Boarding Pass

By David Tykol

Dear Globetrotter:

Welcome to the 341st issue of your monthly overseas travel magazine.

Big Ben.

Marilyn Karr of Rockaway Beach, Oregon, has a packing tip for you. She sent, “Three reasons to fold clothing with plastic bags when packing: 1) to reduce wrinkles, 2) to keep clothing dry if luggage is left out in the rain at the airport and 3) to isolate dirty/smelly clothes.”

Thanks, Marilyn.

I’d like to hear from anyone who has used the new Travel Sentry Certified Locks. These locks, available at travel stores, are identified with a special symbol and can be opened — and relocked — by Transportation Security Administration employees at the airport when they have to inspect your bag in your absence.

I heard that when they were first introduced, some TSA agents were still cutting them off instead of using their special keys. So have things improved?

Occasionally we get calls here at the ITN World Headquarters from subscribers inquiring if certain tour companies are reputable and wondering if they can feel comfortable about sending them their money. I’ll save you the expense of a call by telling you what I tell each of them.

As you know, ITN readers comprise the greatest source of travel experience and offer the most candid appraisals, so I first refer any caller to the ITN Reference Index, found in each March and September issue. Tour companies are listed alphabetically along with the titles of readers’ letters — both of praise and complaint — and the issue and page number where each can be found. Readers can find the write-ups in their own stacks of past issues or order reprints for $2. (Write to ITN Archives, Box 189490, Sacramento, CA 95818.)

I next refer the caller to the box on the first page of the MART classifieds in the back of the magazine. Among helpful numbers listed is that of the U.S. Tour Operators Association. If the tour company in question is a member, customers have certain protections as well as recourse if the company declares bankruptcy or something goes wrong.

Also shown in the box is the number for the American Society of Travel Agents. Recently I was surprised to learn that, of ASTA member firms, including tour operators and cruise lines as well as travel agents, 80% are international. ASTA has no legal power — they can only expel black-sheep members — but they do keep track of complaints against companies and they also will act on behalf of travelers.

The Better Business Bureau in the town in which the company is located is another agency to call. I point out, however, that the BBB will only tell callers if the company has two or more working complaints on file.

Again, ITN readers who have actually taken a tour with the company are the best ones to ask for an assessment, and each month ITN offers a way to reach these people. In the “Person to Person” section, readers can post queries and get answers directly from others. For someone who sends a question to be printed in the magazine, it takes one or two months to get replies. For those in a bigger hurry, they may get answers in a more timely fashion by posting questions on the Message Board of ITN’s website.

Lastly, I remind callers that if none of the above sources can provide helpful information, it’s always a good idea to — when possible — pay for a trip with a credit card. A cardholder often can get a refund if the complaint is made within two months of purchase.

Brenda Johnson of San Diego, California, wrote, “We have a monthly social activity at church. One month we had a potluck dinner with a travel theme. Everyone was encouraged to bring an ethnic food and a travel tale to share. Bob Keck (an ITN subscriber and travel enthusiast extraordinaire) decorated the parish hall with souvenirs of his travels and dressed in Arab garb to relate his experiences living overseas. I told the group about ITN. The event was a great success and many people asked that we do it again next year. Please send sample copies of ITN to the six people whose names I have enclosed.”

That’s one way to put those travel mementoes to work. Read about the travel memorabilia of other subscribers in this issue.

Grace Harison, writing from Augusta, Georgia, had this to say about ITN: “I love being a member of the ITN family. It is a glorious magazine which highlights unusual places in the world. The articles are very honest and forthright, and they make you want to travel the globe. The ads from travel companies are wonderful and enlightening. I also like the format and index as things are easy to locate. Many thanks for all of your fine efforts.”

We’re just doing the paperwork. All of you are doing the footwork. Remember to e-mail ITN Report Cards to while on your next trip. Beth will post your up-to-the-minute tips on the ITN website and they will also appear in the next issue.

We want the travel news to still be sizzling when it arrives in your mailbox!— D.T.