Trip Coach: Family Camps

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Budget Travel Editorial Assistant David LaHuta answered your travel questions on Tuesday, March 15 at noon ET

Need help choosing a family camp?

Budget Travel Editorial Assistant David LaHuta answered your questions Tuesday, March 15, at 12pm EST.

David LaHuta is Editorial Assistant at Budget Travel magazine. He grew up in New York City and visited nearly 40 U.S. states by the time he was eleven. While studying at the College of Journalism at the University of Maryland, David lived in Bayswater, London and backpacked across Europe on $34 a day. After getting his degree, he moved to St. Croix, U.S.V.I., then to Lund, Sweden where he worked on freelance projects traveling through Scandinavia, Russia, and Eastern Europe. After a long cold Swedish winter, David returned to the sunny Caribbean where he worked as the government and politics reporter for the St. Croix Avis. His work has appeared in Newsweek, MSN.com, and The Staten Island Advance, among other publications, and has been a part of the BT team since October 2003.
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David LaHuta: Hello everyone and thanks for joining me! I'm ready to answer your questions so fire away.

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Merrill, WI: I am looking for a week long spiritual (not religious) retreat where I can learn more about meditation, yoga, inner-self, energy, etc. In USA preferably, in July. Thanks

David LaHuta: The Western Unitarian Universalist Life Festival, in Ghost Ranch, New Mexico should be right up your alley. The camp is Presbyterian-owned, but focuses on spirituality, personal wellness, and "earth-centered awareness." Located 6,500 feet above sea level in high desert, the camp offers yoga, workshops on building your own theology, shamanism, drumming and chanting, and off-site trips to hot springs. This year the camp meets June 6-June 12, and a room with three meals daily costs $1,090 not including a $475 registration fee (register before April 3 and you'll receive a $25 discount). 303/832-1106, wuulf.org.

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Lindenhurst, NY: Are there any good camps for families that really enjoy reggae music? Or maybe just some sort of a band camp? I've heard of someplace called the Regal Begal that's supposed to be phenomenal but I can't find any info on it. Thanks for your help. Ja Rasta!

David LaHuta: I'm not sure about the Regal Begal-wasn't that a bar on the television show Three's Company?-but there are a number of family camps that specialize in music and the performing arts. One not to be missed is Cazadero Performing Arts Camp in Sonoma, California (510/527-7500, cazadero.org). Tucked under the tall redwoods of the Russian River Valley, the camp offers salsa dancing, African drumming, jazz ensemble, chamber music, circus arts, and drama. Just north in Mendocino, Lark Camp-it's the sister camp to the Camp David-has celtic fluting, Middle Eastern drumming, Zimbabwean marimba, jazz singing, and accordion (707/964-4826, larkcamp.com). With all that great music, you shouldn't have to search too hard for those reggae rasta rhythms you're looking for.

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Chicago, IL: We have six kids. Which camps are best for large families? Do they have private cabins to accommodate families of eight?

David LaHuta: Fortunately most family camps have cabins big enough for at least eight people, the majority of which utilize bunk beds or cots in wooden cabins to accommodate the masses. Near Chicago, check out YMCA Camp Pendalouan in Montague, Michigan (231/894-4534, pendalouan.org). Its cabins sleep 12-14 people on bunk beds and include electricity and a shared bathhouse. Also in Michigan, YMCA Storer Camps in Jackson has wooden cabins with electricity each with six double bunk beds (800/536-8607, ymcastorercamps.org). Camp Nebagamon on Lake Nebagamon, Wisconsin has cabins that sleep up to 16 on cots or bunks with electricity and a shared bathhouse (763/476-7676, campnebagamon.com) and also in Wisconsin, Camp North Star in Hayward offers log cabins that sleep 12 on bunk beds with electricity and shared bathhouse (715/462-3254, northstarcamp.com). Have fun!

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Sacramento, CA: Where can I travel to for spring break and not have to pay a single supplement? Every package I have seen (Hawaii, London) seems to have one.I like traveling on my own!

David LaHuta: First, ask yourself what's most important: traveling with all singles or getting a good deal. Single travel specialists like All Singles Travel (800/717-3231, allsinglestravel.com), O Solo Mio (800/959-8568, osolomio.com), and Singles Travel International (877/765-6874) are great resources for meeting and traveling with other singles, but tend to be pricey. O Solo Mio, for example, runs a nine-night pub crawl in Ireland for $2,029 without airfare; even after factoring in a single supplement, you could do a lot better than that through many other operators. You might want to look into companies such as Intrepid Travel (866/847-8192, intrepidtravel.com), Adventure Center (800/228-8747, adventurecenter.com), and G.A.P. Adventures (800/465-5600, gapadventures.com), which cater to adventurous travelers who like their independence but want the safety and camaraderie of a group. All of these operators attract a fair number of solo travelers, and they'll pair you up with a same-sex roommate so that you avoid any supplement.

