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Flight Crew
Monday, February 14, 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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Becky Krystal: Good Monday afternoon, everyone! It was a bit of water, water everywhere in this weekend's section, ranging from Andrea's deadline-driven Bahamas trip to Joe's dip into relaxation at New Mexico's Ten Thousand Waves spa and freelancer Julie Wan's nostalgic trip to China's classic canal towns. We're flirting with 60 degrees today here in Washington, but tell us what beach you would most like to get away to and why. Best answer gets the prize. Let's get to it.

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New Orleans with a baby: We take an annual trip with friends who are scattered across the country in the summer time, and this year we chose New Orleans. Yes, we know it will be hot and humid. However, unlike in previous years, we will be traveling with an 11 month old infant. We're looking for a hotel that is both kid-friendly yet close enough to night life for the rest of our group. We would prefer a boutique hotel, but its not necessary. Oh, and it needs to have a pool. Any suggestions?

Joe Yonan: I'd look at Le Richelieu Hotel, Hotel Le Marais (more modern), and Hotel Provincial. All have pools and are in the French Quarter. I think they'd be kid-friendly, too -- but for that I'd suggest that you call and feel them out on the phone about it.

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Clothes Lockers at Dulles?: On Feb. 25, we will be arriving at Dulles around 4:00 am to take a flight to St. Lucia (via Miami). It will likely be very cold getting to the airport. I would love to leave our coats in a locker somewhere at the airport and not have to take up valuable suitcase space with a heavy coat, but from what I can gather online, there are no lockers at Dulles. Is this true? What do people do with their heavy coats when traveliing to the tropics in the dead of winter?

Becky Krystal: it's true. They were taken out after Sept. 11. You might consider just wearing a couple of lighter layers and leaving the heavy coat in your car. (Maybe park near a shuttle stop so you can jump out when you see the bus coming?) I have a wonderful down jacket that folds up into its own pocket, so maybe look for something like that in this weekend's sales. Otherwise, I'm not sure what else to tell you! Chatters, any brilliant advice?

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Beach travel in one day: How about a trip to Bermuda? Unfortunately, the US Air non-stop evidently no longer flies the DCA-BDA route, but there are one-stops through Charlotte or Atlanta or Newark that can get you to Bermuda in a half-day, plenty of time to hit the beaches!

Zofia Smardz: wouldn't want to go in the water. I was there in November, when it's about 10 degrees warmer, and we didn't dip a toe in the ocean.

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Florida Keys: Where can you find that "old key" feeling?

Christopher Elliott: Definitely on Key West. If you're looking for something "vintage" a little farther north, check out the Sugarloaf Lodge, or if you want to splurge, spend a night or two on Little Palm Island.

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Teaching Abroad: Hi, my friend and I are looking into going to Asia to English, potentially either South Korea or Vietnam. we haven't applied yet, but we're trying to get the specifics figured out, so if you have any advice on programs, that would be great.My bigger question here is airfare. How much should i expect to pay for a one way ticket to either of these countries? And when would be the best time/place/airline to get the best fare?I know that's a lot in one question, so thanks for your time.

Carol Sottili:

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beaches: Any!!!I'm mostly looking at the Caribbean. I'd love to take a trip to the domincan republic. This year is one of the few where spring break is not during passover, so I got all excited that we could take a trip. But, we're probably not, since we're saving for a trip to Colorado to see our soon to be new nephew and his family.But I keep checking all the travel sites, and dreaming about sipping some fruity cocktail on the beach.

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Destination wedding: Hi all,We are just in the beginning stage of planning a Caribbean ( or Costa Rica) wedding. Any resources that any of you can recommend? Trying to find a location that isn't hard ( or expensive for people on both coasts to get to) , but will also have a more small town feel than a big resort. Thanks.

Andrea Sachs: First, a big congrats from the Travel section.The Knot has a great section on destination weddings, including location ideas, cost, tips and paperwork. Another good resource is Destination Weddings Magazine.The tourism offices of each country can also be helpful. Many, such as Jamaica, have wedding planning experts and can help your find the right location for the right price.From my experience, look for a location reachable from most major cities with nonstop air. You don't want to ask your guests to travel 16 hours and risk them missing the big event. Also, avoid the big resorts; they are marriage machines. For the Caribbean, I would suggest Barbados, the Caymans, Turks & Caicos or Puerto Rico.

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berlin: i'll be in berlin later this month for two days/two nights. suggestions on the "must see, must eat, must do" list? thanks!

Zofia Smardz: Must-sees in Berlin? Oh, where to begin? The Brandenburg Gate and Potsdamer Platz, the Reichstag, Alexanderplatz and the TV tower, Museum Island (the Old Museum with the famous bust of Nefertiti is a definite must), the Stasi Museum and the Checkpoint Charlie museum, Charlottenburg Palace, the zoo, etcetc. In two days you'll only have time for the tip of this tourism iceberg. Be sure to take a walk along the Kurfurstendamm, the main thoroughfare through the western part of town, and another along Unter den Linden, the famous avenue on the eastern side of town. We also ran this fascinating story recently on Berlin's underground bunkers (below). That's a tour I'd love to take.I haven't been back in a few years, so am not up on the latest eateries, etc., and will throw that part of the question -- plus a call for other suggestions on what to see/do -- to the chatsters.

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Alabama: Trying to find flights to Alabama for easter break. the cheaper one I found was $501 round trip. too expensive for 5 people. Driving is better, right?

Becky Krystal: Where are you trying to get to in Alabama? I'm so loving AirTran's relatively new service between Huntsville and BWI. For April 25-28, for example, there are fares as low as $58 each way!

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Flummoxed by changes: It has been a long time since I've flown. I know about the 3-3-3 liquids rules, but am flummoxed by what I read about boarding passes printed or not, gate agents seen or not, etc. Is there a source of the latest info that I can refer to before I venture into the travel world again? Thx

Christopher Elliott: Yes it can be confusing. The rules change frequently and are unevenly enforced.You're referring to the 3-1-1 rule. Here are the details from TSA's site. This is the "final" word, although I can't guarantee it will be that way when you get to the airport. (No one can.)

