Q: I'm going to New York, and I have developed this kind of irrational fear of bedbugs. I'm staying at the Hilton in midtown, and someone on Yelp (I hope just someone who hates the Hilton) said something about bedbugs. Now I can't shake the fear that I'm going to bring home pests in my suitcase. Can you talk off me this ledge, or at least put my fear in context?
A: Bedbugs are a fact of life. And they're all over New York. Not only have hotels been hit with them, but stores, including Nike, Victoria's Secret, Abercrombie, etc., have been forced to close to deal with infestations.
That said, chances are you won't be infested. But take precautions: Pull back the sheets and check the mattress creases for the small bugs , their droppings and any blood spots. Use the luggage rack, not the bed, for your suitcase. Inspect your suitcase when you get home before you bring it into the house. And check Bedbugregistry for outbreaks (I tend to believe it more when there are multiple mentions). Finally, although they are gross, they don't carry disease.
Q: My husband and I are expecting a baby in the spring and would love to get away alone before that. We can't go before January. I'm thinking of trying the Caribbean for some warmth; we're not big beach people, but we love nature. I hear St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands, has a natural setting. Do you have any other recommendations? And isn't January a high season for the Caribbean? Will prices be insane?
A: January is high season, but if you go after the holidays, you will see lower rates before they pick up again in February. I call it the Hangover Period. St. John is so natural and low-key. You can fly to St. Thomas and take the ferry over. Also consider Puerto Rico, which has so many different ecosystems: the rain forest, coffee plantations, the surfing beaches of the west coast, the undeveloped beaches of Vieques.
Q. We are planning a trip to Italy and Greece next summer, and we would like to bring along a small communications tool so we can keep in touch with parents and children by e-mail. What would you recommend?
A. Because you seem more interested in e-mail than phone calls, I'd skip carrying any electronic device. Instead, pop into Internet cafes, which are popular in both Italy and Greece. You'll get doses of culture and caffeine while connecting to your loved ones. Some hotels have computers you can use for a fee. Just be sure you can access your e-mail account via the Internet; Earthlink, Yahoo and Hotmail are all Web-based.
If you really want something you can carry around, get a smart phone, but keep several things in mind. You probably will need an international roaming and data plan for overseas coverage. You could incur roaming charges when the phone checks for incoming messages (automatic roaming for data can be turned off; ask your service provider for details). Also be aware that you will be charged for incoming calls even if you don't pick them up, so it may cost a pretty penny to get that solicitation for the upcoming school bake sale. Smart travelers check cost and connectivity thoroughly with their service providers before bringing a smart phone to Europe.
Q: My son doesn't have a credit card, but he has a debit card. When he tried to pick up a rental car at Enterprise in Portland, Ore., the agent said he had to have a credit card to get the car. They finally let him use his debit card but at a higher rental rate. What's the problem?
A: More Americans are trying to use credit cards judiciously, but when you pick up a rental car, most companies want to swipe a credit card. That's even if you plan to pay for the car at turn-in with cash or a debit card.
Some firms accept a debit card at pick-up -- with a catch. They will put a "hold" (that is, freeze money in your checking account) for as much as $500 -- money you'll eventually be refunded, but not for three to five business days after you turn in the car. They also might do an immediate credit check on you.
Your son learned a hard lesson. Next time, he should call ahead to make sure his debit card will be accepted.