My friend and I are traveling to Peru this summer. Do you know of any private tours?
—L.A.S., ASHEVILLE, N.C.
On the 12-day Inca Trail to Machu Picchu offered by Inka's Empire Tours (212/787-0500; www.inkas.com; from $4,380 per person, including accommodations, transfers, medical and travel insurance, and most meals), you'll reach the fabled citadel as the Incas did: on foot. The 30-mile trek takes four days—you'll camp along the way (porters carry your gear and meals)—but your reward is exploring Machu Picchu in the afternoon, after other tour groups have left. The itinerary also includes visits to the capital, Lima, the ruins of the Sacred Valley, and to the Incan art and monuments in Cuzco. If hiking at an altitude of 9,000 feet isn't your idea of a vacation, Orient-Express has a less rigorous seven-day Peruvian Adventure (800/524-2420; www.orient-express.com; from $3,595 per person, including accommodations at three Orient-Express hotels, transfers, and some meals) that goes through Lima, Cuzco, the Sacred Valley, and up to Machu Picchu via the luxurious Hiram Bingham train.
Is there any way to avoid the change fee that Orbitz tacks onto the $100 or so that airlines charge?
—C.G., VIA E-MAIL
While Expedia does not have a flight-changing fee, both Orbitz and Travelocity add on $30 when you alter your itinerary. This charge is posted clearly on their sites, but the companies aren't eager to tell you that you may be able to change directly with the airlines, avoiding the fee. Policies vary: an American Airlinesspokesman says its reservationists will change e-tickets booked through other companies, and an Orbitz spokeswomansays rebooking directly with the airline isn't a problem. However, Robin Urbanski at United Airlines says reservationists can change only tickets bought through United.
Can you recommend any affordable New York City hotels?
—E.G., RENO, NEV.
Room rates are creeping up again in the Big Apple, but there are still a few places you can rest your head for under $175 a night. André Balazs's new Times Square property, Hotel QT (125 W. 45th St.; 212/354-2323; www.hotelqt.com; doubles from $125), is like a groovy youth hostel. Rooms are outfitted with flat-screen TV's with DVD players, free high-speed Wi-Fi Internet access, and pillow-top mattresses covered with white duvets. The lobby pool has a swim-up bar; a coed sauna and steam room beckon from a few steps away. The Abingdon Guest House (13 Eighth Ave.; 212/243-5384; www.abingdonguesthouse.com; doubles from $159), in Greenwich Village, comprises two restored 1850's Federal town houses. Many of the nine rooms have canopied four-poster beds and exposed brick walls.
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The Abingdon Guest House
Intimate, elegant, and authentically Villagey, the Abingdon occupies two adjacent, refurbished 18th-century Federal town houses in the heart of the West Village. The nine themed guest rooms are sophisticated but still bohemian; several have exposed brick walls, decorative tin ceilings, and ornamental fireplaces; all are decorated with an eclectic mix of antique repros (four-poster beds, armoires, writing desks), Oriental rugs and textiles, and modern fixtures (track lighting, glass shower stalls).
Tip: Bring a bathrobe. Although all rooms have private bathrooms, some aren't en suite—you'll need to enter yours from the hall.
Room to Book: The Martinique and Essex rooms are the quietest, with windows overlooking a small garden. For charm, though, go for the Windsor Room, with its wingback chairs, parquet floors, and (nonworking but still romantic-looking) brick fireplace.
Andre Balazs has made frugality fun at this whimsical Times Square address. The 140 rooms are pod-size (even the largest penthouse units are a weeny 270 square feet), but fitted with slick, modern trappings: platform beds—some of them bunks with chrome climbing ladders—personal-size flat-screen TV's, and fresh white duvets. All have free Wi-Fi and little fridges that guests can self-stock from the snack bar/newsstand in the lobby. If all this sounds like an upscale college dorm, well, that's not too far off—the travelers who put up here tend to be in their twenties, European, and good-looking. But considering the fact that the lobby has a glassed-in pool with a swim-up bar (where tipsy wee-hour skinny-dips have reportedly occurred), that's probably a good thing.
Tip: All rooms are pet friendly—although given their size, you might have trouble fitting anything bigger than a Chihuahua.
Room to Book: Of the standard rooms with king and queen beds, those with floor plan "B" are the biggest (some are the same size as "PH"—penthouse—units).