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Monday, January 31, 2011; 12:00 PM

Travel with coupons and other money-saving traveling strategies, the TSA's more aggressive pat-downs, holiday vacation planning, and more.

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Zofia Smardz: Hello and a happy Monday to all! Hope you're all ready for another fun flight with the Travel gang. Wasn't Andrea's story about road-tripping in an electric car terrific? In the spirit of her adventure, let's hear about your closest calls on the road -- running out of gas, breaking down, getting lost, whatever. Most harrowing road trip tale wins a prize. And now for your questions:

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Sicily: It looks like I'll be traveling to Sicily in April and I'm wondering if there are any must sees/dos. Thanks!

Carol Sottili:

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Charleston, SC beach options: I will be attending a wedding in Charleston with my husband and 2 adult sons the end of June and plan to stay in the city for 3 or 4 nights and would like to spend part of the week at Seabrook, Kiawah, or Isle of Palms. Went on some of the rental sites but it's overwhelming- would like to find something reasonable available for a partial week- small cottage or townhouse preferable over a hotel- but all would be considered. Any recommendations- it's been years since I've been to any of these resort islands.

Zofia Smardz: I spent a long weekend at the Wild Dunes resort on the Isle of Palms a couple of years ago, and it was wonderful. You could rent a townhouse for the four of you and each have your own bedroom. The beach there is fantastic, deep and flat, really lovely. And the resort offers special packages, too. Let's ask the chatters for other ideas as well.

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Hotels listed in Priceline: How do hotels get their names listed in Priceline? We had tickets to a Friday night Hershey Bears hockey game, and I wanted to stay in Hershey for the night. Searching on the web, I eventually found a room at a brand new hotel (Country Inn & Suites) with excellent reviews, less than two miles from the arena, for less than $70. But it's not listed in Priceline or Expedia. Some other hotels that were nearby and cheap had reviews that said things like "a filthy dump."Oh, and the hockey game was loads of fun. We got front-row seats at face value ($22 each) via Craiglist.

Christopher Elliott: Excellent question. Not every hotel participates in Priceline or the other major "opaque" website, Hotwire. Hotels that have a lot of unused inventory will turn to the sites to help them sell rooms. I know that the properties also must meet certain quality standards in order to get listed on the sites, particularly for star-rated "name your own price" style bookings. I know of several hotels that were expelled from the sites for failing to meet quality standards.

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Road Trip to Minneapolis: I am considering a "road trip" to Minneapolis to visit my son and his wife in late June early July. I would like to include Niagara Falls, Toronto and Chicago in this trip with a stop in Minoqua, Wisoconsin to visit family. We can take 2 weeks. Any suggestions?

Nancy Trejos: Suggestions for places to stop on the road or things to do at the destinations you've decided on so far? I haven't been to Niagra falls since I was a baby, but I have been to Toronto and Chicago within the last year (literally just got back from Chicago a few days ago). Both are really fun, walkable cities. In fact, I took a great walking tour of Toronto, exploring Chinatown and the Kensington Market neighborhoods. You should definitely go to one of the city's six Chinatowns and have some dim sum. The city also has some interesting graffiti art. As for Chicago, where should I start? It's one of the most beautiful cities in America, in my opinion. Definitely go to the Art Institute of Chicago. I love their collection of Impressionist paintings. Have some Mexican food and deep dish pizza (I went to Rick Bayless' Frontera Grill. Really good mole.) Take in a show at Second City, where many of Saturday Night Live's performers started out. Check out the Navy Pier. Have a drink at the Signature Lounge on the 95th floor of the John Hancock building. Do some shopping on the Magnificent Mile. And just walk around and admire the great architecture. Have fun!

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road trip: I was driving back to Chapel Hill from Long Island. I had gotten an oil change before leaving CH. Apparently, at some point, something came loose, and I was leaking oil. On the way home I had to stop every once in a while (it's an 8 hour trip or so) because the low oil light came on, I'd go to a gas station and buy some oil and put it in the car...In the scheme of things, probably not so bad, but I was alone and didn't know what was happening at the time. It was kinda scary.

Zofia Smardz: Any kind of thing going wrong with the car when you're on a road trip is scary! Thanks for sharing.

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re: charleston: We rented a house on Folly Beach - check that out. It's a much smaller island, but it was so much fun, and you could walk all over, it's less built up, but there's stuff there. Don't discount it.

Zofia Smardz: More Charleston info. Thanks for this!

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Europe travel: Hi, I'm looking for a Europe tour with 21 yr old in May. Want to see London, paris Italy, Rome... anyother suggestions? Any sugestions on how to do this? We have 11 days. Thanks

Carol Sottili: Just about every tour operator does a Europe highlights tour. The United States Tour Operators Association lists 73 companies that offer tours of Europe. I'd scroll through those to see which has the right itinerary at your price point. But be aware that tours often attract an older crowd, so your 21-year-old may not have anyone near his/her age along on the trip. Any chatters have specific recommendations (other than doing it yourself)?

