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High school kids taking exotic trips, guided tours, registered traveler cards, cheap Caribbean options and more.

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Your "Flight Crew," sitting from left: Christina Talcott, Andrea Sachs, Cindy Loose. Standing from left: Scott Vogel, K. C. Summers, John Deiner and Carol Sottili. (Julia Ewan -- TWP)
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The Flight Crew
Washington Post Travel Section
Monday, January 14, 2008; 2:00 PM

The Post's Travel Section Flight Crew will take your comments, questions, suspicions, warnings, gripes, sad tales and happy endings springing from the world of ... the world. Of course, the Flight Crew will be happy to answer your travel questions -- but the best thing about this forum, we insist, is that it lets travelers exchange information with other travelers who've been there, done that or otherwise have insights, ideas and information to share. Different members of the Crew will rotate through the captain's chair every week, but the one constant is you, our valued passengers.

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We know you have a choice in online travel forums, and speaking for the entire Flight Crew, we want to thank you for flying with us.

You may also browse an archive of previous live travel discussions. For daily dispatches, check out Travel Log, the Travel section's new blog.

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Cindy Loose: Hey, Good afternoon and welcome to the travel chat. Cindy Loose is your captain today. We have with us Carol Sottili, Scott Vogel and K.C. Summers--a little light on crew, so help us out.

The most helpful person will have a choice of one to four nice calendar, 2008.

We'd like to continue the discussion we started last week---Know of high school kids taking ever more exotic trips, without parents, and if so, what do you think of the phenominon?

Let's roll.

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Washington, DC: Do you recommend one company over the other with respect to obtaining a registered traveler card?

Cindy Loose: The largest one by far is Clear, and they give deals to federal workers and military and have lots of sites where you can sign up.

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Washington, DC: We are going to Italy in August. I was wondering what would be a good price for air fares? I've started looking and it seems a non-stop flight to Rome is around $1200. Thanks!

Carol Sottili: That sounds about right for August travel. Airfare to Italy is often higher than cities in other European countries where there is more competition. And nonstop flights are the most expensive. You could also look into flying to London and then taking a discount European airline to Rome. But you'd have to get from Heathrow to a different airport in London (most likely Stansted), which is a big pain.

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Oakton, VA: I am not well-traveled but hope to change that moving forward! I would like to travel to Europe, but admit to being intimidated about visiting countries where I don't speak the language. What is your opinion about guided tours? Are they slanted to senior citizens (I am not yet in that age range!)

Scott Vogel: One thing we're finding is that the old "If it's Tuesday, this must be Belgium" style of touring is finally going the way of the dinosaurs. Whirlwind bus trips are certainly available and appropriate for some travelers, but to get a good sense of how tours are changing, visit a site like Viator (www.viator.com), which specializes in all things tour-related. Another thought: consider hiring a private guide in a country where you don't speak the language. I recently did just that during a trip to Brazil and it was a lot cheaper than you might think. A site that might help you there is www.viamigo.com, which specializes in connecting tourists with locals in the places they're visiting.

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Alexandria, VA: I have tickets on Auto Train to Florida on Feb 2 from Lorton, VA and returning on Feb 11.

If Auto Train goes on strike on Jan 30, is there a way to get airline tickets to Miami at the "last minute" without paying an expensive premium?

Cindy Loose: Oh dear, that's a tough question, and a tough situation. I'm monitoring the Amtrak union negotiations but things are no more clear today than a week ago.

As you clearly know last minute fares can be really high. Then again, the thing you have going for you is that there are so many flights to Miami and Fort Lauderdale. Then again everyrone on your train is suddenly going to want to fly.

My suggestion, just cause I don't have time: Check fares today for a flight next Saturday and see how it looks. That way, at least you'll have an idea if you have a chance of finding a decent fare last minute.

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Washington, D.C.: Thanks for the reminder about passports in CoGo, and the latest on the passport card for land and sea travel. I notice you mentioned "the Caribbean" AND "Bahamas"; I'd pay a pretty penny (or schilling or ore) to figure out once and for all whether the Bahamas is actually considered in the Caribbean.

The CIA World Fact Book says it's in the Caribbean. One edition of Webster's Geographical Dictionary says it on the northeastern edge of the Caribbean Sea.

But another edition doesn't mention "Caribbean" in describing the chain. The Bahamas is a CARICOM member. But again a very nice lady at the Bahamas Tourist Board says her country is not in the Caribbean.

I don't want to be Loose with my travel terminology, especially since I hope to be spending Summers in the Caribbean in the future. (Looking back at this, maybe I should just have a beer and not worry about it.)

KC Summers: Hey Wash. The CIA Factbook and Webster's can argue all they want, but all you have to do is look at a map. The Bahamas is (are?) in the Atlantic Ocean. I swear on a Sachs of Bibles. Say otherwise and I'll slap you Sottili.

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Pittsburgh, Pa: What's a "registered traveler card"?

Cindy Loose: A registered traveler card, which generally costs about $100, allows you to go through an expedited line in those airports that currently have expedited lines for registered travlers.

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Midwest: We are looking for some guidebooks or Web sites that are focused on history and historical sites. We are planning a late September trip to New England, and tentatively planning to use Boston as our "hub" --go anywhere within a driving distance of about two hours, so we can return to the same hotel in the evening (just for ease of travel and not schlepping stuff all over, checking in, etc.).

We'd like to balance time enjoying the natural scenery (shoreline, whatever leaves are peep-able then, etc.) and doing the historic-museum stuff as we are both history geeks. A bit of shopping is OK if it is offbeat-- botiquey, artsy-craftsy-cultural-antique, not chain boring. Not at all interested in commercial entertainment-amusement parks, water parks, etc. Definitely focused on history and culture.

Any ideas on Web sites or guides that can help us plan? Or suggestion of a better "hub" location? We picked Boston b/c of the ease of flights from here, but I suppose we could fly to Boston then drive to a "hub" site.

