ITN's 500th issue! Fire in Knysna, South Africa. UK B&Bs awards. Top 10 Destinations lists.

By: David Tykol
This article appears on page 2 of the October 2017 issue.

On the cover of the first issue of ITN were items about the introduction of “credit-card style electronic ‘keys’” for 50 rooms at the Paris Hilton; the removal of chicken from menus on SAS flights, to be replaced by veal in cream sauce with mushrooms, because the passengers considered chicken “cheap” since they got more than enough of it at home, and the advice, “Take plenty of chewing gum on any trip to the Soviet Union — it’s better than money.”
Dear Globetrotter:

Welcome to the — holy cow! — 500th issue of your monthly foreign-travel magazine. 

Back when ITN’s original publisher, the late Armond Noble, conceived of this publication, there was nothing like it. His idea? Provide a forum in which people who are paying for their own air tickets, tours and hotel rooms can report candidly on their experiences — telling both the good and the bad — and only destinations outside of the USA would be covered.

To introduce ITN to the world, Armond didn’t send out promotional letters making sweeping promises. He was down to earth. He mailed out free sample copies of the magazine so that people could hold it in their hands and see just what it offered. (To this day, ITN will mail a free sample copy of the next-printed issue to anyone — anywhere — upon request.)

ITN started out as a tabloid. Printed on newsprint, as it still is, it opened up to 30 inches wide by 11 inches tall and had 24 pages. Among places written about in the inaugural issue (March 1976) were the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia and West Germany. No one could have foreseen all the changes that would take place.

In the same issue, one article mentioned that an estimated 152,000 Americans had traveled to Europe in February of 1976. In February of 2016 (among the latest statistics we could find), the number of Americans who traveled to Europe was 546,246.

The first issues of the magazine included everything Armond could find on the subject of international travel, including articles from fellow journalists, but he invited subscribers to write in about their trips and “tell it like it is,” and the issues began to grow.

I looked to see how much things cost back then. On the “Readers Write” page of the September 1977 issue, Frank I. Gerstein of Livingston, New Jersey, wrote, “On a recent trip to the Costa del Sol during the month of May… the costs were much lower than expected. A two-star hotel cost approximately $16 per night and included a continental breakfast.”

On the same page, Franklyn K. Zinn of Austin, Texas, wrote, regarding properties of the former Trust Houses Forte group in England, “I paid 59.40 pounds for Bargain Break for three nights for a double room with bath (but not including the noon meal) at The Bedford Hotel in Tavistock for the weekend of June 24 through 27, 1977. This comes to about 10 pounds a person a night with two meals a day.”

(That hotel is still there, and it lists a double room, including breakfast and dinner, at £200 [near $260] per night.)

The first month in which ITN was printed in the magazine format you see now was September 1984. (Armond wrote, “Now you won’t have to hold your arms so far apart.”)

Another unheard-of idea that Armond had along the way — a policy which we maintain — is our money-back guarantee: If you are dissatisfied with your subscription, we will refund your subscription price in full. (See page 9.) Try to find that in any other publication.

When the first issues went out, a year’s subscription (12 issues) cost $4, but before 1976 was over, the subscription price was raised. It shot up to $4.36 per year! And it has continued to rise over the decades to… Wait. It’s only $26?! That’s just a little over $2 per issue. (Armond was always stubborn about not raising the subscription price.)

These days, ITN is online as well, of course, and all subscribers have full access to past articles and items posted there — great for looking up comments on tour companies and places to stay when trip-planning. A year’s “online only” subscription costs a mere $15. (Buy two. Share with a friend!)

So we’re still at it, more than 42 years after we started. I got here just after the second issue was published and became the editor within two months (though none of us thought to add my name to the masthead until the October issue).

I love working on this magazine. And, errors aside, I’m proud of what we produce. The idea was never to print on slick paper and in full color. We were always into content, not flash. From comments we continue to receive, it seems our efforts at providing truly helpful travel information are appreciated.

May Chin of Burbank, California, wrote, “I really like ITN. I work in a large office, and after I finish each issue, I spread the word by giving it to a different colleague. Hopefully, I’m getting you some new subscribers this way!”

Amy Romaine of Glen Cove, New York, wrote, “ITN consistently offers a wealth of information, and my husband and I enjoy reading tales from well-traveled readers. Thank you for a wonderful publication where we feel part of a special travel community!”

Our subscribers — who include some of the most-traveled people on the planet — continue to share their travel finds, their thoughts and their enthusiasm. Write in about someplace special or interesting that you visited recently, and keep the conversation going.

Meanwhile, we’ll continue to pack as much travel news as possible into every issue.

News about a devastating fire that took place June 6-10 in Knysna, a town on the Garden Route in the Western Cape province of South Africa, escaped us until Judith Anshin of Sacramento, California, brought it to our attention. She passed along an email she received from Gillian (Gill) Maskell. Gill and her husband, Graham, are the owners of Africa 2000 Tours (a longtime ITN advertiser), based in Knysna.

