SMALL IS BEAUTIFUL

We're looking for London B&Bs, preferably with private bathrooms, though this is not essential.

Brian Jones

Isle of Man

Jill Crawshaw replies: With a night in a top central London hotel costing almost as much as a week's package to Spain, it's not surprising that B&Bs are in such demand.

One of the snags, however, is that with some agencies it can be difficult to identify which pensions or small hotels are used as hostels for homeless Londoners, or dormitories for younger visitors.

At Home in London (0181-748 1943) offers 70 or so B&Bs ranging from smart pads with en suite bathrooms in central locations, to family rooms in, say, Chiswick, ranging from pounds 45 to pounds 75 a night per double room with breakfast.

All the rooms are inspected, as are those of the top-drawer agency Uptown Reservations (0171-351 3445) which charges a flat rate of pounds 55 for a single or pounds 75 for a double or twin room per night in such locations as Chelsea, Knightsbridge, Belgravia, Holland Park, Kensington, Hampstead, Mayfair and Tower Bridge. All have private bathrooms and some have historic connections - a Queen Anne house in Cheyne Walk, for example, once belonged to a conservation colleague of William Morris.

The Worldwide Bed & Breakfast Association (0181-742 9123), with 150 inspected properties where the owners live on the premises, charges from pounds 25 a night per person, while Bed & Breakfast GB (01491 578803) has some rooms for less than pounds 20, though these don't have private bathrooms and could be as far as a 30-minute Underground ride from the centre of London.

Under a new, imaginative scheme run by Islington Council, visitors can stay in inspected local B&Bs or private houses. Rooms there cost pounds 22 to pounds 25 for a single and pounds 30 to pounds 40 for a double. Islington is easily accessible from Central London. Phone Islington Visitor Information on 0171-278 8787.

The YHA (0171-246 6547) offers B&B at its City of London hostel, the former St Paul's Cathedral Choir School, for pounds 19.75 a night, and also at its hostels in Highgate Village, Earls Court and Rotherhithe, while many university colleges open their campuses during vacations, with B&B under pounds 20. Phone the British Universities Accommodation Consortium on 0115 950 4571.

A number of inspected London B&Bs and small hotels are also listed in the Which? Good Bed & Breakfast Guide, pounds 14.99 from bookshops. You'll pay about pounds 22 for a single, pounds 44 for a double or pounds 73 for a family room.

Jill Crawshaw is a travel expert, writer and broadcaster.

HOW DO I KEEP TRACK OF TROUBLE SPOTS?

My son is due to travel across South Africa this year, despite reports that the level of crime there is high. Will my travel agent give me information about safety, or can I get hold of this information myself?

Allan Keith

Newport

Ian Skuse replies: Information concerning the safety of destinations is readily available. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has a Travel Advice Unit at Petty France, London SW1, and can be contacted on 0171- 270 4179 (Fax: 0171-270 4228) They can give you the latest information concerning resort safety. FCO Travel Advice is also displayed on BBC Ceefax and the Internet, under the address www.fco.gov.uk.

As far as your tour operator and travel agent are concerned, holiday brochures are often produced many months in advance of your departure date and, understandably, do not contain the latest advice. It is as yet undecided as to whether your tour operator and travel agent have a legal duty to pass information on to you about destination safety which could affect your personal safety or disrupt your holiday plans.

I dealt with a case concerning a holiday in Sri Lanka at the time of the troubles, when the customers complained they would not have travelled had their travel agent advised them of destination information available from the FCO and from ABTA. But the case was settled before the court decided on liability.

More recently, customers were mugged while on holiday in South Africa and had not been told of the FCO advice at that time, which recommended that visitors should not leave their hotels without asking the management whether it was safe to do so. They were mugged on a Sunday afternoon directly outside the hotel where they were staying. Again, that case was satisfactorily resolved without going to court.

The current legal thought is that there may be categories of advice directly affecting safety which should be passed on to the customer if the travel company learns of any increased risk before the holiday starts.

The argument goes that if they fail to pass this important information on and the holiday maker is exposed to greater risk of injury and suffers injury, then there could be a claim in negligence against the travel company. Some tour operators and travel agents have resisted this line of argument, arguing that they should not be liable for destination safety; that customers can obtain this information readily from their TV sets; and that it would be impossible for them to constantly update all customers every time the FCO advice changed.

No doubt the courts will have to decide in the near future. My view is that there are categories of FCO advice concerning resort safety which should be passed on to customers to protect them from a known risk.

In the meantime, I would strongly recommend that you contact the FCO and take their advice to heart.

Ian Skuse is the senior litigation partner with Piper Smith & Basham, which has specialised in advising the travel industry for more than 20 years (Tel: 0171-828 8685).

TAN BAN

To avoid health problems, is it better to try to maintain a constant tan, or to stay out of the sun as much as possible generally, and risk sunburn when on holiday?

Bredun Murray

Primrose Hill, London

Dr Larry Goodyer replies: The simple answer is to neither get burned nor to develop a constant tan. There are really two issues to consider in relation to long-term overexposure to the sun: the possibility of skin damage and the danger of various types of skin cancers.

While it is true that one of the most dangerous forms of skin cancer, malignant melanoma, may be more likely if there are episodes of sunburn, the presence of a suntan is not thought to offer much protection against developing many types of skin cancer that can be induced by harmful ultraviolet radiation. A suntan, while allowing you to spend more time out in the sun before getting burned, will almost certainly contribute towards long- term skin damage and aging. Hence the general advice is to avoid developing a tan by reducing exposure to the sun.

As children have more delicate skin than adults they should not be allowed to burn or to develop a tan. Use the highest factor sunscreens and reapply frequently.

A water -resistant sunscreen is usually the best on holidays at sunny resorts, where most people should be using a factor 15 and above for protection against UVB rays, making sure that it carries a high "star" rating for protection against UVA. Quite a generous amount of cream should be applied for maximum effect and a new tube should be purchased each year as they tend to loose their potency.

Avoiding exposure to the sun does not just mean applying sunscreens; covering up exposed skin, wearing a wide- brimmed hat and avoiding sitting in direct sunlight during the hottest parts of the day are also important, although they are considered by many to spoil the pleasures of a holiday in the sun.

Dr Larry Goodyer is superintendent of the Nomad Pharmacy (3-4 Turnpike Lane, London N8, Tel: 0181-889 7014) which specialises in catering for travellers' medical needs.

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