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Talk about Travel

Flight Crew
Monday, November 15, 2010; 12:00 PM

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Nancy Trejos: Hello travelers. Welcome to our Monday chat. Glad to have you here! We hope you enjoyed the fantastic weather this weekend. Hopefully, you got a chanceto read my colleague Rachel Dry's fantastic story about her travels with (actually, without) Charley. She did a great job recreating John Steinbeck's trip to Fargo. And I hope you got some good frugal traveler tips from my story about financing my trip to Kansas City with coupons. Which leads me to ask: Did you ever save tons of money on a trip, and if so what was your money-saving strategy? Whoever had the best frugal trip wins a prize. Sorry, no cash, but something fun nonetheless. Okay, let's chat!

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Xray's and other countries: Is it fair to say that our country basically over-reacts to all the security alerts. Israel doesn't make you take off your shoes or chuck your water before entering the security checkpoint. They just use common sense. How does Europe handle these situations when a flight to the US is not involved.

Christopher Elliott: I'm assuming that by screening, you mean the use of full-body scanners. Those are not currently regulated the same way they are in the States, according to this memo. This summer, the EU released a report that said full-body scanning at airports makes a contribution to security, but that a common framework must be developed to protect citizens' fundamental rights and health. So, as far as I can tell, there's no uniform policy on scanners in Europe -- yet.

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President's Weekend getway: I am looking to use my frequent flyer miles for a President's Day getaway (probably 4 days). I'm looking for somewhere warm in January, where I can get to with a direct flight from National, and has a lot of places to explore for someone in her mid-twenties to go alone. Do you have any suggestions? I was thinking Austin or New Orleans, but I'm up for anything.

Nancy Trejos: Can I also suggest Miami or Fort Lauderdale? They are really easy to get to. But I think Austin or New Orleans are great options too. It should be warmer and there are plenty of direct flights there.

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DC: Hello, does anyone know what the weather is like in eastern Florida (Palm Beach) around Memorial Day? Specifically, does it rain a lot or is it ok?Thanks!

Joe Yonan: Nah, not a lot of rain. Gorgeous weather then: Lows in the low 70s and highs in the upper 80s.

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Vienna, Austria: I will be in Vienna, Austria first week in December staying in the downtown historic district. Interests--art, music, Christmasmarkets. Recommendations for non-touristy music, restaurant venues? Recommended Christmasmarkets? Other suggestions? Although time is limited, is there any local day trip that would be a must do? Thank you.

Zofia Smardz: If you want to go a bit farther, Baden is worth a visit (you can see the hunting lodge at Mayerling, where Crown Prince Rudolf and his lover committed suicide). I haven't been to Vienna in quite a few years, so not really up on the latest trendy places to eat, etc., but we had a story about the Neubau neighborhood not too long ago that offers some suggestions. And for others, we'll reach out to the chatters. Folks?

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Spain travel: Hi Flight Crew - we are a small group of women in our mid-30s, looking to go to Spain for a week. We'd like to maximize our time there and see as much as possible, eat as much as possible, and enjoy the culture. We would like to see Barcelona, Madrid & Sevilla, but don't think we can get to all 3 within a week. Two questions - what would you cut from a week-long trip, or alternatively, how many days do you think we'd need to see all 3? Most people we've spoken to have advised us to cut Madrid, but since we will likely fly to/from there, it seems like an easy thing to keep. Thanks.

Becky Krystal: We had a Going Our Way on seeing Spain in a limited amount of time earlier this year. These folks had 11 days, but it should help you prioritize your week. Any thoughts, chatters?

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Egypt: I'm leaving for Egypt later this week, and am suddenly very nervous about it. I feel like I'm traveling well outside my comfort zone, although I have traveled extensively--and mostly solo--both here in the US and in Europe. Luckily, I'll be staying with friends (non-Egyptian, though) in Cairo, and another friend at a resort on the Red Sea. But I'm nervous about the long flights (8hrs to Europe, another 4 from there to Cairo -- not great for someone who doesn't care to fly), about navigating the Cairo airport, about horrible air pollution in Cairo, about inappropriate comments and even worse from men on the streets (I'm a woman with fair skin and hair). Can anyone help calm me down please?

Nancy Trejos: Please calm down! Not many people get to visit Egypt and it is so worth it. I would go back if I could. And you have friends in Cairo, so you won't be alone. The flight is long, yes, but completely manageable. It is polluted? Yes. But the city has so many other wonderful qualities that you almost forget about the pollution. I never felt unsafe or uncomfortable on the streets. I made sure to dress appropriately (long sleeve shirt, pants or long skirt.) As you would if you were traveling to any foreign city, you have to be cautious. But I think you will have an amazing time.

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Canadian Rockies...: We took almost the same trip to Canada outlined in your travel section this weekend for our honeymoon last may/early june (except for the golf!). It was wonderful - the train was a lot of fun (we were perhaps the youngest people on it, but still a blast if you like trains). We stayed in the fold-down sleeper seats which afforded enough privacy for one night but if we did it again would probably upgrade to the private room. One note about canoeing on Lake Louise - it was pretty snowy still and iced over when we were there, so check the weather! We like snow so it wasn't a problem but we couldn't do as much hiking or canoeing as we would have otherwise liked. That plus the fear of bears (we saw one on the first day on the Icefields parkway!) kept us happily in our cabin anyway. :)

Zofia Smardz: What a coincidence! Thanks so much for the tips.