Gill wrote, “It is not until a disaster of this magnitude takes place that one realizes what chaos it leaves in thousands of people’s lives and for the wildlife and environment. This fire in and around Knysna is one of the the biggest and worst in the history of South Africa, killing seven people and leaving about 1,100 houses destroyed and another 600 extensively damaged.

“Conservationists say that fire is important for the germination of plants, etc., however not fires of such excessive heat. Sadly, this one had temperatures in excess of 2,000°C (3,632°F), so everything in its path was totally destroyed, with little hope of spontaneous regrowth without assistance. 

“The landscape for a distance of nearly 200 square kilometres is totally devoid of any vegetation. From the wonderful dense green foliage full of magnificent birdlife, tortoises, bushbuck, porcupine, caracal, reedbuck and even the occasional leopard to a landscape of absolutely no vegetation at all. The trees were totally incinerated.

“Much of the burnt areas have had to be cleared in order to replant, and Graham together with the local gardening men who lost their jobs from houses destroyed on the estate have spent many days cutting and moving the debris. Donated funds have gone towards the wages for these special local folks, who would otherwise have no income. The sum of $25 funds two workers for a day.

“The nature reserve measures about 250 hectares [near 618 acres], and housing estates lie within and around it. Of the home owners on Eastford Glen Nature Conservancy Estate, Graham and I are among the few lucky and blessed people to still have a home. The fire burnt to within 2 feet of our front door.

“We have purchased a few hundred small bushes and trees, which, with assistance in knowledge from South African National Parks and other fynbos experts, we are slowly planting in and around the most devastated areas of our eco-reserve, ones which will attract the birdlife and wildlife back to the region. We have purchased bird feeders, nectar feeders and pellets to put out for the wildlife which is left.”

For anyone wishing to help the reserve recover, Gill has set up a PayPal account to receive donations (a system much easier and less expensive than wiring money). Donors will need to register with PayPal.com (one of the world’s largest Internet payment companies) and visit PayPal.Me/eastfordglen disaster. The account was set up so that all donations made to the nonprofit “Eastford Glen Home Owners Association” will not be taxed.

Gill wrote, “I can 1,000% confirm that this fund is managed only by me and is solely for the rehabilitation of the Eastford Glen Nature Conservancy Estate. The money goes only toward cutting down destroyed and alien vegetation and replanting trees and shrubs and for the workers’ wages and feed for any wildlife.”

Let me take you now from that somber situation and report on a lighter occasion in the United Kingdom. On May 8, the British Automobile Association announced the winners of its annual AA Hospitality Awards, given to the best bed-and-breakfasts in the UK.

For the awards, AA judges stayed at hundreds of B&Bs across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, critiquing not only the rooms but the locations, the friendliness of the staff and, of course, the breakfasts.

The winner of, for example, the “AA Guest Accommodation of the Year (England)” was the luxury B&B Nanny Brow (Clappersgate, Ambleside, Cumbria, England, LA22 9NF, U.K.; phone +44 15394 33232, www.nannybrow.co.uk), operated by Sue and Peter Robinson in the Lake District. (Double rooms start at £130 [near $168] per night, low season, and at £160, high.)

To see which B&Bs were named AA Guest Accommodation of the Year in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and to review other finalists, visit www.theaa.com/hospitality-awards/bed-and-breakfast-awards.

 The title of Friendliest B&B went to Glenegedale House (Glenegedale, Isle of Islay, Argyll, Scotland, PA42 7AS, U.K.; phone +44 1496 300 400, www.glenegedalehouse.co.uk), operated by Emma and Graeme Clark on Scotland’s Isle of Islay, while the Most Unique B&B was determined to be the Maiden’s Tower at Leeds Castle (Maidstone, England, ME17 1PL, U.K.; www.leeds-castle.com [click on “Accommodation”]), located inside Leeds Castle.

In this issue, we’re printing the first part of a series in which some of our most-traveled subscribers have each provided two Top 10 lists. On one list, they’ve named places (outside of both Europe and the USA) that they would recommend for people who are just beginning to travel internationally. On the other list, they’ve named the places they visited that are most dear to their hearts.

The comments accompanying their selections create some interesting snapshots… and, I must say, not a little itch for travel.

After receiving the lists, which were sent in by 27 travelers, we wondered how often certain countries/locations had been named, so we tallied up the listings. 

For this rough tally, editor’s fiat was used for the parameters, since, in some cases, a pair of countries was listed as one “destination.” In those cases, each country named got counted.

Also, if someone listed a city on one line and then chose another city in that same country as a separate listing, each mention added to the country’s count. (We did ask for specific destinations, after all.) So don’t expect the total count to add up to 10 countries per person, or 280, but the following does give a good thumbnail sketch of the results.

• As for destinations recommended for beginning international travelers, the countries mentioned most often were Australia and New Zealand, with those countries or places in them each being listed 18 times.

