Trip Coach: November 21, 2006
Budget Travel editors: Welcome to this week's Trip Coach. Let's get to your questions!
Bloomsburg, PA: What can you do if you have something stolen from your checked baggage? Who do you contact and what recourse do you have? Thank you.
Budget Travel editors: Although each airline carrier's policy is a little different (many exclude coverage of jewelry, camera equipment, and medications), file a damage report with the airline within 24 hours of arrival, or your claim could be dismissed. If you think the item went missing or was stolen at a TSA passenger screening or baggage checkpoint, you should also file a claim report with the TSA (tsaclaims.org). If you have travel insurance (and you do, right?), file a claim with your insurance company within 24 hours.
In the future, if you are traveling with special items that you can't place in carry-on luggage, buy a TSA-approved lock for your checked baggage.
Read our recent article, "What to Do in a Travel Emergency." And before you go, download our handy list of airline phone numbers (PDF)
Richardson, TX: This probably isn't quite what you're looking for, but here goes: My daughter is interested in making college visits the week of March 11th, 2007 to Olympia and Walla Walla, Washington, and to Portland and Salem, Oregon. How we effectively make this trip in 4-5 days on a budget?
Budget Travel editors: Here's a suggested itinerary: Fly into Seattle, Wash., which is the largest centrally-located city between the cities you mentioned. Rent a car from one of the many car rental agencies near (but not inside of) the airport -- most offer a free shuttle to and from the airport (find the full list at http://www.portseattle.org/seatac/ground/rentalcars.shtml).
Since you won't be spending much time in the city, stay at a hotel south of Seattle or near the airport, since you'll be driving south and southeast of Seattle. If your looking for deals, check out Seattle Super Saver, a discount hotel booking website operated by the Seattle's Convention and Visitors Bureau (search for hotels in the "downtown", "south Seattle" or "airport" locations). For example, rates at the Clarion Hotel Seatac start at $84/night.
On your first day, tackle Olympia, Wash., which about a two hour drive from Seattle (traffic permitting!). On your second day, hop on Interstate 90 and drive southeast to Walla Walla, about a five hours from Seattle. You could either stay overnight in Walla Walla or drive back to Seattle, depending on your schedule. On your third (or fourth) day, drive to Portland, Ore., about a five hours' drive from Seattle. Salem is about an hour south of Portland, so after visiting colleges in Portland and Salem, you probably would want to stay overnight in Portland, and return to Seattle the next day. Check out Portland's official tourism website, travelportland.com, for hotel deals.
Make sure you bring your umbrella, as Seattle can be cool and chilly in March. Good luck!
Cary, NC: My college girlfriends and I are thinking about planning a quick four-day weekend getaway to either Nashville or Memphis next year. Which city is best? We are all 42 years old and we live in different states (NC, NJ, FL, CO), so air travel is a consideration.
Budget Travel editors: The choice of destination for a long weekend getaway with your girlfriends isn't determined by absolutes, but rather what is most convenient and appeals more to the friends involved. It helps to get a feel for what each city has to offer in terms of activities, restaurants, neighborhoods, and cultural events--and search for the best air fare. Nashville and Memphis have comparable-sized airports; where Southwest Airlines uses Nashville as a hub, Northwest Airlines has its third largest hub in Memphis. Budget Travel's Girlfriend Getaways special issue last May devoted an entire feature highlighting and describing cities that were great for, well, girlfriend getaways. Search BudgetTravelOnline.com's archives to read about those eight cities--in addition to three more cities (including Memphis) that are only available on the website.
Ann Arbor, MI: My family would like to travel to Vietnam. There are three of us, and my daugter is 4. Are there any family-oriented tours that accept children her age? If possible, we would like a tour style like Intrepid, with local resources being used as much as possible.
Budget Travel editors:
Djoser, a Dutch independent tour operator with offices in the US, has just launched the Djoser Junior program. All three of the company's Vietnam itineraries, which focus on local culture and resources, can be adjusted to accommodate small children and families. All ages welcome. Check out the tours at djoserusa.com; for more info on Djoser Junior, call 877/356-7376.
Founded by two former Peace Corps volunteers and conservationists, Journeys International organizes trips geared toward cultural interaction, nature and wildlife. A 10-day Vietnam Adventure for Families is run every December; individual groups can book and design their own itineraries throughout the year. This tour operator focuses on integrating with local communities. More info online at journeys-intl.com or 800/255-8735; ask for a family specialist.Adventure Center offers a variety of options for thrill-seeking families on the go, with many trips catering to kids ages five and up. Local resources are used as much as possible, aimed at giving children a hands-on, educational experience wherever they may go. This agency is currently rolling out a host of family-friendly itineraries, six of which head to Vietnam (age requirements range from five to six years old). See adventurecenter.com or call 800/228-8747 for details.
