Tripologist: Wide open country trumps crowded cities

Countryside getaway ... the Lot Valley, south of Dordogne, France.
Countryside getaway ... the Lot Valley, south of Dordogne, France. 

My wife and I are planning a much-delayed trip to Europe, three small children included. On our list are Paris, Madrid, Barcelona, Rome, Venice and Athens in six to eight weeks. The hard part (other than paying for it) is organising it. I remember reading about a travel app that enabled people to put non-standard trips in and travel agents effectively made bids for the business, with quotes and itineraries, but I can't find it. Any ideas on either what the app is or potentially any other options for co-ordinating the trip?
- A. Rodriguez, Sydney.

A website similar to your description, PricesForTravel, did make a start last year but has since folded. Constructing an itinerary is a time-consuming process. You need to know exactly where you want to go and how long to spend there, which should be your first step.

You might then consult with MTA, who are mobile travel agents that come to your home or office to nail down your plans.

Diving and relaxation ... the Perhentian Islands, Malaysia.
Diving and relaxation ... the Perhentian Islands, Malaysia. Photo: Getty Images

Your wish list is city-based and that could be a problem. European cities are mostly about art, architecture, history, tiny hotel rooms and crowds, none of which are likely to delight small children. If they're not having a good time, neither will you.

You might consider an itinerary that includes a few days in each of these cities, with the possible exception of Athens, but with time in towns or countryside in between. This would give the kids time to have picnics in the woods, mess about in boats and sample exotic pastries.

For example, from Paris, you could plan a journey that takes in the Loire Valley, followed by a few days in the Lot region, south of Dordogne. From there you could cross the Pyrenees and head for Barcelona, then to Venice with stops in Provence, along the French Riviera and Italy's northern lakes.

Room with a view ... the Sky Tower, Auckland.
Room with a view ... the Sky Tower, Auckland. Photo: Getty Images

You can find plenty of rural accommodation options in France on the Gites de France website and in Italy on Agriturismo.

If this idea sounds appealing, you will need a hire car.

 

A peaceful way to see Malaysia

I'm looking to go to the Perhentian Islands off the coast of Malaysia for a one-week getaway in October, which I hope will be full of relaxation and diving. Ideally I would like to experience the local culture and try to avoid the hordes of tourists. Which location would you recommend, and is it easy to travel between the islands?
- A. Gomes, Rozelle.

The Perhentian Islands are a prime choice for diving and relaxation, but I'm not too sure about local culture. Perhentian Kecil has a small fishing kampong and, while you would probably be welcome to walk around, the practicalities of earning a living from the sea do not make for a thrilling spectacle for visitors. Malay culture is generally restrained, quite unlike the colourful extravagance of Bali, for example.

The larger of the two islands, Perhentian Besar, has more upmarket accommodation, although there's nothing too glossy and glamorous. Perhentian Kecil is more popular with budget travellers and has a livelier party scene. Hordes of tourists are not an issue on either island.

Hopping from one island to the other is no problem, they're only a 10-minute boat ride apart and there are plenty of water taxis.

See TripAdvisor to help sort out your accommodation preferences.

 

Adventure and education aplenty in Auckland

We are taking the kids (aged seven and five) to Auckland later this month. What activities can we do as a family in Auckland?
- A. Cummins, Lane Cove.

One of the best free shows in town is watching the jumpers who leap from the Sky Tower at the corner of Victoria and Federal streets. At 192 metres, SkyJump is the highest tethered jump in the country.

Auckland is built on an active volcano field and the Volcanoes Gallery inside the Auckland Museum is fascinating. The simulated volcano eruption video, which explores the what-ifs of a volcanic eruption occurring in Auckland Harbour, is frighteningly real in a way that the kids will love.

New Zealand has a powerful connection with the sea and the Voyager New Zealand Maritime Museum is crammed with whaling boats, seagoing canoes, jet boats and all the brassy apparatus you needed to find your way around the world in pre-satellite times.

Accessible by ferry from Auckland, Tiritiri Matangi is an island wildlife sanctuary from which introduced predators have been eliminated, allowing native bird species to flourish. The best way to experience the island is on a guided tour with one of the naturalists who meet the 360 Discovery Cruises service.

A short distance south-west of the city, the Museum of Transport and Technology has a huge collection of steam trains and aircraft, a working tramway and the pump house that once supplied Auckland with water.

Another great day trip is Waiheke Island. Just a 40-minute ferry ride from Auckland, Waiheke has bird and marine reserves with walking tracks, and the island's serrated coastline offers wonderful kayaking. Waiheke also has an enviable lifestyle, with many wineries, lots of galleries and some great little restaurants. There's heaps of accommodation there, too.

 

Compromise is the best option

My boyfriend loves camping and really wants to go on a couple's camping trip in Vietnam. I love the outdoors, but am a complete novice when it comes to sleeping sans super-comfy king-size bed with 1000-thread count Egyptian cotton sheets and I love my creature comforts. Are there any options that would satisfy both of our accommodation expectations?
- F. Maree, Bondi.

The Vietnamese have not embraced the notion of camping. Many of them have distant memories of camping during the Vietnam War but these are not memories that are likely to induce a nostalgic hankering for nights under canvas. Given the national abundance of snakes, centipedes, scorpions, malarial mosquitoes, biting ants and unexploded ordnance, anyone who chooses to sleep out of doors in a remote location would be regarded as unwise, and possibly even dangerously eccentric. Bear Grylls might, but lesser mortals should probably steer clear.

If your boyfriend is determined, what you want is a bungalow, either in a forest domain or beside the beach. Such accommodation is readily available throughout Vietnam. You can then sleep in that super comfy, king-size bed with all the pillows while he unfurls sleeping mat and bag alfresco.

 

Digiwatch

If you're planning to hit the road with a backpack in south-east Asia, Travelfish is your best buddy. This well-fleshed resource has a mine of insider information - where to stay, what to do and funky eats, with forums for posting questions. Aimed primarily at the young and financially challenged, there are also plenty of tips here for any traveller with a well-honed sense of curiosity. Also available as an app. travelfish.org.

If you have travel questions, we'd love to hear from you. Include the name of your suburb or town  and send it to tripologist101@gmail.com. Personal correspondence cannot be entered into. Only questions appearing in print will be answered. One published letter each week will win a Lonely Planet guidebook.

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