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The Flight Crew, from left: John Deiner, Carol Sottili, Steve Hendrix, Anne McDonough, Gary Lee, K.C. Summers, Cindy Loose, Andrea Sachs. (Melissa Cannarozzi for The Post)
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Talk About Travel
The Flight Crew
Washington Post Travel Section

Monday, June 16, 2003; 2:00 p.m ET

The Post's Travel Section Flight Crew -– pictured at right –- 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.

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 and a list of frequently asked questions.

The transcript follows.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.



The Flight Crew: Good Monday travelers. We know you tune in from all over the world, but the big news in Washington is that It Is Not Raining. At least, it wasn’t ten minutes ago. Hey, when the Style section starts leading with 2,000 word features on mud, we’ll take what we can get.

Steve Hendrix here, helming this week’s discussion about all things travel. In the pod with me today are John “Deputy Dog” Deiner (although he looks more like Huckleberry Hound), Cindy Loose, Andrea Sachs and Anne McDonougha. Not here this week are K.C. Summers, Carol Sottili and Gary Lee (in Ireland, vacationing and Cleveland, respectively).

For our contest today, following the string of fascinating and infuriating tales of travel companies abusing travelers that Cindy Loose has featured in her CoGo column, we’ll give a bona-fide Tilley Hat to the tale of forced cancellation, refused refunds or all-around abysmal service that most makes us beat our breast and howl. Who knows, maybe another prize will be Cindy Loose’s voice on you home answering machine, warning travel vendors to treat you right or face the wrath of CoGo.

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Washington, D.C.:
Have to submit this one early. Several months ago you have an article in the travel section about places in North Carolina with art and pottery and the like. We are going to North Carolina and would like to visit some of those places. Can you please give me the link for that article?

By-the-way, the article on Malta was great. I went there a couple of years ago and it was beautiful! Thanks for the chat!!

washingtonpost.com: Pot Stuff, (Post, June 9, 2002)

The Flight Crew: thanks, .com.

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20515: Having spent several months in Europe, I'm now poring through my mounds of photos in order to find the winning entry for the anxiously anticipated travel-photo section.

I only have one question that yesterday's announcement didn't answer: What are the prizes for the winners? Can you at least give us a little tease...

The Flight Crew: Hey 20515, for those with an eye on the prize, it's getting published in the Travel section. No, you don't get mounds of cash, but you do get exposure and lots of copies to send to your nearest and dearest.
-Anne

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Dupont Circle, Washington, D.C.: Wowwwww. I ribbed you guys a couple of weeks ago for all the coverage you've had on familiar places like Paris and London coverage you had. Now that you've had great pieces on both Australia and Malta, I have to give you a hand. I guess that means you'll be going back to London now, right?

The Flight Crew: That's right, DC-DC, stay tuned for big look at the Eiffel Tower.

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Washington, D.C.: I was glad to see John Deiner's article on Malta in yesterday's travel section. I just returned a week ago from 8 days in Malta (plus 5 in London and 4 in Tunis), and had a wonderful time. I thought the article pretty much hit the mark. I thought the people were very friendly, the sites were interesting, the weather was great. We must have been one of the few people to spend a week in Malta, who did not step foot in Sliema/St. Julian's. Our hotel was in Valletta, which we chose for its atmosphere, and took the bus around to other places.

Just one thing I thought was a bit misleading about the article - it protrayed a place well off the beaten path. I agree it is that for Americans, but there are plenty of tourists there (although it was not hard to escape the masses).

The Flight Crew: Hey, D.C.

Thanks for the note--I agree it's an amazing place. As for the tourists, I did note that it can get plenty crowded in the summer months, though when I was there in the spring the place was empty. Love that you can just venture outside the cities and find the countryside pretty much to yourself. And I can't believe you didn't step foot in either Sliema or St. Julian's--not that you missed too much!

-john

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Bethesda, Md.: Hey Crew. Thumbs up for the chats, I absolutely love them.
One suggestion for the travel articles. I think it would help your readers (at lease spatial thinkers like myself) relate to the articles if a simple map of the area (region, country, city, town etc) were included. For example, the article on Malta (which was great!) would have been even more enjoyable if we could actually get a visual of the three islands you discussed.
Thanks, keep up the good work!

The Flight Crew: Hey, Beth.

Huh? There was a big ol' map with the Malta story on Page 4--or did you read the story on the Web?

-john

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Followup on chambermaid tipping conversation:: After the discussion several months ago about tipping chambermaids, I stopped tipping only on the day I left, and started tipping daily (about $3-5/day, depending on the swankiness of the hotel). It made a huge difference! Extra shampoos appeared, the vacuuming went all the way into the corners, the sheets were tucked in carefully, the shower was immaculate...

I especially recommend tipping when staying in relatively cheap hotels for a few days. It made the room so much nicer--and the extra effort was really visible. A few times I got "thank you" notes back; I don't think many people tip in the cheaper places.

The Flight Crew: Thanks for the, heh heh, tip.

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Winchester, Va: Is it necessary to learn Maltese when going to Malta or is English wildly spoken? I enjoyed your story about Malta.

The Flight Crew: Hey, Win. Not to worry--English is an official language, so you'll have no problems chattin' up the locals.
-john

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Manassas, Va.: My soon to be 18 year old daughter and her girlfriend (also 18) would like to plan a post graduation trip outside of the country for next spring/summer. Their first choice is a cruise, but everywhere seems to have a minimum age requirement of 21.

Their second choice would be a trip to Mexico or a Caribbean Island.

I can't say I'm totally thrilled with either, a trip to somewhere like Nags Head would make me lose less sleep but I've agreed to help them see what's availiable.

Money is somewhat important, somewhere around $1000 each to spend.

Does anyone have any suggestions for two 18 year olds who we want back in one piece?

The Flight Crew: If a cruise is what you most want, don't rule that out until you've talked to a travel agent, cause I believe there are lines that allow people that age. There should be options--and remember that some lines allow 18 year olds to drink and/or gamble, some don't.

Given that you don't want them to go on a foreign trip, you probably don't want a very good answer, and often I can oblige. If I were the mom feeling as you do I'd also check out some enticing U.S. options beyond Nags Head. Would Florida or California feel foreign enough? French speaking Canada---you get good deals there.

As to the Caribbean: the cheapest places, Jamaica comes to mind, also tend to be the poorer places, and thus more crime. Cayman Islands are very safe, and I'll ask for a link about an inexpensive place to stay near the really expensive places. (Then again, the island has no local culture to speak of.)

Mexico--it depends what you fear. If it's street crime you fear, Cancun should be fine. If it's drunken boys who will try to lead your daughter astray, stay away.

I could ramble about choices for days, but bottom line: you don't have to pay for what you don't want to buy. Cindy

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Rockville, Md.: carol is vacationing? where do people who travel for a living go on vacation?

The Flight Crew: She's spending a week in a cubicle at an accounting firm in Rockville.


Actually, I think she's at home in NoVa getting her son graduated from High School.

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Washington, D.C.: Thank you for writing such an honest, and appealing article on Malta. I am Maltese and thouroughly enjoyed reliving the places your visited.

I must point out also, that Malta is fast becoming an important cruise-liner hub.

Regards

The Flight Crew: Hey, DC. Thanks for the kind words, and you are absolutely correct about the cruise liners. I was told that it's becoming almost an essential stop for Med cruises, because the facilities are great and it's in the middle of everything.

