Talk about travel: You security line stories, London day trips, Michigan's upper peninsula, tipping at B&Bs, more

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Flight Crew
Monday, June 28, 2010; 2:00 PM

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Andrea Sachs: Hi Travelers. Thanks for joining us on the week before the the release of fireworks and songs of freedom. As usual, send us your travel-y questions and comments, and for our topic du jour:A new documentary called "Please Remove Your Shoes" is being released. The film focuses on TSA, airport security and all those other joyless topics. So, our shout-out today: Tell us about your experiences at airport security. Positive, negative, good times, bad? Best anecdote wins a prize!

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travel to Panama: How to find a good B&B in Playa Blanca, Panama?

Christopher Elliott: BnBFinder has always had a pretty good selection of inns. Here are their listings in Panama City. I don't see any in Playa Blanca, however.

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Baltimore cruising: Hi Flight Crew- My boyfriend and I are planning a cruise to the Bahamas from Baltimore in Sept. We picked Baltimore because we can save airfare, which is a huge help to our budget. I saw that there is a parking lot at the cruise terminal for $15 a day, which adds up when you are leaving the car for a week. We also looked into Amtrak and a taxi which is actually going to be about $30 cheaper than parking the car. We want to drive for convenience sake but we can think of better ways to spend that $30 on board the ship! Do know of any other cruise terminal parking options?

Becky Krystal: None that I can find off-hand. I guess $15 a day isn't too bad, although it's more than you'd pay for the garages at, say, BWI. There are a few Baltimore city garages that look like they charge a max of $10 a day, but they're not adjacent to the terminal or anything. (Check out the map here.) That may be the lowest you can get, unless someone else knows of a real steal.

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Thanks for terrific airfare advice!: I've been reading your columns and discussions for a long time (they are great!). You always stress to readers to track airfare and snatch up a low price immediately, since it won't last. I've been tracking flights this fall to Amsterdam or Paris. It's been pretty high, hovering near $1,000. I keep tracking days it seems to go up or down. I checked randomly Monday afternoon, and it had dropped to $750! I got my tickets immediately, and sure enough - that price didn't last much longer that day and haven't seen it again. THANK YOU!

Becky Krystal: You're welcome. Enjoy your trip!

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The big trip....: My parents want to take the family away for a week to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary next July. There will be 7 of us between 72 and 2. Their first idea was a kid friendly cruise to Bermuda, but I'm not sure that is going to work out. Here are the constraints: my mother absolutely cannot deal with heat and she has diabetes. The kids will be 2 and 4 and they need appropriate activities and available babysitters would be nice sometimes. We obviously want to spend a lot of time together, but it would be nice to be able to separate for different activities as well. A cruise or a resort would make separating for activities easier, but I'm not sure how to go about finding one that wouldn't be too hot in July. As a group, we are more cultural travelers than than just relax somewhere travelers, but any suggestions are welcome - no one expects this to be their own personal ideal vacation. I think my parents would like to keep this in the $10,000 if possible. We are starting from Massachusetts, New York and Maryland. Thanks so much for any ideas.

Carol Sottili: How about a cruise to New England and Canada? Holland America's Maasdam will run a seven-day cruise between Montreal and Boston in July 2011. It may be a bit more expensive than you'd like, but it will almost definitely be cooler than the Caribbean or Bermuda.

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Michigan's Upper Penninsula: I wanted to follow up from last week's discussion re: the person thinking about going to Mackinac Island. I've gone to the eastern UP my entire life and it has a lot to offer for a beautiful, out-of-the-way vacation - Mackinac Island is only one part of the draw. Sault Ste Marie is one of the best places to see the storied Great Lakes Freighters up close, Tahquamenon Falls is a true natural beauty, and yes, it is worth spending a day or two on Mackinac Island (thought I can't vouch for whether the Grand Hotel is worth the big bucks). If gambling is your thing there are a number of casinos, and there are some very nice golf courses as well. It is a whole different world up there, but perfect for someone looking to get away from it all. On a related note, I really enjoyed yesterday's article on Marquette.

Nancy Trejos: yesterday, I really did love the U.P. What a beautiful part of the state. Thanks for writing in!

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China: Am planning a trip to China and would like opinions on Tunxi/Mt. Huangshan (Yellow Mountain) -- worth extra time/expense? Thanks.

Andrea Sachs: I have only been to Shanghai and surrounding areas. Can anyone help out our Yellow Mountaineer?

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best day trips from london?: I'm headed to London next month with my mom. We'll be in London for over a week, so for a couple of those days, I'd like us to do day trips outside of London. What are your suggestions for the best places to see that are do-able as day trips from the city? Thanks for your help!

Carol Sottili: One of my favorites was Oxford. Windsor, Hampton Court, Richmond and Kew Gardens are outside the city, and all are quite lovely. Visit London offers a good selection of day tours.

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Customs procedures when flying to Canada.: I am a Californian and a Post addict. On Saturday I will be flying from Reno to Edmonton, Alberta via Denver. How are customs handled under these circumstances? I will be carrying only personal stuff in a small carry-on roller bag. And on the return from Edmonton to Reno? Thanks. United is totally worthless in answering this question.

Andrea Sachs: Customs will be the same as if you were flying to China or Australia or Europe. You will scan your passport at Reno, then fly as usual till you arrive in Canada, when you will go through Customs and Immigration. They will check only your carry-on, if that is your sole baggage. Ditto on the return.

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Montana-bound : Hi, I'm supposed to fly to Montana this Thursday from NY via the Twin Cities on Delta. I double-checked my flight yesterday and saw that Delta had moved the second flight, giving me only half an hour to switch flights. When I called Delta (and finally got to a live person) she switched me to a flight from NY via Salt Lake City, which will take more time and obviously makes less geographic sense. Do I have a claim for an upgrade or for any other bonus in return for the inconvenience? When I asked the agent, she (obviously) said no.Thanks!Looking forward to Montana Fireworks

Carol Sottili: I think the agent is right. As I told a previous chatter, there are no laws or rules about this. Go to Delta's contract of carriage for details of what it agrees to provide.