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Passport troubles: Can you find out what is being said on your passport info? I was traveling to Toronto in September and got picked for secondary inspection. I asked if I was in trouble, and they said no. Just a few more questions and I was on my way. No big deal, I thought. I think I went tosecondary because the officer was surprised I was vacationing in Toronto.Flash forward to early November. Crossing back into the U.S. at Detroit from a 3-day trip to Windsor. Get asked how many trips to Canada this year (third and final) and whether I had trouble getting into Canada. I said no.Customs sent me to a silver table where another officer went through my entire luggage. Should I have explained the Toronto incident to customs? Clearly, they saw something via my passport that made them concerned. There was a sign at U.S. customs that said when in doubt, go to secondary. Am I going to have to go through this every time I go to Canada? I like vacationing there, but I wonder whether I will make fewer trips.

Christopher Elliott: You can find out some of that information from Passport Services, which maintains United States passport records for passports issued from 1925 to the present. These records normally consist of applications for United States passports and supporting evidence of United States citizenship, according to the State Department. Passport records do not include evidence of travel such as entrance/exit stamps, visas, residence permits, etc., since this information is entered into the passport book after it is issued. You can get more information here.

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Local babymoon: I had written in earlier about tropical locations for a babymoon in January. We decided on perhaps an atypical plan, but I am very excited about it: three nights at the luxurious Williamsburg Inn and three nights at the Embassy Circle Guest House in DC. It's not too far (we live in Philly) and we'll finally get to be tourists instead of couch crashers in DC and visit all the museums and sites we haven't been to in years. And with DC in January, you never know the weather could be lovely!

Joe Yonan: Good for you. I hope this winter isn't like last, or January could be nasty! I hope you'll be able to be here midweek, then? Would be great to visit museums without all the weekenders, although January of course is nothing like summer...

Becky Krystal: Good call on the Williamsburg Inn. I poked around there and interacted with the staff when I stayed in the nearby historic lodging. I think you'll love it -- they'll treat you well.

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money saving: My money saving strategy is to use frequent flier miles to book premium class international award seats. I have saved tens of thousands of dollars that way...if I would have actually been inclined to pay for those seats out of pocket. But the first class trip to Asia I just took would have cost something like $15K or more if I had actually paid for the tickets.

Nancy Trejos: First class to Asia? Nice!

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Intergenerational, budget-ish: A challenge. Summer 2011. 2 grandparents + 4 parents in the middle + 4 grandchildren between ages 9-14. Coming from three different locations. Will use frequent flyer miles for bulk of distance travel costs. Anywhere in the Lower 48 is fine: beach, mountains, etc. Remote cabins not preferred because we do not want to cook every day, but those with access to restaurants are okay, as are family camps, all-inclusives, hotels, etc. The point is to be together. One week total vacation. Outside of air travel, the budget is $3,000 per family unit. Options?

Joe Yonan: This is a bit too complicated for the live chat, I'm afraid, but is perfect for Going Our Way. Submit it here; maybe your trip would be picked for our custom help!

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Xray machines and denying a search.: It sounds like TSA people are now making up rules as they go along. What right to they have to detain people who decline to go through security and choose to leave the airport. The comments about a civil suit are borderline intimidation as is holding someone against their will

Christopher Elliott: You're right. The rules are being unevenly enforced. At some airports, passengers are being randomly selected for full-body scans, and at others, everyone must go through them or "opt out" and face an enhanced pat-down. I've been following this story all weekend, and the most troubling part is that TSA agents are now threatening to fine passengers who protest. I have a feeling TSA is going to need to back down on these new security measures. More in this week's Navigator column.

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Frequent tourists need new idea: My sister and her family travel to Washington this time every year. We have a 10 yr old to keep interested as well as slip in some good fun education. We have done all the monuments, all of the Smithsonian ( at least one building every year). Last year we did the Capital tour, the Indian museum. We were unsuccesful in getting White House Tickets this year. We did Mount Vernon two years ago (it was wonderful) . Ford's Theater was great one year. Can you offer a couple of suggestions. We are all able bodied travelers and willing to travel a couple of hours, Luray Caverns already done! Thank You love the weekly chats

Zofia Smardz: Have you been to Harper's Ferry, W. Va. ? Great for Civil War history, as is Manassas Battlefield in Virginia, or for that matter, Gettysburg, which is only an hour and a half or so away. I also love some of the less well-known historic houses/plantations, such as Woodlawn (Washington's niece's home) and George Mason's beautiful Gunston Hall. And Lincoln's summer cottage on the grounds of the Soldier's Home right here in town is also wonderful.Other thoughts, chatters?

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Washington, DC: My husband and I have never been to Europe. We are thinking of taking our kids (ages 15 and 13) to London and maybe Paris for spring break. We want to go to 2 places because who knows when we will go again. We were thinking of spending 5 days in each city, but does that make sense? Should we do more days in London and just a few in Paris to get a feel for the place? Any other advice? We want this to be a great family trip.Also, the kids' passports expire next November in 2011. Should we renew their passports before the trip in April 2010? Thank you for any helpful advice you can give. We really have not been to very many places (either inside or outside the US) and want this trip to be special.

