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Budget Travel Editors answered your travel questions on Tuesday, March 8 at noon ET

Need help planning a trip? Have a question about your next vacation?

The editors of Budget Travel magazine answered your travel questions Tuesday, March 8, at 12pm EST.

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Moderator: Welcome to our first Budget Travel Trip Coach live chat! Our chatters this week include Senior Editor Online Adrien Glover, Associate Editor Brad Tuttle, Associate Editor Laurie Kuntz, and Editorial Assistant David La Huta. We're all ready to answer your travel questions!

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University Place, WA: The article on no-frill airlines in Europe reminded budget travelers to "do the math" in order to find out whether the airfare savings is worth landing in a secondary airport that may be some distance from your actual destination. My daughter & I have tickets on SWA to NYC (arriving at 10:30pm). The budget fare involves flying into Islip (McArthur Airport) on Long Island. I have been unable to find any transfers from the airport to Manhattan that are less expensive than a private town car ($120 - $160 each way). Am I missing something? The airfare from Seattle to Islip is only $99.00! Thank you.

Budget Travel Editors: New Yorkers love to complain about the hassle and expense of getting to and from area airports. And, on occasion, round-trip airfare does cost less than it does to get to LaGuardia, JFK, and Newark. (You can always take the A train to JFK for $2 but it takes hours.)
The Islip Airport is a little different. The common way to get to/from NYC is to take a taxi or shuttle bus to Islip (bus is $5) and the Long Island Rail Road Train to Penn Station from Ronkonkoma (about $12). Including a tip, the whole thing should cost you about $20. Here"s a link to the LIRR"s fares and schedules: mta.nyc.ny.us/lirr/

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Washington, DC: My sister and I are planning a trip to the South Pacific. We want to visit Sydney, Australia; Wellington, New Zealand; Suva, Fiji; and Papeete, Tahiti from late Apr 05 to early May 05. Would it be best to use a travel agency or book the trip ourselves? If we should use a travel agency, do you have one you'd recommend? Thank you.

Budget Travel Editors: Unless you don't have time, we recommend you do the research on your own rather than going through a travel agency. There are lots of tools for comparing prices - and you can book directly.

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Denver, CO: I am planning a trip to Buenos Aires and either Punta del Este or Rio de Janiero at New Year's. Can you recommend any planning tools or packages?

Budget Travel Editors: Right now, there aren't many New Year's packages, it's too early. We would check Marnella Tours, GoToday, or Traveland in the summer. You can take a ferry to Montevideo and then a bus to Punta del Este.

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Portland, OR: There have not been any airfare sales from the US to Europe for the late spring/early summer season (e.g. June) yet. When should we expect to see them (if at all)? Getting nervous, Brad

Budget Travel Editors: In general, the sales will start coming fast & furious closer to your travel date. Rather than checking every website out there, we recommend you sign up for every email blast list from every airline, and hope for the best.

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Stillwater, ME: We will be traveling to Dublin in June for two U2 concerts. Can you recomend some airfare/accomodation packages? We would enjoy being right in the city or in a neighborhood within walking distance. We plan on staying 7-8 nights and would also like to plan some day trips while we are there. Thanks!

Budget Travel Editors: Check Ireland.com, Celtic Tours, C.I.E. and Brian Moore International Tours. Also check Aer Lingus - they often have airfare sales.

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Raleigh, NC: We are looking at going to Greece this summer, and would like to find an affordable package that would include both boating around the Greek Isles as well as a little time to spend in Athens to see some of the main sights there. It's 2 adults and an 11 year old boy, so we need to be active to keep our son interested. We are looking for something in the 8-10 day range. Thanks for any advice you can offer.

Budget Travel Editors: If you're willing to travel just before or after summer--it's peak season in most of Europe--you'll save a bundle on air and land packages from Gate 1 Travel (800/682-3333, gate1travel.com) and Homeric Tours (800/223-5570, homerictours.com). Currently Gate 1 has Greece on sale with its 10-day Greek Islander package. Starting from $1,069, it includes roundtrip flights from New York City, eight nights hotel accommodation in Mykonos, Santorini, and Athens, flights or ferries between the islands, and breakfast daily. Homeric Tours sells a 9-day package from $1,329 including roundtrip airfare from New York, three nights accommodation in Athens with breakfast daily, 4-day cruise to the Greek islands and Turkey with all meals and entertainment, plus an Athens sightseeing tour, hotel taxes and service charges.

