My wife and I have wanted to do a barge trip on the Canal du Midi in France ever since we saw Rick Stein do it on television a few years ago and this year it's going to happen. We'd like to see a bit more of the countryside after disembarking at Montpellier and we have some friends in Villach in Austria. Can you offer suggestions for ways to travel to Villach?
- Neville Harlick
Lonely Planet's Sarah Bennett & Lee Slater write:
Driving will give you the most flexibility and enable you to get off the beaten track so, unless you have a month or more, hiring a car is your best option. Larger companies such as Avis will allow you to pick up in Montpellier and drop off in Klagenfurt (30 minutes by train from Villach), although a hefty surcharge will probably apply. If you're driving back to France after visiting your friends, you could try a local rental company or a European broker such as autoeurope.com or autosabroad.com.
If you require a car for a month or more, you could also consider the purchase-repurchase plans offered by Citroen, Peugeot and Renault. This is by far the cheapest option and we've recently heard several positive reports of this arrangement by New Zealanders abroad.
So, which route to take? The quickest takes you along the French Riviera into Italy, then inland just before Genoa and towards Austria via Venice.
The online route planner of the UK Automobile Association says it's just over 1100km and around 13 hours' driving time. You will, of course, see a lot more if you deviate from this path. A distinctly Italianate experience can be enjoyed by dipping down into Tuscany (the embodiment of rural chic), then climbing into the Unesco natural heritage site of the Dolomites, with a side trip to Venice along the way.
As suckers for a mountain vista, we'd personally take a different route: heading northeast from Montpellier, cross into Switzerland via Chamonix, ogling the Mont Blanc Massif on the way.
From there, head across Switzerland and through Austria, taking in some gobsmacking alpine scenery while stopping off in great cities such as Geneva, Lausanne, Zurich, Innsbruck and Salzburg. It's a circuitous route (more than 1400km and at least 16 hours' driving) but guarantees plenty of "wow" moments.
Lonely Planet's new edition of Western Europe is packed full of places to stay and things to see, as are our country guides. Individual country or regional chapters can also be downloaded from our website.
I'm a Chinese New Zealander planning on taking my wife and four children aged 3, 7, 10 and 13 on a seven-day guided tour around Shanghai and Nanking. However, my wife has heard from friends that it is unwise to take young children because they may be kidnapped to be used as beggars or worse. Is this something we should take seriously?
- Shiu Lam
Children are kidnapped every day around the world and China is not free from this heinous crime. Definitive statistics are unavailable, but estimates vary from 10,000 to 70,000 kidnappings per year. Despite these shocking numbers, it is still a rare occurrence and, as tourists, you are very unlikely to be targeted.
By going on a reputable tour, you are increasing your family's safety when compared with travelling independently. Reduce the risks further by taking these precautions: never leave your children unattended, consider using a child harness in busy places and ensure your children know they shouldn't talk to strangers.
Pickpockets and scams can be a problem in China, particularly in cities, but by far your biggest danger will be on the roads. The World Health Organisation estimates that there are about 600 traffic deaths per day on China's roads. Be sure you wear seatbelts and use child-seats when available, and take extra care when crossing roads.
Risk is an inherent part of travelling, but the level of risk varies from place to place. The government's website has up-to-date travel advice for almost all countries.
Lonely Planet's new China guidebook and the Thorn Tree forum are also good resources providing advice on how to stay safe when travelling.
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