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Brilliant Questions. Hope the Answers Are As Good.
November 8, 1994 -- I adore answering your questions about travel because, frankly, you think of more interesting things to ask than I think about writing.

Here is the current crop of your genius queries where you ask about paying cash when booking tours, travel to Cuba now and even ski and garden holidays.

Q: I recently booked a $6,000 trip to Italy with a major tour operator, but was told I could not use my credit card for payment. Is this a standard policy among tour operators?
A: Cash-only payment is not the standard operating procedure at large tour operators. In fact, the "vast majority" of members of the U.S. Tour Operators Association accept credit cards, says a spokesperson. Only two of the major tour operators we contacted personally said they insisted on payment by cash or check. My opinion? Don't deal with a tour operator that doesn't accept a credit or charge card. Using a credit card gives you a measure of financial protection under federal credit laws. Paying by cash or check means you are at the mercy of a tour operator and have limited recourse should the operator fail to deliver. This isn't to say that companies who do not honor credit cards are shady; the two firms that told us they do not accept credit cards are among the nation's most reputable tour operators. But I don't feel comfortable spending substantial sums of money without the added layer of protection offered by the federal credit laws.

Q: I've always been told that English gardens are the most beautiful in the world. How can I arrange tours of the major gardens?
A: The British have a long and proud history of spectacular gardens, and at least 90 sites are open to the public in England, Scotland, and Wales. In fact, garden visits are the fastest growing segment of U.K. tourism, according to the British Tourist Authority. Many packages include a visit to at least one garden. The immensely popular Hampton Court Palace Gardens, located in southwest London, is a staple. Optional tours of other major garden attractions such as Kent and Sissinghurst can be easily arranged. And Garden Day Tours specializes in house and garden tours. The company's itineraries often visit two or three gardens in a single day. Trips depart from London and operate from April through October. Ask your travel agent for more details or contact Garden Day Tours directly (62 Redington Road, London NW3 7RS, England).

Q: I'm a senior citizen, but I still love ski vacations. Are there any groups that cater to me?
A: Contact the "70+ Ski Club" (104 East Side Drive, Ballston Lake, New York; 518-399-5458), which claims more than 10,000 members in the United States and Europe. The club operates group tours to major ski destinations throughout the world. Members are entitled to free or discounted skiing at many domestic ski centers. Lifetime membership costs $5.

Q: We're planning a trip to Tunisia and are dismayed to learn the Department of State's Travel Advisory is almost a year old. Isn't there any way to get timely information about travel to potentially troubled destinations?
The State Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs no longer publishes Travel Advisories about dangerous social, political, criminal or military situations in international destinations. What you actually received is Tunisia's Consular Information Sheet, a basic reference document that the bureau produces about every country in the world. timely alerts are now called Travel Warnings and they are published only when the government believes a crisis makes travel dangerous. There's no Warning for Tunisia, but there are Warnings about travel to the neighboring countries of Libya and Algeria.

Q: Is it still legal to go to Cuba? How can I arrange to travel there?
A: According to the U.S. Department of the Treasury's interpretation of the Cuban embargo, "Spending money in connection with tourist ... trips is prohibited, whether travelers go directly to Cuba or via a third country such as Mexico, Canada or another Caribbean island." Some Americans skirt that regulation by purchasing packages from operators based in Jamaica (809-952-5629) or the Bahamas (809-328-0387). These all-inclusive packages are designed so that the visitor never spends money while on Cuban soil. These deals are of dubious legality, however, so travel at your own risk.

Q: Do airlines still spray their aircraft cabins with pesticides when passengers are aboard an international flight?
A: The United States stopped requiring spraying 15 years ago because of health concerns and the questionable effectiveness of the pesticides. However, the U.S. Department of Transportation says that 25 countries and territories still insist on the practice. Many are popular Caribbean destinations (St. Lucia, Jamaica, Barbados, Antigua, Trinidad and Grenada). New Zealand and Australia also require spraying, but offer airlines the option of spraying while there are no passengers on board.

Q: I've been told travelers can book low-cost accommodations at college campuses around the country. How can I make such arrangements?
A: Colleges and universities often allow travelers to book rooms in their dormitories and student residences during the late spring and summer. While accommodations are far from fancy, they are usually safe, clean and extremely inexpensive compared to the prices charged by nearby hotels and motels. A booklet called On Campus USA and Canada lists more than 200 institutions that accept reservations from travelers. ($5.95 plus $1.05 shipping from Key Guides, Box 130, Grafton, Ontario K0K 2G0 Canada)

Q: The rules for carry-on luggage constantly confuse me. What, exactly, am I allowed to carry on to a flight?
A: There are no exact regulations covering carry-on luggage. As the familiar announcement by flight attendants goes, the Federal Aviation Administration does require that any carry-on bag fit under the seat or in an overhead bin. Yet no federal agency regulates the number of bags you may carry. That's left to the judgment of each airline. Carriers generally permit two carry-on bags per person, but often allow a third if the additional piece is a briefcase or pocketbook. As for the allowable size of carry-on bags, consider the recent decision of Delta Air Lines to install a "size wize" box at all its airport facilities. Any piece of carry-on luggage that does not fit within the 24x16x10-inch frame of the Delta box now must be checked.

Q: Where can I obtain information on tours planned for the 50th anniversary of VJ Day in the Pacific?
A: Fiftieth anniversary commemorations of major Pacific campaigns are already underway. For example, tours and programs marking the fighting on Saipan, Guam, the Philippines, and Palau already have taken place this year. For tour programs in 1995, contact Valor Tours (415-332-7850) or Military Historical Tours (800-722-9501) Among Valor's Pacific programs are a 50th anniversary package to commemorate the recapture of Corregidor in the Philippines (February 11-18); a package to coincide with commemorative services on Okinawa (June 19-26); and a VJ Day package to Hawaii (August 10-20). A special tour in March that includes a one-day visit to Iwo Jima is already sold out.

Q: Is it possible to buy a round-trip ticket to Istanbul, Turkey, but also be able to fly to several other European countries along the way?
A: Travelers wishing to make multiple stops on a single trip to Europe should ask their travel agent to help them purchase an "airpass." Passes are sold to U.S. residents by many European airlines and are flexible and cost-effective forms of buying travel. The Europe AirPass sold by British Airways allows travelers who purchase a transatlantic ticket to buy tickets for a minimum of three and a maximum of 12 intra-Europe flights. One-way flights within Europe using the AirPass cost US$75 to US$150 each.

This column originally appeared in Travel Holiday magazine.

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