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Blacksburg, VA: My husband and I are taking a safari this may. I have two questions. We were told we could get our visas at the airport in Kenya and Tanzania. Is this true? Also we were told we should not wear any bright colors or blue jeans, as these would annoy animals. Any sense in that?

Budget Travel Editors: It's always advisable to get them beforehand.  Never wear bright shirts or loud colored prints. No need to buy the 'great white hunter' outfit, but don't pack the Hawaiian shirts. There's a reason why people wear khaki!

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S. Palm Beach, Florida: I have read about train transportation in Europe and Italy. If you purchase a Eurail Pass which allows travel two or more countries, are you able to travel on all trains in Italy without charge? (including over night trains with sleeping quarters, private trains, ferries to Murano) How do you know the difference in train systems? Also, I do not speak Italian. Is this going to create difficulty in my ability to use the train system. Is their a good rescource to purchase to assist with our planning of our trip in Italy and France. Is driving difficult in southern France?

Budget Travel Editors: No, buying a Eurail Pass won't allow you to travel on all local trains - you will need to pay extra. The pass will allow you to travel on major routes. Check out the Rail Europe website. You can also upgrade your pass if you want additional routes. Not speaking Italian shouldn't be a problem.

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New York, NY: I am trying to plan a surprise trip for my husband's 54th birthday. He loves to scuba dive and the two of us desperately need a relaxing trip away. We will be in LA around April 18, 2005 for a meeting. I thought since we were already that far west we might as well continue and travel to our dream destination of Tahiti. I have researched your ideas re: places to stay and thought a mix of a few nights in Papeete then a ferry to Moorea would be the best! I am having trouble finding REASONABLE airfare and accomodations.

Budget Travel Editors: Sounds like a great plan. Tahiti Legends (800/200-1213, tahitilegends.com/) is offering Air France flights from L.A. to Papeete, an interisland ferry to Moorea, and seven nights at the Club Bali Hai, starting at $1,239 in April and May (Monday, Thursday, and Saturday departures). A $1,669 package to Bora-Bora includes Air Tahiti Nui flights from L.A., one night in Papeete at the Tahiti Continental Resort, interisland flights, and five nights in an ocean-view room at Le Maitai Polynesia on Bora-Bora. Pleasant Holidays (800/448-3333, pleasantholidays.com/) and Sunspots International (sunspotsintl.com/) offer similar deals.
Air Tahiti Nui will begin offering direct flights from New York to Tahiti in July. The packages are pricey -- it's high season in the islands -- but rates should come down later in the year. So if you end up liking Tahiti, you won'" have to wait until another California trip to head back that way!

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Westbury, NY: We will be on a cruise (Oct. 22-29), starting in Barcelona including Marseille, Nice, Florence, Rome and Naples.I would like to surprise my wife and her girlfriends with my knowledge of the places for them to shop for jewelry, handbags, shoes and leather coats. Thank you.

Budget Travel Editors: Paseo de Gracia is like the Fifth Avenue of Barcelona. Parallel to Paseo de Gracia is Rambla de Catelona, also good shopping. If you're looking for funky boutiques, go to the Borne district.

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West Bloomfield, MI: I am planning a girls-only getaway. We are 30 something, fun, bar-going kind of girls. We like Key West or South Padre Island. Which would you suggest or is there another we have overlooked? Thanks

Budget Travel Editors: Miami Beach wins hands down if you"re looking for hot beaches and even hotter nightlife. As luck would have it, Leisure Link International (888/801-8808, eleisurelink.com/) just sent us some amazing air-inclusive offers beginning mid-April. You"ll get Spirit Airlines flights from Detroit to Ft. Lauderdale and three nights in Miami Beach starting at $299, $338, $468, or $497. These are midweek prices, and they"ll depend on which hotel you choose: Howard Johnson Dezerland, Howard Johnson Caribbean, Greenview South Beach, Ocean Surf ($299); Beach House in Bal Harbour, Albion, Riande Continental South Beach ($338); Shore Club, Loews South Beach, Royal Palm Crowne Plaza ($468); Ritz-Carlton South Beach ($497).