Zofia Smardz: London and Paris are equally wonderful, so if you can take 5 days in each city, I certainly would do that. You can't give Paris short shrift! There's far too much to see and do. Even 5 days isn't that much time, but I would definitely give each city that. I don't think you'll need to renew the kids' passports before you go -- there's more than 6 months before they expire, which is plenty of time for most travel. I went to Paris last year with a passport due to expire about a month after we got back, and had no problem (though one French airport official did point it out to me).

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Of course you should buy a bed on the train!: These are middle-aged adults you're talking about. Sleeping on a coach seat will leave you sore and grumpy in the morning if you're older than 21. (This refers to the Canadian Rockies trip in Sunday's paper)

Nancy Trejos: Point taken. Thanks!

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Power-tripping Gate Agents: I had a run in with a particular nasty gate agent, while trying to get home. He refused to let me board with my rolling suitcase, even after I showed him that it fit in the box that they have. After I showed him that it fit, he then proceeds to tell me that my bottles of rum that I bought at duty free were considered to be another carry-on even though I placed them in my personal bag. When I informed him that I would have enough space, he told me that by federal law I was only permitted to have two carry-ons!! I gave up and gave him my suitcase, but the overhead bins above me and across from me were empty the entire flight. Sorry I had to vent to someone.

Christopher Elliott: There is no federal law limiting the number of carry-ons. Your agent was almost certainly on a power trip. Or maybe the agent just wanted to charge you the luggage fee. But you did the right thing. You don't want to cause a scene at the airport, and have the power-tripping agent call the police, do you? Reading stories like yours makes me want to take the train.

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Ireland: A few friends and I are going to Ireland next week for Thanksgiving. We'll spend a few days in Dublin and then we're heading out to Galway and the Aran Islands for 2 nights. We thought we'd wing it for our 3rd night out west before heading back to Dublin to go home. Is there anything else in that area that we should see? We'll have a rental car. I've been to the Burren and the Cliffs of Moher but my friends have not. I could do those things again, or something new. Any other interesting things or hidden gems out that way? I think 2 or 3 hours drive from Galway is the furthest we'll want to go. Thanks!

Becky Krystal: How about a trip to County Roscommon, home to Oweynagat, aka "Ireland's entrance to Hell." Sounds cool, right? It's less than 2 hours from Galway.

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Family Reunion: Someone posted last week about family reunion spots for 40+ people in one house. While that's nearly impossible unless you rent an estate with many houses, we've been successful having reunions on Ocean Isle Beach (very southern North Carolina near Wilmington) where we've rented two houses on the beach right behind one another and it was perfect for our large family. If you plan early enough you could likely get 2-3 houses right next door to each other. We loved Ocean Isle--quieter than Outer Banks but a similar feel. Its pretty humid in the summer but since its on the ocean there was always a great breeze and the water was so warm for swimming. We drove from DC, it was about 7 hours and there is a decent sized airport in Wilmington so people can fly in for the reunion which is only about 45 min from the beach (vs. Outer Banks which is about 2 hrs from closest decent sized airport). Our family is doing our reunion this coming summer on the San Juan Islands, we like to change it up.

Joe Yonan: Thanks for the idea!

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Cheap Travel: In 1963, my husband and I financed our honeymoon almost entirely with S&H Green Stamps! Family and friends contributed books and books of them, and we even got them for my engagement ring, our wedding rings and some of our wedding arrangements, I think the flowers and catering service. We were married in Alexandria and honeymooned in -- where else? -- Niagara Falls, so it's not as if we went to Europe or Hawaii. But we had a lovely time, in keeping with that era and our financial circumstances, and even had leftovers to help furnish our first home. These are now a thing of he past, of course, but I still keep a half-filled book around as a remembrance.

Nancy Trejos: Wow, I am impressed. Thanks for sharing!

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Security at airports: I had read about the San Diego traveler who was ejected from that airport for refusing the more invasive pat down at the airport when he declined to go through the full scan machines. I'm curious, do these new security procedures actually make us more safe, or are they just designed to make people feel safer?

Christopher Elliott: I think the most we can say, echoing the EU report I cited a minute ago, is that the scanners can contribute to our safety. Will they make us "more safe"? I think that depends on what you mean by that. The scanners are certainly a deterrent (a very annoying deterrent, according to many passengers.) An effective deterrent? Perhaps. They will almost certainly not stop a determined terrorist, though.

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Where to travel with an infant: We have two award tickets that we need to use, and can't decide where to go. Any travel destination ideas within the continental U.S. that would be suitable and fun when traveling with a 7-month old? National park maybe?

Andrea Sachs: You did not say the time of year, so weather and crowds are a big issue. Yosemite in the summer with a little one is not the greatest idea, for example. You also need a destination that has interesting attractions near the hotel, so you can rush back for naps and meltdowns. At that age, museums and cultural attractions are bit on the mature side, so sticking with nature is a good idea, especially if you enjoy hiking as family. My picks would be San Francisco, a great walking city with lots of open space. You can also visit the redwoods and other national parks, such as Golden Gate and the Presidio. Tampa/St. Petersburg. Look for lodging with a pool and kitchen, so you have everything at your fingertips.Other options: either Portland (again, a good mix of nature and city) or Seattle. If you have a budding sailor, you can even take a ferry boat ride.