Thanks for the ideas. We are really excited about planning this trip.

Andrea Sachs: Boston is a great hub. You will have easy access to New Hampshire, Vermont, Providence, Cape Cod, the ocean, farmland, etc. Some good travel-planning sources include Discover New England (www.discovernewengland.org); New England Tourism Center (www.ne-tc.com), which has links to the region's state tourism offices; and Yankee Magazine (www.yankeemagazine.com/travel)

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Washington, DC: Hi there,

Thanks for taking my question. Are online consolidators safe ways to purchase international airline tickets? How do you know if a company is legit?

Thanks!

Carol Sottili: There aren't many true consolidators left that deal directly with the public. Most of the legit ones that save you money deal only with travel agents.

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deep valley, USA: Flights to Italy are sometimes MUCH cheaper if you change planes in Munich than if you do so in London, and it's one airport.

And consider flying to whatever Italian city is cheapest then taking the train to your destination. This is esp. good for Florence, since Pisa is significantly cheaper and the train takes about an hour.

Carol Sottili: It's worth it to try different routes to see if pricing changes.

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Vienna, VA: Hi Crew -

Looking for a spring break destination for my family -- me, husband, first-grader -- that is within less than 10 hours driving distance, nice weather in mid-March, and will come in at a budget of $2000 for 4 nights. We like active, outdoorsy/small town, and good eats. Any thoughts? Thanks!

Cindy Loose: For the best chance at warm weather I presume you'll head south. Ten hours would get you deep into South Carolina. I'd check out the eats in Charleston, and check what small towns are close by. Georgia is also within your driving limit. How's about Savannah, and look for small towns and outdoorsy stuff around there?

Other ideas, anyone. I've suggested cities despite your small town desires cause you also want some good eats, and aside from the occassional mom and pop place or bbque joint, you're best bet for lots of good eats are in cities, and the small ones I've mentioned are near towns you could enjoy as well.

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Washington, DC: Italy in August? Going to be HOT. My wife and I went in April and it was much less crowded, must better weather, and cheaper flights.

Carol Sottili: And August is also when Italians take their vacations, so, depending on where you go, you may find some places closed.

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HS Kids: When I was a HS kid (after Freshman year) my parents put me on a plane to Europe for the summer. Was meeting a military family that I hadn't seen in years!!

I was 14 (but looked more like 11 or 12), had never been out of the country, was flying alone and switching planes at Heathrow. My father didn't know about "unaccompanied minors" so he didn't notify the airline about me. Got over just fine, had a great trip. Coming home was interesting, though because I got stuck in London because of weather. There I was in line, when it was my turn, the TWA clerk started to hand me my voucher for the hotel for the night and completely panicked when she realized I couldn't see over the counter!!

They assigned me to a "stewardess" who was none too pleased to have a new duty. And, put me on a place to NY (I was supposed to go to Dulles). When, I argued, she nicely said. We just don't want you to be here. Anywhere in America will do!

Made it to NY and then had a similar reaction from that TWA clerk. I was put on a plane to San Francisco (my adventure was getting better!) which got diverted to Dulles to drop off this kid whose parents had sent her off. Suffice to say some of the California-bound people were none to pleased with the side trip.

I have a (almost) 14-year-old now and cannot imagine what my parents were thinking when they thought it was a good idea to let me travel alone at that age.

And, after watching my younger sister do some of the high school/college group trips (and hearing the dirty details), I can assure you that my kids won't be doing those, either!!

Cindy Loose: Great story. Consider emailing me at loosec@washpost.com

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Toronto: Hello,

I am going to Paris in a month for 3 1/2 days. I have been before and seen all the usual sights. What would you recommend for a day trip (accessible by train or bus)? I am interested in history and have already been to Versailles. Vaux-le-Vicomte is closed for the winter and I don't know if Fontainebleau is worth it at this time of the year. Is there more the Chartres than the cathedral?

Thanks

Scott Vogel: Wow, would love to hear others' views on this one. I was in Mont Saint-Michel one winter day -- one very cold and wet winter day. Having said that, for all the touristy-ness of it, the abbey remains a wonder well worth seeing and it's quite accessible via various bus and train routes.

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Dulles - To Drive or Not to Drive?: Easy question, I hope. I live in Baltimore but am flying out of Dulles (to Scotland, yeah).

Supershuttle doesn't go from B'more to Dulles. Private hired cars run about $125 each way. My departure and arrival times would have me in traffic during rush hour. According to Mapquest, it's a little over an hour to get from Point A to Point B. But that doesn't take Beltway traffic into account.

Can you help me justify spending more money than I really have to in getting to and from the airport?

Andrea Sachs: This is from the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority:

Washington Flyer taxi (estimated fare $97.00 and 60-70 minutes travel time) or SuperShuttle shared ride van service (estimated fare $75.00 and 70-90 minutes travel time) are available between Dulles and BWI.

If it were me, however, I would drive it and just leave a little early to beat the rush hour traffic. You have to get there somehow, right?

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Diversity on Travel Staff: Hi Crew, I first want to say that I love your work, and think the section is great. But I wanted to ask if there are any plans for more racial diversity in the travel staff, or writers? I know as a white woman, my travel experiences have often been much different, in subtle and in blatant ways, than my travel partners of different races and ethnicities, even of my husband, who is mixed race. I would really like to see the issue addressed, both in staffing and in articles that address the issue, especially since we live in such a diverse community.

KC Summers: Thanks for your thoughtful question. We frequently lament the fact that (to quote a couple of local DJs), as a staff, we're fat, white and sick about it. Okay, we're not fat, but still. We do think a lot about ways to make the section more diverse, and we're ever-conscious of our responsibilities as a travel section in a large, diverse city. Unfortunately, the Travel staff is not going to be growing anytime soon due to budget constraints, and there simply isn't much turnover here. But we try to make up for that by casting our net wide for a diverse group of contributing writers -- and that also includes young, budget, gay and other under-represented groups, as well as people of color -- and by considering those constituencies when we plan our coverage. And we always welcome your comments on how we can do that better.