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San Diego on a rainy day: CrewI will be in San Diego for President's day weekend. While I was looking forward to playing golf-- it looks like rain is forecast for 2 out of the 3 days. What is there to do in the rain-- or should I still hit the beach, the links, etc.Thanks

Carol Sottili: Wear a raincoat and go to the zoo (animals are friskier in rain), hit the museums in Balboa Park, shop and eat in Seaport Village (bring a raincoat, as it's outdoors); rent a bike and ride around Pacific Beach/Mission Beach/Mission Bay (when I lived there, I rode even in rain and always enjoyed it). As for golf, the municipal Balboa Park golf course will set you back only $40/$50, so you won't feel that bad if the weather gets ugly and you have to leave.

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Panama: There are some cheap flights to Panama right now, I'm tempted to go for 3-4 days. Any suggestions for solo woman who likes food, museums, beaches,markets, walks (not heavy hiking!). Thanks.

Nancy Trejos: Funny, I am heading there this weekend by myself! This is what I've found so far. Panama City is worth a day of sightseeing. Go to the Panama Canal. The Miraflores Locks center appears to be the best place to see it from. You can also take a transit through the canal but I don't think that's necessary. You definitely have to walk around Casco Viejo, which is the Old City, a mini Cartagena I hear. I also hear there is an artisan market around there. Punta Culebra/Amador I hear is also a great stop for its views of the city. Some restaurants that have been recommended: Ergo y Narciso, Manolo Caracol, Eurasia, 1989, Chalet Suisse. Then I would do a couple of day trips. Do a beach, either Isla Grande on the Caribbean side for snorkeling and ziplining. Or go to Tabago Island on the Pacific for good hiking. Those you can do in one day. If you have more time you can go to Bocas del Toro or Boquete, but those would require overnight stays. More to come in a future travel section!

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Bowie, MD....What Beach?: Easy answer - about 45 minutes west of San Juan, there's a beach near the city of Vega Baja. Don't worry about getting lost, a wonderful police officer gave us an escort right to it....and worth the trip. On a Tuesday in March 2 years ago, there were only 8 other people there. A little shack there selling fresh Empanadas, Bacalaitos, Medallia beer and Rum and cokes...a lunch for less than $10. Take me back.......

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Best Beach: Anyplace on Bora Bora! I went there on the way back from New Zealand when I was 19 (almost 30 years ago), and it's still the best destination I've ever been to. As a side note, I have psoriasis, and after my four day stay in Bora Bora, the psoriasis WENT AWAY for over 16 years. I told my coworker this last week, and she had a similar experience with a skin condition disappearing after staying in Bora Bora for her honeymoon (about 10 years ago - so I guess the magic is still there!). :)

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Cats on a plane again: I posted the question last week about bringing my cat on the plane--thanks everyone for the encouraging advice! I feel better about the situation.I just thought I'd follow up on the suggestions about the sedatives, though, since it was mentioned a lot here and by friends as well--according to most sources on the web, sedatives + altitude can be lethal for a lot of cats. And even if it isn't, it ruins their center of gravity in such a way that can make them even louder and nauseated on a flight or being carried through the airports, which is obviously less than desirable. Just an FYI for any other pet owners out there in similar dilemmas!

Becky Krystal: Good to know. Thanks for following up.

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washington DC: just a thought but i think this thing of reporting anything suspicious is getting a little out of hand, i seem to look at people funny and they report me for that. I've decided to give up flying altogether, as it's just too much hassle.

Christopher Elliott:

Joe Yonan: You've been reported for looking at people funny? Multiple times? You might practice making a more neutral face in the mirror...

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Honeymoon Beach Vacations: Hi, have you ever been to Buzios, Brazil or Cook Islands? Trying to get ideas for honeymooning in late September.

Andrea Sachs: Never been.Chatters, can you help?

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IAD to AUS : I need to go to Austin for a business trip and have found flights that work for my schedule, only problem is that the departure flight is on USAir and the return on JetBlue. I tried to book the tickets on orbitz.com, but it seems like I can't book those two airlines together. If I buy the tickets separately from the airlines themselves, will I raise any eyebrows? Are there any downsides to doing it this way? Thanks.

Andrea Sachs:

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beach--: The tried and true Outer Banks. Does that make me an annoying person? At least I don't have that ubiquitous sticker on my car.

Becky Krystal: And we thank you for that. (THX?)

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re wearing coats to the Tropics?: I've taken a number of trips to very warm locales, leaving in some of the coldest weather we have. My answer? No coat -- just layers and strategy. For example, I'll put on jeans, shoes & socks (once, I put warm socks on with my beach sneakers), a tank top, a long-sleeved shirt, and one or two fleece tops (some thin fleeces are quite warm), one with a hood. If it's really cold, I don't park in a satellite lot where I'll have to wait for a bus for who-knows-how-long. At BWI, park at one of the commercial places that pick you up promptly at your car; at Dulles, pay the extra amount to be in the daily garage with the underground walkway (or the one next to the terminal, if you can stand 1 minute of walking quickly outside). Then, strip during the trip (fleece tops make good blankets and pillows on the flight). By the time I get to the tropics, I'm wearing a tank top and jeans (still warm, but doable till I get to the hotel). I trade the shoes and socks for flip-flops.

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Winter sun: For health reasons I would like some winter sun and swimming this year. We have just returned from Europe so I would prefer to stay in the Americas/Caribbean. My vacations are planned around historic sites and museums. My husband will probably not be coming on this trip. Suggestions, please!

Joe Yonan: How bout San Juan? Easy to get to, easy to swim there, and lots of history in the forts plus some cool smaller museums, such as the National Gallery, Museum of the Americas, and more.

