the distance everyone has to walk from the train to the C concourse -- close to 300 yards, by my estimate. As long as they were going to the expense of building a new system, why didn't someone think to build it closer to its destination?
Nancy Trejos: Yes, it is a long walk. I rode the new mobile lounges when they first started operating. My recollection is that it is still a work in progress and that that underground walkway is temporary. My colleague in the Metro section wrote a story about it, which you can read here.
Becky Krystal: Well, that does it for today's chat, folks. The prize goes to the traveler whose somewhat inebriated jewelry purchase turned out to be a great find. Send your info to firstname.lastname@example.org, and we'll get you your reward. Thanks for spending the hour with us. Come back next week!
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