My partner and I are planning a two-week trip to Amsterdam and other surrounding places in the early part of next year. We want to do the typical tourist thing, but we also want to see the landscapes and rural small towns. Can you recommend key places to visit? - G Finlayson
Lonely Planet's Sarah Bennett and Lee Slater write:
The Netherlands' compact nature and excellent public transport system means you could pretty much visit any part of the country. Trains operated by NS (Nederlandse Spoorwegen) are fast, frequent and serve most places of interest. Stations have lockers so you can ditch your luggage and explore on foot - or bike.
With more than 20,000km of dedicated bike paths (fietspaden), the Netherlands is the most cycle-friendly place on the planet. Bikes can be rented all over the country and heaps of cycling information is available on these useful websites: holland.cyclingaroundtheworld.nl, fiets.startpagina.nl, landlijkefietsroutes.nl.
When people think of Holland outside of Amsterdam, they are often thinking about the Randstad. One of the most densely populated regions in the world, it stretches from Amsterdam to Rotterdam and features the classically Dutch towns and cities of Den Haag, Utrecht, Haarlem, Leiden, Delft and Gouda. Most people focus their visit to Holland here, making the most of the peerless cycling network that links the towns amid tulip fields.
Haarlem is a highlight and the Netherlands in microcosm, with canals, gabled buildings and cobblestone streets. Its historic buildings, grand churches, museums, cosy bars, fine restaurants and antique shops draw scores of day-trippers from Amsterdam, just 15 minutes away by train.
The island of Texel, 3km off the coast of Noord Holland, is a natural playground of broad white beaches, lush nature reserves, forests and picture-book villages. With beauty and isolation in abundance it makes an excellent getaway from the mainland rush.
Don't miss Duinen van Texel National Park, a patchwork dunescape running along the entire west coast, and do pop into Ecomare to learn about the island's flora and fauna.
I'm 18 years old and want to travel around South and Central America, but want to actually experience and discover it fully, not just all the touristy stuff. Have you got any tips on how I can do this safely, cheaply and genuinely? - Jordan Stanley
Some would say you haven't really travelled until you've taken on South America. Thirteen countries strong, the continent is home to astounding natural and cultural wonders, including the snowcapped peaks of the Andes, thousands of kilometres of magnificent white-sand beaches, captivating colonial towns and indigenous villages, and the Amazon rainforest.
Add to this the diversity of Central America and you've got yourself one helluva adventure to look forward to.
Priming yourself with as much information as possible before you go is the best way to ensure you enjoy the most authentic of travel experiences. Travelling slowly will help, too, as will picking a travel theme that will encourage you to delve deeper and get off the beaten track - wildlife-watching, trekking or architecture, for example.
Lonely Planet's South America on a Shoestring and Central America on a Shoestring are excellent places to start planning.
The Thorn Tree forum is also a treasure-trove of information from travellers who have visited before you, and a good place to find travelling companions. You will find the Central America, South America and Women Travellers branches useful. While many women travel solo, it is safer - and often more fun - to travel in groups or with a partner.