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Florida vacation: Hi travel crew,We are thinking of taking a 10 day vacation to Florida in August. It will be myself, my husband, my 4 year old special-needs daughter and my 10 month old son. I just have a few questions:-Tickets roundtrip to Miami from NYC are about 200-250 right now (nonstop). Should I go ahead and book, or will it get cheaper at any point later on in the spring?-Can you please give some pointers on our itinerary? We would be skipping Disneyland but anything else is fine. We were hoping to go around the Miami area, the Florida Keys, Everglades, etc. I would totally appreciate any help you could give me. I just don't know where to begin!Thanks so much!

Christopher Elliott: It's unlikely the plane tickets will get any cheaper, so if you can afford the tickets now, book them. I would also rethink skipping Orlando. Disney and SeaWorld are terrific options for both of your kids. Miami has a lot of child-friendly activities, including Monkey Jungle, Parrot Jungle, the Sequarium and the Miami Zoo. There's very little in the Keys for young children, but I would recommend a glass-bottom boat tour of Pennekamp Park, if you're just coming down for a day.

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Language Immersion: Can you recommend any travel agents or agencies that specialize in Spanish-immersion travel? I am looking for someplace in Latin America where I could study Spanish in the morning and hit a beach in the afternoon.

Nancy Trejos: Andrea did a language immersion course with Spanish Abroad in Mexico City a couple of years ago. They run programs in other locations. In that story, she listed a few other programs: Lingua Service Worldwide, and AmeriSpan . Antigua in Guatemala is another Latin American city where you find many good language immersion programs.

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Disney Solo: I'm going to end up in Orlando by myself for a few days in April. I'm thinking of going to Disney solo. I love Disney and I'm perfectly happy with my own company, but I've only ever done Disney with my family. Any suggestions?

Zofia Smardz: What suggestions do you need? You've been there, you know what's to do, this time you're doing it alone. The routine's still the same. Just be bold, go, and do it all!

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Las Canarias: Planning to head to the Canary Islands (no specfic one yet) sometime Sept-Nov this coming fall. Any advice on the best airfare, time to travel, events, etc.?

Carol Sottili: tourism Web site is worth a look.

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Using cell phones overseas: Those who want to use another nations SIM card in thier unlocked phone while traveling can either buy a card here or wait until they get to the other country. I've heard it can be cheaper to wait and buy it once we arrive, is this true?

Andrea Sachs: It all depends on the country you are visiting. Some you can buy in advance, others only when you get there. There is no uniform system.If you can purchase the card before you go, I would definitely recommend it, so that you don't have to waste precious vacation time looking for a SIM card. However, once you have arrived, check the airport; there should be a vendor there. A good source is OneSimCard, which covers nearly 200 countries.

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Some buy round-trip tickets, which are often cheaper, and just throw out the return (although some airlines have legal language prohibiting this practice): What can the airline do? Send private detectives to round you up and force you to fly home? Or refuse ever to sell you another ticket on their airline again?

Joe Yonan: Right. The problem comes if you are trying to use the return rather than the outbound part. That is, once you miss part of an itinerary, the airline can cancel all the rest.

Christopher Elliott: Airlines have sophisticated software that tracks these so-called "violations" -- and yes, they're known to confiscate miles or charge you, or your travel agent, a fare difference.

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fly me to the stars: Hi - the next space shuttle launch is a week from Thursday. IMHO this is an ideal time to spark a child's interest in science, engage a sullen teen or just cheer and high-five strangers.There are thousands of decent viewing locales close to the launch - much closer than 'white spot arcing in the sky' from Orlando or Daytona. Travel chatters who want a unique experience should pack some warm clothes and consider making the trip. There are just a few more launches on the books...BTW - Orlando and also Daytona are good airports to check, with much pricier flights into Melbourne. KSC and NASA have good sites to stay up to date - a twilight launch will be extra pretty - nite is even better.

Christopher Elliott: I will be on my front porch, watching that one! (I live in Winter Spring, Fla.) One thing to note: Launches don't always go off the first time, as planned. So if you plan to come to Central Florida to watch a launch -- which I highly recommend if you have a child who loves science -- give yourself a few days around the launch window.

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Beaches: beach and seaside near Portland. Cannon Beach is known for haystack rock. Seaside is a neighboring town about 5 miles up the road. Both towns are not the cheezy beach towns you find those overtly touristy stores. Canon Beach and seaside is more how OBX is. Given its on the Pacific Ocean you have sunsets at night.

Becky Krystal: Ever since Andrea wrote a story about that area, I have really wanted to go.

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I want to go to the beach!: My dream beach vacation would be Positano. That would be after having started an around Italy trip in Rome, went north to Pisa, Florence,Turino, Bologna, Milan & Lake Como. West to Venice then head south down the coast of the Adriatic and all the way down to Sicily & Palermo. A trip to Sadenia and then to Naples and finishing on the beach with limoncello in Positano.

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A: Any recommendations for can't-miss Bahamas activities? We'll be in Nassau for a couple days next month. One of us has slightly limited mobility (standing/walking for more than an hour is problematic), but we don't need handicapped-accessible stuff. Thanks.

Andrea Sachs: I was just in Nassau and would definitely recommend:Atlantis, especially the aquarium (catch the water taxi; it's the best ride)The Straw Market, though I fear there are more Chinese knockoffs than original craftsArdatra Zoo and Gardens (great flamingo show!)National Art Gallery of The BahamasThe shops and grand governmental buildings along Bay StreetRoyal Victoria GardenSnorkeling or sailing adventureIf you tire of walking, catch a jitney (buck twenty-five for a ride). But the island is very flat and well laid out.

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short getaway in May: My spouse and I are looking to get away for a long weekend the first weekend in May. We want to relax on the beach, maybe golf and sail, and not do much more more. We were thinking Miami as we have never been, but a couple of people said to reconsider as we want a quieter break. What are your thoughts or do you have other suggestions?

Zofia Smardz: How about Pawley's Island, S.C. (below)? Our story from last year may inspire you -- it's definitely a quieter destination than Miami. Or the Outer Banks may still be quiet enough in early May. Other thoughts, chatters?

