The Washington Post’s Travel section writers and editors recently discussed stories, questions, gripes and more. Here are edited excerpts:
Q: Are traveler’s checks a thing of the past? I’m about to leave for a sailing trip in the Caribbean. And I’ve always gotten traveler’s checks from by Credit Union. They’re secure, the bank didn’t charge a fee for them and there was no foreign transaction fee. Today, I find they no longer offer traveler’s checks, and I can’t find a bank that does. How did traveler’s checks disappear from the world without me hearing about it? What other options are available?
A: In addition to banks phasing them out, few vendors still accept them. I am not sure where you are going sailing, but most Caribbean islands accept U.S. dollars and credit cards. You can also buy a prepaid debit card or take money out at an ATM as needed (but watch for those transaction fees).
– Andrea Sachs
Q: I read that the feds haven’t made any proposals for a requirement that families be allowed to sit together on planes. I keep wondering if there are some restrictions when ordering seats that they can’t get them together? On Southwest are families prohibited from signing up for Early Bird as we do? Any “families are more equal than others” on planes should require that a passenger inconvenienced by a family’s wish to sit together be reimbursed and the family required to pay for upgrades. There should be age limits on the children – teenagers shouldn’t fall in the same category as toddlers. There is no right to fly.
A: Airlines claim they already do their best to seat families – especially families with young children – together. Congress last year asked the Department of Transportation to create a new regulation that would require airlines to seat families together without forcing them to pay a seat reservation fee, but that new rule seems to be stalled. If you’re flying on Southwest, you can always pay for one Early Bird and then “reserve” the other seats for your family with a jacket or sweater, but that’s something that, while allowed by the airline, is frowned upon by other Early Birders and passengers.
– Christopher Elliott
Q: Andrea, do you really never use foreign ATMs? That must either mean you carry a lot of cash – which presents obvious security issues – or pay for everything with credit or debit cards, for which you pay a variety of fees (and debit cards linked to your bank account are risky themselves for a lot of reasons). Are you really coming out ahead? Do you see judicious use of ATMs – taking out cash you need for a few days at a time, using banks and cards with the lowest fees – as a bad route?
A: I am not the norm, I know. But I don’t carry my debit card for security reasons (as you noted) and I don’t want to pay layers of fees to use my Visa in the ATM. Plus, I never remember my pin number (not even sure I have one). I usually book as much as possible in advance (hotels, car rental, etc.) and charge the rest (my credit card company does not charge a conversion fee). I also change a small amount of cash in advance for cabs, markets, etc., but never carry large sums of money. I travel frugally and have never run out of money, except in Cuba. But I didn’t mind living on rice and beans for the remaining days.
That said, I don’t think ATMs are evil. I just think travelers need to be aware of the transaction fees and budget smartly when they take out money abroad.
– Andrea Sachs
Q: What exactly does travel insurance cover? I always get it with my plane ticket, which I assume covers additional fees if I have to change my flight home or cancel the trip altogether. (I know, I know, time to read the fine print.) But is there travel insurance that can cover the cost of an Airbnb rental? So many listings have such a strict cancellation policy, which I understand, but stuff can happen in my life and I don’t want to be out hundreds of dollars if it does.
A: Most travel insurance covers the cost of your accommodations, as long as you’re filing a claim for a covered reason.
– Christopher Elliott
Q: I am heading to St. Augustine, Florida, next month for 3½ days. I expect mainly to enjoy walking around historic area, where we are staying, but would also like to walk on the beach (Anastasia State Park or the more northern wildlife refuge). I am debating whether to rent a car from the Jacksonville airport versus the ease of a shuttle to/from airport. If we choose, the latter, are there other ways to get to the beaches from historic St. Augustine?
A: There is a beach bus offered by Old Town Trolley Tours, but you need to buy a trolley tour ticket in order to use it, which costs $29 for two days. An Uber ride should cost less than $10 each way.
– Carol Sottili