Storing passports at hotels, travel safety in Egypt

Dear reader, I am happy to say that people are reading my column. I’m getting nearly 20 questions a month, but, as mentioned before, I can only answer a few because of limitations on space and time.

Predictably, no two questions are alike. Some are about a minute detail of travel; others may just ask an opinion.

Mary Ann Gerlach of Elm Grove, WI, wrote, “Just because one has been a travel agent does not necessarily make one an expert in any way. Independent travelers often know MUCH more than a travel agent.”

I could not agree more. An old joke is, “An expert is just a person from out of town with a briefcase and slides.” (Maybe PowerPoint and a projector today.)

Gerlach continued, “Tell me really who you are and why I should trust you.”

My answer is I’m pretty ordinary. I grew up in a small town with lots of family, went to college, served in the army and was lucky enough to find a career in a fascinating field. I still work, do my own lawn, exercise often, am president of the local Rotary club and have a wonderful wife and son.

Before the airlines eliminated commissions, I had five offices in two states with about 40 employees. For a while I was too busy running the company to work directly with clients, but four or five years ago I moved my desk back downstairs.

I have traveled a lot and am a skilled agent. But I don’t consider myself an expert. I just know a little about a lot of places and things having to do with travel. Of course, when I shut my eyes I think of myself as 18, while others think of me differently. Part of my philosophy is there’s always more than one way to skin a cat (not literally; we have three and love them), and change is constant.

To answer a question about shore excursions, in my March ’06 column I opined that those offered by the ship are “generally competitively priced.” Bernie Blackman of Bensalem, PA, wrote that, from his experience, “Most often they are priced at least twice as high (and more) than what a local tour operator would charge!”

In that same answer I recommended contacting local tourist boards for contacts to local licensed guides, and I mentioned two online sites as single sources to arrange shore excursions in all ports. Arlene Hewitt of Alexandtria, VA, wrote back that she checked with them and found them “outrageously expensive. Can you believe some of the ship’s excursions are cheaper. . .”

In response to another answer, Charles Longo of Tucson, AZ, wrote that he travels to Füssen, Germany, normally twice a year and is able to get the Munich-to-Füssen fare through at about half the one-way second-class fare of $46 that I quoted.

He also suggests using Augsburg as a connection point rather than Munich, recommending that “Augsburg is a very interesting city for a stopover. I like it better than Munich.”


STEVE, in some cases a hotel asks the guest to surrender his passport during his stay. Is it due to laws or just hotel policy? Is it just for identification or to ensure that the guest pays before he can get his passport back?

In the letter titled “Ruminating on Laminating” in the December ’05 issue, page 44, I noticed that the writer stated, “I laminate a copy of my passport to be surrendered to hotel desk people. The first time it is left behind, you learn not to give up your original passport.” I wonder what the hotel uses a copy of a passport for, if they don’t insist on the original? — James Hipps, Bogart, GA


DEAR JAMES, some governments require visitors to register with Immigration within a certain period, and I’ve always understood that hotels need the passports so they can automatically take care of this detail for their guests. But I’ll bet that sometimes some of your other reasons are valid too.

When escorting a group, I find some hotels insist upon seeing tour members’ passports and others don’t bother. It seems like I never know their requirements until we show up, so rather than collecting all of the passports I first try giving the hotel a manifest of the group, including the relevant passport information; this usually works just fine.

For individuals, I like the laminated-copy idea and suspect plain old photocopies would work as well. Always carry a photocopy of your passport’s first two pages separately so that you’ll have the information you need in case your original is lost or stolen.


STEVE, I have been to Egypt three times in the past. My last visit was in 1998. I would love to go back, but is this a safe time to go? — L. Amon, Williamstown, NJ


DEAR L. AMON, I’m going to Egypt in October myself and have concluded the answer to your question is ‘Yes.’

Recently, the Egyptian Tourist Authority announced that 8.1 million people visited Egypt in 2004 — a 34% increase over 2003. Because tourism is so important to Egypt, the government places a high priority on visitor safety, making it a moderately safe country.

On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being the safest and 10 being Iraq, a risk assessment service I checked with (a subscription-only service sold to professionals) gives Egypt a 7, compared with a 5 for the United States. The service considers Canada, China, most of Western Europe, Australia and New Zealand some of the least risky places to live or visit.

—Ask Steve is written by Steve Venables.