Drugs bought abroad

Is it always a mistake to buy drugs or pharmaceutical products when abroad? If not, do you have any ideas as to how to discriminate between things that are safe to buy, and things that are going to be bad news?

M Manhay


Dr Larry Goodyer replies: The general rule to follow is that it is much better, where possible, to purchase whatever medication you may need before travelling overseas. There are a number of reasons for this, not the least being the language barrier when trying to communicate your particular needs to a doctor or a pharmacist. The medication instructions and information may not be in English and trade names can vary greatly in different countries. Even generic names may not be the same in an English-speaking country; in the US, paracetamol is called acetaminophen. The legal requirements may also vary from one country to another and a prescription may be required for something available over-the-counter in the UK, although often prescription drugs are sold freely. If you are receiving regular prescription medicines, the particular type may simply not be available in the country of destination.

There is a great temptation to buy medication in Third World countries, as they can often be much cheaper. Be wary before embarking on this practice. A recent survey of antimalarials and antibiotics sold in Nigeria and Thailand indicated that about a third were substandard and six contained no active ingredients at all. There are a number of examples of this poor manufacturing as well as evidence of considerable counterfeiting in some African countries.

If you do need to purchase medicines, then buy them from a reputable pharmacy in a major city. A list of such suppliers may be available from embassies or consulates. Try to obtain products from familiar manufacturers and check the expiry dates.

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

Has South Africa changed?

My wife grew up in South Africa, but left the country in 1976. Now we are planning to return for the first time and we would like to have some idea of how the country has actually changed before we go.

Jim Waight


The travel editor replies: Basically, South Africa is a much more normal and balanced country in which to travel, than it was 20 years ago.

But now that citizens of all races are free to come and go as they wish, you will find that the cities have changed beyond all recognition. In 1976 there were very few blacks to be seen in South African cities at all. But today it is in the cities that you will begin to understand the meaning of the term "rainbow nation".

Certainly crime-rates in inner cities have shot up, which is causing tension among certain sections of the local population - and you would be strongly advised to avoid taking a hotel in downtown Johannesburg for example. In general though, the situation is not as dangerous as news reports would have you believe and most of the country is perfectly safe.

Generally speaking, South Africa is a better place for tourism than it was in 1976 and you should go out there ready to enjoy yourself.

Geting to Cordoba without the hassle of hiring and driving a car

My husband and I want to visit Cordoba in Spain and stay for several days. We do not (and will not) drive, but all the brochures indicate car hire from Seville airport. What are we supposed to do?

P Garden


Jill Crawshaw replies: I can understand that staying in Cordoba would be a problem without a car, as most flights land in Seville, about 90 miles away. Many specialist firms however will tailor-make arrangements for you, though these do work out more expensive than the pre-planned package.

Mundi-Color Holidays (0171 828 6021) offers city breaks in Cordoba costing from about pounds 330-pounds 490 for three nights' bed and breakfast depending on the grade of hotel, with pounds 35-pounds 50 per person for each extra night. These prices include flights and car hire. If you do not want the car, they say they would reduce the prices by about pounds 10 per person per night, and they could organise the transfer between Seville and Cordoba, but it would cost you around a hefty pounds 100 each way.

Magic of Spain (0181 748 4220) is another specialist offering Cordoba city breaks which could probably offer similar arrangements. It's also worth contacting Unicorn Holidays (01582 834400) which arranges special holidays with private chauffeur-driven cars so that you don't need to be able to drive.

The transfer by car is expensive, so why not use trains between Seville and Cordoba - it takes just over an hour, and should cost between pounds 25 and pounds 30 return.

Looking at the various alternatives, probably the most convenient inclusive deal for you is to go with Kirker Holidays (0171 231 3333). It can offer flights, three nights' accommodation (with extra nights if necessary) in a four-star hotel and the rail ticket between Seville and Cordoba. It will arrange a car to drive you from Seville airport to the station - the daily flights arrive at 7.30pm , and the last train leaves at 10pm, so you should have plenty of time. Once you reach Cordoba you'll have to get your own taxi to the hotel. Similar arrangements are included for the return trip. The price for this break, is pounds 393 for all transport and B&B.

I suggest that you phone the Association of Independent Tour Operators (AITO) on 0181 607 9080 for their free Directory which lists over 60 Spanish holiday specialists.

Jill Crawshaw is a travel expert, writer and broadcaster.