Rules relaxed for visiting Cuba; women rate safety of cities' public transit

By David Tykol
This item appears on page 2 of the March 2015 issue.
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Standing outside Santiago de Cuba in southeastern Cuba were this 1947 Chevy and, in the distance, the Basílica del Cobre. Photo by Randy Keck

Dear Globetrotter:

Welcome to the 469th issue of your monthly foreign travel magazine. With this issue, ITN begins its 40th year of publication!

When the late Armond Noble conceived of and first published this magazine, it was unique in at least two ways: (1) it was largely written by its subscribers, international travelers, and (2) it printed their candid appraisals — both positive and negative comments — of tours, flights, cruises, etc. All other travel magazines and newspaper travel sections featured articles by professional writers giving only glowing reports of the places they stayed and the companies they traveled with.

Covering destinations everyplace except in the US, ITN continues to print subscribers’ honest accounts, even when they contain complaints about our own advertisers!

If this is the first time you’ve seen an issue of ITN, you’re invited to share in the adventures, benefit from the knowledge and feel the excitement of people, like you, who love to travel.

Each issue also includes recurring columns, and when, occasionally, there is an article about a company or destination written by a Contributing Editor or staff member who got his or her trip at a discount, that fact is not hidden but is revealed within or immediately following the article.

Other promises that you will have a hard time finding other publications making — ITN does not sell the names and addresses of its subscribers (or even of people requesting sample copies) to any other firm, and ITN has a full money-back guarantee. As it says on page 9 in every issue, “Ours is the strongest guarantee in the publishing industry.”

One more thing worth noting — you will find in this magazine a number of travel firms that advertise in no other publications. Maybe one of them has just what you were looking for.

ITN is the original travelers’ forum. Consider subscribing (page 9) and sharing a few of your own finds and travel tips.

Oh, and we dispense actual travel news, too. Here are a couple of items.

 

On Jan. 16, the US government put in place new rules for Americans wishing to travel to Cuba. US citizens still are not allowed to go to Cuba for just plain tourism, but many may find it easier to travel to this Caribbean island that, due to travel restrictions imposed by the US, has been off-limits to them since 1960.

The US embargo against Cuba is still in effect. (Only Congress can end the embargo, and some members of Congress have already said they will block any legislation aimed at ending it.) However, the new rules do indicate a thawing of relations between the US and Cuba.

A US citizen wishing to travel to Cuba still must travel under one of two license categories accepted by the US Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC): a general license or a specific license.

General licenses are granted to government officials; to professionals conducting research, working in telecommunications or wishing to import approved agricultural items, etc., into Cuba; to students and professors from accredited US institutions; to Cuban expatriates, and to people of Cuban background with family still living in Cuba. 

Under this general license, a traveler signs a form from OFAC swearing that, while in Cuba, he will engage only in activity permitted under his particular license. Having done that, and as long as he acts within the bounds of the license, he has very few restrictions (such as limits on the value of Cuban goods he is allowed to import into the US).

Those traveling under general licenses are given more freedom to move about in Cuba, with no escort of any sort required.

For most Americans wishing to visit Cuba, however, individual travel has not been and still is not allowed. They must sign up for any of the educational or structured “People to People” group tours offered by vetted tour operators, and, until now, going on such a tour required each participant to apply for a specific license from OFAC and wait for it to be approved.

As of Jan. 16, the average American traveler still can visit Cuba only on one of these tours, and it will be under the rules of the specific license, but he no longer has to apply to OFAC for the specific license.

Travelers under the rules of the specific license are not allowed to travel about on their own in Cuba and must stick to the planned educational tour activities.

Additional changes — previously, US visitors in Cuba had to do transactions only in cash, but now they are allowed to make purchases with credit cards and debit cards issued by US banks, and spending limits by Americans in Cuba have been lifted entirely. Travelers also will be able to import back to the US $400 worth of goods, including up to $100 worth of tobacco (cigars included) and/or alcohol. 

Worth noting — thanks to a little-known and underutilized exemption to the embargo, artworks, as items of “cultural heritage,” have never been included when calculating the total value of imported items, and they can be imported without restrictions on the value or number of pieces.

Also, in regard to sections of the Trading With the Enemy Act (passed in 1917), restrictions on American airlines and cruise lines wishing to transport people to and from Cuba have been eased, thus US airlines are no longer prohibited from scheduling air service between the US and Cuba. 

With this option, travelers going on “People to People” tours may be able to book their own flights without having to take chartered flights, though they still will be limited to traveling around Cuba with their groups.