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Bettendorf, IA: Next year I will be going to Copenhagen, all expenses paid for 6 days. After that I would like to meet a girlfriend in London and if possible, spend a little time in Paris. I will only have 8 more days after Copenhagen. Is this trying to rush it too much? Should we just stay in London and not try to squeeze in Paris on this trip? Either or both ways, please tell me the least expensive way to get to one or both of these places. My flight home will be paid because of my round trip to Copenhagen.

Budget Travel Editors: Eight days is certainly doable for both London and Paris (and we'd love to know how you scored the paid trip to Copenhagen; good job!). There are many options for getting from Copenhagen down to London or Paris, and between London and Paris. What would make the most sense is if you ask whoever is paying for your trip to Denmark if it is possible to book your airfare into Copenhagen and then out of either London or Paris (which is known as an open jaw ticket). This shouldn't be a problem, since the flight should cost less than a return to Copenhagen--and if you"re allowed to do it, it will save you at least a few hours by eliminating having to go back to Scandinavia before heading home. It's your call as to whether you fly to London or Paris from Copenhagen. Either is possible, the price shouldn"t be all that different. Go to a site such as whichbudget.com or skyscanner.net to research low-fare carriers' routes. If you time it right, the flight could cost less than $75 with taxes and charges. You could also fly between London and Paris, but from the sound of things it might be smarter to take the Eurostar through the Channel (book ahead and look for specials at raileurope.com and eurostar.com). You probably want to spend most of your time in the city centers of Paris and London (where the trains depart and arrive), rather than hopping trains or buses to the outskirts (where low-cost airlines typically fly to and from). This way, you'll maximize your time in London and Paris, and four days in each sounds nice.

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Washington, DC: I'm thinking of taking a trip to Vietnam soon. Unfortunately, the prices I've found for airfare are extremely high. Where is the best place to look for cheap fares to Southeast Asia?

Budget Travel Editors: Sidestep.com is your best bet

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Dallas, TX: My uncle just took a job in Prague, Czech Republic so I have a free place to stay if I go visit. I would like to go over there in June when school is out (I'm a teacher) and I'm trying to figure out how to see as many things as possible in Europe for as little money as possible. I'm single so I'll be taking my best friend and I'd like to be able to go to Germany, Amsterdam, Austria, Switzerland and Italy. How do I go about doing this without breaking the bank? How many places can I realistically see and when can I get the cheapest airfare? My dates are flexible (anytime during June or July) but my pocketbook isn't.

Budget Travel Editors: Get a Eurail Pass and an International Teacher identity card. This card will get you discounts similar to a student ID card. Also consider becoming a member of Hostel International. Pick up a Rough Guide or a Let's Go Guide. Good luck!

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Farmington, CT: We are planning a family-type vacation to the Bahamas. We will be looking for a "package"; what is a good resource for the research? Which part or parts of the Bahamas were damaged by last year's hurricane and how is the recovery work going? Is May/June relatively inexpensive time of the year? Thanks.

Budget Travel Editors: Now that JetBlue and Song are flying directly to Nassau, you might do better booking your airfare separately and taking local flights to other islands.
The Bahamas website also will give you a good feel for each one of the islands.
If you're desparate for packages, Gate1 Travel is offering some Nassau specials

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Los Angeles, CA: My wife and I have been thinking of traveling in Europe for a long time but never made it since we both busy with our career in retail. I wanted to surprise her on our anniversary, with a trip through Europe with stops in Amsterdam with possible stops in Florence, Paris. I want to know if there are any possibility of traveling by train that will accomodate these cities within 7 days. Thank you for your assistance.

Budget Travel Editors: What a nice gesture! Our advice is to not spoil it by trying to do too much. And yes, riding the train to Amsterdam, Paris, and Florence in 7 days is way too much. Unless you're OK seeing things in a blur and getting into arguments from all the stress of traveling (get the point?), you should cut one of those cities from the equation. We acknowledge the pull to try and see everything in one trip (and we're often guilty of doing just that), but do you and your wife a favor by doing less. We guarantee you'lll relax and enjoy yourselves more. If you drop Florence, then sure, you could take the train and see Paris and Amsterdam (research time tables at raileurope.com). If you really want Florence and one of the other cities, fly between them. Scout out possible flights at sites such as whichbudget.com, wegolo.com, applefares.com, or openjet.com.

