Flying can be a real pain

I once took a long flight while suffering from an ear infection. The result was a burst eardrum in mid-air which was incredibly painful and ruined my holiday. Although it has healed, I am afraid to fly again.

B Sarrell

Surrey

Dr Larry Goodyer replies: Flying with an ear infection or sinus problems can result in a very painful episode, although you were unlucky that your eardrum burst.

When flying, it is quite a common experience that the ears are felt to pop when taking off or landing. This is because air pressure changes in the cabin need to become equalised with the pressure beneath the eardrum. The pop is due to the opening of tubes leading from the middle ear to the back of the throat, which allows this equalisation of pressure. If this process fails it can cause pressure to build up on the eardrum resulting in a severe earache, known as barotrauma. This problem is more likely to occur as the plane descends for landing.

Providing there are no other problems with your ears you should not necessarily be at risk of another burst eardrum. However, as you still seem to be having some symptoms, I would recommend that you see your GP before flying again.

Dr Larry Goodyer is a lecturer in clinical pharmacy at King's College, London. Contact the Nomad Travel Health Helpline (tel: 0891 633414; calls cost 50p per minute).

Travel the world beneath the waves

I am a fit 55-year-old who swims very infrequently but has a yearning to snorkel (not scuba dive) in warm, shallow water in March next year. I have not been able to locate any specific information. Can you help?

Gillian Waterfield

Leeds

The travel editor replies: You have not mentioned your budget, but one of the best places in the world to snorkel is the Great Barrier Reef off the east coast of Australia. Forget about scuba diving: you will comfortably see all the fish and coral that you need within a few feet of the shore. You don't need to go in a group for this. Snorkel, flippers and mask can be rented cheaply and easily. Simple induction courses can be arranged on the spot, though bear in mind that there is nothing at all difficult about snorkelling.

Operators include Bridge the World (tel: 0171-734 7447), which suggests flights with JAL in March for pounds 610 return. It offers accommodation in the Cairns area from around pounds 40 a night. Additional entertainments such as Barrier Reef cruises (pounds 55 a day) and stays in the rainforest (pounds 80 a night) are recommended if you are in the area.

Other operators include Quest (tel: 0181-547 3322) and Austravel's Great Escape (tel: 0171-734 7755) which targets young travellers. Great Escape suggests a day cruise for pounds 70 per adult. This allows supervised snorkelling on Agincourt Reef on the outer edge of the Great Barrier Reef, with a presentation by a marine biologist.

Cheaper and closer to hand is the Red Sea. Longwood Holidays (tel: 0181- 551 4494) offers packages to Eilat in Israel. A seven-day break in March in the Sport Hotel on a B&B basis costs pounds 439, including flights. The single person supplement is pounds 14 per night. Snorkelling is one of the area's main activities and can be arranged on the spot.

Sharm El-Sheikh in Egypt, at the southern tip of the Sinai peninsular, is another promising option. Operators include the upmarket Somak (tel: 0181-423 3000). Seven nights' B&B in either Hilton or Marriott beach resorts, including return flights, will be between pounds 700 and pounds 850 in the coming months.

Thomson (tel: 0990 502 399) offers a 14-day cruise-and-stay holiday in El-Quseir on the Red Sea for pounds 759 - a single supplement costs pounds 6.45 per night.

There's got to be some way out of here

We have time off work between Christmas and New Year, but so far have had no luck finding a short break. Our budget is approx pounds 300 and we are not worried where we go (not UK). We have a maximum of seven days (preferably four to five).

Amanda Salt and

Linda Reynolds

Jersey

The travel editor writes: Travel agents offering packages direct from Jersey operate only during the summer. In winter months flights go via London, which pushes up prices well above pounds 300. Thomson Breakaway (tel: 0181-210 4515) offers deals from Jersey via London, but again the price goes up by about pounds 100: for example, a package to Barcelona from London (two nights' B&B hotel accommodation with return flights) currently costs pounds 249 per person, based on two sharing. With a connecting flight to Jersey, the price goes up by at least another pounds 100.

The cheapest and quickest way to take advantage of cheap deals from London is to fly from Jersey with KLM (tel: 0990 074074). There is still availability on 26 December, returning 2 January, for pounds 99 return plus pounds 10 tax. There are some good deals to the US between Christmas and New Year. Miami on a week's fly-drive costs from pounds 219 with Travel City Direct (tel: 01792 464646) and San Francisco costs from pounds 271 with Quest Worldwide (tel: 0181- 546 6000). This doesn't leave you with much pocket money but the cost of living and accommodation is cheap.

An easy option from Jersey is to take the ferry to St Malo in France. With Emerald (tel: 01534 66566) departing 26 December for four days return costs pounds 84 per car and pounds 28 per person. St Malo is charming and nearby Rennes is lively. Or fly to Paris from Jersey with British Airways (tel: 0345 222111) for pounds 110 return.

For further information contact French Tourist Office (tel: 0891 244123, calls cost 50p per minute).

Get in

the saddle on the flat

I want to go on a cycling holiday in Holland. Can you give me the names of firms who cover this activity.

Joan Brittain

Hants

The travel editor writes: Anglo Dutch Sports (tel: 0181-289 2808) offers various cycling packages to Holland, starting from pounds 117 per person to Arnhem. This deal is for a two-night break with half-board accommodation in a four-star hotel, return ferry crossings on the Dover to Calais route, or on Le Shuttle, for two people and a car, and includes bicycle hire, maps and other information.

A longer break, staying for six nights in youth hostels along the north- west coast of Holland, costs pounds 149 per person. This package includes accommodation, return ferry crossings on the Dover to Calais route for two people travelling in a car, bicycle hire, maps, plus other information.

The Amsterdam Travel Service (tel: 01992 456056) offers four-night/five- day tours for pounds 319 per person. The Northern Tour travels to Amsterdam via the Island of Pexel, and the Southern Tour travels from the River Vecht via Brueukelen to Leiden.

Both tours include return flights, transfers, full-board accommodation in a canal boat, bicycle hire, maps and other information.

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