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Your Travel Questions, My Answers
July 1, 1995 -- There's nothing worse than a talking-head travel "expert" who thinks he has all the answers--especially when no one asked him a question.
So here are some of your recent questions to me. And my best answers to those insightful queries.
Q: Is there a source for accurate and up-to-date road maps for European countries and street maps for the major cities?
A: Call the national tourist office of each country. Most offer road maps free of charge and they may be appropriate for your purpose. Or check with Michelin (800-423-0485), the European tire company. Its renowned travel guides include detailed road and street maps, and the company also sells its maps separately. Another source is Rand McNally (800-234-0679), which operates a mail-order catalog and 24 retail shops. The company produces both the European Road Atlas ($11.95) and the Cosmopolitan World Atlas ($59.95). Lastly, walking maps of 13 European cities are available from AT&T, the long-distance company. Limited supplies of the free Walks Through Europe maps are available at 800-331-1140, extension 368.
Q: I'm looking for adult education travel experiences in Europe. I've found many programs for college students lasting a month or more, but I don't want to be with a college-age crowd and my schedule only allows two weeks. Any suggestions?
A: You sound like a perfect candidate for a subscription to The Educated Traveler. For $39 a year, the bi-monthly newsletter specializes in special-interest travel and cultural programs. It also publishes an annual directory of museum-sponsored tours. For more information write to P.O Box 220822, Chantilly, VA 22022, or call 800-648-5168.
Q: We'd like to plan a national-parks vacation this summer and are interested in buying a comprehensive guidebook. Which do you recommend?
A: There are at least three excellent guides to the national parks available in better bookstores. The 29th edition of Frommer's National Park Guide ($17) was released this spring and is packed with excellent photography and full-color park maps. Also useful are Fodor's National Parks of the West and Fodor's National Parks and Seashores of the East ($17 each). A fourth title, the 540-page Complete Guide to America's National Parks, is published by the National Park Foundation (1101 17 St. NW, Suite 1102, Washington, DC 20036). A portion of its $14.95 price is used to benefit the parks.
Q: We recently rented a car using a weekly rate, then used the vehicle for four days. When we returned it, the rental company refused to honor its weekly rate and charged us for four days at the daily rate. The four-day charge was substantially higher than the original weekly rate. What happened?
A: Your rental firm invoked the notorious "minimum keep" rule. For low-priced weekly rates to apply, most rental firms insist travelers keep the car for a minimum of five days. For a low-priced weekend rate to apply, most car firms require you to keep the car for at least 48 hours. The only way to avoid this hidden charge is to ask in advance about the "minimum keep" requirement. If you don't think you can use the car for as long as required, ask for a different package rate. And make sure you know what the rental will cost if the company's daily rate will apply.
Q: Our travel agent recently booked an itinerary for connecting flights using two different airlines. She issued separate tickets for each airline and we had to claim our luggage after the first flight and check it again with the second airline. Don't the airlines work together anymore?
A: Most full-service U.S. carriers and many international airlines have "interline" agreements that allow for coordinated ticketing and integrated luggage handling. But interlining is no longer required by law and many low-fare carriers, including Southwest Airlines, do not sign interline agreements. If you fly with a carrier that does not interline, you must have separate tickets and handle all the luggage transfers yourself.
Q: Does Hawaii have an "off season" when the weather is warm and the prices are low?
A: Most of Hawaii is blessed with balmy weather year-round. And the traditional off seasons for travel--mid-April to mid-June and mid-September through mid-November--are no longer relevant because tourism to Hawaii has slowed markedly in recent years. Hawaii hoteliers now offer substantial discounts most every day of the year. And even though airlines have reduced the total number of flights to Hawaii, they have begun to include Honolulu in their nationwide fare wars.
Q: Anything interesting going on in Montreal this summer?
A: Montreal offers an especially crowded cultural calendar this summer. The International Jazz Festival (until July 9) draws 1.5 million people for 350 performances. The Just for Laughs Festival (July 19-30) is the world's largest comedy event. The Festival International de Lanaudiere (June 30-August 6) features more than 40 classical music events. And the 1995 season of Les Grande Ballets Canadiens (July 26-30) begins outdoors, at the Theatre de Verdure. Better yet, the strength of the U.S. dollar in Canada means discounts of about 30 percent on everything from Montreal's abundant shopping to hotels. One example: the Great Canadian Summer Rate at the Montreal Bonaventure Hilton (800-445-8667) is priced at 129 Canadian dollars per night, or about 92 U.S. dollars.
This column originally appeared in Travel Holiday magazine.
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