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Baltimore, MD: For the person who wants to visit foreign countries, but only speaks English: you can choose from countries that DO speak English (Ireland, England, Australia) but most of them drive on the left side of the road, which is very scary if you're driving a rental car. Ther are other countries (Netherlands, Iceland, and others) where nearly everybody speaks English. Get your passport and go! I didn't go to Europe until I was 53, but now I've been to four countries there, and loved every minute of it.

Scott Vogel: I couldn't agree more -- don't let the language barrier stop ya!

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Travel help!! Desperate for good hotel: I would like to take my wife to the Bahamas this year over Valentine's day. I found cheap air into Nassau, but I have no idea where to stay. We want somewhere nice and classy, but would like to spend less than $450/night. Atlantis is over $600...and doesn;t even seem that classy. Do you have any recommendations? Also, is there another island that has cheap air from DC?

Thanks!

Cindy Loose: First, the alternatives: Don't know how cheap your fare is to the Bahamas, but you might find something comparable to Puerto Rico, Cancun isn't an island but is warm, maybe Dominican Republic, which has mostly all-inclusives though. Also, in the Bahamas, Freeport/Grand Bahama.

Do keep in mind please that while the Bahamas are quite nice, and you can swim in a heated pool, most people aren't hardy enough to be swimming in the ocean in the Bahamas in Feb.

There are tons of options of places to stay and the options under $450 that are perfectly nice should be legion. Have you also considered packages, air/land?

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re: Alexandria: The other option if AMTRAK strikes is to drive. It's about 15 hours to Orlando, unless you try to leave at 4:30 on a Friday. Not a fun drive, but better than spending big $ on a last minute airfare, and then having to pay to rent a car in FLA.

Cindy Loose: Sounds like the ace in the hole if all else fails, but dn't despair about finding last minute fare--you might despair in the end but a decently priced ticket is possible. Monitor the strike carefully and be the first to check out options.

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New York Hotels?: Really enjoyed yesterday's travel section--fun and useful. Thanks.

I'm headed to NYC in a couple of weeks for a weekend of museums and shopping. On your recommendation, I'm looking at the Pod Hotel. But I'm also thinking of bidding, say, $125 max on Priceline for a 3- or 4-star hotel in Midtown east or south. Several respondents to Bidding for Travel have had a good experience going that route (as long as they didn't get the Paramount in Times Square), but I thought I'd ask if any of you, or any clicksters, have advice in this regard. Thanks.

KC Summers: We've all had good experiences on Priceline and Hotwire and recommend them a lot for travelers who don't have a specific hotel in mind. We get the odd complaint from readers that they can't back out of the deal once they click yes, but really the site makes it very clear that these are final, nonrefundable sales.

The main reason I don't use Priceline more is that I don't like the kind of bland, character-less hotels I've gotten placed in in, say, New York. I'd rather seek out smaller hotels with more personality, and pay a little more. But Priceline's great if you don't have strong feelings about that.

Anyone else have Priceline thoughts?

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Going Dutch: Hello, crew! I would like to splurge on a first-class trip to Amsterdam with my father to celebrate his retirement. Our dates are totally flexible, but I'm thinking of maybe early March for the trip. United has nonstop first class tickets for about $4500. Does that seem right to you? What sites/strategies would you recommend for searching for smart 'bargains' even in first class?

Many many thanks for all your great insight!

Carol Sottili: That actually sounds way too cheap. Are you sure you didn't look up business-class fares? There are some Web sites that say they offer discount 1st class tickets, such as www.1stair.net. You could give that a try. Or, if you have any frequent flyer miles, you could look into upgrading.

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re:Boston: I love Boston more than words can say, but I wouldn't want to have to be driving in and out of the city each day. Granted they'd be going in the opposite direction of commuter traffic, but driving in and around Boston is high on my list of things to avoid. I'd seriously think about finding a more suburban location as the base of operations -- preferably one near the T, to facilitate getting into the city and experiencing all the history it has to offer.

Andrea Sachs: Well, they can take the T while exploring Boston, but for side trips to other states, it seems like a good hub.

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Washington DC: As a very frequent visitor to Lisbon, I was happy to see Sunday's article on that city, even if I think the author missed a lot of great places.However, I had to giggle when I read the following line:

"Try the flaky, gooey custard tarts called pasties de nata..."

Errr, would those be the sort of "pasties" sported by Portuguese strippers? They are indeed sort of saucer shaped, but I don't see how they would stay on. The word needed was "pasteis." It is the irregular looking plural of "pastel" or pastry. The "eis" is pronounced like "eyes" in English and the whole thing means "pastries of cream."

While the place recommended by your author is nice, I would say everyone should eat "pasteis de nata" at the famous old pastelaria called Pasteis de Belem, right near the Jeronimos Monastery. They are being prepared fresh constantly. One can sit at a table surrounded walls with beautiful tiles, or buy skinny tube-like boxes up front in which the pastries are stacked, still warm, with little packets of canela or cinnamon included. It is paraiso (paradise).

KC Summers: Well, there's more than one kind of pasty, you know. We could've been referring to CORNISH pasties. (Look it up.) Okay, we seem to have screwed up in this case. Thanks for the eagle eye, and also for the good tip.

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Re hiring a private guide in Europe: I've done this with excellent results in the Azores, and found the fees fairly reasonable there (considering the exorbitant price of fuel). On smaller islands where I didn't have a group tour already lined up, I simply inquired at my hotel's desk during check-in, where they had a whole list of guides/drivers, including other languages they spoke besides Portuguese. Because the guides I chose all had worked or attended school in the US or Canada for many years, they were fluent in English as well as their native Portuguese, and able to do simultaneous interpreting with non-English speaking natives for me when my halting Portuguese failed (quite a bit, especially on my first visit, alas -- mas falo portugues mais ou menos hoje em dia!).

