Beware of drink spiking in nightclubs. Also, the UN's first World Happiness Report, ranking countries.

By David Tykol
This item appears on page 2 of the October 2012 issue.

Dear Globetrotter:

Welcome to the 440th issue of your monthly foreign-travel magazine.

18th-century houses, now<br />
mostly shops and restaurants — Nyhavn, Copenhagen, Denmark.

If you’re reading International Travel News for the first time, all you need to know is that the bulk of the magazine is written by its subscribers, people who love to travel, and we print no articles or news about destinations within the United States.

When someone has a great meal on a trip or finds a really good independent guide, he’ll submit a report. Likewise, if someone feels she was not treated fairly by a tour company, airline, cruise line or whatever, she’ll send in the details to warn others. Because it’s the fair thing to do, ITN gives the company a chance to provide a response to be printed along with the subscriber’s letter.

The point is that ITN subscribers — which include some of the most traveled people in the world — pool their knowledge to help each other, and ITN staff work to insure everything is accurate.

In addition to providing information that is truly useful to trip takers, we hope that what shows in ITN is people’s love for travel. Even if the airport is a hassle and the taxi ride is overpriced and the hotel room is too hot, there still will be a moment or two on a trip when you realize you’ve experienced something wonderfully special, something that you wouldn’t have gotten if you hadn’t made the effort to get to that place.

It could be a stunning landscape, an inspired piece of art or just successfully communicating with someone using only sign language and smiles. Those are the things that people can’t wait to tell others about, especially other travelers, who get it.

ITN is aimed at all types of travelers — from the independent type to group-tour takers and from budget to luxury travelers — so you’re going to find a wide range of interests represented here. That means that all of the articles will not be about your preferred destination and mode of travel, but if you take away from this issue one travel tip that may make your next trip go more smoothly or safely or if a reader’s letter inspires you to visit someplace new, then consider subscribing.

And if, over 12 monthly issues, you learn anything in these pages that saves you as little as $24, then your subscription to ITN was worth the price on that basis alone. A 3-year subscription is an even better deal!

Okay, here are some items I’ve found to share for this month.

Embassies and national police in many countries continue to warn travelers visiting nightclubs that criminals can slip drugs into their drinks, leaving them in a befuddled state or unconscious and vulnerable to being robbed or assaulted. On occasion, a criminal has posed as a fellow traveler on a bus or train, gaining a victim’s trust.

Most travelers have nothing to worry about, as any drink spiking that does occur is more commonly found in areas of active nightlife and a tourism “party” atmosphere — places in cities like Bangkok, Thailand; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, or Goa, India — but from 2010 to 2012 the problem has been reported in a number of countries, including Italy, Spain, Japan, the Philippines, New Zealand, South Africa, the Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, Colombia, Mexico, Canada and the US.

Because many people are not sure of what happened or are ashamed to admit they were victims, many of these the crimes go unreported.

Diazepam, gamma-hydroxybutyric acid (GHB), liquid “ecstasy” and scopolamine are some of the drugs that can be easily dumped into a drink to quickly incapacitate a person. Alcohol can exacerbate the effects of some drugs. Drugs can also be administered in food, gum or cigarettes.

For those who plan to party on the town, the following protective measures are among several suggested by police in New Zealand (for the full list, visit this page on the New Zealand police website):

Carry a mobile phone. Make sure someone else knows where you are going. Keep an eye on your drink and the drinks of your friends. Rather than leave a drink unattended while dancing, finish it first or have someone stay at the table. Try to watch your drink being poured — from the bottle or can or by the bartender — and as it is delivered. Do not accept a drink from someone you don’t know; if you feel you must take it to be polite, don’t drink it. If a drink looks cloudy or tastes “off,” don’t drink it. If your companion suddenly gets dizzy or nauseous, seek help from the bar staff, not from a nearby patron or even a taxi driver conveniently waiting out front.

There’s no need to be paranoid. Now that you know this sort of thing goes on, just be travel savvy; if something doesn’t seem quite right, proceed with awareness and pay attention to your instincts.

Now here’s a “good news” story.

The United Nations released its first World Happiness Report, ranking countries by their levels of “happiness,” in April 2012.

Of course, any such measurements are subjective and fluid, but — gathering information from the Gallup World Polls taken from 2005 through mid 2011, the World Values Survey, the European Values Survey and the European Social Survey — the study, prepared by Columbia University in New York City, used several methodologies and standards to measure levels of happiness.

With both external and internal indicators in mind, the surveys included factors such as age and gender and asked questions in subject areas such as wealth, education, job security, mental and physical health, family stability, social trust, religion, freedom of personal choice, political participation, government corruption and others.