Airline tickets and hotel rooms in Cuba soon may be available for purchase on online booking sites or through travel agents. United Airlines already is planning to start service to Cuba from its Houston and Newark terminals, and cruise lines are looking ahead to calling at Cuban ports. 

 

In October 2014, the Thomson Reuters Foundation, in cooperation with the polling company YouGov, released a report on the cities whose public transportation is perceived to be the most dangerous for women. 

The foundation chose 15 of the world’s largest capitals and, in an online poll, asked women ages 18 and over living in those cities how safe they felt taking public transit, including municipal buses, trains and subways. (Taxis, private buses and other forms of hired transportation were not considered.)

Each city had to have responses from at least 380 women to be included, and their answers — in addition to the results of YouGov surveys of women’s rights groups, gender equality groups and urban planning experts from the same cities done concurrently with the public survey — were used to rate the cities’ transit systems for overall safety.

In each city, the women being surveyed were allowed to determine what constituted harassment based on the social norms of their culture. Each was asked six questions, each requiring either a ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ answer or a rating from 1 to 5. 

Among the questions were the following: Have you been verbally harassed by men when using public transport? Have you been groped or experienced any other form of physical harassment when using public transport? To what extent do you agree or disagree with the following statement: “Safe public transport is available in the city where I live”?

The scores were tabulated and compared against a base score in order to accurately compare the cities against each other. 

The results, in order from “most dangerous” to “least dangerous,” were as follows: Bogotá, Colombia; Mexico City, Mexico; Lima, Peru; New Delhi, India; Jakarta, Indonesia; Buenos Aires, Argentina; Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; Bangkok, Thailand; Moscow, Russia; Manila, Philippines; Paris, France; Seoul, South Korea; London, England; Beijing, China, and Tokyo, Japan. 

(Excluded for reasons of civil unrest and lack of Internet access, despite meeting the minimum-population requirement, were the cities of Baghdad, Iraq; Cairo, Egypt; Dhaka, Bangladesh, and Tehran, Iran.)

As a 16th city and though not a capital, New York City, the most populous city in the US, was included in the poll for good measure. It ranked 16th, the least dangerous of the cities studied.   

Looking at individual categories of the survey, Bogotá was rated the most dangerous for women riding public transport after dark, followed by New Delhi. 

Mexico City was rated worst for the risk of verbal or physical abuse against women on public transport, and in the three Latin American cities rated most dangerous, six in ten women reported being physically harassed on public transportation. 

Seoul, Tokyo and Paris, though rated in the study as having some of the safest public transport systems, were, respectively, first, second and third worst when it came to the amount of confidence women had that fellow passengers would intervene if they were being physically or verbally harassed. 

Moscow rated lowest in the amount of confidence people had in authorities’ investigating incidents of sexual harassment or attack.

To help decrease incidents of harassment, some cities have introduced women-only cars on transit systems, including Tokyo (which, in 2000, was the first to do so in modern times), Taipei, Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta, Dubai, Delhi, Cairo, Mexico City, Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo.

For more info on the survey, visit http://thomsonreuters.com and search for “women and transport systems.”

 

A CORRECTION to note —

George Mueden of Providence, Rhode Island, read the Feature Article on Europe in the January 2015 issue and wrote, “The recent piece about extended travel with limited mobility was very good, and the TravelScoot (mentioned in the article) may be just what I need for getting around in Venice. I wonder which bridges with ramps will accommodate it.”

George did point out one item that needed correcting. On page 24, the author recounted entering Venice aboard the Regal Princess, cruising “down the Grand Canal.” 

As George points out, “Big ships don’t traverse the Grand Canal to dock; they go up the Giudecca Canal, which is relatively wide and straight, as opposed to the Grand Canal, which is narrow, goes through the city like a snake and has bridges that don’t open. ‘Grand’ probably refers to the sumptuousness of its architecture, not its size.”

 

Joan Welch of St. Petersburg, Florida, wrote, “At our December meeting of the ITN Offbeat Travelers Club, we had 49 people show up. When the club was formed in 2002, we had to beat the bushes for members. Now we are in danger of outgrowing our wonderful meeting space. 

“I’m proud of our membership; they go to the most offbeat places in the world. We get to hear a presentation from one of our members each month, and we have speakers lined up for 2015’s meetings. Thanks to ITN, we’re learning and sharing. We follow Rick Steves’ advice: ‘Keep on traveling’.”

If you’re in the Sarasota/Bradenton area and would like to attend a meeting of the ITN Offbeat Travelers Club, email Tom Myers at tom_h_myers@yahoo.com.

To see if there’s a club near your home, visit our website, www.intltravelnews.com, and look under “Resources” for “Travel Clubs.”

