Talk about travel: Way To Go 2010, Iceland honeymoon, San Francisco, around-the-world with kids, rising flight costs, more

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The Flight Crew
Washington Post Travel Section
Monday, May 17, 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 17 at 2 p.m.

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

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

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Andrea Sachs: It's the Monday after our Way to Go issue, and we would love to know your thoughts about our annual beefy, service-y issue. We changed it slightly from last year, replacing the long lists with more service-oriented features, such as frequent flier miles and iPhone travel apps. Were these pieces cut-them-out-and-stick-them-on-the-fridge helpful? Or did they become lining for your parrot cage?

Send us your feedback on the Way to Go issue, and the best piece of advice wins a price. How's that for an incentive?

Oh, yeah, and don't forget the usual travel questions, advice, shared anecdotes, etc.

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Washington DC: Crew,

We have a destination wedding in La Romana, Dominican Republic in November. Flights are a little more than i was hoping for. Are there any other islands that we could possibly fly into and maybe take a boat to the Dominican?

Thanks, Jeremy

Andrea Sachs: That, I would think, would cost you more and/or create a bigger hassle. Have you considered other airports in DR, such as Santo Dominigo?

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Around the beltway, somewhere in NOVA: I am planning a trip to Toronto, Canada in late August (I'm betting it'll be hot and humid here and not so hot there) and am thinking of taking a gamble and flying into Buffalo and traveling to Toronto via Megabus to save dramatically on the exorbitant rates from DC to Toronto. Does any member of the flight crew have experience going this route? I'm mainly worried about how long it takes to clear customs at the border and plane and tacking a few hours on each way just in case.

Zofia Smardz: Nope, haven't done it. Nancy went to Toronoto a couple of weeks ago but she flew the whole way, and she's out on assignment today. But maybe somebody out there has done the trip your way. Chatters?

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Iceland Honeymoon: We're going on a road trip around Iceland for our honeymoon in late July. I am CRAZY EXCITED, but all these people seem to think we're just crazy, because there happens to be a volcano erupting over there. They keep asking if we have travel insurance, or if we've cancelled our trip yet. Why would I cancel my trip if I have a chance at seeing REAL LAVA IN REAL LIFE?? Plus, the travel agency says all things are back to normal, even now. Thoughts on what to tell the naysayers? I'd love to say I have your endorsement.

Christopher Elliott: You have my endorsement. Oddly, while Europe was shut down because of the ash cloud, flights in and out of Iceland were still operating in April. Plus, when else do you get to see an active volcano?

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Silver Spring: Hello- We are flying to San Francisco the week of June 19th and not sure what the weather will be like. Never been but I hear that it's not warm like what I'm used to for June in DC. So any tips on what to pack? Also, this is our first time flying in 4 years; I know things have changed. What's a good place to go to get some travel tips? We're using Virgin American airlines. Thanks!

Carol Sottili: It probably won't rain, the the temperatures will be in the low 60s during the day and the mid 50s at night. So pack accordingly. The TSA offers many travel tips that will make getting through security easier. I have flown Virgin America last several times I've gone to California and can tell you that it's a very nice experience. Each seat has an entertainment screen. You can either watch the free stuff or pay for movie. Food isn't free, but you order through the touch screen and it's brought on demand - I recommend the hummus plate.

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DuPont Circle: Hi Crew:

I want to go to the Galapogos Islands and need suggestions for reliable tour operators. Your suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

Andrea Sachs: You want to go with a certified guided cruise, of course, that adheres to safe environmental practices. The islands are so sensitive, you don't want to go with a rogue boat. In addition, I would choose a smaller ship with fewer passengers, so that you have a more intimate experience with the creatures and landscape. Plus, you won't have to fight the hordes.

For an outfitter, I would consult with the Galapagos Conservancy, which is based in Fairfax (703.383.0077, www.galapagos.org). Or when you shop around for an operator, questions their environmental standards and be sure they are working closing with the government to protect the islands.

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Gatlinburg, Tenn.: Hello flight crew! Headed to Gatlinburg, TN in early August. Read some of the older articles in the travel archives, but I was wondering if anyone had any suggestions about what to see or where to eat. Thanks!

Andrea Sachs: Grits? Pork rinds? Mac N' Cheese?

Okay, I have no idea.

Chatsters, can you help us with some Gatlinburg vittles?

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Chicago: We have a 6 week vacation coming up and have decided to do a modified round-the-world trip. We are just in the preliminary planning stages and we're looking for some clues. We're taking 6 weeks, the trip will be in July-August, we'll have a first-grader and a preschooler with us. The kids are adventurous travelers and eaters, do well on planes, etc., generally game for anything. We'd like to stay mostly in the northern hemisphere for weather and ticket price reasons (moving to Rio or Sydney seems to push the cost of ticket out of budget). We'd like to spend about 5-7 days in each of 6-7 locations. Because of the kids, we'd like to stay relatively stationary once we get someplace - so going to London would mean 5 days in London, not 2 days in London, 1 day in Bath, 1 day in Edinburgh, etc.

So can I ask you and the extended crew - what are your suggestions for must-do places? We are planning to make someplace like Hawaii our last stop before returning to our hometown so that we can get a couple days' downtime. We are sort of at a loss for how to even narrow ourselves down - we're literally open to anywhere (Egypt! Iceland! China! You name it!).

Zofia Smardz: It's a big world out there! Where you go should depend on your interests, not ours. I think Germany, Russia, Egypt, India, China are must-sees. But others may think otherwise. Have a look at this round-the-world story we ran several months ago. It might give you some ideas and help with the planning end of things.

And of course, I'm sure the chatsters will have some thoughts.