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Sonora, CA: Can you give me the name of a traver agent who specializes in Bora Bora and or Moorea? Thank you.

Budget Travel Editors: Try Tahiti Legends travel agency - they're offering 5-nights in an ocean-view room Le Maitai Polynesia on Bora Bora for $1389 until the end of March, with flights from LA

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Plant City, Fl: Suggestions for a driving two week vacaton to Hershey, Pa. as the most northerly point. One child, age 15. Amusement parks on the way? Scenic drives to past the time. Thanks.

Budget Travel Editors: We suggest avoiding I-95 - take Blue Ridge Parkway, which connects to Skyline Drive in Shenendoah National Park. However, if you decide to take I-95, you could swing by South of the Border - a totally kitchy tourist trap in Dillon, South Carolina.

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Brooklyn, NY: My friends & I are turning 40 this summer. We would like to go away for the weekend to a spa (girls only). Can you recommend any in the NY, NJ, PA  area worth looking into??? Thank you

Budget Travel Editors: How about New Age Health Spa in Neversink, New York or Kripalu Center in Lenox, MA? Kripalu's on an old estate - huge with a massive selection of services and special weekend packages. Check out spafinder.com for more recommendations.

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Chicago, IL: We are planning a trip to East Africa in May - Kenya, Tanzania and Zanzibar (based off of one of your previous Budget Travel recommendations. Thank you!) While we understand the risks in general, in researching the trip, we noticed that the State Department has issued warnings for Kenya. Now we are a little apprehensive about spending time in Nairobi and on then Zanzibar. Should we be? What advice can you give us for traveling in these areas.

Budget Travel Editors: While there's a travel warning, we recommend you don't travel around on your own, but if you're booked as part of a tour, there's less risk because you'll have local guides.

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Kenosha, WI: My question is a basic one. What are the advantages and disadvantages of a package vs. putting the pieces together yourself?Are packages more cost effective or does it depend on the package? What factors should be considered to help decide whether to do a package or piece it together?

Budget Travel Editors: One of the big advantages of going with a package is that you don"t have to do all that much work or thinking. Some people love to spend hours on the Internet, scouting out hotels, train schedules, tours, and whatnot. Other folks, not so much, and understandably so-- who wants to do either when what you really want is a vacation? There are all kinds of different packages, however. Some come with a set list of components (airfare, hotel, tour, etc), but most packages give at least a limited amount of flexibility, letting you extend your trip, pick departure times and preferred airlines, and select a certain quality of hotel. A good travel company will have an agent hold your hand and help you make decisions that best fit your needs (it's more likely that an agent will try to talk you into buying travel insurance, upgrading your room, and purchasing other items that you may or may not want). And yes, in general, buying with a package is more cost effective than putting pieces together, but not always--our magazine has a regular column called Deal Breaker that points out when booking things separately costs less than the package. In today"s age, when most airlines and hotels guarantee that they have the absolute lowest prices for their product, packages allow them to sell off merchandise on the cheap without breaking their guarantee (because it"s impossible to break down what costs what with a package).
On the other hand, packages are certainly not right for everyone. As mentioned, they're not always the best value, so you're always got to do the math if you want to make sure you're getting the most for your money. But more important is the point that packages are not the best value if what you're getting is not what you want. Even the biggest travel operators don't offer every option possible, so by going with a packager you are limiting yourself. For most people, that's fine. They're content staying in one of the hotels that works with the packager, as long as they're getting somewhat of a deal and the headaches of reservations and searching possibilities disappears.
Unfortunately, there's no cut and dry answer to whether booking a package or reserving everything yourself is better. It depends on the package and the person booking. If there's a match and the price is right, great. More often things fall into a gray area. Here are some things to making the decision to go with the package (or not):

Hotel location: Those fantastic deals you see advertised in newspapers and on the Web almost always come with hotels off the beach or outside the city center.

Service fees: Most tour operators tag on fees, and they're often hidden in the fine print or they pop up just before booking. You need to tally up the grand total before figuring out whether the package is truly the better deal.

