Q. I'm planning a trip to Ireland within the next six to eight months. Will you recommend a reputable tour company?
First, let me make a case for not using a tour operator at all: If there's one country where you can travel independently with ease, it's Ireland. The country is small and manageable, it's easy to get around in and they speak English.
Every major Irish city has a well-staffed tourism office where you can book lodgings and find information on attractions. To be sure, you'll get confused driving the winding roads; you'll need directions to obscure villages; you might even get a flat tire.
But it's all part of the experience, and in virtually any situation, a local is likely to come bounding over to help you – and will have a story to share in the process.
Never miss a local story.
If you're still unsure, consider something like the self-drive program offered by Isle Inn Tours, of Alexandria, Va. It's designed for those who like to plan their own itineraries yet want the security of guaranteed accommodations and the savings of a package. You can choose open vouchers for B&Bs or book in advance at a variety of lodgings.
Cost is $900 per person double (plus $95 tax, which is subject to change) for travel in March and April and includes round-trip air fare from Washington Dulles to Dublin, six nights' lodging in B&Bs with private bathrooms and a standard-shift car with unlimited mileage.
You can also upgrade if you'd like to stay in castles or manor homes. Details: www.isleinntours.com.
Or, visit Tourism Ireland's Web site – www.discoverireland.com/us – for a comprehensive list of recommended tour operators (click “Plan Your Visit,” then “Tour Operators”).
Q. My wife's passport will expire while we'll be in the middle of a cruise visiting Germany, Spain, Italy, France and Croatia.
I've heard that some countries deny entry if your passport expires within six months after your visit.
Is this correct?
Unfortunately for your wife, yes.
Regular readers know that our official mantra is “Get a passport” – even if you don't think you need one. Our lesser-known, corollary mantra: Renew it at least six months before it expires. That's because of the widely differing rules among foreign governments regarding passport expiration dates for visitors. Because countries can change entry requirements at any time, the U.S. State Department has no effective way of keeping track of the rules.
As for the countries you'll be visiting, we checked with their embassies regarding their current entry requirements.
Germany: Your passport must be valid for one day after the last day of your stay.
Spain: Six months.
Italy: Three months.
France: Ninety days.
Croatia: No expiration date requirement.
Details: 877-487-2778; http://travel.state.gov/passport.