--john

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Manassas, Va.: great article on Malta. I was stationed there in late 50s - Royal Naval Air Station
at the SW end of the island. Can you tell me if this still exist or what is there now-airport? Thanks Jim Viggiani

The Flight Crew: Hey, Jim...thanks. I envy you! Ya know, I'm not really sure if it exists or not. The international airport is in the southwestern section of the island, so maybe that's where it was. Anyone out there know for certain?

-john

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Charlottesville, Va.: You probably get this question a lot -- but am hoping somebody out there can recommend a good, value-priced hotel in London. We're spending two days there in July. Thanks!

The Flight Crew: Hey Charlottesville, a link to a piece that ran in October, about cheap London hotels, is coming right up.

Anne

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washingtonpost.com: 10 London Hotels to Call Home, (Post, Oct. 20, 2002)

The Flight Crew: Thanks, .com!

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Reston, Va.: I'm headed to Savannah on Thursday for a couple of days. Aside from the Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil sights, what else is a "must-do"? We already have tickets to Lady Chablis' show on Thursday night, but are there any restaurants or bars that we should experience?

Thanks for your help!

The Flight Crew: My home town, Reston! At least, my ancestral seat (my mother's home town). Go to Johnny Harris for Savannah's own take on barbeque, to Lady and Sons for Nouvelle Southern cooking, out to Tybee Island for breakfast at the Breakfast Club (shrimp and grits), to Telfair Museaum for old Sav. stuff, to any old-house tour you fit in, to V&J Duncan's for a great old map/print store, to E. Shaver's books for great reads. Most of all, make time to walk in the squares.

Have fun. -Steve

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Backpacks & Cameras in London: Hello. I love your chats and learn so much from them. So I'm especially thrilled to have a query for you Travel Gurus.

Am going to London and wonder if -- with the war and the heightened awareness of terrorism -- it's OK to carry a backpack. Will that draw more attention/suspicion to us (we're not college students)? Will we have to have it checked or inspected at every museum/store/etc.?

Also, I know digital cameras can be finicky. So will using a converter when recharging the batteries for my camera cause problems or is it better to play it safe and not even try to recharge those power-suckers?

Thanks, and keep up the good work. Cheerio!

The Flight Crew: Are you talking about a backpack the size of Mount Kiliminjaro or just a little day pack a la L.L. Bean? Small backpacks are pretty universal, part of the student code, so that should be okay--just don't plaster it with "Bush Rocks!" stickers or American flags. Think subtle. Even better might be a less obvious messenger bag (also less intrusive). Yes, some museums might check your bags, as they do in the States, so streamline your day bag and keep the big items in the hotel/hostel or check them at the front desk.
As for Part II of the question: Well, since I am just a point and click type, I am not one to answer. Soooo, any digital clicksters out there with advice??--andrea

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Alexandria, Va.: Love these chats! This is for John: I read your Malta story this morning and loved it! I definitely want to go now, but I was wondering about the the beaches. Is it a good place for the beach?

The Flight Crew: Hey, Al. Thanks for the note, and I'm sorry I didn't go into any details on the beaches. As far as I could tell (and from what I've read), most of the beaches are of the rocky variety, though there are some stretches of sand here and there. It's not a sandy-beach-lover's paradise, that's for sure.

That said, I found that there was access to the water all over the place, particularly around Sliema, where stairs lede down to the rocky coast. There are pools carved into the rock where lots of folks were just lounging around on mats. Plus, just about every hotel has a nice pool, and those hotels that are on the coast invariably put their pools at water's edge so you can swim and admire the Mediterranean at the same time.

-john

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New Bern, N.C.: Hey gang. Thanks for looking at this question.

Me and my wife are trying to get a group of travelling couples together on another trip. Because of how busy people have been, we have been unable to tie all our details down. There will probably be 4 or 5 couples and we are looking at many different possibilities for trips for about a week this August some time.

Finalist include Argentina (preferential exchange rate), Northern Spain, Greece, Portugal etc. My biggest concern is going to be missing out on great airfares (esp to Europe). Do you know how long we'll be able to enjoy these cut rates to Europe-- can we wait 2 more weeks? What about air travel to South America? Obviously the sooner, the better, but I was just wondering when the traditional cheap fares to Europe tend to run out (before June ends?).

Thanks, and any lobbying on those locales is welcome.

The Flight Crew: There was some question about whether fares to Europe would ever drop for this summer, since they hung in there in the top ranges for so long before dropping in the last two weeks. The bad news is that the cheap seats all go quickly--I haven't checked for a week but wouldn't be surprised to find that many dates and destinations are already gone. Will there be another sale? Unless they have one ready to announce, the airlines themselves probably don't know---all depends how many seats they don't sell at top prices.

Can't advise on choice of locales since I don't know what you all want to do most. However, I will say one thing about Argentina: because the economy is so bad there, you get alot for your money. But because the economy is so bad there, street crime is something of a problem. Hold on to your purses. Cindy

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Denver, Colo.: Has anyone been through the Kuala Lampur airport lately? We have to spend a day there on a connection this fall, and have been warned not to wander far from the airport. Any advice on how to pass those hours? Thanks.

The Flight Crew: Readers? Any K.L. experts out there?

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22202: Is Malta using the Euro?

The Flight Crew: Hey, 22202...

Not yet, and it's not even for certain when/if it'll switch. Once Malta enters the EU next year, then they'll start debating within the country whether to go to the euro--then it may take a few years to go to the currency. For now, the lira is safe.
-john

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Arlington, Va.: Here's the best I can do for travel annoyance: I purchased airplane tickets for my wife and I using a well known website. (Can I say Orbitz?) We had to cancel the flight but were told we could use the credit at a later time. A few months later, I found another flight to book and tried to use the credit. Unfortunately, credits on that site cannot be applied online and have to be booked through a customer service rep. I called, was on hold for about 20 minutes and, when the rep finally picked up, was told that the fare had gone up. I then went back online and, while the fare was up briefly, it again dropped to the lower level about 1 hour later. I immediately called again, waited on hold and was again told the fare had gone up. Guess I should have just kept the rep on the phone with me indefinitely until the fare fell again, which it did a couple of hours later. I never did get to use the credit.

The Flight Crew: Wow. That's not just annoying, that's like deliberate torture. They were playing with the way you'd tease a cat with a yo-yo. Yes, you can say Orbitz.

Orbitz. Orbitz. Orbitz.

You're in the running.

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Shaker Heights, Ohio: My husband and I, both 30, are planning a trip to Malta next May for 10 days. How much time (in days) should we allot for visiting the islands of Malta, Gozo, and Comino?

The Flight Crew: Hey, Shaker. Now I'm even more enviouser! Inasmuch I didn't get to spend time on Comino, I'm not sure what the lodging is like, though I understand it's very limited, or how long you should spend. If I had 10 days, I'd spend at least two nites on Gozo, though--I really loved that little island, and I only got to see a third of it. (I hiked nearly everywhere; if I'd bused around I could have seen more, but then I would have missed the interaction with the Gozitans.) And you'll easily find six days/nites worth of stuff to do on Malta, plus you can move around to a few different towns.
-john

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Washington, D.C.: Has anybody out there been to Denali in Alaska? I am going to Alaska in August and will be at Denali for a day. I'm trying to decide whether to take a shuttle bus or a tour bus. Does anyone have any experiences with them? I like the idea of being able to get off and on (depending on space being available) when I want, since I'll be traveling solo, I'm not planning on hiking though - just want to be able to get off at the Eliason Visitor Center and possibly other spots. I guess my main concern is wondering if I'll have to wait forever for a shuttle bus that has a seat available. Thanks!