 

While on the subject of intrepid travelers, I thought I’d reprint the information requests of a couple of subscribers. We’ve gotten responses on both and welcome more, which we’ll print in upcoming issues.

• As I mentioned in the November 2014 issue, Carol Horner of Lacey, Washington, had this request: “What I’m looking for are tours that take travelers to a nation for immersion in their politics and economics…. I would enjoy an in-depth study of a country’s education systems, class structures and current issues and problems as well as of their foreign policies and what they really think of the United States. And what about their newest artists and writers?”

If you have a recommendation, email editor@intltravelnews.com or write to In-Depth Tours, c/o ITN, 2116 28th St., Sacramento, CA 95818. (Include the address at which you receive ITN.)

• And in my January column, I quoted Jeff Carrier of Naples, Florida: “I would like input from readers who have traveled RECENTLY to the 20 or so countries that are pretty much always on the State Department Travel Warnings list in ITN. How did they do it and what were their experiences?”

Email or write to Visiting Travel-Warning Countries, c/o ITN as above.

 

And here’s a chance for you to write in and also get your name entered into a drawing for prizes. All you have to do is tell us which countries you traveled to in 2014.

Jot down the names of the nations you visited anytime from January 1 to December 31, 2014, and send it to Where Were You in 2014?, c/o ITN. (Include your full mailing address.)

The deadline is April 30, 2015. Prizewinners, along with the results of the poll, will be announced in the July issue.

 

Jan Driefer of Cape Coral, Florida, wrote, “Over the many wonderful years of reading ITN, I have enjoyed the photos sent in by our readers, but the January 2015 issue had such a unique photo that I had to write.

“The picture on page 73 taken by Steven Emmet is such a different and wonderful view — from the bottom of the Initiatic Well in Sintra, Portugal. I am a weaver (cloth and basket), and the first thing I thought was, ‘What an unusual photo of a great basket,’ then to find that it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site! Thank you and all the people who send photos for us to enjoy. And for giving us another destination for travel.”

If you have an interesting, scenic or eye-catching photo — a shot of a standout structure, something exciting occurring or a compelling close-up of someone or something — send it in with a sentence or a paragraph telling what we’re looking at, approximately where and when the picture was taken and who the photographer was. Feel free to embellish. Email or send it to Photo Submission, c/o ITN.

What we print depends on what our subscribers provide. What can you share?

Please login or subscribe to ITN to read the entire post.
Standing outside Santiago de Cuba in southeastern Cuba were this 1947 Chevy and, in the distance, the Basílica del Cobre. Photo by Randy Keck

Dear Globetrotter:

Welcome to the 469th issue of your monthly foreign travel magazine. With this issue, ITN begins its 40th year of publication!

When the late Armond Noble conceived of and first published this magazine, it was unique in at least two ways: (1) it was largely written by its subscribers, international travelers, and (2) it printed their candid appraisals — both positive and negative comments — of tours, flights, cruises, etc. All other travel magazines and newspaper travel sections featured articles by professional writers giving only glowing reports of the places they stayed and the companies they traveled with.

Covering destinations everyplace except in the US, ITN continues to print subscribers’ honest accounts, even when they contain complaints about our own advertisers!

If this is the first time you’ve seen an issue of ITN, you’re invited to share in the adventures, benefit from the knowledge and feel the excitement of people, like you, who love to travel.

Each issue also includes recurring columns, and when, occasionally, there is an article about a company or destination written by a Contributing Editor or staff member who got his or her trip at a discount, that fact is not hidden but is revealed within or immediately following the article.

Other promises that you will have a hard time finding other publications making — ITN does not sell the names and addresses of its subscribers (or even of people requesting sample copies) to any other firm, and ITN has a full money-back guarantee. As it says on page 9 in every issue, “Ours is the strongest guarantee in the publishing industry.”

One more thing worth noting — you will find in this magazine a number of travel firms that advertise in no other publications. Maybe one of them has just what you were looking for.

ITN is the original travelers’ forum. Consider subscribing (page 9) and sharing a few of your own finds and travel tips.

Oh, and we dispense actual travel news, too. Here are a couple of items.

 

On Jan. 16, the US government put in place new rules for Americans wishing to travel to Cuba. US citizens still are not allowed to go to Cuba for just plain tourism, but many may find it easier to travel to this Caribbean island that, due to travel restrictions imposed by the US, has been off-limits to them since 1960.

The US embargo against Cuba is still in effect. (Only Congress can end the embargo, and some members of Congress have already said they will block any legislation aimed at ending it.) However, the new rules do indicate a thawing of relations between the US and Cuba.

