Welcome to the new Independent website. We hope you enjoy it and we value your feedback. Please contact us here.

TRAVEL YOUR QUESTIONS; The obsessive traveller

Wacky railways

I love travelling on trains and would very much like to organise a train journey following an unusual route. Is travelling on the Trans-Siberian express as wacky as train journeys get? What are the other options for far flung rail adventures?

C P Millar

Bow, London

Phil Haines replies:

There are many fascinating railways around the world, so we'll just short- list a few. Amidst the plantations on the island of St Kitts in the Caribbean there is a little sugar cane train used to collect the crop, although the government has been considering its future use for tourists. The Siliguri to Darjeeling "toy train" switchbacks from the Bengali plains to the Himalayas, likewise a service clambers up the Andes between Cuzco and Las Ruinas of Machu Picchu in Peru. There are many mountain trains in Switzerland and Norway - consider the one between Myrdal and Flam, by the serene Sogne Fjord. Or try the Chinese-built railway from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, to Kapiri Mposhi in Zambia.

For some, travel can be an opportunity to make a psychological voyage. The lengthy Trans-Siberian and Trans-Mongolian train routes offer the physical journey suited to these mental drifters. Being confined to a metal tube for a week as you plunge through the endless tundra (-30C, snowbound throughout winter, cooped up with an unknown quantity of foreigners) places these amongst the wackier experiences in the obsessive traveller's itinerary.

Approaching the Great Wall on my own Trans-Mongolian adventure I was surprised that a fellow traveller, a Canadian with an oversize fur-flap hat, seemed to know the route so well. He explained that two weeks before he'd been removed from the train at the Mongolian border. His Toronto agent had wrongly advised him that he did not require a transit visa for Mongolia. He spent a few frozen days playing chess awaiting the next train back to Beijing and desperately haggling over the purchase of necessities like Yak butter and fur-flap hats.

When he finally arrived back at the Chinese border he had no valid entry visa, was removed from the Beijing train, and was obliged to play chess with the zealous, though less-talented, Chinese guards for three more days. Many frustrating phone calls later he was permitted to continue to China to obtain a Mongolian visa in time to board my Trans-Mongolian train and keep me entertained with his "holiday in no mans land" story. In the search for virgin travel destinations, this could become the ultimate in one-upmanship.

Phil Haines, the youngest person to have visited every country in the world, runs a travel company, Live Limited (tel: 0181-737 3725; phil.haines@live- travel.com), "specialising in travel to special places".

Air travel with kids

We are planning a business trip to the US and we have to take our four- month-old son with us. Do you have any suggestions for: 1) surviving an eight-hour flight, keeping him comfortable and entertained, 2) any medical precautions we should take for our son before we leave, 3) any medication we should take with us, and 4) which type of insurance will ensure immediate help in the USA or, if necessary, flights home.

Martin Brown

Sevenoaks, Kent

Kate Calvert replies:

When flying with young children, encourage them to swallow on takeoff and landing to prevent ear pains, best achieved by either breastfeeding or giving a bottle.

As flying is dehydrating it is also important to make sure your child continues to drink while in the air. While long-haul airlines generally provide meals for babies, it's wiser to take your own - you'll have control over the quality. As delays are a possibility, take more than you think you'll need and (unless still breastfeeding) plenty of formula.

Do make a fuss with your airline to get the seat you want. With a child so small, this will probably be a bulkhead seat because that's where the cots are usually fixed - probably next to other small children, so potentially noisy. If you don't want a cot, this area is therefore best avoided.

Some bulkhead seats have more leg room than others and it can be galling to discover that, with a cot in front, you have to climb over your seat to get to the loo. Discuss the issue on booking, and confirm again at every other dealing with the airline.

If your child is likely to sleep, a night flight means you won't have to do much entertaining. During the day, little babies can be entertained by plenty that you find on board - the plastic safety sheet, a spoon, a boarding card. You will probably also be given a complimentary pack which may include a toy or two.

It's unlikely you'll encounter any medical problems in the US greater than at home, so the normal course of vaccinations should be sufficient. However, as this is clearly something which concerns you, I would advise that you speak to an expert before travelling. They should also be able to advise on medication, but unless you have a child who is less healthy than normal, your usual medical cabinet should be all you need.

Most travel insurance policies cover children under two free under their parents' policy. Repatriation is generally included - check your policy covers this. As you are travelling for business also check the policy provides cover for both work and holiday travel as it is not always the case.

A number of policies offer a premium service with a 24-hour emergency assistance phone line. This is probably what you would need if you're concerned about medical emergencies. Among these are AA Insurance Services (tel: 0870 606 1612) CGU Travel Insurance (tel: 0800 121 007) or Options Insurance Services (tel: 0870 848 0870).

Kate Calvert edits `Family Travel', the subscription-only publication for parents (tel: 0171-272 7441; or visit www.family-travel.co.uk)

Horse adventures

How easy is it to rent a horse? My wife and I are in our early fifties and want a real adventure. We're proficient riders and don't just want to go pony-trekking.

G R Sherriff


The travel editor replies:

There are many horseriding holidays on offer around the world that have little to do with "pony trekking". However, if you want to hire horses and do your own thing it is also possible. The British Horse Society (tel: 01926-707 794/5) can point you in the right direction via their BHS-approved riding schools.

As horses are valuable animals, many riding centres are reluctant to allow unescorted riding. Some schools will insist you take a test before they let you take a horse out. If you can show a recognised qualification or a BHS exam it will help, but many will still insist that a guide accompanies you - no bad thing, as bridal ways can be blocked or impassable and a good guide will know the best routes. The British Horse Society also publishes a book Bed and Breakfast for Horses for people who want to take their horses on holiday around the UK (pounds 5.95 + postage and packing).

Alternatively, give organised trail riding a go. Highland Horseback (tel: 01466-700 304) offers Britain's longest trail ride for experienced riders, covering 200 miles from the Grampians to the west coast over ten days from May to October.

Or for a real trail riding adventure, how about following in the footsteps of some of America's most notorious villains such Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, in Patagonia, with Outlaw Trails (tel: 01892-619 000).