I always seem to end up catching the flu whenever I go away on holiday, which gives me quite a severe reaction. This problem is even putting me off going on holiday. Have you got any suggestions about how I can avoid this happening to me in future?
Dr Larry Goodyer replies: I am not sure what you mean by a "severe reaction" to influenza, but, probably, the worst outcome is a pneumonia that can, in some cases, prove fatal.
It is also worth bearing in mind that a severe head cold and sore throat sometimes can be mistaken for influenza. If you are simply prone to colds when you go away, then, unfortunately, there is no easy solution. Some people suggest that high doses of vitamin C and zinc supplements help prevent colds, but there is no strong evidence for this.
If you really are at risk of the complications of flu, then it would be worthwhile getting a jab from your doctor. Otherwise, keep an eye on the news for local outbreaks. For example, I would avoid northern China, where problems have been caused by a very virulent strain of influenza A. This has strained resources in hospitals and clinics in Beijing and in other cities in the area. Unfortunately, flu vaccine is also difficult to get hold of in China.
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).
Go by rail around the West Coast
Could you give me information on companies that arrange rail tours of the US? I would be travelling alone and would prefer to join a group rather than on my own. I want to visit the West Coast and spend some time in San Francisco.
The Travel Editor replies: Great Rail Journeys (tel: 01904 679969) offers a 16-day Coastal Pacific group tour, taking in Vancouver, Seattle, San Francisco, Santa Barbara, Los Angeles and San Diego, from pounds 1,590 per person. This includes flights, 13 nights room-only hotel accommodation, sleeper rail fare with meals, sightseeing and guide. There is a hefty additional single person supplement of pounds 450.
Kuoni (tel: 01306 742888) offers an escorted tour of the West Coast and national parks. Western Rails & Trails is from pounds 939 per person for an 11-night break with rail/coach travel, flights, accommodation and guide. There is a single supplement of pounds 352.
Today Sydney, tomorrow Ayers Rock
I am planning to take one of my sons, aged 22, to Australia for the whole of October. Would it be feasible to combine Perth, Cape Tribulation, Ayers Rock and Sydney in a month? Is there any point in booking this far ahead? Should I book accommodation from here, or see what there is when we arrive (presumably jet-lagged)? I do not want to have to rough it.
The Travel Editor replies: It is perfectly feasible to visit all of the places you mention, but October is not peak season so it is not essential to book this early. All the same, booking a few months ahead will ensure you get the dates you want. An operator such as Bridge the World (tel: 0171 734 7447) can make all your arrangements, including flights. An equally reputable alternative is Trailfinders (tel: 0171 938 3366 or 0161 839 6969).
For your purposes, you need to fly into one end of the country and out of the other. Flying from Heathrow to Perth one way and Sydney to Heathrow the other, with British Airways/Qantas, for next October, is currently priced at pounds 604 per person, including tax, which is not at all bad. This fare needs to be booked and paid for by the end of March - though don't be panicked into paying this early if you don't want to, as other offers are sure to arise.
You'll need to do quite a bit of flying around and these flights are best booked in advance. Internal flights for Perth-Ayers Rock-Cairns are priced at pounds 258 per person. From Cairns you can easily transfer by land to Cape Tribulation for pounds 32 per person. After this you fly back down to Sydney for pounds 103 per person (including tax). Reductions are sometimes available if you are also booking a few nights' accommodation through the same operator.
You might as well book the first night or two of accommodation at each place you come to. Operators such as Bridge the World can do this: reckon on prices between pounds 25 and pounds 50 per person, per night. Even at the lower end of that price range you will not be roughing it.
Food should not dig a hole in your budget, but for the whole holiday, I estimate you will need at least pounds 2,000 per person.
The pick of the paradors in Andalusia
We want to spend two or three weeks travelling in a leisurely way around Andalusia in Spain. We would like to do it partly by train and partly by car, staying in paradors as we go along. Can you give us some advice about how we can fix this up?
The Travel Editor replies: The characterful state-run paradors, in historic buildings, are a fascinating way to see Spain. In the UK you can call the booking agent of the paradors, Keytel International (tel: 0171 402 8182), which will send you details.
If you want to stay in paradors as part of a package, however, you might be better off going through a tour operator. One possibility is Mundi Color (tel: 0171 828 6021), which can put together any tailor-made package. A couple of weeks in paradors, including flights and a car, will cost around pounds 900 per person in July or August. Individual nights in paradors cost between pounds 30 and pounds 70 per person, per night.
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Write to: the Travel Editor, Independent on Sunday, 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL. Fax: 0171-293 2043. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org