Trip Coach: January 30, 2007

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Budget Travel editors answered your questions about travel.

Budget Travel editors: Welcome to this week's Trip Coach. Let's get to your questions!

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Westerville, OH: Our ten year wedding anniversary is coming up in August and I want to take my wife to France. We want to see Paris and maybe Provence and the French Riviera, however my wife is a vegan and I am not. Can you suggest a neighborhood to stay in and tell us where there are both good vegan and down to earth French restaurants that cook the traditional French meals, or a neighborhood that makes it easy to visit these restaurants?

Budget Travel editors: There is no one area for vegetarian restaurants in Paris; vegie-friendly establishments are scattered in throughout the city's different arrondissements (districts). The good news is that Paris is an intimate, easily walkable city, so nearly every spot is accessible to a centrally located hotel. Check out Budget Travel's Paris Snap Guide for a list of recommended hotels -- and a neighborhood by neighborhood guide to the city.

You'll find a lot of helpful information on travel websites and blogs that have forums for traveling vegans and vegetarians. One that is particularly helpful: http://iwanttogotoparis.blogspot.com/2007/01/being-vegetarian-in-paris.html. Another site with an updated list of vegetarian restaurants in Paris is:

http://www.happycow.net/europe/france/paris/index.html. If you're worried about any communication barriers, you can pick up the Vegan Passport, a compilation phrases, translated into dozens of languages, to explain the concept of "vegan" to unfamiliar restaurant staff (vegansociety.com, about $6).

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Oak Park, MI: We are trying to plan a trip to Hawaii sometime in July for about 8-9 days. We would like to stay on or close to the beach at a nice hotel for two couples. I don't want to spend a fortune but the other couple wants a 4-star hotel. Can we do find a nice hotel for 100 night? Or should we get a tour company to plan the hotel and tours or is it just as easy to plan ourself. We want to go to a couple other islands, maybe staying three nights at each. Is that too much or a hassle to do?

Budget Travel editors: You could happily visit two islands in eight or nine days, but try for more than that and you're likely to wind up exhausted and frustrated. Each island has its own appeal and plenty to keep you busy. Our preference would be for pairing either Maui and Kauai or Maui and Oahu. On Maui, for example, the lovely, low-key area of Napili is a convenient jumping-off point for exploring the island and its low-rise condos are perfect for larger groups. Try the Napili Sunset or the Outrigger Napili Shores. Outrigger owns a series of condos throughout Hawaii. If you want to get the taste of another island, Molokai is a short ferry ride away from Maui and makes a fun day trip--especially for snorkelers. If you decide to go with a tour company, start by looking at Pleasant Holidays, which has practically cornered the market on bargain Hawaii air/hotel and air/car/hotel packages.

For more advice, read Trip Coach: A First-Time Trip to Maui and Kauai as well as Maui: Friendly, Quirky, Full of Soul, and our Honolulu Snap Guide.

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Scottsdale, AZ: My son and niece turn 21 in late July. Any ideas where to go with the extended family to celebrate?

Budget Travel editors: Great question. Part of the fun lies in the planning, as they say. Consider using an online Web site to allow as many family members as possible participate in the planning. That way, you'll avoid a common problem with group travel--one unlucky family member shoulders the full burden of the trip. A free Web site we recommend is I'm In. Yahoo also has a Trip Planner feature.

For ideas, renting a home away from home at your favorite destination is a cost-effective idea. For tips on rentals, consider this article on the topic.

For destinations, consider how much autonomy you want to give your 21-year olds during the trip. Vacation resorts and cruise ships will allow your newfound adults the options to set their own itineraries. Just be aware that if booze is available at the resort or on the ship, you may need to set the limits on consumption. For destination ideas, consider our list of recent Real Deals by clicking here.

