YOUR QUESTIONS ANSWERED BY OUR PANEL OF TRAVEL EXPERTS

How to keep Toby safe from rabies

We want to spend a few months caravanning around southern Europe this winter with our dog, Toby. But how serious is the risk of his catching rabies? How can we ensure that he doesn't pick anything up?

James Dillon

Maidstone

Dr Larry Goodyer replies: Rabies can be contracted from a bite or scratch from mammals in many countries of the world. It is obviously important to keep Toby away from any wild animals, particularly foxes, which are a major source of the disease.

Apart from the UK, there are several countries in Europe where there is said to be "no risk" of contracting rabies. These include much, but not all, of mainland Spain and Italy. France is considered to be low risk; much progress has been made towards eradicating rabies in foxes by a programme of vaccination with treated bait.

Anyone who receives a bite or scratch from an animal in a rabies endemic area should seek medical advice, whether or not pre-exposure vaccination has been given. It is also important to wash thoroughly any bite and then ideally irrigate the wound with an iodine containing disinfectant.

If you are considering taking your pet to mainland Europe, have you thought carefully about the quarantine restrictions imposed when re-entering the UK?

Dr Larry Goodyer is the superintendent of the Nomad Pharmacy (3-4 Turnpike Lane, London N8; tel: 0181-889 7014). Contact the travel medicine helpline on 0891 633414 (calls cost 50p per minute).

Have a good time being one of the crowd

I shall be spending four nights in Chiang Mai in November. What can you suggest for a woman on her own to do? I would welcome some company, especially in the evening. Sadly, I am beyond spending the evening with young backpackers, fun as they are.

C Matthews

Sunderland

The travel editor replies: Chiang Mai is not a small city but it is largely devoid of the urban hassle which afflicts Bangkok. It is a quiet, friendly, laid-back place where making contact with local people is very easy indeed.

In the evening, one sociable experience is simply to join the crowds exploring the huge Night Bazaar on Chang Khlan Road, which contains endless stalls selling crafts, clothing and ethnic cuisine. If you want somebody to have meals with, an excellent idea is to approach any of the numerous local tour operators (your hotel will have one) who can supply you with an English-speaking local guide. These are often students earning cash in their spare time and are delightful company.

You are unlikely to be short of entertainment in the evening in Chiang Mai. There are numerous traditional cultural performances taking place at various venues around the city, including dance shows at the Chiang Mai Cultural Centre in which members of the audience are invited to participate.

Most of this is fairly touristy. Chiang Mai has a large American expat population, as well as big, flashy American hotels hosting "cultural" events for tourists. But if you want to delve a little deeper, why not try an activity such as traditional Thai massage or cookery? The Institute of Thai Massage (tel: 00 66 53 218632) and the Chiang Mai Thai Cookery School (tel: 00 66 53 206388) both provide short courses for tourists.

Incidentally, if you will be in town between 2-4 November you will be able to enjoy the spectacle of the Lantern Festival in Chiang Mai, in which floats carrying hundreds of candles are set adrift on the river under the full moon. There will also be float contests, Lanna-style hot air balloons ("Lanna" refers to a period of Thai history which spawned much notable architecture), as well as a Thai-style beauty contest, which is a spectacle not to be missed ( the girls appear being carried in high, golden litters rather than in skimpy bikinis). For further information, including leaflets and brochures, call the Thai tourist board (tel: 0171-499 7679).

When is a rucksack not a rucksack? When it's a travelbag

I am used to going backpacking, but I am planning a six-month journey around Europe, and I'd rather like to carry my luggage in something a bit more suitable for general travelling, but still on my back. Any suggestions?

Sarah Fisher

Surrey

Clive Tully replies: Providing you are of average fitness, I reckon your back is the most logical place to carry your luggage. It keeps your hands free for proffering tickets and passports when required, and it enables you to fend off over-friendly souvenir sellers, children - and cattle. None of that arm-stretching business with suitcases, or badly designed wheeled luggage teetering along uneven pavements or airport concourses.

But the rucksack does have its disadvantages. Unless you are careful about how you secure the harness, it can end up getting caught up and damaged while travelling through airport baggage systems, and the fact that the average backpacking rucksack is top-loading means it is more likely that you will have to unpack it completely to get at something near the bottom.

The answer is a convertible travel bag - essentially a smart piece of soft luggage, but with a full rucksack harness concealed beneath a zipped panel on the back. Most convertibles are panel-loading, so with the bag lying on its back, the front panel will unzip to give you full suitcase- type access to your belongings. There will be a padded soft handle on the side, and possibly the top, to enable you to carry it suitcase style - handy when you are checking in to posh hotels - while the full harness of shoulder straps and hip belt are there for when you need to get a move on, or you are spending more time on your feet.

Convertible travel bags vary in design, depending on whether they are intended mainly as a trekking bag - more like a rucksack with a main compartment and separate one at the bottom for your sleeping bag, but capable of hiding its harness; or more like a soft suitcase which is capable of turning into a rucksack.

Whichever design you go for, one important feature, which should be common to both, is side compression straps, which enable you to take up any excess volume inside the bag and stop the contents slopping about - important for stability when it's on your back.

The following companies all make good convertible travel bags: Berghaus (tel: 0191-415 0200); Karrimor (tel: 01254 893000); Jack Wolfskin (tel: 01275 472815); Lowe Alpine (tel: 01539 740840); Wynnster (tel: 01372 377713).

Clive Tully is one of Britain's leading commentators on clothing and equipment for walking, trekking and backpacking. He is editor of 'TrailWalk', an online magazine devoted to the subject. The 'TrailWalk' website is at http://www.trailwalk.com.

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