Re other nations: a friend who traveled to Eastern Europe in order to research his family's genealogy also hired a private guide, who doubled as an interpreter in the archives, assisting my friend in looking up records and translating them.

Scott Vogel: Great suggestions, all of them. It really pays to do your homework and think creatively when considering a tour.

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Traveling overseas with pets: Any advice on moving overseas with pets? We may be moving to Asia for up to a year, so I want to bring our cat with us. Any advice on whether it's better to have the pet in the cabin on long haul flights (I am worried he'll cry for the entire 14 hour flight...but don't really want him in cargo for 14 hours either) or if cargo is really okay? Any airlines better than others at dealing with pets?

Cindy Loose: You'll have to start out by checking the rules for the country to which you are headed -- some still require they be quarantined, it depends on the country. As to whether it's okay in cargo--it depends in part on when you're going. Winter and summer, with extreme temperatures, can be quite problematic in cargo. I'm afraid you have a multi-step process, starting with the rules of the country to which you are flying, then the rules of the airline you are considering. The more stops you have the more potential problems you have in cargo, with kitty being transferred like so much luggage. Also talk to your vet about tranquilizers.

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Aspen Hill, MD: Hi, Crew. My husband and I read with interest your helpful itineraries for the vacations you planned in yesterday's Travel section. Like many, we traveled before we had kids but now financial and logistical concerns have pretty much put that on the back burner, except for family visits and lodges at nearby State and National Parks.

But, wow, we were stunned by the prices. $485 a night for a hotel in Lisbon? We stayed at a very nice one in 1998 for under $100. And my Mother can top that: when she got out of law school in the early 1970's, she and a friend took a 10 day American Express tour of Spain, Morroco and Portugal for $732, including airfare from NYC and 2 or 3 meals a day!

There are benefits to being older. Unless we win the lottery, which we don't play, or come into some other financial windfall, I just don't see that our children will be able to travel as widely as we did, which wi ll be a big loss.

KC Summers: Yes, travel to Europe is pretty painful now. The interesting thing, though, is that we're hearing from readers that they're sucking it up and going anyway -- trying to economize as best they can in little ways. They just still really want that Old Country experience.

Re the Lisbon hotel, we did make it clear that that was a splurge. This was the couple's honeymoon and while they weren't extravagant travelers, they did want to splurge on their hotel.

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Annandale Va: Do you all have any recommendations or suggestions on all-inclusive resorts that don't necessarily cater to couples?

Thanx

Carol Sottili: Most don't cater to couples. There are many choices, depending on where you want to go and how much you want to spend. Cancun (and areas south), Dominican Republic and Jamaica offer the most choices. Some big names that come to mind include Beaches (www.beaches.com), Iberostar (www.iberostar.com), Riu (www.riu.com, Club Med (www.clubmed.com) and Superclubs (www.superclubs.com).

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Arlington, VA:$4,500 to Amsterdam sure sounds a lot like business class, and one-way at that. If the chatter really found round-trip first class for $4,500, that's an amazing deal (assuming it's a "real" airline).

Carol Sottili: True.

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Not Hawaii or Disney!: Surely there were more interesting options for US travel than Hawaii and Disney? I'm not interested in spending $300 to get my family's passports up to date, so US travel is all I'm really interested in. If I did get passports, I'd be going to Canada--remember that big country to the North???

KC Summers: Well, sure. There are LOTS more interesting U.S. options. But you're forgetting that in this section we were answering readers' requests, and Disney World and Hawaii are where a lot of folks want to go. Since we only had room for six reader trips, we tried to pick ones that were representative of a lot of the requests we received. In other sections, rest assured we explore less popular destinations.

By the way, in next week's section we have a nice story on Toronto with lots of good ideas for stuff to do.

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Washington, DC: Last week, I booked a flight to London this summer on United using miles. Today, a friend tells me she is getting married in London - on the day I have my return flight. Do you know how much of a problem it will be to move my flight back a couple of days? I have never used miles before. Thank you.

Cindy Loose: Technically you can do it-- the fee to do so is usually fairly modest, not sure but I think United might charge about $50-- but the big hurdle will be whether or not there is an available frequent flyer seat when you want to go.

Frequent flyer seats are usually few and far between, but it's worth a try.

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Arlington, Va. Passport Renewal?: My passport is not near expiration, but I'm wondering if I should go ahead and replace it to get a "scannable" one so I can check in at kiosks on int'l flights (can't with this one). Also, the stupid way they do the name change (stamped on the last page) is irksome.

Is it worth the hassle to get a new one now?

Will I get my stamped pages back? Should I rip them out?

Andrea Sachs: I would just wait until it's closer to your expiration date. Unless you are really put out by showing your passport to the check-in agent.

The State Department returns your old passport, so you can reflect back on where you've been and where you need to go.

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Going Dutch - follow-up: You're RIGHT! The $4500 was for the business class fare - first class was more than double. Nice catch! No wonder you're pros...

Carol Sottili: This explains it. By the way, I plugged in March 8-15 dates from Dulles and came up with a $3,007 round-trip, business-class fare. Fool around with different dates.

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Rockville, MD: Hi! I have a friend getting married in Palermo, Sicily at the beginning of September. I was thinking of going to Rome, Florence, and Venice following the wedding. Is 16 days too short for all 4 places? It seems complicated to me to arrange for all the flights from the US (if one way from DC to Palermo and one way from Venice to DC is best, or round trip to Rome is best) as well as the intracountry transportation. I've never used a travel agent and neither have my friends; do you have any suggestions of how to find one? Or are there good websites I can use? I'm usually a do-it-yourselfer planner. Thanks!