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good time to renew passport?: Is there a particular time of year that is better than another to renew your passport? Mine will not expire until May 2012 but I have a trip being planned for Nov/Dec this year to Burma which requires 6 months of validity on your passport to get a visa and since it will be close I figure I should just do it this year to avoid any potential issues. I don't have any international trips planned before then. Should I just do it now? Wait until July or so? I figure I will need to take the passport to the Myanmar Embassy some time in early October to get the visa done. Visa is valid for 3 months from date of issue.

Zofia Smardz: No reason to procrastinate. Do it now. It will take several weeks to get your new passport, anyway.

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Burbank, CA.: Being in a wheelchair, I have found airport personnel extremely helpful and I send out my compliments to them all. I also learned something: at 5 degrees, the lift for wheelchairs can freeze. Well, live and learn. The airlines was very helpful in booking me on another flight that was accessible.

Becky Krystal: Nice to hear that you've had good experiences with airport staff. I'm a bit curious now to know, though, where it was 5 degrees. Brrr!

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Cat's on a plane (from last week's chat): Whether a cat can fly in a carrier in the passenger cabin depends on the size of the cat, the size of the plane (I don't think it's allowed on a commuter jet) and whether there's a limit as to the number of pets flying in the cabin. Otherwise, they go in the baggage hold. I've taken cats as far away as Mozambiaque and Brazil, during long work assignments. As I recall, one vet (or maybe it was a fellow anmal shelter volunteer) warned me against tranquilizing a cat during travel since they could have difficulty breathing. As a result of lawsuits, airlines have gotten very strict about when they will and will not allow any pets to fly (e.g., not during hot summer days; in one case I found just one airline-- Lufthansa-- that would take my cats since they guaranteed the anmals would not sit on the tarmac in the heat).

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Beaches: Don't tell anyone as I want to keep it less populated :) but my favorite beach is Corporation Beach in Dennis on Cape Cod. Perfection :)

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Savannah, GA: I'm going on vacation in the southeast the third week of May and will be spending a few days in Savannah. Do you have any recommendations of must sees? We plan to take 2 days to get back home to Alexandria and was wondering if you could recommend a place to stop on our way home?

Joe Yonan: I'd say the Mercer Williams House, Flannery O'Connor's childhood home, the Telfair Museum, Savannah's Candy Kitchen for pralines, Elizabeth on 37th for great upscale dining, and then of course square after square after square. Forsyth Park. naturally. I know some chatters will recommend Mrs. Wilkes Boarding House, but I cannot concur.

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Cruise Ship Amenities: Dear Flight Crew --I have just finished reading yesterday's NYTimes article about the wonderful amenities on the new generation of cruise ships. I wonder though how easily available are they in real life. Do I need to plan and schedule the hands-on cooking classes, drawing and painting workshops, mini-golf on real grass, etc, etc, etc. well in advance? Do there tend to be long lines if I wait until I'm actually on the cruise? I always get the feeling that the travel writers live in a different world when it comes to things like this.

Andrea Sachs: Travel writers don't live in a different world. We wait in line and don't get the time we want for a dinner reservation, but persist like anyone else and land it! (I speak from experience.) and spa treatments in advance. For example, on the Epic, a dinner show with Cirque de Soleil was sold out on my cruise (though honestly, it was a disappointment). Sometimes, though, people don't show, so you can go to the box office or restaurant last-minute and hope for a slot. For the other activites, such as cooking demos and lectures, you don't really need to plan in advance. Each day, you receive a newsletter with a list of events and times. You can plan from that, and know that the cruise ships repeat popular classes and lectures. You will also find that many people board with the notion of signing up for everything, then end up spending more than half the cruise laying by the pool in a slothful state.Work with your travel agent or the cruise line to prebook the more popular amenities (ditto for shore excursions). Lines are long in the beginning, when everyone boards, but give it a couple hours and you can skip the wait.

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Not immersion, just essentials: Family is headed to Spain (Madrid) in May and looking for software, DVDs, etc. that might help us gear up for trip. Dad will be on business, rest of us tourists. Any particular reader recommends for preparing ourselves for a week there? We want to make the most of four days in Madrid and where we should head for another 3-4 days on our own/vacation.

Joe Yonan: I'm not sure what you mean, exactly. DVDs and software to help you gear up for your trip? Do you mean language software, movies to get you in the mood, or what exactly?

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beaches - my vote is Goa: I want to go back to Goa, India... Arambol beach. When I was last there in 2008 it was an oasis of calm even during the high season. The place I stayed was airconditioned and had private western bathrooms for the equivalent of about $20 a night and was breathtakingly clean, even by US standards. The place had wonderful food and since there were only 10 rooms in the place, they asked the guests what they would like for dinner and tried to oblige everyone's requests. Meals were had at a giant old wooden communal table, or you could choose solitude and eat on your own on a hammock swing... all outdoors under a covered roof with no walls. The food was exceptional, and they brought in pastries from the french bakery every day, sometimes twice a day.Even more spectacular was the beach shack. For $1 you could have cold beer (Kingfisher), and for mere pennies you could get tender coconut water. What's that? One of the workers would climb a coconut tree, pick an immature coconut and slice the top off with a machete. After you drank the water, he would cut you out a spoon so you could eat the jellied tender coconut inside. You could also request any number of freshly made fresh fruit juices made to order, as well as snacks, french fries, and freshly caught fish made however you like brought right to your chaise lounge.The beach itself was uncrowded, clean and idyllic. The nightlife was fun without feeling like you were caught up in an out of control rave, as so much of Goa has sadly become. It was relaxing, fun and you could choose your level of involvement... party like a rockstar or check completely out and feel like you were the most isolated person on earth.

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Florida chick: @ solo Disney World traveler - you might relax at your hotel pool or play golf or tennis in the a.m. (glorious in April weather) and hit the parks in the afternoon and evening.Many things you will love - fireworks! - are later in the day. I like the Unofficial Guide to Disney, which has suggested touring plans for all ages & life stages. There's an iPhone app people like, also. Eat some great African food at the Disney hotel near Animal Kingdom, linger at excellent music (bongo drums, Lion King live show.) Go to EPCOT for some Japanese drumming, a stirring flag retreat and bugle taps, Moroccan band and fireworks. Ferry to Magic Kingdom for more fireworks and chill on main street long enuf for the (very late) delighting of the castle - it rocks. (And be a sport - offer to snap photos of families juggling cameras and strollers.)

