Smart Traveller: Silent treatment

Travellers who favour the sound of silence can book an AirAsia X Quiet Zone seat on long-haul flights from February. Rows seven to 14, directly behind premium class, is the dedicated zone. Seats here don't cost extra, beyond the "pick-a-seat" fee of 35 ringgit ($11) for economy seats and 110 ringgit for "hot seats" the airline already charges passengers. Under-12s are not allowed in rows seven to 14. See

All that glitters

From a penthouse in Copenhagen to a coffee estate in Sao Paulo or a castle in Provence, house-swapping agency says it is raising the bar by introducing a "gold" category for high-end properties. More than 1000 properties in 60 destinations are on the site's register, 100 of them in the Pacific region. Cars, bikes and boats are often part of the exchange package.

A spokeswoman says owning a luxury property is not necessarily a prerequisite for staying in one. "It is not always a case of swapping like for like. Some properties are second residences and owners may just want people to stay at the house to care for pets. It's a case of being flexible with a chance to live in an authentic environment." Membership comes at a cost: gold is $500 a year; standard membership $131.40.


Horses for causes

Exploring the ancient kingdom of Rajasthan from the saddle is just one part of a Relief Riders adventure. Riders stop at remote villages (some not yet marked on Google Maps) to deliver education materials and health supplies, says its founder, Alexander Souri. "In areas where water is contaminated, deworming treatments are provided for children as well as supplies such as pencils and notebooks and sporting equipment," he says. "We want kids to stay in school for as long as they possibly can."

Three-day screening camps to assess eye health due to cataract blindness are also part of the Relief Riders' missions. Born to a French mother and Indian father, Souri's affinity with the Marwari breed - descended from the war horses belonging to ruling families of feudal India - began as a child in Nainital, in the foothills of the Himalaya region.

"I was sent from New York City to a disciplinarian boarding school in the Himalaya and riding a Marwari horse around the lake was one of my only freedoms and I soon felt a connection," Souri says.

He takes part in each ride and says he is reliant on villagers to tell him the areas of greatest need. "In a sense, I am working for them. The horses are considered a great omen for villagers; they have a spiritual energy and the reception is always great. It's the way that I travelled in India as a kid and that is what I hold on to."

Souri says riders should be experienced but may travel in a "scenic group" at a gentle trot. Non-riders can join an accompanying camel caravan.

This year's mission takes in the Pushkar Camel Fair, the largest trading event of horses and camels in the world and a magnet for travellers. Riders will depart from the 16th-century-built Khimsar Fort on the edge of the Thar Desert, ride to villages and on to the fair. The ride takes place from November 13-28 and costs from $US7500 ($7320).


Beyond Rangoon

Interest in travel to Burma is gathering momentum, with operators reporting a spike in bookings. Adventure travel company Peregrine reports its bookings have tripled in the past 12 months, and Singapore Airlines is launching daily flights to Rangoon next month.


Gone but not forgotten

Books, mobile phones and sunglasses top the list of items left on planes, according to the results of the latest Skyscanner survey. Of 700 people interviewed, two-thirds said they had left something on board, including a passport or travel document (5 per cent) and a child's favoured toy (2 per cent). Fortunately, just one respondent admitted to disembarking without underwear.

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