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Anniversary in a DC Hotel: My husband and I are going to be celebrating our anniversary the first weekend in March and wanted to spend a night or two in a nice DC hotel and go out to a fabulous dinner. We want to stay somewhere that is on the higher-end scale but we don't want to drop 400/night. What are your recommendations for a nice place that won't break the bank?

Joe Yonan: How about the Jefferson? You can get a $337 rate by staying two nights (or by being a AAA member). The renovation is gorgeous. Or, if your tastes run a bit more contemporary, for $242 (AAA), you could get a big room at the Palomar with a soaking tub for two. Hmm.

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Washington, DC: Over the Memorial Day weekend, we will be celebrating our son's first birthday, our seventh wedding anniversary, and my husband's 36th birthday. We would like to go to a fun destination that is within driving distance of DC.

Zofia Smardz: Memorial Day weekend's the traditional season opener.Other thoughts, chatters?

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Egypt: Over Christmas, I had been thinking about a trip to Egypt and Jordan, but felt funny about the rising unrest - - boy am I glad I listened to my concerns! What it must be like to be in the middle of that. Wondering where it's safe?!

Nancy Trejos: Yes, very sad. Cairo was one of my favorite trips ever. Jordan is also an amazing place to visit. Petra is a must-see. And the Dead Sea was fun. I hope you make it there someday!

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Cancun: Hello Travel Crew! My SO and I are looking to go to the Cancun area in late May--this is the only time that really works for our schedules. Flight prices are currently hovering around $330, which seems a little high to me. Should we hold out for a while longer and wait for a possible sale? Also, any tips for a relaxing/cultural/non-crazy/non-clubbing week in the Puerto Morelos area? Thanks!

Carol Sottili: I don't think $330 is high for convenient flights. I'd probably buy and then stop looking (I hate it when I find a sale after the fact). I don't know much about Puerto Morelos - usually head farther south - but I hear there is good snorkeling. You can also take a trip to area ruins, such as Tulum.

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Ireland Private Tour Company?: Hi! The six of us want to explore Ireland for 2-3 weeks and would like to hire a driver/tour guide/van for the period. Has anyone got any recommendations for our September trip? Thanks, John in Annapolis

Zofia Smardz: Here's a Going Our Way column on Ireland that we did last year. You might start with it for some ideas. Otherwise, let's ask the chatters. Folks?

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New Zealand/World Cup in September: My mother and I are planning a two-week trip to New Zealand in September to visit my cousin in Wellington and tour the south island. It looks as though we'll be down there during the Rugby World Cup (may try and sneak in a match!), any idea if this will have a big impact on the price of flights to Auckland from L.A.? How far in advance would you buy your tickets for a trip like this? Flights look high right now but we anticipate they'll go down in the next few months, unless the World Cup keeps prices high. Thank you!!!

Carol Sottili:

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Hawaii: Hi! We are trying to decide which island in Hawaii to spend a week on. We don't think we like the loudness on Waikiki beach, and we're looking to spend time on the beach, snorkelling, and possibly some hiking/shopping. We are thinking of Maui (which is pricier) or the Big Island (more affordable, but the beaches seemed less suitable for just hanging out). please advise.

Christopher Elliott:

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Road trip in Canada: This wasn't harrowing at all, but it's a sweet story I like to share. About ten years ago I drove with friends from Boston to Nova Scotia. My clutch seemed like it might need replacing. Given the good exchange rate with Canada, the timing was good. We stopped in a dealership in Halifax, which told us they would take a look and we should come back in 90 minutes.They worked on the car for two hours. The clutch needed an adjustment, not replacement. And they refused to take any money from us because they didn't want us to think badly of Canadians. that's right...they worked on the car FOR FREE for two hours. On two other occasions garages have fixed my car free of charge. I retain a soft spot for mechanics everywhere.

Zofia Smardz: Wow, what's your secret? :-) Thanks for the nice story.

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Scary road trip: I was travelling from here to Virginia Tech, just before people had cell phones (early 1990's). The timing belt on my Honda gave way on Afton Mountain outside of Charlottesville, conveniently right across the highway from a rest stop. It was August, very hot, so I tucked my small dog under my arm and ran across all the traffic lanes to the stop to call for a tow truck. Sat down at a picnic table to wait.A man in a pick-up truck with out of state tags pulled up and started making lewd suggestions. I tried to gently discourage him, but realized that in my search for a shady spot, I was isolated from the main foot-traffic of people using the restrooms. A family finally walked up to another picnic table, and I rushed over to greet them, even though I didn't know them. What I learned is that even in populated areas, in broad daylight, stay right in the thick of things, even if it is hotter!

Zofia Smardz: Lesson learned!