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Ashburn, VA: I just wanted to thank you for the article about flight costs. I was going crazy the past few months waiting for the price of a IAD to LAX late June flight to drop from the $450 to $500 range to the $200 range that I remembered being common last year. Finally, Kayak brought up a flight at the times and dates I wanted in the under $300 range and I bought it. I almost hesitated because I had a meeting to go to, but remembered your article a couple of weeks ago saying how quickly prices changed. Boy, was I glad I bought when I did. Later that afternoon of the same day, the exact same flight, on the same airline went up $100 each way. I'm glad I didn't wait for the prices to fall back into the $200 range.

washingtonpost.com: Airfares keep rising, but you can save money by departing from the norm

Carol Sottili: Glad we steered you in the right direction!

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Atlantis--cheesy or fun?: My 9-year old son is very interested in visiting the Atlantis resort in the Bahamas after seeing TV commercials showing kids water-sliding down faux Mayan ruins, etc. Is this place worth the visit? My gut feeling is that it would be like a cheap cruise on land, with all the same features (bad shows, loads of food, etc). Might be willing to accept that for my son's sake but would like an unbiased opinion before deciding. Price is a concern as well.

Carol Sottili: I haven't stayed there, but did spend a day there during a cruise. The place is over the top and my kids, who were young teens at the time, loved it. The water features are amazing, and it also has a very cool aquarium. And there's a casino, bars, etc. for the adults. It's not cheap, and it's not for everyone. A cruise will likely cost less than a stay at Atlantis.

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Washington, DC: With the AF crash off the coast of Brazil and the recent Libyan crash, are A330's safe?

Andrea Sachs: The A330 has a good safety record as a whole. But unfortunately, accidents happen.

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North Carolina: My husband and I have 8 or 9 days over the Christmas holidays next winter. We'd like to go somewhere warm, culturally interesting, and without too much flight time. We're thinking of Central America but looking for a new and interesting destination. Considering Guatemala or Nicaragua, though I have been to both about 10 years ago. Already been to Costa Rica twice. We're young, adventurous, and beaches are nice but old colonial cities are even better. Any ideas for a combination of a cheap dive certification and a colonial city to explore? Thanks! FYI, we're going low-budget but not backpacker-style anymore.

Zofia Smardz: We're told that Panama is the new Costa Rica. You might want to check it out.

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Panama City Beach, Florida: I truly enjoy your travel chats! I am submitting early since I have to attend an afternoon meeting. My boyfriend turns 40 on 26 September. Coincidentally my birthday is two days prior on the 24th. I want to take us on a long four or five day weekend trip to celebrate. I want it somewhere fun and romantic but not a beach. I live on the pristine beaches of the gulf and due to our recent incidents, I feel if I spend money at a beach it should be here. My boyfriend is originally from Wisconsin so he likes cooler climates. Do you recommend somewhere fun and cool? We are both extremely social and would want an active nightlife. I thought of Vegas but it may be too warm at that time.

Becky Krystal: Probably in September to get somewhere cool, you'll need to head north, north, north. Maybe Montreal? Keep in mind that article was from last year, but I think most of the events are annual.

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Northern VA: Hello gang. I am trying to plan a weekend getaway with my husband. We want to kayak either the Northern Neck (VA) or Eastern Shore (MD) areas and then spend the night. Sounds pretty simple, but we are not very experienced, and I'd prefer some sort of guided trip or tour rather than just renting kayaks on our own. And we do NOT like bed and breakfasts -- much prefer an anonymous hotel! Can you suggest an area, an outfitter, and.or a hotel? Thanks!

Becky Krystal: I think this article on the Eastern Shore has everything you asked for! Be sure to click on the "Where to Go, What to Know" link for specific recommendations. (The link for the kayak trip appears to have changed since the story ran, but here's the new site.)

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Richmond, VA: Help! I need to book a hotel room for a conference in DC for June 13-16. The rates I'm finding are insane! Hotels I can normally book for $150 are almost $300+ per night. Is there some big event happening during this time or are hotels just being greedy?

Carol Sottili: Looks as if 12,000 people are attending the Drug Information Association convention that weekend. That may explain it.

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Washington, DC: Hi Flight Crew. Do you know of any spa getaway type places within a day's drive of DC? Someplace that offers a spa package would be great, and something appropriate for a solo traveler? Not the Homestead. Been before, and while it was nice, I'm looking for something on a slightly smaller scale.

Zofia Smardz: The Inn at Poplar Springs, in Casanova, Va., not far from Warrenton, comes highly recommended. I have not been, but Bonnie Benwick, deputy ed of the Food section, loves it, and I trust her! She says it's beautiful, quiet, very modern facilities. Smaller-scale than the Homestead or Greenbrier.

Throwing this out for chatters to chime in, too.

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SWDC: Thought the Way to Go package was really good this year (although I disagree with Chris' extreme position on FF miles). On the airports guide, though, wish you'd put in something on the availability of non-airport operated parking options - BWI's private lots are first-rate, and hotel stay-and-fly deals can be especially cost-effective for long term vacations and early morning departures. I'm not convinced that the 'official' lots are always a traveler's best bet.

washingtonpost.com: Way to Go 2010

Zofia Smardz: So glad you liked it! And we'll definitely take your point about the parking lots under advisement. Thanks!

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Fairfax, VA: I admit to having used airline miles for "free" tickets to Hawaii, to Europe, and for various upgrades, but think that that they are nothing more than occasional benefits of travel in today's economic climate. (There. That took 35 words.)

But Christopher Elliott in yesterday's "The Navigator" column (WaPo travel section) needed 38 column-inches to tell us that mileage programs are not "win-win" propositions. (Who Knew!) And chooses to prove his point with anecdotal evidence that can't stand up to even basic examination.