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local tourism: Charlottesville and Monticello might be a good choice for the folks who vacation here every year. Montpelier is also nearby in Orange if you want to do presidential homesteads together.Or maybe Antietam which is even closer than Gettysburg. Or Baltimore for the aquarium and Maryland Science Center. We do live in an area with a million things to see and do. There are also other museums in town that are not Smithsonians. I love the National Building Museum which has lots of programs for kids.

Zofia Smardz: Righto. All great suggestions.

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Frequent travelers: How about Baltimore and/or Annapolis? or over to the Eastern Shore. Destinations that are very different from DC proper.

Nancy Trejos: Thanks!

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Oldster Here: I'm in my 60's, walk slowly with a cane, get winded fairly quickly, but love to travel. Is anyone familiar w/tour companies that might accommodate me? There are those for seriously disabled folks, e.g., in a wheelchair, and elder hostel courses where you stay in one place, which I love. But I'm t hinking of something like SAGA, which used to cater to over-50's (usually much older) with a slower pace and less walking, but they still covered a substantial amount of territory. Sadly they went out of business, or at least their US operation did, shortly after 9/11. If anyone knows of something comparable, I would really appreciate the information. Thanks so much and happy travels.

Becky Krystal: I would still look into Road Scholar (the program formerly known as Elderhostel). You can search for trips based on activity level, and a lot of them definitely sound like you're not sitting in a classroom the whole time.Anyone else have recommendations?

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Flying while Pregnant: I'm flying overseas while 3 month pregnant today, does anyone have any advice? I talked to my doctor, he said to be careful of blood clots. I read mixed things about the TSA screening machines. How much hassle will I create if I ask for a physical pat down instead?

Joe Yonan: The only hassle you will create is this more aggressive pat-down people have been annoyed about. If the sliding hand doesn't bother you, you'll be fine!

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Vienna Music: When I was in Vienna several years ago, I went to a performance of the Wiener KammerOrchestra (Vienna Chamber Orchestra) at the Vienna Konzerthaus. It's not as well-known as the Vienna Philharmonic, but their performance standards are still very high. More to the point, it was considerably cheaper than going to hear the Philharmonic, and would have been even moreso if I had remembered to bring my Vienna Card, which could have gotten me a discount. It looks like they've got a bunch of concerts coming up around the time you'll be there, including at St. Stephen's Cathedral. http://www.kammerorchester.com/en/index.htmlhttp://www.vienna.info/en/travel-info/vienna-card

Zofia Smardz: Great, thanks!

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money saving trip: I was going to Europe for four weeks, but changed my mind and decidedto visit the eleven states that I had never been to. I saved about threethousand dollars by not going to Europe versus what I spent in the U.S.,plus got to see all eleven states. God Bless America!

Nancy Trejos: I love Europe but there's definitely lots to explore in our own backyard. Thanks!

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Kingstowne, VA: I thought the article in this weekend's paper about the TSA's latest grope-fest raised various questions that the TSA has failed to answer in a satisfactory fashion. We're supposed to believe that the body-scanning machines are perfectly safe. Yet we were also told that those machines the shoe stores used to use to x-ray your feet were perfectly safe as well, and that turned out not to be the case. When I go to the dentist and they take x-rays, I get that lead sheet. Same thing at the hospital. I understand why the TSA won't do that, but why am I supposed to believe the TSA that I'm not going to wind up with six-headed sperm or some other mutations when I go through their machine? (I also rather object to the way they "assure" people that you'll get a same-sex groper. If I have to have someone patting me down, I'd rather NOT have another man do it, thank you very much.)The other thing I noted is that my wife said that she and some colleagues encountered the strip-search scanners down in Houston last month. The TSA people didn't tell passengers of the need to remain completely still and one of my wife's friends must have moved slightly. Rather than showing even a glimmer of intelligence and telling her that she must remain absolutely still and then re-scanning her, they sent her to be groped. That seems really stupid. If these machines are so wonderful, why not try ONCE to re-scan the passenger and then do the pat-down if the re-scan doesn't work? No doubt it would be faster that way because it would reduce the number of time-consuming pat-downs.I think the real bottom line is that it's all security theater. Our airport security is the one that let the 9-11 terrorists onto the planes, yet we're supposed to believe that the US government actually knows more about how to run a security operation than any of the Europeans or the Israelis? I don't buy it for an instant. Good thing I'm not planning on flying anywhere anytime soon!

Christopher Elliott: Thank you for the comments. I agree, there are many questions about the TSA procedures that remain. We will probably get some of the answers at a TSA oversight hearing on Wednesday in the Senate. Hopefully, the agency will listen to air travelers and modify its practices to make them less intrusive and address some of the health concerns.

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local tourism: When my 9 year old niece did a visit this summer she enjoyed seeing the wild ponies at Assateague.

Nancy Trejos: Good one. Thanks!

