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Monday, October 4, 2010; 12:00 PM

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Becky Krystal: Happy gloomy Monday, all. We hope you've made it to your cozy desks relatively dry. If the weather's got you down, maybe daydream along with this weekend's stories on some wonderful outdoor pursuits: climbing in China and exploring the glories of Colorado in the fall. In keeping with the latter, tell us about your best shoulder or off-season find. Best answers gets the prize. Let's start!

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Trip to Europe in November: Hi - My husband and I are heading to Amsterdam, Berlin, Munich, Bruges, and London in November. Is there anything specific we should be worried about; or should we just exercise caution as we would when traveling in any big city? Are there specific places we should avoid? Thanks for your help in putting my mind at ease!

Zofia Smardz: The Post quotes a State Dept. official today as saying "We're not saying don't visit major tourist attractions or historic sites or monuments." They *are* saying exercise caution and common sense. Register with the U.S. embassies in the cities you're visiting and don't discuss your travel plans with strangers. There's no word on any specific sites or cities to avoid. It's a travel alert, not a travel warning. Just be careful and aware of your surroundings, but don't spoil your vacation by worrying excessively.

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Airline meals: On a recent trip to Japan, I had two legs of my flight, a domestic portion (a stopover in the Bay area) and then a direct flight from San Fran to Kobe. Now I haven't flown in a while, but it surprised me that on the domestic leg of my flight there was no meal service, instead there was this pay for your meal, but on the international portion there of course was a meal service. My question is what is the distance that you have to travel before the airlines offer meal service. This wasn't a problem on the way to Japan, because I had more than enough time to get breakfast before the flight, but on the way back (due to an error on my part) I barely made my connecting flight due to having to go through customs and recheck my bags and RUN like a mad man to make my flight.

Carol Sottili: I always carry a couple of breakfast bars just in case, and I typically look at the airline's Web page before I travel to get the details on what is/is not offered.

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New Mexico: Headed to Santa Fe and Taos this week - any one got favorite sites, restaurants or hiking trails to check out?

Becky Krystal: Tom Sietsema has you covered on restaurants. As far as sites, maybe you'll have some interest in sampling the area's hot springs. A couple of other Santa Fe stories are lurking on our New Mexico page.

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cross country roadtrip: From last week someone asked about planning a cross country road trip.It depends on when you are planning on traveling. If you start getting into November you run the risk of mountain snow storms that can ruin your plans. On the Northern route I would lkook to go through South Dakoda (Badlands, Mt Rushmore) and through Wyoming (Yellowstone) For the return...depends on when you are traveling back...If it is later you should look to go the Southern route along I-40 if the time is getting late in November because the Colorado snow can be in the feet and close the highways. On the return from Washington state I would suggest if the weather is good to travel back along I-84 down to salt lake city and then take US 6 from Provo to I-70 then take a side trip to Moab (Canyonlands and Arches) then take I-70 to Denver.If winter is coming in November then use I-40 and stop by the grand canyon, and Santa Fe. Also I am not sure if you destination in Washington is Spokane or Seattle...If you go to Seattle..the I-90 pass start to get snow in mid October then chains are required on the highway. A safer option where Chains arent needed is to use I-84 to Portland and then go north.

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Delta Skymiles: Following up on the ongoing discussion of mileage programs... I flew to China on Delta at the end of August. I purchased my ticket through an outside consolidator, but had confirmation through a Delta confirmation number and Delta itinerary. While I tried to link it to my Skymiles account before traveling, I wasn't able to do it online. After I got back, I emailed Delta with my itinerary, confirmation number and Skymiles account number and was informed that I needed to submit my boarding passes in order to get credit. Now in the course of 3 weeks of travel and 9 different flights I don't have my canceled boarding passes (and nowhere did it say to hold onto them). Do I have any recourse? 1 leg of my flight was a Delta flight operated by Alaskan Air, but all the others were standard Delta flights. I hate to lose thousands of miles from this trip! Thanks for any advice.

Christopher Elliott: This is a common problem, unfortunately. Sometimes, your airline can track down your record through your confirmation number or with the help of your consolidator. If that doesn't work, I might try sending a brief, polite email to one of the following contacts at Delta, asking for help.

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Bus service between DC and New York: I drove to New Jersey the other week and saw several of the Bolt and Mega buses along the way. I know I heard about the buses, but never taken them. I have tried various ways of getting to New York and was wondering if I should try taking the bus. I heard they have a parking lot in DC where I can leave my car, which would be convenient. Do they take any rest stops along the way?

Andrea Sachs: Yes, yes, yes. Take the bus. You will never drive that route again. We did a comprehensive piece on the buses last summer. Since then, Greyhound now has express service, but you still have to go an hour ahead. I gravitate mostly to Washington Deluxe, DC2NY and Bolt. Fares are about $20 one way. It's up to the bus driver whether you stop or not. About the half the time they stop midway along the route. Best to bring food and drink onboard.

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Best shoulder season vacation: My husband and I went on an Western European cruise for our honeymoon - Spain, France and Italy. We left on October 28th and cruised into the beginning of November. Everyone told us we were nuts - that it would be empty, and the weather would be miserable - but it turned out to be amazing. So many less tourists than going during the summer, and the weather was a mixed bag (cool and rainy in Rome, but upper 60's and sunny in the south of France). The best part was that, since it was less touristy crowded, we really got to chat with the locals. I'll never travel to Europe during the summer again!

