OVER TO YOU ...
"Do you tip the porter who carries your bags to your room and, if so, how much?"
"I tip the porter but, like the old Aga Khan, who was one of the world's richest men, handsomely on the way in and about half that amount on the way out," S. Kingsnorth writes.
"Depends where we are and that determines how much," J. Wright writes. "In the US ... we tip $1 a bag. In Indonesia we usually tip $5 a bag as tipping is less common and the wages are so low. Everywhere else we split the difference — $2 a bag." D. Smith writes: "We always carry at least $US50 in $1 notes for this purpose and tip according to number of bags."
These responses suggest we are confident tippers, yet research released by Hotels.com shows that more than 90 per cent of Australian travellers confessed they do not know how much to tip in each country. I'm writing this from India, where I'm tipping 50 rupees ($1) to porters and they seem happy enough to lug my overweight luggage, although the taxi driver clearly expected more.
Next question: Does it concern or annoy you when fellow airline passengers cram the overhead bins with multiple heavy bags, in flagrant violation of carry-on restrictions? Or are you guilty? Send a response or your travel question to firstname.lastname@example.org. All published responses will win a Lonely Planet guidebook.
IN FEBRUARY, A FRIEND AND I ARE GOING TO THAILAND FOR A "GAP MONTH". DESPITE BEING FRESH HIGH SCHOOL GRADUATES, WE ARE GOING NOT FOR THE PARTIES BUT FOR THE CULTURE. WE WANT TO REALLY EXPERIENCE THAILAND THROUGH ACTIVITIES LIKE SNORKELLING, TREKKING, FOOD AND AWESOME CULTURE (ON A BUDGET), AND WE WANT TO STAY AWAY FROM THE TOURISTY PLACES. COULD YOU HELP ME? R. MAYGER, BRUNSWICK, VIC
For the aquatic chapter of your Thai experience, Koh Tao would be a good fit. Located in the Gulf of Thailand, this is the country's top dive and snorkelling location. Whale sharks sometimes visit between March and May, presenting visitors with a dazzling underwater experience.
Following the pattern of highly desirable Thai islands that have been "discovered" by the outside world, it's not quite the barefoot paradise it once was, although spas and glossy resort developments still lag a long way behind Phuket and Koh Samui.
For the trekking part of your trip, head north to Chiang Mai. Although this is the second most-visited city in the country after Bangkok, it feels relaxed by comparison, with a distinctly different culture from the capital. Trekking among the hill-tribe villages is a speciality here, but it's a well-worn path. If you want to get of the beaten track and experience something more remote, you might consider a trek starting from Mae Hong Son or Soppong, both accessible from Chiang Mai.
Culture comes naturally. Just by eating the food in local restaurants, bargaining with tuk-tuk drivers, visiting temples and getting a massage on the beach you'll be swimming in the sea of Thai culture. A great resource for your needs is Travelfish (travelfish.org).
WE ARE PLANNING A FAMILY HOLIDAY IN NOVEMBER FOR GRANDPARENTS, KIDS AND GRANDKIDS, RANGING IN AGE FROM TWO TO 58, AND ARE THINKING OF QUEENSTOWN. WE PLAN TO RENT A LARGE HOUSE AND CARS SO WE HAVE THE FLEXIBILITY TO TRAVEL FURTHER AFIELD. WHAT ACTIVITIES DOES QUEENSTOWN OFFER OUTSIDE WINTER? IS THERE ENOUGH TO KEEP US ALL OCCUPIED FOR SEVEN TO 10 DAYS WITHOUT RELYING ON SNOW? K. TRACY, AUCKLAND
As the adventure capital of New Zealand, there is heaps to do in Queenstown for all those ages. From gentle activities - such as the lake cruise on the handsome lake steamer TSS Earnslaw (realjourneys.co.nz) and strolls through the botanic gardens - to extreme adventures such as jetboating and white water rafting.
One of my favourites is the walk along the bottom end of the Routeburn Track. Drive along Lake Wakatipu to Glenorchy and on to the eastern trailhead for the Routeburn. Cross the suspension bridge and follow the trail upstream through a mossy beech forest. After about two hours, the track reaches the meadows of Routeburn Flat, a lovely spot for a picnic.
I'M LOOKING INTO JOINING A VOLUNTEER PROGRAM IN NEPAL. A SEARCH ONLINE CAME BACK WITH A VAST NUMBER OF ORGANISATIONS. ALL CLAIM TO HAVE ESTABLISHED PARTNERS IN NEPAL AND PROVIDE ACCOMMODATION, AIRPORT TRANSFERS, BASIC TRAINING, MEALS AND SUPPORT. I JUST NEED TO PAY A FEE, RANGING FROM $US1500 TO $US2500 ($1630-$2720) FOR A FOUR-WEEK PROGRAM, AND ORGANISE MY FLIGHTS, VISAS AND TRAVEL INSURANCE. I WOULD LIKE TO GO WITH A TRUSTWORTHY COMPANY. COULD YOU RECOMMEND AN ORGANISATION THAT MIGHT SUIT? J. KWAN, LAMBTON
I suggest you get in touch with the Isis Foundation (isisgroup.org/contact-us). Isis is a Sydney-based charity that runs an orphanage and operates various other programs in Nepal. They don't take volunteers and there are many reasons why they don't, but they have been working in Nepal for a long time in some of the most difficult areas, and they have excellent contacts there. I'm sure they will be able to suggest a reputable charity for you to contact, and one that won't charge you a huge fee.