Something to declare

Trouble spots No-go nations around the world
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The Independent Travel
Antarctica and the Americas share a common benefit: they are continents deemed safe by the Foreign Office, unlike Africa, Asia and Europe.

The FO's Travel Advice Unit this week added Albania to its list of places that you are advised to avoid. The other nine blacklisted countries are: Afghanistan, Algeria, Burundi, Central African Republic, Iraq, Liberia, Somalia, Tajikistan and Western Sahara.

Four other areas (not entire countries) are ruled out-of-bounds: Chechnya (Russia), Jammu and Kashmir (India) and Kivu (Zaire).

The Travel Advice Unit (0171-238 4503) advises that the following should be avoided "unless on essential business": Angola, Bosnia, Rwanda, plus the remainder of Zaire and eastern Turkey.

True or false:

Travel writing without pictures is like a kiss without a moustache?

Like the proverbial unmoustachioed kiss, asking any enthusiastic traveller to describe their trip can be as disappointing as eating strawberries without cream. They'll start on about magnificent scenery, gorgeous national costume, and oh! those jewel-like colours at sunset ... But after a few minutes even the most verbose will be groping for the right words, and after a while they'll just say: "Stuff it, here are the photographs."

Or they'll resort to comparison: "a bit like Scotland but warmer" for any uninhabited upland; "like Cornwall with coconuts", for most beaches further south than 50 degrees - or, my favourite - "Benidorm with bilharzia", for any new resort.

Making the words paint the picture is a difficult skill: comparisons can belittle, hyperbole can annoy, cliches can tire. Show me another undiscovered paradise with crystal waters set in a land of contrasts with breathtaking scenery and I'll show you a travel writer whose next break needs to be a fortnight somewhere quiet, with a nice, limpid pool of imagination to dive into.

As the producer of BBC Radio 4's Breakaway I'm always looking for ways to transport the listener from the Saturday breakfast table (or Sunday night bedside) to the shores of Vanuatu. I was told by an old Radio 4 hand - the producer of From Our Own Correspondent, that a reporter should aim to "make the listeners smell the streets" (although it is questionable whether the Saturday morning listener would want to get that close to Old Delhi market or Mombasa harbour). We try to find writers who can communicate their enthusiasm for travel without sounding smug, who can conjure up sparkling images, who can give an accurate portrayal for the would-be tourist without making him or her sag under the weight of air fares and train times.

Today, our campaign to make a word paint 1,000 pictures gets a boost as Pete McCarthy rejoins the programme as presenter. Is it true that travel- writing without pictures can be as complete as a kiss without a moustache? Listen and decide.

Eleanor Garland

`Breakaway', presented by Pete McCarthy, is on Radio 4 at 9.30am today and at 10.45pm on Sunday.

Bargain of the week

You can now travel free from Heathrow airport - but only by bus. The usual minimum adult fare on London's buses is 50 pence. But in and around Europe's busiest airport, it falls to zero thanks to "Freeflow Heathrow". This is BAA's campaign to increase the proportion of people who travel to Heathrow by public transport. The company picks up the bill for travellers on buses 105, 111, 140 and 285 between the central airport area and Bath Road on the airport's northern perimeter. Beyond these limits you have to pay a fare.

The main benefit is for air travellers who find themselves delayed for a few hours. You can hop on one of the buses for a free ride to the only tourist attraction for miles, the Heathrow Visitor Centre. This interesting exhibition hall opens daily at 10am, closing at 5pm at weekends and 7pm the rest of the week. And, like the bus, it is free.

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