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yearly off-season find: Outer Banks (or any beach rental) the weekend after Labor Day. Prices have dropped like a rock, I can extend summer, and it's still gorgeous outside.

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help in Salisbury, MD?: My husband is riding in a 100 mile bike ride that begins and ends in Salisbury, MD this weekend. Any suggestions on what I can do for the 6 or 7 hours I'll have to kill while he's riding? I saw that it's only about 40 minutes from Ocean Ocean, but I wasn't sure if it was worth the drive over there.Never been to this part of Maryland before!Thanks

Carol Sottili: is only about a half hour drive. The weather is supposed to be sunny and 70, so the beach may be a good option. You could walk the 2.5-mile-long boardwalk, or take a look at the hot rod cars that will gather next week for the Endless Summer Cruisin' event. Or you could go over to Assateague (home to wild ponies and Sitka deer) if you're more of a nature girl.

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Adventure Travel: Good morning! I am trying to plan my next vacation. I would like an adventurous trip (white water rafting, hiking, snorkeling, etc) and I need to be in an absolutely beautiful place. We keep thinking Costa Rica, but only because we have heard of so many people going there. Is there any place that you could recommend that would be along the same lines? Thanks so much!

Becky Krystal: I don't know if it's quite along the same lines, but I was just reminded of a story we had about paragliding in Argentina. Now that sounds adventurous.

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Off season deal: My fiance and I hit Playa del Carmen (south of Cancun) during July of last year. Not only is July low season for the Mexican Riviera, they were also hurt by the economic downturn and Swine Flu fears. We got a 5-night stay at a 4-star all-inclusive resort for $425 per person. Oh yeah...that included roundtrip airfare on Continental, which I was able to use my airline status to get us free upgrades to first class.

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Why bother going out of the usa?: There are way too many interesting places in the US to visit and many areas could use the tourism dollars. Don't be a snob, stay here and help out!Besides, Europe is full of Europeans.

Zofia Smardz: Now, now, now. Snobby can go both ways.

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Flying with toddler: I will be flying with my toddler at Christmas time, from the DC area to Albuquerque. Does anyone have any suggestions for how best to keep him entertained during the flight? Any tried and true toys, books, activities? My one thought is to try to schedule the flight around his naptime (if possible) and hope that he might sleep if we run him ragged in the airport beforehand. We'd like to make this trip as painless as possible for everyone involved, including our fellow travellers.

Christopher Elliott: I have three little ones (ages 3, 5 and 8) and we've flown with them a lot. Flying during naptime is a great idea. We just did the red-eye from Honolulu to Seattle last week, and it was like a dream.If possible, get a seat for your child (children over 2 are required to have one). Books, toys, DVDs -- goes without saying. At this age, your child will probably have a favorite show, like Bob the Builder or The Wiggles. My advice would be to load up the iPad with every episode you can find. It will keep junior entertained for hours. Stay away from toys that make lots of noise, they annoy other passengers.One thing parents tend to forget is food. Airlines don't really serve toddler food, and even if they did, there wouldn't be enough. Take twice as much as you need. You'll probably end up eating some of it, yourself. (I have.)

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European "travel warning" - airfares?: I'm not afraid of Al Quaida! Will this "European Warning" push airfares down?

Becky Krystal: I like the way you think! We'll have to wait and see. At least airfares are on their way down with the changing of the seasons -- I've been seing some great fall and winter sales.

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Off-season: Not sure if this is shoulder, but: Years ago I went to Cervinia, Italy (Italian side of the Matterhorn) on a ski trip leaving the first week of January. Not only were prices a lot lower then, but the hordes of tourists were totally absent. My party of 6 were the only Americans in the hotel, and the slopes were beautifully open. One of these days I'm going to go back, and it will likely be that wonderful, empty first week of January again, when most other people are broke and/or hung over from the Christmas-New Year's holiday.

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More on Cervinia: I should have added this about Cervinia: For six nights in a nice hotel, breakfast and either lunch or dinner daily, round trip transfers from Milan airport (a 3-hour bus ride), and a six-day lift pass, I paid $275; I also got a 2-hour private ski lesson for $18.

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China: Any advice on Guillin and Yangshuo? And any recommendations for a budget place in Beijing for next week?

Zofia Smardz: Did you see our story on Yangshuo in yesterday's paper?Chatters, turning to you for budget recommendations in Beijing.

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Girls Trip: Dear Flight Crew, We are trying to think of a fun place to go for a girls trip. We are mid 30s, coming from a couple of locations (Cleveland, DC) and looking for somewhere w/in an hour or two flight, non stop, for MLK weekend. We are thinking NYC, but are open to other suggestions where the food is good, there are fun bars and no one knows us. Thanks!

Becky Krystal: Sounds fun. I'm a big fan of Providence, Rhode Island. Yes, it'll be cold (I was there last year in mid-January), but not too different from NYC. Tom Sietsema found some great eats there, as did I.Other options: Chicago and Boston.