A US citizen wishing to travel to Cuba still must travel under one of two license categories accepted by the US Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC): a general license or a specific license.

General licenses are granted to government officials; to professionals conducting research, working in telecommunications or wishing to import approved agricultural items, etc., into Cuba; to students and professors from accredited US institutions; to Cuban expatriates, and to people of Cuban background with family still living in Cuba. 

Under this general license, a traveler signs a form from OFAC swearing that, while in Cuba, he will engage only in activity permitted under his particular license. Having done that, and as long as he acts within the bounds of the license, he has very few restrictions (such as limits on the value of Cuban goods he is allowed to import into the US).

Those traveling under general licenses are given more freedom to move about in Cuba, with no escort of any sort required.

For most Americans wishing to visit Cuba, however, individual travel has not been and still is not allowed. They must sign up for any of the educational or structured “People to People” group tours offered by vetted tour operators, and, until now, going on such a tour required each participant to apply for a specific license from OFAC and wait for it to be approved.

As of Jan. 16, the average American traveler still can visit Cuba only on one of these tours, and it will be under the rules of the specific license, but he no longer has to apply to OFAC for the specific license.

Travelers under the rules of the specific license are not allowed to travel about on their own in Cuba and must stick to the planned educational tour activities.

Additional changes — previously, US visitors in Cuba had to do transactions only in cash, but now they are allowed to make purchases with credit cards and debit cards issued by US banks, and spending limits by Americans in Cuba have been lifted entirely. Travelers also will be able to import back to the US $400 worth of goods, including up to $100 worth of tobacco (cigars included) and/or alcohol. 

Worth noting — thanks to a little-known and underutilized exemption to the embargo, artworks, as items of “cultural heritage,” have never been included when calculating the total value of imported items, and they can be imported without restrictions on the value or number of pieces.

Also, in regard to sections of the Trading With the Enemy Act (passed in 1917), restrictions on American airlines and cruise lines wishing to transport people to and from Cuba have been eased, thus US airlines are no longer prohibited from scheduling air service between the US and Cuba. 

With this option, travelers going on “People to People” tours may be able to book their own flights without having to take chartered flights, though they still will be limited to traveling around Cuba with their groups.

Airline tickets and hotel rooms in Cuba soon may be available for purchase on online booking sites or through travel agents. United Airlines already is planning to start service to Cuba from its Houston and Newark terminals, and cruise lines are looking ahead to calling at Cuban ports. 

 

In October 2014, the Thomson Reuters Foundation, in cooperation with the polling company YouGov, released a report on the cities whose public transportation is perceived to be the most dangerous for women. 

The foundation chose 15 of the world’s largest capitals and, in an online poll, asked women ages 18 and over living in those cities how safe they felt taking public transit, including municipal buses, trains and subways. (Taxis, private buses and other forms of hired transportation were not considered.)

Each city had to have responses from at least 380 women to be included, and their answers — in addition to the results of YouGov surveys of women’s rights groups, gender equality groups and urban planning experts from the same cities done concurrently with the public survey — were used to rate the cities’ transit systems for overall safety.

In each city, the women being surveyed were allowed to determine what constituted harassment based on the social norms of their culture. Each was asked six questions, each requiring either a ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ answer or a rating from 1 to 5. 

Among the questions were the following: Have you been verbally harassed by men when using public transport? Have you been groped or experienced any other form of physical harassment when using public transport? To what extent do you agree or disagree with the following statement: “Safe public transport is available in the city where I live”?

The scores were tabulated and compared against a base score in order to accurately compare the cities against each other. 

The results, in order from “most dangerous” to “least dangerous,” were as follows: Bogotá, Colombia; Mexico City, Mexico; Lima, Peru; New Delhi, India; Jakarta, Indonesia; Buenos Aires, Argentina; Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; Bangkok, Thailand; Moscow, Russia; Manila, Philippines; Paris, France; Seoul, South Korea; London, England; Beijing, China, and Tokyo, Japan. 

(Excluded for reasons of civil unrest and lack of Internet access, despite meeting the minimum-population requirement, were the cities of Baghdad, Iraq; Cairo, Egypt; Dhaka, Bangladesh, and Tehran, Iran.)

As a 16th city and though not a capital, New York City, the most populous city in the US, was included in the poll for good measure. It ranked 16th, the least dangerous of the cities studied.   

Looking at individual categories of the survey, Bogotá was rated the most dangerous for women riding public transport after dark, followed by New Delhi. 

Mexico City was rated worst for the risk of verbal or physical abuse against women on public transport, and in the three Latin American cities rated most dangerous, six in ten women reported being physically harassed on public transportation. 

