I'm booking a resort for an Easter holiday in Bali and I'm comparing properties on TripAdvisor. I've read that TripAdvisor reviews should be treated with caution, since hotels will sometimes employ public relations agencies to submit inflated reviews to plump up their appeal. Can I believe what I'm reading?
- P. Hood, Terrigal
More than 45 million would-be travellers click onto the TripAdvisor (tripadvisor.com) website every month, which makes it a powerful decision-making tool for consumers. On the whole, I believe TripAdvisor does a great job and I am a regular user.
While it is true that it is possible to slip in a favourable review of a hotel that does not deserve it, what a hotel manager cannot do is stop the negative reviews. If you see a property that has wildly divergent reviews, from "excellent" to "flea pit", be suspicious.
Look for a hotel with numerous reviews over a long time; disregard the most gushing and most venomous and you can be confident that you are getting an accurate picture.
Reviewers who have submitted to the TripAdvisor site multiple times are more likely to be a trustworthy source than those with just one or two reviews to their credit. Do not be discouraged by a few negative comments - you cannot please all the people all of the time.
I always take it as a promising sign when a hotel manager answers reviewers with genuine complaints and explains the situation from the hotel's point of view. Chances are these managers are diligent professionals who maintain a high standard.
Wine, dine then detour to visit the alpine climes
My husband and I are flying into Paris in early September and flying out of Rome in early October. Our thoughts were to spend a few days in Paris and then head south with a hire car. We love our food and wine! I have been to Provence and would like to explore somewhere else. We would love to spend at least a week in Italy.
- H. Tennant, South Durras
Provence is a special place even by French standards but there are plenty of other parts of the country that will charm your chaussettes off. From Paris, you might travel north-east towards Reims for a tour of the Champagne region, then continue east through the Vosges Mountains and into Alsace, where you can wander along the region's fabulous wine route with stops at Strasbourg, Colmar, Riquewihr and Obernai. From Mulhouse, in southern Alsace, plan a meandering journey through the mountainous Jura region.
When you get to Pontarlier, I'd turn south-east to cross the Swiss border and continue to Interlaken. Pick a sunny day for the journey south through the glorious Bernese Oberland and don't miss the chance to visit the Jungfraujoch, one of the world's greatest alpine journeys. Take the Simplon Tunnel into Italy for a run along the shores of Lake Maggiore, then turn east towards Verona. From here you could continue to Vicenza and Venice and then turn south to travel through Tuscany to Rome.
If time allows, head north from Verona towards Bolzano and spend a couple of days exploring the Dolomites, a sparkling, Tyrolean-style region of snow-capped mountains and fairytale villages plonked down in green valleys.
Happy campers are those who hire in Japan
We are intending to ship our Land Rover camper to Japan in June next year. We expect to spend three months in Japan and possibly Korea. I cannot tell from the internet whether the ferries that go from Japan to South Korea are car ferries or not. Can you give me any more information about them and the likely costs? Also, any information about having a camper in Japan would be great.
- D. Kincaid, Glenorie
Japan has hundreds of camping areas and most have excellent facilities including toilets, hot showers, laundry and on-site electricity. That's the happy part of the answer to your question. The rest might make you decide to change your plans.
Anyone who wishes to export a vehicle for touring overseas needs a Carnet de Passages en Douane (CPD), which is like a passport for your vehicle. A carnet allows you to temporarily import your vehicles for a limited period with a minimum of formalities and without the need to make a cash deposit at the frontier in local currency. You can obtain a carnet from any of the various state motoring organisations. You will be required to pay a security deposit in the form of a bank cheque. In the case of Japan, the amount required is 100 per cent of the current market value of your vehicle. You will also need to pay an indemnity insurance premium based on 2 per cent of the market value of the vehicle plus a fee of $400.
The Pukwan Ferry (pukwan.co.kr), which operates between Busan in South Korea and Shimonoseki in Japan, carries cars. According to forum posts on the internet, the cost of transporting a vehicle is about $350 each way.
Pukwan's website is in Korean and Japanese and you cannot make online reservations in either language. To make a reservation, you need to call their Busan office on +82 51 464 2700.
When you take into account all the practical difficulties, plus the cost of shipping your vehicle to and from Japan, it might be easier to hire a campervan in Japan and/or Korea and there are several agencies that can make this happen.
Know when to hold 'em
My daughter will be travelling back from Scandinavia with a family heirloom in the form of a Victorian clock. Its sentimental value makes it impossible to replace but it's also reasonably large and heavy. Is it better off as a carry-on or would it be OK in her checked luggage?
- K. Milner, Bondi
Despite the size and weight of your clock, I would be nervous about consigning such a precious item to the hold. Checked baggage can go missing and never be seen again and I've had locks on cases broken while they were in transit and items removed. While neither of these is a common occurrence, no amount of insurance cover is going to make up for the loss of a family heirloom. I carry my most expensive and fragile items as hand luggage,including cameras, lenses and laptop. Most airlines will allow carry-ons between seven kilograms and nine kilograms (maximum dimensions about 48cm x 34cm x 23cm).