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Ask T+L: China, The Common Cold, Staff Gifts

My wife and I are going to China in the spring. Can you recommend a few affordable tours?
—C.D., VIA E-MAIL

The 13-day Yangtze River Splendors trip offered by Orient Flexi-Pax Tours (800/545-5540; www.isram.com; from $2,685 per person, including airfare) travels from historic Beijing to cosmopolitan Shanghai. In between, you'll meander down the fabled river for four days on a 280-foot-long ship. On the 13-dayFlavors of China tour, run by World Expeditions (888/464-8735; www.worldexpeditions.net; from $2,690 per person, excluding airfare), you'll visit food markets in Guangzhou, Xian, and Beijing and learn how to prepare dumplings and gong bao ji ding (stir-fried chicken and peanuts). Absolute Asia's Art & History of China (800/736-8187; www.absoluteasia.com; from $3,620 per person, excluding airfare) visits Tibetan Buddhist frescoes at Beijing's Summer and Lama Palaces, exquisite paintings in the caves of Dunhuang, and the Great Wall. Though slightly more expensive, this tour—like all of the company's—is customized.

How can I avoid catching a cold while flying?
—P.E., VIA E-MAIL

An airplane cabin may be a petri dish of germs, but contrary to popular belief, it's not the recirculated air that puts you at risk of catching someone's cold or flu, says Dr. Bradley Connor, president of the International Society of Travel Medicine. Instead, it's the fact that you're sitting in close quarters with others who may be sick. Two recent studies published in the New England Journal of Medicine have shown that you're more likely to contract an airborne virus if you're sitting within six rows of someone who is sick. So what do you do when the person next to you is sneezing and coughing?"Don't be shy," Connor says. "If the person is not covering his mouth, remind him to." If there's room on the aircraft, ask to move to a vacant seat more than six rows away. And since viruses and bacteria can adhere to objects such as seat backs and tray tables for hours, make sure you wash your hands frequently—even when you're not in close proximity to a sick passenger. (This is especially important before touching your face or eating.) If you can't get to the restroom to wash, use antibacterial wipes. A recent study at Weber State University, in Ogden, Utah, found that essential oils such as lavender spike, ravensara, and thyme linalool have antibacterial properties and are effective defenses against microbes. Spritzing yourself with the popular No Cooties spray (www.nocooties.com)—which contains these oils—may also ward off unwanted germs.

We're staying at a high-end resort for the holidays. Are we expected to give the staff gifts?
—M.J., VIA E-MAIL

While a wrapped present is never required, says Nancy Strong, a member of T+L's Travel Agent Advisory Board, you should feel welcome to spread the holiday spirit with a larger-than-usual tip. "It is not uncommon for guests to be especially generous when leaving gratuities during the holiday season," she says. If you tip at the end of your stay, Strong recommends leaving 20 to 25 percent of your total bill (as opposed to the regular 10 to 15 percent). Gift-giving is appropriate only when you are a frequent guest and have developed a rapport with a particular staff member.

WRITE TO US! Click here to e-mail queries, fax them to 800/926-1748, or mail them to Ask T+L, Travel + Leisure, 1120 Ave. of the Americas, 10th floor, New York, NY 10036. We regret that questions can be answered only in the column.

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