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Aspen: I was there last weekend which is why I could nominate a location for fall color spots. That part of Colorado is one of the best. Last weekend was peak for Aspen and Maroon Bells and the area or Ouray, Silverton, and Dallas Divide. The last week of September is peak time.The leaf colors were much more dramatic when I was there...but it was too breezy so you couldnt get good water refelections.If you think of going....the suggested path would be a loop trip where you travel to Aspen, Leadville, Salida, over to Ouray. I was also went to Rocky Mountain National Park which happened to be the same weekend as a national park free weekend. On the Saturday when I was there the tourists didnt respect the distance from the animals. I have the evidence. a group of us were wagering who would get gourd first by the Elk.

Andrea Sachs: I could bottle that golden color.

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Hotel problem in Paris: Thanks for your help...posting early. Last week I was in Paris for four nights. Unfortunately, a group of British school children checked on on the second night, and they were very loud...slamming doors, giggling, calling out to each other. I was unable to sleep for several hours each night...and yes, I called management to complain several times.My French is not very good, and I did not argue the bill when I checked out. Am I within my rights to dispute the charges with my credit card company? Or should I just chalk this up to bad luck.Also, many thanks to readers who suggested the RER train from CDG airport into Paris. Note that on arrival on a Sunday night, I learned the RER was closed for periodic maintenance. Fortunately I also knew of about the Roisy Bus, and that worked very well. It's probably always a good idea to research many ways for airport transportation, in order to avoid an expensive taxi.Thank you.

Carol Sottili: If you stayed there, you can't dispute the charges with your credit card. You should have disputed them with the hotel while you were there. Good point on knowing about transportation alternatives before you go.

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Niagara Falls shoulder season: We just got back from a long weekend in/around Niagara Falls. Its after school and before leaf season, so I would think that qualifies as shoulder season. It was beautiful! It was no too crowded, we got to do some of the features (Maid of the Mist, Cave of the Winds) without a line. It just so happened that it was a wine festival weekend, so we spend one day hopping through wineries in Niagara-on-the-lake. To top if off, it turns out the lower Niagara river has a king salmon run, so we were able to fit in a day of salmon fishing. My husband has always wanted to catch a salmon, and he did! A 38" king. Mine, however, got away (the captain swears it was larger than 38" - smart man!)

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Washington DC: Flying out of Dulles for the first time this weekend. Our flight is at 7am and we'll need to park; how much time should we budget to park, shuttle and get to our gate? We'll check in/print boarding passes ahead of time and probably won't have luggage to check. Thanks!

Becky Krystal: I've never had too much of a problem finding parking at Dulles. (The drive there, maybe.) The economy lots are pretty huge, so I think you could find a spot, especially that early, within a couple minutes of arriving. The shuttles come reliably and frequently (10-15 minutes), though if you're super-cautious, maybe budget 20 minutes to catch one. So perhaps in total a half hour or 35 minutes to be safe?

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Flying with a toddler: Food, food, food! That was our undoing the first time we flew post-weaning. Something about flying makes little kids ravenous and I was woefully unprepared. I've learned to bring lots of easy-to-eat goodies and it's the one time I have no qualms about junk food. The novelty of cheetos does wonders when you are trapped in your seat for a seemingly endless amount of time. The other suggestion I have it to make sure that if you bring movies to watch you also check ahead of time that the headphones fit your child's head well. We spent 2 straight hours adjusting too-big headphones on our cranky toddler's tiny head. Go to the toy store and spend the money on the kid-sized model, it's worth the investment.

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Washington DC: We are going to LA for a wedding next weekend and will have most of Friday to entertain ourselves (flight gets in by 10am and no events until dinner). What can we do/see that is cheap and relatively easy to get to? Was thinking of driving down Hollywood Boulevard and maybe stopping at the Getty. Anything else worth seeking out?

Carol Sottili: Museum is located in West Los Angeles, and the Getty Villa is in Malibu.

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Washington, DC: Good afternoon. A friend and I are heading up to New York City for a weekend in December to do touristy Christmas things. Could you recommend a nice place for afternoon tea? How about a relatively moderately-priced yet clean hotel in a convenient location (I'm guessing Midtown)? Am I less likely to find a room for less than $250 than I am to run into Santa himself? Thanks kindly.

Andrea Sachs: Other suggestions: the Inn at Irving Place, St. Regis and the Carlyle. For a less traditional spot but with equally strong leaves, try Teany (earthy cafe owned by Moby), or Tea and Sympathy (very British). For a list of salons, see www.teaguide.net/tearoomsnewyork.htm.For hotels, I recommend the Distrikt hotel (see review here. I also recommend the Pod Hotel. And check NYC tourism office's Web site for specials. Just remember that rooms book up and price soar during the holidays.

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Shoulder Season Travel.: Several years ago when Easy Cruise was touring the French and Italian Rivera, a couple of Friends and I went on their last voyage in late October. It was great, little if any tourist, we got to enjoy the beautiful beaches and enjoyed these cities as they were meant to be enjoyed. And since easy cruise was in dock for almost 24 hours we got a taste of the night-life (lots of gambling in Monaco, dance clubs in Nice, delicious dinners in Portafina Italy etc...).