Exhibit A is Mr. Bird who was asked for 60,000 miles plus $1400 for a "bump to business class on UAL to St. Martin" (I'm assuming that he had an economy ticket and that this is SXM in the Caribbean). Setting aside the fact that only first and economy seats are available on that route, some context is needed since the walk-up first class fare from IAD to SXM appears to be $1600. Something is definitely amiss here.

Exhibit B is consumer advocate Ms. Shumard who seems surprised that she can't reconcile her desire for airline miles and the lowest interest rate in the same credit card. The bank might think that it's too much to expect an offer of two major (and inconsistent) perks in one card. But that's just me thinking out loud.

OF COURSE the programs are designed to keep you tied to a specific airline, but if you don't like the leash, don't play the game.

End of vent.

Christopher Elliott: Thanks for the comments. I'm glad you enjoyed the story. You know what? I could have probably taken another 38 column inches. I was just getting warmed up!

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Coastal Maine?: Hello! A friend and I are planning a trip for August. It's a belated babymoon for me (my now 2year old twins came early before my husband I got to go one one) and my friend will be about 7 months pregnant. We're thinking of Maine because it's relatively easy to get to, and it seems like a good combination of relaxing and activities like light hiking/exploring (when not pregnant, we like active vacations). Do you have any thoughts on where to stay, and what to do? We don't even know what town we want to go to, but we want it to be a SHORT drive from Logan Airport. Thanks so much for your informative chat!

Zofia Smardz: If you want a short drive, I'd send you to Portsmouth, N.H., which would be about an hour north of Logan. A little shy of Maine, yes, but a lovely town, and you can take day trips -- out to the Isles of Shoals, rocky little islands off the coast with some history and mystery attached, up to Ogunquit and Portland, Me., or deeper into NH and the beautiful White Mountains. If Joe were here, I'm sure he'd tell you to go straight to Portland, but it would take about two hours to get there from Logan.

Chatters, your choices?

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Washington DC: Hi Crew,

Oh boy. Please cross your fingers! I am supposed to fly to Heathrow tomorrow night......

sign me, anxiously watching the ash cloud..

Andrea Sachs: Our 10 fingers our crossed for you.

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Cheap and cheerful in DC: If you don't mind the sharing option for your conference in DC, check out airbnb.com and roomorama.com.

I host on both, but am closing up shop due to a move.

It can be a great cheap and cheerful option.

Andrea Sachs: Great idea! I am a big fan of AirBnb.

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Use or Lose: Great section yesterday, and it triggered a -- lets call it spirited discussion -- between my husband and me. I am planning to go to Paris to meet my sister in October, have 156K United miles, 36K of which expire in December, and can only find mileage tickets at the 110 mile range. My husband has 400K+ miles and is a high enough level flyer that he could get me tickets for 55K for the same dates. Are we better off just using my miles and using them, or using his, and having more miles in my account for another time, presuming I can ever find mileage tickets? I feel stupid "paying" double to use my miles, but I guess I'd feel stupider losing them.

Christopher Elliott: Without reviewing both of your accounts, my advice would be to redeem your points sooner rather than later. Miles and points lose value over time. The only reason you would accumulate miles is to make a large purchase with them, but again, my advice would be to do so sooner rather than later.

Andrea Sachs: As one who lost a free ticket anywhere in the United States, including Alaska (!!!), I would say use them. Especially if you are active travelers or have a credit card connected to an airline mileage program.

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From last week (on Grand Canyon): Assuming you are flying into Phoenix...and not knowing how long you will be traveling makes this difficult.

Day 1: fly into Phoenix.

Day 2 Sedona and Oak Creek Canyon

Day 3 South Rim

Day 4 Morning South Rim, drive through navajo country to Monument Valley

Day 5 Monument Valley drive south to Painted Desert, along the way you could stop at Canyon De Chelle.

Day 6 return to Phonix a couple of different ways either back towards Flagstaff and stop at some of the National Monuments along I-17/US 89 near Flagstaff or you can drive SW from Painted Desert to Phoenix.

Day 7 flight home.

In terms of travel times...Phoenix-Sedona 2 hrs. Sedona-Gran Cenyon 2 hours. Grand Canyon to Flagstaff traveling along the Canyon to US 89 then South is about 2 hrs. Flagstadd to Pained Dessert is about 2 hrs drive. Painted Desert is mostly a drive through park where you follow one road and then pull over at the stops to view the sites so its an easy drive through park.

Becky Krystal: Thanks for the itinerary suggestions!

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New Years Eve getaways?: Hi there,

Have been pondering a big NYE getaway (I know, kind of soon). What locations are in off- season then, so I can get a better deal?

Also, what is the best travel site to subscribe to for flight deals? Orbitz?

Thanks!

Becky Krystal: Most European destinations would probably be considered off-season in January. Did you have any more particulars in mind?

As to flight deals, check out

Carol's primer

from this weekend. Options include Kayak, Bing, Yapta...

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Austin, Texas: Hi, I'm flying from austin-charlotte-rome. Will I have to show my passports in Austin? If we just have carry-on can I go straight to security or would I have to check in at the airline & show a passport? Just wondering if I need to be there 2 hours early even though the first leg is domestic. Thanks!

Andrea Sachs: If it's the same itinerary/ticket from Austin to Rome, then you will have to show your passport in Austin, when you check in--the first and last time. However, if you have two tickets --Austin-Charlotte, Charlotte-Rome booked separately -- you will have to check-in for both legs, showing your passport only on the international route.

However, some airlines allow passengers to check-in online for international flights. They also have passport-accepting check-in kiosks at the airport, for quicker service. With both, you can quickly check in, then head to the security line with your carry-on bag.

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Washington, D.C.: I am headed to Barbados for five days. Do you have any suggestions/tips on dining/nightlife/places to see, etc...?