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Roadtripping Lesson Learned: My parents accompanied me when I was moving all my stuff out East from Nebraska several years ago - mom in the car with me (and the cats!) and dad in the big Budget truck. In Illinois, my mom was recounting how she remembered from childhood that there were very few gas stations along the major highways in that state... Lo and behold, I looked at the gas gauge and realized that I was very, very close to Empty. We started looking hard for a gas station, and none were appearing. At one point I took a ramp from one highway to the other, and my gas gauge actually went BELOW empty! I didn't know they could do that. We were on the phone with my dad, trying to figure out a plan when, happily, a gas station appeared up ahead! And from that, I learned to never let the gas tank get more than half empty if I didn't know where the next station was!

Zofia Smardz: You would really have been in trouble if you'd been in an electric car! Thanks for the story.

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€™t have been the worst thing to have to stay in Paris a 9th night

Christopher Elliott: US Airways isn't the only airline that does it this way. I agree, they should make it easier to contact the airline and rebook, particularly by email. I had an almost identical experience with JetBlue. I called and emailed, and although I was able to get my flight changed by phone, I also received a verification by email, in response to my written message. So even though an airline says you have to call, I would still try to send an email as a backup.

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LA by bus: I enjoyed the feature on LA via public transportation this weekend. I did the same thing last May - I was in town for a conference and didn't want to deal with driving in the notorious LA traffic. So the first day I used one of those tour bus companies to see the city and hit Santa Monica Beach, then my last day in town I rode the public bus and subway all over to see the Tar Pits, a cemetery and other sites (LACMA was, sadly, closed). I don't think it was as easy as public transit in other cities (DC, NYC and San Francisco are all much easier) but it was nowhere near as difficult as people had made it out to be before I left! I would totally do it again (maybe with that big map your author mentioned!).

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Into Milan, Out of Vienna: My husband and I are celebrating our 10 year anniversary by going to Lake Como and Vienna (where we got married). I am pricing flights to fly into Milan and out of Vienna. That is, IAD to MXP then VIE to IAD - I will book the flight from Milan to Vienna separately. I am getting a price for this flight on Lufthansa for $1300 each (with taxes). Is this a good price or should I wait? I am inclined to buy since the schedule is good, but I would hate to see it go down say $300. Let me know what you think!

Carol Sottili: Can't really answer without knowing when you are flying. That's a good price for high season.

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Scared on the road: Many years ago I was in a tuk-tuk in Bangkok and I was sure I was going to die. Almost a zen-like acceptance. I wondered if it was going to hurt. Now I'm in Brazil, where everyone drives like crazy (they may be famed for not being in a rush, but not when they're in a car, much like Goofy in an old Disney cartoon)-- and where many lower-priced cars still have no air bags at all.

Zofia Smardz: Have never been in a tuk-tuk, but they do look scary.

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Los Angeles public transport: Hi -- I enjoyed the interesting article on taking the bus in Los Angeles -- news to a lot of people! But, your readers should also know about the Los Angeles Metro Rail, which has two subway routes and several light rail routes. These run from the airport to downtown, with other routes going out to Hollywood and Pasadena. It's a good way to explore the museums and shops of Pasadena, followed by dinner in one of the numerous restaurants on Mission Street in South Pasadena. The Metro Rail also connects to the bus routes, and can be much faster than relying on the bus alone.Also, why did the "sidebar" only mention American and Virgin America as flying from D.C. to Los Angeles? Those two airlines combined have 6 non-stop flights a day on that route, while United has 7 or 8 non-stops every day! Also should note that Alaska has one non-stop a day, from National Airport, and Jet Blue has one non-stop each day, to Long Beach.

Zofia Smardz: Thanks for the info on Metro Rail. As to your question re flights to L.A. -- to help out our readers, we always list the cheapest flight, not all flights or airlines that might serve the area. American and Virgin America happened at the moment to have the cheapest flights, as far as we were able to determine.

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My story: This happened last fall. I was on a trip in colorado when I hit something in the road that flattened my tire. This is a rather remote location where I was 60 miles from the nearest city. It was near sunset. Someone stopped and assisted me with my tire. He was someone from the local area I asked him for his info so I could send him some sort of thank you and he refused it. This accident did cut my vacation short by a day because it took me all day the next day to get the tire fixed.

Zofia Smardz: Flat tires in remote areas are the worst. I know, I've had a bunch!

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London in May: We are planning something like 7-10 days in England (mostly London) in May. What should we expect for flight prices? I hear the fares are going up, so I'm not sure what a "good deal" looks like right now.

Carol Sottili: If you can get a nonstop for about $750 including all taxes, that's good. Midweek flights in early May are going to be cheaper.

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Great Exuma Bahama's: My husband and I are going on a vacation to Great Exuma Bahamas at the end of February (yay!!). It's a couple's resort but besides relaxing pool and ocean side what else is there to do? We'd like to do some shopping but is there a local touristy area? I've tried looking at the resorts website but there's no information. We're too old for the all night dancing and too brittle of bones to water ski etc.

