Blossoming ... women wearing kimonos walk on a snow-clad garden in Tokyo.

Blossoming ... women wearing kimonos walk on a snow-clad garden in Tokyo. Photo: AFP

Everyone asks ...

How far in advance should I book my air ticket?

Airlines usually release their tickets 11 months in advance, and this is the time to start looking for bargains. These early-bird seats are your best chance of scoring a cut-price ticket. As these cheaper tickets sell out, the price ratchets up, and airlines have become highly adept at packing their planes.

You should be able to secure seats a few months in advance without paying a premium, but book well ahead if you're planning to travel during peak periods — Australians are heading off shore in record numbers and not too many seats are empty.

Long gone are the days when you could wait around for a standby ticket and travel for half the price.

Three countries in three weeks is too fast a race

My partner and I are keen to explore Taiwan, Japan and South Korea in three weeks — in May at the earliest and August at the latest. We know we will make the most of each country, but the hard parts are the logistics and timing of travel between the three countries. Any advice on the order of travel and what time of year is best? Or are we trying to do too much in three weeks?
- A. Williams, Rosanna, Vic.

As in The Sun-Herald City2Surf, everyone travels at their own pace, but, to me, this sounds as though you would be sprinting. Each of these countries is a feast and if you try to cram everything into three weeks, you might cramp up with cultural indigestion, and it won't be relaxing.

I would be inclined to leave South Korea for another time, possibly combined with China or even North Korea if you want something different. You could, for example, devote a week to Taiwan and the rest of the time to Japan.

May is wonderful in Japan. In Tokyo and Kyoto, the temple gardens should be in the full glory of late spring, the days are warm and long, and you can visit Hokkaido comfortably.

Taiwan will be warmer and have changeable weather patterns. The island can be clear and dry or wet and grey, but June and July are typically sticky with humidity, while August to October is typhoon season.

Golden Week falls in Japan at the beginning of May. Many families will be on the move and travel bookings can be problematic. Hit Taiwan first, then move on to Japan.

 

Touring Italy is child's play

We're planning a trip to Rome and northern Italy with our infant daughter in the European spring. Can you suggest towns that are suited to easy half-day sightseeing on foot and family-friendly dining?
- M. Freeman, Kingsville, Vic.

A crucial question for you is whether to hire a car or travel by train and bus. Without a car, many of the highlights of Umbria and Tuscany, such as Gubbio, Bevagna, Todi, San Gimignano and Montepulciano, are going to be difficult to reach with an infant.

I suggest basing yourselves somewhere central for a few days, finding a self-contained apartment, possibly using Air BnB (airbnb.com.au) or Agriturismo (agriturismo.it), and exploring by car. My pick would be somewhere close to Orvieto, followed by two or three days around Siena.

Note that many of the towns in these regions are built on hills and paved with cobblestones, which can make them difficult to negotiate with infants and strollers.

For something different, head north and base yourselves in Como and spend a few days exploring the lakeside towns via ferry. From there, head east, with a brief stop at Verona, then continue to Venice.

Family-friendly dining is never a problem in Italy. Italians regard children as an essential and delightful part of human society, and eating out with them as one of life's pleasures.

 

Storybook counties have it all

In September and October, we are spending 3½ weeks in the West Country, including Dorset, Cornwall, Devon and Somerset (Bath), on a self-drive holiday. Do you have any ideas on places and events we should not miss?
- J. Sullivan, Annandale.

This is one of the loveliest parts of England. High on any list of essential stops in Devon would be the villages of Clovelly, Lynton, Lynmouth and Dartmouth.

In Cornwall, the must-sees include Mevagissey, St Ives, St Mawes, Polperro, the ruins of Tintagel, the Tudor Pendennis Castle, the aquamarine waters of Kynance Cove, the storybook fishing village of Mousehole and the sea-girt islet of St Michael's Mount under the crown of its mediaeval castle and church.

Dorset and Somerset are similarly endowed with lovely villages, gardens, historic houses and natural wonders.

Type "visit" then "Dorset", "Devon", "Cornwall" or "Somerset" and Google will take you to the official websites, with plenty of suggestions to help you plan a super trip.

A quality travel guide to this part of the world is Top 10 Devon & Cornwall, published by Eyewitness.

 

Young family should aim for comfort

My partner and I are travelling to Portugal next June with a five-month-old baby, and as we arrive in Lisbon, we want to know of any family-friendly places to stay in the city, preferably close to the water? Also, we want to go to the Algarve for a few nights — I imagine this area is much more accommodating for families? Do you recommend staying in Lisbon for a few nights — if so, where — or going to the Algarve for the majority of the time? We envisage travelling to the Algarve by train as it's not too far or expensive.
- S. Simpson, Randwick.

Lisbon is a minimum two-stop flight from Australia, which is trying enough for anyone. With an infant, you will need to stop and recuperate before hopping aboard a train for the three-hour trip to the Algarve.

I'd be looking for an apartment rather than a hotel room. Hotel rooms throughout European cities are typically not large unless you're prepared to pay a lot.

You might also find it difficult if you need to warm bottles or food in the middle of the night, and having breakfast with an infant is not necessarily something you want to do in public.

An apartment will give you plenty of room to spread yourselves out, and a proper kitchen all to yourself.

The logical choice in this case is Air BnB (airbnb.com.au), which throws up some real treasures in the case of Lisbon, such as a gorgeous two-bedroom apartment in the central Santa Catarina district for just $75 a night in mid-June. Or a totally renovated, loft-style two-bedroom apartment in an 18th-century building in Cais do Sodre, close to the waterfront and about as central as you can get in the Portuguese capital, for $150 a night.

Since the location is important, you can use the site's map to filter your choices. Air BnB is also a great site to use when searching for accommodation in the Algarve.

Each of the towns here has a different character, and my pick of places to look would be the elegant and patrician town of Tavira, which is set back from the coast on the Gilao River.