KC Summers: Hi Rock. This is a perfect example of a good time to use a travel agent. Any time a trip gets complicated like this, that's what we recommend. The best way to find one is word of mouth -- just like finding a doctor, a personal testimonial from a friend or neighbor is the best reference. Barring that, you can go to travelsense.org, the American Society of Travel AGents Web site, and type in your zip code and what you're looking for. Or call the embasssy or tourism office of the country you want to visit and ask for recommendations.

Oh, but back to your original question. I think 16 days for four places is JUST doable. I've done Venice-Florence-Rome in 10 days and that worked well.

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Washington, D.C.: I went to Paris last month. When I went to my hotel (booked on Travelocity), they said I was now booked at a similar hotel 3 blocks away. What recourse would I have had? I booked the hotel because it was in the EXACT location I wanted. Also, the hotel I ended up at was not what I had in mind for four stars.

Thanks!!

Cindy Loose: The star rating system is not to be relied upon--AAA and Mobil are fairly consistent, while not perfect. Most online sites, however, have no real system in place. In some cases, hotels are allowed to rate themselves.

I'm afraid you don't have a lot of rights when it comes to a hotel being overbooked and you get moved to what they claim is an equal hotel. Hotels overbook just like airlines do, but unlike airlines, there is no one to require penalties for doing so---their only risk is making a customer angry and losing them in future. Afraid there is not much you can do except, if you aren't already there, asking for a refund so you can start a new search.

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trip planner: I enjoyed sunday's section but also had sticker shock at some of the trips. maybe next time do a set of US trips and a set of foreign?

I would like to know more about some of the national park options.

KC Summers: Thanks for your feedback, and point taken. We did have two U.S. options in this package: Disney World and Hawaii. As I mentioned earlier, in this section we were responding to readers' requests, and we got hardly any requests for continental U.S. travel -- international trips being harder to plan. But if we do this again, maybe we'll restrict it to the U.S.

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Flying back from overseas late into JFK: Hi there,

Our flight from Israel lands in JFK at 8:35 p.m.

Is it feasible to get a flight back to this area (BWI, Dulles) that night?

Thanks!

Carol Sottili: JetBlue has a 10:15 p.m. flight to Dulles. If you can go to Reagan National, AMerican has a 10:30 p.m. flight. Nothing to BWI.

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Fontainebleu: We went to Fontainebleu in winter a few years ago, and it was a pleasant quiet break from Paris, with very few visitors. The trip is less than an hour, so you can take an early train, tour the Chateau, take a walk around town, and be back by early afternoon.

Scott Vogel: Maybe winter's the BEST time for Fontainebleu...

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Re: Priceline in NYC: I used priceline several years ago to get a hotel in NYC. I got a great rate of $99 at a convenient hotel, but the room was not nearly as nice as the lobby. I got the impression that I got a 'priceline' room that wasn't up to the same quality as the other rooms in the hotel.

KC Summers: People say this a lot (also for Expedia, Travelocity, Hotels.com, etc.). I guess we can't really blame the hotels....

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Flyover, IN: For the Priceline questionner. Check out www.betterbidding.com. This site is very helpful in trying to determin which hotel is making the offer. I've used it several times in conjunction with Hotwire and they've been fairly accurate.

KC Summers: Thanks. We haven't tried this site -- we usually recommend bidding4travel.com.

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re: Paris: If it were summer or fall, I'd say go to Giverny--was there in Oct. and it was lovely. (Monet's summer place etc.) Honfleur is a lovely seaside town, but again, weather. So, Mont St. Michel was a good answer--try to go when there is a service going on--the acoustics are so great and they had a violinist playing--it was transcending.

Scott Vogel: Yeah, you'll goose bumps one way or the other, guaranteed!

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Minneapolis, Minn: I have a "Mission Impossible" type task for you:

4 people, 2 adults, 1 6 year old, 1 3 year old

6 weeks of total traveling time

Budget of $15000

Destination: Asia

We want to maximize our time in Asia and see as much as possible, while not tuckering out our kiddies. Where should we head and where should we jettison? When we ask the kids where they want to go, one says "Japan" (she is a sushi fan) and the other says "Vietnam" (you guessed it; he likes pho).

Cindy Loose: Wow, that's an enviable trip, but a big bite to try to take on in travel chat. Afraid I can give only a few quick thoughts:

1. Have you checked out whether Cathay Pacific or New Zealand still has those around the world flights that give you lots of legs?

2. Japan is great, but if you want to stay on budget don't plan to spend a long time there.

3. I adore North Vietnam, including Hanoi, and wouldn't leave that out for sure.

4. If I understand it right and you have one sixyearold and one threeyearold, as opposed to 13 and 16, then don't consider their opinions about where to go. Once you get there be very open to their opinions about when they;re hungary and sleepy and tired, but knowing nothing about the world and unable to read guidebooks, they are your worst advisors. At the same time, having taken a young child to Asia, you'll find there are all kinds of little things that will fascinate them--like the unusual toy machines in Japan, or the odd flavored sodas, or the candy that is different than what they find in the U.S.-- in other words they'll find something fascinating anywhere in Asia. My child at the time would get bored after five minutes in a U.S. mall, but would walk for miles taking in the unusual sites in Asia.

Have you considered looking into a house swap for part of your trip?

After you've done a bit more homework, feel free to get back to us again.

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Arlington VA: Hi, I searched on United website, but couldn't find the answer. I have around 75000 mileages with them. Is this number big enough to fly to anywhere in US or Canada for 2 people? Or I may fly to Taipei in the near future and I wonder if it is enough for me to upgrade to business class (one ticket)? Thanks.

Andrea Sachs: If I am reading the chart correctly on United's Web site, it seems that you need 50,000 miles to fly economy in the States and Canada; 70,000 for Hawaii, the Caribbean and Central America; and over 100,000 for other international destinations. (Asia is 120,000 miles; and if you want to fly biz or first class, you will have to spend more miles.) My technique is to squirrel away the miles for a big blowout trip, since these days you can fly pretty reasonably around North America.

