Trip Coach: August 30, 2005

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Budget Travel Editors: Thanks for joining us. We'll be answering your questions this afternoon. Let's get started...

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Walled Lake, MI: Two couples plan on purchasing a "fly/
drive/B&B" package for trip to Ireland in Sept. 2006. Would we typically get a better price by purchasing soon or by waiting until it is closer? Also, I've read that we can book each night as we go...is this risky or would it be better to prebook nights before we leave? Thanks!

Budget Travel Editors: Wait until spring to start *looking* for September 2006 packages. Right now, you're not going to find pricing online for departure dates past April 2006 as most operators won't have negotiated their airline contracts for flights so far in the future. Who knows what will happen with fuel surcharges, security fees, even the airlines themselves in the meantime? Early next year, I'd suggest signing up for the email newsletters of the major players -- Brian Moore International Travel, Dooley Vacations, Go-today.com, etc -- to be sure you know about any early-bird booking specials. For the companies that don't send out blast emails -- Ireland.com, Celtic Tours -- bookmark their homepages and check them periodically for updates. And, of course, bookmark The Real Deals on our website for the latest on upcoming deals.

Most companies will automatically prebook your first night somewhere near the airport. Depending on your flights, you may want to forgo that service (you will have to remember to ask). If your flight lands at Shannon at 9 am, there's no reason to spend the night at a nearby airport hotel when you really want to get out on the road to one of the B&Bs. Unless you're adding a night at a castle (which I would reserve ahead to avoid any disappointments), book as you go along. Your host will call ahead to wherever you want to stay next and secure your room; you're not traveling in high season so there will be plenty of B&Bs to choose from. Prebooking all or most of your nights takes all the fun out of these kinds of fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants packages!

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Meriden Conn.: We are planning a trip to Alaska next year. What do feel would be the best months to avoid the mosquito population, excluding winter of course Thank You

Budget Travel Editors: The bugs are an especially hardy bunch in Alaska (some say, with only a little exaggeration, that they're the size of small birds), and they come out in full force starting in June and hit their peak some time in July. September is probably when you want to go, even though the chances of getting hot and sunny days are not as good as in July. You're probably safe in late August as well. By October, you can expect snow in some spots. The alternative is to go in May, but it tends to be pretty wet in May -- soggy trails and plenty of rain. You might want to check out our special story coming out in the October issue on finding the best mix of great weather and no crowds (or bugs) at national parks around the country. By mid-August, the weather is great, and the bugs have mostly disappeared, in Alaska, as well as parks such as North Cascades in Washington and Acadia in Maine.

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Boston, MA: I am planning a trip to Florence the end of March. I have heard that there is a convent that has rooms for rent. Do you know about it or where I could get information?

Budget Travel Editors: Sure, you can actually take your pick from a few options in and around Florence. The mostly centrally located is the Instituto Oblate dell'Assunzione, a former private villa with an interior garden, just minutes from the Duomo and the train station. Single, double and triple rooms are available at the per person rate of $46. (Via Borgo Pinti 15, 39-055-2480582). The Casa Santa Nome di Gesu, a 15th century Franciscan convent with a library and chapel, lies near the church of Santa Maria del Carmine on the other side of the Arno River, opposite most major attractions. $73 for single rooms with private bath; $98 for doubles with private bath. (Piazza del Carmine 21; 39-055-213856, email: ffm.firenze@tin.it, fmmfirenze.it). Also across the Arno, the Instituto Suore di Sant'Elizabetta is set in the hills overlooking Florence. It's just below Piazzale Michelangelo--known for its stunning views, reproduction of Michelangelo's David and canoodling couples. $46 for a single; $90 for a double. (Viale Michelangelo 46, 39-055-6811884, email: mabigus@tin.it). If a central location isn't the top priority, consider the 15th century Villa I Cancelli, home to the Ursuline sisters and found in the hills of Careggi, on the northern edge of Florence (about a half-hour bus ride from the train station). The three-building complex encompasses a frescoed church and sprawling, beautifully maintained grounds. (Via Incontri 21, 39-055-4226001, email: villa.i.cancelli@virgilio.it). $50 for a single with private bath; $98 euros for a double with bath; $134 for a triple with bath. Breakfast included.