Becky Krystal: Our intrepid reporter Nancy is on assignment, but she did address Barbados in our March 22 and March 29 chats.

Any other suggestions?

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University Park, MD: My husband is scheduled to fly home from Helsinki on Wednesday, connecting in Frankfurt. If Frankfurt airport closes, does the airline reroute through another city, or does he need to seek other arrangements--like swimming home?

Christopher Elliott: As I write this, the ash cloud is spreading across Europe again. There's no telling if Frankfurt will be closed, but Helsinki isn't looking good. Here's the latest ash cloud map.

I would not recommend swimming. Instead, ask your airline about what kind of accommodations it can make under EU Rule 261 and its contract of carriage (the legal agreement between you and your airline). The airline may be able to reroute your husband to an airport that isn't affected by the cloud.

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Washington, DC: Your adjusted approach make sense in this web based era: We don't need a list of airline phone numbers. But please keep a link to the guide on the front page of the travel section; I've had trouble finding it in the past.

Thanks!

Andrea Sachs: Great feedback, and idea. Thanks!

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GATLINBURG??: Egad. I grew up near Knoxville, and I can't think of a single reason to vacation in Gatlinburg, AKA the biggest tackiest parking lot in the Smokies - and it's 100 times worse now than it was then!

Becky Krystal: OK, one person's opinion on Gatlinburg.

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Silver Spring, MD: I know the Euro's value isn't much anymore but I have a 50- euro note that I brought back last year that has a tear in it. Will merchants in Europe accept a torn bill (they often don't in Russia)?

Christopher Elliott: You should be able to get the note replaced for free, under European Central Bank rules. A national central bank will replace a damaged euro banknote if you present more than half of the note or can prove that the missing (larger) part of the banknote has been destroyed, according to the ECB.

As a practical matter, most merchants will accept a slightly damaged banknote.

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Ash closures: Any insights from your crystal ball if flights to Zurich and Frankfurt (two separate flights from the US) will be OK for this weekend?

Andrea Sachs: No way of knowing, but best to watch the news and have a Plan B ready to roll.

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Washington, DC: Any thoughts on booking now to Thailand for travel later in the year? Does travel insurance cover civil unrest?

Christopher Elliott: The State Department Travel Warning for Thailand seems pretty clear: don't go. No one really knows how long the unrest will last. I would wait until the warning is lifted before considering a trip, and I would only make a reservation after consulting with a knowledgeable travel agent.

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For Richmond - Less Expensive Hotels: Rather than look downtown, look to the near suburbs for a hotel room on the Metro. E.g., there is an Econo Lodge in Falls Church about two blocks from the EFC Metro.

Becky Krystal: Good point.

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Babymoon??: Am I missing something here? I thought a babymoon was a romantic getaway for a couple prior to the baby's arrival. This woman is going with a friend who's 7 months PG? And leaving the spouses behind? What???

Andrea Sachs: Typically, it is. But it's a new progressive world, so I guess anything that allows pre-mom to get out of the house. . ..

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For San Francisco-bound: For the traveler headed to San Francisco, the weather also depends on whether you'll be downtown or in, say, Napa. I visited there last May, expecting nice enough weather based on the forecasts. What I wasn't expecting was the contant WIND downtown that made it feel much cooler than it was. My uncle lives in a suburb about an hour outside of the city and says the temperature can be 10-20 degrees lower in the city than in the suburbs--I think it has something to do with the bay. It seemed the opposite of Maryland, where the suburbs are generally cooler than Baltimore or DC. San Francisco's great--just windy!

Carol Sottili: Thanks!

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Seattle: As a Buffalo native there has always been quite a few bus lines to toronto...im not familiar with this bus but the estimated drive time will likely be nearly four hours if its a line that stops at multiple locations. you can rent a car and drive..your license and insurance is honored.

on san fransico in june....i was there around the same time last year. it is generally in the low 70s....it can be cooler in the low 60s with strong coastal winds and all day clouds. but it also can be in the mid 80s or hotter if the winds are just right...look at the forecast when you are about to pack. also if you venture away from the water and go inland it will be a lot warmer.

Zofia Smardz: A twofer. Thanks for these tips!

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Easton, MD: Hi Flight Crew. Next month I will be traveling from DC to Easton for a wedding. I know traffic will be bad as everyone heads for the beach on Sat so I plan on getting up early and being in Easton by lunchtime. Since the wedding isn't until 5pm, what do you recommend I see/do to fill up a few hours of time. I read about the Bartlett Pear Inn so perhaps I'll go there for lunch but I wasn't sure if there are any beaches nearby I could visit. If you or the chatters could help with suggestions that would be great!

Thank you!

Carol Sottili: Easton is a neat little town. Its historic district is several blocks long, with lots of shops and restaurants. The Amish Farmers Market is fun - you can easily kill an hour or two there. And then there's also a fun farmers market in the historic district every Saturday until 1 p.m. You can also head about 10 miles down the road to St. Michaels, which is a great place to shop, eat an ice cream cone, etc. The Chesapeake Maritime Museum in St. Michaels is also very interesting.

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Fairfax, VA: Hi Flight Crew!

Any advice on getting train tickets in China? We'd like to take a few overnight trips in the nicer sleeper cars, so would like to purchase them in advance to make sure we get the cars we want. We can't seem to buy them online, so where should we go?

Thanks!

Andrea Sachs: I would recommend working with a travel agent. I tried buying them when I was there and had NO idea if was boarding the correct train. See ASTA's date base for travel agents certified in this region.

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Washington, D.C.: Hey Crew, The Way to Go issue left me really cold. I felt like most of the articles were only useful to a true travel novice. Others, like the iPhone article, were useful to just a small group (people with an iPhone). Would it be possible to include more meat with the general bullets of information next year? I was thinking a story about some trip that required showing a passport multiple times could have accompanied the same-old information about how to get one.

