Trip Coach: March 6, 2007

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Budget Travel editors answered your general travel questions.

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

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Newbury Park, CA: My cousin and I are turning fifty this year; October 26 & 28, respectively. We decided to go on a trip together with our husbands to celebrate. We were planning Maui until a trip to the Dominican Republic was suggested for the same cost but including an all inclusive resort . However, how chancy is late October for hurricaines? Is this mid-season, end of the season or just after. Would you play it safe and go to Maui where we've already been or check out the Dominican or wait for a better time of year?

Budget Travel editors: If you've already been to Maui, then why not try out some place new? The Dominican Republic has long been a hugely popular destination thanks to its crystal-clear waters and sandy beaches, but most importantly it's still one of the best values in the Caribbean. As you're keen to point out, an all-inclusive vacation in the DR can often cost less than the cost of flights alone somewhere else. But before you consider an all-inclusive property, know what you're getting into: The food is usually not that great and you'll be in a walled-off resort complex most of the time, which can get a bit claustrophobic. Still, it's an unbeatable value.

As for hurricane season, there's nothing wrong with planning a trip at its tail end (hurricane season lasts from June 1 to November 30) but you should consider buying travel insurance just in case a storm comes your way. Every policy is a little different so compare policies at websites like InsureMyTrip.com and QuoteTravelInsurance.com. Also, when large-scale catastrophes hit, including hurricanes or even terrorist attacks, most airlines and hotels allow customers to change or cancel their plans without penalty--something to keep in mind if you don't feel like spending the extra cash.

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Colorado Springs, CO: My husband and I would like to take a week-long family vacation this year with our two children (ages 1 and 3) to Yellowstone National Park. We plan on driving, so activities along the way would be wonderful to keep the kids interested. I read that it's best to visit Yellowstone early or late in the season (May/early June or September/October) to avoid crowds, but we haven't decided which we'd prefer. Can you give us advice about timing, places to visit and places to stay? Thanks! Susie

Budget Travel editors: Susie, Thanks for emailing. You'll love Yosemite. It's one of America's most breathtaking sights. You'll never forget it. The advantage of visiting in May and June--besides thinner crowds--is that the spring snows will have melted, engorging the waterfalls for the most spectacular displays. (If the moon is full and the sky is clear, the moon will cast enough light on the waterfalls that you'll see a "moonbow". If the moon isn't full but the sky is still clear, you'll have an unobstructed view of an even prettier nighttime sky than you've seen outside of Colorado Springs, because of nearly zero light pollution.) One disadvantage of traveling in May and June is that the snows may not have fully melted, and you may be unable to see some of the high-altitude sights, such as the gorgeous carpet of flowers in Tuolumne Meadows, which are a 40-minute detour off of route 120, the main drag through the park.

If you're planning to camp in the park, book your place as soon as possible through the park service (nps.gov). Spots fill up quickly. If you're planning to stay at an affordable motel, expect to be staying outside the park--because the lodgings inside the park are expensive. And if you stay outside the park, plan to be driving forty-to-sixty minute, one-way stretches from your motel to the most well-known sections of the parks. The roads through the park have speed limits that can be as low as 30 miles per hour for long stretches of time, especially given the many switchbacks, S-bends, and motor-homes. ("Don't hit that baby bear!")

Once you're there, consider splurging on dinner at the Wawona Lodge. (Call ahead for reservations.) Everything in the park is expensive--except for the Village Store supply shop in Yosemite Village--because all the shops are run by a monopoly business. Having tried a bunch of the restaurants in the park last spring, we can recommend the restaurant at the Wawona Hotel as the most worth a splurge (about $15 per person for a two-course dinner). They're a family-friendly enterprise. yosemitepark.com/Accommodations_WawonaHotel.aspx.

You've got an intimidating 19-hour drive ahead of you. Perhaps longer with diaper-changing duty. Given the long stretches of empty highway ahead of you, plan out your drive in advance! Even if you're not a member of AAA, you can use their online site to plan your trip. Here's how it works: Visit AAA's main website, click on the TripTik link, and then enter your zip code and itinerary. The site will fetch turn-by-turn driving directions, detour suggestions, and other travel information. Next, look at the top left-hand corner of the screen and click on the button that says Show. From the drop-down menu that appears, select Gas.

Now you'll see gas stations along your route when you scan your online map displaying turn-by-turn directions. Click on the gas stations that will make the most convenient pit stops. The website will add those gas stations to your printable map. If you wave your cursor over any gas station icon on the map, the recent per-gallon price for gas at that station will appear. (AAA uses daily data from OPIS, a service that collects and provides fuel price data.) Most of all, have fun!

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Tinley Park, IL: After seeing a special on TV regarding train travel, we¿re planning to take a train trip sometime next summer. Any advice?

Budget Travel editors: Thanks for writing us. Sounds like you're planning a fun and memorable trip for your family. To get some ideas on train travel, I recommend you read through the transcript of our live chat last week with train expert Fred Frailey. You can do so clicking here.

Frailey has taken every scenic train route in the U.S., and his picks for the top three routes are:

1. California Zephyr, westbound from Denver to Oakland (the train originates in Chicago, but the scenery starts leaving Denver). Unquestionably the best of the bunch.

2. Coast Starlight, between Oakland and LA (the train runs Seattle to LA and the line through Oregon is scenic but no competition for the hour between Surf and Goleta CA when there is nothing but the Pacific Coast and the Coast Starlight).