Andrea Sachs: including the Straw Market. Because tourism is one of the main industries, it's hard to avoid touristy spots, since most locals don't really need dolphin wood carvings or a million straw hats. But the market is still fun to wander through. You might also try individual boutiques around town. For activities that don't require a 20-year-old's body, try:* The Land and Sea Park* Snorkel Thunderball Grottos Cay* Hermitage tombs* Williams Town, where you can see ruins of old cotton plantations and colonial tombs* Glassbottom boat tour* Rolle Town, home of produce growers all sharing the same last name of Rolle* Ancient Stromatolites

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Road trip: Growing up we could not afford to fly, so we took driving vacations every summer. The most 'harrowing' one was a drive from Montana (where we lived) straight through 44 hours to New Jersey (5 us of us in a Ford van with no air conditioning in July) to pick up some friends. Then 9 of us (4 adults and 5 kids ages 9-17) drove in that van straight through from NJ to Florida for a week long vacation. Then, we drove back to Montana, via NJ to drop off our friends. It was about 6,000 miles driven (with no overnight stops on driving days) in 14 days. We had a cooler of food and a porta potty in the back of the van (with a curtain behind the one bench seat, next to the bed in the back), so we just kept driving until we needed gas. As a teenager it was loads of fun, but I sure wouldn't do it now as an adult.

Zofia Smardz: Sounds exhausting, if not exactly harrowing. Thanks!

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Bahamas in March: Are we insane to try to go to the Bahamas around March 18? I'm hoping all the spring break people will be heading home around then, but am not sure what it's like there at that time. Lodging isn't a concern, but transportation is--we'll need to rent a car. Do you know what documentation, etc., we'll need for that? Anything we should look out for other than "mandatory" insurance and the usual pitfalls? Thanks.

Carol Sottili:

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Spring break ideas: I know this might be too general a question to answer, but I'd like to take our 8 and 10 year olds somewhere fun for spring break. They've gotten better about being adventurous and like exploring new places. Ideally the place would be a short drive (less than 5 hours) or a short plane ride away. Somewhere we could be centrally located and use a base to explore from. Last year we flew to Phoenix and had a great time exploring the area and went as far north as Sedona. I'd like to keep costs under $4000. Any good ideas? Thanks!

Joe Yonan: How about New Orleans? Might be interesting to show them this vibrant culture -- jazz, food, etc. -- but also get the chance to talk to them about Katrina, about the oil spill, etc. And you could then explore more of LA (Baton Rouge, Lafayette), to experience more Cajun and Creole culture.

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L.A. transit: LA Metro lists bus, light rail and subway routes and fares. Here is the site for Metrolink commuter trains. And here's the Los Angeles World Airports site with info for the FlyAway busses that link LAX with Union Station (downtown L.A.), Westwood and Van Nuys.

Zofia Smardz: Thanks!

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Suggestions for a honemoon in late May?: Good afternoon! My fiance and I will be taking a ten day honeymoon at the end of May. We're very excited, but are so overwhelmed that we don't know where to start! We've narrowed it down to the Caribbean (St. Lucia, maybe?) or Italy (a few days in on the beach in Sicily and then tour Rome and Florence, maybe?). We also considered Greece, but after doing a bit of research we think that's probably too expensive for us (our budget is about $3750). Do you have any advice for us or websites you can point us to for pros/cons or things to think about when picking a location and planning a honeymoon? We're both well-traveled (he's traveled throughout Asia and I've lived in Latin America and Asia) but our travel styles are a bit different- I'm a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer and my style is more Lonely Planet traveler and he's more of a group tour/package vacation traveler. We both agree that we'd rather not use a package tour for our honeymoon. This will be my first "luxurious" vacation, and I'm excited at the idea of staying somewhere that's not a hostel, but not sure how to start planning. Thanks!

Joe Yonan: Oh, I'd take Italy, absolutely. If you're interested in Sicily, by all means read over the Going Our Way that Carol linked to earlier in the chat. I agree that Rome and Florence are fab, but for your honeymoon it's kind of a shame to miss Venice, isn't it?

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Montgomery Village, MD: Hello My wife and I would like to visit Switzerland for a week, particularly Zurich , in honor of my Grandfather's emigration to the US 100 years ago. What are the better times of the year to visit there and what are the "Don't miss" sites ?Thanks

Zofia Smardz: Switzerland is one of the most beautiful countries in the world, year-round, summer or winter. Unless you're a big skier, though, you'd probably rather see it in the spring, summer or fall. Zurich is a fantastic city, full of history, architecture and culture. You must visit the old town and stroll down the famous Bahnhofstrasse, the main shopping street. Check out the gorgeous churches -- the Grossmuenster or main cathedral, the Frauenmuenster (be sure to see the Marc Chagall stained glass windows in the choir) and St. Peter's, with its huge clock. The Zurich Museum of Art is among the best in Europe, the Centre Le Corbusier is all things Corbusier, and the Uhrenmuseum, or clock museum, celebrates Switzerland's great claim to fame. There's tons more, but that should get you started.

