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Ask T+L | Bocas del Toro, Lost Luggage, Dude Ranch

Q: My husband and I are going to the Bocas del Toro province, in northwestern Panama. How can we make the most of our time there? —Beverly Crusher, Granbury, Tex.

A: The region’s namesake capital, located on the southeastern tip of Isla Colón, is the perfect base for exploring this archipelago of nine pristine islands. Stay at the Punta Caracol Acqua-Lodge, a string of nine bungalows with private terraces overlooking a coral reef. With community-minded Bocas Water Sports (507/757-9541; bocaswatersports.com; from $20 per person), you can snorkel Crawl Cay, watch bottlenoses frolic in Dolphin Bay, and lounge on the white sand of Red Frog Beach (home to the native dart frog), all part of a daylong guided tour of the islands. Or take a 20-minute water taxi ride to the town of Bocas to browse traditional jewelry and artwork at the daily street markets.

Q: What steps should I take if an airline loses my luggage? —Sharon Gill, Sacramento, Calif.

A: If your suitcase goes missing, don’t panic. According to U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) representative Bill Mosley, the airlines eventually resolve 98 percent of the 269,000 mishandled-baggage claims filed each month by passengers on domestic flights. First, file a claim at the airline’s baggage office to kick off an electronic search. After three days, submit a second claim detailing the contents of your bag. If your luggage is declared “lost”—which may occur after a period of seven to 60 days, depending on the carrier—you’re entitled to a reimbursement of up to $3,000 (domestically; internationally, the maximum is around $1,500), provided you can supply receipts. If the total value of your bag is higher than the reimbursement ceiling, consider purchasing the airline’s “excess valuation” coverage at check-in. See the DOT’s Aviation Consumer Protection Division’s handbook for more information (airconsumer.ost.dot.gov).

Q: With flu season coming up, I’m concerned about getting sick while traveling. Do hand sanitizers really work? —Leslie Devlin, Riverhead, N.Y.

A: “I only use hand sanitizers when soap isn’t available,” says Dr. Anna Bowen, medical epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sanitizers with a minimum alcohol concentration of 60 percent, such as Purell and Germ-X, have been proven to kill germs effectively, but they don’t wash away dirt, grime, or certain agents such as the norovirus. “If you do opt for a sanitizing product,” Bowen says, “make sure you use enough gel to cover the entire surface of your hands, and let them dry completely.”

Ask an Expert T+L Features Director Alice Gordon

Q: I know that some dude ranches allow guests to participate in their daily operations. Any recommendations?—Stephen Walker, Portland, Oreg.

A: “Even a working dude ranch might encourage leisure over tasks that make you feel like one of the cowboys,” says T+L’s resident Texan Alice Gordon. “So be sure to ask in detail about the jobs they’ll welcome help with. I had a great time moving hay and doctoring calves at Sweet Grass Ranch (sweetgrassranch.com), in Montana’s Crazy Mountains.” At the Arizona-based Price Canyon Ranch (pricecanyon.com), 2 1/2 hours from Tucson, you’ll herd cattle and pitch in with weaning in the spring. The Hideout at Flitner Ranch, in Wyoming, invites year-round participation in activities such as cattle drives. And though you won’t draw a salary, most stays are reasonably priced. For more options, try the Dude Ranchers Association (duderanch.org).

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