Flexibility: How much do you want? And how much does the tour operator offer?

Overall experience: Travel companies obviously cater to tourists, and their packages are put together to make the average tourist happy. That means that more often than not if you go with a package you'll be walking the tried but true tourist path--possibly that's perfect for you, but it's not as authentic as following the local leads. If you don't want to run into Carl from Tacoma at every stop of your trip, consider going off the playbook offered by packagers (and by the guidebooks).

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San Francisco, CA: I love going to New York City for a long weekend. If I do not have time to plan my trip a month or two in advance, how can I find great hotel deals in Manhattan?

Budget Travel Editors: Finding an affordable hotel room in New York City is difficult (but not impossible) considering the average cost of a hotel room is $250, and then you have to add a hotel tax of 13 percent on top of that! Fortunately, at Budget Travel we keep a running tab on hotels that have rates of $150/night or under, and that have personality to boot--no vanilla box chain properties! Not surprisingly, many of these spots are not listed with the big booking engines like Hotels.com. Here's a list of current BT favorites:
East Village: Second Home on Second Avenue (secondhome.citysearch.com) $105/night
Chelsea: Chelsea Lodge (chelsealodge.com/) From $95/night
Midtown: Ameritania (nychotels.com/) From $125/night
Midtown: Hotel QT (hotelqt.com/) From $125/night
Upper West Side: Country Inn the City (countryinnthecity.com/) $150/night

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Columbia, MO: My in-laws want to plan a group family vacation for this summer to 'someplace tropical', i.e. the Carribean, Mexico, etc. There will be about 20-25 of us with about half kids and half adults. We don't need anything too fancy, just fun and not too expensive. All-inclusive would be nice but not a necessity. Any suggestions?

Budget Travel Editors: It's never easy planning a trip for large groups, so it's best to stick to an all-inclusive resort where you and your family can essentially pay one price and feel well taken care of for the duration of your vacation. And the all-inclusive resorts on Mexico's Riviera Maya--it's just south of Cancun on the Yucatan Peninsula--should have everything your looking for: swim up bars, tons of activities, white sand, warm water, and best of all, great value. Five resorts to consider: Gala Beach Resort Playacar (877/888-4252, galaresorts.com.mx); Hotel Riu Playacar (888/666-8816, riu.com); Iberostar Paraiso Del Mar (888/923-2722, iberostar.com); Sunscape Tulum (866/786-7227, sunscaperesorts.com); and Barcelo Maya (800/227-2356, barcelo.com). And keep your eye out for our April feature story on Riviera Maya's all-inclusive resorts.

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Chicago, IL: I'd love to go to Portugal this fall. I'm considering an escorted tour (great price & value) vs. splitting a week in Lisbon-Algarve. Where can I find a budget fare for the air portion of my trip?

Budget Travel Editors: If you're looking for airfare now, you"'e going to end up paying a lot more than you should. No one at BT recommends booking flights this far out unless they're part of a package where the tour operator can negotiate a lower price on your behalf. A quick search of Sidestep (sidestep.com/) shows that, at the moment, the least expensive flights from Chicago to Lisbon in September cost $735. For comparison"s sake, Go-today.com (800/227-3235, go-today.com/) is currently offering a fly/drive package (includes air from Chicago and a seven-day Hertz car rental) starting at $759 in September. Our advice: If you"re going to book airfare alone, wait until at least July to start looking. If you can stand to wait even longer, you may find an even better deal as part of a last-minute sale.
For the land portion of your trip, try Abreu Tours, a Portugal specialist. For example, their "Portugal Fling" starts at $940 (land only, per person/double occupancy) in September. The package includes seven nights's first class hotel (four in Lisbon and three on the Algarve) and local sightseeing. It can be customized any way you like -- adding more cities, tours, a rental car, etc. -- for an additional cost.

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Temecula, CA: A girlfriend and I are planning a trip within a 6 hour drive of LA. We've done the "usual" drive up the coast and are sick of Vegas. Any great suggestions for some outdoor spots that won't be overrun with spring break tourists would be appreciated! We were thinking Sedona but are worried that it has become a bit commercialized. Help please!