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Fairfax, VA: Your article on Croatia yesterday was very helpful. Do you recomment the Croatia Travel Agency as being reliable? Are there other travel agencies or tour companies that you recommend for Croatia and Slovenia?

KC Summers: Thanks. It's one of my favorite countries. I did find the Croatia Travel Agency (www.croatiatravel.com) very helpful -- they seem to have the best airfares, and they also have a rep in-country with a U.S. number, which comes in handy. The Croatia tourism office is also very good -- www.croatia.hr.

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New York Hotel: Before you go the Priceline route, try a couple of the boutique hotels (Amsterdam Inn, Murray Hill, etc.) I believe the website is www.nycinns.com. If that doesn't work, definitely do Priceline. We once scored a room at the Intercontinental for about $125 a night, although we did sleep in a broom closet ...

KC Summers: LOL. Thanks!

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Charlotte, NC: We took the kids to Boston three years ago and stayed in Peabody. That way, we were close to the interstates and could go into the city as well as north and south. We actually flew into and out of Manchester, which is a delightful little airport. In a week's time, we did NH, drove up to Maine, went to Concord and Quincy, and enjoyed Boston. Great trip!

Andrea Sachs: Great to hear! The Peabody is lovely.

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JFK at night again: Do you think arriving at 8:35 (assuming on time) and having to get though customs, get luggage and presumably across a termial we'll be able to make a 10:15 or even a 10:30 flight?

I just don't want to cut it too close . . .

Cindy Loose: Two hours should be enough, unless you're first leg is late. That happens, and it happens often, so, the question becomes: If you miss the 10:15 flight, is that the last one of the night? If yes, and if you really have to be where you're going the next morning, then I would allow more time than you should need, i.e. more than two hours-- a lot more.

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Planning ahead, Maryland: How do I take a train from Paris to Rome? I've traveled by train within Italy, but never from one country to another. Is there a schedule of departures/arrivals, etc. on-line? What are the must-knows?

Scott Vogel: Your first stop should be Rail Europe (www.raileurope.com), where you'll find prices and schedules for the Paris-Rome route, including a 14-hour overnight high speed train that's definitely worth considering.

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Washington, D.C.:"Also, the stupid way they do the name change (stamped on the last page) is irksome."

This practice was abandoned in 2005. Name changes now require a new passport (and, generally, the accompanying fees).

Andrea Sachs: Good point (I seem to have ignored that line). However, I have heard some people complain about the difficulties of changing their names on official documents. Oh wait, that was DMV.

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Boston as Hub: I think that is a great idea. In late September you can drive to the Cape without wanting to pull your hair out.

Some things that might interest you: Huron Ave in Cambridge. Home to great pizza (Emma's), cheese (Formaggio Kitchen), bread (Hi-Rise), Marrimeko, galleries, and the Bryn Mawr bookstore. Inman Sq. in Cambridge is wonderful as well.

See the museums at Harvard (Fogg and Peabody). MIT has a great museum too.

Don't miss the Boston Harbor Islands. Great views, maybe some seals in September. Georges Island has a historic fort (and maybe a ghost). You can take the ferry from Boston to Provincetown as well.

Portsmouth NH has lots of history, wonderful independent shopping and terrific restaurant (The Friendly Toast). It is not so touristy as the outlet-ridden towns in the SE part of the state.

Andrea Sachs: Wonderful tips. Thanks!

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Vienna VA: I am planning to travel to China in March. We'd like to fly from Hong Kong to Chengdu to see the pandas. I've read on other websites to hold off on purchasing domestic tickets within China until actually arriving in China to get bigger discounts. What should I do? R/T fares between Hong Kong and Chengdu are currently $700.

Carol Sottili: I may be the wrong person to answer this question, as I am a planner. But I just looked at Cathay Pacific and came up with a fare of $475 round trip. I think you could do better once there, but not sure you'd get anything much cheaper than about $350 round trip.

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Sterling,VA: I'm typically the type of person who likes to plan their own itineraries, with a focus on budgeting my hotel stays and focus on more of the experiential elements.

However, I'm now planning my honeymoon (Costa Rica) and figure this is one of the few times in one's life one shouldn't skimp on the hotel and the "luxury" aspect. Any particular reccomendations in Costa Rica with that in mind? We're choosing Costa Rica because we figure we can both the necessary relaxation after the wedding, as well as some of the more active elements we both enjoy.

KC Summers: Sterling, I'll throw your question out to the chatters in case we can get some recommendations from readers in the next 10 minutes. But I just googled "luxury Costa Rica hotels" and got some great hits. The Punta Islita hotel, "perched on a rugged mountain outpost and overlooking the Pacific," looks pretty swell to me. Go to www.fivestaralliance.com for more. Or consider Rancho Pacifico -- "Overlooking 3,000 square miles of Pacific and Ballena Marine National Park, & surrounded by a large, private rainforest preserve, Rancho Pacifico is a small luxury eco-hotel (max capacity, 24) that feels like a sprawling private estate." www.ranchopacifico2.com.

Any personal recommendations out there? Quick, quick.

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Washington, DC: Hi Flight Crew,

I will be flying through Chicago Midway airport next month. I have to change planes there on the way to California. I am flying on Southwest. I have never been to this airport. Will an hour and ten minutes be enough time for me to catch my connecting flight?

Also, can any of you offer advice on how best to find good rates on hotels? Are rates negotiable at all?

Thanks.

Cindy Loose: Yes, if your flight is one time. It's always good to know; if I miss my connection, what other flight or flights might I be able to catch that day. Also, I'm assuming here you have just one ticket. If you buy two separate tickets and the first flight is late, the airline is not going to help you get on another flight to replace the one you missed.