Andrea Sachs: Thanks for the input, though I am not sure I understand what you mean by bullets of information that are for advanced travelers? Can you be more specific? (Add to that: I don't understand a story about showing a passport multiple times--do you mean at the airport?)

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Diners?: Most DC-area regulars to Rehoboth Beach are familiar with Jimmy's Grill in Delaware, a diner known for good food at low prices, partly due to its rural location. Can you recommend anything similar on the way back from other popular weekend getaway destinations, like in Western Maryland or on the way back from Shenendoah?

Becky Krystal: This is a great question, but I'm totally blanking on any suggestions. Readers, any must-eat stops on the road?

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Washington, D.C.: I'm thinking of heading to Philadelphia for memorial day weekend. Is there a bus service (like Mega bus) to Philly? Any experience with it? Do you recommend I take the train, bus, or rent a car (I do not own a car)? I'm thinking of going to the Barnes collection before it closes--will I need a car? I've looked at a few hotels and it looks like I'd have to pay $20 (and up) to park at the hotels. Are there public lots where I could park (if I rented a car and drove)? Thanks!

Becky Krystal: Actually, MegaBus does offer service between D.C. and Philadelphia. My guess is you won't need -- or want -- a car. The Barnes Foundation is a few blocks from the SEPTA. I say skip renting a car. Part of the adventure of visiting a different city is checking out the public transportation. But maybe that's just me!

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Ashburn VA: We're heading to the Inn at Little Washington later this month and will be staying for the weekend at a B&B near there. What else should we not miss doing that area?

Becky Krystal: I don't know about you, but I think seeing some llamas would be fun! (Not to mention some other ideas in there.)

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On San Francisco: Been there at that time of year...if it's sunny it's in the low 70s...if cloudy all day and on shore wind then low 60s......if the winds are just right ..then 80 or hotter. If you are venturing off away from the water it will be near 90...but low humidity. Check the weather before you pack.

Carol Sottili: Thanks for more weather info.

Zofia Smardz: Thanks! Sounds like you really know the place. . .

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Washington, DC: I'm supposed to leave for Germany on Saturday. Is the ash going to postpone my vacation, and if so, what should I expect from my airline? Thanks...

Christopher Elliott: If your flight is canceled, you should expect a full refund. As to whether your flight will be canceled -- no one really knows. A lot can happen in a week.

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DC expat: Hello all! I'm headed to Edisto Island, SC with a group of friends (flying in from all over the country) 4th of July weekend. Can't find a ton of info, except for that fact that everyone seems to love it. Do you or the chatters have any idea about what to expect/see/do while we're there? Most folks are flying in and out of Charleston, so we'll have limited time there, but prefer to spend most of our time on the island. Thanks for your help!

Becky Krystal: I dug back and the most recent comprehensive piece I could find was from 1993. Don't think it's available online, but if you send a note to travel@washpost.com, I'll e-mail it to you.

Chatters, any advice on Edisto?

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Bolt Bus/Vancouver - You Pick: Does anyone know how far out the Bolt bus releases its schedule? There's nothing in the FAQ on their site but it seems like I can only pull up schedule info for two or three weeks out at a time.

Also, am trying to plan a trip to Vancouver in January, and want to track airfares (currently $1,700 rt for two passengers from BWI). Can you recommend any tracking sites? We're seriously considering flying to Seattle and driving into Vancouver if airfare into VYR doesn't come down.

Andrea Sachs: Bolt says they release the schedules six to eight weeks out. They are going to release a new one in a week or so.

As for tracking: Try Yapta, Farecompare.com, Farecast.com

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Around the World: For the around-the-world travelers, I would suggest starting out going West, rather than East. I did this trip a few years ago, and found that this greatly reduced jet lag issues. I landed in Tahiti early AM, my hotel was able to get me right into a room, where I took a 4 hr.nap, woke up refreshed and with my body clock adjusted. Since you have small kids, a must-stop should be Dubai - between Atlantis, Wild Wadi Water Park and Ski Dubai's tubing, they'll love it. The "Arabian Nights" tours are also great, and most activities are pretty cheap.

Zofia Smardz: Thanks!

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Dulles Airport, Virginia: Air fares have skyrocketed this year, not only because of the economy, but no doubt oil spills have affected travel, too. I want to book a first-class flight round trip to the West Coast for September, but prices near $2000 is steep. Any suggestions to make my trip a happy (affordable) one?

Carol Sottili: I don't think the oil spill has anything to do with airfares right now. But, regardless, first-class flights to the West Coast have gone the same direction as economy fares - up. I'd just keep checking and buy when the price looks right.

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Arlington, VA: Hi Travel Crew!

I am interested in visiting Central Asia this fall, in particular Uzbekistan and possibly Turkmenistan. Do you know of any reputable tour agencies for this region? I have found a few online but it is hard to know much about them from just a website. Thanks!

Andrea Sachs: That's a very interesting questions, and wow, I wish I had the answer, because that would mean I have been to Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. But, alas, I have not, so . . help, chatsters!

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Washington DC: Re:Atlantis. GO! It's amazing. I've been there several times, and love love love it. I would vote against the meal plans though - we found that ordering room service, or getting sandwiches to share from Murray's Deli, were much better values. Also, make sure there aren't any concerts or corporate events at the same time, as the pools can get crazy crowded then.

Andrea Sachs: Thanks for the insights!

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Gatlinburg, TN: Dollywood is nearby in Sevierville, TN if you're into that kind of thing.... Its Dolly Parton's amusement park.

Becky Krystal: Yeah, Dollywood is definitely synonymous with Gatlinburg in my mind.