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Off Season: Sometimes natural or man-made events can instantly transform high season into low. While the crowds may take a long time to return, things are rarely as bad as they appear on TV and I've found it's often an ideal time for a visit, with plenty of space, discounts and warm welcomes for those who brave it. I did Thailand a few months after the tsunami and it was fairly empty. There was heavy damage all around, but plenty of places up and running, most with discounts and eagerly awaiting visitors. The Yucatan, normally Disney on the Caribbean, was relatively quiet three months after Hurricane Wilma. Egypt in 1997, after a devastating attack on foreign tourists, was largely free of visitors And Israel in 2002 in the midst of the intifada was almost completely empty of tourists. And India a year after the Mumbai attacks was a still awaiting visitors. Ecuador just had an attempted coup, so perhaps an ideal time to go.

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I love flying: Am I the only one left in the world who likes flying? I love takeoff and landing, such an adrenline rush! About the only thing I don't like is the huge numbers of carryons these days and the lack of easy access to fresh air during a layover. But the rest - so worth it and even mostly fun for the chance to get somewhere so quickly. I have certain airports I hate (Denver, SeaTac), and I like some most hate (DFW!). And I've had my shared of annoying flights, but overall, I love it. I suppose one key factor is that I took all of 6 flights before 9/11, most of which when I was a child (I'm late 30s). Since then, I fly 4-12 times a year. I guess its all what you are use to.

Becky Krystal: I get what you're saying. Even with all the hassle, to me flying still does retain a bit of excitement and novelty.

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Christmas Escape: I am looking for a warm, beach location where I can ignore Christmas. Would probably be traveling solo and am not against all inclusives. Any suggestions?

Carol Sottili: Of those three, I'd opt for Mexico. Cancun tourism offers a list of all-inclusives. Riviera Maya, south of Cancun, lists all hotels, and it's easy to figure out which are all inclusives. But you may very well see a Christmas tree in the lobby.

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Shoulder-season camping: Drove up the East coast to Maine, camped at Freeport (home of LL Bean), and visited nearby Bowdoin and Popham Beach.Then headed up to Acadia National Park, where there was actual space in the campgrounds (it's often full in summer high-season). Enjoyable to go walking without quite so many tourists around, both in the park and the neighboring town.Finally, drove up to the ferry that took us across to Campobello Island, just across the Canadian border. It was exactly this time of year, the last week the campground and FDR "cottage" were open to tourists. Coolish weather, but judging by the tender flowers stil blooming in people's gardens there'd been no frost yet.

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One Day in London between flights: Tomorrow night I leave for Johannesburg. I fly through Heathrow, arriving in the morning and leaving for South Africa that night. Assuming I'm not too disfunctional from jet lag and the weather is not too miserable, what can I do in London with about 6 hours free time?Preferably on the same subway line as Heathrow so don't get too befuddled in my sleep-deprived state.

Andrea Sachs: The easiest option is to take a tour with London Magical Tours, which offers layover tours that start and end at the airport. If you go alone , consider the Heathrow Express train over the Tube, since the former is much quicker. I would want to stretch my legs before such a long flight; a good place get some exercise (plus food and some souvenirs) is around Piccadilly Circus, Leicester Square and Covent Garden. Or consider wandering around Westminster. Just remember to leave yourself lots of time to check back in or you'll end up with more than six hours in London.

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"Lost" FF miles: I thought everyone knew to keep their boarding passes just in case mileage doesn't get credited. It sounds like the questioner's first mistake was in not making sure that 1) his FF account number was attached to his record at check-in for the first flight and 2) checking to make sure the booking class he bought actually earns miles. Some airlines limit the amount of miles (sometimes a fraction of actual miles flown like 50% and sometimes none at all) based on how cheap your ticket was and/or what specific booking class the ticket was issued in. This is a bit of airline arcana. But each flight has seats assigned to various "buckets" and the airline's yield management system may adjust how many are in each depending on how well the flight is selling or ultimately is projected to sell. So, it's important to keep on top of these issues. I will grant you that the average traveler is not well versed in all of this which leads to some problems with the programs.

Christopher Elliott: You're right, and those are good points. It's possible that the consolidator ticket wasn't even eligible for miles, in which case there would have been no miles to lose. Thanks for the comments.

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Off-season trips: My husband and I went to visit his family in England inearly March. It's usually not the best time there, still cool and rainy. But in our two weeks there we had the most amazing weather. We went to Dublin for a three days and also to London for three days, my first time to both cities. The weather was phenomenal, and I got to see all the wonderful things both cities have to offer. A huge bonus, of couse, was the lack of crowds. Going to all the big attractions we didn't have long waits or crowded cathedrals/castles, etc. And best of all, when we went on the London Eye, and walked to top of St. Paul's Cathedral, we had the most spectacular views of London--with none of the usual London fog!! It was really a great off-season trip!

