Summer in Paris, entertaining kids in New York, and more.
Mondays at 2 p.m., we answer reader questions about all things travel at live.washingtonpost.com. Excerpts from our most recent discussions:
of my wife’s and my work schedules, our summer travels are pretty much restricted to the latter half of July and the first half of August. This year we’d like to go to Paris. Yet I’ve always heard that Parisians go on vacation in August and the city “somewhat shuts down.” Is this true, and if so, what does it mean, practically, for travelers to Paris?
can assure you that Paris is still bustling and busy even in August. Yes, there are restaurants and shops and other businesses that close, but plenty are open, the hotels still cater fully to tourists, and all the museums and major tourist sites are fully accessible. The town is maybe a bit quieter, but in a good, laidback and relaxed kind of way. It can be hot, but what the heck. It’s Paris! Get an air-conditioned hotel room, take a cruise on the Seine, have cocktails in the hotel bars, have a picnic in the park. And drink lots of water. Go, and have a great time!
— Zofia Smardz
Any suggestions on where to take our elementary schoolaged kids on their first trip to the Big Apple? I’m especially interested in some off-the-beaten path ideas.
So many things in New York are, of course, on the beaten path, and you should still see them — I’m thinking of Central Park. You just can’t skip it. But here are a few other ideas: There’s a great puppet theater in Brooklyn called Puppetworks. There’s the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens, with lots of cool interactive stuff. (They can make a stop-motion animated short film!) Circle Line has kids’ cruises to the Statue of Liberty. In Bryant Park, Le Carrousel is pretty nifty. The Center for Architecture hosts a family day one Saturday a month; that includes a fun-sounding build-it-yourself session.
— Joe Yonan
I want to take a Christmas vacation to Europe, and I’d love to use frequent-flier miles. When can I start booking?
You can book on most airlines about 330 days in advance. You’ll probably find that nonstop flights to popular cities will sell out first. Airlines limit the number of frequent-flier seats available on each flight, and there are blackout dates.
— Carol Sottili
My wife (non-U.S. citizen) still has her maiden name on her passport. Her green card has her picture, as does her passport. She has traveled overseas this way three times, until recently, when American Airlines wouldn’t let her on the plane because her name was different. I had to call to get it changed. Of course, I had to cancel this ticket (for a $200 fee) and buy a new one. We usually fly United for the Chicago leg and never had this problem. Has something changed?
The name on your wife’s ticket must match her ID or passport. The ticket agent should have been able to make that change without a fee, since your wife showed that she was the same person. One other thing to keep in mind is the 24-hour rule, which would have allowed you to correct the name, as long as the change was made within 24 hours of booking the ticket.
— Christopher Elliott
I’m thinking of taking a trip to Ecuador in late May. I plan to spend a week there, and due to time constraints I don’t plan to visit the Galapagos Islands. Am I crazy to go down there but not visit the Galapagos?
I support your decision 100 percent. Ecuador is more than just the Galapagos. The markets, mountains and indigenous cultures are just as amazing as the giant tortoises and sea lions. Plus, you are giving the wildlife a break, which they seriously need.
— Andrea Sachs
My family is going to Hawaii next year for a milestone birthday. A friend in California recommended that we split the trip into two separate flights to take advantage of the deals offered from California to Hawaii. Is this worth doing?
Unless you can find substantial savings, I would stick to one ticket for the whole flight. It’s easier to rebook if you miss a connection, and you can check your luggage through. In addition, you can often find sales to Hawaii, especially during off-season and shoulder season.
— Andrea Sachs
The current fares of $1,200plus to Europe are too expensive. Will there be any sales this spring?
Fares are super high for spring travel. I’m hopeful that there will be some sales, but they’ll probably be short-lived with restricted travel dates. You’ll need to be flexible to take advantage of them. If you can leave from New York, that might mean lower fares, as more discount carriers, such as Aer Lingus and Air Berlin, fly from there.
— Carol Sottili
My son, who loves trains, would like to take the Acela to Philadelphia to see the Liberty Bell. Can this be a (long) oneday trip to see the sights or should we really make it two? This is a 7-year-old, if it matters.
If what you mainly want to do is see the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall, then yes, it can definitely be done in a day. The historic area — Independence National Historic Park — in Old City is quite compact.
— Zofia Smardz
What’s the best way to keep my credit cards and cash safe in London and Paris? What should I keep in the room safe? Should my husband have a money belt? Should I have two credit cards that I keep separate?
Bring only one credit card and minimal cash with you. It’s best to keep it in a bag or pouch that tucks away under your clothes. If you don’t have a money waist pouch, sling your bag over your shoulder, then put on your top coat. Also have your husband hold some money (but not in his back pocket!). Keep your passport, excess cash and spare credit card in the room safe. As a backup, stash a $20 note in your shoe.
— Andrea Sachs
My husband has an expensepaid conference in Edinburgh; I’ll pay my airfare and piggyback on his hotel, but we want to see London as well. Is flying into Edinburgh and out of London cost-effective? Is the train between the two set up to accommodate our luggage? Any preference between Heathrow and Gatwick for leaving London?
Have you priced it out? That’s the best way to know whether it’s cost-effective. I can’t vouch for the train setup, but unless you have an obscene amount of luggage, you should be fine. Again, Heathrow vs. Gatwick, price it. Most U.S. flights go in and out of Heathrow, so I imagine that’s what will shake out best for you.
— Becky Krystal
At what point in the whole hotel-reservations-to-check-in process does one mention anything in hopes of getting an upgrade? I’ve never done this and need some pointers.
Upgrades happen, generally, because there are unsold rooms available at the last minute. So that means that it happens . . . at the last minute. When you check in, you can politely ask the clerk whether there are any rooms available that you could be upgraded into. It’s best to do this at a property where you have a frequent-customer membership, if possible. And you should be dressed nicely and be very well mannered. It’s also best to be specific: “If you have any unsold water-view rooms, we would certainly be available for an upgrade.”
— Joe Yonan
Hot destination: Paris can be warm in August, but you can cruise the Seine and see Notre Dame.