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Central American travel: I'm trying to figure out a place to head for a short (7 days, probably) vacation in Central America around February. I'm interested in a place where we could relax, but also has interesting sites nearby. I've been to Costa Rica and Panama - thought Costa Rica was too touristy/may as well have gone to Florida, but LOVED Panama. I'm considering Nicaragua or Guatemala at this point. Any ideas? Thanks!

Nancy Trejos: I have not been to Nicaragua but hear great thinks about it. I have been to Guatemala and loved it. Antigua is a charming colonial town. Lago Atitlan has beautiful villages to explore. And the ruins of Tikal are amazing. I have not been to El Salvador in years, but it was lovely and less touristy. Anyone else want to chime in about Central America?

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Egypt: I was just in Jordan last week (the Red Sea from the other shore). If the traveler is with anyone at all, she'll likely be spared the come-ons. But if/when she's alone, no matter how cautiously she's dressed, she'll likely be subject to them. If they're anything like what I experienced, they may be pretty egregious. She should know that it's OK to be (what might otherwise amount to) rude (for some of us) sometimes. Even sterile politeness can be misinterpreted in places where so much as glancing a woman's hair is strictly reserved for close family members.

Joe Yonan: Thanks!

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yesterday's section: Just wanted to say I really enjoyed yesterday's Travel section. I have thought about doing a road trip of that sort to the Dakotas and maybe Montana at some point. But the older I get the less appealing driving is to me.The KC story was fun too.

Zofia Smardz: Thank you! We always appreciate a compliment. And I will pass it on, too.

Nancy Trejos: Thank you! Glad you thought the KC story was fun. And I loved Rachel's drive to Fargo too.

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Shout-out to the World's Greatest DC Tour Guide: Visited DC this past weekend, and want to give a shout-out to the World's Greatest Tour Guide, Gwen, who's also the cousin of DC opera-star nonpareil Denyce Graves.

Joe Yonan: Gwen, did you hear that?

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I saved tons of money on a trip...: ...by house-sitting for school-teacher friends for two weeks during the first part of their summer vacation (before their house-swap partner arrived), as otherwise their house would've sat empty, plus I would've had to have spent some $2,000 on a hotel room. Oh, and they completely stocked their refrigerator before leaving, so I saved on meals as well! And I had free use of their car, Internet, washer/dryer, etc., etc....

Nancy Trejos: your destination? Hope it was a good one.

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Splurges in Syria: Hey crew,I am very excited to be heading to Syria over Christmas--Damascus, Hama and Aleppo. One of the wonderful things about the country is that prices are pretty cheap--I'm finding cool, funky hotel rooms in the $50 to $75 range, which means that I'll have some cash left over for a couple of splurges. Anyone have any any advice for not-too-miss restaurants or experiences for me? I'm normally a very budget-conscious traveler so this is very exciting for me!

Zofia Smardz: Have never been to Syria myself (though would love to go), but we did have this story last year that might give you some ideas. And of course, we have the chatters? Anybody been to Syria?

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For Family With the 10 Year Old: Great Falls -- I prefer the Maryland side. The Gargoyle tour of the National Cathedral, the Zoo. And check out Baltimore -- the Aquarium, Science Center for starters.

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From last week family reunion: There are some homes for rent you can find in Breckonridge, Colorado. In 1997 we had a family reunion. It was 5 siblings and their families. You are talking of 9 older adults, 10 20 somethings, and a few young children all fit in one place.

Joe Yonan: Great -- not quite 40 people, but a good start. Thanks!

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Vienna daytrips: If the requester about the Vienna trip is interested in Christmas markets, we've also got them right across the border in Bratislava (less than an hour's train ride away). It might be a nice daytrip, and they could explore downtown Bratislava, which is cute and little, and go up to the castle for a nice Danube view. Also, prices tend to be cheaper in BA than in Vienna. If you google you can find their Christmas fair webpage with a map- vianocne trhy is the Slovak term.

Zofia Smardz: What a great idea! Hadn't thought of that.

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Saving money: Whenever I'm making flight reservations, I alwyas check one-way tickets as well as round trip. I had a trip to California planned not too long ago and I was able to save $250 by booking 2 one-way flights over a round trip. It ended up being the same flights that I would have booked on the r/t anyway. Not saying it'll always keep more money in your pocket, but a few extra minutes of searching sure seemed worth it then.

Nancy Trejos: That's a really good one. Thanks for sharing. I'm going to try that myself!

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DC's question about Memorial Day weather in Palm Beach: Late May weather on the coast is pleasant due to a predictable sea breeze, but the dry season is likely to end by Memorial Day, meaning showers, not all-day rain.

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Re: Babymoon in DC: Lucky lucky you, staying at the Embassy Circle guest house. You may like it so much there you won't want to stay at the Williamsburg Inn. Prepare to be pampered and to become one of the family. And their location is great too! Not a shill, just a satisfied previous guest. Wish I were you (without the baby!)

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Tanzania: Hi - I'm going to Tanzania for two weeks in December and wonder if you have any advice on where to go and what to do (as cheaply as possible!) while I am there.

Joe Yonan: Well, if you're adventurous you could take the train that Christopher Vourlias wrote about. Or you could just mine his Details box for ideas on where to eat and stay...