It was followed by China, with 16 listings; Peru, 14; Costa Rica, 13; South Africa, 13; Canada, 12; Ecuador (including the Galápagos Islands), 11;  Thailand, 11; Japan, 10; Egypt, 8; Morocco, 8; Singapore, 8; Cuba, 7; Argentina, 6; Botswana, 6; Cambodia, 6; Turkey, 6; Vietnam, 6; Chile, 5; India, 5; Israel, 5; Kenya, 5; Mexico, 5; Antarctica (including South Georgia Island), 4; Belize, 4; Panama, 4; Zimbabwe, 4; Brazil, 3; Indonesia, 3; Myanmar, 3; Tanzania, 3; Dubai, UAE, 2; Fiji, 2; French Polynesia, 2; Jamaica, 2; Jordan, 2; Malaysia, 2; Nepal, 2; Sint Maarten/Saint-Martin, 2; South Korea, 2; Trinidad & Tobago, 2; Uruguay, 2, and Zambia, 2.

Among the same “Best for Beginning Travelers” lists, the following countries each got a single mention: the Bahamas, Bermuda, Bhutan, Bonaire, Colombia, Cook Islands, Guatemala, Iran, Namibia, Rwanda and Uzbekistan.

Not adding to our count but worthy of mention, a trip on the Trans-Siberian Railway got a mention. (Though the railway is in Russia, a European country, it traverses the Asian continent, so we allowed it.)

• As for the subscribers’ favorite destinations (outside of Europe and the US), the country/location named most often was China, with 15 listings, followed by Egypt, 14; India, 14; New Zealand, 11; Bhutan, 10; Brazil, 10; Chile (including Easter Island), 10; Indonesia, 10; Peru, 9; Thailand, 9; Antarctica (including South Georgia Island), 8; Australia, 8; Botswana, 8; Ecuador (including the Galápagos), 8; Turkey, 8; Myanmar, 7; South Africa, 7; Tanzania, 6; Cambodia, 5; Iran, 5; Israel, 5; Japan, 5; Nepal, 5; Costa Rica, 4; Ethiopia, 4; Laos, 4; Sri Lanka, 4; Jordan, 3; Mongolia, 3; Morocco, 3; Namibia, 3; Singapore, 3; Vietnam, 3; Argentina, 2; Bermuda, 2; Canada, 2; French Polynesia, 2; Guatemala, 2; Madagascar, 2; Oman, 2; Panama, 2; South Korea, 2; Tibet, 2, and Zimbabwe, 2. 

The following were mentioned once each: Antigua & Barbuda, Azerbaijan, Bolivia, Chad, Colombia, Cook Islands, Cuba, Lebanon, Malaysia, Mali, Mexico, Nepal, Niger, North Pole, Palau, Pitcairn Island, Réunion, Rwanda, Sint Maarten/Saint-Martin, Syria, Trinidad & Tobago, Tristan da Cunha, Tunisia, Uganda, Uruguay and Uzbekistan.

Among the favorites, one oddball “location,” the Karakoram Highway (connecting Pakistan and western China), was mentioned once.

• I found it interesting that, for example, many people ranked India high as a favorite destination but didn’t feel it was advisable for a novice traveler. Antarctica was considered similarly. Alternatively, several people felt Mexico was a good starter international destination, but it didn’t end up on many people’s all-time-favorites lists.

Again, we did these rankings just for fun. You’ll get a lot more out of reading the comments accompanying each listing.

While we’re starting that series this month, we’re wrapping up another, on the subject of day pack hiking tours. These letters resulted from an information request from ITN subscriber Kip Sturdevan. 

After reading the first two parts, Kip emailed, “The responses have been more than I anticipated and really provide the information I need. Thank you. Now if I can just keep my knees from acting up, I’ll be able to act on some of the recommendations.”

• Just to remind you about another subscriber’s info request, that of Miyako Storch (Sept. ’17, pg. 50), if you are an ITN subscriber and have an experience, suggestion or comment to share regarding hotel safes and their general levels of security, email editor@intltravelnews.com or write to Is a Hotel Safe Safe?, c/o ITN, 2116 28th St., Sacramento, CA 95818. Include the address where you receive ITN. Responses may be printed in ITN.

• And Carol Greene requested the following, specifying as few airport-transit days as possible (Sept. ’17, pg. 62): “I would like recommendations from travelers for any tour companies that offer tours of more than two weeks anywhere outside of the US. What are some of the lengthy, in-depth tours in this wonderful world?”

The subject title on that one is Lengthy Foreign Tours Wanted.

Before I sign off from this, our 500th edition, I want to acknowledge the work and dedication of my coworkers. I depend on the judgment of Beth, the sharp eye and resoluteness of Chris, the journalistic writing and research of Dan (responsible for writing most of the news reported in this column), the resourcefulness of Debi, the reliability of Susan and the skillful problem-solving of Demian.

Most especially, we all owe so much to Helen Noble, a steadfast Midwesterner (Michigan), who keeps the wheels turning here (and the lights on… and the office cats fed).

I would like to think that ITN has not only brightened someone’s day now and then but that it has actually saved people time, trouble and money and even accounted for more enjoyable travels. We know it has brought people together. Any good that has come out of this massive cooperative undertaking, the credit for that should go to Helen. 

On behalf of all of us, Helen, thank you for your selfless persistence in making all of this possible.