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Taos : One sight worth seeing in Taos is the home of the legendary scout Kit Carson. Very well preserved and the video is quite informative. As for food, an absolute must is Michael's Kitchen, which served some of the best breakfasts I have had and has superb baked goods, too. It fills up early--and also serves lunch. If you are a literary type (and have a four wheel drive vehicle) it is worth the trip to the DH Lawrence Ranch, where the English writer spent some time in the 1920s, thanks to a wealthy New York socialite named Mabel Dodge Luhan. Lawrence's ashes are interred in a little monument on the site. And I am serious about the four wheel drive, or at least a vehicle with good ground clearance. The road up to the ranch is unpaved.One other dining suggestion is Taos Pizza Outback, where the entire staff looks like it wandered in in 1968 and never left.

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For Adventure Travel: New Zealand, New Zealand, New Zealand!! Costa Rica is great, but if you want adventure and beautiful I cannot emphasize NZ enough. It is like the tropics meets Alaska. They have everything you could ever want - mountains, glaciers, volcanoes, fjiords, beaches, etc. and just about every adventure sport out there. My husband and I went there for 2 weeks in February and seriously comtemplated moving there afterward! Every hike we went on felt like we were in another country because the scenery was so varied, the water was crystal clear (but cold!) and the Kiwis do everything from bungee jumping, glacier hiking, paragliding/parasailing, sky diving, white water rafting, canyoning, kayaking....the list goes on and on. We spent a few days on the North Island before going ot the South Island. *Sigh* I wish I was there now....

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"Shoulder" Cruising: Our family recently took a seven-day Western Caribbean cruise in mid-January. We got better accommodations at rates that were half the price we would have paid over the holiday season and a third less than if we had travelled even a week earlier, and our airfare to/from DC was much lower as well. We had fantastic weather the entire time, ports-of-call that were less crowded, and -- best of all -- we were away from all the crowds that came to DC for the Obama inauguration.

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From Last week: Euion of friends midway: Pittsburgh is a good suggestion....so is Charleston, WV. In October about an hour away is the gauley river where October is the peak river rafting season. The new river is more of a springtime river for rafting day trips. The gaulkey is the fall because it is managed by a Corps flood control damn so they release the water in October. class 6 is a good rafting company to use.For Hawaii: A week is enough time to explorean island. The Big Island is just that...big Much of the resorts are on the north side of the island with the volcano being the southern part. If you are more into outdoors stuff look at the Big Island or Kuaui and just explore the island. If you prefer city life then go to Honolulu, if you are into the shopping and artsy stuff go to Maui. for the west coast road trippers:Suggest on the drive out to go to South Dakota and Wyoming and see the national parks. On the retirn...it depoends on when the drive will occur. The reason ius because of Mountain snow that closes roads.If there is no snow I would return going from Portland (with a stop at Cannon Beach and Seaside) drive South down I-5 to So Cal and then drive east to the Garan Canyon, Zion, Page, and Bryce and then depending on the weather....you could drive to Moab and then I-70 to denver...but if their is snow possible then take the southern I-40 route to albuquerque and Santa Fe. If you still need to get to Denver then you can take I-25 north to denver. The colorado mountains could get hammered hard with snow at the end of october and into november.Colorado isnt the only place that can get mountain snow. If you are planning on going to Seattle you may run into I-90 pass snowrestrictions in Washington state (I-84 is the better option)

Becky Krystal: Wow, this covers a lot of territory. Thanks!

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Alcohol on int'l flights: "(United, for example, no longer serves free booze on flights to Europe),"Are you sure? I just flew United to/from Paris in August, and got free wine with the meal both ways. (Coach ticket, with Economy Plus upgrade, but wine was served to all of Coach.)

Carol Sottili: I didn't get wine last time I flew United to Europe. Here's the official word from United's Web site:Alcoholic beverages are complimentary on flights within Asia and on international trans-Pacific flights, and they are available for purchase on all other international flights.

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Re: why bother leaving the USA: I've known quite a few people with this attitude, which includes "the USA is the best country in the world, and everyone else should strive to be just like us". My response is: travel abroad shows you that other cultures are NOT like us, and the American way is not the best way in other countries. Plus you can't see a 900-year-old monastery in the USA, like I did in Ireland, or the Normandy D-Day beaches, which I saw in France.

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In London as we speak, next stop Paris: As a current traveler, I find the terror warning to be unhelpful. It does little for me except introduce doubt and anxiety during a very expensive and long-anticipated trip. If I were easily panicked, and if I had bought insurance, I would have been unable to cancel just out of "caution." I doubt anyone travels outside our borders these days unless they have already thought carefully about potential risks and strategies. I would appreciate real information if it is available. Avoiding transportation hubs is the most perplexing; Once we're here, are we to take a kayak down the river and across the channel to stay away from the airports and train stations? Incidentally, all is well here. Enjoying tea and toffee cookies as I write!

Zofia Smardz: I assume they mean that you should avoid transporation hubs when not actually traveling. Sounds like you're having a good time. Wish I were there!

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Egypt: Hi Crew! Looking to go to Egypt - not sure what the breakdown of _how_ many days devoted to _where_....we can do 710 days total. Your ideal itinerary for that time period? Also - we're typically entirely DIY for everything and kinda like it that way, but the people we know who've been to Egypt used tour companies.Aside from starting w/a travel agent (which we don't know any!) do you recommend any specific companies?

Becky Krystal: I think this Going Our Way that Carol did on Egypt will help you.