The Flight Crew: Dunno, D.C., let's see what the clicksters have to say about the shuttle bus v. tour bus idea. Clicksters?

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North Shore, Oahu, Hawaii: Thought of traveling to Malta until I checked the Currency Exchange. $100 Malta Lira to $273.91 US Dollars. That hurts!!!

The Flight Crew: Hey, Oahu. Yeah, it's a scary exchange rate, but, trust me, it really does work out when you there--it's kind of fun paying 50 cents for a glass of wine (about $1.25 Maltese), and big ol' dinner tabs come out to 12 or 13 lira. In the long run, you'll wonder how you spent so little!
-john

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Caribbean Wedding?: Wondered if I could get some opinions on where people would choose to have one. I haven't been anywhere in the Caribbean and am easily entertained. Current candidates include: St. John, St. Martin/Maarten, Turks & Caicos, and Barbados. The ideal island and/or resort would allow us to include 30-40 guests and would provide the attendees with a choice of lodging (in terms of price) and activities (from relaxing to exhilarating). The vibe we would like is relaxed and informal yet beautiful, and maybe a little bit funky/off the beaten path. Also, we haven't picked a date, but are thinking about next May (after spring break, before hurricane season). Can the flight crew and the peanuts help us out? Thanks!

The Flight Crew: Personally, I love Barbados cause it has both Caribbean and ocean beaches, and it has varied terrain cause it's big. Then again, it's a greater distance from U.S.

Truth is that all the Caribbean islands and Caribbean beaches in Mexico have a range of prices, areas of beauty, good beaches and the other stuff you want. So you have to sit down with paper and figure out what is most important: airfares are a big part of the expense, so do you need to look for the cheapest airfare first. Will your guests want packages? Do you want direct flights for yourself and as many guests as possible? If so, you'll narrow down the island choices right there.

This sounds like it could be a job for a travel agent, but before you call one, decide the details of what's important to you, since the criteria you've mentioned so far could apply to any of the islands and much of Mexican coast. If price is really important, go to a travel agent and say you want the things you mentioned at the best possible price. Cindy

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Somewhere, USA: I found the op-ed about whether or not to travel to Burma due to the government's repressive and brutal actions very interesting. There are, indeed, many countries where tourism helps an authoritatian government (both on the left and right) but where tourists, if not "opening eyes," act least help some very poor residents who depend on the industry economically. I'd hate to do anything to help the despots who rule countries like China, Cuba and Zimbabwe, yet also know many people need any tourist income they can get. I'm most familiar with Zimbabwe, where the government will do anything it can to its people (hurting many blacks, though the rulers claim they're just fighting leftover colonial repressors), yet it's a beautiful country with great people, and some great deals on items created by excellent artisans. What to do?

The Flight Crew: Thanks,Somewhere. It's a tough and personal call. Clearly, you can't help but deliver some funds to the bad guys when you travel in despotic countries. Still, I usually beleive the support and connections you bring to the people is even more important. I'd probably go to Zimbabwe under that theory. In the case of Burma, I believe the equation is changed as long as they hold Aung San Suu Kyi in custody. Until she's out, I wouldn't go.

--Steve

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World Traveler: I was traveling last week and couldn't participate on line, but I was very surprised to see that nobody commented on the excellent article on European Car Delivery programs. I had always wondered about these but had never seen objective information. The article was great!!! It answered all the questions I had and was inspiring, too. I decided that if I ever get a new European car, I'll definitely get it in Europe and combine it with a drive-around, and if I ever get a chance to drive around Europe for 2-3 weeks I will make sure that I get a car through those programs. I agree that it would be great to have those kind of memories attached to one's car. Thanks again for a great article!

The Flight Crew: Thanks to you, WT. Let us go for a ride in your Beemer.

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Williamsburg, Va.: Malta is one of my favorite places! But Shhh! Let's keep it to ourselves.

Malta is very Catholic also, and those lovely decrepit buses often have the driver's personal shrine to their favorite saint, complete with candles and incense. If you go during Easter time, all the Churches are lit up with lights (as we think of Christmas lights).

Thanks for reminding me of how much I adore Malta.

The Flight Crew: Hey, Will. Yeah, Malta is really, really, really Catholic--I was shhhhh'd twice in two different churches for raising my voice above a whisper (and yes, I had it coming). And all the churches have lights on them--I believe they're lit up for the major feast days. I wasn't there for any, but next time....

-john

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contest: (I must have the hat for my upcoming trip to Oz). Will car rental count? A few years ago my mother, aunt and I rented a car to drive from Cancun to Merida. We got about half way to the pyramids when the car sputtered and died. We were in a village---if you could call it that--and I pushed the car onto the side street (the only one in the village). We managed to hitch a ride on a tour bus to the pyramids and called Hertz from there. They said they would send someone for us. We waited all day. Finally, a woman came to us and pointed to a bus and told us it was the last public transport out for the day (Hertz never came). We rode the bus to Merida--got left in a nasty part of town at night, but that's another story. When we finally made it back to Cancun, Hertz said that they looked for the car and could not find it and that we were liable! I gave them the name of the village and told them the car was on the only street there under the only tree. They said I'd have to rent a helicopter and fly them out to show them where! I refused and thankfully my credit card company helped me to fight this ridiculousness. I was charged for the day I had the car and gas. What an experience!

The Flight Crew: Ohhhhh. Extra points for having a multi-national corporation tell you to "rent a helicopter."

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The Madhouse: Hello, Fellow Travelers. I am considering a trip either to Paris or Amsterdam for next June. Considerations include cost (probably about $3000, including hotel and flight), climate, safety, and a local culture outside the usual tourist attractions, i.e., ability to walk down a small, deserted looking street, and find some teriffic little shop or restaurant that a tour guide would never bother telling me about. I want to avoid tour guides. Tour guides bad and superficial. Discovery good. ::thumps chest:: Ahem. Sorry. Thanks for any help you can give.

The Flight Crew: Easy. Paris. Wait, maybe not so easy---my colleague Steve says that's a hard question. Fact is that with $3,000, you can afford either one.

How about making it even tougher: add a few Eastern European countries into your bag for consideration, cause they haven't been touristed nearly as long or hard. Cindy

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Fairfax, Va.: Your article on Malta made me very sad. i lived there a few years ago and consider it a highpoint of my life. I had a villa overlooking the Mediterranean, a pool out back, a view of Sicily (on a clear day). Every day (or night), my family would walk down to the coast for coffee at a sidewalk cafe. Now I live in a townhouse in Fairfax. Uggh. If you return to Malta, consider renting a "house of character"; these are small stone houses built several hundred years ago; they have central courtyards, and are beautifully furnished. Many now have pools. They are inland, though, so no sea views for most.
Sigh.

The Flight Crew: Nice going, Fairfax....now I'M sad too! I was amazed at the variety of housing available--Gozo and Malta both have farmhouses you can rent by the week, many with pools.

Glad you got to experience the place for so long, though--must have been wonderful.
-john

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Washington, D.C. (K St. corridor): For Denver going to KL: We did a Malaysia Airlines package last year. Good deal, but took us through KL International five times. All I can say is, bring a good book. I found nothing of any interest around the airport. (It didn't seem unsafe, though.)It's a stylish, modern airport (reputedly constructed by Osama Bin Laden's family), with a nice bunch of shops and cafes on the top floor.

Ciao
Jerry Haines

The Flight Crew: Thanks, Jerry. Come see us sometime.