Seoul, Tokyo and Paris, though rated in the study as having some of the safest public transport systems, were, respectively, first, second and third worst when it came to the amount of confidence women had that fellow passengers would intervene if they were being physically or verbally harassed. 

Moscow rated lowest in the amount of confidence people had in authorities’ investigating incidents of sexual harassment or attack.

To help decrease incidents of harassment, some cities have introduced women-only cars on transit systems, including Tokyo (which, in 2000, was the first to do so in modern times), Taipei, Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta, Dubai, Delhi, Cairo, Mexico City, Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo.

For more info on the survey, visit http://thomsonreuters.com and search for “women and transport systems.”

 

A CORRECTION to note —

George Mueden of Providence, Rhode Island, read the Feature Article on Europe in the January 2015 issue and wrote, “The recent piece about extended travel with limited mobility was very good, and the TravelScoot (mentioned in the article) may be just what I need for getting around in Venice. I wonder which bridges with ramps will accommodate it.”

George did point out one item that needed correcting. On page 24, the author recounted entering Venice aboard the Regal Princess, cruising “down the Grand Canal.” 

As George points out, “Big ships don’t traverse the Grand Canal to dock; they go up the Giudecca Canal, which is relatively wide and straight, as opposed to the Grand Canal, which is narrow, goes through the city like a snake and has bridges that don’t open. ‘Grand’ probably refers to the sumptuousness of its architecture, not its size.”

 

Joan Welch of St. Petersburg, Florida, wrote, “At our December meeting of the ITN Offbeat Travelers Club, we had 49 people show up. When the club was formed in 2002, we had to beat the bushes for members. Now we are in danger of outgrowing our wonderful meeting space. 

“I’m proud of our membership; they go to the most offbeat places in the world. We get to hear a presentation from one of our members each month, and we have speakers lined up for 2015’s meetings. Thanks to ITN, we’re learning and sharing. We follow Rick Steves’ advice: ‘Keep on traveling’.”

If you’re in the Sarasota/Bradenton area and would like to attend a meeting of the ITN Offbeat Travelers Club, email Tom Myers at tom_h_myers@yahoo.com.

To see if there’s a club near your home, visit our website, www.intltravelnews.com, and look under “Resources” for “Travel Clubs.”

 

While on the subject of intrepid travelers, I thought I’d reprint the information requests of a couple of subscribers. We’ve gotten responses on both and welcome more, which we’ll print in upcoming issues.

• As I mentioned in the November 2014 issue, Carol Horner of Lacey, Washington, had this request: “What I’m looking for are tours that take travelers to a nation for immersion in their politics and economics…. I would enjoy an in-depth study of a country’s education systems, class structures and current issues and problems as well as of their foreign policies and what they really think of the United States. And what about their newest artists and writers?”

If you have a recommendation, email editor@intltravelnews.com or write to In-Depth Tours, c/o ITN, 2116 28th St., Sacramento, CA 95818. (Include the address at which you receive ITN.)

• And in my January column, I quoted Jeff Carrier of Naples, Florida: “I would like input from readers who have traveled RECENTLY to the 20 or so countries that are pretty much always on the State Department Travel Warnings list in ITN. How did they do it and what were their experiences?”

Email or write to Visiting Travel-Warning Countries, c/o ITN as above.

 

And here’s a chance for you to write in and also get your name entered into a drawing for prizes. All you have to do is tell us which countries you traveled to in 2014.

Jot down the names of the nations you visited anytime from January 1 to December 31, 2014, and send it to Where Were You in 2014?, c/o ITN. (Include your full mailing address.)

The deadline is April 30, 2015. Prizewinners, along with the results of the poll, will be announced in the July issue.

 

Jan Driefer of Cape Coral, Florida, wrote, “Over the many wonderful years of reading ITN, I have enjoyed the photos sent in by our readers, but the January 2015 issue had such a unique photo that I had to write.

“The picture on page 73 taken by Steven Emmet is such a different and wonderful view — from the bottom of the Initiatic Well in Sintra, Portugal. I am a weaver (cloth and basket), and the first thing I thought was, ‘What an unusual photo of a great basket,’ then to find that it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site! Thank you and all the people who send photos for us to enjoy. And for giving us another destination for travel.”

If you have an interesting, scenic or eye-catching photo — a shot of a standout structure, something exciting occurring or a compelling close-up of someone or something — send it in with a sentence or a paragraph telling what we’re looking at, approximately where and when the picture was taken and who the photographer was. Feel free to embellish. Email or send it to Photo Submission, c/o ITN.

What we print depends on what our subscribers provide. What can you share?