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Passport Card?: We travel to Canada about once every 18 months, usually flying stateside then renting a car to cross the border. My boyfriend's passport is up for renewal, and he's trying to decide whether to spend another $30 on the passport card. Is it worth it?

Andrea Sachs: I would just stick with the passport, which can be used everywhere, unlike the limited card.

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Travel Magazines: Hello, I have the choice between a subscription for Travel and Leisure and Conde Nast Traveler and I'm wondering if you all have a preference? Thanks!

Becky Krystal: Ooh, tough call. I read them both on a monthly basis. I don't think you could go wrong with either, but I'm going to give a slight advantage to Conde Nast since I think I've liked the writing a little more in there lately.

Andrea Sachs: For something new, I would recommend Afar magazine, which takes a new tack on travel writing and adventures.

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Dulles Flyer: I think you missed a crucial part of Dulles Flyer's question: s/he asked how long to budget to get from economy parking to the gate. I think 35 mins is barely enough to get to the terminal from economy parking (it could be 15 mins or more just waiting for a shuttle), but not nearly enough to ensure getting to a gate. I'd budget minimum of 1 hour from economy parking to the gate, and preferably closer to 90 minutes. Remember the airline can give away your seat if you're not a the gate a certain number of minutes before scheduled departure.

Becky Krystal: Yes, thank you. To the gate, an hour, I agree.

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Off-Season in Europe: A few years ago we took a mid-March vacation to Vienna and London. Airfares and hotels (especially hotels) were much more affordable and there weren't too many people. Other than the need to wear light jackets, the weather was fine and had no impact on our enjoyment of these cities (of course, if you take it for granted that London is foggy and rainy, then any break is "fine weather"). The biggest bonus in this off-season trip was the London "Eye" - we got to it during a break in the weather (not a cloud in the sky!) and were able to board in only ten minutes. The downside to this trip was being in Vienna a few weeks before the palace gardens began to bloom.

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Vancouver Island in late Sep./early Oct.: Camped a week on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada, in late Sep./early Oct. many years ago. Took the ferry across from rainy Port Angeles to sunny Victoria, camped just outside of town for a few days. Then drove up to see and camp farther north on the island -- no other tourists around! Finally took another ferry from Nanaimo (hometown of Diana Krall, bathtub capital of the world, and home of Nanaimo Bars!) across to North Vancouver. Scenery is to die for!

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Flying with toddler: Tell your little one what to expect! Maybe even make a little book together about what's going to happen at the airport/airplane. The most mundane stuff to us is fascinating to kids -- now we go through special xray machines. Next we wait in line to get on the airplane. Then we sit quietly while the airplane takes us to where we are going... That way, s/he'll know what to expect, and what is expected of her/him. And have surprise treats to dole out along the way. Forbidden food (I like gummy treats because they take a lot of work to chew, ahem, and keep little mouths busy), tiny toys. Some of the best things I got my son came from the dollar store, and oh my goodness they blew his little mind. A tiny tape measure so he could se how big his seat, the window, the tray table were, and push the button so it can retract! Tiny containers of play dough with eensy cookie cutters or a rolling pin. Color wonder markers and books with pictures of Buzz & Woody. Finger puppets. Travel magna-doodle. Anything new will buy you some time! And remember to save some stuff for the trip home when the novelty of travel has worn off.

Christopher Elliott: Excellent advice. Thank you!

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9 hour Amsterdam layover: Am I crazy for thinking I could take a train into Amsterdam and get a canal ride in during my 9 hour layover?

Andrea Sachs: You can catch the train directly from the airport to city center. Before leaving, research the canal tour companies and if possible buy tickets ahead of time, so you don't have to waste time in line. Check the tourism office for tour operators.

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ireland 'off' season: My then fiance and i were supposed to go to ireland, but our trip got postponed due to surgery.So we went about a month later, end of October, when 'no one' is there.it was COLD. But it allowed me to buy up some wonderful irish sweaters.And there weren't so many tourists. When we took a trip on the ring of kerry, there were plenty of other americans on the bus, but the bus driver told us that during the summer, there are TONS of buses and that there is tons of traffic, and you can't go more than 5/10 miles per hour...but he said he had the opportunity to go at our own pace, and was able to talk more, and we could see more, etc, without so many people around.It was fantastic. even if it was cold.

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RE: NYC/DC bus: I travel this route fairly often but have not yet taken a bus. It is so much cheaper than the train or plane, so I recently looked into it. I heard various tales about mechanical issues that cause the trip to take 12+ hours, drivers that operate the bus in an unsafe manner (speeding, texting, etc.). I had a fairly large sample size, so it doesn't seem like these issues were a one-time thing. I'd love to save money but not at the expense of time or safety. Can I have your thoughts?

Zofia Smardz: Unlike our always-on-the-bus gal Andrea, I rarely ride the bus. But I took the Bolt Bus to New York and back this weekend, and there were minimal delays (about half an hour each way), and no problems of the sort you describe with the drivers, who were completely professional. The ride was quick and safe and clean and pleasant. This isn't to say that strange things may happen on some trips, but I'd wager that they're the exception rather than the rule.