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Washington, D.C.: Regarding the quesiton on how to split up time on Malta, I would think that for 10 days, 7 on Malta and 3 on Gozo would be good. Comino is only about 1 square mile, and has only one hotel. You can easily hop over to it by boat, do a bit of hiking, and say that you saw the highlights.

In my week on Malta, we spent two days in Valleta, one in Mdina/Dingli Cliffs, one in the south - Hypogeum, Marsaxlok; one on Gozo, one in the "Three Cities", and one on a full day boat ride around the island. Seemed like a good split.

The Flight Crew: Perfect, D.C. Thanks for clearing up the mystery about Comino, too.
-john

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Falls Church, Va.: Hi,

I'm going to the "all-inclusive" Sandals Royal Bahamian and I was wondering about how much money people usually spend at the "all-inclusive" resorts. I know that ALL food and alcohol is included. What is the real story with the "all inclusive" resorts? Is there any fine print concerning food and alcohol? Any other potential pitfalls?

Thanks,

FC

The Flight Crew: You should not spend a cent at Sandals if you are going all-inclusive, since the resort covers everything you could ever possibly want to sip, chew or bop around in. Even tips are included. However, if you want to, say, go an island excursion or taste some local cuisine, then you have to pull out the wallet. Which could be deemed a pitfall--since you are basically eating their selections, which can sometimes fall in the podiatrists' convention category. Also, since the resort is so self-contained, you may get a whitewashed experience. Many people never venture past the pool bar, which is a shame since there is so much local culture and color to see and explore. So, my advice: Get outside the gates, no matter what it costs.--andrea

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20515: To the London-bound person, if you decide to recharge your batteries, you will need both a voltage converter (Europe uses 220 volts, not our standard 110/120) as well as an adapter for the different-sized plugs. Most restrooms have outlets that will accommodate 110-volt electric razors, and most laptop power cords convert the AC from 220 to 110 automatically, but try to plug anything in without a converter -- the important element in the equation -- and you will have a big 'splosion on your hands.

Best advice would be to buy a converter for $20-30 or so at a travel store, either here or over there, that will last you throughout your travels. Then all you'll need will be the adapters for the country you're visiting (why must they all be different?), which will only run you a couple of bucks

The Flight Crew: I have no idea what you are saying, which means it must be good advice. thanks!

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Lincoln Park, Washington, D.C.: I agree with Dupont Circle: Lately the travel section has been great; especially this week's articles on Malta and Burma (even if it was on outlook) were very informative.

How long did it take for you to change your mind re: travel to Burma? Do you all agree with the author? I am very torn about travel in countries with brutal political systems, but cannot think of good general guidelines to navigate the world. Complicated issue if there ever was one.

The Flight Crew: Thanks, LP. I agree with the author (since I WAS the author). I was still very much in the "go" camp until they bushwhacked Suu Kyi and started killing people (again). When that happened, I had to rethink.

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Portland, Ore.: Not a question. Just to say we were
delighted to read about my brother and
sister-in-law's place, Allumbah Pocket
Cottages, in Yungaburra. My brothers and
I reunioned in Aussie for the first time in
30 years and we were charmed to be the
first guests in #9, your cottage. What a
wonderful continent it is and well
described in your article.

The Flight Crew: Your brother and sister-in-law are lovely people; I enjoyed meeting them. Small world---although it didn't seem like it on the plane trip there and back. Cindy

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backpacks in London: The reason I don't use a backpack in London is pickpockets - esp in crowded/touristy areas. Waterbottle, map, camera, money - you don't need to tote around much more than that!

That said, you'll see hordes of European tourists travelling in gaggles with INVICTA backpacks and the like.

The Flight Crew: How true. Sticky fingers and backpack pockets are like chocolate and peanut butter. But the former doesn't taste so great together.

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Washington, D.C. : Crew:

I asked this question last week-- but I ask again-- is Kitsilano Beach in Vancouver worth a day trip?

The Flight Crew: I asked for someone to help last week, cause I missed that beach. HAS ANYONE BEEN THERE? Cindy

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20815...almost travel annoyance: I was trying to book a buisness trip to Portland Ore, the travel agent tried to book me on the following route: BWI to Atlanta, Atlanta to Dallas and then Dallas to Portland. I would be leaving BWI at 10 am ish (ie leaving home about 7 30 am) and not arriving in Portland till about 6 pm local time.

The Flight Crew: Annoying, 20815, but all too common. We're looking for the extraordinary, annoying above and beyond the normal efforts of travel companies.

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Harrisonburg, Va.: Greetings! I will be traveling to South Africa and Australia in the next year and will mostly likely be driving in both countries. Someone mentioned getting an international driving permit to me and I was wondering if someone could fill me in on them. Would one be helpful to have? How do you get one? --Thanks!

The Flight Crew: Certainly not necessary in Australia; U.S. license no hassle whatsoever. Does anyone know it it comes in handy in South Africa?? Cindy

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City of Fairfax, Va.: I'd reserved a package to Paris with France Vacations last year. Since someone had to be there to accept the tickets, they were mailed to my fellow-traveller's home. I didn't get to see them until two days before the trip when I learned that FV had us flying out of National and into Dulles. I called and e-mailed trying to resolve the problem. No response. When I called the airline, they said I'd have to pay to change airports. (I can't object to that; it wasn't there error.)

I learned three lessons from this (almost) fiasco. (Okay, fiasco is an overstatement.) First, I'll always review the package as soon as its received. Two, I'll never travel with FV again. Finally, be nice to the folks at the ticket counter. The ticket agent and my co-traveller got into a discussion about having a similar operation of all things. When the ticket agent finally processed our tickets, she metioned the difference in airports. We told her it was FV's fault. She very kindly - and with no additional charge - fixed it so that we returned to National.

The Flight Crew: What do you mean, no response? They didn't answer the phone? They pretended not to speak English?

Great story, but points off for a happy ending.

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Arlington, Va.: Thanks for the Malta article. It's been near the top of my list of places to visit for quite some time, but I haven't gotten there yet. Are most of the hotels located away from the city center in the "disco" area? I would prefer to stay some place where I can easily walk around the town and I'm not sure I would enjoy other locales. I believe there is an upscale hotel in Mdina in an old castle or fortress that I have always thought it might be fun to stay in for a day or two, but I think it's really expensive. Can you talk about how expensei it is to eat there and so on? I think the Maltese lira is still worth a lot compared to USD, so I wonder if I will need to empty the piggy bank. After your article I am thinking I may finally get there sooner rather than later.

The Flight Crew: Hey, Arl. If I could do anything over when planning the trip, I would have picked a hotel in Sliema, just outside of Valletta, instead of St. Julian's (the party district). Kids partying was only a slight problem one nite, but Sliema is actually much closer to everything and would have made commuting a little easier. I've heard good things about the Nova Kennedy (I think that's the name) in Sliema, and it's right on the bay where the harbor cruises and shuttles to Valletta leave from.

I'm afraid I'm not familiar with the upscale Mdina hotel, but as far as expenses go, you can spend a lot, a little or somewhere in between. Restaurants are pretty cheap ($30 for dinner for two is about normal, though add wine and it goes up, plus museums and such are relatively cheap. Transportation on buses is dirt cheap, and even souvenirs like art glass, lace and sweaters are reasonable. I'm thinking you won't have to empty the piggy bank--just take out all the quarters and dimes.
-john

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Washington, D.C.: No joke- any tips for a a Vegas Elvis wedding? We're thinking a three day weekend in the fall.