Budget Travel Editors: About 130 miles due east of Los Angeles, Joshua Tree National Park is vast and varied--its northern half has lunar-looking rock formations and spindly Joshua trees, while the southern half boasts cacti patches and the open vistas of the Colorado Desert--and the best part is, it should only take you a little over two hours to get there (760/367-5500, nps.gov/jotr). Enter the park from its western entrance in the town of Joshua Tree, by far the most scenic part of the park (stop in the Crossroads Café for a picnic lunch to go, crossroadscafeandtavern.com, 760/366-5414). At the park entrance, you'll pay $10 good for seven days of unrestricted access. Once inside explore at your leisure, but don"t miss the rock climbers at Hidden Valley, the panoramic photo-op at Keys View, and a picnic stop at the benches in Jumbo Rocks. Heading south, you'll want to see the cholla cactus garden (look but don"t touch!) and the ocotillo patch on Pinto Basin road. For dinner, exit the park at Twentynine Palms and head to the Twentynine Palms Inn (760/367-3505, 29palmsinn.com) A favorite among locals for both its art and its food, you"ll find a great meal at a great price.

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Brantford, Ontario, Canada: I am looking for a last-minute deal, I want to get away for at least a few days and not spend a fortune, any suggestions? I am having no luck finding a website that will tell me where I can go from an airport without knowing the destination airport, scrolling through the list and trying each airport is frustrating. Are there any web sites that suggest where you could fly by giving only the originating airport?

Budget Travel Editors: Site59.com has last-minute deals where you can plug in the originating airport

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Laguna Beach, CA: We need to visit our son at the University of Hawaii in Honolulu. Been there, done that... want good price but decent accomodations. Nothing fancy, no view required, condo preferred. Travel dates: can leave anytime after 6:00 pm Wed. 5/18/05 and need to return sometime on 5/23/05. Want to fly in and out of SNA or LAX. Thank you!!!

Budget Travel Editors: Pleasant Holidays travel agency flies from L.A. They have the best deals.

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Fairbanks, AK: I am single, female, 48, and would like to take a vacation. Everyone I know is either busy or broke when I can afford one or vice versa. I am somewhat of an old hippie, friendly but not "social bee", never get dressed up (hate it, like jeans, shorts, t-shirts, sundresses). I want to take a vacation where it will be easy to meet folks to do things with (i.e. a tour group), but don't want to end up with a stuffy cruise or tour that expects me to wear an evening gown to dinner - any suggestions?

Budget Travel Editors: We'd suggest Adventure Center, G.A.P Adventures, or Intrepid Travel. All of these companies avoid the 'single supplement' by pairing you with a same-sex traveler. All of these are very adventurous companies, so there's no way you'll end up in a ballgown!

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Columbus, OH: I am looking to fly to Ft. Myers, FL at the end of April from Columbus, Ohio. Prices are decent right now and I need a direct flight so looking at Delta. They are at $229.40 roundtrip right now. Do you think that is best I can do or if I wait a little longer, with flying to Florida in the summer, prices may come down some? I am also concerned about the forecasted "higher gas prices for this summer." Does that mean most likely the prices will go up instead of down? I am looking for someone to tell me to pull the trigger now or can do better if I wait. Thank you in advance for your response.

Budget Travel Editors: $229 is not a bad price for round-trip airfare from Columbus to Ft. Myers, in fact it's a little better than average, according to our quick bit of research. Although we"re coming out of Florida's high season and as things really heat up in the Sunshine State--i.e. all-around prices will come down, I don't expect them to drop so much that you'll lose a great deal of money. Of course, there's always the chance a terrific sale will crop up, but waiting for one is a risk. I say buy the $229 ticket.
As for the rising cost of gas (and it was reported yesterday that prices will rise to a record $60/barrel), it has and most certainly will continue to affect travel and the airline biz. Even though the major airlines recently raised fares by up to $20 round-trip, experts think that the increase won't begin to cover the added costs in fuel prices. Some airlines have already cut back on routes, and the ones in Chapter 11 are really hurting with the rising fuel costs (they might best be avoided). Airlines, like Southwest, which hedged the cost of fuel will most likely come out on top, and set the pricing. If road trips are in your plans, look into spending your vacation closer to home. There's probably a lot in your backyard that you've never discovered!