Zofia Smardz: Here are some thoughts for you, solo traveler!

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Travel to Sao Paulo: I'm travelling to Sao Paulo in late June, and I've got a two-part question. First, getting out there: the cheapest tickets I've seen are for $960 flying on the Colombian airline Avianca. I'd never heard of them before. Any idea about their reputation, and whether $960 is a good price? US carriers are currently priced $1500 and up. Second question: Any ideas for good trips within a few hour flight of Sao Paulo? There's Rio, obviously, but I'm also interested in rural and natural areas. If it weren't on the other side of the country, for example, I'd love to visit the Lencois Maranhenses lakes. Thanks.

Carol Sottili: I'll let others tackle the trips close to Sao Paulo question. Re: Avianca, on Skytrax, which rates and reviews airlines, it's got three stars (most airlines are three stars) and customers (80 reviews) have rated it at 6.4 out of 10. Its last fatal accident was in 1990. I'd book it if the price is right.

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Disney Solo : You're right - was just wondering if you had any tips for solos at Disney. I will be riding Tower of Terror as much as you can in one day (my family always gives out before I do on what has to be the best ride anywhere!) As since I won't have children who will be embarassed by me, I might be sporting some nice new ears as well...

Zofia Smardz: Sounds to me as though you have it down. But another chatter did just send along some ideas for you!

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So Cal road trip: We're planning a road trip in March from Oregon down to Death Valley and Josua Tree. Any other must-see attractions down in that region?

Christopher Elliott: If you can make it to Palm Springs, definitely check out the aerial tramway and Palm Springs, which is a lot of fun. We were there last summer and toured a few date farms that are just a half hour drive from the southern entrance of Joshua Tree.

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Spain: Hi - We have about 10 days in Spain in June. We are currently planning to spend about half of the time in Barcelona and half in Madrid. Is that a good way to split our time? We've also heard a lot about Seville, should we try to squeeze that in too? We fly out of Madrid, so have to end up there. Thank you! Any hotel/area recommendations in any of the areas. Just a couple, no kids.

Joe Yonan: I'd adjust you a tiny bit: not to send you to Seville (I'd save southern Spain for another visit, because it's worth its own time), but to send you to San Sebastian for tapas-bar hopping. So Maybe four days in Barcelona, two days in SS, and four days in Madrid? As for hotels, in Barcelona years ago I really loved Hotel Claris, but it was kinda pricey. Check out this Barcelona story and this Barcelona story we ran for other ideas.

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re: Berlin: My son, age 28, has been to Berlin several times. He took an Alternative Berlin tour on his first trip and found it fascinating. I sent him your link to the Underground Berlin tour before his second trip. He took that tour and loved it, too!

Zofia Smardz: Great, thanks!

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destination wedding: In the name of Hax, don't do it!

Joe Yonan: LOL

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RE: Goa: I'm in the early stages of planning a trip to Goa, and the place where the earlier poster stayed sounds just up my alley! Is there anyway to get the name of the hotel?? Thanks!

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flights to liberia airport, costa rica: Hey! I'm looking for a flight to the Liberia airport in June-ish. My friend says he recently got them for $500 but all I'm seeing is $700ish which seems like a lot! Will they come down? I don't even think June is the high season...

Carol Sottili: You should be able to get a fare closer to $600. Take a look at Taca Airlines.

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Wisconsin to Carolinas: We're looking ahead -- planning at 2012 trip. We'd like to go to Savannah and/or the Carolinas and are trying to figure out the best way to plan the trip. We'll fly out of Milwaukee's Mitchell airport. Tryign to figure out the best combo of flight options, place to stay, car rental, etc. Interested in some QUIET beach time, some time with historic sites, etc. About a week's stay, +/- Cottage option (e.g., kitchen, save food costs) is OK, or a standard hotel. Any recommendations or thoughts? Thanks.

Zofia Smardz: Once again, let me point you to our article on Pawley's Island, S.C., which sounds like almost exactly what you're looking for. Be sure to look under the Details section for tips on places to rent/stay and things to see and do. And let's ask the chatters for other thoughts on destinations that might be up your alley?

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weekend in st. louis...: This is a longshot.My husband is a Cardinals fan, but has never been to St. Louis. So, I would like to take him for a game. I haven't found a website that would help me out (I'm in Atlanta) - I would need airline tickets, a hotel, and tickets to the game. Any one can help me with this?

Andrea Sachs: For example, the Millennium. However, you will have to book your own airfare. If you do go with an agency, be warned that you probably will pay more than if you book each item individually.

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minors?: My nephew is 16 and will be flying to visit us. He can be unaccompanied on the plane (correct?). But is it possible for me or my husband to meet him at the gate? Escort him to the gate when he leaves? What are the policies on this?

Becky Krystal: Yes, he should be fine to fly. And if you make prior arrangements -- his parents probably need to designate you or your husband as the pick-up person -- you should be able to get him at the gate and see him off. Check the individual airline's policy.

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Panama City: Was just there in December - hope the poster and Nancy have a good time! Agree with all Nancy said. Re: restaurants - will be anxious to hear thoughts on Euroasia - I thought it was so-so, rude, and had a dirty tablecloth. Loved a place called Tomate y Amor - looks chain-ish, but the food was the best! One thing to know - you really should take a cab everywhere. The maps of the city are awful, and addresses aren't always correct or available. I read this has to do with the fact that historically, mail isn't delivered, so they didn't have as much use for them. Be sure to check out all the under-construction and vacant high-rises in the city and on the way from the airport - creepy!

Nancy Trejos: Thanks for the insight. I've been doing lots of research on Panama the last couple of weeks and welcome all tips!