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Traveler Protections for Involuntary Bumping: A co-worker heard on the radio recently about the Aviation Consumer Protection Division's description of DoT's requirements when a flyer is bumped involuntarily, and showed me this web site: http://airconsumer.dot.gov/publications/flyrights.htm . It lists compensations far beyond what I'd heard of before, and wanted to find out from y'all, the experts, about this. Would the Travel staff be willing to translate this policy/document into layman's terms? Thanks for the great chats, I love reading them!

Christopher Elliott:

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Miami recommendations: Just scheduled a last minute trip to Miami the weekend after next. We need some warm weather! We're staying at the Eden Roc, which I know is a bit out of the way. Any recommendations for things to do/restaurants nearby or elsewhere in South Beach? Thanks.

Nancy Trejos: The Rooftop Lounge at the Townhouse Hotel is fun. Also check out the Spire Bar and Lounge. Any other chatters want to share their favorite Miami spots?

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Road Trip Horror: Boston to Long Island, a trip involving a car ferry across Long Island Sound. In the middle of winter, got a flat tire right as we were leaving. Husband didn't want to miss the boat, so we made the trip on a donut. It was snowing, and I was 7 months pregnant. At least we got a new tire on Long Island, before we drove to Maryland and then back to Boston.

Zofia Smardz: Good thing!

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Harrowing road trip: I was traveling with my dad and my sisters on a cross country road trip to hit all the major national parks in the west (Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Yellowstone, etc). We were pulling our pop-up camper the whole way. Somewhere in Nevada on the way to Yosemite, there was a problem with the Suburban we were pulling the camper with. I don't remember exactly what the issue was, but the brakes weren't working so well. We managed to stop for the night at a small local campground and set up in the dark, but for whatever reason continued on to Yosemite the next day. With touchy brakes and pulling a pop-up, we traveled along the windy, narrow road into Yosemite, having to pull over every 5 minutes or so to let the long line of cars pass. We finally made it, and I don't think my dad has ever been so happy to reach a destination safely.

Zofia Smardz: I'll bet! Thanks for the story.

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Unexpected Protests: When things such as Egypt happen to a tourist, is it best to just follow instructions; or should one try to wait it out? Will hotels reduce their rates since it may take weeks to get back to normal? There are protest in a few areas of the UK now as well.

Christopher Elliott:

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NY City Trip: I want to plan a weekend away to NY (from DC) in late April to surprise my husband for his birthday. He has never been and while I've been recently for dinner when I was in NJ for business, I haven't really explored since I was a kid. But where do I even begin to plan this trip?! I'm inclined to skip Broadway, but I'd want to visit some museums, central park, find a cozy place for dinner. Any suggestions about how to start narrowing things down or at least a neighborhood that might be best for us to stay?

Carol Sottili: I think the Upper West side near Central Park is a nice, quiet neighborhood that won't overwhelm him. The American Museum of Natural History is one of my favorites. There are some very nice hotels near the museum, including the Lucerne and On the Avenue.

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Visiting Paris: We are going to Paris in June for a family reunion. As we have three small kids (ages 7, 5, and 2), we would prefer to rent an apartment rather than stay in a hotel. Can you recommend an aparment rental service? Escalea looks promising, but I need to find a reputable service. Thanks!!

Joe Yonan: I have had good experience with this one.

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Oregon beaches: I'm headed to Portland for a short visit in mid-March and would like to take off one night to spend on the coast (assuming the weather isn't so bad that driving is perilous). Closest beach town appeas to be Cannon Beach, but I've seen some reviews touting others, a bit further away, such as Manzanita. Any experiences?

Andrea Sachs: Here is the piece I wrote when I checked out the beaches this summer. If you only have one day, I would recommend Seaside and Cannon Beach, especially the latter for its famed Haystack Rock and art galleries. I also enjoyed Newport, which is farther south, and has more activities for non-beach weather, such as the aquarium.

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Middle East: Hello everyone. Well, I know none of us have a crystal ball, but, all things staying as they are now, how would any of the Crew feel about leaving for Jordan in two weeks time? We are scheduled on a 10-day tour of the country, many of the highlights except Aqaba. Thanks!

Nancy Trejos: It's obviously hard to predict how all the different crises in the region are going to play out. I'm no Middle East expert, but Jordan thus far has been considered one of the more stable countries in the region. I've been there a couple of times and always felt safe (Petra and the Dead Sea are must-sees) That said, I have read of some recent protests there. I would just keep tabs of news reports over the next week or so. But as of now, I think you should be okay.

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harrowing road trip: Had to be motorcycling over the Mackinac Bridge in Michigan with 50-60 mph gusts. Four lanes, with the left lane each direction made of interlocking steel grate, which I did not want to touch. So I had the one narrow right hand lane, next to a 3' tall guardrail and a big drop beyond that. Had to keep the bike heeled over into the wind, but then there was no wind behind the two big buttresses. Turns out they had banned semi trucks that day, wish I'd have known!

