Dr Latitude: Across the black hills of Dakota

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My wife and I have booked flights for a six-week holiday in the US later this year. We've allocated about 10 days for the Grand Canyon and Monument Valley, then have a month to drive from there to Wisconsin. We are contemplating hiring a car for half that time and a campervan for the other two weeks. Is this smart or is it best to have one or the other? We don't intend to visit big cities but want to see rural America. Our itinerary is very flexible but could you suggest a possible route?

- Ross Allan

If flexibility is the key, not having to be at a certain place on a certain date to make the switch between car and campervan is appealing. Plus, you might appreciate having the option of staying at camping grounds for the full month of your trip and saving on accommodation costs.

With online and advance booking discounts, there's not much in it between car and campervan/motorhome rental. Rates start at around $4335 for a month's rental of a compact car or campervan. For campervan rental rates, have a look at Happy Travel Campers.

One way to go could be along Hwy 89 north from Phoenix, Arizona, passing through Sedona and Flagstaff en route to the Grand Canyon National Park.

Further north along the route, Utah's Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park are awe-inspiring natural wonders.

Hwy 89 passes a number of little Mormon towns as it heads north to Salt Lake City, though you might want to keep driving and head to Logan Canyon, just near the border with Idaho. The route then heads into Wyoming for Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone.

To change direction and move east to Wisconsin, you could pick up the I-90 north of Yellowstone. It runs right across Wyoming, through South Dakota's Black Hills and Badlands National Park, then continues across the plains of Minnesota and into Wisconsin. It then skirts Minneapolis-St Paul and continues all the way to Chicago and Boston.

Italy by train

I am travelling to Rome and intend making a loop through northern Italy over a three-week period. Do you recommend point-to-point tickets or an Italy rail pass?

- Jen Scharp

Go for a Trenitalia Italy rail pass. Ten days' travel over a period of two months costs $668 in first class, $545 in second.

Have a look at the Rail Europe website for more information. You can buy your rail pass from a travel agent before you head overseas or at Rome's station.

Getting around Italy by train is a breeze, with lines crisscrossing just about the entire country. But some trains are slow. Avoid Regionale and Interregionale services and go for Intercity or Eurostar trains. They charge a small supplement that won't be covered by your pass but it's worth it.

You'll also need to reserve a seat for longer journeys, which also costs a few dollars and is obligatory for Eurostar trains.

To help plan your trip, pick up a copy of the Italian rail timetable (Orario Ferroviario per Tutta Italia) from a newsagent in Rome. And remember to validate your pass before boarding a train, or risk a fine. The validating machines are the little yellow boxes in stations, usually attached to the platform walls.

Taste of Mexico

We are flying from Tijuana to Guadalajara for a five-day stay. Can you suggest the best way to gain a good appreciation of this huge Mexican city?

- Stan Jackson

Second in size only to Mexico City, Guadalajara is considered a more "Mexican" city and is surprisingly manageable, safe and friendly. Guadalajara's contributions to Mexican culture include tequila, mariachi music, the sombrero and the charreada (a Mexican-style rodeo).

Many attractive pedestrian streets and plazas grace the Centro Historico with its elegant old buildings and fashionable shops. There are also museums, galleries, restaurants and nightspots. You'll find plenty of things to keep you busy for five days.

The twin-towered cathedral is the city's most conspicuous landmark, and quite a remarkable mix of styles - baroque, neoclassical, Gothic, Churrigueresque, among others. The museo Regional de Guadalajara is a must-see for its eclectic collection covering the history and pre-history of western Mexico.

Spend a day or two wandering the streets and plazas, enjoying the fine buildings, the activity and the entertainment all around you. At the Plaza de los Mariachis you can sit and have a drink or a bite to eat while enjoying the wandering musicians.

Try to squeeze in a day trip to the endearing town of Ajijic on the shores of Lago de Chapala. And if you're really into tequila and margaritas you'll want to visit the town of Tequila for the day and stock up.

Be sure to read the Ministry of Foreign Affairs & Trade's travel advisory for MexicoMinistry of Foreign Affairs & Trade's travel advisory for Mexico.

Looking for leg room

My husband and I are planning a trip to Denmark. We have a dread of long flights, especially as my husband is very tall. We would be travelling economy class and would appreciate advice on the most comfortable airline and also how to secure a seat in the exit row before we leave.

- Anne Gray

You have lots of time to book a preferred seat in advance. Some airlines let you select your seat when you're booking your ticket, so the earlier you can book, the better.

But even if you book the best seat on the type of plane you've been told you'll be flying on, there's still a chance that the aircraft will be substituted on the day of your flight, spoiling your best-laid plans.

The seats you want to go for are on exit rows and behind the bulkheads, which divide the aeroplane into sections and so provide more leg room. The drawback to sitting near the bulkheads is that bassinets are often positioned here, so the odds of having babies in your vicinity are pretty high.

The seats at the tail end of the plane can also be a good bet, with two seats rather than three in the row providing a bit of extra space.

There's little difference in terms of comfort when it comes to airlines and long-haul flights. The airlines with the greatest amount of seat pitch (and, in turn, leg room) include Air New Zealand, Emirates, Malaysia Airlines, Singapore and Lufthansa. The airlines with good reputations for in-flight service and efficiency include Singapore, Cathay Pacific, Emirates and Virgin Atlantic.

There are some useful websites out there with plenty of dos and don'ts for making the most of your trip, including Seat Guru, Road Warrior, Seat Expert and Seat Maestro.

- NZ Herald

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