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Rincon, Puerto Rico: Is solo travel to Turkey safe at this time?

David LaHuta: Turkey is as safe as the rest of Europe, but like the rest of Europe, there are ways to protect yourself, especially if you're traveling alone. Statistically speaking, the chances of you dying from a terrorist attack in Turkey is about 1 in 9 million-in my humble opinion, certainly a risk worth taking considering you have a better chance of dying in a bicycle accident. As a single traveler, what you should be concerned with however is guarding against street crime. Simple strategies like wearing dark colors and keeping your daypack close to you (instead of letting it flop around your shoulder) are easy ways to avoid being a target. Put the bulk of your cash and your passport in a moneybelt hidden under your pants and (like you would in any big city) always be aware of your surroundings. For more advice on visiting Turkey, check out Tom Brosnahan's Turkey Travel Planner at turkeytravelplanner.com.

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New York, NY: Although I've flown all over the world, I've experienced increased anxiety in the past few years over taking vacations involving air travel. Do you have any tips on how to address this?

David LaHuta: According to the Department of Transportation, airline travel is 29 times safer than driving an automobile. You have a better chance of getting into an accident driving to the airport than you do in the air. Unfortunately statistics won't help quell your fears at 35,000 feet. Self-help techniques such as breathing exercises and meditation are always positive ways to overcome phobias and some major airlines even run fear-of-flying workshops where crew members talk you through the mechanics of flying. I've always found that a mid-flight cocktail always helps to calm one's nerves (make sure to drink lots of water to avoid dehydration), but above all it's important to surround yourself with things that make you relaxed-your favorite CD, a great book, or a cozy sweater that helps you go to sleep.

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Titus, AL: My husband and I travel a good bit and have always wanted to go to Eqypt. It seems like everytime we start talking about going something happens over there and we get scared. What do you recommend as being the safest way to see this wonderful country?

David LaHuta: We've had great feedback from readers who've traveled with New York-based Misr Travel. A $999 package includes Sunday departures from New York on Egyptair (you'd have to make your own way to NYC), transfers, five nights at the deluxe Sheraton Royal Gardens Hotel in Giza, breakfast daily, and two half-day guided tours of the Pyramids and Sphinx, the Egyptian Museum, and the Khan el-Khalili Bazaar. The $999 price is valid March 20 to May 29; it's $1,299 June 5 to July 31. Possible add-ons include three nights on the Red Sea in the resort area of Sharm al-Sheik for $349 (includes flights, transfers, hotel, breakfast daily), or a three-night Nile cruise from Aswan to Luxor for $499 (includes flights, transfers, meals, and shore excursions). Contact Misr Travel, 800/223-4978, misrtravel.org.

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La Mesa, CA: We're planning a first-time visit to Paris for a month in September and wonder how to find an apartment, in what neighborhood we should stay, and approx. how much we should expect to pay

David LaHuta: An extended stay is a great way to experience a city you've never been to before. Not only does it allow you to see much of what the city has to offer, but at least for a short while, you can live, eat, and explore like a local. One company that specializes in long-term apartment rentals in Paris is Perfectly Paris, a collection of independent apartment owners who rent flats in Montmartre and it's surrounding area (perfectlyparis.com). All of its apartments are located in areas of the city where you'll have your own butcher, cheese shop, and bakery, and prices start around $1,000 for one week in a one-bedroom. In the meantime, go to your nearest video store and rent the 2001 film, Amelie, for a look at the Montmartre neighborhood you could be living in.

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Washington, DC: Based on past history, do you think airfare to Aruba from the DC area will come down for late summer travel?

David LaHuta: Most likely, yes, airfare will come down. The general rule is that, as temperatures rise in the mainland, prices drop to places thought of as hot beach getaways, such as Aruba. (The reverse is true in winter: as temps drop on the mainland, prices for airfare and hotels rise in the Caribbean and elsewhere.) Right now it's just too early for the airlines to announce deals, however. You'll have better luck if you start looking for flights in May or June. Find out which airlines fly the most convenient times, and out of the most convenient airport, for you, and then sign up for the carrier(s) free email notices, which will tell you about deals. Have your dates in mind and be able to pull the trigger when a sale pops up. The best deals are often last for a few days, and there are usually not that many seats available, so you need to be ready and pounce on it.

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San Diego, CA: I'm going to Denmark in July but I am having trouble finding a cheap to reasonable priced ticket. Do you know of any discount airlines that fly to Europe? Or have any hints or advice for me to try?

