Q&A: Where will we find the best beaches in New England?

The Independent Parent: Your Questions Answered

Q We are relocating to Boston for a few months this autumn. However, before moving to the city, we would like to go to New England in mid-August for a two-week holiday. We are travelling with our two children (aged one and nearly four) and would like an area with child-friendly activities, and to spend some time on the beach.

Q We are relocating to Boston for a few months this autumn. However, before moving to the city, we would like to go to New England in mid-August for a two-week holiday. We are travelling with our two children (aged one and nearly four) and would like an area with child-friendly activities, and to spend some time on the beach.

We could do with suggestions for cheap accommodation (chalet-style or, perhaps, a Winnebago) and, ideally, would prefer to have a separate room for the children. Since we will be able to make trips later in the autumn, we won't need to cover a lot of ground.

Alison Baker, via e-mail

A Of New England's seven states, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Connecticut offer the best range of beach destinations within easy reach of Boston. To the north, Maine has some spectacular family-friendly beaches in the southern half of the state.

Massachusetts has some of the most impressive, uninterrupted stretches of sandy beach. About an hour's drive from Boston, Cape Cod is a favourite with families. The 50-odd miles of the Cape Cod National Seashore is home to some of the wildest beaches, but these are possibly a little too wild for young swimmers. It might be wise to head towards Nantucket Sound, where the water is calmer. From here, day trips from Hyannis Port to the pretty islands of Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket are also possible, and boats depart regularly.

There are extensive bike trails throughout Cape Cod, Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket, including the Cape Cod Rail cycle route, with its diverse coastal scenery and flat terrain. Details of cycle routes can be found at www.capecodchamber.org, while bikes with child seats and wheelie "tagalongs" can be hired in Falmouth, Hyannis and Oak Bluffs from Bike Zone (001 508 775 3299, www.bikezone.com).

Vermont, New England's only landlocked state, should not be discounted either. Home to Lake Champlain, it has been compared to Massachusetts' Cape Cod. The 120-mile long lake offers all the attractions of the seaside, plus lots of child-friendly activities.

You don't say whether or not you have already booked your flights, so the following prices are for accommodation only. Bear in mind that separate or adjoining rooms for the children will push the prices up considerably. America As You Like It (020-8742 8299, www.americaasyoulikeit.com) offers a wide variety of holidays in New England, ranging from B&Bs to fly-drive itineraries, and recommends Cape Cod for family holidays. In August, two weeks at the Yarmouth Resort Hotel at West Yarmouth in Massachusetts costs £1,752 for two adjoining rooms (the price is halved if you all share a family room). The hotel has indoor and outdoor pools, and is located five minutes drive from the beach. In the main Cape Cod town of Hyannis, two weeks in a two-bedroom self-catering home, five minutes' drive from the beach, costs £1,650. Car hire can also be arranged for £203 per week for a four-door.

Travelbag (0870 890 1459, www. travelbag.co.uk) also offers tailor-made fly-drive holidays throughout the US, including motorhome hire in New England, and it can arrange accommodation-only packages. As an example, two-weeks' (from 11-24 August) basic rental of a motor home, sleeping a family of four, will cost you £644. The price does not include your bed linen and cooking equipment, though, which will set you back a hefty supplement of £60 per day. For a fortnight, the surcharge amounts to £840, or more than the basic cost of the rental.

There are also various B&B booking agencies in and around Cape Cod that can offer you economical accommodation. However, as August is the peak season, bear in mind that prices are at their highest and bookings should be made as soon as possible. Expect to pay, on average, between $90 (£60) and $175 (£120) per room, per night. Bed & Breakfast Cape Cod (001 508 255 3824, www.bedandbreakfastcapecod.com) has 175 properties on its books; Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket Reservations (001 508 693 7200, www.mvreservations. com) has 150 properties; and Destinnations New England (001 508 790 0577, www.destinnations.com) has 40 properties throughout the region. All of the above can be booked through the Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism (020-7978 7429, www.massvacation.com).

For a slightly cheaper alternative to Cape Cod, and one with excellent family activities, there's the lakeshore beaches of New Hampshire. American Independence (0870 241 4217) offers two weeks at Eagle Mountain House, a family-friendly resort in Jackson just a short drive from the beach, for £888 per adult and £630 per child if you opt for adjoining rooms. If you all share, children go free.

For general travel information, contact Discover New England, the umbrella organisation representing the New England states of Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont; call the premium rate (£1 per minute) number, 0906 558 8555, or visit www.discovernewengland.org.

Q My daughter is in her second year at university, reading Marine Biology and French. This summer, she is interested in finding an environmental volunteer project/holiday, possibly in the area of her degree. Would you be able to point us in the direction of any useful websites where we could find out more information?

Pam McKeon, Cheshire

A A good place to start is the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers, which these days prefers to be known by the snappier name of BTCV (01491 839766, www.btcv.org). It is the largest organisation of its kind in the UK, and arranges activities for upwards of 130,000 volunteers annually, on projects worldwide. The charity operates more than 500 holidays, both in the UK and overseas. No prior experience of conservation work is necessary.

The Marine Conservation Society (01989 566017, www.mcsuk.org) is the UK's national charity for the marine environment and its wildlife. It offers selected holidays, which are for qualified divers only, and can also supply listings for organisations that cater to students. In this case, it recommends Coral Cay (0870 750 0668, www.coralcay. org), which works on coral reefs around the world, collating data to help with preservation. This is used for recommending which marine areas will become protected reserves. Currently, its research expeditions are based in Honduras, the Philippines and Fiji. Finally, Earthwatch (01865 318838, www.earthwatch.org/europe) is a non-profit organisation that aims to promote sustainable conservation of natural resources by creating partnerships between scientists and the general public. Volunteers pay for the privilege of working on field projects, assisting scientists and working alongside non-governmental organisations in 50 countries worldwide. The fees are high – it'll cost you an average of $1,700 (£1,160) for a fortnight's project – but there are some fully funded positions on Community Fellowship projects available to students.