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Re: Avianca: Avianca is wonderful! We flew from Dulles to Lima, Peru last year with a stop in Bogota, and it was really wonderful. They don't speak a ton of English, but they do feed you 3x on a 6 hour flight, give you free headphones, blankets, and pillows, and a movie. Plus, wonderful columbian coffee to boot - and any alcohol you want, free. It was like flying in the 80s again.

Carol Sottili: Thanks for sharing.

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from Lake Tahoe: Last week a poster asked about if Yosemite was doable from lake tahoe. It is if you just focus in on the Toulome Meadows part of the park which is the only spot you can drive through the park from the east side. its about 2:30 drive from south Lake Tahoe to the park enterance at Lee Viting near Mammouth Lakes area. You can either drive out and back or you can make it a loop trip after driving through the park and then drive back to Lake Tahoe which would take 3-4 hrs depending on the route you drive.Also at that time of year in August the waterfalls in the valley are pretty much dried up. In Toulolume you have high alpine flowers in bloom around then. This part opens up when snow melts around early June and remains open till snowfall.

Becky Krystal: Thanks for the info.

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goa hotel: called the Surf Club in Arambol. Pretty hard to get a reservation! Good luck!

Becky Krystal: For the future Goa traveler, here you are!

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Florida Vacation in August: Please be aware Florida can be extremely miserable in August. Miami, Orlando or Key West it doesnt matter. High temps and high humidity. Your kids will hate it and there is always the danger of hurricanes and tropical storms. Florida is due to get this hit this year since last year no hurricane hit Florida or the Gulf Coast. Find a different month for your kids.

Christopher Elliott: True, August can be oppressively hot in Florida, as in the rest of the country. But it is also the start of low season (September is the best month for deals, typically). Also, there's a difference between Orlando in August and Key West in August. You still get some breezes coming off the ocean in the Southernmost City. No such luck in Orlando. In terms of hurricanes, the fun really starts in September. June and July are much better if you want to avoid storms.

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Late-night Amtrak to Penn Station: Hello! Have you or any of the chatters taken the late night train from Washington Union to New York Penn? It arrives around 2:00 a.m. and I'd be taking a cab to my destination. Is Penn Station and the neighborhood a safe place at that late hour?Thanks.

Joe Yonan: I haven't taken it, but as for the safety question, there are so many people out and about at that time in NYC you should be fine. As always, keep your wits about you, though.

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Speaking of Beaches...: We decided over the weekend our annual girls' weekend getaway will be to any island with the word "Saint" in its name. Any favorites?

Carol Sottili: I think your biggest issue will be finding an island with the word Saint in it that has flights convenient enough to allow for a carefree weekend getaway. St. Maarten has nonstop flights, but only on Saturdays. Saint Lucia is nice, but I wouldn't want to spend 14 or more hours traveling for a weekend trip. Anyone have ideas?

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Destination Wedding: Think of your families and quests and please don't. They are expensive and gawd one all inclusive resort is just like another with mediocre food and drinks. My girlfriend and I can afford it but we would rather use our ahrd earned elave to go where we wnat to go in the Caribbean. Goldeneye, Pink Sands, Bitter End, or Little Palm Island. Not a Beaches or a Sandals Yech!

Joe Yonan: Before we start another destination-weddings-pro-and-con thread, let me interrupt this chat to link to a previous chat in which we did exactly that.

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Hilton Head side trip recommendations: Our family (2 adults and a 6 year old) will be in Hilton Head the last week of March. We've been going there for years, but haven't really ventured off the island (aside from Savannah). Any advice for a cool day trip? We'd consider an overnight stay elsewhere mid-week, if necessary. We like walkable towns/cities, beaches, historic stuff, outdoor activities, and good food. Thanks!

Nancy Trejos: How about Tybee Island in Georgia? It's about 20 minutes from Savannah. You can see sea turtles, hike the nature trails, tour Fort Screven and Fort Pulaski. There's the Tybee Museum and a couple of pretty lighthouses. And there's a Marine Science Center. Bluffton, S.C. is a cute village located on a bluff overlooking the May River. And Charleston, S.C., is not a far drive. Tons to do there.

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10k Waves: Nothing better than sitting in a hot pool on a cold night, black sky pin-pricked with a million stars, and the smell of pinyon perfectly astringent in your nostrils. Never miss it when I'm home.

Joe Yonan: A fellow soaker. So you know what I'm talking about!

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Side trips for "Travel to Sao Paulo": Have you considered Florianopolis, on Santa Catarina Island in the state of Santa Catarina, south of Sao Paulo? Besides being lovely, it has a strong culture of the early Portuguese who began settling there some 250 years ago, including those from the Azores.

Carol Sottili: Here's an idea for our Sao Paulo traveler.

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Winter Coats and the Tropics: You will not freeze to death if you wear jeans and a sweater to the airport. Cabs are heated. Pack something short sleeved in your carry on (and maybe some capris or shorts). FWIW, later this week it's supposed to be in the upper 60's HERE. Feb. 25 is anybody's guess, but I repeat - you won't freeze to death in the various 5 minute segments you are outside, even if it's cold here. Leave the down thing at home.

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Beaches: Am I the only person who finds sand a totally miserable experience?

Joe Yonan: You're not alone. I joke about it every year with friends when I go to Cape Cod. "I love the beach," I say, "but I don't understand why it has to have all this sand. Couldn't we plant some sod? A nice soft lawn?"Seriously, this Sand-Free Multi-Mat is on my shopping list ever since I spied it in the Sky Mall catalog. It promises to solve all the sandy frustrations of people like you and me. Have any chatters used one?

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@ family in south Florida: assuming you avoid a hurricane (August & Sept. are high season) you should visit the beautiful Baiscayne National Park an hour south of Miami. 'Surfer' shirts are essential to avoid a bad burn - and suncreen & bug juice. Get out on the water and see why we love Florida so much:http://www.nps.gov/bisc/planyourvisit/outdooractivities.htm

Christopher Elliott: Excellent recommendation.