Christopher Elliott: You don't have a claim, unfortunately. Delta's responsibility is to get you to your final destination, regardless of routing, and if you accept the carriage on its terms, you don't have much of a case for asking for additional consideration. But that shouldn't stop you from trying. A brief, polite email to Delta -- and failing that, to one of its customer service executives -- might do the trick.

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Tipping help: I usually leave a few dollars for the maids in hotels. What do I do for a bed and breakfast?

Christopher Elliott: Good question. Some say you shouldn't tip at all. Others argue that you should tip just like at at a hotel. I recommend asking. Most B&Bs are operated by the owner, and some have strict no-tipping policies. It's best to inquire. Tipping amounts are all over the map, too -- anywhere from a few dollars a day to between 10 and 20 percent of the room rate. I would only tip that much if you really experienced truly excellent service.

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Flight cancellations: My flight was cancelled on Sunday. The first flight the airline was able to accomodate me on was more than 6 hours later (and then was delayed more than an hour more). I know that in a way I was lucky to get home on the same day, but this obviously ruined all of my plans for the day. Do the airlines have rules for compensation beyond just rebooking your flight based on how long you had to wait to make it to your destination? The flight was cancelled due to maintenance issues and the gate agent told me it was the airline's fault.

Carol Sottili:

Christopher Elliott: Not in this country. If this had happened on a flight to Europe by a European carrier, then EU 261 would apply. Any compensation would be spelled out in the contract of carriage, the legal agreement between you and your airline. You can find it on your carrier's site. Generally, once your flight is over, there's no meaningful compensation for passengers.

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Half the Package: Can you book a package and not use the hotel? Sorry for the silly question but purchasing airfare is the same price as booking a package sometimes, might use the hotel one night, but who knows.

Andrea Sachs: I understand, though, your desire to grab the cheap air and run.

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Girl's trip in Jan 2011: Hi Flight Crew! My friends and I have been trying to plan a trip somewhere to no avail. We are now looking at sometime in Jan 2011 - the problem is we are all spread out and would like a destination that would be relatively convenient and reasonable to get to for all of us. I'll be coming from DC, one friend frm Atlanta and the other from Vegas. We're pretty open on location and activity - would prefer warm (or at least not freezing) weather and we love to eat. I was thinking New Orleans perhaps. Any ideas? Thanks!

Joe Yonan: Well, of course you should go to New Orleans! That's a great idea. Average high there in January is in the mid 40s, high in low 60s. Sounds nice, doesn't it? And you can't go wrong when it comes to eating (and drinking). Besides the places I mentioned in this piece on cocktails and hangover breakfasts, including Stanley, where you can eat this:You should try to get to a traditional restaurant or two (Cochon, Galatoire's, Upperline, Dooky Chase), something modern (Stella, Commander's Palace, Emeril's), maybe a neighborhood place (Patois, which was the model for the restaurant in "Treme"). And of course you should get fried chicken at Willie Mae's Scotch House, po boys at Parkway, muffullettas at Central Grocer, etc etc. Oh, man, there's so much to eat there!If you watch "Treme," or read our recent piece about it, you know it's the birthplace of jazz, so you've got to check out some of that scene:

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TSA: I once had a TSA agent question whether he should let me keep a small eyeliner pencil-sharpener. Yes, it has a tiny metal blade, but trying to use it as a weapon would be more comical than threatening. Ultimately, he let it go, but acted like he was cutting me a huge break. (It was late in the evening at a small-ish midwestern airport, and there was no one else in the security line, so it's possible he was just entertaining himself.)

Andrea Sachs: Maybe he just wanted some makeup tips!

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Bereavement fare at airlines: My brother, who lived in Europe, just died unexpectedly.Can you still get bereavement fares from airlines ? Especially Delta, the only airline that has non-stops to where I will be going for the funeral.What is required to obtain such a fare?How long can on stay? I would like to arrive a couple of days before the funeral to recover from jet lag and attend the family event a couple of days or so after it.

Becky Krystal: apparently have a week after the death to purchase your ticket and begin your travel.

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Washington DC: Just a word of warning to anyone thinking of traveling to Israel: I wouldn't, it's not the two hours of interrogation or the lines at the airport that go on for days, it's after all that, there's nothing to celebrate except the chance to go through all that again on the return, there's no "glad you came" or "come back" or "shalom." Bye.

Nancy Trejos: I have to say, I think Israel has a lot to offer: the culture, the history, the food, and more. It's such a fascinating place. And I say this even after going through my own two-hour interrogation on the way in. Yes, that was annoying but I thought Tel Aviv and Jerusalem were worth seeing, and there are many other places I would have wanted to tour that I didn't get a chance to.

Joe Yonan: Bonnie Benwick sure found the trip worth it, too.

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Side Trip from Turkey: Hello,Just a random question, if you feel like helping me plan my trip...I'm going to Turkey this summer (went last year and never made it inside the Blue Mosque, so I HAVE to go back, right?). Because I've only been to few other major European cities, do you have any recommendations for a place to spend a few days after my trip? I'll want a big city preferably with nice hostels (I'm 21) and easy transportation! Basically, I think what I want, is a 2 day layover to sightsee during the day, eat some great food, and enjoy the nightlife. Oh, and as a poor college student I'm looking for a place with cheap flights from Washington and Istanbul. But of course, I would be willing to write something, if you guys want to pay :)Just kidding of course--Thanks a ton for any recommendations!

Nancy Trejos: But it's totally worth a return trip. The Blue Mosque is amazing. And if you're looking for good, cheap eats while you are there, check out Istanbuleats.com, run by an American who has lived in Istanbul for years.

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Customs procedures when flying to Canada: Coming to Edmonton, you clear Canadian Customs after landing in Edmonton -- the usual. However, going back, you clear US Customs in Edmonton. Landing back in the US is the same as if you had come from another US city. Hope you have a good time here!

