Ask T+L: Adventure Outfitter, Driving to Mexico, Rome Hotels, International Cell Phones
In the south of France, I always stay at Le Mas Hardi [3910 Rte. de Baucaire, Sernhac; 33-4/66-37-49-28; www.mashardi.com ; doubles from $75], run by Victor and Franca Rodriguez, former diplomats, from Venezuela and Italy, respectively. The exterior remains true to the name (a mas is a Provençal farmhouse), but the bright interiors are filled with antiques from all over the world. Franca is a fantastic cook—on my first night, she whipped up the most amazing arroz con pollo, followed by thyme-infused ice cream. Rooms come stocked with her homemade apricot jam and sachets of fragrant lavender grown on the premises.—Lynsey Moore, Memphis, Tenn.
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Can you recommend some small, well-situated hotels in Rome? —Marc Yergovich, San Francisco, Calif.
Hotel Locarno (22 Via della Penna; 39-06/361-0841; www.hotellocarno.com ; doubles from $250) is located just off the Piazza del Popolo and near the Spanish Steps. Furnished with original Art Deco pieces, it was the setting for an obscure 1978 eponymous movie by Swiss filmmaker Bernard Weber. An added bonus: you can spend the money you save on Via Condotti. The Franklin (29 Via Rodi; 39-06/3903-0165; www.franklinhotelrome.it ; doubles from $270) is close to the famed covered flower market and the Vatican. This place is big on privacy, but for more, book one of the rooms with a balcony or garden. There are Bang & Olufsen sound systems in each of the 22 beechwood-and-metal rooms—and even speakers in the bathrooms. Tiny Le Tre Suites (6 Via delle Tre Madonne; 39-06/8069-2356; www.letresuites.com ; doubles from $260) , which opened last year, has only five airy rooms but is big on service. Just ask and they'll set up a tour of the city guided by an art historian or a session with a personal trainer in the nearby Villa Borghese Park.
I take a lot of overseas trips and need a cell phone that works all over the world. Any advice on avoiding expensive roaming charges? —David Ward, Princeton, N.J.
You'll need at the very least an unlocked GSM (Global System for Mobile communications) phone. Make sure that the cell phone incorporates quad-band technology, allowing you to plug into providers wherever there is cell service. Your phone holds a SIM card, which contains your account information. For traveling abroad, you'll want to switch to an international SIM card such as the Global Riiing (available at www.ustronics.com , from $59), which works in more than 100 countries, or, if your trips take you to one particular destination, opt for a country-specific card, with even lower rates per minute. International SIM cards come with prepaid minutes, are refillable, and make it possible to avoid roaming charges. Ask your carrier to unlock the phone (so you can switch out SIM cards) and to enable your new card.
Are there restrictions on renting a car in the United States and driving it to Mexico? —Alleyne Alderton, Milwaukee, Wisc.
Most major car-rental agencies have clauses against driving their vehicles across the border. It is possible, however. Paula Stifter, a spokeswoman for Hertz, says the company offers customers an optional insurance policy on some models. You won't get very far, though—the additional $35 a day allows you to travel only 250 miles south of the border. Don't test your luck; the Mexican police are aware of insurance restrictions and have been known to impound American rental vehicles, according to the U.S. State Department. When renting a car, be upfront with the rental agent and clearly state your travel plans, then stick to the stipulations of your contract. Another option is to rent a car from within Mexico. Check with your hotel concierge for the best local choices.
What should I look for in an adventure outfitter? —Jill Montgomery, Los Angeles, Calif.
Since planning an active vacation involves more than just booking your hotel and plane ticket—you have to know what kind of terrain you can handle and how to use any equipment properly—it's important to speak directly with outfitters. Book your trip at least 90 days in advance, advises T+L's associate research editor (and adventure guru) Jennifer Cole. And request references—a reputable outfitter committed to service will put you in touch with previous clients who will give you candid feedback. If you'll be using the company's equipment, ask to try it out beforehand. And take advantage of outfitter collectives, whose members hold one another to certain standards. The Adventure Collection (www.adventurecollection.com ) and Grand Expeditions (www.grandex.com ), for example, include such well-known companies as Backroads, Travcoa, and ROAM. Or for a list of T+L readers' favorite outfitters, see Travel + Leisure's World's Best rankings on travelandleisure.com/worldsbest .