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SW Waterfront: Hi Flight Crew,Do any of you or the chatters have experience in cruising the Caribbean in a chartered catamaran? You know - one of those 4 couples and crew (where you may or may not know the other couples) cruises. We are considering one, but we won't know the other couples. Is it all cruising and sun? Any time for on shore exploring? How flexible was the crew in terms of menu (my husband doesn't eat seafood)?

Andrea Sachs: If you have particular interests, such as scuba, museums, gardens, etc., the crew can also help plan those activities.I am on the fence about sailing with strangers. You could meet your new BFFs or . . . not. I would first see if another couple you know is interested. Better to be trapped with good pals. If not, then tell the charter company all about yourselves and the type of people you like best to travel with. Hopefully, they will make the perfect match.

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re: disney solo: Do it! I went to Magic Kingdom by myself for one day while on a busines trip. It was fabulous! You'll be surprised how quickly you can zip through the park with no one slowing you down ;) Take full advantge of the "single rider" lines to maximize your time.

Zofia Smardz: Right-o, thanks!

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Road trip: I've got some time this summer and want to drive around and visit relatives and friends all over. I'm having trouble narrowing down how realistic it is a) to go all by myself, b) how much to budget for gas and costs, and c) how long to estimate driving times and how to pace myself.I've got family/friends on the west coast, and then all along the midwest and Texas, so I've got places to stay, just not sure where to get advice. I found a couple websites but was disappointed in them. Do you have any suggestions?

Joe Yonan: I don't see why you'd need much more than good old Google Maps. You can create a map for the trip, plot points based on where all your family and friends are, and arrange and rearrange the order very easily. Google will tell you the estimated driving time, which of course is sometimes more of an estimate than others, particularly around cities if there's much traffic.When it comes to pacing, you need to know yourself: How long do you like (or not mind) being in the car before you need a break? If you've got time, I say take it. No reason to rush. If I had the time, I'd prefer to drive no more than maybe five or six hours a day.If you like to drive and don't get too bored doing it, then I don't see why it wouldn't be realistic to go it alone. As for the budget, figure out how many miles to the gallon you get, and once you know your itinerary you can total up the miles, do some division, take into account the average price of gasoline, and you'll have your number. After that, sounds like it would be mostly meals or attractions for your other costs, since lodging would be gratis.

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Avianca: We were booked to go from Santiago to LAX via Bogota. An hour out, we had to return to Santiago due to a detected mechanical problem. After an hour, the plane continued on, but my wife was too nervous to continue, and Avianca's personnel arranged for us to fly the next day (and their flight was full, so they put us on a LAN nonpstop). Paid for our hotel that night. I was impressed.

Carol Sottili: More good words about Avianca.

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Cardinals: Busch Stadium is in downtown St. Louis, so you can look for downtown hotels close to the stadium. The airport isn't very close to downtown so factor in the cost of cab fare. As well, the Cardinals' website has the schedule and ticket info so you can figure out what weekends would work best for you. Summer can be really hot and humid there, just like Atlanta, so be prepared for that if you go during June-August. Also, they do ballpark tours on non-afternoon game days, which they have information about on the Cardinals' website.

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SIM Card: I almost invariably find SIM cards purchased abroad to be less expensive than those purchased in the US for use abroad. The disadvantage is that most cards purchased in country are really only good for that country. Yes, you can use them outside the country, but the rates will generally be atrocious and eat up your prepaid amount very quickly. If you don't need a SIM card immediately, I usually find more choice by waiting and purchasing a card at a retail shop in a city or town rather than at the airport, which may only have a single vendor. A suggestion: have your passport with you when you go to purchase the card. In Singapore and other countries, the vendor cannot sell you a SIM card without proper identification.

Andrea Sachs: Thanks for the great advice!

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Cats on a plane: If I remember the writer was coming from Italy. Even if sedating the cat is not an option, you may need a vet's certificate of health to bring the cat into the US. I'd talk to the vet about meds too, rather than trust only web sites.

Becky Krystal: Good points.

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Speaking of NoLA: My fiance and I are considering New Orleans for our honeymoon. We want to go somewhere walkable, with lots of good food/good drinks, people watching, and history. Does NoLA fit the bill? Any specific suggestions for activities once we're there? Of course I read your article about the jazz/eating there! :)

Joe Yonan: Oh, boy, does it qualify, on all those counts... If you read the pieces about eating/drinking, the Treme-inspired music tour, and the World War II museum, you've got a lot covered. (For more eats, did you see my blog post listing everything I ate there in one visit?) I'd also suggest that you poke around NOLA.com; the Times-Picayune does a great job of capturing the city. Brett Anderson's restaurant coverage is tops.

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@ Savannah visitor: hey, don't miss SCAD - Savannah College of Art & Design. There are exhibits, faculty shows & sales and a funky art-oriented community there. A must-see if you have any interest at all in art, crafts and galleries.See the web site for special events, worth your time. Unless you detest art (are there such people...?)

Joe Yonan: Yes, of course! Scads (hee hee) of things to see there. Love it.

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SoCal road trip options: March is an iffy time with weather.Are you driving all the way down or flying to LA and drive around SoCal????If its a true road trip and you are driving down I would suggest hitting the northern coastline and go through napa valley.If you are flying to LA I would suggest you throw in the area around Santa Barbara and the Santa Ynez valley area.For anyone going to death valley...target late Jan/early feb when it can be flower season if they get enough rain.

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re: sand: So completely with you - I am NOT a fan. I would lay at my mom's pool and watch the beach (she lived on south shore, LI).Go to the south of france - where they have rocks instead of sand! It's fantastic...

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Orlando solo (adult) traveler: FYI - the lovely Charles Hosmer Morse Museum in Winter Park, Fla., half and hour north of the theme parks, is opening a new wing of Tiffany art this week.It's a small, quality museum and is on Park Ave., a charming enclave of shops and dining spots. Walk from there to Rollins College and hit the Cornell Museum there, a jewel. Eat outside at Luma on Park or Thai on Park. Take a boat tour of Winter Park and think how nice it is to leave Mickey on his own for a relaxing afternoon.