Andrea Sachs: Thanks for that very concise answer. Much appreciated.

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TSA: Candles, Sausage, Babka, and serving platters: Whenever I visit my mom, I get sent home with tons of food and knick-knacks. On return last Easter, I didn't have a bag to check, so I had to stuff my mom's gifts into my carry-on rolling bag. Like a good Polish mother, she sent me home with traditional Easter foods, like kielbasa and babka, as many other things, including a huge candle, walnuts, and a huge serving platter! Well, I forgot candles always trigger a TSA search because they can't get a good x-ray read on it. The look on their faces as they kept unpacking the bag was hysterical! Then they asked, "Is there food where you are going?" When they were done, they tried to put it all back. I tried to stand back and not insult them, but finally jumped in and said I could do it. The both stood back and said, "Pack it here. We want to watch because we don't think you can do it." I did, and they just shook their heads. Then I sat waiting for my plane happily snacking on babka and walnuts!

Andrea Sachs: Hilarious. Your mom stumped TSA! (Over the holidays, I caused confusion with my mom's homemade hummous.)

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Pennsylvania in August: Let's say you find yourself with fewer vacation days than you thought you would have at this point in the year, such that anything more than a four or five hour drive is going to put too big a dent in your remaining number of days off to be practical, and for various reasons flying is out of the question. Let's also say you're looking for at least some respite from the worst of the east coast heat, so you're not interested in any beaches, and you want to head at least a little north and find a little shade - in Pennsylvania, most likely. Where would you park yourself for four or five days of mostly relaxing in the great outdoors? Bonus points will be awarded for a location where the great outdoors is conveniently near a town containing non-chain restaurants and various cultural attractions. (Yes, I read the article about Jim Thorpe, PA in the Post last week.) We're looking at things in the Pittsburgh vicinity, with a day in town and a day at Fallingwater, and the rest with a book on a shady porch or balcony somewhere. Any specifics you can recommend? Are there other areas we should consider? Anything from the Delaware Water Gap to Willkes Barre to Pittsburgh seems to be within our driving radius, so please suggest away, everyone. And thanks for your help.

Becky Krystal: OK, a few suggestions. If you're going to be in the Pittsburgh area, pop in to cute Carnegie, Pa. I had a nice time there over the winter for a story and also detoured there this weekend. Consider the Brandywine Valley as well. Bucks County is another option. There are lots of good options in Pennsylvania, as you no doubt know.Any other ideas, folks?

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How early to book airline tickets: Hi travel gurus! Love the chats. One of my friends and I just booked a Mediterranean cruise that leaves next May. Since it leaves from Venice and returns to Barcelona, we have to get there and back. Looking at the airfare now from Dulles to Venice and then Barcelona to Dulles is about $900 RT. Is this a good fare or should we wait since we have about 10 months until the trip? Also, some of these flights are on Iberia - having never flown them, any comments about them? Thanks for helping make vacations more fun!

Christopher Elliott: It's often a good idea to secure your airline tickets at the same time you buy your cruise, but that isn't always possible when you're booking far in advance. At this point, your best bet would be to track the fare using a service like Yapta, and to buy when the price is affordable. $900 sounds a little high, but I wouldn't be holding out for a $99 fare, either.

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Toronto-Montreal combo: Hi everyone:Could you please help me find some good resources for planning a short trip in Toronto and Montreal- looking to find local cheap eats, fun things to do other than the standard tourist list such as CN Tower, etc. Thanks!

Nancy Trejos:

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Route to Cape Hatteras: I'm planning a trip to Hatteras later in the summer, and thought I'd turn to my favorite travel experts for advice. Because of a number of factors, we can't leave before dawn to miss the traffic on I-95, which I understand can be a bumper-to-bumper nightmare. I've been told that Rt. 301 through Maryland and Virginia is a much more pleasant alternative. Is it? How does the travel time compare? And, considering we're not going to Duck or Kitty Hawk or any of the other places in the northern Outer Banks, but to Hatteras Island, is it worth taking a route south across the Albermarle Sound to cross over to the islands via Manteo instead of taking the more standard Rt. 158 way? Ideally, we'd like to make a stop at Jamestown along the way (the NPS/APVA archaeological site, not the older historical theme park), pick up a friend in Norfolk, and get to our rental house in Avon by six p.m. at the latest.

Carol Sottili: I've not taken 301, but I know it's a popular alternative. Any chatter have thoughts on this? I think your agenda is very ambitious, depending on when you can leave. Last time I drove to Avon, leaving after dawn on a Saturday morning in summer, it took about eight hours.

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Mini-moon: My fiance and I are getting married in DC over Labor Day weekend and are planning a big honeymoon trip for a few months later. However, we would still like to relax somewhere nearby for a few days right after the wedding. What would you recommend within driving distance of the city for two newlywed foodies who love wine, beer, hiking, cycling, scenic views and photography? We don't golf and my fiance doesn't care much for the beach. Thanks!

Becky Krystal: I think your best bet is to head west into Virginia. In Rappahannock County, you can hike and photograph the rural scenery and dine at the Inn at Little Washington. There are plenty of wineries out that way too, especially if you venture even further into the Shenandoah Valley. Front Royal is a neat town I used to enjoy going to when I lived up that way, and it has plenty of food options as well. Have fun, and congrats!

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Secondary driver on rental cars: My son will be 21 next road trip. If I'm the primary driver on a rental car, will he be able to be a secondary driver? I expect extra cost, but it is a bearable amount?

Andrea Sachs: You need to check the minimum age limit, because depending on the state and company, your son might be under the age requirement. Or else, you might have to pay a surchage because of his age. Additionally, adding another driver varies per rental company and state. It could be free, or $10 a day.

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cruising out of Baltimore: The cruise terminal isn't really close to downtown Baltimore at all-- there isn't much parking available in the area, and the area is very not-walkable even if you did find parking somewhere (very industrial, no sidewalks, pretty confusing). The best way to save that cash to have somoene drop you off and pick you up-- convenience isn't free!