Shop around for hotels on sites like hotels.com, travelocity.com etc. If there is a chain you particularly like, call them directly. As far as negotiable--many hotels promise their prices won't be found lower anywhere else, so you can ask them to match a price you've found elsewhere, but negotiating isn't common. Remember to ask about AAA discounts if you belong to AAA--usualy that will get you 10% off--or for older folks, AARP.

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Washington DC: If the writer destined for the Palermo wedding is usually a do-it-you-selfer, there's no need for a travel agent if you're willing to buy a guidebook (I like Lonely Plant) to Italy and read it for a few hours, and then spend a few hours websurfing. A quick search showed this page: http://www.airninja.com/discountairlines/PalermoItaly.htm which shows discount airlines that fly between Palermo and either Florence, Venice, and Rome. Between those three cities, you'll want to take a train: http://www.trenitalia.com/en/index.html. Yes, if you're really pressed for time or are a real novice a travel agent might help, but for many of us the planning is half the fun.

KC Summers: Thanks. That's true for some travelers, but this one sounded a little unsure....

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Fairfax, Va: The woman who traveled alone to Europe at 14 reminded me of a trip my son took to Peru between middle and high school. It was an educational adventure under the auspices of an reputable organization, but it still got a little hairy. He and two others his age from this area were to meet a larger, chaperoned group in Miami after the first leg of their flight. The whole group then were to fly to Lima, then Iquitos together. Unfortunately, thunderstorms cancelled the DCA to MIA flight and the Florida group went on without them. Our boys were rebooked for the following day. They ran into more delays in Lima, where the organization hired a chaperone to wait with them; however she spoke no English and they very limited Spanish. We learned later that they debated flying back home on their own. Fortunately, they did not and once they got to Iquitos, everything else went smoothly. I think they spent some nervous hours, however.

Cindy Loose: That's kinda scarey

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Vienna, VA: I'm planning to go to Australia's Northern Territory for 2 weeks this year but seems that a 4000 budget is not enough if Im going by myself because of the "single supplement" price. I read the wash post solo travel article from last year but seem that many people consider these solo travel companies as dating agencies and that is not what I want.

Do you recommend a trusted site/agent where I can look for packages to Australia for singles but not for dating purposes??? Also, is $4000 a reasonable budget?

Scott Vogel: Would you be willing to go $4,495? I can't vouch for Overseas Adventure Travel personally (www.oattravel.com), but the site does specialize in small group travel without onerous single supplements. It comes recommended by a site you might also like to know about, www.travelaloneandloveit.com, which is dedicated to the solo traveler minus the romantic aspirations part.

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Nova Scotia, Again: Last week I asked a question about a summer vacation to the beaches in Nova Scotia. An answer was posted stating that the beaches in Nova Scotia were too cold for swimming. Now I am confused. The tour books and websites all mention swimming in the sea and bays around the island. Nova Scotia has a lifeguard service for 29 of its beaches. But I do not want to go on a vacation to the beach where we cannot swim. Anyone know for sure? Can I swim in Nova Scotia in late July/early August?

Andrea Sachs: Let's see if the Atlantic Climate Center in Canada can resolve the debate. According to the center, summer water temps are around 65 degrees. On a scorching hot day, that might be refreshing.

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Bethesda Mom: For the historical traveler in New England, check out this web site from the National Parks Service which lists a number of iteneraries in the all the states (including the New England ones) of historical interest/significance: http://www.nps.gov/history/nr/travel/onlineitin-trav.htm#alpha

Andrea Sachs: Great find. Thanks!

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bmore to dulles: personally I would stay at a hotel near the airport (not necessarily an "airport hotel") to make sure I got there. you may even be able to leave your car there for a week or so. And don't worry about your flight return getting you in at rush hour times, because by the time you clear customs and get your luggage, that could be ages later.

Andrea Sachs: A very good idea, unless our traveler needs to work that day. Otherwise, extend the vacation. I heard Dulles is lovely in the winter.

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Washington, DC: I too was sent by my parents to Europe as a teenager - it was my 14th birthday right around Xmas. I flew on the now defunct World Airways to visit my grandmother's family in Prague. There was a huge snowstorm that day (it was the day Mark Mosley kicked a fg to beat the Giants in Gibb's 2nd year), and my flight was delayed for hours. The best part was when I finally got to Prague and my relatives were waiting for me - Grandma never mentioned to them that she married a black man when she moved to the US, and they were very confused when the teenager walking towards them was a tall black kid. After some initial hesitation and explanations, they warmly welcomed me and I had a great time.

Cindy Loose: Fascinating---seems like mom was truly color blind, and given the warm embrace from the relatives, she had a good upbringing.

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High School Travel: I read the transcript from last week. I am on the side of if it is educational, then let them go, When I was in high school in suburban Buffalo, I was a member of french club and every year over memorial day weekend there was a trip up to Quebec City. We missed 1 or 2 days of school.

Every other year the fench and spanish teachers would do a summer trip to Paris and Madrid.

These trips were also usually done in conjunction with neighboring high schools.

I have a bigger issue with trips to some location where they arent learning anything.

Cindy Loose: Thanks, interesting point.r

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Honeymoon Help!: Hi Crew! We are planning my honeymoon for May and have a quandary. We only will have about 5-6 days total (including travel time) and do not want to go somewhere beachy. (We are too pale) Both of us have traveled extensively in Europe, and the high euro is putting that option on the back burner. The ideal spot would have good food, cultural options, nice hotels, and a little shopping. We were thinking Buenos Aires or Vancouver or even Montreal? Any other options that are not too far away and would make for a nice relaxing honeymoon?

KC Summers: Buenos Aires or Vancouver would both be fantastic choices. Buenos Aires would be more exotic, and Vancouver would be better if you're into combining urban and outdoor adventures, plus world-class cuisine. I dunno, Montreal seems just a little pedestrian compared to them.

Anybody wanna argue this in the next three minutes?