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Why travel out of the US?: I wonder if the person saying that makes sure they buy American-made products when they shop or go to large discounters that import their goods from China. I like to travel both in the U.S. and overseas. I agree with the desire to help the domestic economy, but I also think Americans need to learn more about the outside world they influence to such a large degree. If one doesn't like Europe, there are lots of other countries out there.

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Last Minute Travel Ideas: Like a gift from above, my mom has decided to come up for the weekend to watch our kids and has commanded my husband and me to go away from Saturday to Monday. It's the first time we'll leave the kids for this long (our oldest is 7, so that's a very sad statement) and we want to stay withing a few hours of the DC area. We're not sure where to head. We'd like to do a lot of unstructured wandering and resting, with some good food thrown in. Where would you send us?

Carol Sottili: Easton on the Maryland Eastern Shore has lots of good restaurants and inns, as does St. Michaels. Annapolis is really close to home, and is quite lovely.

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Boarding passes: Yes, always keep them, even if you're taking what you think is an uncomplicated flight (direct, no consolidator, no alliance partner, etc.). I once had a direct, non-stop flight home that was rescheduled due to a problem with a gauge (needed a part), and the airline put everyone up for the night and flew us back the next day on the same plane with a new, different flight number (because the regular flight number was used every day, so there was another departure under that number). Even so, my FF miles didn't post and, when I called, they had no record of the new flight number. I had to send a copy of my boarding pass -- which I was lucky I still had! -- to get credit for the FF miles (but there was no hassle beyond that). So, you never know!

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Toddler flying: I always carried hard candy or chewing gum -- helps with ears during takeoff and landing.

Zofia Smardz: Yes, my younger son had a terrible time with takeoff and especially landing when he was small. Chewing gum helped a bit.

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Getty Museums: Unless things have changed since we lived there, parking reservations were required and scarce. It's the way the Getty limited its visitor count and appeased the neighbors (traffic can be terrible and the Getty is on very high priced real estate with privacy desiring neighbors.)

Carol Sottili: at each of these venues, but admisson is free.

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"Exercise caution": "Exercise caution" - what the heck does that mean? What sort of caution can you exercise to make sure you're not, say, shot out of the blue in a hotel lobby?

Becky Krystal: This is true. The language is a bit frustrating.

Zofia Smardz: But also remember that life is always full of risks. I think just always being aware of your surroundings is the best rule.

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Travel warnings: When governments have rather general information, they also know that the warnings may or may not be terribly useful, but they also know that if something were to happen, people would cry "Why didn't you warn us? It's for us to decide what to do!" Many criticize State Department travel warnings as being alarmist, but imagine if they downplayed a danger.

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Re cross-country drive: Warning: I-40 road conditions can be wintry in places in the off-season. One year -- after we'd spent a few days in Zion National Park in southern Utah in late March with beautiful weather -- we then encountered a full-scale blizzard complete with white-outs on April 1 (no foolin'!) stretching from west of Flagstaff, AZ., to east of Gallup, NM -- the higher elevations of I-40.

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Rockville, MD: Early morning flights.Why don't you suggest that people use a sleep and park package? We do that whenever we fly, especially an early morning flight. The motel offers transportation to the airport and the cost of the overnight stays typically is equal to what we would pay to park. Also we don't have to get up quite as early to make the flight.

Becky Krystal: This does come up on our chat with some frequency, but it sounded like the traveler wanted to drive in that morning. If not, park and fly is obviously an option.

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Noisy hotel stay: For the poster who had an experience with noisy schoolchildren in France: if hotel management was not responsive, I would have confronted the children myself. Being British, they presumably spoke English, and you'd be amazed what a few stern words from an adult will do. As a last resort, corner one of the little beasts and get him/her to take you to the group leader.I had a similar experience in Austria in a youth hostel, but this was a group of German kids. When I reached the end of my patience I summoned up a couple of sentences of highly busted German and told them they had 5 minutes to shut up completely or I was going to call management.Within 5 minutes, there wasn't a sound.

Carol Sottili:

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Critters: Hi--How serious is this bed bug issue--will I really bring them home if I travel as the news portrays? Has there been an impact on the travel industry? Are there any reputable "tools of the trade" to help keep them away?

Andrea Sachs: Perfect timing, as I am currently working on a piece about the buggers. It's a problem, but not epidemic. These guys have been around since the 90s, and before that prior to World War II.You just need to know how to detect them and how to protect yourself from carrying them home. For example, in a hotel room, inspect the mattress and bed spring and behind the head board. (Look for the fellas themselves or black spots from their, er, droppings.) Keep your bags up high, and if possible wrap your luggage in a giant sealed plastic bag. Or at the very least, keep your clothes in Ziplocs. And before you book a hotel, check the bed bug registry. And read our upcoming section on Sunday!There are more ways as well -- can you wait till Sunday?

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Off-season: Hawaii: Just a quick comment about traveling off-season: I think Hawaii is the only tourist destination where the weather is BETTER in the off-season! You can get cool and sometimes rainy weather in the high/winter season, but the weather (and prices) are great in the late summer and fall. Wouldn't go any other time.

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How do I register with US embassies?: I'm going (backpacking) to the Czech Republic, Austria and Italy on Wednesday of this week. How do I "register with the U.S. embassies" as you (and the WaPo articles) recommend?