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Indianapolis, IN: My wife and I will be taking our second trip to Europe this fall. We are flying to Barcelona and 12 days later, flying home from Milan. Can you give us some direction of what to see, how long to stay in each city and the best way to travel from Spain to Italy? (plane or train?) We are considering 3 nights in Barcelona, 3 nights in Florence, 1 or 2 nights in Venice, possibly the Lake Como area and then to Milan. Thank you for any advice.

Budget Travel Editors: Fall is a great time to visit Europe! In reading your post, my first recommendation would be to slow down and savor a few places rather than try to see everything. Besides, this approach is much more in keeping with the more relaxed European approach to vacations (when in Rome&.), and it allows you to not only experience and learn more about where you're visiting, but you'll end your vacation feeling more relaxed, instead of feeling like you survived a whirlwind tour. Quality not quantity!
As for how to get from Spain to Italy, I would recommend renting a car or looking into a short-term car lease (The latter is quite possibly the more affordable way to go, and spending a few nights in the south of France in between. Usually leases require a two-week minimum, so you're in the range.) Be sure to rent BEFORE you depart, otherwise you'll pay an arm and a leg. AutoEurope.com is an excellent choice of agencies. A car will enable you to explore out of the way villages and the beautiful countryside in a way that the train can't. If you don't care about France, then by all means, fly from Barcelona to Milan (check out Iberia, Alitalia, Easy Jet, Ryan Air).
That said, Barcelona is a terrific place to begin your European adventure. Aside from just getting lost in the enchanting Gothic Quarter of the city, Barcelona these days is all about innovation in art and food. It celebrates its design heritage like no place else--Picasso, Gaudi, Dali, Miro&.seeing the artists-- museums and buildings is a must. Eat at Comerc 24 and Ot, and have tapas at Cal Pep and Ciudad Condal, have a hot chocolate at Dulcinea. Check out the happening Born district, go to La Paloma dance hall, stroll the Ramblas. If you do rent a car, here are some ideas: drive up the stunning Costa Brava coast, stop in Figueras to go to the Dali Museum, head to Provence through the marshy Camarge, spend a night or two in St. Remy in the heart of Provence at L'Hotel Sous Les Figiers--use Under the Fig Trees, check out Arles, skip Avignon and Aix (save them for when you have time), for fun drive the Riviera, stop and gamble at a Monaco casino, go through beautiful Piedmont, Italy (home of truffles and the finest Italian wines) to either A) The Lake District or B) Venice. Florence, which is in the middle of Italy, is also best left for another trip --It'd take you 12 days minimum to take in all the art and history there. Keep the latter part of your trip in the north of Italy, and don't stay a lot more than two nights/three days in Venice. It's over-run with tourists these days and very commercialized. While it's still a European "must-see", nearby Verona or a river cruise to see the great Palladian villas (master architectural works) is sure to be just as satisfying. Buon viaggio!

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Alameda, CA: My husband and I will be flying from Budapest into Dubrovnik, Croatia. We plan to spend a week ferrying up the coast to ultimately leave back home (SFO) from Zagreb. We know it's not a lot of time so wanted to know if you had any itinerary suggestions. My idea was to enjoy some water and sun since we will have been in Eastern Europe the week prior. Thanks.

Budget Travel Editors: You can go north from Dubrovnik and take a ferry to the island of Hvar. Then skip further north to Split, a city on the Adriatic. Even further north, in Istria, near the Italian border are Rovinj. Websites: visitsplit.com, hvar.hr and istra.com

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Tega Cay, SC: When is the right time to start planning a trip during the Christmas and New Year's holidays?

Budget Travel Editors: Now. No, really. You're not the only one out there who wants to visit Uncle Donald and Aunt Diane on Christmas, so your best bet is to make your plans as soon as possible and to be flexible. The lowest prices will be on flights very early or late in the day, and morning routes are best for avoiding delays. Plus flying on Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New Year"s Day usually costs far less then on busy days before or after the holidays themselves. As for connections, if at all possible, avoid them altogether especially in northern hubs where weather could be a problem. If you must connect, however, try to book your flight through a southern city like Dallas, Phoenix, or Charlotte--you'll lower your chances of getting held up by a storm.

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Budget Travel Editors: That's all the time we have today. Join us next week as we answer more of your travel questions!

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