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India: I'm a little overwhelmed figuring out how to start planning a dream trip to India (on a modest budget). I guess my first question is this - my husband and I do not like travelling in groups, but is this one destintation that may make sense to travel as part of a small tour group, so that all transportation is arranged? Or is that unnecessary? Gap Adventures was recommended...

Cindy Loose: I think this depends in part on how intrepid, and how experienced you are traveling in a developing country. Even if you are intrepid and experienced, you need a good plan. I'd consider consulting with a travel agent; GAP could fit your needs well but a good travel agent should know other options and should be able to advise you on what might be right for you, or maybe will advise a way to work out the details so you can do it on your own.

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Round the World: Hi, FC. My husband and I have been saving up and are looking to take a few months off from work to travel Australasia-Southeast Asia (probably about 3-4 places max). We consider ourselves pretty resourceful in figuring out places to stay, things to do etc. However, we are completely stumped on how to get the best deal and how to even book a fairly complicated flight schedule. Do you have any guidance on resources/people and tips for getting the best deals?

KC Summers: Again, if you feel like you're stumped, and can't deal with all the choices online, get yourself a good travel agent. Keyword "good." Ask around. Call the embassy and the tourism office. There are some good trip planners out there.

Another tip: Keep an eye on our weekly "What's the Deal?" column, which spotlights great airfare and package deals.

Btw, our Feb. 3 "Way to Go" section (god, is it that time already?!) will have a big piece on how to choose a tour operator, with specific recommendations for most major countries.

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Washington DC: My fiance and I have started our honeymoon search. We are leaning toward the Mediterranean -- possibly Spain. Our wedding is in late September and would leave the following day. We only have 1 week and a budget of $6,000. Could you make any recommendations for specific locations to visit? We also want to try to catch a Spanish league soccer game. Any recommendations for getting the 2008-2009 game schedule?

Carol Sottili: Not sure what type of experience you are looking for (urban, rural, etc.), but I fell in love with the fishing villages on the Costa Blanca south of Valencia and north of Alicante. We stayed in the town of Moriara, which offered lovely hotels and villas and very nice restaurants and cafes.

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Central Cal: I am all for chaperoned trips. School, Church, Boy Scouts etc. It's more fun and memorable with group. I also acknowledge that safety is probably less a problem then when I was in high school, when dinosaurs ruled the earth. Unbridled trips to Mexico, the Caribbean and the like? I don't think so. The excitement and temptations may prove overwhelming to the better judement of most minors, not to mention us grizzled adults on occasion.

Sorry kids. I gotta vote no, without discussion.

KC Summers: Thanks, CC. You're not alone....

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Alexandria, VA: I just wanted to relay an experience in regards to a large group of Spanish high school students on a trip.

A couple years ago, my girlfriend and I were studying abroad in Florence. For spring break we had decided to go to Barcelona, and in order to save some money, we took a ferry from Rome to Barcelona. Much to our surprise, when we boarded we found out that there was a group of high school students from Spain who had been on a trip in Italy, and they were returning on our same ferry. Being poor college students, we had booked airplane like seats and so ended up in a big room with all these students.

Luckily we Americans (we met a nice professor from Texas on the ferry) were able to get away from the obnoxious Spanish kids and were able to share a room for the 18 hour ride. The crew were sympathetic with our plight and allowed the three of us to stay in the room for the price of 1 person. We ended up upgrading for only 20 euro each, and were able to strike up a lasting friendship with the professor as well as a native Sardinian living in Barcelona that we met and had dinner with in the city later in the week.

KC Summers: Interesting... thanks for sharing.

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Alexandria, VA: High school class trips are nothing new. Way back in 1973 my senior class trip was to the brand new Disney World with a cruise to the Bahamas. Thirty-six 17 and 18 year old girls chaperoned by 4 nuns. The Captain's Cocktail party was at the same time as the nuns decided to go ashore for Mass. The next day Sister Geraldine asked me (Class President)if any of the girls had been drinking. I truthfully replied "Why, no more than I, Sister!" I think it was at that point that I decided to become a lawyer.

KC Summers: We're shocked, shocked.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Crew-

My husband is interested in attending some of the spring classic bike races in early April in Europe, in particular the Tour de Flandres in Belgium and the Paris-Roubaix in France. We were considering flying in and out of Frankfurt (seems to be cheapest) and then renting a car and driving from there. What can we expect in terms of prices at that time of year, and by when would we need to make our reservations? And would you suggest making hotel reservations in advance, or just winging it each night there? We don't travel much so any advice is appreciated - thanks!

Cindy Loose: Frankfurt does tend to be cheaper because they get so much traffic, as well as London for the same reason. From either place you could check into lowfare carriers for a short hop, and also check into trains--my preference in Europe. Although I've driven the autobahn, it's kinda scarey---they go real fast and many long German names for exits look similar when you're traveling at 70 mph.

I would not go without hotel reservations. April is a popular time in Paris; not as bad as June, but April in Paris has a certain ring for a reason.

You asked about when to make reservations--if you're referring to plane reservations, I'd start looking at prices now, even if you don't buy now, so at least you'll recognize a bargain if you see one. Try a few sites today; start with an aggregator like www.kayak.com.

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Washington, DC: Hi Crew - Husband and I are flying into Reno this weekend and staying at the Holiday Inn Express at Heavenly. Wondering if you all or any chatters have had any experience with Heavenly's shuttle from Reno to the resort? Also, any recommendations for great things to do/see/eat in the area? Thanks!

Andrea Sachs: Sorry, we have never taken the shuttle. Any chatsters use it recently?

For Reno, I would take advantage of its sports, including the whitewater park and skiing, and culture (Arts District, ancient rock art, Neveda Museum of Art).

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Cindy Loose: Whoops, we're five minutes overtime and to my dismay didn't get to everone's questions. Sorry, please come back week after next. (No chat on Martline Luther Kind weekend.) If you're asking for the second time, let us know and we'll try to make it a priority.

Until next time...

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