The obsessive traveller: Your travel questions

Birthday bargain

I want to celebrate my 50th birthday in November with a late deal that doesn't cost the Earth. I don't want to get stuck with heavy single-person supplements. Can you help me to cut through the small print and find a holiday for two weeks, 13-28 November, somewhere warm, interesting and reasonably priced? I am not into non-stop shopping, sun- worshipping or partying.

Marian Anne Gillespie

Edinburgh

Simon Calder replies:

A couple of suggestions. Wait for a last-minute flight-only deal, head for the Canary Islands and spend a week island-hopping on the excellent Trasmediterranea ferry network - a cruise for a fraction of the price, and much more fun. On longer sectors, you can get a berth in a cabin. In between, the main towns on the Canary Islands have some excellent hotels with much lower rates than at the resorts - and with decent single rooms, too.

Alternatively, take advantage of no-frills flights to put together an independent itinerary and explore elsewhere in Europe. There are frequent cheap flights from Edinburgh to Stansted on Go (tel: 0845 6054321), and to Luton on easyJet (tel: 0870 6000000). Either airline will take you onward to Barcelona - easyJet also flies to Athens, Malaga and Nice. From Stansted, Ryanair (tel: 0541 569569) serves Genoa, Treviso and Ancona. In all these places, good-value single rooms are easily available in November.

Simon Calder is the senior travel editor of the `Independent'.

Trading places

Are any of these stories about travellers buying stuff (for example, gems) cheap in one country and selling it expensive in another actually true? Can it be done safely anywhere?

Boris Bradshaw

Eastbourne

Phil Haines replies:

Where there is travel there is trade - which helps to explain why there are so few legitimate and safe opportunities for the casual tourist. Much though you may like to think so, you are never the first visitor, even to places such as the incomparable Sunday carpet and camel market at Ashgabat, Turkmenistan (true home of the Bukhara rug).

My own experience of this kind of trading was limited to a relatively harmless method of seeing more of Asia and making a few extra dollars in the 1980s. It consisted of "milk runs" organised from Hong Kong, usually by Chinese Malaysians, using travellers as couriers.

Travellers would fly to Taipei, carrying Chinese medicines and jeans, then go to a hotel, where they would be collected. They would then enjoy a night out, before flying to Seoul with some electronic goods. The next day they would continue to Tokyo with a few bottles of cognac, tennis rackets etc, then back to Hong Kong via Seoul and Taipei again. The theory was that they were carrying items common for well-heeled tourists.

Some of the more unscrupulous organisers of these "runs" would then persuade people to wear, say, a gold chain to Seoul for an extra $100. Eventually, they would progress to diamonds in the soles of shoes for Sydney, and bulk-buying Louis Vuitton luggage for Seoul.

Inevitably, there were regular arrests, and the odd naive traveller would have their world tour ruined. I remember travelling with a young Irish girl when she learnt her boyfriend had been arrested. She was inconsolable for three days; he spent over a year in jail.

Whenever valuable goods are involved, you enter the shady world of crime and deception. A good example is gems from Burma, which some deluded travellers think are going to make them rich. Just remember the warlords who control that country. The fact is that buying gems from backstreet traders almost certainly means that you are about to be ripped off with worthless coloured glass, and if not, you are about to be mugged after stepping out of the shop.

That is not to say that there is not plenty of honest money to be made. Last year, I met a Frenchman in Bali who, having spotted some nice suede sandals, struck up a deal with the maker. He spent a couple of months in Bali each year, filling a container with the sandals and furniture - and made a reasonable living out of it.

If you have any great new ideas, please feel free to write to me, in confidence, at the e-mail address below.

Phil Haines, the youngest person to have visited every country in the world, runs a travel company, Live Limited (tel: 0181-737 3725; phil.haines@live- travel. com), "specialising in travel to special places".

Healthy trekking

I have decided to go to Nepal and Tibet for some off-the-beaten-track walking. Do you have any tips about the health precautions that I need to take in advance of my trip? Any special risks or hazards that I need to bear in mind?

Amanda Taylor

Newcastle

Dr Larry Goodyer replies:

Nepal tends to be notorious for traveller's diarrhoea, so take care with food and water. As you travel to higher altitudes, also be aware of the dangers of mountain sickness. The golden rule is: at the first sign of any symptoms, such as headaches, nausea or sleeplessness, descend to a lower altitude immediately.

Apart from the usual hepatitis A and typhoid vaccines, you should also consider rabies vaccination if travelling off the beaten track. Rabid dogs are a problem in Nepal and anti-rabies treatment is available in only 46 out of 75 districts in the country.

If you are making extended stays in rural parts of Nepal, especially the more low-lying regions, it may be advisable to have Japanese B encephalitis vaccine. The main danger times are between June and December. Likewise, malaria prophylaxis may be recommended in some areas of Nepal below 4,200ft (1,300m).

When you cross into Tibet, remember that some travellers have been experiencing problems when entering Chinese territory. Apparently, the Chinese authorities have been over-reacting to reports of cholera by quarantining people or forcing them to take antibiotics when crossing from Russia.

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 60p per minute).

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