We want to go to China in 2011. How much should we allow per day for expenses, including sightseeing and food? We would like to pay for as much travel expenses, accommodation and transfers before we leave.

- Eleanor Cahill
Carolyn B Heller, co-author of Lonely Planet's China guide, writes:

Depending on your travel style, the budget for a China trip can vary from bare bones to deluxe.

Accommodation and transportation will be your major expenses. Costs in Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong are higher than elsewhere in the country.

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On average, dorm beds in hostels will cost between $8 and $12 per night, doubles with private bath in comfortable mid-range lodgings can cost up to $130, while top-end international hotels start at $170 per night.

Public transport tends to be cheap, so ask hotel staff to write out your destination in Chinese and take a business card from your lodging so you can get back.

On my most recent China trip, eating at local restaurants cost me between $1.50 and $8 per meal, and I ate really well. Higher-priced spots often have picture menus, but I frequently order simply by pointing at what other people are eating.

Regardless of your style and budget, you'll save money if you don't pre-book accommodations and transportation before arriving in China. Hotel prices are nearly always subject to negotiation, so if you show up at the front desk and bargain, you'll cut 10 to 50 per cent off the rack rate. Even if you can't speak Mandarin, bargain with gestures or written notes; the staff will understand.

If you do prefer to book in advance, try well-established Chinese sites, such as ctrip or eLong, which allow you to reserve hotels and internal flights - in English. Frequent flights serve all major Chinese cities and I'm also a fan of China's efficient, extensive train system.

To save money and hassles, avoid travelling during Spring Festival (Chinese New Year); in 2011, it's the first week of February. Also try to avoid the national holiday weeks in early May and early October, when prices soar, and trains, planes, hotels, and attractions are all jammed with travellers.

This week's winning letter is from Eleanor Cahill, who receives a copy of Lonely Planet China.

Kaua'i is a hiker's paradise
We will be on Kaua'i in Hawaii for five nights (plus extra time in Waikiki and Maui) in early January. My husband is a keen hiker and, from what I've read, Kaua'i can be very wet at that time of the year, depending on what part of the island you're on. Do you think the island is safe to hike (we have two teenagers) in winter? Can you recommend any safe hikes, maybe a six-hour day trip for my husband, plus nice family trails for say two hours with great views? Any other sightseeing/activity information you can give would be gratefully received. Our son often goes to climbing walls. My daughter wanted to go on a movie tour where Lost or Endurance were filmed.
- Sandra
US-based Lonely Planet author Sarah Chandler writes:

Winter in Kaua'i can be a bit rainy. Fortunately, rain tends to be light and fairly brief and, even in January, temperatures remain warm.

However, even if it's raining on the north or east sides of the island, you'll likely find sunshine and dry weather on the west and south sides. By staying abreast of the weather, or call 808-245-6001) and keeping your plans flexible, you can hike safely through the winter.

And mosquitoes? You'll find them in any tropical environment, and Kaua'i is no exception.

You and your family are in for a treat: hiking is one of the best ways to explore the lush beauty of the Garden Isle.

The most well known trail in Kaua'i, notorious for its difficulty and celebrated for its stunning beauty, is the Kalalau trail on the Na Pali coast.

While many hike the full 22-mile loop broken up by a night at Kalalau Beach, others choose tackle part of the trail on a day hike. Many families hike from Ha'ena State Park to Hanakapi'ai Beach.

Your husband could continue on to Hanakapi'ai Falls or beyond; this challenging section is ideal for experienced hikers. For easy-to-moderate hikes for the whole family head to gorgeous Waimea Canyon State Park.

One well-regarded private tour service on the island is Hike Kaua'i with Me tours by Eric Rohlffs, who will lead up to four people on a hike tailored to their interests and skill levels.

Hawaii's volcanic rock is generally too porous and crumbly for rock climbing. Luckily, eco-adventure companies offer plenty of safer thrills. In Kaua'i, Just Live! offers group zipline eco-tours through dramatic scenery and a 60-foot climbing wall.

While Lost was primarily shot on the island of Oahu, Kaua'i has been the setting for many films. While there' s currently not an organised tour, you and your daughter can still enjoy Kauai's cinematic intrigue. Check the Kaua'i Film Commission movie list at Filmkauai.

Finally, a good spot for swimming is Po'ipu Beach Park, one of the safest beaches on the island. And keep in mind that January means whale-watching season: it's one can't-miss experience of the islands.

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