3. Empire Builder either way between Chicago and Seattle. The gem is the three hours through the Rockies between Libby and Whitefish, Mont.

However, those routes are expensive. Yet you can do a small portion of these routes, and save money. Or you could drive to Amtrak's AutoTrain, which departs from about forty-minutes south of Washington, D.C., and ride with your family down to near Orlando, Fla. Frailey says this is a scenic route, and the AutoTrain is set-up to be one of the most kid-friendly of the Amtrak operations.

As he says, "The national parks are ill served by Amtrak." Good luck!

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Las Vegas, NV: Do you know of any resourses, preferably on-line, that will give you all non-stop routes out of a specific airport? My husband and i just went to London for one week, only because I had heard Virgin Atlantic had a non-stop flight and the fare was fantastic! (600 each, non-stop). We are travelers that would go some where just because we can get there non-stop, for a long list of obvious reasons. Any suggestions? Thanks! Ann

Budget Travel editors: Ann, I hope my answer to your separate question from days ago about Danny Meyer and wine tips was helpful. Glad you enjoyed London. I'm all in favor of paying a little extra for a nonstop flight because of my previous bad experiences with lost luggage, etc. Unfortunately, I don't know of a website that lists all the destinations that have nonstop flights from Las Vegas. However, all the major online travel sites let you limit your search so that all the "nonstop" fares pop up first. For example, if you go to your favorite online agency or meta-search site (such as Kayak.com or Travelocity.com), you can type in your departure airport, Las Vegas, your destination, and then pick "nonstop". The site will fetch nonstop fares to that place. (When you're searching, make sure you opt for "flexible dates"--meaning that you'd be willing to leave a few days before or after a certain date. Otherwise, nonstop flights that only depart four out of seven days of the week might not turn up in your search. It'll take some trial and error to find destinations. If you're up for a splurge, there's MAXjet Las Vegas-London, $1,398 (in business class).

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Los Angeles, CA: My husband and I will be taking our daughters age 15 and 33 to Ghana this August. This is the 50 liberation anniversary. We want to know what is the most economical way to go and what should we do? The 15 year old is a bit nervous about shots and or mosquitos. Your suggestions are appreciated. Lori

Budget Travel editors: Lori, What a gift to give your child! First, a practical matter. Single-entry visas require a $50 fee. Contact the Embassy of Ghana, 3512 International Drive, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008 (202/686-4520, ghana-embassy.org). Plan your trip out with care. Start in Accra with tours of the National Museum, Makola Market, Kwame Memorial, and the W.E.B. DuBois Center for Pan-African Studies. Then travel to Cape Coast, with visits to the African Historical Museum and a tour of the fifteenth-century slave dungeons inside Elmina Castle. Sadly, from L.A., there is no economical way to get to Ghana. Only British Airways and Ghana International Airlines are competing via London, and fares don't often dip below $1,100 in May/June. The advantage of London is that your family may be able to get a discounted round trip ticket to London, then switch planes to a separate flight from London to Accra. You may pay less that way than by buying a single trip that includes all legs of travel. However, be wary of taking this option if it involves switching airports in London. That's too much of a hassle, given that your family will be carrying many bags for an overseas trip. Afriqiyah Airways is a Libyan airline, which is uses the capital of Libya, Tripoli, as a layover between Gatwick airport in London to Tripoli, They're cheap, and the Airbus aircraft are new. Learn more at afriqiyah.aero. Again, note that this airline departs from Gatwick, while many international flights from L.A. arrive in Heathrow. Research your options for traveling between airports--with sufficient time between flights--before you make a purchase. If you'd like to be coached in more detail on your trip, send an email to Letters@budgettravelonline.com.

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Astor, FL: I'm a senior traveling by bus into Canada in July, 2007. Will be there for 3 days and returning to the USA. I see lots of information regarding air travel to/from Canada but not much pertaining to bus travel. I do not have a passport. What documentation will I need to enter Canada and return during the July, 2007 timeframe? I am thoroughly confused about this and time is running short. Thank you.

Budget Travel editors: To quote from the U.S. State Department, "For Canada, you'll need either a passport or a proof of U.S. citizenship, such as a birth certificate or a naturalization certificate. Also bring a photo ID. Visas are not required." This policy applies whether you're crossing into Canada by bus, train, plane, or automobile. If you have further questions, look at the Canadian embassy website. canadianembassy.org

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Lockport, LA: I'm going to Rome and Paris for a week each beganning march 28th. Can you give me info on places to eat and things to do. Alfred

Budget Travel editors: Lucky you! We have lots of resources and recent articles online that can help you plan your time in Rome and Paris. For an insider take on the best places to eat, shop, and sightsee, download our free Rome Snap Guide and Paris Snap Guide. In Rome, one of the latest attractions is the Ara Pacis Museum designed by American architect Richard Meier as a new home for the ancient Altar of Peace. Our favorite walking tours are run by Context Travel's team of historians, archaeologists, and foodies. They can get you into underground tombs and other normally restricted sites. You can find more suggestions--from the best gelato to a lovely medieval church--in the article Rome Sweet Rome. As for Paris, we highlighted a flurry of new museum openings in Face-Lift: Cultural News in Paris. You can even take an interactive tour of the Musée de l'Orangerie from home!

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Budget Travel editors: Thank you for joining us. Please come back next Tuesday!

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