Zofia Smardz: Now *that* sounds harrowing!

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India Road Trip: Most harrowing was a 10 hour drive from Agra to Pushkar in a tiny white car that looked like something not seen on American roads since the 70's. Sharing the roads with trucks, rickshaws, bicycles, pedestrians, cows and more cows. Drivers don't hesitate to pass on blind curves or drive on the wrong side of the road when it suits them. And then, night falls. Half the cars have no lights at all, the other half are using their brights. All you can see is blinding lights coming right at you. Along the way, passed three dead cows and, sadly, one dead person, struck on his bicycle, all victims of Indian drivers. At long last arrived at the carefully chosen Australian owned hotel which turns out to be infested with mosquitoes and ants and the only water is from a bucket, since it is not cold out, "most people don't want hot water".

Zofia Smardz: Yikes!

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Tale of auto woes: Back in college, when most people do really dumb things, my boyfriend and I left the mountains of WV during a blizzard to head back to Baltimore. We were in separate cars and had walkie talkies. I was in front, trying not to slide all over the road, when he came over the air to say he'd been rear-ended and was straddling a ditch in the median. I pulled over and spent an hour sobbing, praying that the semis roaring by didn't slip and smash into my little coupe. Finally, he was towed out and we made it to Friendsville, MD, where a fabulous motel owner recognized my last name and gave us a room for free. I don't mess around with weather now.

Zofia Smardz: Glad to hear you lived to absorb that lesson!

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Harrowing trip:: Mine is every mom's nightmare: My first job out of college I worked a four to midnight shift, then drove 50 minutes to visit my boyfriend. On the highway at 1 a.m., my car broke down. I got out of the car and stood there for a moment, completely at a loss. (This was before cell phones, and I was on a stretch of road miles from any exit.) A pickup truck pulled up with two farmer-type gentlemen in the cab. I explained my dilemma and where I was going. They put me up front between them and off we went. I sat petrified, positive that I'd be on the next day's front page as a missing person. The two gentlemen never said a word--but they drove me directly to my boyfriend's parents' home. And no, I've never told my now-college-aged daughter this story.

Zofia Smardz: I'm happy that this story had a happy ending!

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Tour Guides in Spain: Do you have any suggestions on finding good local tour guides in Spain? We will be travelling on our own to Madrid, Barcelona, Cordoba, Seville in April and are interested in finding a local tour guide in some or all of those cities. In the past we have done general city tours on buses, but are wondering if it might be better to hire a guide for our group of four for more individualized tours.

Carol Sottili: I don't know if they will arrange private tours, but take a look at Viator. Anyone out there have a favorite guide they could recommend?

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Road trip: Several years ago I was moving from DC to Maine with a cat who hated to travel and most of my worldly possessions. On the Merritt Parkway in CT, I was just about ready to stop for an early dinner/late lunch to let the evening traffic clear out a bit. As we approached the point where traffic coming up from I-95 enters the Parkway, a motorist on my right started honking wildly and shouted that my car was on fire. What I had thought was exhaust from the truck in front of me was actually some plastic bit on my car that had caught on fire. I pulled over and called 911, while a motorist with a fire extinguisher crossed several lanes of traffic to put out the fire. Because I had stopped on a bridge that separated two jurisdictions and because of the traffic, it took 30 minutes for a fire truck to arrive and an hour for a tow truck. In the meantime, the police got huffy because the address I put on the incident form (my new one in Maine) did not match the one on my registration (DC). Apparently, the fact that my car was stuffed with boxes, a computer, and clothing wasn't enough of a clue that I was telling the truth about moving. However, the repair shop was very nice and drove me to a chain motel in the next town because the ones in their town that would allow pets were mainly crack motels. (I was told "They look OK in the day, but the ghosts come out at night.") It took 3 days for my car to get fixed during which time I had to walk into town to buy cat food and clothing (the suitcase was still in the trunk), but probably the most stressful part following the fire was getting my cat out from under the hotel bed the day I left.

Zofia Smardz: Oh, I know all about trying to lure a cat into a car. Thanks for this!

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Hawaii: Hi! We are trying to decide which island in Hawaii to spend a week on. We don't think we like the loudness on Waikiki beach, and we're looking to spend time on the beach, snorkelling, and possibly some hiking/shopping. We are thinking of Maui (which is pricier) or the Big Island (more affordable, but the beaches seemed less suitable for just hanging out). please advise.

Andrea Sachs: I am torn between the two, but think Maui is a bit more beach friendly.

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Oklahoma!: I am invited to a wedding about an hour north of Tulsa, Oklahoma in August. Flights to Tulsa appear to be pretty expensive (almost $400), so I have been thinking about flying into Dallas, Kansas City, or St. Louis and driving from one of those cities. Would you recommend one more than the others in terms of interesting places to stop along the way, or things to do in the city? I've never been to that part of the country. And is there anything worth seeing in or around Tulsa?

