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Entries during 2007-10

Budapest to Bucharest by Rail

Q. I'm planning a trip to Budapest, Hungary this winter and thought it might be fun to take a train down to Bucharest, Romania. The trouble is, I haven't been able to find much information online. No time tables, no info on ticket prices, etc. And how concerned should I be about theft?

A. Trains from Budapest to Bucharest usually depart from Keleti Station, and you can check departure times and fares at www.elvira.hu. You're looking at about a 15 hour trip, so you may want to consider spending the extra money (about $35 more)  for a sleeping car.

Safety is a concern, sure, as much as it is in any city where tourists make easy targets. But no moustachioed man in poet's sleeves is going to take your gold fillings in the night. You can rest easy knowing that each car is assigned its very own conductor and, since this is an international route, security is pretty tight. Still, we'd make sure the door to your compartment locks properly, and if not, request to be switched.

 

 

 

 

 

Carry-On Liquids

Q. A few weeks back, you listed info for buying travel-sized toiletries. I seemed to have lost it somehow, and can't seem to find it on your site. Please help!!

A. Sure thing! Here you go:

  • Easy Traveler Inc.: Their "3-1-1 Totally Compliant Carry on Kit" comes with squeeze tubes in different sizes, and one spray bottle. There are other packages that include syringes, tubes, and other tools to help you transfer liquids without making a huge mess. They even include some quart-sized zip-top bags to put all your containers in.

  • Minimus: You can order travel-sized everything here! From small deodorant bottles to miniature Pringles packages, you can find almost anything in a more compact size on this website.

  • The Container Store: You've probably seen the standard sized Nalgene water bottle, but did you know they make leak-proof travel sized containers too? They've got bottles in all shapes and sizes, and you'll certainly find bottles that carry less than 3oz. (so they're TSA approved for carry-on). You can find these, and some generic travel-sized containers at The Container Store.
Any of those should do it. Just remember to pull out the quart-sized bag of liquid containers before sending it through the X-Ray. And keep in mind, exceptions to the 3oz. rule may be made for medications, baby formula and food, and juice in "reasonable quantities." Declare these liquids at the security checkpoint. And most importantly, the checkpoint agent has the final say, no matter what the TSA website says, so if you don't absolutely need it, leave it at home or leave it with your checked luggage.

Passport Rules A-Changin'

Q. What's the story now with passports for Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean?

A. As of September 30, passports are once again required for passengers traveling within North America, Bermuda, and the Caribbean. This caused a real hullabaloo last January when the law was first introduced, and passport waits soared from the standard six weeks to, in some cases, six months. This time around, the State Department has beefed up on staff to handle the influx of passport applications and, since the 30th, so far so good.

Holidays & Weekends

Q. Is there some kind of conspiracy between the airlines concerning flights on fridays and sundays? And have you checked fares for the upcoming holidays yet? They're through the roof! What gives here?

A. Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays are peak travel days, and airlines charge more for weekend travel because they know they can. After all, weekends are the only time of the week most people are free to travel. If you're schedule allows it, you'll save a considerable amount of cash by flying on other days.

And the same can be said of holiday fares. You'll find much much lower fares if you're willing to travel on Thanksgiving Day, for example, instead of the day before. That said, we've still managed to find some pretty reasonable fares for peak holiday travel. Just check today's blog for examples. And for those folks out there who can't commit this early on to booking a ticket, due to work obligations or whatever, should consider checking sites like lastminute.com for (as the name suggests) last minute holiday specials.

A Moment's Notice

Q. What's the best way to buy a ticket on short notice? My daughter's going to have a baby in early November and I want to be there the the day after she gives birth in Virginia Beach. Any ideas?

A. If she should give birth on a Thursday or Friday, you could try booking a weekend fare. These are usually made available midweek, for travel the following Thursday, Friday, and (usually) Saturday, with the return flights as late as Monday or Tuesday.

Otherwise, your best bet is to check sites like lastminute.com, which specialize in last minute travel. In addition to airfare, they also offer package deals including car rental and, should you need it, a hotel. Plus, these package prices are almost always less, way way less, than what the airlines are offering for the flight alone.

Also good in a pinch is Priceline.com's name-your-own-price feature. If they don't accept your first bid, change your request just slightly (connecting flights vs. nonstops for instance) and see what they offer.

Baby On Board

Q. I've received conflicting information about traveling during pregnancy. I want to attend my grandfather's 80th birthday, and and I'd need to fly in my 38th week of pregnancy from the New York to Arizona. My doctor says there are no health risks associated with flying while I'm pregnant (other than the baby may be born in Arizona rather than here at home), but I've heard that some airlines won't let you fly after 35 weeks into the pregnancy. Is this true?

A. The rules on this vary from airline to airline, but it's always a good idea to check with your physician right before your trip and get approval in writing. Many airlines, like Northwest and American, require a doctor's note for those traveling within 30 days of their due date. Bottom line: Call your airline, and check their web site, and see what their individual rules may be, but have that note handy, just in case.

Oversized Items and Oversized Fees

Q. Hi, I'm confused about baggage allowances and at what point they begin charging for extra baggage, or special items. For example, JetBlue's website says that no item exceeding 80in in total dimensions can be checked, but an attendant verbally told me that a fishing rod travel tube would be fine, no charge. What gives??? Thanks!

A. It varies according to airline, of course. A fishing pole is oversized, true, but it's pretty lightweight and doesn't take up much room down in cargo, so that's probably why they chose to scrap the rule in your favor.

But your next check-in agent may not be so generous, so it's always good to read the official policy regarding whatever oversized item you plan to cart along. That fishing rod could be free, or it could end up costing $150 if you're flying a Northwest Trans-Atlantic route.

When it comes to traveling with bicycles, some airlines, like Southwest, will let you off without a fee, just so long as you adhere to their packing specifications, provided you haven't already exceeded your bag allowance. Otherwise the going rate for bikes is around $80 average for travel within the US and Canada. Most airlines ask that pedals and handelbars be removed and boxed up, and should be able provide you with a slim box, used especially for bikes, although it's a good idea to call in advance and check.

And there's a rule for every odd whatchamagadget under the sun - from dry ice to church organs and bowling balls. Afraid of flying? Southwest allows parachutes to be checked, free of charge, but asks that you refrain from wearing them during flight.

You can check our site for a summary of excess baggage rules here.



Going in Groups

Q. There is a group of about 40 of us from California that will be traveling to Birmingham Alabama on about January 17and returning on the 21st. we need help finding the cheapest possible fares...can you help?

A. I would try to get a group reservation from an airline directly. Call the airlines and ask for their group department, or check group plans online. American Airlines, for example, offers various plans for groups traveling for weddings, for business, and leisure. Delta also has plans for groups of 10 or more, as does Southwest, Continental, and other airlines. Shop around and see what works best for your group.

Going in Groups

Q. There is a group of about 40 of us from California that will be traveling to Birmingham Alabama on about January 17and returning on the 21st. we need help finding the cheapest possible fares...can you help?

A. I would try to get a group reservation from an airline directly. Call the airlines and ask for their group department, or check group plans online. American Airlines, for example, offers various plans for groups traveling for weddings, for business, and leisure. Delta also has plans for groups of 10 or more, as does Southwest, Continental, and others. Shop around and see what works best for your group.
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