The Flight Crew: I haven't done it, but guarantee that if you go to www.google.com, and type in Vegas and Elvis wedding, you'll get loads of leads. Cindy

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NY, N.Y.: Great article on Malta, and spot on! This is for Jim from Manassas Va. If your talking about Halfar, it is still there. British forces have been gone since 79', now Maltese/Italian focres..... Malteser

The Flight Crew: Thanks, NYNY. That helps!!

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Washington, D.C.: Any chance TSA will allow me to carry on trekking poles? I'm going climbing in the Engadin for two weeks in August. I assume the ice ax will have to get checked. Thanks!

The Flight Crew: Poles, too, WDC. I'd be amazed, and appalled, if they let you on a plane with a pair of spears.

--Steve

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Dumb Tipping Question: How does one effectively tip a maid when staying in a hotel? That is, where do you leave the money? I haven't found envelopes or anything like that in the rooms; what's the usual procedure?

The Flight Crew: Hey Dumb Tipping Question (sorry, when that's all the id info you give us...),

If there aren't any envelopes in the desk drawer, there's usually at least a pad of paper; take a piece, fold it in half, stick the moolah inside, write "thanks" on the outside, and leave it on the desk. Works like a charm. The one thing I wouldn't do is just leave the bills thrown on the desk, etc., especially if you're tipping during your stay, as it doesn't seem as nice and also makes it a bit ambiguous as to whether it's actually a tip or if the bills just fluttered out of your wallet unbeknownst to you.
-Anne

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Washington, D.C. : Travel annoyance: Last summer I was in Florence during the hottest spell in decades. In typical European fashion, the hotel had neither air conditioning nor screens, so the choice was between mosquitos and stultifying heat (we alternated). Upon checkout, I suggested that they make fans available. The proprietor looked up, surprised, and said, "Oh, we have fans. Why didn't you ask?"

The Flight Crew: That's not an annoyance, WDC. That's Italy.

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Scenic Downtown Merrifield, Va.: For the Denali traveller, go as far into the park as you can. The quality of wildlife viewing gets exponentially better the farther you go as the animals are more plentiful as they have less contact with the shuttle buses. North Face Lodge, while expensive, is well worth the visit if you can spend the required 3-7 days. Since you have limited time, even one night of camping would allow you to take the bus further into the park. Do note that the buses are not fancy (school buses were commonly used when I was there ~6 years ago), so the comfort level is only fair. The roads are good, though, so the ride isn't too bad. Enjoy the trip. It is a wonder place.

The Flight Crew: Thanks, Merrifield!

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Somewhere, Md.: Love the chats! I have a question about Malta. Specifically, I often visit family in Sicily and would love to take a ferry to Malta on my next trip over. Do you have any information about the journey? In particular, which ferry companies could one take from Messina/Catania? I checked out the Malta website listed in the article, but all it provided was a list of ferry company names, phone numbers, and a few email addresses. Is there more comprehensive information available on timetables and prices? Thanks!

The Flight Crew: Hey, Somewhere. Glad yer reading along. I would have LOVED to have taken a ferry ride to Sicily for the day--many outfitters offer day cruises on high-speed catamarans from Valletta for about $100 a day, including trips to Mt. Etna. I imagine it must work the opposite way, though I'm thinking high-speed catamaran is the major way to go.

That said, I can't answer your question right now! Ifs you want to email me at deinerj@washpost.com, I can dig thru my mountain of resource materials after the chat and see if I can come up with a few names.
thanks!
--john

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For Denali visitor: We lived in AK for 3 years and boy do I miss it. No more beautiful place on earth than Ak on a nice day, too bad there are only about 4 a year. Which means when visiting Denali you will have a 30% chance of actually seeing the mountain on your trip. We were lucky the several times we did the trip and we took the school buses that run from the visitor center, with a guide. The guide was good but at times i felt trapped ina confined space with a greenpeace activist. It was a good way to get far into the park and see lots. I'm a chicken when it comes to bears so no off tour hiking for me. The grizzly and wolf I saw beside the bus was enough for me!

The Flight Crew: Seems the Denali poster's in luck today with people posting in!

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Washington, D.C.: Re the SAndy Beaches in Malta

There are a number of beautiful sandy beaches in Malta.

In Gozo please visit Ramla Il- Hamra, and in Malta my favourites are Paradise Bay, Gloden Sands and Ghajn Tuffieha

May I suggest www.visitmalta.com

The Flight Crew: Cool, thanks D.C. I should add that visitmalta.com has a great interactive map that you can use to find everything on the island, including beaches.
-john

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Lucky Traveller: I have the option of going for 3 weeks in September to either Thailand/Vietnam or Bolivia. Which would be more fun for 2 mid-20's guys looking for an inexpensive, adventurous vacation? I am leaning Bolivia and he is leaning Vietnam. What do you think?

The Flight Crew:

Amazingly, LT, I've been to both. For inexpensive, you'll do much, much better in Bolivia (the dollar goes a looooooong way in Bolivia--plus the airfare is a fraction of Asia). They're both interesting, although you'll never have a more moving travel experience than your first time in Southeast Asia. Bolivia has a sort of bleak beauty up high in La Paz and the Altiplano and the riotous lushness of the Yungas and the Amazon basin. Viet Nam and Thailand is more deeply cultural place generally (with excellent food to boot. Food in Bolivia is not excellent.).

If you could afford it, go to Asia. --Steve

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Old Town Alexandria, Va.: Ticket Question: I bought a ticket on Northwest for a friend that he subsequently can't use. Is it possible to change the name on the ticket to another friend? It's for my brother's wedding in South Dakota. I've called Northwest and have been told "no" but can't imagine why. I've already bought the ticket and it will go completely unused unless I can transfer it into a different name. What security reason could there be? If they let me buy the ticket for someone else, shouldn't I also be able to transfer it to whomever I want?

Love the chats. Thanks!!

The Flight Crew: It's not so much security, as the fact that non refundable tickets are cheaper than the more flexible ones. If the airlines were flexible about all their tickets, they couldn't charge more for the flexible, refundable tickets, and that's how they make their money.

I'm afraid that the only way you can avoid losing all the money is to ask your friend if he'd like to book some other trip for some other date, using the ticket you bought and paying the $100 change fee. That way, at least all of the money won't be thrown away.

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Washington, D.C.: Regarding the upscale hotel in Mdina, Malta - it's the Xara Palace, very expensive, and in a beautiful old building. Regarding where to stay, I would suggest Valletta rather than Sliema. One - it's historic atmosphere makes it more appealing, two - its where most bus routes radiate from, so if travelling by bus, it is the best base.

One drawback - very little night life, though there are some very good restaurants in Valletta. Would recommend The Carriage, Trattoria Palazz, Gianninni's, Rubino's, Cocopazzo.

The Flight Crew: Thanks, DC. I agree about the nightlife--I found the scene around Sliema a lot more invigorating than Valletta after the sun went down, but you are absolutely right about the buses! It's THE place to catch everything.
-john

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Reston, Va.: Good afternoon Crew!

A friend and I are traveling to New Zealand to visit friends in Nelson in late November/early December this year. We have two weeks for this trip and want to get the most bang for our buck and are looking at travel packages. My question is this - should we spend the entire two weeks in New Zealand (we plan to rent a car and drive around both North and South NZ), or should we take advantage of a package that will give us 3 nights in Syndey, 3 nights in Brisbane (or Melbourne) and 6 nights in New Zealand?

