The Washington Post’s Travel section writers and editors recently discussed stories, questions, gripes and more. Here are edited excerpts:
Q: I am planning a trip to the Galapagos and maybe Machu Picchu next summer. Do you have any thoughts on whether this can be done by myself or is it better to use a tour operator? And do you have any recommendations on reputable operators?
A: Those are both complicated trips with many moving parts; if one piece is off, your trip can go horribly wrong. If you are an advanced traveler, you can certainly book each segment (air, hotel, cruise or trek) yourself, but make sure you choose an environmentally reputable cruise operator for the Galapagos and a conscientious hiking group or guide for Machu Picchu. For Peru, you don’t want to get sick (altitude, food) or injured.
The Galapagos Conservancy has a list of eco-travel partners; Trip Savvy has a good list of tour operators in Peru. Intrepid Travel, a small group tour operator with a sister foundation that focuses on conservation and local needs, offers tours in both destinations.
- Andrea Sachs
Q: I’m planning to do a road trip in Austria in December (including through the Alps). I read that I should get an international driver’s permit, and I need to check with my insurance about whether international driving is covered, but is there anything else I should know? Do I need all-wheel-drive, or are they just better at keeping the roads clear over there in winter?
A: All-wheel-drive is necessary if you are heading to the Alps. You may even need chains, depending on where you are driving.
Q: My husband and I are heading to the Grand Canyon for five days before Christmas. We are flying in and out of Phoenix and have reservations at El Tovar. Do you have experience or advice?
A: I’m based in Prescott, Arizona, and visit the canyon often. The National Park Service has an informative page on winter in the canyon. I would add that you’ve picked a great time to visit. Temperatures are perfect for hiking at this time of year. We had a 75-degree day in nearby Sedona on Saturday. The difference is that there are far fewer visitors. However, winter storms are not uncommon, so pack warm clothes and dress in layers.
- Christopher Elliott
Q: I am planning to travel through the night by bus to arrive in New York at 5:30 a.m. Where can I cool my heels until things open for the day? I’m focusing on the Holiday Markets, Bryant Park and Union Square, and will do the High Line. Is there a hotel lobby where I can hang and get breakfast before heading out for shopping around 9? I’m also going to a few places in the garment district.
A: I would chose a hotel with a social lobby (so you blend in) and comes with early-morning perks, such as a coffee bar, free wifi and fashionable furnishings (in case you nod off). Some options: Dream Midtown, Ace Hotel, citizenM in Times Square, the Ludlow and the High Line Hotel.
Q: I am interested in areas in central/northern Italy that are not tourist traps. I am looking for hiking, bike riding and getting to see the local life.
A: Go to the Dolomites, specifically the Val Gardena region. There will be some German and Italian tourists, but very few Americans.
Q: In February, I am going on a three-night Disney cruise. I will be traveling with my soon-to-be 6-year-old son and my senior citizen mom. We will have two days in Orlando, Florida before departing on cruise. It’s been many years since I’ve been to Disney and I can’t decide which parks to go to on the second day. We will do Walt Disney World one day but I am not sure if we should do Animal Kingdom or Epcot for the second day. Mom says she will sit out/stay at hotel on day two so it will just be me and son (who has never been to any of these parks). I was leaning Epcot for the food and international flair, but I heard Animal Kingdom was really nice.
A: All of those parks are wonderful and have lots for a six-year-old, but Epcot tends to offer more for older visitors (read: adults). I’d take your son to Animal Kingdom. There are more attractions and my favorite Disney attraction of all time, Festival of the Lion King. Are you ready for a singalong?
Q: For the spring, I was planning a ladies weekend to Asheville, North Carolina that would include splitting time between downtown and in a cabin somewhere. Now our timeline has moved up to the winter. Is it worth it or will is really be too cold to do much?
A: It is hard to predict weather these days, but historically Asheville is a lovely winter destination. According to the tourism office, you can walk around downtown without sliding or freezing, thanks for the protective surrounding mountains. Asheville’s average temperature is mild enough for winter golfing, for example. If the temps do drop, you will have loads of indoor options, including the Biltmore, a Thomas Wolfe walking tour with many inside attractions, tons of museums (art, pinball, science, etc.), and brewery and farm-to-table tours.
Q: What do you think about the ski resorts in Connecticut? We are three moms with five kids at various ski levels. We want three nights, two days on the slopes and it needs to be on the affordable side.
A: Connecticut is not known for its ski resorts, but if you’re mostly beginners, it may work. I think Mohawk Mountain is the largest resort there.
Q: Do you all have any basic money tips for traveling abroad? My credit card has no foreign transaction fees, so I’ll plan on using that whenever possible, but I’m assuming I’ll still need some cash. All of my bank accounts charge a fee for ATM withdrawals, do I just have to suck it up and pay that extra percentage or is there something I’m missing?
A: Unfortunately, you do have to pay transaction fees at foreign ATMs—sometimes twice! But you can reduce the wasteful charges by using a debit card that does not charge out-of-network fees (such as Capital One’s 360 Checking) or is part of a larger network (such as Allpoint or Bank of America). Make sure you know the amount of the fees charged by your bank and the host ATM (a set price per transaction or a percentage?) and withdraw wisely. I personally never use an ATM and always travel with cash. I try to change money in advance through my bank. AAA also has a great currency exchange program.