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We are thinking of taking our children aged seven and three to Goa for Christmas. Is this advisable for health and safety reasons? Can you give advice on flights, food, and where to go?

Felicity Greene

Worthing, Sussex

Jill Crawshaw replies: I have taken my young sons to Goa several times without any problems. Goa is beginner's India - there's less hassle, the heat is less searing, and as one of the richer states of India, there is less poverty. With its long Portuguese heritage, even the food is recognisable.

As you are going at the busy Christmas period, you'll do best to pre- book a package - and do it soon. Packages use charter flights which avoid the bureaucracy and queues of Delhi airport.

Get your injections sorted out in good time; hepatitis A, malaria, polio, tetanus, typhoid and possibly TB for children. You'll also need a visa.

Take particular care about water - it should be bottled, and sealed. I take water purifying tablets, and use them even when cleaning teeth.

Keep the children covered in T-shirts and sunhats, and use a high factor protection cream. From about 5pm take cotton cover-ups for arms and legs to keep off the mosquitoes. Make sure to keep the children away from dogs and monkeys, as there is rabies in Goa.

Spots to avoid are Calangute in the north, and Colva to the south. Excellent, quieter beaches include Candolim and Vagator in the north, Majorda, Cavelossim and Palolem in the south.

It is easy to get about - while car hire is expensive, local drivers outside every hotel will take the whole family for a day or half day outing from about pounds 20 or so.

Try to see the Friday market at Mapuca, or the Wednesday one at Anjuna, visit the capital Panjim, and Old Goa, the former capital.

Jill Crawshaw is a travel expert, writer, and broadcaster.

Can I take kids to Goa?

How can I get balanced advice for timeshare purchases?

Having been on several unsatisfactory package holidays, I am considering buying a timeshare. Please could you tell me what independent literature there is on the subject, and if there is a body to contact for balanced advice?

Mr E J Rolinson, Lancashire

I met Eleanor, from Denmark, in the Blue Sky Cafe on Sudder Street, Calcutta. It's a trendy hangout for travellers on the Asia trail and was packed every hour of the day. That meant you had to grab a seat wherever you could.

I joined Eleanor and her friend Leana for breakfast at a corner table. They both charmed me by laughing at all of my jokes as we devoured chocolate and banana pancakes. I remember Eleanor's laugh was as loud as a jack hammer. Every time she let loose all those cool travellers stared, but she was oblivious to them. She was wonderful.

I was loath to part company with her and, partly through desperation, suggested that the three of us watch a Scottish folk group called the Battlefield Band that evening. The gig had been organised by the British Council as a "cultural event" for Calcutta's elite. Like me, they thought it promised to be a novelty and agreed to come.

We decided to make a night of it and visited a drink store on the way. We arrived just in time and took our seats among smartly dressed, middle- class Indian couples. The band were given a polite reception. But it soon became clear that most of the audience didn't know what to make of this rowdy folk-rock. I'm embarrassed to say that Eleanor and I got the giggles. The band then encouraged everyone to dance. Fortified by alcohol, we were the only ones to oblige, with a poor improvisation of the highland fling. The audience thought us deranged.

After the final encore I walked back with the girls to their hotel and Leana tactfully retired. Eleanor and I sat chatting on a low wall, enjoying the tropical night. After a couple of hours of chatting like old friends we decided to retire. I was due to leave for Darjeeling the next morning, while she planned to stay a while longer in Calcutta. We hugged and kissed and said our goodbyes.

Early next morning I caught a ramshackle bus and made my way to Howrah Station with a hollow feeling in my stomach. There I found that the trains were on strike. Services were not due to resume until the following day. This gave me the perfect excuse to stay an extra day in Calcutta.

I went back to Sudder Street with the hole in my stomach now filled with butterflies and met Eleanor and Leana in the cafe. They were sitting at the same table and once again we enjoyed a breakfast of chocolate and banana pancakes, continuing in the good spirits of the previous evening.

I didn't leave the next day or the one after that. Eleanor and I walked the city streets, taking in many sights and enjoying each other's company.

That was more than three-and-a-half years ago. We did eventually leave Calcutta, but we have never parted company.

The travel editor replies: Many people are put off by the bad press and hard-sell strategies of some unscrupulous timeshare organisations. But for tens of thousands of people it is a great way of taking a holiday.

Timeshare is the right to occupy an apartment, villa or hotel suite in a chosen resort by the outright purchase of selected specified weeks, or weeks in a specified seasonal time band for a set number of years. Alternatively you can purchase timeshare points, whose "value" gives occupational rights at a number of agreed timeshare resorts.

There are several books available on the subject of timeshare, but their major drawback is that they are badly in need of updating. By far the most readable is Practical Timeshare and Group Ownership by Colin Jenkins (Butterworth, pounds 37). The Citizens' Advice Bureau offer a publication called The Timeshare Guide (tel: 0171 510 0174, and quote reference URN/97/643 to obtain a free copy). In general it is excellent, although it can give a false sense of security. It claims that timeshare buyers throughout the European Union are legally protected by the compulsory 10-day cooling off period incorporated in the new EU timeshare directive. But this is not yet the case.

Until all EU member states have ratified the directive's proposals, it can't be implemented. Spain and the Canary Islands, who have the most timeshare property firms, are among those dragging their feet. Therefore, if you plan to buy into timeshares outside the UK (which by law has a 14-day cooling off period) it is important to check the cooling off period offered by the individual company from which you are buying.

The Timeshare Council (tel: 0171 821 8845) is the official voice of the industry in the UK. It insists that all its members offer a 14-day cooling off period.

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