Becky Krystal: Yeah, I kind of figured as much. Thanks for the advice.

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no cruise for toddlers: I respectfully disagree with the whole idea of a cruise for an extended family that includes two toddlers. Unless there is a two-room suite in the plans, the parents will have trouble getting rest, and keeping kids asleep, when all are in one room. A friend did this, thinking her heavy sleeping tots would adjust.She was bonkers at the end of the cruise, with fatigue and cooped-up kids punch-drunk with no naps, little sleep.Think long and hard about this...

Carol Sottili: Probably depends on the kids. I went with my two when they were small and we had no trouble. We weren't in the smallest inside cabin, but we all slept in one room.

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Overnight stay recommendation btw Hilton Head & DC: In August after a week at the beach, our family is driving back from Hilton Head Island to DC. Because a 10+ hour drive with a 3 year old is challenging, we'd like to stop overnight at a half-way point. Could you recommend some place of interest, preferably not another beach? Thank you.

Joe Yonan: The most obvious possibility, since it's pretty much right halfway, is the Triangle (Durham, Raleigh, Chapel Hill), and in summer when school's out, its grown-up charms come to the fore. If you don't mind adding a little bit of time (an hour or so, looks like), you might try something even less beachy, such as the Yadkin Valley Wine Country.

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Visiting Barrow while in Alaska: Saw this question after last week's chat ended and, if the person asking hasn't already booked reservations, I'd highly recommend it under certain circumstances. It's a far more unique Alaska experience than a cruise or bus tour of Denali, nice as those are, especially for those interested in doing more than taking the same-day round-trip flight just to get a certificate for crossing the Arctic Circle (the novelty of 24-hour daylight doesn't mean much if you're just there for a couple of hours). There's special cultural events such Eskimo games on the Fourth of July and whale hunts in October, and interesting if barren terrain to explore. But one of my favorite things was simply participating in the routines of everyday life: Going to a weekend rummage sale at the school (where they also had pickup basketball and a rock climbing wall in an amazingly nice gym), taking the bus around town and checking out stores with $6 bread, and listening to debates about issues you won't find elsewhere at public meetings. We also spent some time talking to Arctic researchers, since the Far North is experiencing climate change more rapidly than anywhere else. Plus, on the final day there we were invited by strangers passing on the street to a church potluck, where dishes included caribou stew, blubber and the like. It's expensive and not to everyone's tastes, but it was among my favorite trips in the 10 years I lived in the state.

Nancy Trejos: Wow. That sounds incredible. Thanks for sharing!

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Asheville: Hi there - We're planning a trip with our school aged kids there next week and I've seen your article from last year on the subject (Thanks, helpful info!) I'm wondering if you or the chatters have advice about seeing the Biltmore - so many options for tours and things we're not sure where to focus our time. Also options for discounted tickets? We've rented a house so we're not able to get them through the hotels. Thanks!!

Joe Yonan: I'll let chatters who are more familiar with the Biltmore weigh in here, but writer Christina Talcott seemed to enjoy her simple audio tour. As for discount tickets, I see on their website that you get $5 off for each ticket you buy online, and that children under 16 get in free with a paying adult.

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DC to Montreal: I am thinking of making a road trip to Montreal this summer. I will want a place to stay on the way up and on the way back, where would you suggest? I like architecture and outdoor activiies. I will probably be traveling with my dog too.Thanks!

Joe Yonan: I want to suggest Saratoga Springs, but only if you get there before July 23, when the Saratoga Race Course sked begins and things get REALLY crowded. Another option would add a little time to your trip, but is worth considering: You could detour into North Adams, Mass., to see the amazing Mass. MOCA museum and stay at the fabulous Porches, which allows pets (OK, for another $40 a night, which I hate) and is in and of itself an architectural wonder, really. There's another caveat: You have to stay two nights. OR, you could go to Northampton or even Brattleboro, both very cool towns with lots of outdoorsy stuff to do, and very dog-friendly.

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For the London day-tripper, and Delta schedule change writers:: One of the most memorable day-trips from London I've taken was to Bath. There is a museum with lots of ancient Roman artifacts, a wonderful self-guided walking tour of the town you can find on-line, and if you want to splurge - the spas are now open. For the Delta passenger - the airlines used to change their schedules twice a year, now it must be twice a day. When I was recently rescheduled onto an all-day tour of east-coast airports on my way to Mexico since they redid their schedule, I demanded and got 7500 miles refunded to my account since it was a mileage award ticket. The kicker was, they later went through yet another schedule change, and put me on AeroMexico since they cancelled all service to Acapulco.

Carol Sottili: Thanks for your thoughts.

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No Fly List: A couple of years ago I was flying back to DC with some friends who are Iraqi citizens. No problems on the way out, but on the way back, at the airport in Orange Co, CA, my friends' name triggered some kind of alert. Fine, it probably happens all the time, but what appalled me was the reaction of the guy behind the desk. He stared at his screen and sort of stammered, "Um, um, gosh, I've never seen one of these before, OK hang on..." and then he brought a colleague over who seemed equally flustered and flummoxed. Don't these people get training, and if not what are we spending our money on? Fortunately we all made it through security with seconds to spare.

Andrea Sachs: That's our first-rate security? Yikes!

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No soup for me, either: A couple of weeks ago, I won one of your prizes. I never wrote to claim it because I had won before, and I don't want to hog the prizes. So, if you wish to offer an unclaimed prize to someone else, please do so. I write to share experiences, and I am glad when I post something useful. I don't need a prize, but I do appreciate your offering them.

Joe Yonan: You're nice to not be a prize hog! Only question: If you remember, can you tell us what is it that you won and are throwing back into the mix for us to re-gift?

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Who has paid the most for coach airfare this summer?: I'll enter the contest early:Leaving Friday (Italy). My coach tickets were 1900 bucks. Each of my parents coach tickets were 1700 bucks. My dime. Ouch.

Joe Yonan: Ouch indeed!