Chicago, IL: Can you help us plan a trip to Italy for April 2007? The group consists of four women. We would like to go for 10 or 11 days and see Rome, Florence, Venice, and Milan. We would like to spend around $1500 to $2000 per person on airfare, hotels and transportation between the cities. Do you think this is possible? This would be our first time to Europe.
Budget Travel editors: Of course! First off, you should keep in mind that Easter falls on April 8, 2007, and Rome in particular will be swarming with tourists. We suggest traveling later in the month, if possible. You could take two approaches to planning out the trip: fly round-trip into Rome and then use trains to get around or purchase a multicity ticket which would save you time by eliminating at least one leg of train travel (say, Chicago to Rome and Milan back to Chicago). On sidestep.com, we found a multicity ticket on Continental for $1,005 per person for April 19-30. We did a comparison check and found a round-trip flight to Rome for $786. While prone to delays, trains in Italy are inexpensive, comfortable, and safe. (Note that the Eurostar trains are nicer, faster, and slightly more expensive than the various regional and intercity ones.) Trains also let you enjoy the postcard-perfect countryside.
To look up schedules and prices in advance, consult the official website http://trenitalia.it/en/index.html. Here's a quick sampling of how the train travel could work: Rome to Florence is one and a half hours at about $39; Florence to Venice is almost three hours at about $34; Venice to Milan is around three hours at about $27; and Milan to Rome (not necessary if you purchase multicity airfare) is at least four and a half hours at about $60. All prices quoted here are one-way per person based on standard second-class Eurostar tickets and on the current Euro/dollar exchange rate. For tips on what to do and where to stay, read our Rome Snap Guide, Eat Like a Local: Florence & Venice, and Renting an Apartment in Venice. And be sure to check out our special magazine devoted to trips like yours--Girlfriend Getaways!
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Finding a Home Away from Home
Brian Sharples, the cofounder and CEO of HomeAway, came by the other day to talk about the company's plans to become the go-to source for vacation rentals. HomeAway recently secured $160 million in financing to fund its growth, which includes the purchase of VRBO.com (Vacation Rentals by Owner), one of the companies featured in our just-out story on how to rent an apartment in Venice. With growth come new challenges, however, and we're impressed with ways in which HomeAway is making renting a vacation property a less risky experience. What HomeAway wants to do is be like Ebay without the auctions--bringing together buyers and sellers in a way that makes it easier for everyone involved. First, the company has introduced user-reviews to its site, so folks who have rented a house (or villa or apartment or whatever) can rate the property in several different categories--including how accurate the initial posting was, and how true-to-life the photographs were. We thought it was very clever to make sure that only proven renters can post ratings. Second, the company hopes to soon introduce technology that will facilitate payments--so you can use your credit card, or PayPal, to pay for the rental (versus having to deal directly with the owner, or worse, bank transfers). According to Sharples, very few customers feel dissatisfied by their rental experience--and yet most travelers get nervous at the thought of renting someone else's house; there are just so many variables. What HomeAway would like to do is overlay the trust that any good brand can instill, so that travelers will believe that they're in capable hands. It's certainly worth keeping an eye on. Related stories: How to Rent an Apartment in Venice Affordable Europe: Villa Rentals A Guide to the House-Swapping Market
The Feel-Good Family Edition
On a Mexican Riviera cruise, my family experienced strong winds. Since my husband is constantly telling our son to lighten up and have fun, that's exactly what he did. Rebecca Abbott, Mesa, Ariz. My 4-year-old daughter had never had her hair cut before, so we decided to have it done in the Magic Kingdom. Since it was her first haircut, she was serenaded by a barbershop quartet and received a pair of Mickey Mouse ears along with a commemorative certificate. Amanda Carothers, Lake Village, Ark. While other kids were playing nearby, this little girl in Chongqing, China, sat with her book and whined pitifully to her mother in the shop. After the mother scolded her, she cried, which seemed to illustrate the universal truth that anywhere you go in the world, you'll find kids who really hate doing their homework. Teri Shikany, Danville, Calif. My daughter, Deena, came with me to sample blue crab in a Maryland seafood restaurant. Expecting a mountain of claws, we were shocked when our waitress arrived with whole crabs--guts, eyes, and all. After our waitress demonstrated proper crab picking and Deena tried a morsel, she asked, "Do you think we could go out for chicken tonight?" Kelly Curtis, Clear Lake, Wis. To celebrate our 34th anniversary, we took our son to Spain and returned to the beach where my husband had proposed. Lo and behold, the family who had operated the local restaurant was still there. Not only did they remember us, they showed us this 34-year-old photo on their computer! Do we keep in touch now? You bet. They're family. Mary Beth Nelson, Blue Jay, Calif. More Readers' True Stories