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Wrote about the passport troubles: Thanks for taking my question. Is secondary considered being in trouble. I felt like I had my luggage searched because the customs officer thought I had been in trouble and I didn't think I was (and was told I wasn't).I realize this requires insight into the minds of a customs officer, but was trying to get help for what to do the next time.

Christopher Elliott: I don't know what can trigger a secondary screening when you're at customs. Sometimes -- as with the TSA -- secondary screenings are totally random.

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Thailand honeymoon?: Hi! My fiance and I are considering doing our honeymoon in Thailand. I'm curious as to what you think a good flight price would be. Also, what is Thailand like in July? Is that a decent time to go? I'm also a little concerned about safety/natural disasters. I'd appreciate any info (or alternative honeymoon ideas) that you can offer! Thank you!

Andrea Sachs: But Thailand is a fascinating country and culture, and I personally would never cancel a trip there. If you can change your travel time, I would aim for November-April. As for safety and natural disasters, there is no guarantee, but think of it as one more adventure in your new life.Other ideas: Ecuador/Galapagos Islands, Chile/Patagonia, Vietnam and Angkor Wat/Cambodia, Hawaii

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going to be in Vancouver....: I'm going to be in Vancouver and have a chance to add a week of vacation on to the trip. Is there anything I should especially look to do? A part of town to stay in? Outside the city day trips? And if I can figure out a way to put this off until July, is there a lot more to do (like festivals)? I'm generally a culture/arts traveler as opposed to a just hang out and relax or never stop exercising traveler, but I'm open to most things...

Joe Yonan: Well, if it's winter you could take a day trip to see bald eagles. In the city, don't miss the great sushi and the fantastic Japanese izakayas. And coffee. There's also the great fisherman's wharf, Chinatown night market, and aquarium. Writer Remy Scalza recommended a couple places to stay downtown.

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DC ideas for the repeaters: I took a couple of people I work with to see Hillwood. Everyone loved it ( ages from 20 to 70 something) The Textile Museum might be a thought depending on current exhibits. I took my nieces to see a Kimono exhibit a number of years ago that was fantastic.

Joe Yonan: I love the Textile Museum. Also Sackler, Phillips Collection, National Gallery, Portrait Gallery ... Oh, my.

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saving on vacation: For our honeymoon, husband and I went to spain. We bought coach tickets and upgraded to first class. using my FF miles that I had saved up through years of travel for work. It was completely worth it. You feel like you're on vacation the minute you get on the plane, which hadn't been the case with our first trip to europe together, in the back. :)

Joe Yonan: Nice.

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'security': Israel actually spends a lot of time and money training - yes, actual training - for their people. Everyone is given all sorts of security training. But what they do is what we would call 'racial profiling' here. They spend a lot of time asking questions and noticing suspicious behavior. Why do you think they ask things like: is there anything in your baggage that....whatever...they KNOW that you are going to respond: no, there are no explosives in my bags. Obviously. But they are actually trained to listen to the answer, to notice your behavior, etc and look for suspicious activity. We can't do that here. everyone is so afraid of lawsuits. So we do all these things that won't make us any safer, but it makes us (well, some of us) feel better about themselves. Kind of like what we're doing in public schools - if we all feel better about ourselves, then everything is fine, right?

Christopher Elliott: Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this issue. I agree, an Israeli system would be great, but we can't afford it.

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Free Trip to Turkey: have an offer for a free tour of Turkey from Bazaar Cappadoce Travels. I provide air or book thru Feliz Travel of West Hempstead NY. Brochure indicates visits to high end shops as part of package. I'm tempted. Any advise Is the offer legit?

Andrea Sachs: That sounds too good to be true. What does the "free" include? Check with the Better Business Bureau, ask for the company's credentials and history, and see if you can speak with past travelers. Also, get travel insurance. I see there is a thread on TripAdvisor about this topic, but no one came up with a conclusion. Personally, I would not go on this trip unless I did some heavy research and made sure my credit card company had my back.

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atlanta...: Go with your seven month old ANYWHERE! it seems like a hassle, but believe me, they can sleep anywhere, and you will have a great time, and they aren't so difficult as when they are older. you can strap them in, and they will be fine. just make sure you have a good stroller!

Joe Yonan: I like the way you think.

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saving...?: Don't know if this will count, but, went to Florida for my grandmother's funeral, me and one of my sons. Stayed with a friend, and even though I would have rented a car, she let me use her husband's the whole time (he was mostly traveling while I was there).To fly there, a friend of mine who works at *unnamed airline* gave me a buddy pass. Wasn't the best going (we didn't get on first two flights...but they fly to FL frequently) - and my son got annoyed. But going home, we got an earlier flight, which they at first were going to charge me for - until I said: We're flying on buddy passes. Then we got on the earlier flight *and* our bags flew free.

Nancy Trejos: Sorry you had to go there for a funeral. But I'm glad you didn't have to spend a fortune to get there.

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For Family With the 10 Year Old: I don't think they are running this time of year but the mule pulled barge on the canal is a lot of fun.

Joe Yonan: Thanks!

Becky Krystal: Yup, here's the story Weekend had on that exact activity. You're right, though -- it's only through October.

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Dengue fever in Key West: Foreign friends visiting Washington DC are headed for Key West. Do they need to be warned about dengue fever there? Apparently the Key West tourism folks are downplaying the risks, while the CDC isn't getting as much coverage as they should about the serious dangers involved, and how to reduce one's risk.Your advice would be much appreciated.