David LaHuta: Unfortunately, you're not going to find anything that really qualifies as a "deal" going to Copenhagen in the peak of summer season. During Scandinavia's brief summer, the place is covered with tourists, most of whom seem willing to pay top dollar. Airfare from the East Coast usually tops $1,000 (and therefore costs at least $1200 from the West Coast). If you really want to save money, look into finding the cheapest fare to anywhere in Europe-the big hubs of London and Paris are often the cheapest options-and then book a separate flight on one of Europe's many low-fare carriers (find them at a site such as whichbudget.com). Another alternate is a German airline called LTU (ltu.com), which flies from LAX to Dusseldorf starting at $878 in peak summer. From there, it shouldn't be that difficult to get to Denmark.

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Seattle, WA: We'd like to have our next family reunion at a family camp. We're open to pretty much any location on the West Coast (California?). There will be about 20 of us, and we're all fairly active and adventurous. We have several toddlers and pre-teens in our family, so appropriate accomodations will be important. Suggestions?

David LaHuta: Due to its sheer size, California is host to lots of family camp options both in the northern and southern parts of the state. Considering you're in Seattle, lets look north. Bordering Mendocino National Forest, Emandal camp in Willits is a working farm so the younger kids should really love it. Milk a cow, gather eggs, harvest vegetables, and take classes on making bread. It offers wooden cabins with queen-sized beds (great for adults) plus bunks for the kids. Each cabin has cold running springwater and a shared bathhouse (707/459-5439, emendal.com). Montecito Sequoia Family Vacation Camp is another winner. High above the Sequoia National Forest the camp is a cross between a country inn and a summer camp. It's got 36 hotel-style lodge rooms and 13 cabins with king-size beds and bunks (800/227-9900, mslodge.com). For other camps in California, and all of our 50 All-Star family camps, see our March article at http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/6853090/

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Orange County, CA: I'm considering a Go-Today package to London. I've solo traveled a bit domestically, but I've never been to Europe. How safe are the hotels and areas Go-Today offers? Any tips or opinions? BTW, I'm a mid-30's female. Thanks!

David LaHuta: Hi there. First off, we at Budget Travel love Go-Today. Not just for its great prices, but also for its thorough professionalism. This includes site inspections. The Go-Today team personally inspects all of its properties. And while it's true that some of its lead package prices (air-hotel) include properties that are on the outskirts of town, near train stations, etc., they're solid budget hotels-they may not be stylish but they're clean and safe. If you'd feel more comfortable at a hotel located in the city center, then inquire about upgrades. Also, you might be able to find an airfare special to London (especially if you live on the East Coast), which you could pair with an affordable stay at a Thistle Hotel property-the hotel group has some of the best rates in the city. Be sure to also check in with VisitLondon.com. Its accommodations section has a best rate guarantee. Plus, there's loads of useful information about goings-on around the city.

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Diamond Bar, CA: What would be the best approach to plan a destination wedding in New Zealand in their summer months at mid-range costs?

David LaHuta: That certainly is a unique idea. New Zealand's not thought of as a wedding destination, really, though it certainly could make for a great setting. Consult the New Zealand tourism website, newzealand.com, and make use of its 24-hour toll-free number, 866/639-9325

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Topeka, KS: I see lots of speccial airfare deals to London, Paris and Rome, but few to Germany. What is your advice to find the best airfare to Germany for June 2-3, 2005 or any other time?

David LaHuta: Actually, Germany's national carrier Lufthansa does throw sales with some regularity, and I'd advise getting on their email list for promos and sales. The price of round-trip airfare from the US-Germany varies depending on where you're flying from in the US, where you're flying to in Germany, days of the week and time of the year. With summer approaching, you can count on airfares across Europe to go up. To cite an example (since I don't know your gateways), the cheapest round-trip ticket from NYC to Munich departing on June 2 and returning June 12 is $600 on Lufthansa (to Dusseldorf) and a domestic partner to Munich. The next cheapest is Northwest's $860 fare. Airfares from other US cities will most likely be higher. Like I said, June flights can be pricey. It may behoove you to look into an air-hotel package, which these days offers the better value to budget-oriented travelers.

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Walker, IA: My daughter will graduate from high school in 2009. For her gift I told her I would take her to Ireland. We are not wealthy people. Are there pre-pay plans, or save money for scheduling early plans?

David LaHuta: Not to worry-Ireland is more than doable on the cheap. Although Ireland's tech boom has raised the standard of living there, the country has not forgotten its potato famine roots; the Ireland tourism biz, perhaps more than those in most other countries in Europe, is cost-conscious.
That said, it's way too early to book your trip. My recommendation would be to spend the next few years really researching where you want to go, and how to make it happen on a budget. Get inspired. Buy guidebooks. Search the Internet. Read Ulysses. Ireland has a vast network of B&Bs (you can buy a voucher for x number of nights, plan your itinerary, and hop from house to house along the way). AerLingus, Ireland's national carrier, can also be depended on for decent airfares from the US, especially from the East Coast. (Sign-up for its email sales newsletter.) A few terrific sources for Ireland vacations are: Ireland.com, Brian Moore Tours, and CIE Tours. Right now, it's often cheaper to book your airfare and your hotel together in one package (the companies I just mentioned can do that for you), but I can't make any promises for 2009.