Andrea Sachs: You can register online through the State Department. Also, be sure that you have copies of emergency numbers and that a family member or friend has your travel plans. Happy hiking!

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For the person in Salisbury. . .: Could drive the 45 minutes to Crisfield and take a ferry to Smith Island for a crabcake and a piece of Smith Island Cake.

Zofia Smardz: Mmmm, two good kinds of cake!

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Re: Why bother: Yes, please do stay home. It is people like you who give American tourists a bad reputation. Please limit your world so I can expand mine,--enjoying conversations with, gasp, Europeans who are shocked, shocked I tell you, to learn my husband and I are from the US. Usual reason: "you are so quiet and polite we would never have guessed you are Americans!"

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Best Shoulder Season...: Poland! Spent end of September into early October (a few years back) in Wroclaw and Krakow, with side day trips to Wadowice and Czestochowa. Fantastic sites and good weather. Did have a few days of rain, but the sites are so beautiful that we really didn't mind the rain.Speaking of shoulder seasons, is there one for Hawaii?

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Re: Flying with Toddler: Christopher says: "DVDs -- goes without saying. At this age, your child will probably have a favorite show, like Bob the Builder or The Wiggles. My advice would be to load up the iPad with every episode you can find."Oh, dear. He's never really seen television so I'm not even sure where I'd start with that. (No iPad either.) He does have a couple of electronic gizmos and the volume can be put on low. Any low-tech solutions? We definitely won't forget the food.

Christopher Elliott: No worries. We don't have a TV either! Your child must have a favorite book, then. I would just say, "think small" when bringing books. My son packed a a hardback book from the library about riding to Hawaii, and it must have weighed five pounds. Guess who had to carry it?

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Travel in USA: I enjoy traveling in the USA because most of my vacations involve hiking and backpacking out west. I like to get away from as many people as possible if I want to relax and reconnect. The USA is a fantastic place for that type of travel.

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Car Rental Rates: I have discovered that it almost cuts the cost of a car rental in half to rent the car in NJ instead of NYC! Wow!

Becky Krystal: Yup, good tip. Rent in less popular places.

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To chatter ISO Adventure Travel: The Azores Islands in the North Atlantic, west of Portugal, offer all manner of ocean adventure, including various kinds of boating and jet-ski, surfing (see http://www.surfertoday.com/surfing/4219-discover-perfect-surfing-in-the-azores-islands) and surfing spectating, swimming with dolphins, whale-watching from a Zodiac bumping along in the open Atlantic, the annual triathlon (windsurfing, bicycling, kayaking) sponsored by Peter Cafe Sport in Horta, mountain climbing (Mt. Pico is Portugal's highest point), exploring volcanic sites, rock and cliff-climbing, sport fishing, hiking, spelunking in volcanic caves. Well, you get the idea... And the weather's nice in the shoulder season too!

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Free Airtran Flight: Two days before the merger was announced, my finance and I gave up our seats for a later flight and both received a free roundtrip flight to anywhere Airtran flys. Should we plan to use these vouchers early or can we wait until April or May to book our free trip to Aruba. I would hate for Southwest to not honor our vouchers.

Andrea Sachs: I think you can wait. It'll be a while before any big changes take place. But you can still book them now.

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Destination wedding: Any tips on how to choose an all-inclusive resort with good dining options for a larger destination wedding?

Carol Sottili:

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Alcohol on int'l flights: With United I think it depends on who your steward is. I know someone who works for the airlines, and if they are in a good mood and the customers are being nice they may not charge.

Carol Sottili: I think that's right. I was on a Northwest flight to Hawaii a while back, and they broke out champagne. Go figure.

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RE: Airline meals: Just wanted to chime in, when my girlfriend and I flew to Ireland this past winter, we flew Air France (layover in Paris), and they served probably the most elegant, delicious airline meal I've ever had! Complete with wine, too! And yes, we were in coach.

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Why travel outside the US?: It's a first-hand education!

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I would drive: I-40 vs I-70 , I-80, or I-90 any day. The snow in the Southern part is not nearly as bad as it can be in colorado or the other mountain passes you could cross.Could blizzards happen///sure....but its manageable.

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Getty: For at least the large Art Center in Brentwood, no reservations are needed for parking. I drove right in. I think reservations were needed when they first opened and there were big crowds.

Carol Sottili: Right, the Getty Museum does not require reservations.

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Bed Bugs: We are traveling to NYC in mid October to a hotel that has had a couple of bedbug complaints on trip advisor. The hotel told me the claims are unfounded and that the hotel has ordered vinyl zip bags to cover all the mattresses. Assuming the mattresses are bagged by mid October, is that enough to feel ok? Can't wait to read the article. Thanks

Andrea Sachs: Before you book, ask them if they have had a pest control company come in to look at the problem. You want to be sure the professionals are helping with the problem. It seems, though, that the hotel is on top of the issue, and the cover is a good anti-bug strategy. When you get to the hotel, perform a quick inspection of the room, or ask the manager to assist.

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Becky Krystal: Thanks for joining us everyone. Today's prize winner is the person who went to Cervinia. Skiing in Italy? Yes, please. Send your info to travel@washpost.com. Join us again next week.


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