We don't know when we will get to that part of the world again and wouldn't want to miss out on Australia. However, we don't want to spend too little time in either place and feel like we missed out on the best of what each place has to offer.

Suggestions? Skip Australia and concentrate on NZ? Or go with a little of each?

Thanks.

The Flight Crew: I have visited both countries during two different trips and think you should focus on one, then hopefully make it back to that region to concentrate on the other. Especially since the trip Under is so exhausting, you don't want to be in and out of plans for half your holiday.
For NZ, definitely hop in the car and start exploring. We did the South Island and a taste of Auckland for two weeks, and stayed a couple nights in major places, like Duneden, Timaru and Queenstown (bungee jumping capital). As for Australia, I visited only a smidgeon of the country over two weeks (Sydney, Great Barrier, Melbourne), so I can't imagine how little you would see over such a short time. My feeling: Quality, my friend, not quantity!--andrea

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Happy to be back home: I'm not sure if it's prize worthy, but a semi-unpleasant experience and related question:
I tried to fly from BWI to Boston on American Eagle on Thursday night (8:45 flight), and the flight was cancelled because of weather (remember the huge thunderstorm at 5:30?). Apparently the plane never even made it from Boston, although there was no bad weather up there, and the storm didn't make it to NY until closer to 10 or 11, according to a friend of mine. Because it was a small (40 people) plane, they couldn't get me on a flight until 11 the next morning, the third flight of the day which messed up my Friday schedule enough that I had to rearrange some meetings. Isn't there a rule that if the airline cancels the flight under certain circumstances, they have to book me on the next available flight on _any_ airline, and is weather one of them?
By the way, for those who fear BWI, either don't fly American, or buy an e-ticket and check in from home. At 6 a.m. the next morning (I tried and failed to stand-by on an early flight), I was in line to check in, and it took me 45 minutes to get to the front. Who knew the airport was so hopping so early?

The Flight Crew: Again, Happy: that's infuriating, but common.

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Somewhere, USA: "...try to plug anything in without a converter -- the important element in the equation -- and you will have a big 'splosion on your hands."

Good advice, but not always true. Some small appliances will accept both 220 and 110 voltages - I traveled with a Palm pilot and electric razor, and they worked fine on 220. The key was that the labels CLEARLY stated that the 220 was OK. So check the labels before buying and lugging around that converter. (But if it's not absolutely clear, I agree with the above poster not to risk an explosion.)

Can't vouch for it, but this site seems to address the issue thoroughly: http://www.enjoy-europe.com/hte/chap11/electric.htm

The Flight Crew: Okay, still have no idea what you guys are rapping about, but it sounds good to me. Just keep the explosions to a minimum please, I am trying to chat here.

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Annandale, Va.: What do you think of tour companies (cruise lines, package tours, etc) that reduce prices and do not provide price protection for those who have signed up and paid in advance ahen they call the new lower prices tpo the company's attention. is ther any thing in the federal fair trade or fair pricing regulations regarding this?

The Flight Crew: Afraid not---you can pretty much sell stuff for the price people will pay. But I understand your pain--I want always to be the person who paid the least, not the most. Cindy

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Kitsilano: It's no big deal, it's just a beach but the area is kinda funky, fun little shops. My kids loved it (they're 13 and 16).

The Flight Crew: THANKS, for info on Kitsilano. Cindy

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Arlington, Va.: Yeah I got a travel story for you. In august of 2001 my mom booked myself and her on a late september trip to Brussels through a travel company in Boston, where she lives. I had booked a flight from Reagan to Logan, where I was supposed to meet up with them, and we would continue with the tour to Brussels.

Yeah. Well then 9/11 happened, and both Logan and National were in a world of hurt. Everything up in the air. The tour company INSISTED they were still going, and also insisted there would be no problems flying out of National--which was then totally closed.

The travel company finally took a vote on who really wanted to go (isn't that strange?) but USAir was refusing to transfer my flight from National to Dulles. They said they had no way of knowing when they might open, but I had to wait and see. They kept this up until 2 days before the trip, and then gave me a "maybe". I think I made it out on the first flight from National to Logan, and even then they were totally rude about the whole thing!

The Flight Crew: Ouch, Arl. Two years later, there's still an edge in your voice.

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London - Backpacks, Hotels, etc.: I have another good London hotel for you, but you have to make a deal online. The Regent Palace Hotel in Piccadilly has some rooms with a private bath, others without. I was able to get a Regent Room (private bath) for less than $90 a night, via Travelocity. Two caveats: you have to pay in advance when you go through an online service, and you'll be in a party neighborhood, so there will be a few surges in noise level. On the other hand, you'll be across the street from the Piccadilly tube station, in walking distance from Trafalgar Square, in walking distance to many museums, theatres, shopping districts, etc.

The other bit was for the person asking about backpacks. Lots of people wear them. I didn't have to check mine very often, but if you decide to go to Harrod's, be sure that thing is empty, because backpacks -must- be held in the hand, the entire time you're in the store. Hope this helps.

The Flight Crew: You are our go-to London guru. Thanks.

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Alexandria, Va.: Good afternoon. John's article on Malta couldn't have been more timely. My fiance and I are contemplating getting married around Mellieha Bay over Memorial Day weekend 2004. Our major concern is the cost of airfare for our family members (from all corners of the US and Canada). Is there any hope for tickets under $1,000? And, if so, are there ways to get around buying a full tour package? Any advice would be greatly appreciated--thanks!

The Flight Crew: Hey, Al. Can't answer you on the airfare question...it's anyone's guess this far in advance, but you should certainly look out for deals. And definitely check with consolidators--maybe they can snag a better deal since you're a group.

I'm really not a huge fan of packages, but the one I had was only air/lodging/transfers, and it was a real bargain. Once on the ground, I could do whatever I wanted--including finding a hotel for a nite in Gozo and leaving most of my stuff behind in St. Julians.
Good luck!
-john

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18 year old vacation: For the person wanting to send the two 18 year old girls to the Caribbean or on a cruise--watch just a few episodes of MTV's spring break--especially the Cancun episodes. I would not send someone that young away without an adult around. There is too much trouble they can get into. I went to the Bahamas (Paradise Island) on spring break while in College--we were all 21 and had some scary encounters with taxi drivers (didn't feel safe in the cabs late night), and some other run-ins with strangers. Plus the usual drunkeness & risk of being taken advantage of. An 18 year old does not belong unsupervised in the caribbean or on a cruise. I'd recommend Florida or somewhere mainland US if they have to go.

The Flight Crew: Sometimes mom's instincts are right. Cindy

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Washington, D.C.: Regarding ferry service from Sicily to Malta and reverse, one company is Virtu ferries. Be aware that one often encounters rough seas on this journey.

Regarding the one day organized trips from Malta to Sicily, they are not worth it in my opinion. Too much time spent in transit, very long day, limited time at sites in Sicily.