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RE: Gatlinburg: Aw cmon, Gatlinburg's not that bad! You just need to embrace the kitsch rather than try to avoid it! We grew up going with our folks and then in college I worked at an overnight camp so far in the middle of nowhere that Gatlinburg qualified as the closest taste of civilization.

The key is to immerse yourself in the hokey, in the corny, in the downright silly. Forget the attempts to get all historical or eco-touristy--gorge yourself on giant corndogs at Fannie Farkles and play a round at Hillbilly Golf. Be "amazed" at Ripleys. Eat too much fudge pretty much everywhere. Live it up!

Andrea Sachs: Love your attitude. Yee-haw!

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Atlantis: We went for several nights a few years ago with an 8 and a 10 year old. The kids loved it - lots of kid friendly slides and lazy river rides. Its very expensive and crowded. When we were there the beach seemed very narrow and crowded with a few rows of chairs. Access to the water did not feel that generous - it was kind of closed in and crowded.

Carol Sottili: I think that's a fair assessment.

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Frequent flier miles: Recently I made two trips from DC to London to see someone in hospice for the last time and then attend the funeral.

United were very helpful letting me use a combination of FF miles and paying (I didn't have enough miles for the full ticket) and then changing my return cheaply. It was a strange trip! Instead of paying $850 or $1,000 for the actual date I preferred (I monitored this for a few days) I partially used miles and ended up paying $450 - and that included the changed return change.

Zofia Smardz: Not a bad deal. Thanks.

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Rockville, MD: I have to get to BWI using public transportation on a weekday. Today's article says that "By train: Amtrak and MARC trains travel from Union Station and New Carrollton to the BWI Rail Station, where a free shuttle connects you to the airport" so where exactly is the BWI "station" where I need to get out to take the shuttle? Is this close to a metro station, (Greenbelt?) I was just wondering if I need to take the Marc or Amtrak in order to use the shuttle service. Overall I just want the quickest & easiest way to get to BWI using public transportation.

Becky Krystal: The BWI station is served by MARC and Amtrak. I guess if you somehow got to the station some other way, you could conceivably hop on the shuttle (might want to check with the station at 410-672-6169). But if Greenbelt is convenient for you, the B30 Metrobus runs nonstop between there and the airport.

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Amusement Parks: Was the amusement parks article part of the travel section or the going out guide? It was positioned as a guide to parks, but it left off 3 notable parks in PA, all within a similar driving distance to Hersheypark: Dorneypark (Allentown), Dutch Wonderland (Lancaster) and Knoebel's Grove (Elysburg).

Knoebels has been in the same family since it opened, it has cute cottages for rent on the park grounds, has free admission (!), a hand-carved carousel with brass rings, and one of the few Flyer rides in existence. They have rides from just about every decade, and every year they seem to add a new "theme park" style big ride as well. They offer lots of picnic tables within the grounds for those who want to bring lunch, and it is alcohol-free. No affiliation, just an annual summer highlight from my youth.

washingtonpost.com: Looks like this was a Going Out Guide piece: Thrill ride: Area amusement parks

Zofia Smardz: Yes, that story ran in the Weekend section. Travel was not involved. But thanks for the info on some other parks.

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Spending the Fourth in the other Washington: After spending a few days in Portland (thanks for the article on Sunday!), we'll fly out of Seattle on the 7th. Looking to spend the Fourth in Washington, probably in a smaller city or town, then hitting Mt. Rainier NP for anight before heading to Sea Tac. I was thinking of Olympia, to be near the capitol building in Washingtobn on the Fourth, but are there other places you can suggest?

Andrea Sachs: How about Vancouver Island? It's lovely.

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DC bus to Philadelpia: I took the Greyhound from DC to Philadelphia and it was fine. Some of them stop in Wilmington though ... .

Zofia Smardz: Wow. A positive nod to the Dog. Thanks.

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Bronx, NY: Where else do you get to see an active volcano? Hawaii comes to mind...

Tip for travel: if you're counting on public transit at your destination, know the transit agency's website/download the app, and check the service status before you take off. This is especially true if you're flying into New York on a weekend, when the subways are guaranteed to be under construction (and signage will be nonexistent). I saved myself mucho headaches (and booked a shuttle van space online) by doing this a few weeks ago.

Becky Krystal: Good point on transit. I've been taking Metro for nearly three years now to and from work and was surprised to find out a few weeks ago that the last bus to my neighborhood leaves the train station at 8:40 p.m. on a Saturday(!).

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Puerto Rico Earthquake: Just saw on the news that there was an earthquake in Puerto Rico, where I'm suppose to go in two weeks. How do we find out if there are any problems associated with the quake?

Andrea Sachs: The news. And check with your airline if it looks like flights could be disrupted.

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Bad Hotel Stay: So I'm just back from a weekend at one of the nation's priciest hotels. The room was sub-par to say the least - phone broken, safe didn't work, tub didn't drain, and worst - door wouldn't close. Due to the short stay, we didn't change rooms. I have written a letter to the general manager and haven't heard back yet (I only emailed it last night), but I'm wondering what sort of response I should receive. What is customary? I'd love some financial compensation, sure, but I guess I'm just more annoyed by the experience than anything and want to "scold" them. Thanks!

Carol Sottili: I wonder why you didn't take it up with the general manager while you were there. I find you always get a better response in person, on the spot. Can't predict how the hotel will respond to your email. Most bigger hotels have a procedure for dealing with complaints, but they don't often refund your money after you've stayed there. They may give you a discount on a future stay or maybe a voucher.

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Arlington, VA: For Uzbekistan, Advantour was a great tour group organizer. Have fun in Bukhara!

Any reading of the tea leaves on whether the ash cloud might be affecting European airspace the first week in June?

Andrea Sachs: Thanks! And no reading, as Chris noted earlier.