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Aiken, SC: We are planning to take my son and husband's grandson for a trip to DC this year. Both the boys are eleven but do not know each other very well. We would like to decide about the best time for a trip to DC...during Spring Break, March 31-April 8 (Easter)....or after school is out, perhaps around June 10. We would like to have the best prices and least crowded conditions. Certainly, a place with a pool would be nice so the boys can get some physical exercise after walking through museums all day. Also, If we are only going to have four full days there....which monuments/museums would allow us to make the biggest impact on kids this age?

Budget Travel editors: Thanks for writing. D.C. is a great choice for a family trip because its attractions are very family friendly. The free Smithsonian Museums--from the Air and Space Museum to the Natural History Museum--are probably going to be a favorite with your kids. If you're willing to ride the very clean, Star-Trek like subway, you may want to consider booking a hotel that is about a 20-minute ride away from the Smithsonian Museums. Trips closer to the action will be far more expensive. Spring Break is when D.C. puts on its best weather, and during those first few days of a March 31 to April 8 itinerary, you'll find the city is painted pink with cherry blossom trees. However, spring break is also a peak season tourism-wise. For hotels, consider looking across the Potomac River in Crystal City, Virginia. There are many affordable hotels with pools and an easy subway stop to access. More importantly, there's an underground mall full of kid-friendly restaurants. Also consider hotels near the Van Ness Metro station and Dupont Circle metro station in northwestern D.C. for more of a taste of actual D.C. life.

The Air and Space Museum features the actual rockets and modules that were launched into space. Be sure to stop by the gift shop and buy your boys freeze dried ice cream similar to the kind once eaten by astronauts. For hours and directions, visit their site. The iMax theater often shows cool G-rated movies on an enormous screen. Learn more by clicking here. Enjoy your trip!

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Asheville, NC: Germany without the beer? Departure gateway: Charlotte, NC. 2 passengers: a married couple in their mid-20s. We are a young couple traveling to Bavaria in February as our newly married, "before we start our family" vacation. I know that Germany is famous for their beers, but can non-drinkers have an exciting and romantic vacation there? Will there be clean water to drink at most restaurants? Our stops include Munich, Rothenburg, Nuremberg, Salzburg and Garmisch. Recommendations on sights and restaurants in those cities and between them would really help! We're also hoping to find a great place to go skiing in Garmish that we can both enjoy (one beginner and one experienced skier).

Budget Travel editors: Congrats on your recent marriage. You'll find a warm welcome in Germany, where it is a modern national tradition to send young newlyweds away on vacations so they become familiar with each other before the childrearing years.

Consider booking your rail travel on Deutsche Bahn, the German train service, on db.de, which has an English language version. Alternatively, try Rail Europe which offers English-speaking sales agents by phone if you run into problems.

When in Munich, allow time for a day trip outside the city to Neuschwanstein, the fairy-tale castle on which Walt Disney modeled his architectural creations at his theme parks. The castle is completely accessible roughly two hours from Munich by train and bus. (No expensive private tour necessary.)

Stay a full day and night in Nuremberg, a charming city that has been entirely rebuilt in a medieval style. It's a regional gathering place on weekends for its outdoor markets. Try an eis becher (enormous ice cream sundae) at an outdoor cafe there at night.

In Salzburg, one-time home of famous classic musicians, be sure to try a concert at Schloss Mirabell, a wedding hall in a palatial mansion with surprisingly good acoustics. Learn more by clicking here.

Here's a tip on tipping: On a $25 meal, tip $2.(in euro equivalent, obviously) Waitstaff in Europe don't rely on tips the way their American counterparts do. In Germany and Austria, the gratuity may not be spelled out. Also, in Germany and Austria, don't leave money on the table; hand it to your server. Enjoy your trip!

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Rockville, MD: My daughter, 19, and I are planning to meet in Rome during Easter week (April 8th) since she will be in Ireland studying. We have arranged flights and hotel thanks to points. Our hotel is on the outskirts of Rome (Rome Marriott Park Hotel). What and how is the best way to see it in a week? What are day trips we can't miss? I would even be willing to stay a night somewhere since our hotel is free. We will be there for Easter morning and my daughter would love to see the Pope. What and how is the best way to do that? We enjoy traveling together and are always looking for the unbeaten path and time to relax while seeing everything!