Zofia Smardz: And look for an upcoming Impulsive Traveler on Winter Park and the Tiffany exhibit!

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penn station: It's MUCH cleaner/safer than when I was a kid. And when I was a kid, we would many times get to penn station in the middle of the night and take the next train to long island (which meant sometimes a lot of time just sitting in the station).So, if you are in any way apprehensive, I would ask a security officer the best way to get a cab (since there are many entrances and exits). You shouldn't have a problem.

Joe Yonan: Yep. Thanks.

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Spain: I have to second the San Sebastian recommendation. Madrid, I could take it or leave it. The smaller towns like SS, Toledo & Valencia have so much more charm to them. I would focus on those.

Joe Yonan: I didn't do Toledo, but I did love Valencia. Didn't get enough time there, and want to go back. But I thought Madrid was swell, especially the museum scene.

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Spanish immersion programs, beaches: Two places worth checking out for Spanish schools at the beach are Monterrico, Guatemala and La Ceiba Honduras. I'm too busy at work to look for specifics, but 123teachme.com is a good place to start a search. (Antigua and Mexico City are both great, but landlocked!)

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Savannah - black history tour: The best thing we did in Savannah was to take the two-hour black history bus tour put on by the visitor center. You see the other side of the city and hear interesting things. Our guide was a retired minister with a LOT to say.Best food of my life was at the Olde Pink House. Fancy food done right.

Joe Yonan: Great!

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Washington, DC: I am celebrating my 30th birthday this year and would like to take a trip with my SO to celebrate. We are thinking of going at the end of May for 4-5 days. We would like a destination with a few days for relaxing and few days of activities (hiking, cultural sites). The budget is around $2K and we are thinking somewhere outside the U.S. We are pretty seasoned travelers -- where to go???

Nancy Trejos: For that budget, I would think you would have to stick to the Caribbean or Latin America, if you can find cheap enough flights. I'm starting to sound like a broken record here, but I can't speak highly enough about Colombia and you can certainly do that on a $2K budget. It sounds like you want some outdoor activities. I would suggest flying down to Cartagena. You have beaches and history there. Stay in the old city, which is gorgeous, and do a couple of day trips, one to Isla del Rosario and one to Playa Blanca. You can throw in a side trip to perhaps Parque Tayrona, which is a beautiful park right by the beach. I also think there are some beautiful places to visit in Mexico, like Tolum and Cozumel. I know there are security concerns there right now, but there are parts of the country that are still safe to visit. And it's inexpensive. I would also recommend Belize, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, or Guatemala. I'm heading to Panama soon and will let you know what I think of it. Have a great birthday!

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Iphones in foreign countries: if you call ATT they can set you up on a plan which be cheaper if you are going to be in country for an extended period of time. BTW iphones with ATT work in Panama

Andrea Sachs: Great to know. Thanks!

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Greece ideas?: Hi travel crew!My family is planning to go Greece for 2 weeks in late April. Thinking about visiting Napflion, Athens, Santorini and Crete. Any suggestions about altering or filling out the itinerary (special places to see, stay, eat?).thanks!

Becky Krystal: We're running out of time here, but check out a Greece article we ran last year for some ideas. I also just read this great Conde Nast Traveler story about the Little Cyclades. Might be worth checking out.

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See Something, Say Something: Orwellian? No way. Just recently I was traveling into DCA and was in baggage claim waiting for bags. Sat my 3 year old down on a row of seats and noticed a backpack and a shopping bag tucked behind the seats. Asked everyone around if it was their bags, and everyone just shrugged and looked totally disinterested.That is a non-secure area of the airport, and those bags could have been loaded with just about anything. No one cared.I grabbed my child, and ran to get security. They took interest IMMEDIATELY. Just when they were about to take away the unattended bags, this guy lopes over and was like "um, hey those are mine". I was incensed. He was clueless. But that could have been a serious situation.

Joe Yonan: You did the right thing.

Christopher Elliott: Passengers have been encouraged to report unattended bags for a long time, way before the TSA or Department of Homeland Security existed. I agree with you, it's something to be vigilant about. But many travelers feel that "If you see something, say something" can be taken too far. What if somoeone who looks Middle Eastern is sitting next to you on a plane? Is that something reportable? What if someone looks distressed? Should we flag down the closes TSA officer? I think travelers are concerned that there might be no end to what is "reportable" and that the net result will be a police state.

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Favorite Place for Sand: White Sands National Monument in southern NM. We live in Las Cruces and anyone who comes to visit goes there. We sled, make sand angels, and pour sand out of our shoes for weeks. Of course if you consider water to be an important part of a beach you are out of luck. :)

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Beach Dream: If I could teleport to a beach right now, I 'd go to Manuel Antonio on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica. My husband and I were dating when we traveled for a week in that lovely country and we were dirt broke by the time we made it to the west coast...we hesitated to rent a beach umbrella for 7 USD, but we are two of the whitest white people around, so we decided to be safe. The sun was a scorcher and without that umbrella, we'd have left our fried carcasses on that gorgeous beach! Best $7 we ever spent and an inside joke every time we find ourselves being needlessly frugal...

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verizon iphone doesn't work at all abroad: But keep in mind that your shiny new Verizon iphone won't work in most overseas places because of the system differences. Alas.

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REI Travel: Any taken an REI trip? They are considerably cheaper than Backroads or Butterfield for hike/bike/kayak trips. Wondering if they meet/exceed expectations, or if the lower cost reflects lodging choices.

Andrea Sachs: I never had, but REI staff are the real deal. They live their product. I would definitely sign up. If you do, let us know how it goes.

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Beaches: About two years ago I went to one of the black sand beaches in Hawaii on the big island. Cant recall the name...but it was near the volcano.

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Becky Krystal: All right, that does it for this week's chat. Thanks for another lively hour of travel talk. The prize goes to the chatter whose trip to Goa inspired a fellow reader. Send your info to travel@washpost.com. We'll be off for the President's Day holiday next week, so until next time, happy travels!


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