Your questions answered by our panel of travel experts, including a doctor and a lawyer
Where can I take my aged parents?

Please can you help. My elderly parents (in their eighties) would like a short holiday in this country. My father is almost blind, quite frail and sometimes gets a bit confused (he does not have Alzheimer's). My mother is very capable, takes good care of him, but can only walk short distances, slowly (a mile at the most). They would like a comfortable, friendly hotel which serves lunch and tea in a flat area, with the possibility of short trips. Coach travel would probably be best.

Mrs J Greer


Jill Crawshaw replies: I have discussed your needs with a number of organisations, and I'm confident that the one that is best suited to help you is the charity Holiday Care Service, Second floor, Imperial Buildings Victoria Road, Horley, Surrey RH6 7PZ (tel: 01293 774535).

Among its services, it provides free information, leaflets (but appreciates a donation towards the postage) on inspected accommodation that is suitable for holidaymakers with disabilities, region by region. Other leaflets include organised holidays for people with physical, mental or sensory problems, activity and special interest holidays, a respite care directory and five sheets on accessible attractions in the UK.

A useful general guide, Accessible Holidays in the British Isles, 1997, which costs pounds 7 including postage, is published by the Holiday Care Service in conjunction with The Royal Association for Disability & Rehabilitation (Radar) at 12 City Forum, 250 City Road, London, EC1V 8AF (tel: 0171 250 3222). The guide lists hundreds of hotels, farms, guesthouses, boating and caravanning holidays, mostly inspected for wheelchair access either by the Holiday Care Service itself, or by local tourist boards. Some of the accommodation offers nursing supervision, even full day and night help. Transport information is also included.

I do hope these ideas will help.

The Holiday Care Service was founded in 1981, and last year answered a record 29,178 queries from disabled or disadvantaged people, giving them both information and the confidence to take a break they may not previously have believed possible.

For the sake of other readers who may have different problems, I'm also listing other services provided by the Holiday Care Service. They include information sheets listing holidays for children with disabilities, either with parents or unaccompanied. Three booklets costing pounds 1 each cover holidays for one- parent families, care for carers and a guide to financial help towards the cost of a holiday.

Jill Crawshaw is a travel expert, writer and broadcaster.

Is it safe to give my children insect repellents?

I am going on holiday to North Africa with my two young children in a couple of months. A vague report I heard on the suitability of various insect repellents has caused me concern. Basically, I heard that repellents containing DEET (the most effective) are more or less the same as those that caused Gulf War Syndrome. Is it safe to spray myself and my children with insect repellents, and if so, which ones?

Elizabeth Heath


Dr Larry Goodyer replies:

DEET is one of the most effective insect repellents available, although there have been some, largely unfounded, doubts about its safety in recent years.

Products containing DEET are the most widely available. Since its introduction in the 1950s, it has been estimated that between 50 million and 100 million Americans apply them to their skin at least once each year. Considering this wide usage there have been remarkably few problems. People applying DEET normally to their skin should have no concerns.

Its use in children has been questioned after a very few reports of some apparently serious reactions in the young. However, considering the rarity of such reactions and the difficulty in establishing that DEET was actually the cause, it would still be advisable to use DEET products where there is a risk of a bite from mosquitoes, which carry diseases such as malaria.

There is also no proven association between DEET and Gulf War Syndrome, and no similar problem has been reported in civilians using the repellent. A scare was created over the insecticide permethrin, widely used to treat mosquito nets, and Gulf War Syndrome. Again this is unfounded: permethrin is very different from the organo-phosphates insecticides which may have been responsible.

Malaria is only present in certain parts of North Africa, so it would be wise to check this out with your doctor or pharmacist. Non-DEET products are available but I would tend to use them when there was little risk of contracting insect-borne diseases. If you use DEET on your children, use a product with around 30 per cent DEET and apply it carefully to exposed skin, avoiding parts of hands likely to touch eyes or mouth.

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' needs.

Balkan troublespots remain

I am keen on exploring the Balkans this summer with my girlfriend. I want to know how safe it is going to be, now that the war in former Yugoslavia has died down. Can you advise?

Keith Walker


The Travel Editor replies:

The situation varies quite a bit over the area, so we should take it country by country, starting with Slovenia in the north of former Yugoslavia. This part of the region is, and always has been, very friendly and easy for tourism.

Moving down to Croatia, which covers most of the Adriatic coast (including fabled Dubrovnik), you'll find tourism now picking up fast, with direct flights resuming from London to the capital Zagreb. Visas are not required for either country.

Yugoslavia itself, as it still stands, comprises the two republics of Serbia and Montenegro. It can also be visited in safety, but note that British citizens now require visas. The embassy is at 5-7 Lexham Gardens, London W8 (Tel: 0171-370 6105). The only snag with entering Yugoslavia is the sometimes hostile reception you'll receive from corrupt border guards.

Moving south, the situation in Albania is highly volatile, and you would be unwise to enter the country just for tourism in the foreseeable future. The Travel Advice Unit of the FCO (Tel: 0171-238 4503) certainly counsels against it. The other country in this area is the fascinating little Macedonia, the capital of which (Skopje) has an old town more like that of a Middle Eastern country. Britons do not require visas.

Further east, Bulgaria and Romania can be trying to get around, with few good places to eat and poor transport, but they are both worth the effort, with rural landscapes and intriguing ethnic mixes.

Britons need expensive visas for both countries. Romanian embassy: 4 Palace Green London W8 (Tel: 0171-937 9666). Bulgarian embassy: 187 Queens Gate London SW7 (Tel: 0171-584 9400).