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TSA Saved the Day!: Arrived in Miami running late for a connection after my international arrival was delayed and Immigration was totally overwhelmed. I only had carry on luggage, so was literally making a run for it. When I got to security for my gates, the line was humongous. No way I would make it. The TSA lady who did the first check of my ID and boarding pass saw how late it was and told me to get out of that line and to keep going around the terminal until I found a concourse with a shorter line. Unbeknownst to me, there is a walkway that connects ALL the concourses after security, so you can go through security at any point and then get to your correct gate. I took off running and sure enough a couple of concourses farther down, there was no line - I breezed through and made my connecting flight home!!

Andrea Sachs: Three cheers for TSA!

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LA followup: I queried a few weeks ago on what not to miss my second-time out in LA. I went to the Griffith Observatory and the views were spectacular! And there was a lot to see indoors as well. Thanks for the suggestion! Didn't think much of Malibu though, but the weather was too chilly for the beach. Maybe next time!I have a good security story. I was returning from Boston a couple of years after 9/11 and my keychain drew the attention of the security agent. It was a mini flip cell phone that opens to reveal a clock. The security agent took it out of my purse and asked what it was. I innocently reached over to show her it was a clock and she jumped back (rightly so) and yelled at me to stay behind the table and keep my hands to myself. That was a lesson learned!

Andrea Sachs: So glad you had a great trip to L.A., again. And a good lesson: Stick to rabbit's foot key chains.

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Traveling in Turkey: I'm trying to plan a trip for November (when I can get away) and want to visit Turkey. I've been looking for organized tours of 7-10 days, and can find almost none in November. I'm wondering why...is there a religious holiday or some other reason travel is limited then? Advice appreciated. And if anyone can suggest tour groups for that month, I'd appreciate it.Thank you.

Nancy Trejos: Kurban Bayrami, the Feast of Sacrifice, a big religious holiday, starts on November 16 this year and goes on for at least four days. It shuts down a lot of businesses. I imagine that's why you're having a hard time finding a tour. Have you looked into traveling the first week or two of the month, before the holiday starts? As for tour groups, I've always traveled Turkey with friends who lived there, so I've never looked into tours. But I've mentioned the Istanbuleats.com site before. Although the focus is on food, it's run by an American named Ansel Mullins who knows everything about traveling around the country. I would email istanbuleats@gmail.com to get suggestions.

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I love LA!: Hi guys,I'm a thirty-something woman making her first trip to Los Angeles (sad, I know) for a conference next month. I'm arriving a couple of days early to enjoy the city. What are the things I must do as a first time visitor? Also, do I need to rent a car to get around or depend on their Metro?

Nancy Trejos: I would rent a car if I were you. That really is the best way to get around L.A. Everything is so spread out, so you'd have a hard time getting around on the Metro, I think. If you've never been to L.A. I would hit the Hollywood Walk of Fame and Grauman's Chinese Theater. I know, kind of cheesy and very touristy, but I think it's worth seeing. I would take a walk down the Sunset Strip. Grab lunch, dinner or a drink there (It's fun at night). Then you must hit the beaches. Drive up the Pacific Coast Highway and go to Santa Monica (the pier is fun), Venice Beach (you'll find all sorts of fun characters and places strolling around there) and Malibu. And if you have time, go to the Getty Center. Not only is it a great museum, but it's got an amazing view.

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Driving to the Jersey Shore: Hi Travel Crew,My boyfriend and I are heading to the northern New Jersey shore for a wedding Friday. Neither of us has made this drive before and I've heard nothing but horror stories about the trip, especially on a holiday weekend. If we leave DC after work on Thursday how long should we expect it to take? Google Maps estimates four hours, but I don't know if that's a realistic expectation with holiday traffic, even on Thursday night.Thanks!

Carol Sottili: As long as you leave considerably past rush hour Thursday, you should be fine. You could also look into taking the ferry from Lewes to Cape May, but make sure you have reservations.

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TSA Adventures: About a year ago (read: well after the liquids restrictions went into effect), I was traveling from Boston back to D.C. and was in a painfully slow-moving line at Logan security. I was finally in sight of the conveyer with just four people in front of me when the couple in front me started having a puzzling conversation with the TSA agent.Apparently, the wife was trying to carry two 32 oz. bottles of ranch dressing onto the plane. The TSA agent calmly told her that liquids were restricted and she could not take the bottles aboard. He gave her the options to toss them or to go check the bag they were in. She proceeded to argue with him saying that the dressing was thicker than water and, as a result, not a liquid. (Obviously she fell asleep in basic chemistry in school). When this line of protest went nowhere, she began saying how she didn't want to waste it and tried to give him the bottles to keep. He just kept saying, "M'am, you have to throw them out or check them. I am not taking the bottles."It was frustrating but also comical--I could understand if she was trying to bring something home that is only found in New England (like Aristocrat coffee syrup or something) but, ranch dressing, really?Then there was the time the woman didn't want to take her shoes off because she didn't have a pedicure...

Joe Yonan: I like Hidden Valley as much as the next guy, but seriously! People are really strange.

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Solo Traveler: I'm in my early 30s and I would like to travel to Europe by myself. Do you have any recommendations for travel agencies/group that arrange trips for my age group? I feel like I am too old for Contiki type trips, but too young for other ones.

Joe Yonan: Are you sure you need an agency? Where do you want to go?

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Security story: Extended family went to the Grand Canyon several years ago. On the trip back I told my kids, no toys, trinkets & no metal whatsoever. I thought everyone listened but apparently my oldest wore his leather & metal Indian belt under his clothing. Everyone passed through but him and they couldn't figure out why he made the detector go off. They wanded him and finally patted him down and found the belt. He was crying the whole time and I stood on the other side helpless. Now (if & when I fly!) a parent goes last!