Budget Travel editors: What a wonderful plan! A week will give you enough time to begin chipping away at the city's fascinating layers. You can catch the blockbuster attractions (Parthenon, Colosseum, Roman Forum, Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps...) concentrated in the historic center as well as wander around quirkier, artsy neighborhoods like Trastevere and Testaccio. Context Travel's small walking tours are led by English-speaking experts--archaeologists, architects, art historians, or food critics--and make a great introduction to Rome's history, art, and lifestyles (contextrome.com). You can find insider tips on the best places to eat, shop, and play, in our Rome Snap Guide and in our article Rome Sweet Rome.

As for Easter, the Pope leads a procession with the stations of the cross on Good Friday (Apr. 6) from the Colosseum to the top of Palatine Hill and then delivers a public mass before the crowds at St. Peter's Square on Easter morning. For more details on how and where to see the Pope, check Context Rome's handy page, Easter in Rome. Romans traditionally flock to the countryside to picnic and hang out with friends and family on Easter Monday, dubbed "Pasquetta" or Little Easter. You could follow suit with a day trip to the popular seaside town of Ostia Antica.

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Boulder, CO: Where can my family including my 3 year son go for a dependably sunny warm vacation in April or May?

Budget Travel editors: By dependably sunny do you mean destinations with little or no rain? If so, there are a number of places you and your family can relax while leaving your umbrellas at home. In the Caribbean look no further than the ABC islands--Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao--tucked away from the main chain of Caribbean islands off the northern coast of Venezuela. Since all three are located outside the hurricane belt, you can expect clear skies with temperatures in the mid-80s virtually year-round (but wait until May when hotel prices and airfare begin to drop). In Mexico you might consider Cabo San Lucas, which typically records very little rainfall between February and July. Like Palm Springs, Calif., most days are hot and sunny with very little humidity. And for options closer to home don't rule out Phoenix, Ariz.--in summertime temperatures sky-rocket into triple digits--but from September to May the weather is bliss with warm days, cool nights, and little to no rain.

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St. Paul, MN: My son (sr. in high school, age 18) and I would like to explore southern India during his spring break. We can travel on the evening of March 8th or anytime on March 9th. We need to be back in St. Paul by Monday March 19th. I had hoped to take a tour, but am not finding much that fits that time line. We are experienced travellers and generally prefer to get around on our own, but our trip to Egypt in 2005 was kind of intimidating to do on our own...hence the initial desire to hook on to a prearranged tour. We are interested in the Kerala region, and would like to learn how to cook some Indian specialties, take a trip into the interior to see some wild life, see the beach, and maybe explore the backwaters. Can you recommend an honest and helpful travel agent that could help us put together a trip that is not too expensive and not too difficult for us to navigate on our own. I would like to have our transportation, lodging and some activities planned in advance to make the trip a little less stressful. Thanks for any help that you can provide.

Budget Travel editors: To find out more about the southern state of Kerala, you can start by reading the Trip Coach piece we ran in the Dec 06/Jan 07 issue. A couple from Chicago was headed off to India, and we advised them to visit Kerala to see the wildlife at Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary (periyartigerreserve.org), take a cooking class with a local family (nimmypaul.com), and tour the backwaters with Kerala Tourism Development Corporation (ktdc.com)-- all the things you've said you and your son would like to do. You should also take a look at the online Trip Coach we ran with Diane Mehta. Those pieces should give you direction in booking some of the activities you've mentioned before you arrive.

In researching the piece, we were in touch with a few local tour operators who were very helpful and responsive. In addition to KTDC, Tour India's office in Kerala (tourindiakerala.com) was useful. Both companies informed us about prices, itineraries, and packages and generally responded within a day or two by email.

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