I am embarking on a round the world(ish) trip on 4 January. I have got my ticket already but have to organise a flight from Bangkok to Delhi for 24 April. I'm hoping you can help by suggesting some budget airlines that fly this route. Furthermore, if I book it earlier will it be any cheaper or is time irrelevant to the price of a flight?
Air Asia is launching this route from 10 December, and is offering one-way fares for £49 including taxes, operated by Thai Air Asia. At a rate of just over 2p a mile I wouldn't hesitate too much before booking this fare even if it is non-refundable. Air Asia is the best known of the Asian budget carriers, but Jetstar Asia (the Singapore-based offshoot of Qantas-owned Jetstar), Tiger Airways and Bangkok Airways (both operating from Bangkok) offer useful connections around the region. In India, budget carriers are increasingly reaching out to neighbouring countries, with the excellently-monickered SpiceJet flying from Delhi to Colombo and Kathmandu. Other options on the subcontinent for cheap flights include Air India Express, IndiGo and Deccan Airlines.
I'm thinking of making a northern lights trip for my birthday with a group of friends. It will need to be on a tightish budget, and I'd prefer to avoid an organised tour. I also want to make sure that if it's not possible to see the lights, that the trip itself would be exciting anyway. I don't really have a preference as to which country to visit, but was mainly thinking Sweden or Iceland. I've had a bit of a look round, but mostly found packages...
Aside from the excellent suggestions in this week's Guardian Insiders' Guide to the northern lights I have two Swedish suggestions. The first and most economical option is to take advantage of SAS's new weekly direct three-hour flight (£175 return including taxes) from Heathrow to Lulea, in northern Sweden. The town is an excellent base for winter activities including husky sledding as well as being a lively base for exploring the surrounding area. Specific northern lights spotting trips aren't available, but simply by getting out and about you stand an excellent chance of seeing the lights. The Vandrarhem Kronan Hostel (vandrarhemmetkronan.se) set in woodland a couple of miles from the city centre has single rooms from £22 and its darker location makes it a smart and good-value option. There are also hotels to aim for in the city centre. Unless you go for a week, however, you'll need to add in the best part of a day to fly back via Stockholm.
Abisko Mountain Station (abisko.nu; singles from £62; cheaper hostel accommodation also available) offers basic but comfortable beds in the national park of the same name. Abisko has a reputation for clearer skies than other northern regions. It is surrounded by mountains and has less cloud cover. This beautiful, remote setting is perfect for aurora spotting as well as Nordic skiing, ice climbing and snowshoeing, all of which you can arrange when you get there. The Aurora Sky Station (auroraskystation.se), a viewing station reached by a chairlift, can be visited nightly giving you the best possible chance of seeing the lights. It costs £62 to go up for one evening or you can get access included in an accommodation package. Discounts on the above are available for YHA (Hostelling International) members (yha.org.uk). Visit Sweden (visitsweden.com) has more information on all of this.
Taxi transfers can be arranged from Kiruna Airport for £140 per car – more reasonable if there are a few of you sharing, or there are train and bus options. Return flights from the UK to Kiruna go via Stockholm – charter flights are only available as part of a package – and start at £283.60 including taxes.
If you have more time you could also look into taking the night train (sj.se), which runs directly from Stockholm to the station at Abisko with no need for transfers. This would also give the possibility of cutting down on flight costs by taking a cheaper flight.
Me and my boyfriend are off to San Francisco for five days in early November for a wedding on the Friday and Saturday. We've both been before so have done all the touristy stuff and would love recommendations on good bars, restaurants and boutiques to check out. We want to hang out with locals rather than tourists if at all possible.
Lonely Planet's American base is in Oakland, a short hop across the bay from San Francisco so I asked for a few suggestions from them. It's not hard to leave tourists behind in San Francisco – just steer clear of cable cars, Fisherman's Wharf and Alcatraz and big-name chain restaurants.
If you haven't been for a couple of years you may have missed the reopening of the California Academy of Sciences (calacademy.org) a gorgeous museum with a full aquarium, a multi-storied rainforest – complete with wildlife - a state of the art planetarium, a living roof that is home to native plants and a cafe that only serves organic, local and sustainable food items. The new building was designed by Renzo Piano. It gets lots of families and school groups, but is adults only on Thursday nights.
A great street to shop and eat is Hayes Street in between Franklin and Laguna Streets, west of the Tenderloin. Arlequin (arlequincafe.com) and Bar Jules (barjules.com) are recommended for eating and drinking. If you don't get round to a reservation, an early-evening mooch around should take you past somewhere you fancy.
For dessert you can really go to town. SF is crazy for artisanal ice-cream right now with some marvellously odd flavours to try. Humphry Slocombe (humphryslocombe.com) located in the Mission is one place to head for, though you'll find other examples on your travels. Join the queue and pick up a few tips on flavours.
For a late drink aim for Bourbon & Branch (bourbonandbranch.com) on Jones Street close to Union Square. It's decor and speakeasy-style secrecy harks back to the Prohibition days and you need to call ahead for a password if you want to sit in the main bar area.
I am going to Paris in the week before Christmas. Is there anything in particular you would recommend to get into the festive spirit?
There are traditional Christmas markets all over the city, from the huge one lining the Champs-Elysées – itself festooned with an impressive lights display - to smaller ones at Place Saint-Sulpice and Place des Abbesses in Montmartre, and though these can feel a little cheesy they're pleasant places for a festive stroll.
You should aim for the Hotel de Ville in the evening – the winter ice rink there is no secret but remains one of the most beautiful locations in the city with a lovely atmosphere. Skating is free if you have your own blades or it costs €5 to hire a pair.
The window displays of stores throughout town are striking, but those of the huge department stores on Boulevard Haussmann are especially impressive. Smaller boutiques in the Marais and the streets between Place St Germain de-Pres and the Seine offer lower-key opportunities to pick up last-minute presents.
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