I wonder if you could come up with suggestions for a holiday for my husband, myself and two sons aged 10 and seven. We have an unusually high budget for next year. This is to be the holiday of a lifetime as we won't be spending so much again and the children have never travelled abroad before. We all enjoy beach holidays but also want to do some sightseeing. We have a budget of pounds 4,000-pounds 5,000 and have considered Australia, Egypt, Mauritius, St Lucia and Antigua, but are not sure if these destinations are too adventurous for boys under 11. Somewhere such as Mauritius may not offer enough apart from the beach and water sports.
Mrs JC Butcher
Kate Calvert replies:
Australia would make a good choice, especially if you could spare three or even four weeks to give you time to recover from the jetlag and get to see not just Sydney but the Great Barrier Reef, the rainforest, and maybe glimpse the Outback. A good option might be a motor-home for part of the visit. This gives you a real sense of getting right away and has the advantage of saving on accommodation and eating costs. Companies that could help you put together an itinerary include Cresta World Travel (tel: 0161-929 9727) and Tailor Made Travel (tel: 01386 712045). Tailor Made Travel offers a holiday, including return flights with Virgin and Ansett, four nights in a two-bedroomed apartment in Sydney, flight to Cairns and campervan rental for 10 days exploring the Barrier Reef and rainforest. It also includes a flight to Ayers Rock and a two-night stay in a two- bedroomed apartment before flying back to Sydney and three nights there before flying home. It all costs pounds 5,322 for a family of two adults and two children.
I can see the attraction of Egypt, particularly if your children have an interest in history. However, if you have not travelled abroad before as a family, this might feel too adventurous. One way of getting round would be to take an organised tour, but as they tend to be heavy on sightseeing and timetabled for adults the children might not enjoy this as much as they should on a family treat. Ancient World Tours (tel: 07071 222 950) welcomes children on its tours and quotes pounds 1,195 per adult for seven days' cruising on the Nile and three nights in Cairo. Reductions for children depend mainly on accommodation but might be 10 per cent to 20 per cent.
If sightseeing and exploring are to be major features of the holiday, I would leave out St Lucia and Antigua as they may be too small to do very much of that. Mauritius is bigger and has excellent hotels, but wouldn't offer the range of experiences of either Egypt or Australia.
Kate Calvert edits 'Family Travel', the subscription-only publication for parents (tel: 0171-272 7441; or visit www.family-travel.co.uk).
Away from it all
Next year I want to really get away from it all to somewhere isolated and peaceful. Requests for such at travel agents are met with blank stares - apparently what everyone wants is "facilities". I want somewhere with no facilities and no people. Kuoni used to do a package in which it dropped two people off on an island with a dinghy and a radio. This would be ideal, if rather expensive. I'm not looking for a holiday. It's total solitude I'm after. I don't mind working - puffin counting or something, but all the charities/conservation organisations I've contacted only take people in big groups. Failing that, a cottage which is miles from anywhere would be good. This country or abroad is fine, but I do not have an inexhaustible budget.
Phil Haines replies:
It is that time of year when the working population is dreaming of getting away from it all and your question reminds me of the long-distance sailor who is probably fed up with deserted islands and dreams of returning to a civilised marina. I have envied their ability to reach uninhabited and unfrequented islands but you forget the less romantic months in the high seas, fantasising about cold drinks and fish-free meals. Landlubbers, lacking seamanship and a yacht, have their travelling freedom restricted to ferries, flights, railways, roads and footpaths. But, by making the most of these clumsy tools, you can get away from it all.
A cheap and independent option is to drive, hitchhike or take a train within a sparsely populated part of Europe, say Scotland or northern Scandinavia, and stop when you spy a suitably desolate spot. To make your escape a real success, the emphasis lies on good planning and packing. Remember the tent, stove, provisions, serious mosquito repellant for summer in the Scandinavian forests and snowshoes or cross-country skis for the winter.
Live Limited arranges two trips for the amateur escapologist. During a weekend's horse-riding in north Sweden you are likely to see only deer and elk. The trip costs pounds 495, excluding flights. But, since you seem keener on islands, we can deposit you by boat on an uninhabited Caribbean island. This is a quite an economical trip (from pounds 500, including transfers, local transport, accommodation and food), since the boat journey is only one- and-a-half hours and travel to that area is straightforward. There are no facilities, so everything has to be taken on to the island.
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".
In the swim
I am interested in swimming the Channel. I am not a member of any swimming club but I am a keen and very able swimmer. Can I swim the Channel independently and how would I go about doing it?
The travel editor replies:
Swimming the Channel is an arduous venture often requiring years of training. This is not to put you off, but it is necessary to be physically and psychologically prepared in order to have a good chance of succeeding. The English and French coast- guards will only allow swimmers under the auspices of the Channel Swimmers' Association (CSA) to cross - and with over 500 ships a day passing through the Channel, icy waters and strong tidal currents, it would be almost suicidal to do it without their assistance.
The CSA (tel: 01303 814788) will send a starter pack containing the necessary administrative and medical forms, advice and a list of approved boats and pilots to accompany you. Having a good pilot is particularly important, as tides can try the skills of even experienced seafarers and drag swimmers away from the French shore as they approach. The CSA requires you to have completed a six-hour cold water (15 degrees C or less) swim in open water in order to go ahead.
To give you some idea of how difficult conditions are, last year 50 experienced swimmers attempted to swim the Channel, of whom just over 20 succeeded. The time taken to swim the 17 miles between the Cap Gris Nez and Dover ranges between seven (superhuman) and 30 hours. A very good swimmer can expect to do it in 12 to 13 hours. Having said that, you can't get much greater than this as a personal challenge, and the sense of achievement upon emerging, covered in grease, on the other side must be immense.