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San Diego, CA: I'm looking for the lowest fare from San Diego, CA to Fairbanks, Alaska. In your experience, what's the best web site for low fares?

David LaHuta: One of our favorite travel tools is a comparative search engine called SideStep.com. I recommend using this to price San Diego-Fairbanks airfares for your selected travel dates. We did a sample search for May 11-15 and got a best price of $565 from Alaska Airlines. (And Alaska Airlines will probably be your surest bet for that route.)

Normally, SideStep works in a web browser but if you have a PC and can download the application, do it-the downloaded version has a few more features, like churning along side sites like Orbitz or Expedia to let you know if the deal they're showing you is really the best.

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Georgetown, IN: Could you suggest an interesting day trip by train from Munich besides Rothenburg or Nuremburg? Also, we want to go to Russia - St. Petersburg and Moscow (not a cruise). Could you tell me a couple of reputable tour companies with moderate prices and centrally located hotels? Thank you for your help.

David LaHuta: For the best two-city package, I'd recommend looking into NYC-based Eastern Tours' (http://www.traveltorussia.com/; 800/339-6967 or 212/683-8930) Land of the Tzars vacation. The people who run this boutique tour company are Russian, and experts in visiting their home country. Peruse its website to see what specials and packages they have on offer. One caveat if you book with Eastern-since it's a small company and the line is often busy, but don't despair-keep trying. Eventually you'll get a human being on the phone. Or, submit your request by email at travelnow@traveltorussian.com. Most likely, your best bet for airfares from NYC are: Aeroflot, KLM-Northwest, or Finnair. (The latter stops in Helsinki en route.)
One final note about traveling to Russia: The Russian government now requires that all visas be stamped directly in passports. A one-month tourist visa issued directly from the Russian consulate is $100. In order to qualify, however, travelers need to submit a ""isa Support Letter""($50), and this is where things can get complicated. Eastern Tours can handle all this paperwork for you, and will get it done faster than if you did it yourself.

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Columbia, SC: My fiancee will be returning home from Iraq around November. We have talked about having a private wedding ceremony by the beach the week before Christmas. I am not sure what the best values will be for that time of the year. Also, we will be traveling with his 9 yr old. Do you know of any places that can accomodate our situation at a great price? Thank you in advance!

David LaHuta: First off, I'd recommend checking out our article "Long Distance Romance" on how to plan a destination wedding: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/4325983/

Off the cuff, I'd say that your best bet for an affordable beach-side ceremony is either the Bahamas or Mexico. There are rules and regulations for both, but they're not onerous (minimal "residency" requirements and simple blood tests). If you plan on inviting a crowd (more than 10 people), be sure to inquire about freebies for the bride and groom. Oftentimes, hotels and resorts will provide accommodations for the bride and groom if they pay for the ceremony and can guarantee a certain number of guests. (Group discounts can also apply to airfares too.) Since the week BEFORE Christmas, is typically slow, then you're likely to find some great rates. Since I'm not exactly sure what kind of ceremony you want, I hesitate to steer you to specific spots, but I will tell you that most of the major beach resorts in Mexico and the Bahamas have tidy wedding packages that include an officiant, cake, champagne, flowers, and sometimes much more. If you plan right, a destination wedding-no matter what time of year-can save you a great deal of money.

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New York, NY: David - What are you thoughts on the old eastern block countries like Croatia, Latvia, and Estonia. They used to be great travel bargains. Is that still the case?

David LaHuta: I love Eastern Europe. Unfortunately however, countries like Estonia, Lativia, and Lithuania have been following the western trend of higher prices and increased crowds. Still, the east is charming with its historic Old Towns and rousing nightlife. For a spotlight on six exciting eastern European capitals, check out Budget Travel's article on "the next Prague" in our upcoming May issue.

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Raleigh, NC: Do you know of anywhere where kids can write travel articles?

David LaHuta: Not to sure about that one, but a good place start would be our True Stories section! If you do already know, it's where we showcase our readers funny, heartwarming, or just plain strange tales about their own trips. And the winner gets a fabulous prize (usually a trip for two somewhere around the world). You can enter at truestories@BudgetTravelOnline.com or by mailing your submission to

Budget Travel
True Stories
530 Seventh Avenue, 2nd Floor
New York , NY 10018

Good luck!

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David LaHuta: Well that's about all the time we have for today. Thanks so much for writing in and remember, a ship in the harbor is safe, but that's not what ships were made for. Happy traveling!

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