Becky Krystal: That and maybe conduct a parent patdown first too. :)

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Airport Security: About 9 years ago, some friends and I were going to a girls' weekend in Las Vegas. We were all super-excited. But when we got to the airport, I realized I didn't have my driver's license! We were checking in at the counter (those long-ago days) and I was almost in tears -- No flight, and definitely no gambling if I got there! I tried to talk my way into getting my ticket at least, offering my college student ID... it worked! Or the agent just felt sorry for me. Ahh, the days before 9/11!Turns out, after a car accident that morning, I'd left my ID on my kitchen table. So, I called my sister, asked her to pick it up for me and speed it down to the airport. My friends and I went to have a beer, then stood out front of the airport when my sister drove up with my ID and passed it to my outstretched hand. We then ran through security and got on the plane.

Andrea Sachs: A Hollywood ending-- nice!

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London Accomodations: Hi, we are planning a trip to England this August and are looking to be in London from about 8/23 thru 8/28. Exploring accomodations for 4 of us (2 adults and 2 kids, 17 and 13). Are there any good options for a quad/family room in the city center or close by? What about apartments? If we have another 5 days or so, how would you consider spending them seeing other parts of UK?

Carol Sottili: Other parks of England that I've enjoyed include York and the Lake District.

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Fall break: Hi all,Summer is our craziest season, so no vacation until September :(. Could you help me pick a fall break in early fall ( four days, Saturday-Tuesday or Thursday-Sunday)? Somewhere to relax and recharge without having to do too much. Swimming would be nice - I'm thinking a spa or maybe a resort? Flying or train is not a problem, but no driving.Thank you!

Christopher Elliott: Fall is a great time to come down to Florida. September is really quiet in Orlando (full disclosure: I live in Orlando) and you can take advantage of Magical Dining Month, which offers deep discounts on first-rate dining. I'm also partial to the Florida Keys, where I lived before moving up to Orlando. September and October are affordable and less expensive than during high season.

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Ideas for family vacation to Niagara Falls: My husband and I along with my sister in law and her husband (all in our 30s) and my in-laws are making a trip to Niagara Falls in Oct. We are looking into the Candian side options as well as Niagara on The Lake for wineries and some low key shopping. We all live in different states so the idea is for us to get together for quality time not revolving around a holiday (a sweet deal on SWA to Buffalo didn't hurt either). looking for advice on where to stay and logistics of getting around the area. we are thinking of just renting one van to haul all six adults around but not sure if it would be better to rent two cars instead. we aim to see the falls, do a boat ride and relax....any recommendations would be appreciated.

Joe Yonan: I'm going to punt and refer you to a piece that Peter Mandel wrote asking which side is better, NY or Canada, at the Falls; a few weeks later readers weighed in with a lot more suggestions and thoughts. You should get tons of ideas from those. As for the van-vs-car thing, I'd be inclined to do the latter, because then you could potentially split up here or there if that becomes convenient. You know, a few people want to go see something for an hour or two that the others don't, and you won't have to travel in lockstep or leave people stranded.

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Harry Potter!: I'm planning a trip to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter this fall. Are there any Orlando wide passes (we're planning on going to Disney World as well) or do I need to research both Disney and Universal park passes? Is there any word on the travel beat re: how to avoid 6 hour lines at WWHP? And while I have you, any hotel recommendations that have good pools and are convenient to the parks would be most appreciated. Thank you guys - I love the chats!

Andrea Caumont: Hogwarts Heaven

Becky Krystal: I don't see any official combined tickets for the two parks (although that's an option for the California outposts). I suppose there might be third-party ways to get discounts on both. Has anyone done that?As far as beating the crowds, hope that it rains! Seriously, it'll probably be a while until the hoopla dies down, and if you read Monica Hesse's story from this weekend, you'll see that a downpour helped clear things out for her.

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Security post 9-11: We flew from Brussels to London in October, 2001. On the return to Brussels, the security guy took a look at my key chain with our house keys on it and nearly confiscated it--because our house key was a spiral cut super high security pointed steel spike about 4" long. He'd just relieved a surgeon of his medical kit as well.

Andrea Sachs: That was close. You could have been locked out of your own home. Hardly worth coming home for.

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1-day New York City trip: My wife and I are planning a 12-hour train trip up to NYC on the 4th. Any advice on what is the best/easiest places to check out? We have both not been since middle school trips.

Andrea Sachs: With the subway, it's pretty easy to get around and see the highlights of New York. From Penn Station, you can easily poke around Mid-Town and Times Square. Or take the subway to SoHo or Central Park and the museums. However, you are visiting on a crazy-busy day, so prepare for insane crowds. Check NYC & Co. for events.

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Airport Security: Coming back from Disney World in Orlando, my then 4 year old daughter is in the umbrella stroller as we wind our way through the security line. Quiet the whole time, she suddenly looks up at my husband and says "Daddy, what ride is this line for?" The people in front of us laughed along with us!

Becky Krystal: Ha!

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london day trips: Without knowing what the person is interested in it's a little tough to say. I took a bus trip to Leeds Castle in Kent which I really enjoyed.You can also take a train to Bath and spend a day there. That's a trip I want to do some day.Take a boat to Greenwich....but that is more of a half day trip I think.

Becky Krystal: Yeah, I would love to see Bath too.

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Cruisers - MARC: If the Baltimore cruisers are going on weekdays, the MARC is a great option for getting to Balto on the cheap. www.mtamaryland.com

Nancy Trejos: Good idea. Thank you!

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Day trips from London: I second Oxford, which is only about an hour by train, and would also suggest Bath, which is absolutely gorgeous, and very unique. Maybe two hours by train, but it's a beautiful ride, and well worth it to visit the spa and stroll around.

Carol Sottili: Bath seems to be the top vote-getter for a nice day trip from London.

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mini-moon: We just did our mini-moon at Berkeley Springs and took advantage of the massages and mineral baths, local beer at some great restaurants, cycling on the Western MD Rail Trail in nearby Hancock... fantastic.

Nancy Trejos: I've heard great things about Berkeley Springs. I must go some time. Thanks for sharing!

