The Washington Post's travel writers and editors recently discussed travel stories, questions, gripes and more. Here are edited excerpts:
Q: We're going on a trip that includes a stop in Russia. How long does it take to get a visa?
A: Processing times depend on the volume of applicants, so you never know if it will take three days or 15 working days (typically the max wait time). Moral of the story: Always apply early.
Russia visas are notoriously complicated. I used a third-party service, VisaHQ, to facilitate the transaction. They made sure I had all of the proper paperwork before submitting it to the consulate, and I had no problems whatsoever.
- Andrea Sachs
Q: I have purchased airline tickets and accommodations for two weeks in June in South Africa. Can you suggest where I may purchase trip insurance?
A: Go to a website that compares various travel insurance policies from different companies. Try InsureMyTrip, QuoteWright and SquareMouth.
- Carol Sottili
Q: What's the best area of Austin, Texas, to stay in for a short vacation? We don't need it to be a super nice place, location is more important than luxury and we do want to keep costs down a little. We are okay with hotels or Airbnb. Also, where do we find the best tacos/mexican food?
A: You can get some great deals renting from private owners through sites such as Homeaway (make sure you do your homework before handing over any money). I'd look outside the downtown proper area, perhaps south of Lady Bird Lake. I like Torchy's Tacos.
Q: We're thinking of spending about a week on the eastern side of Sicily, probably in the fall. Any suggestions on what we should plan on hitting, or avoiding?
A: Even if you stay on Sicily's eastern end, you can visit other places on the island. Must-sees include Taormina, Syracuse, Agrigento and Cefalu. I wasn't all that enamored with Messina.
Q: My wife and I are planning a European trip next May. I have already booked a two week cruise through Northern Europe but we would like to Eurorail it for another week around Europe either before (or after) the cruise. But we won't need the same clothing for our "vagabond" train trip as we will need on the cruise. Any ideas of where I can stash a suitcase or two for a week or so? Our cruise is starting and returning to Amsterdam.
A: Lock Luggage Storage Amsterdam, near the central train station, stores visitors' luggage.
Q: I've cruised 10 times since 1970, on smaller, older ships, with the maximum number of passengers at about 2,000. I like that size ship because I run into the same people and get accustomed to the venues and amenities fairly quickly. I'm considering a cruise next year with a group on a ship that holds 4,000 passengers. The itinerary is great, but I'm worried that there will be too many passengers, too many venues, long lines, too long to tender, etc. for my taste. Are those bigger ships as crowded as I imagine?
A: Depends where and when it is cruising. If it's one of the newer ships with lots of amenities and you want to go to the Caribbean during spring break, expect a crowd, including plenty of kids. But I'd say give it a try if you're outside of peak travel times.
Q: I'm going to Germany to visit family stationed at Ramstein near Frankfurt for a week next month. I haven't been to Europe before but am really not into history and older architecture. I do love any an all natural wonders, food and basically walking around a city, soaking up the vibes. Am looking into the Wadden Sea and would have a great time just driving through the countryside. I hear there are tulips and windmills in Holland. Anything else that you recommend?
A: Berlin, Amsterdam and Vienna are walkable cities with lots of personality. For natural beauty, England's Lake District,the Italian Alps (Val Gardena region) and the rural areas near Strasbourg, France are a few of my favorites.
Q: I could use some recommendations for affordable (and family friendly) central-ish London hotels for this summer. All the places that friends recommended are fully booked for when we're traveling.
A: For budget friendly lodging in London, take a look at the Premier Inn chain.