Joe Yonan: And you're seeing much better fares to Dallas, KC and SL? I never argue with a road-trip idea, but not sure it would save you much cash. Having said that, if it were me, I'd fly into DFW and hit some cool things in Fort Worth (my favorite part of that twin-cities area), such as the Modern Art Museum, Kimball, Cowgirl Hall of Fame, stockyards; and then I'd go to Oklahoma City. Never been there, and friends tell me there's some hip things around town.

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Most harrowing trip: Driving from LA to Denver, blew a tire 9 miles outside of Rifle, CO at 10 pm on a Sunday night. Had forgotten to check the spare (this was in the day of full-sized spares) and it was low on air. Had a tube of flatfixer. Boyfriend didn't want to change the tire, so suggested we use the flatfixer on the blown tire. I countered that it was probably pretty well shredded, since I'd been doing 80 when it went and I'd slowed down fairly gradually, so I thought we should use the flatfixer on the spare. He won the argument, but lost the war when the flatfixer oozed out of the shredded tire and we had to change to the spare anyway. We limped the 9 miles into Rifle, got a hotel room for the night, and a new tire (and a fresh tube of flatfixer!) the next morning. The best part was that it was one of those experiences that made Boyfriend and I realized we travel well together, and he's now Husband, and we still travel well together, rolling with the punches as they happen.

Zofia Smardz: Another happy ending. Thanks!

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Road Trip: One of the last Cannonball Runs organized. NYC to Redondo Beach, CA in a highly modified Porsche 911 Turbo. Over 700hp in rear engined car. This one was of last real ones organized by Brock Yates. 200+mph on the interstate on several occasions. Driving at over 150mph in driving rain. Scarier then racing at Le mans in a similar car at night and driving at 200mph in the rain down Mulsanne.Made it just under 34hrs

Zofia Smardz: Whew!

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"Harrowing" India road trip: Um, that's basically what happens every time you get into a car in India... My harrowing road trip -- husband felt ill after hiking back up Grand Canyon. Ended up being medivac-ed to Flagstaff late at night. I followed in my car, at about 90 mph (being careful to "look out for elk," as I was warned to do. I drove so fast I actually beat the helicopter to the hospital! Fortunately, he was fine.

Zofia Smardz: Glad to hear!

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Mother-Daughter trip in April: Travel gurus, my mom wants to take a mother daughter vacation in April, for a long weekend. She would be flying in from Michigan; me from DC. Everything is pretty flexible at this point. I've been thinking along the lines of a spa retreat in Arizona, or a caribbean resort. We like culture, nature, good food and nice hotels. Any ideas? Thanks!

Joe Yonan: Well, maybe it's just on my mind I'm (supposed to be) writing about one of my favorite spa experiences ever, but ... how about Santa Fe? You've got culture (O'Keeffe, natch), nature (Santa Fe Canyon Preserve), good food (Cafe Pasqual's), nice hotel (Hotel St. Francis). Oh, and that spa is Ten Thousand Waves, of course.Done!

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Egypt anyway: Its always been my dream to go but money is always an issue. What do you think about hedging a bet on buying now for late this year? Are there deals to be had for people who are willing to take a risk?

Christopher Elliott: It's too early to tell if or when there will be a transition period in Egypt, where it's both "safe" to travel and a bargain. Remember, Egypt is already a popular destination for many Europeans, and they're a lot closer, so there's going to be some competition for the deals.

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Southern California: We are thinking about taking out two teenage kids and renting a condo in Southern California for a week this summer. Any suggestions on the best place to stay and things to do?

Carol Sottili: I'd go to San Diego, and I'd rent in one of the beach communities - Pacific Beach or Mission Bay/Beach or maybe Point Loma. Other option is Laguna Beach, which is farther north and closer to Disneyland and Los Angeles, but there won't be as much to do. Santa Monica and other Los Angeles beach communities are very expensive, and I don't think it'd be as much fun for the teens. As for what to do in San Diego, I can't even begin to list everything, plus don't know what your kids like. Take a look at the excellent tourism site for ideas.

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handicap accessible: My father has recently become wheelchair (or more appropriately scooter bound) and we are planning a cruise for his birthday in March. I know that cruises work with wheelchair/scooter bound individuals for embarkation and debarkation but how "friendly" are cruise ships to accomodating scooters for daily excursions?Thanks!

Joe Yonan: I just looked up this info on CruiseCritic.com, a great resource for cruise-related questions, and looks to me that your best bet is going to be talking to the cruise folks directly to put this question to them. Looks like, depending on the cruise line, there could be issues with itineraries that require the ships to tender rather than pull right up to a pier, and also that the excursions, indeed, could be pretty variable. Any chatters have firsthand info to report?

