I'm going to be travelling in India during the hot season and I would like some advice about clothes and footwear. People talk about covering up, but I find it hard to believe that shorts and T-shirt aren't really the best way. Also, what to do when it's hot and wet?
Clive Tully replies: You should choose clothing that is light, loose and long: light and loose so you can get ventilation to keep cool and to forestall the onset of little nasties like prickly heat, a classic reaction to wearing constricting clothing in sticky conditions; long for the simple reason that sun protection is more consistent with the right clothing than it is with sun cream, which tends to wear off.
We all now know that there's no such thing as a healthy tan, but what not so many people know is that while average clothing stops you getting tanned or burned by UV-A rays, it doesn't prevent the long-term damage caused by deeper-penetrating UV-B rays. For example, a cotton T-shirt compares to nothing more than SPF (sun protective factor) six or nine suncream, and the protection factor drops to less than half if the T-shirt is wet.
It's a fallacy to think that lighter colours are better in strong sunshine because they reflect better. The opposite is true because darker colours absorb more UV light. The norm for hot climate fabrics is cotton, but the fact is that synthetic fibres can be made finer than cotton, and can therefore be made into more closely-woven fabrics, which are more efficient when it comes to sun protection. In the US, they are standardising the regulation of sun protective fabrics; in Europe, we're not so far down the line.
Nevertheless, British travel clothing specialists Rohan does now quote SPF ratings for its goods, which is a step in the right direction. If you're scanning through the Rohan catalogue, I'd go for the long- sleeved Equator shirt (SPF20+), and either a pair of the best--selling Bags or the new Uplanders, which I've found comfortable over a wide range of conditions. In hot conditions, women may appreciate a long and reasonably voluminous skirt such as Rohan's Trailblazer Skirt. Apart from the fact that it's likely to be more socially acceptable in somewhere like India, it also means you can dispense with underwear, which reduces the risk of fungal infections. You need a decent hat, too. One third of all skin cancers occur on the nose, so don't leave your hooter out in the sun. Mesh-topped baseball hats and open-weave straw hats are out. I used army surplus bush hats for years, but now you can get purpose-made travel hats such as the Tilley hat, which do the same job, and a little more smartly. The main requirement is an all-round brim of at least four inches. Flip-flops and sandals may be all you need for your feet. If you're going to be on your feet a lot, go for a pair of sport sandals such as those made by Merrell and Adidas. They combine the ventilation of sandals with the comfort and support of trainers. And if it's wet? Get your brolly out!
Clive Tully is a journalist and broadcaster specialising in clothing and equipment for the outdoors and adventure travel. He is editor of the outdoors website TrailWalk (http://www.trailwalk.com).
Can tick bites kill?
Somebody told me that you can die from the sort of tick bites you might pick up anywhere in Europe - is this true? What preventative steps can be taken?
Dr Larry Goodyer replies: Ticks can be picked up from undergrowth in many areas of the world, including Europe. They attach themselves to the ankles and feet, where they suck blood. As with most biting/feeding insects there is the danger of contracting a variety of diseases. Of particular concern is Lyme disease which is found in the US and Europe, including the UK. The chances of catching it from a bite are quite low and in many cases the symptoms are mild. However, it can cause long-term heart, nerve and joint damage. Ticks also carry varieties of typhus, which causes fevers and rashes.
The disease you are probably referring to is tick-borne encephalitis,which can be fatal, although the chances of contracting it are low. It is found in forested areas of eastern and central Europe and Scandinavia. A vaccination is available and recommended for those camping or hiking in these regions. Ticks can be repelled to some degree by impregnating socks with DEET, and these should be pulled over the bottom of long trousers. Permethrin is effective but not available for this use in the UK. To avoid Lyme disease, remove the tick quickly as it can take some time before the disease is transmitted. Removing a tick is a bit of a fine art, as causing it trauma could precipitate the release of the bacteria into the body. Hold the tick at the head end with a pair of tweezers, push down to disengage the teeth and if required rock gently from side to side before pulling away.
Dr Larry Goodyer is superintendent of the Nomad Pharmacy (3-4 Turnpike Lane, London N8, tel: 0181-889 7014) a shop which travellers can visit for all their needs.
Snow and mountains but no skis please
My partner and I would like to spend Christmas abroad this year, somewhere with snow,mountains and so on but not in a ski resort - we do not ski. We would also like to take our car if possible. Can you help?
The travel editor replies: I would suggest Norway as a pretty sure bet for snow at Christmas. It will be dark and cold outside, but presumably that is exactly what you are looking for. Inntravel (01653 628811) offers seven nights half-board at a mountain village called Geilo over Christmas for pounds 648 per person half-board. Activities include walking along cleared paths as well as skating, sledding and snow-shoeing. You can rely on the food being excellent (especially if you like pickles and herrings) and at the end of the day you can indulge in the indoor pool, sauna, Jacuzzi etc.
If you really want to drive, Switzerland has small picturesque villages which are not devoted to skiing. Champex Lac, near Verbier and Geneva, for example, is far from the madding skiing crowds and offers skating as well as walking or driving around.
You don't necessarily need a tour operator for this, just call the Switzerland Travel Centre (0171-734 4577) which can help suggest suitable villages as well as book hotels for you. If you are driving make sure you book your ferry crossings in good time; otherwise fly to Geneva or take the direct "ski-train" pioneered this year by Eurostar (0345 303030).