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Distasteful Tourism Ads: I have seen ads for two different areas (SW Florida and Puerto Rico) showing models covered in tanning oil with the tag lines like, "This is the only oil you will find on our beaches." Just a tip to marketers: celebrating the misery of others is distasteful at best and shameful at worst. I can choose where to spend my travel dollar and neither of you will get it.

Andrea Sachs: I second that. Travel operators, be sensitive to the terrible plight of the Gulf!

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TSA, early days...: Shortly after TSA began airport security checks, I surely wasn't the only one who didn't fully understand the rules and regulations. On my first trip, I put all my liquids into a zip-lock bag, but it happened to be a gallon-sized bag! They told me I had to use a quart-size bag but, of course, they had none. They recommended I go to the airline counter and, after waiting in line, I discovered that they also had none. Frantically, as I was looking everywhere to purchase zip-lock bags, I went up to a kiosk that was selling salads and sandwiches. The woman there gave me 2 quart-sized bags (1 as a spare, should I need it) and refused to take any money (although she accepted the 2 movie passes I gave her). Then, when I went through Security again, the agent decided he needed to confiscate my nail clipper. I told him to take it because I really had no plans on entering the cockpit and threatening that, if they did not take the plane to Cuba, I would give everyone manicures. Although the woman behind me laughed hysterically, the TSA agent looked at me as if I was some sort of troublemaker. I quickly learned the rules and no longer try to joke with the agents.

Becky Krystal: I've seen security lines with quart-size bags for the taking at some airport I've been at recently. Reagan National or BWI maybe? I think that's a great idea.

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Chicago: Celebrity sighting (belated): Sorry I missed last weeks chat. I was in New York, for the first time in over 25 years; it was Easter weekend, and after a walk through the Frick Collection I went across the street to Central Park to see all the flowers and trees in bloom on a beautiful Spring day. I took 72nd street over to Lexington to get some lunch, and who do I encounter? Woody Allen and Soon-Yi. So New York.

Nancy Trejos: I saw him once at a movie theather here in D.C. But seeing him in New York would have been great. Good story!

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Tybee Island, GA: My family (parents, brother, sister with SO, myself and husband) are traveling to Tybee Island in mid-July. We have rented a beach house, but I'm rather at a loss at things to do in the area, as I'm currently 7 months pregnant. Usually, we'd do walking tours, swim, etc. but the heat is just killing me lately. Any ideas for things that will keep us cool?

Joe Yonan: Oh, my. I'm assuming that it's too late to go to, say, Block Island in RI instead? Aside from air conditioning and SPF and drinking lots of water and maybe even getting one of those things that you freeze to put around your neck, keeping cool on Tybee in July? I'm stumped.

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SkiAspen: Travelers - where would you look to find a deal on a room/air/liftticket package in Aspen this winter? Orbitz...the Aspen website...Whats the Deal?

Carol Sottili:

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Beirut, Lebanon: How do you guys feel about Beirut? There is a state department travel advisory against it, but several travel mags have called it the place to be this summer. How serious are the state department warnings? There hasn't been a major issue since the last war in 2006, so I'm thinking either it's safe, or its just about time for another war....

Nancy Trejos:

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Allegiant Airlines: Do you or the chatters have experience with Allegiant Airlines? Their prices are excellent but their schedule is quite limited.

Christopher Elliott: Mixed reviews. Yes, they have low fares, but they also have a lot of fees. And not just surcharges for reserving seats and using your credit card to pay, but also fees when you buy other items, like hotel rooms.Personally, I'd be wary of any business that isn't up front with its customers about the true cost of its product.

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Hotels in Orlando: For her birthday, my sister wants to do an in-town getaway (she lives in Orlando), and I've offered to pay for the hotel. Could you recommend a place that would be good for a girls' weekend? I'm on a budget, but willing to splurge a bit for the right place.

Carol Sottili: Look into the Marriott, Sheraton and Hilton timeshare hotels. You can rent nights without listening to the spiel. Price is usually very good, and they have nice amenities.

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Airport Security: As a security conscious person, I always try my best not to set off metal detectors (wearing cotton and shoes that come off easily, etc). In Munich last year (after getting through security in a DC airport), I was stopped by a metal detector and yelled at in harsh German (of which the only word I know is sauerkraut) and then felt up by a frightening German "woman"... Apparently the underwire in my bra had set the alarm off.... And taught me to wear cotton bras through airport security :)

Becky Krystal: We already have multiple bra stories!

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National Harbor: What's there to do with 2 kids, ages 4 and 1, at the National Harbor?

Becky Krystal: Hm, the kids might get a kick out of the Peeps store. Maybe they'd enjoy a cruise. And it could be fun to let them explore the famed "Awakening" sculpture. Check out the National Harbor site too.

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airport security : My husband and I flew out of Twin Falls several years ago (it could have been pre-9/11, actually) and we were amused to see a sign on the xray machine belt telling travelers not to put their pets through the scanner.

Nancy Trejos: I've seen that before! So funny.

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Airport Security: When our children were small, we spent a year in Germany due to hubbys' job. Going through security with 3 kids and all their paraphanalia was such a hassle and this was before 9-11. They would check cameras, lenses etc. Finally I wised up and pinched my 20 month old so she started to cry. Needless to say, the security personnel did not want to listen to that and they always let us go through!

Andrea Sachs: Funny. Will it work if I pinch myself and start to cry?

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Another incredible Alaska activity: We flew in a float-plane out of the Anchorage airport to Denali and back. It was INCREDIBLE with a very knowledgeable guide. You cannot imagine flying around those mountains if you've never done it. It literally took my breath away. We made a quick landing on a little lake up there just because we could. The Anchorage airport has a small lake that is used for the float-planes.

Becky Krystal: Very cool.

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RE: Cap Hatteras : Every time we drive down to the outer banks we take the following route:- 66 west to 234 bypass south- 28 south to 17 south- stay on 17 south until williamsberg- Rt 105 @ Ft Eustis to cut over to 64 East- 64 east to 168 south which then turns into 158Rt 17 basically avoids ALL of 95 south and most of 64 East. Its probably 45 min longer, but no traffic and much less stress drive. All you need is one accident on 95 or 64 to ruin your week.