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Denver, CO: My husband and I are going to Argentina from mid-September to the first if October. We will be in Buenos Aires for four days, then on to Iguazu Falls for 3 days. We have a week in Mar del Plata scheduled through our timeshare, but wonder if there aren't any other places we should visit that are easy to get to by car, bur or train. What do you suggest? Alternatively, what do you recommend we do in Mar del Plata. It won't be warm enough for lounging on the beach.

Budget Travel Editors: While Mar del Plata is more than just a beach town--home to an aquarium, five golf courses, a handful of museums, and an ecological reserve--I'd lean in favor of spending an extra day or two making side trips from Buenos Aires. You could catch the historic Tren de la Costa for a leisurely and scenic hour-long ride to Tigre. If you purchase a 'Boleto Turístico', you can get on and off the train to explore the posh towns along the route. Tigre has a local fruit market and is also the departure point for small boats that make trips along the Delta del Paraná's caffe latte-colored canals, passing brightly painted houses supported on stilts. Or, you could head inland and explore the towns of Lujan and La Plata in the Pampas region, dotted by cattle ranches (estancias) and romanticized in gaucho folklore. 45-minutes by ferry, Colonia, Uruguay is another popular alternative; you'll need to pack your passport, but no visa is required for American citizens.

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Fairburn, GA: Any recommendations for "Things to Do" in Santa Fe?

Budget Travel Editors: Yes, download our Santa Fe Snap Guide. It's packed with recommendations: where to stay, eat, see, and play.

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Fort Lauderdale, FL: What is your advice for those of us who have travel to New Orleans planned for mid- September? In visiting our airline's (Southwest) web site, they seem to be offering to "rebook" dates, but we are limited to that one week because of work vacation schedules. Will the airlines routinely allow total refunds in these circumstances?

Budget Travel Editors: There are no blanket travel cancellation policies. They can vary from airline to airline, and change at any time. However, most airlines usually do try to accomodate apassengers. In the past, many airlines have allowed passengers to change their tickets within a specific time frame in the case of a terrorism attack with "Peace of Mind" policies that allow passengers to rebook tickets free of charge, or receive credit for a future trip. It's good business, and once one major airline allows changes, many follow suit.

You can read more in our guide to changing travel plans: 10 Tips to Cancellation, Change, and Refund Policies

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Chicago, IL: I am in the process of planning a trip for my best friend (27), my Mother (52), her best friend (52) and myself (27) to London and Paris. We are going to be departing Nov. 2, 2005 and returning Nov. 18th. The first week we will spend in London, the second in Paris. I have lots of travel questions! For starters, is it easier to take the Chunnel or fly from London to Paris? I have been to London (the only one of the group who has) so I am somewhat familiar with the city. But Paris is intimidating! I took French for a couple of years in high school and college but I am definitely not fluent in the language. We are trying to book a hotel in Paris for under $100 (USD) a night. We are looking for a barebones room in a decent neighborhood that is close to a Metro stop.

Because I don't know anyone who has been to Paris, we have no idea what we should be going to see and what we can skip. When I was in London I took the advice of guidebooks and I felt there were many things that I saw that I could have easily skipped. Since we will only be in Paris for a week, I don't want to waste any time! What are the MUST SEES in Paris? Are there fun day trips that we should take? How do you even begin to find trips like that?

This trip is a big deal for us for many reasons. My best friend and I have never been on a "girls trip" before and we have been planning this for ages. My mother recently ended her 30 year marriage to my abusive father and she is looking for a really fun get-away. I want to make this vacation really special for her because of that.

If any of my questions get answered, I would be ecstatic! Thank you!

Budget Travel Editors: Paris can be an overwhelming city, so we've pared it down into eight easy pages. Download our Paris Snap Guide. It's full of recommendations for hotels, restaurants, and attractions.
It is definitely helpful, but is not essential, to speak French. You should be fine if you know a few key phrases and have the right attitude.
It's very easy to take the Chunnel from London to Paris--it's only a 20-minute ride. Get fares and schedules, and buy tickets online at Raileurope.com. Good luck, and have a great trip!

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