Zofia Smardz: Surely you should tell your friends about it so that they can take preventive measures, mostly being sure to wear bug repellent with deet and covering up. According to news reports, the outbreak is not major (24 cases through mid-July), and the only way to contract the disease is from a bite by an infected mosquito, so they should be okay if they just spray.

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TSA: Drudge has a link to someone who had a bad TSA experience. I watched it and thought that maybe there is bias in the system. I keep getting pulled aside for groin checks. But the middle age fat men don't seem to be getting that treatment. And now with the radiation therapy option, it just gets worse. It's the same thing as a strip search. So here is my question. Rather than side-step around things, why not just require a fully body strip search before boarding? Do it in cubicals for privacy. Provide refreshments to lighten up the mood. I'd rather go thru something like that than this "lets pretend we are doing something useful" stuff. As the guy on the video said, he watched TSA wave most of the people thru without pulling them aside.

Christopher Elliott: I saw that story, too. But here's the problem -- even if we flew naked, we'd still have no assurances of total safety. A determined terrorist could hide an explosive device in a body cavity. Where do we draw the line?

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When a flight attendant is late to work...: I flew out of couthern CA yesterday morning, with a conencting flight from Dallas to Reagan. I would've flown out of CA at 7:45 AM, but they had to find a replacement flight attendant since the original one never showed up. We eventually got underway about 9:15 AM, and I ended up missing my connection in Dallas by about 10 minutes. Fortunately, I was put on standby for a flight an hour later, and ended up getting on.Long story short, what responsibilities do airlines have in this situation? Other than apologizing for the delay, that is. I was pretty fortunate, but I imagine others may not have been so lucky. I'm just curious.

Andrea Sachs: If it is the airline's fault (staffing issue, mechanical, etc.), they are fully responsible. (Weather, and other acts of nature, is a different issue.) Foremost, they are expected to get you on the next available flight, which is what they did. If you had a longer wait, they might have thrown in food/drink vouchers, hotel stay, coupons for future flights, etc. It all depends on the situation and how it is resolved.

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spain: when we went to spain, our travel agent gave us an itinerary, then i asked about barcelona - starting in madrid. we picked the itinerary without barcelona, because it would include so much more. if you just want to do madrid and barcelona, i'd suggest that, but adding it to another itinerary, well, i'd do different stuff - so you *can* see more, rather than traveling more.We went to madrid, toledo (you have to go, you'll be right there, near madrid, and it's a great town - we stayed in the hotel that had been a monastery). Then we saw granada and seville. We had a car, so we got to stop in some smaller towns (rhonda is gorgeous!) but I hear the trains work these days, so you might want to do that instead.

Joe Yonan: Thanks. When I went, I concentrated on the northern and middle parts: Barcelona, San Sebastian, Bilbao, then looped down to Madrid and over to Valencia before going back up to Barcelona.

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London/Paris Hotels: Hello! Which are the best neighborhoods to stay in London and Paris?

Nancy Trejos: has lots of great cafes, the Moulin Rouge, the Sacre Couer. I stayed in the Latin Quarter once and loved it. Great bookstores and boutiques. Anywhere near the Champs Elysees would be fun too. In London, Mayfair is lovely. Covent Garden is great too. And anywhere around Hyde Park. Any other chatters have suggestions?

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A little defense of the TSA: I only travel by airplane 2-3 times a year, but I had to say that the last time I had to go through security, the TSA agents did a superb job. They were friendly and polite, helped a mom traveling "alone" with her 3 kids (one of whom was toddling away from her), and generally treated everyone with courtesy and dignity. You couldn't pay me to do their job, and I think everyone who interacts with them should realize that they don't make the rules.

Christopher Elliott: I hear you. I think the TSOs who have to enforce this policy are victims, too, in a way. They didn't come up with the enhanced pat-downs or the scanners; they know the new policy is unpopular, and they are subjected to criticism and ridicule on a daily basis because of it. The scanner controversy is taking its toll on them, too.

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Re: Ireland: A couple of other options (besides Roscommon) for the person based in Galway city: Connemara area, west of Galway city; Westport, Co. Mayo via Connemara, or otherwise; or, Clonmacnoise, Co Offaly, if interested in history - monastic sites in particular.

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You asked, Where did I house-sit for school-teacher friends?: Just off a US military base in a foreign country!

Nancy Trejos: Intriguing... well hope it was a fun one!

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To "going to be in Vancouver": If you have a couple days to spare, consider taking the ferry across to Vancouver Island! I (heart) Victoria, B.C.

Joe Yonan: Yes!

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crying saved me money: I was on my way home from a semester abroad and my bags were both overweight. I started crying, and they waived the fees. Worked like a charm.

Nancy Trejos: Wow, I've only heard of that working with speeding tickets! Well, I'm not surprised that those baggage fees would bring some people to tears.

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Passport Expiration and Mexico travel: In order to gain entry, some countries require a US passport with an expiration date no earlier than 6 months from the end of the visit. But is that true for Mexico as well? Or does a US citizen only require a current passport (even if it expires shortly after the visit)?