The Gallup World Poll, alone, annually samples 1,000 respondents age 15 and above in each of more than 150 countries.

The purpose of the study was to provide more accurate information with which countries may set policy goals for improving the lives and welfare of their citizens.

In regard to happiness research, the World Happiness Report included the following statement: “The case for taking happiness seriously, even in a world marked by evils of many types, is based on a belief… that it provides a broader range of possible ways to build a better world, including more effective solutions for poverty, illness and war.”

So did your country rank near the top?

The top 10 nations in which, during the time period of the survey, the highest percentage of people found they had reason to smile, were Denmark, Norway, Finland, the Netherlands, Canada, Switzerland, Sweden, New Zealand, Australia and Ireland. Those are followed by the United States, Costa Rica, Austria, Israel, Belgium, Luxembourg, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, Venezuela and Iceland.

The report, though long-winded, makes for interesting reading. You can download a copy here.

John T. Wagner of Palm Springs, California, wrote, “I was much interested in the letter titled ‘Super-seniors Set the Pace’ (Aug. ’12, pg. 53) by Velma Walworth, who described how she and her husband, both in their 80s, rent an apartment and car in their travels abroad.

“It has been my understanding that European car rental agencies will not rent to anyone over 70 years of age. This was confirmed a few years ago on a trip to Spain, where we were informed that even locals must surrender their driving privilege at age 70. If this is incorrect, clarification would be appreciated.”

I asked Velma to address the question, and she wrote, “For car rentals, we go through Auto Europe (Portland, Maine; 800/223-5555). They still guarantee the lowest prices and best service in the industry, and they have no upper-age restrictions on renting a car in most locations in Europe.

“If we’ll be driving smaller European roads, we usually get a small VW Golf. The cost is $800-$900 a month. It’s a great deal if you can get a diesel. We always pay far in advance in US dollars by credit card. It’s easy.”

I phoned Auto Europe for more details and was told that, in certain locations and with certain car suppliers, age restrictions may be in place but that almost everywhere in Southern Europe and the UK, no upper-age limits apply and that throughout Europe, more suppliers for Auto Europe do not have age restrictions than do.

It was explained that Auto Europe is a wholesaler, and it is the rental companies they use that “take the risk,” so some of them do impose restrictions. Other wholesalers, like Budget, Avis and Europcar, may have different policies of their own.

Regarding insurance, Auto Europe automatically includes coverage for third-party liability and fire in the basic rental rate. Coverage for collision and theft is required (as with rentals in the US) and is in their “inclusive rental rate,” meaning the renter must purchase it, unless he uses a credit card issued by a company that automatically includes that insurance when the car rental is charged to the card, in which case he can (usually) decline to purchase the rental company’s coverage.

Check if your credit card company offers such coverage. And note that in certain countries, such as Ireland, credit card companies’ coverage is not accepted and one must purchase insurance separately. With those, the Auto Europe rep said they can help soften the blow a bit.

Jane B. Holt of Hinesburg, Vermont, wrote, “I found myself marveling over the tales told by several of the writers in the August 2012 issue; especially, I am referring to the following: Bernard Goodhead’s ‘Won Court Case Against Cruise Line,’ Jeffrey Zarit’s letter ‘Dialysis at Sea Cruises’ and columnist Philip Wagenaar’s article ‘Anecdotes from 65 Years of Travel.’ Thanks, as always, for printing travelers’ stories by real travelers.”

Sharon VanDewark of San Diego, California, wrote, “The Feature Article ‘Charlie’s Tale – A French Adventure’ in the September issue was the absolute CUTEST ITN article I have ever read — very, very cleverly written and just plain fun. I read it within five minutes of finding it in my mailbox. I have often told my white poodle-mix dog that I was taking her to Paris just so we could walk along the Champs-Élysées. Lucky dog, Charlie!”

In case anybody is wondering, yes, Birute Skurdenis, the author of a Feature Article on Portugal in this issue, and Julie Skurdenis, who for years has written the column “Focus on Archaeology,” also appearing in this issue, ARE related. (Sisters.)

Remember, if you read in ITN a subscriber’s recommendation for a hotel and you can tell us about a satisfactory accommodation that you stayed at recently in the same area but for much less money per night, write in.

We’ve always solicited your comments about exceptional lodgings in any price range. Not surprisingly, reports on those tend to skew toward the high end. But several readers have indicated that they would like to read travelers’ recommendations on very-low-cost lodgings, places that are simply adequate. The reasoning is ‘the more you save, the farther you can travel.’

Let us know the “just get by” places where you stayed. Include contact info or directions, a little bit about the “amenities” and neighborhood, the approximate nightly rate and about when you were there.

Each of you has experienced something that another traveler would appreciate knowing about. Tell us about it.