The Flight Crew: Oh, interesting DC. I'll have to keep that in mind...the, uh, brochure certainly makes it look appealing! I imagine once you get out of the harbor, though, there's not that much to look at!
-john

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Fairfax, Va.: What is it with Hertz? I'd rented a car in Buffalo, went to the falls, and stayed on the Canadian side. I was rear-ended at a stop light. Hertz told me I'd have to drive the car back to Buffalo although the rear lights were held in with duct tape. I took it to a Hertz rental in Canada and got a replacement. Back in the states, I got a letter from Hertz asking if I'd forgotten to return the car. (Videos and books, I can understand, but a car? Good grief.) I wrote back. The credit card bill came back with a charge for the larger car that was the only replacement car available. At this point, I paid it without arguing. Then, Hertz hounded me for ages saying that I owed them $100 for the accident, even though it wasn't my fault. I finally sent them a letter explaining the whole situation, and paying the difference between what I was billed and the $100. It was sent to a collection agency. I gave them all of the information, and although they were supposed to respond within 30 days, I didn't hear anything. Thank heaven I didn't throw the paperwork out. Six months later, another collection agency was handling it. On my own dime (no 800 number) I called and explained the situation. They caught on that Hertz had erred, and I never heard from them again. A few months later, Hertz said that I could once again rent cars from them. Yeah, like that's going to happen.

The Flight Crew: Well that's big of Hertz. Good story. I'm fuming. But sorry, no extra points for having to call direct.

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Bethesda, Md.: Vegas wedding: sister was married there at a little place called Little chapel of flowers or somehting like that. They did a nice job and even simulcast the event over the 'Net. SO everyone can log on and watch at home. I don't know if they do Elvis though.

The Flight Crew: I think Elvis is easy---he's big in Vegas, Vegas is big in weddings. I'm not anticipating their having any problem finding just what they want. Thanks for the tip. Cindy

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caribbean wedding: For the person considering a Caribbean wedding; St. John is beautiful, but sleepy. It has beautiful villas to rent, but only 3 real "resort" hotels: the Westin, Caneel Bay, and Gallows Point. I stayed at Gallows and saw a beautiful wedding ceremony taking place in their gazebo overlooking the water, then the party moved to the restaurant on site for an evening of dancing to a steel drum band. It sounded like so much fun! Very laid back. Just be aware that on St. John there are not the mega-resorts with casinos and glitzy discos, or even lots to do but enjoy the beach. If you have a really active crowd (or one that likes lots of paid entertainment--parasailing, waverunners, etc. etc.), you might want to look elsewhere.

The Flight Crew: Thanks.

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Burma op-ed: Steve, excellent opinion piece yesterday on not traveling to Burma. It made me realize that traveling to a country such as Burma, which uses tourist dollars props up it's corrupt, illegitimate government does way more harm than good. Very thought-provoking piece.

The Flight Crew: Thanks very much. I'm not sure it does WAY more harm than good, but in this case at least, yes, I think it does tip to the harm side.

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backpacks in London: I was in London for two weeks and had no trouble with my backpack. Yes, it was "lightly" searched, but we should be used to that by now. Pick-pocketers..if you pack carefully and are careful in crowds then it should not be a problem. Much easier than carrying by hand and increasing the chance of loosing or leaving things behind.

The Flight Crew: Good to know, thanks.

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Vegas weddings: For the question about weddings - friends just renewed their vows in Vegas and from what they said, it was quite expensive. They didn't have a Elvis ceremony, which would have been a few to several hundred dollars. BUT, they did negotiate with the wedding chapel and got a better deal, so it's worth trying!

The Flight Crew: Thanks.

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Arlington, Va.: Hostelling in Malta? Yes/No/Maybe? Any chance for cheaper airfares? Or is a package deal the best bet for air/lodging?

Thanks!

The Flight Crew: Hey, Arl. I just checked www.hostels.com and they have a few listed, one on Gozo, my new home away from home. Already addressed the airfare/package thing, but it's definitely worth considering a package, I think. If you decide to go...have a good trip!
-john

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Olney, Md.: travel crew, HELP! have you any advice on how to deal with post-vacation depression? I know you've probably covered this topic before, but I just can't shake the blues this time and it's driving me nuts. i just don't know whether it's a bad case of the grass being greener (in california) or whether i truly am miserable here and in desperate need of a life change. i've had many, many wonderful trips over the years, but i've never felt like this.

The Flight Crew: I usually wallow in the post-vacation depression for a while--my second-to-last trip took a good three months to get over, and that only happened because I took off again. But besides poring over photos and re-reading every entry of your travel journal, I'd say one of the best things to do is figure out what exactly it was about the place you were that you enjoyed so much--and then try to find a way to replicate that in your home environment. Obviously, hanging out at home can't compete with an amazing vacation, but if you figure out what exactly made you tick on the trip, maybe there's a way to continue that here on the East Coast. Was it the empowering feeling you got eating alone at new restaurants? Then pick an as-of-yet untapped place within driving distance of home and go all out. Was it discovering a favorite artist in a California musuem? Then try searching for a venue closer to home that has similar works. Maybe you do need a life change--certainly I can't speak to that for you. But give yourself a chance to "travel" while at home, and maybe you'll find that it's not a life change but a little shakeup that you need.
-Anne

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Munich-bound:: Yes, thanks for the article on shopping for a BMWer. My husband has been thinking about buying a BMW convertible and now we may get to Europe! -I mentioned that I saw something about this program a few years ago and my husband didn't believe me.] Thank you!

The Flight Crew: Happy driving, MB! Does seem like a good deal, doesn't it?

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good travel story: when I joined a tour to canoe the Okavango Delta it was three nights in the Delta. I don't know how the home office was communicating with the tour guides, but after the second night they told us we had to head back the next day. I was peeved and politely explained that we'd all paid for three nights out. We'd gotten to know the guide well and asked them to show us how they make the canoes. One of the Aussies on the trip picked up an axe and started to help them dig out the log. Eventually we assured them that if we stayed another day they could leave us to our own devices (if we could borrow a canoe) and they could have another day to work on their canoe. They bought it and nobody got in trouble. Whew!

The Flight Crew: I'm sure I follow all this, but it sounds frustrating.

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re: Alaska: since knowledgable clicksters are lurking....what do you recommend I do or steer clear of on my cruise in August? Stops include Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway, Victoria. Skagway is a whole day and it seems like there isn't much to do but shop.

The Flight Crew: Are the Denali clicksters still on-line to help this poster out?

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Visiting Iceland: Anyone been there? Worth going to? Any thoughts you have would be appreciated.

The Flight Crew: I think so, esp. if you like scenery and countryside. The capitol is said to be good for hot music and nightclub scene, but if like me that doesn't interest you much, then I don't think the city will get you all that excited. But the countryside is strange and beautiful, I loved soaking in the hot springs, riding ponies they call horses, etc. We'll post a link on a story I did, and see what you think.

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Travel Irritation: A few years ago, I had booked a weekend flight to Boston to see my grandparents, who were having a huge 50th anniversary celebration. Got to Dulles, and as I was riding in the people mover, a huge thunderstorm hit- the people mover was shaking so much, I swear it was going to tip over. Got into the terminal, where all flights were canceled because of the storm, which didn't blow over too quickly.

Couldn't get any information at the desk, so I called the airline's toll-free number; the woman said that everything was hugely delayed and I wouldn't be able to fly out until late afternoon/evening the next day. Since that would have meant that I would miss the anniversary celebration (it was during the afternoon/early evening), I decided to cancel the trip rather than sleep in the airport overnight with 20,000 other people on the off-chance that I could "possibly" get on a flight in the morning.

The only good thing was that the airline actually refunded my ticket, if you can believe that!

The Flight Crew: They gave you a refund. Sorry, TI, you must be confusing this the Travel Victories contest next door.

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Austin, Tex.: I had a tour company go bankrupt 10 days before my honeymoon. Does that count? Since I paid by check there was no possibility of a refund.

The Flight Crew: Yes, that hurts, Tex. Extra points for brevity, too.