Carol Sottili: Thanks for sharing.

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TSA: I fly every week for work, so I have my routine down to a science. Yet recently, when flying out of DCA, the TSA agent at the x-ray machine confiscated my contact solution. The bottle was small enough, but they claimed that the brand (Clear Care) wasn't allowed because it contains peroxide. I argued a bit, but relented after four different TSA folks said I couldn't have it. I've never had this happen before, I haven't had it happen since, and I couldn't find anything online saying Clear Care is banned. Given how expensive the travel bottles are, I was quite disappointed.

Becky Krystal: Oh, interesting. I hadn't heard of that either.

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For chatter going to London: If you have time, go up to York. It's like England in minature, lots of Viking remains and you can walk most of the walls that used to enclose the city. It's my favorite city in England.

Carol Sottili: I also enjoyed it. Even the Viking Disney ride is cool.

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Rental cars: Most rental companies won't let you rent or drive a car if you're under 25. Enterprise, however, is an exception to this rule. They got us as lifelong customers when my husband and I had to rent a car when we were 22 or so.

Nancy Trejos: Good to know. Thanks for writing in!

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Mini-honeymoon: My husband and I went to the Inn at Perry Cabin for a mini-honeymoon and we loved it. (So much so that we returned for our 1st anniversary.)

Becky Krystal: For the pending mini-mooners.

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TSA Wanted My Chocolate: Traveling back to the US from Europe last summer I had to sacrifice a big bottle of cashmere wash at Heathrow because I forgot it was in my carryon. Then going through security at Toronto the screeners thought I still had something liquid in my bag. Turned out those fancy Belgium chocolates I brought back looked like liquid on their screens. There were some "jokes" made about only being able to bring so many through the country. My chocolates and I made it back to the area without further incident. I'm still missing that cashmere wash though.

Becky Krystal: I would have been severly traumatized if I had to throw away chocolate.

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Girl's trip again: Thanks Joe! You've got me convinced, now to see what my friends have to say. Btw, I don't understand all the hate for the new chat format - I love it! Auto-refreshing and allows you guys to add pics more easily.

Joe Yonan: Good -- Let us know how it goes, natch. And glad you like the format. I'm kinda into the pic thing, as you can see. ;-)

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Fun with Customs Agents in Asia: I am a 5'9" blonde American who just happens to have been born in Thailand. On MORE THAN ONE OCCASION while traveling in SE Asia, I have had customs/security agents at the airport look at my passport and ask me excitedly "You were born in Thailand! One of your parents is Thai?"

Becky Krystal: Prying agents!

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PA suggestions: You could also consider Bedford Springs Resort if you're looking for a spa experience - the town of Bedford is nice too as is Shawnee State Park for fishing/swimming. There are also lots of nice places in and around Somerset which is in proximity to Fallingwater, or Ligonier. You could also stay at Deep Creek Lake in MD and get to Fallingwater pretty easily, or forget all that and head to the Canaan Valley area of West Virginia for some shady relief.

Becky Krystal: I like all these suggestions. Thanks!

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Europe for the 30 something: REI trips are great, if you like outdoors-type things.

Becky Krystal: Passing this on...

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expensive grief: I think bereavement fares are too costly - a small discount off last-min. full-fare is still a costly ticket. And you have to arrange faxes from hospice etc., a hassle.I used a major travel site and bought last-min. packages twice in the past 18 months, to make it to funerals. The hotel room ended up being a quiet refuge I needed, and I did not impose on family members. The package price for ticket and room was less than the bereavement fare by itself. FWIW, I did not do a 'blind' bidding site, just a well-known online travel site. Bidding sites take the departure timing out of your hands, a flaw with that system at a time like this.

Becky Krystal: Good suggestion. Last-minute fares can be a cheaper option.

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half the package: I do not see the ethical implications in not using all aspects of a travel package that you paid for. You're not asking for money back,so all parties have been paid in full. I do not understand why airlines and travel companies get away with this nonsense. If I buy a box of oreos and throw away half uneaten, the food police don't show up at my door (or invalidate my next purchase of cookies).

Andrea Sachs: Good point, but buying a package is like agreeing to contract. It's similar to flying only one way on a round trip. Next time I talk to a packager, I will ask about that.

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Lexington, KY: Hello, Travel staff! I'm heading to Lexington, KY for the weekend to visit friends. What are some things that I MUST do while down there? Places to eat? Visit? Thanks!

Nancy Trejos: And tour a bourbon distillery.

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TSA experience: We were flying with our 18 month old son a few months post-9/11. Because he was a baby, we had all the accroutrements (diaper bag, car seat, etc.) loaded onto the stroller. We were boarding the flight, when the gate agent called his name, expectantly looking at my husband. We pointed out that she called our son's name, who was looking up at her with a very calm expression. She then said our son had to be searched for security reasons. So she let us take all the bags from the stroller(!), and my husband stayed with our son while he was searched! They were quickly cleared, and they met me on the plane shortly afterward. It was the most inane experience with TSA.

Andrea Sachs: So unfortunate, especially for the next generation of travelers!

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Heading to Hatteras: Yes, 301 is a good option to escape DC and skip 95. Take 301 over the Potomac then take Route 17 south all the way to Norfolk. You can then continue on 17 through the Dismal Swamp (pretty cool!), NC state routes 37 to 32 over the sound, then 64 will take you right to the Outer Banks with NO traffic. You may end up driving a few extra miles but missing out on all of the trafiic is well worth it.

Andrea Sachs: Thanks!

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Andrea Sachs: Thanks all for spending the hour with us. Hope we were able to send you on your merry, travel way. For today's winner, we chose the adorable comment from the Little Princess in Orlando. Please message me your address at sachsa@washpost.com.Have a great, stress-free July Fourth, everyone. See you the following Monday.


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