Airbnb to authenticate its listings. Rolling out Real ID in the US

By David Tykol
This item appears on page 2 of the April 2020 issue.

Dear Globetrotter:

Nature is reclaiming a 19thcentury synagogue near the Danube in Vidin, Bulgaria, abandoned during the Soviet era.

Welcome to the 530th issue of your monthly foreign-travel magazine, the one where most of the content is written by its subscribers, people who love travel.

One of those people, Cindy Tarnoff of Saltillo, Mississippi, sent us a few travel reports along with this note: “I have wanted to write some hotel and restaurant recommendations and a couple of travel tips for ITN but have found myself frozen by the task of being perfect. It is a time-consuming chore to write, reconstruct sentences, check spelling and analyze content. I wonder how many other subscribers of ITN are ‘frozen,’ wondering if they should even write a travel ‘bit.’ So I decided to try to write and let my ideas flow.

“I hope you will recall that I do not have a computer. That’s why these reports are handwritten. Every item that I have just sent you is the way the pen went to the paper. I had fun and didn’t criticize my efforts. I figure that if you need any additional information, you will contact me. And I know you will correct any misspellings. Your readers need to know that the articles and letters that they submit for review do not have to be perfect and are not being graded by a teacher. We are not paid travel writers.

“Traveling is fun. Reading ITN is fun. Writing about our travels should be fun too!

“So I hope you like my new attitude. My husband and I are off on our next adventure for 30 days this spring to Tahiti, New Zealand and Australia. I’ll write again after our return.”

Thanks for your write-ups and for rallying the troops, Cindy. And while any Feature Article submitted does need to be typed and, preferably, emailed, we’ll take all trip reports, tour/cruise/hotel critiques and travel tips any way we can get them — handwritten, emailed, by carrier pigeon…

You mentioned travel “bits.” Yes, we welcome even a paragraph or a sentence if it might help another traveler. Or a favorite picture can be sent in with a caption. Bits and pieces, even imperfect ones, can make up a dazzling mosaic.

Readers should note that ITN only covers destinations outside of the United States. Feature Article submissions should be emailed directly to our Features Editor, Beth Habian, at (A good length for a Feature Article is 1,500 words, more or less, and it must be accompanied by trip photos.)

Everything else — including appraisals of tours, cruises, flights, hotels, guides, destinations, etc.; “Funniest Thing” entries; Essay Contest submissions; info requests for the “Person to Person” section; general inquiries, and suggestions for the magazine — should be sent to our editorial offices; email or write to ITN, 2116 28th St., Sacramento, CA 95818. That’s also where typed Features that are being mailed should be sent.

Whenever and however you write, please include your mailing or billing address.

So take Cindy’s lead — and pen in hand — and tell us something you learned or experienced on a recent trip, or just share an opinion or suggest a topic for others to write about. If it’s about travel, you can find it in ITN.

Meanwhile, here’s some travel-related news for you.

The following item is both reassuring and alarming.

After a series of widely reported scams, Airbnb announced on Oct. 11 that it would begin verifying every one of its listings, making sure that the description of each property (including its location) matches what is advertised on the website and also making sure that anyone listing a rental is actually authorized to list it.

The scam that instigated this decision works as follows: An unsuspecting person reserves a listed property from the website, and everything seems to have gone smoothly. However, just before the renter is to arrive, sometimes the same day, he gets a message from the host, the owner of the rented property, saying that something has gone wrong and the property is no longer available.

Some of the excuses used are that a previous renter has not vacated it as agreed, it has been damaged or it just isn’t ready for the occupant.

But the renter is assured he will not be left in the cold. The host offers him a free upgrade to a more expensive rental. If the traveler agrees, he is given the address of the new, “upgraded” rental, which inevitably turns out to be quite the downgrade — sparsely furnished, in a bad or distant part of town and probably filthy.

Unfortunately, Airbnb can do nothing for the scammed traveler because he has agreed to swap rental locations, and the host has a record of that agreement.

Part of the problem is that Airbnb has had no way to confirm that the original rental property exists at all, so the company cannot prove that the host has committed fraud. For this reason, Airbnb decided that actually verifying the legitimacy of each property would be a good idea.

The issue facing the company now is the sheer scope of the project. There are millions of properties listed on Airbnb, with new ones popping up each day. The company does not expect to complete the verification process until the end of 2020.

In the meantime, if you have rented a room on Airbnb and the host emails or calls and asks you to swap locations because the one you have reserved is no longer available, do not agree to do so. According to Airbnb’s policy, if a host asks you to change locations and you refuse, the rental will be canceled and you will receive a full refund.

As you may have seen posted in domestic airports lately, beginning on Oct. 1, 2020, a Real ID will be required to board a commercial aircraft in the US.

For most ITN readers, this will not be much of an issue, as a US passport is a Real ID and can be used to board domestic as well as international flights. Also accepted are US passport cards, Global Entry cards and, for immigrants, permanent resident cards (Green Cards).

If you’re wondering if your state-issued identification is a Real ID, look for a star in the top-right corner. If there is no star, it is not a Real ID.

Congress passed the REAL ID Act in 2005, in the aftermath of 9/11, and instructed states to update their processes for granting drivers’ licenses and IDs. Among other requirements, it called for states to check the addresses and Social Security numbers of everyone applying for a driver’s license or ID and to keep this information on file along with a photo of each person.

The act also required that state-issued IDs and licenses contain security features to combat counterfeiting.

At press time, every state and US territory was compliant with Real ID requirements except for Oregon and Oklahoma, which have been given until Aug. 7 and Sept. 18, respectively, to comply.


• In last month’s column, I printed a couple of comments from subscriber Gary Koenig regarding frequent-flyer accounts and protecting one’s identity, but I placed Gary in the wrong town. These days, he lives in Georgetown, Texas.

• In a News Watch item about the new coronavirus, “Viral Outbreak in China” (March ’20, pg. 18), it was incorrectly reported, “It had been confirmed that this new virus can be transmitted between people, even those who are asymptomatic.” While some evidence suggests that the virus can be transmitted by people who are asymptomatic, this has not yet been confirmed. ITN regrets the error.

Paula Prindle’s Feature Article “Travel Tips for the Less Able” (Jan. ’20, pg. 40) and Bobbi Benson’s request for Super-senior Travel Tips (March ’20, pg. 28) have sparked a few letters from people sharing how they’ve learned to manage their own travels as time goes on and one’s physical stamina abates somewhat, so I’m reprinting Bobbi’s info request here.

Bobbi wrote, “I would like to hear from super-seniors on how they adapt their travel, making it more physically comfortable and doable. I’d also like to know of any companies that offer tours geared toward super-seniors.”

Share your tricks of the trade by emailing or writing to Super-senior Travel Tips, c/o ITN, 2126 28th St., Sacramento, CA 95818. Responses will be shared in a future issue. Something YOU know can help someone else.