Adapted from Washington post.com Flight Crew chat conducted weekly by the Travel staff of The Washington Post:
Q: My wife and I have about a seven-hour stopover in Seattle this June. What do you recommend that we do? We’d like to have an enjoyable meal.
A: Check out Pike Place Market for sure. Go to the Space Needle if you must, but I skipped it with no regrets. Not to be missed, though, is the adjacent Chihuly Garden and Glass, which is spectacular. And you really ought to do the Theo Chocolate tour. There’s a lot of great food in Seattle, but two places we enjoyed were Serious Pie and Chan.
Q: My friend and I, both in our 60s, have decided to finally make a dream happen — a week in Paris. We’ve never traveled internationally before and wonder whether we should seek a hotel/air package, work with a travel agent or do it ourselves.
A: You could conceivably do this on your own, but if it were my first time traveling outside the country, I might go to a travel agent for help in finding the best rates for both flight and hotel. A travel agent can also advise you about which part of the city to stay in and recommend restaurants, tours, etc. Plus, an agent will be on call and can help out during your trip in case anything should go awry.
Q: My local Volvo dealer is pushing the idea of picking up a new car in Sweden. They’ll pick up the plane tickets — for two — and one night in a hotel. Is this a good deal?
A: It sounds like an adventure in the making, so if a Volvo is the car you want, I’d consider it. It could be really fun. I was initially a little skeptical about whether it’s a good “deal," thinking that the manufacturer must have figured out a way to make this worth its while. It may be figuring it into the price of the car, for instance. But an article by MSN Autos would indicate that this is generally a pretty good deal and that people who’ve taken these trips seem happy. There are a few cons, though: It can take a couple of months between the time you order the car and pick it up in Europe, and then many weeks before it gets delivered to you in the States.
Q: We’re taking my mother-in-law to Fort Myers, Fla., for her 80th birthday over Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend. She’s reasonably active for her age and can walk around, but long hikes are out. We’ll be at a nice place with a pool, but I doubt that the weather will be that warm. Do you have suggestions for activities to do or sites to see within a two-hour drive?
A: There’s actually quite a bit in Fort Myers: The winter homes of Henry Ford and Thomas Edison are big attractions there and worth a visit. Another historic mansion is the Murphy-Burroughs House, the former home of a cattle rancher. The downtown is a historic district and pretty to walk around in. In nearby Naples, there’s the Naples Zoo, plus terrific shopping. Farther afield, you’re within two hours of Big Cypress National Preserve and the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, with its 2.25-mile boardwalk.
Q: My mom wants us to take a trip together to Montreal and Quebec. I’m trying to figure out what would be easiest and most budget-friendly: fly to Montreal and take the train to Quebec; fly to Vermont and rent a car; fly into Montreal then back from Quebec; something else? She would love to stay at the Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac in Quebec if we could find a deal.
A: Look into flying to Burlington, Vt., and renting a car. The drive is lovely, with lots of cute places to stop between Burlington and Montreal and lots to see on the drive to Quebec. On the Chateau Frontenac, you’re in luck; they’re running a 120th-anniversary deal. Rooms start at 189.30 CAD (about $192) through June, in honor of the hotel’s 1893 inauguration.
Q: In the spring, my family is traveling to Costa Rica. I know that we shouldn’t leave our passports and wallets in our hotel rooms, but carrying them with us may be impossible given the ziplining, swimming, surfing, etc., we’ll be doing. Should we just leave the documents in the hotel safes?
A: Yes, the safe is the, er, safest place for your valuables. If you don’t have an in-room safe, the front desk should provide one for your belongings. Keep on hand, though, a bit of cash and some identification. Also, jot down all emergency numbers for your credit cards (so you can cancel them should they be stolen) and make a copy of your passports.
Q: We’re hoping to visit Yellowstone and Mount Rushmore. We don’t mind flying into a major city that’s a day’s drive away. Which one has the best airfares and rental car prices?
A: I would fly into Salt Lake City. It’s a 6½-hour drive, but it takes you through some of the most beautiful country on Earth. We were there last year and can’t wait to go back.
Q: We’re researching travel to Germany this summer for our family of four. How do we find special deals?
A: Flights to Europe have become expensive again, and that’s not likely to change anytime soon. Try using an aggregator like Kayak, which lists the fares of multiple airlines, from cheapest to more expensive. Also sign up for some fare alerts from various airlines — Lufthansa, American, Icelandair — and maybe you’ll hit pay dirt.
Q: It seems that it’s cheapest to fly to Europe from JFK this summer. Are there reasonable drive-park-fly options near JFK?
A: There are lots of park/fly options near JFK. Another option is park/sleep/fly, which can be even cheaper and more convenient if you have an early flight. You stay at a hotel for a night, and parking is included in the rate — even if you leave your car for, say, a week — and much more affordable.
Q: What’s your opinion of the promo cards that European cities market via their tourist boards? They offer free public transport and discounts to museums, restaurants, etc. Are they a good value?
A: This question will have a different answer for every person and every destination. Compare the prices on the card versus what you’d pay for each attraction. Are there things you really don’t care about seeing? Then it might not be worth it. I’m a little more inclined toward free public transport options. When you’re abroad and fumbling with foreign currency, that’s a big plus.