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Buffalo, NY: USAir has not replied and I'm getting nervous. We fly BUF-Philadelphia, Phila to Heathrow on Wed. If Heathrow is closed what do we do? Stay in Buffalo? Go to Philadelphia and sit in that dreadful airport waiting for the British airports to re-open? If we don't take the Buf-Phl flight do we have to re-book and pay a fee? Obviously, if we can't get to England we'd rather stay home than be in the Phila airport, but we also don't want to miss the first available flight to LHR. Thanks!

Christopher Elliott: If Heathrow is closed, stay home and ask US Airways for a refund. Plan your vacation when the volcano has stopped erupting.

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Annapolis, MD: Headed to Chincoteague for Memorial Day long Weekend. Any suggestions for dining?

Andrea Sachs: I always pack a picnic. but I've heard good things about Village Restaurant and AJ's on the Creek. Anyone have a favorite?

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How do Miles Lose Value over Time?: Lets say I had enough miles for a free international ticket a year ago and did not use them. Lets say I wanted to go to Europe last year, at $700RT with those miles. But I also want to go this year, for the same number of miles, only the fare is now $1000. How have they lost value? I think perhaps long-term they lose value, but not in every instance, not when fares are going up.

Christopher Elliott: Fares go up and down all the time, but when a mile loses value, it's more or less permanent. When redemption levels are "adjusted" there's no turning the clock back. But fares can always fall when demand drops.

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Bowie: If you travel around the Bay region, you always see placards for sale "A boat in a hole in the water into which one pours money."

Do you know of a way to start small in powerboating (above the level of attaching a small outboard to a rental rowboat)? Like a rental club perhaps?

Carol Sottili: The happiest day in my life was when I bought my boat. The second-happiest day in my life was when I sold it. Thank you. I'll be here all week.

Seriously, we've all heard that one. Boats are both great fun and a total drain. There's a subculture in this region of people who spend every summer weekend on the Potomac just going up and down, stopping at restaurants and bars. Look at

Carefree Boat Club

- it is a rental boat club with Maryland locations.

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NoVa: I got a good deal on a non-stop, round trip flight to Orlando over Memorial Weekend to spend my birthday weekend alone on a beach. Any ideas about good, cheapish places on a nearby beach to stay? I've been looking at Daytona, but am willing to drive further for cheaper/better digs.

Zofia Smardz: Check out this recent Impulsive Traveler we did on Melbourne, which is not that far.

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Boulder, Colorado: Can you suggest an interesting (but relaxed) location between Paris and Amsterdam to spend a week. We'll have a first grader with us too. Thanks!

Andrea Sachs: Brussels, or maybe Frankfurt or Cologne.

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Boston: Have you ever spent the fourth of July in Boston? Would love your opinion as to whether that is a good or bad choice. Thanks.

Andrea Sachs: I have and it was crazy-fun, especially along the Charles River.

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BWI train station: For Rockville: You can take the Marc Penn Line to the BWI station, and when you get off the train it's a walk of no more than a minute or two to get to the shuttle bus stop. The shuttle bus picks you up for the 1-mile or so ride to the terminal. I did it in March for the first time and it took less than an hour to get from Union Station to the BTW terminal. Very convenient.

Andrea Sachs: Thanks!

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For NYE traveller: Go to Paris. Best.Party.Ever.

Becky Krystal: There ya go.

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For Richmond Conference: You should check outside DC. The Lorien and Hotel Monaco in Old Town Alexandria both have far cheaper rates listed for that time period. My mother-in-law (extremely picky) has stayed in both on trips to visit us, and she LOVED them. I bet they'd give you a group rate, too.

Becky Krystal: More suggestions for the conference attender...

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Arlington, VA: I guess we had the FF mile discussion here last week. But as a follow up to Chris's article this week, I would just like to say that the "affinity" credit card interest rates are only an issue if you carry a balance. If you pay off your card every month the interest rate is irrelevant. The only price I pay for my miles is the annual fee.

Christopher Elliott: Good point. But considering the fact that frequent flier miles are valued at about one cent, are you really getting your money's worth -- even by "only" paying the annual fee?

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Columbia, MD: I loved your travel guide this weekend, especially "Have fares left you behind" on the rising cost of plane tickets. My friends and I have been trying to plan a trip to Europe for the summer but everyone has been waiting for the prices to fall. I have been telling them for the last two months that the $680 ticket to London and $800 tickets to Rome they got last year, most likely will not be coming around this summer and we need to readjust our budget or reschedule the trip. I sent out the article to everyone involved which helped support my argument and I have yet to hear any rebuttal. (-Very rare for my friends-) The prices of last summer are the new prices for the fall which is probably when I'll be planning my European trip. Thanks for all the good info!

Carol Sottili: Wish I had better news and could tell everyone that fares were going to drop like a rock. Is there a chance that a good sale will come up? Of course. But will it fit into your schedule? The only ones I think should wait are those who are super flexible as to dates and destination.

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Arlington, VA: Thanks for the hotel review yesterday. I haven't been to Philly in a couple of years. Is the Palomar close to the Sofitel? Seems like it must be right across the street somehow....

washingtonpost.com: Bed Check: Hotel Palomar Philadelphia, a place for Poor Richard and lucky me

Zofia Smardz: Glad you liked it. It does sound like a fun hotel. And yes, it's right near the Sofitel. It's at 117 South Street, the Sofitel's at 120.

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Baltimore, MD: Hi Crew, Planning a honeymoon for November and we'd love to go to London and Paris, but this volcano is giving us pause. What's your advice? Should we consider other options? Hawaii is looking better all the time.