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Crystal City, Va.: Still annoyed with Continental! A few years ago I checked in for my return flight from London and was informed that my ticket was for "tomorrow" while my reservation was for "today." I suggested I wait a day - "Sorry, no seats tomorrow!" Then I'll just fly home today - "it'll cost you $150 change fee." But the error was made by your airline - "take it up with reservations when you get home."

The Flight Crew: Oh my god. That's almost a perfect travel paradox. Hard to beat, folks.

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Arlington, Va.: Regarding Malta:

Any special spots for honeymooners to stay/visit/eat? Any local (Arlington, VA) travel agents that you would suggest to book a 10 day trip to Rome/Malta in October?

Thanks!

Aimee

The Flight Crew: Hey, Arl. Don't know of any travel agents to suggest, but you can really luxe it at some amazing five-star properties. Heard great things about the Kempinski San Lawrenz and the Ta' Cenc resorts on Gozo, though I didn't tour it. Did wander around the Corinthia Palace, on Malta, and it was amazing.
-john

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ATA ugh!: When traveling on business, my 6am non stop flight home was cancelled after I got to the airport-very early mind you. The agent rebooked us on all different flights home, mine leaving at 1pm that afternoon--with a layover--and landing in an entirely different DC airport. When I asked about how to get back to the original airport, where my car was waiting, I was given a blank look by the agent. I pressed the issue and he reluctantly gave me his card and told me to send him a receipt of the taxi or bus and they'd reimburse me for it. I did, and they didn't. I was not suprised. They did give us all small vouchers for breakfast, but with the all day delay of our trip home, it was hardly worth it. I got home at 6pm! And I haven't flown ATA since.

The Flight Crew: Tough day for ATA today.

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Washington, D.C.: Just back from 10 dayus in London. Wow, was it expensive (flight was very cheap -$450], but hotel cost upwards of GBP120/night including breakfast). Stayed at the Dolphin Square Hotel in Pimlico -- room included breakfast and a kitchen, which came in very handy.

Some tips.
- I highly recommend the brand new (opened late May) Museum in the Docklands at Canary Wharf.
- For theater tickets, I can't remind people enough to go to the half-price ticket booth at Leicester Square for great deals.
- To get around, get a Zone 1+2 London Transport pass for the week (if you're there that long). For GBP19 you can go almost every/anywhere in greater London via underground or bus. Don't get anything more, as you really won't be going beyond those zones.
- To get back to the airport cheaply, use the Hotelink shuttle, which takes you door to door It's cheaper and easier than the Heathrow Express from Paddington, but give yourself lots of time to get there!
- Finally, there's lots of good food in London. A new one for me was Belgo Central, 50 Earlham Street, between Covent Garden and Leicester Square. Noisy but good food with lots(!) of different beers to try!

The Flight Crew: Thanks for the tips, D.C.

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cube farm: Submitting early because mean boss scheduled a meeting for 2:00 PM. My 20 year anniversary is coming up in March 2004, and I'd like to take my spouse on a 4-5 day cruise to the Caribbean. When should I book to get a good deal?

The Flight Crew: No easy answers--last minute sales when they have stuff left over and dump it are too uncertain for your purposes. So I'd start now window shopping the internet to get a sense of prices, then grab something that sounds good once you know a bit about prices. Cindy

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Burma-Bound?: I enjoyed Steve's article, but I wondered if he would have traveled to South Africa during Apartheid when Nelson Mandela was calling for a tourism boycott (from his jail cell, btw)? I don't see the difference with Burma. Aung San Suu Kyi, the democratically elected leader, has asked tourists not to come. Genuinely curious to hear your answer. Thanks.

The Flight Crew: I probably woudn't have done, depending on the particular moment of the long South African boycott. In South Africa's case I think the boycott did some good, which is key to me (for one thing, that country's neighbors supported it). In Burma's case, I don't think it usually does--except at this moment while she's in custody.

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18 year old vacation: Why not send them to a health spa for a long weekend? Send them on a scuba vacation (although that can be pricey)?

Organize a trip focused on an fun activity (sea kayaking in baja mexico) that would occupy their time rather than exploits with alcohol and the opposite sex.

The Flight Crew: good ideas, all. thanks!

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Arlington, Va.: Re: Kitsilano Beach in Vancouver...
Another reader wanted to know if it's worth a day trip there. If you're in Vancouver, it's not a day trip, but more like a drop-by. Get a cup of coffee from a coffee shop in Kitsilano and walk down to the beach to enjoy the water and people watching. Just don't expect it to be warm, or necessarily sunny!

The Flight Crew: Thanks, Arl.

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washingtonpost.com: Earth to Iceland, (Post, June 30, 2003)

The Flight Crew: Here you go! Enjoy!

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New York, N.Y.: Submitting early in the hope of beating the rush...

I'd love recommendations for a destination spa in the U.S., Mexico or Canada for a trip this August with my mom. (I'm 27...Mom's not.) We don't want to spend too much--about $1000 for 5-7 days, if possible. Do most spas include any services (massages, facials, etc.), or are they all a la carte on top of the $300 a night? What do I get for my money--lodging and food? Any classes? We'd love a place that emphasizes overall health, stress management, nutrition (but serves good food--no liquid diets). Thanks so much!

--Overworked Daughter

The Flight Crew: That's a huge question. But let me start by saying that most spas do offer packages that include some treatments. If the spa experience and relaxation itself is what you seek, rather than a look at a new part of the country, or some country, then save yourself airfare and look either to places you can drive to, or places in cities served by discount airlines. That will help cut down the myriad of choices. Cindy

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Why I don't fly Delta anymore...: I flew their shuttle from National to NY a while back because they had the cheapest for the last minute. I was going up in the morning and returning in the evening. I checked in and got up there fine, but when I was coming back 6 hours later, they told me that since I "didn't use the first part of my ticket," the reservation had been cancelled. It took 45 minutes of talking to the supervisor that the only reason I was standing at the counter was that I flew up on the morning flight. Had to pay $100 before they'd let me back on. I just paid it and vowed to stay away.

The Flight Crew: We don't blame you!

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Top this - of course it's United!: Booked a trip from Seattle to Kansas City on United before their total meltdown in summer 2000. Purposely booked the flight to Denver on a 777- because they go international after the Seattle to Denver leg, supposedly cancelled less frequently. The crew had a sick out, and we were left to stand in line at the gate for rebooking. The gate counter would not rebook anyone, so we stood in line for two hours until the crew showed up. No one knew what else to do, and they had announced the plane had a mechanical problem. After 30 minutes, they announced that they would not rebook us on other flights until a 2-hour delay had occurred.

So the crew shows up at 1:54 past takeoff, and we all get on and fly to Denver. Get into lines that covered half the terminal at Denver to get rebooked to KC. Get to the customer service person, explain that due to the dealy in Seattle, I had missed my connection to Kansas. She says- and I quote - "How is that my problem?" They will not book me on another carrier, or issue paper tickets. They booked me on a flight 36 hours later and told me to go standby at the gate.

I rented a car and drove from Denver. They gave me grief when I showed up for my return flight in KC, but I got a paper ticket, explained the story to Delta and they let me on their flight. NEver flew United again, and I had Elite frequent flyer status.

The Flight Crew: With things the way they are these days, I'd say that's United's loss, right? Thanks for the tale of woe.

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The Flight Crew: Okay folks, the winner of the extreme travel annoyance contest is the late entrant, Crystal City. CC, please email us your particulars to travel@washpost.com and well get you the Tilly.

Thanks everyone. See you next week.

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