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Tour guides in Spain: I would go to the Tourist Office in each city and find local guides there. I've never been dissapointed. Many museums also have tours in English

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Road trip to MN and many other places: Travel gurus, not sure you read that question carefully enough. The person asked about a "road trip to Minneapolis to visit my son, and I would like to include Niagara Falls, Toronto and Chicago in this trip with a stop in Minoqua, Wisoconsin to visit family." If this individual actually wants to VISIT people and spend time with them, and see anything at all in the places mentioned, this is far too ambitious. S/he should mapquest this all and then make cuts... To me the obvious cut is the Canadian side trip, which just isn't logical in this situation. MN, WI and Chicago plus driving would more than occupy his/her 2 weeks!

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Tulsa from other cities: It's a long drive from STL to Tulsa (6 hours!!), and pretty long from DFW (4 hours from the airport if you're going an hour north of the city). Kansas City might be better, but there probably aren't direct flights. And it's boring driving- nothing like Virginia and Maryland. There's just nothing out here on the highways to distract you.

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€™m looking for relaxation, beach and a little adventure but is there something inland that I should not miss as well? I am also considering Europe for October but cannot decide between Italy or Spain? Which would be best cost and weather wise? Thanks!

Joe Yonan: Costa Rica weather varies a lot because of the different elevations. Some lowland areas have a dry season opposite of other parts of CR, for example, and if you're into volcanoes, that could be perfect. Check out this chart. I'm not sure when you're thinking, but if it were I, I'd be eyeing September: You could hit dry season in the Caribbean north and south areas, and also the Arenal Volcano. As for Italy vs. Spain in October, I don't think you'll see much difference cost-wise. As for weather, it'll be gorgeous in Spain; in the South (Grenada, Seville), you'll have highs in the low 70s and lows in the upper 50s. It's pretty similar in southern Italy (Palermo, for example). In both places, though, October can be a bit rainy.

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London, Normandy and Brittany: Hi,We're hoping to do a family vacation to London and then across the channel to Normandy and Brittany. Best way to get to Brittany from London? Maybe the Chunnel? Also, looks like Nante is nice place to stay in Brittany, any suggested hotels?

Carol Sottili: Hotel Saint Yves gets good reviews.

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Frightening road trip: My senior year in college my roommate, her boyfriend, and another friend invited me along to go off-roading in the hills of San Bernadino, CA. I was two weeks away from my thesis deadline and chapter behind, but ditched the work for a little break. We rotated between my roommate's Jeep Cherokee and our friend's regular Jeep during the trip through the mountains. It was a typical gorgeous Sunday in Southern California and we weren't the only ones out there. At one point we reached a trail where other off-roaders had stopped and decided not to proceed since it looked so steep and unnavigable. Full of youth and pride, we drove on laughing with scorn how three girls were "beating" grown men on the trail. Until we reached the most difficult part of the trail. I looked out the Cherokee windows and realized we were perched on the peak of a mountain and any wrong step meant plunging down the sides to my death. I was so glad I wasn't driving and focused on my breathing so I didn't freak out and distract the driver. We made it down, subdued and thankful.

Zofia Smardz: Another "whew"!

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Colombia: Question for Nancy:What are good day trips around Bogota? There is the Salt Cathedral. What else?

Nancy Trejos: Guatavita is a lake north of Bogota good for sailing and jet skiing. If you're into adventure sports, Suesca is great for rock climbing, mountain biking, rafting, canoeing and hiking. You can rapel down a waterfall in Tobia. Melgar, about two hours from Bogota, probably has the hottest weather in the region. There are tons of swimming pools there. And Boyaca has a number of cute colonial towns and El Cocuy National Natural Park.

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Premium Economy seating: So how much better than regular economy is this, say , for a trip from DC to China? Biz class is insane in price ($15K for 3). Doable?

Carol Sottili: Premium economy means different thing on different airlines. Some have dedicated cabins and seats are wider, service is better and it's a definite step up. Others just give you a few inches more legroom. I'd pay up for the former.

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Aruba: My boyfriend and I are planning a trip to Aruba in early November. When should we start looking to book our hotel/flights? I know things can fill up pretty quickly. We are probably more of the "all inclusive" type.

Andrea Sachs: Luckily you are not traveling during peak season. That starts up around the holidays. But it's never too early to look for a package. You will typically get a best deal on air/hotel packages. Check TravelZoo and SmarterTravel for deals, as well as the usual suspects (Expedia, Travelocity, etc.). However, most deals now are probably for spring break; Novemeber specials might not come out till summer. Keep watching, though, and jump when you see one.

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Zofia Smardz: Well wow. You all have had some harrowing road trip experiences, chatters. Thanks for sharing all your stories. It was a tough call on this one -- three or four of you were neck and neck, but in the end, I have to go with the traveler in India who saw the many fatal sights along the road to Pushkar. So if you'll send your info to smardzz@washpost.com, I'll dispatch your prize soonest. So that's it for this week, folks. Stay warm and see you next Monday!


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