Andrea Sachs: I would not rethink my honeymoon destination because of some mean old ash cloud. There is no way of knowing for sure if the cloud will still be meddling or if it will be a distance memory by November. As we wrote in the section on Sunday, schedule your trip, but just keep a Plan B in mind, in case you get stranded. However, it seems like you already have a lot on your mind with a wedding, so if you want to take the easy, stress-free route, head to Hawaii.

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For the drive back from Shanandoah: Check out the Apple House.

It is utter kitsch but the BBQ and the apple donuts are good and cheap.

washingtonpost.com: I second the donut recommendation.

Andrea Sachs: We all third the donuts!

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Wilkes Barre PA: Re Megabus to Toronto I took the Megabus to Toronto from NYC. A number of people did get on at the Airport in Buffalo. There were also ones that got off there coming back.

The total time at the border was about an hour. Can't remember the total time from Departure from Toronto to arrival at Buffalo. I would look at the timetable that Megabus gives and maybe pad it by 30 - 60 minutes and then leave 2 hours for time at the airport prior to the flight time. I sort of remember waiting a little bit for the bus to get to the station in Toronto.

Andrea Sachs: Thanks for the helpful anecdote.

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Ashburn, VA: I loved the FF points redemption article. I have never flown enough on one airline to accrue miles for a ticket (as I am in the leisure travel AKA cheapest ticket catagory), and I do not now (or plan to) have a miles credit card, so I started using the miles from the airlines marketplace before they expire. I bought a $50 Macy's gift card, and a couple of magazine subscriptions (including one for a soldier in Afghanistan). On one airline I donated the points to a charity that accumulates them for relief flights.

I know that my low level status will never bring me a flight or even hotel room, but I still feel as though the desk and gate employees might treat me a tiny bit better when they see my FF number in the system.

Andrea Sachs: You are my hero. Good for you, taking those baby steps.

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Arlington, VA: The BWI Amtrak station is about a 5-10 minute shuttle bus ride from the terminal if I remember correctly. It's been a long time since I went up there.

In the Palomar Hotel story the writer complained about the valet parking costs. There are tons of public garages in that part of Philly. You could have parked yourself and saved a lot of money.

Zofia Smardz: So good to know. . . now.

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Philadelphia, PA: In response to the Hotel Palomar, yes, it is directly across from the Sofitel. I like the Palomar but the rooms are very small. The Sofitel has much larger guest rooms. It's all what you're looking for. Me, the Sofitel is my favorite hotel in the city

Andrea Sachs: Thanks for the tip.

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Chincoteague, VA: I recently had a fantastic crab cake at Sea Shell Inn (next to the Best Western - on way to the park), although my dining companion wasn't that thrilled w/his meal. And AJ's had FANTASTIC scallops!

Becky Krystal: Eat up!

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between Paris and Amsterdam: Brussels is a great idea - you can take the train and your kid will love it. Go for a daytrip to Bruges.

Why do want a whole week? Why not stay longer in either Paris or Amsterdam or both?

Zofia Smardz: My thoughts exactly. Thanks!

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re NYE: Somewhere that's not super touristy, has the possibility of a home away rental rather than a hotel stay, and that won't cost an arm and a leg.

Though, reading through these chats make me think that that's not really a possibility anymore...

Thanks!

Becky Krystal: Hm, that's still pretty far-reaching. Why don't you try browsing VRBO to see what's out there?

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re: Bad Hotel Stay: Wow, if the door to my hotel room wouldn't close I would have demanded a new room. Even for a short stay!

Zofia Smardz: Absolutely! How could you even get a good nights' sleep?

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July 4 on Vancouver Island?: You do realize that's in Canada? Presumably their not big on 4th of July celebrations, like concerts, fireworks, etc., considering that Canada was one of the places that Loyalists fled to during the Revolution.

Andrea Sachs: Of course, I do. I read the questions as looking for a place after the holiday. Perhaps I misread?

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Alternative to being grounded due to Icelandic ash: Are there still ships that cross the Atlantic -- not fancy leisurely recreational cruises, but ships that make the crossing as fast as possible?

Andrea Sachs: Short of a private vessel in a rush, no really. There are freighters, but they take long, looping routes.

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Re: Hotel "scolding": I recently stayed in a La Quinta Inn. Upon arrival in our room, I found a used makeup sponge on the window sill (yuck) and when we were getting ready to vacate the room, a pill under the bed dust ruffle. I have a 1 1/2 year old and he easily could have found the pill and swallowed it. I emailed the hotel management to let them know what happened and they sent me a coupon for a free stay at any La Quinta Inn. So you could probably expect something similar.

Zofia Smardz: Yuck is right.

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July 4 in Boston: For the poster thinking about spending July 4 in Boston...the Pops rehearse the night before on the Esplanade and you can go w/o having to spend the entire day there on the 4th saving yourself a seat. You don't get the fireworks, but it's still a great time.

Andrea Sachs: Agree. Thanks!

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San Francisco Weather (continued): Another thing to keep in mind about San Francisco and Northern California is that you can easily experience a 20-30 degree change in temparature between the coast and just 10 or more miles inland.

Andrea Sachs: So true.

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Oakland, CA: hi, Crew,

I have a Maui question. We'll be there for a week at the end of Aug with our kids (9 & 12). It'll be our 1st time in Maui but we've been to the Big Island before. As we don't want to spend time driving around too much, we are trying to decide on the Road to Hana or a trip to Haleakala. Do you have any preference if you must choose between the two destinations?

Andrea Sachs: Hana Road, definitely.

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Andrea Sachs: That's all folks, as Bugs Bunny would say. Thanks for joining us; come back next Monday, so we can see how far the ash has blown, the spill has spread and -- maybe, how low airfares have gone. We can dream, can't we?

As for today's winner, the person who suggested that we key to lists on the Way to Go issue, please send me your home address at sachsa@washpost.com. See you next Monday!

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