Q: What is the etiquette for using a laptop while dining alone in a restaurant?
A: First, we need to talk about what kind of restaurant where it's appropriate to use a laptop at all. If the restaurant actively promotes the fact that it has free Wi-Fi, I think they're expecting -- even trying to attract -- customers who want to have a bite to eat while they use a laptop. Most coffee shops and quick-service chains fall into that category. But if you're at a more formal restaurant, leave that laptop in its bag. The couple at the table beside you at Le Bernardin are probably expecting a romantic dinner -- someone sitting there typing away would ruin the ambiance.
But if you are at a restaurant where laptops are OK, make sure you use yours politely. Take the smallest available table (this is true whenever you're dining alone, actually). Do not hog the power outlets. These are usually few and far between, so if you arrive with a full battery, leave the tables near outlets for someone else. If you want to watch a video or listen to music, wear headphones, and don't sing along with what's playing or tap out the beat on the table with your pen.
And do not linger for hours over a small coffee if other customers carrying full trays of lunch are waiting for tables.
Q: What do you do if you have a very chatty child and you have to fly with him? My son is very verbal (he's 4) and isn't afraid to start a conversation with anyone. He's not going to cry or scream or kick seats -- but can he ever talk! Most people think it's cute, but he can go on and on and on. If the person beside him were trying to get work done, it would be pretty annoying. If we were in a group of three seats, I'd just put myself between him and the other passenger, but we're on a big plane and have two middle seats, so someone will definitely be next to him. Help!
A: I know exactly what you're talking about -- I have quite the little conversationalist myself. First, don't decide who's sitting in what seat until you see who sits beside you. If the passenger to your right is in a suit and carrying a laptop bag, and the passenger to your left is a young dad whose wife and kids are sitting in another aisle, put your son next to the dad. Other parents are traveling parents' best friends.
Second, pay attention to what's going on at all times. Don't get lost in a game on your phone or enthralled by the in-flight movie. If the other passenger is showing signs of annoyance, or says, "That was an interesting story about Stonehenge, but now I'm going to work on my laptop," then you have to step in. Tell your son it's time to stop chatting with the nice gentleman or lady because everyone would like some quiet time. Have a new and interesting toy or book (or a few) in your carry-on. Load up your smartphone with games and a movie, and bring kid-sized headphones. Bring anything that would distract your son and let the person beside him get some peace.
Q: My sister and I and our husbands and kids are going to Orlando, Fla., for spring break. I think we should get a minivan that could carry all of us (six people total) and split the cost. My sister, however, thinks each family group should get its own car. This is more expensive. What do you think?
A: I would get two cars. This way, you don't all have to do everything together. Think about it: If you have just one car, that means no choosing different restaurants. If your sister's kid isn't feeling well and they want to leave the Magic Kingdom early, your family either has to cut your day short, too, or take a cab back to your hotel. The extra cost, in my opinion, is worth it.travel
Email travel-etiquette questions to Lesley Carlin at firstname.lastname@example.org.