Zofia Smardz: Yes, that applies to Mexico as well -- your passport must be valid for 6 months from the end date of your visit.

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Spain Group: Just got back from two weeks in Spain, followed the Going Our Way itinerary loosely. We flew in and out of Madrid. With one week I would fly into Madrid early early one day, spend arrival day and next day in Madrid, high speed train down to Sevilla and spend two days there, high speed train to Barcelona and spend 2-3 days there and then high speed train back to Madrid. It will be a quick trip but can be done.

Joe Yonan: Great -- glad to know that GOW helped!

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Panama Bound: Hi - Thanks for taking my question. My husband and I are traveling to Panama for the first time after Christmas and wanted to know if you had any ideas on things we must see. We'll be there for about 10 days and trying to tour most of the country.

Nancy Trejos: I haven't been there. Any chatters have some suggestions?

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The Grand Canyon: Hey, crew: Trying to plan an early June "drive around" for the GC, both the North and South Rims. Do you, or any of your vast viewing audience have suggestions about how to do it and where to stay?

Zofia Smardz: Let's throw this out to the chatters. Folks?

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Spandex: Do you think this would solve the intense pat downs?

Joe Yonan: I don't see how. But maybe I'm not thinking about this enough. Maybe I don't want to!

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Tour Guide in Rome: Hi, My family and I will be traveling to Rome at the end of April or beginning of May next year. I was wondering if anyone knows of a good tour guide that we can hire for a day or two. We will be in Rome for about 8 days. Thanks.

Nancy Trejos: I don't have one in mind. Let's throw it out to the chatters. Anyone?

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Alaska planning: Hi Crew -My family of three would like to go to Alaska in August and it seems that we should begin the planning now. We are thinking two weeks with a budget of $10,000. Is that realistic? My main concern is that our 10-year old daughter not be bored. Looking at scenery only holds her interest for just so long -- she needs activities. How do I get started? Thanks for some help.

Zofia Smardz: According to this Going Our Way column on Alaska, two weeks on $10,000 might be a little tight. But check it out.

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Super-frugal: I won an American Express drawing for round trip, business class airfare for two to London. Because I was providing the flights, my friend paid for the lodging, and all I had to pay was the taxes on the airfare! Not exactly something you could recreate for another trip, but it was great! It was the first time I had flown business class, and wow!

Nancy Trejos: Good for you! And business class too....

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Big reunions: Check lodge/house rentals in Utah. Lots of big families there who like to reunite.

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Spring Break Family Trip: I have been looking for a good deal on a Spring Break trip for our family (2 Adults and 3 kids ages 8, 6,6). Would like to go to the beach, Florida, Mexico, Carribean. It seems like all of the good resorts are booked up. Am I too late? If not, can you suggest a few family friendly resorts to check out?

Andrea Sachs: Liberty Travel, Expedia et al. You might also consider renting a condo or villa on one of the Gulf Coast keys, such as Longboat or Anna Maria.

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2011 train schedule for European countries: Hello! Do you know when timetables for European trains are updated for 2011? We're taking a trip in the spring and before we booked, I looked at schedules from this year to get an idea of how easy it would be to get from one place to the next. Now as I'm looking at connections for our actual dates, there seem to be fewer options, which is making me nervous. One night train I was planning to take has disappeared altogether! Are full schedules just not available yet?

Andrea Sachs: Trains fill, then open up, then fill, etc. I would contact Eurorail and ask them about specific times and dates.

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Flights to europe ...: Going to Europe this summer with my family - Normandy and then Saas Fee. Poking around on-line I found round trip flights on Jet Airways from NY in and out of Geneva for $708. WOW. Change planes in Brussels. However, if I search for flights into Brussels and out of Geneva the price goes up by $500/ticket. In other words, I will save almost $2,000 with the extra leg into Geneva. Can I buy the tickets round-trip to Geneva, and then just not get on the last leg? We are going to have carry-ons only. Or, would that invalidate our return ticket?

Joe Yonan: I think it would indeed invalidate. I've heard of folks buying round-trip tickets but only using them one-way, but they were OK because they had already flown (the leg they skipped was the last leg of a flight). I believe this is generally against the airlines' rules, so I'm sure they will penalize you if they can. Only do it if it's the last leg, you don't want to return, not checking bags, not collecting miles. Otherwise, don't risk it.

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Enhanced pat-down: Hi! My partner has artificial hips and a couple of other issues that resulted in metal in her body, so she always has to get the enhanced pat-down. I have to say that on our last couple of trips, both going and returning, the TSA agent was very respectful and professional. She used the side of her hand to search around the bra area, so it wasn't at all like being groped, even though it was very thorough. I understand that many people are getting very unpleasant enhanced pat-downs lately, but I just wanted to tell you about our different experience. Maybe the difference is that we didn't refuse the scanner machine (we weren't asked to go through one).

Nancy Trejos: Thanks for sharing.

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Nancy Trejos: Thanks for the great questions and comments. We hope we were able to help you with your traveling needs. And thanks for sharing your money-saving tips and tales. There were lots of good ones, but I have to give the prize to the person who financed an entire honeymoon with S&H Green Stamps. Please email me at trejosn@washpost.com to claim your prize. We look forward to chatting with all of you next week!

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