Tripologist: Venice in the off season

St. Mark's Square, Venice.
St. Mark's Square, Venice. Photo: Getty Images

I am travelling to Kent in England next month to visit my daughter and family. Can you suggest a suitable break for myself and my six-year-old granddaughter for a few days, just the two of us? Previously we have been to the Isle of Wight, Bath and Paris. I rather like the idea of a train journey to Scotland. Any recommendations?

J. Calder, Nelson Bay.

Edinburgh would be a fine choice, but in late October or early November, chances are that the weather will not be benign. Average daily temperatures for November in Edinburgh range between 3-8 degrees and the sun shines for an average of about two hours a day.

If you strike rain, the options for entertaining your granddaughter will be limited. What about Venice?

While it probably won't be warm, this is off season, the crowds will be gone from Piazza San Marco, the gondoliers will probably sing for you, hotel prices will be a little less scandalous and flights are cheap. Venice has much to stir and delight the heart of even the most worldly six-year-old, not to mention her devoted grandmother.

In 2013, I am planning a trip to Beijing, then the Trans-Mongolian train to Moscow, with a flight to Italy and return from Rome to Sydney in May. I am receiving disturbing airfare quotes when I ask for a single-trip price from Sydney to Beijing and Rome to Sydney (using May 2012 as an approximate date for prices). I understand single fares are more expensive than half the return fare, so what exactly is the situation with booking a one-way fare 12 months ahead of travel? Are the airlines and their websites not really geared for one-way travel? Is it best to use a travel agent for these unusual requests?

Richard Moore, Coffs Harbour.

Airlines usually release fares about 11 months in advance and this might be the reason you're being quoted high prices when you request a fare further in advance.

Using the Flight Centre website (flightcentre.com.au) and keying in details for a notional travel date of July 1, 2012, I get fares starting at $646 for the Sydney-Beijing sector with Jetstar. On the Zuji website (zuji.com.au), I get a price of $1243 for a one-stop flight from Rome to Sydney on July 31, 2012, with Air China, or $1270 with Emirates.

This is peak season for airline travel and unless the price of airline fuel skyrockets, it's hard to see that you would pay much more for the 2013 dates you have in mind. I'm assuming you will be using a travel agent to book your ticket on the Trans-Mongolian, and if so, it would make sense to use them for the air connections as well. Firm up your plans and book well ahead to get a good deal but fear of higher air travel prices should not derail your travel plans.

Skip straight to the highlights

I travel a lot to business conferences around Asia and the US but never manage to see or experience much beyond the meeting rooms between flying in and flying out. What's the best way to narrow down the must-sees in big cities when your time is restricted to evenings and a few free hours here and there?

L. Kenny, Middle Cove.

My first port of call for the lowdown on an unfamiliar city is Frommer's (frommers.com), which posts a generous amount of material from its guidebooks on its website.

Next stop is a handful of eclectic websites that have proven their worth throughout the years, such as Fabsearch (fabsearch.com), which has lots of insider tips on food, shopping and entertainment pulled from the pages of quality publications. In the same category, The Cool Hunter (thecoolhunter.com.au) is strong on shopping, local culture and design, and another great insider resource if you're in Berlin but not so fruitful if you're overnight in Des Moines.

Gridskipper (gridskipper.com) is another gossipy website that casts a cool, appraising eye over the urban scene, with lots of funky, offbeat suggestions for visitors. Finally, check the website of Wallpaper (wallpaper.com), the hallowed style arbiter for the design conscious and a useful resource whether you happen to find yourself in Abu Dhabi or Zurich.

Three generations in the Costa del Sol

I am travelling to Spain in July next year with my 11-year-old daughter. My mother and a male friend are to join us. We have been looking at an all-inclusive motel or self-catered apartment around the Benalmadena-Costa del Sol area, with easy access for my mother to supermarkets, sightseeing, villages, entertainment and restaurants, and a swimming pool for my daughter to enjoy. Our accommodation budget is about $80-$90 a person a night. Have I picked the right location? Do you know of accommodation that would suit us? Is the internet a safe way to book accommodation or should I be going through a travel agent? Also, I am thinking of hiring a car so I can take everyone sightseeing, or should we use tour guides with their own cars?

Y. Cobby, Medowie.

Sounds to me like you'll need a three-bedroom apartment and the internet is a safe way to book but do it through an agency. There are several agencies that can set you up with an apartment including Spain Holiday (spain-holiday.com), Owners Direct (ownersdirect.co.uk) and Homelidays (homelidays.co.uk).

The budget you have in mind will give you plenty of choice and many of these apartments are located in complexes with swimming pools.

Benalmadena, pictured, is one of the most popular beach resorts on the Costa del Sol, especially with Brits, and in July it will be crowded.

There are plenty of flamenco tablaos on the Costa del Sol and the same goes for shopping, dining and entertainment options.

Regarding tours versus car hire, you might want to wait until you're on the ground to make this decision. A vehicle will give you the freedom to wander around at your own pace in some of the inland villages of Andalusia, one of the highlights of Spain. On the downside, negotiating tight roads, finding your way and parking can take the shine off driving.

Sign up for a tour initially and if you feel confident about getting behind the wheel, you'll find plenty of local car-hire operators.

Since you have time in hand, you could prepare for this trip by taking a Spanish language course and one of the best around is Michel Thomas's, available on CD through Amazon (amazon.com), or as an iPhone and iPad app.

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