Luggage thieves in Europe hotels. Open urinals in Paris. IAMAT doctors for prescriptions overseas

By David Tykol
This item appears on page 2 of the November 2018 issue.

Depicting the archangel atop a demon, the bronze statue of St. Michael symbolizes the triumph of good over evil. Part of the tallest fountain in Paris, it is in Place Saint-Michel. Photo ©Wiesław Jarek/123rf.com
Dear Globetrotter:

Welcome to the 513th issue of your monthly foreign-travel magazine.

If you're looking at your first copy of ITN, one of the free samples that we send out each month to anyone upon request (or at the request of a friend), the main thing to know about this publication is that it is a safe place for travelers to express opinions, share their experiences and tell what they've learned on trips outside of the US.

ITN is in its 42nd year, and we're pleased that we continue to receive comments like this one from Amy and Michel Romano of Glen Cove, New York: "As always, thanks to the ITN staff for an interesting and fun travel publication. We look forward to its arrival every month."

Caryl Mikrut of Plainfield, Illinois, wrote, "Love ITN. Read it cover to cover when it comes and pass it on to others. Been getting it for years."

And Wayne S. Carpenter of Adrian, Michigan, wrote, "ITN is the BEST travel magazine to be printed."

It's our subscribers' letters and articles that make up the bulk of each issue. We just organize it, edit it and do fact-checking (as best we can). But the insights and excitement come from our readers' adventures.

As promised in the name, we also bring you international travel NEWS. Here are a couple of items, to start.

Parisian police have warned of an increase in activities by "hotel rats," that is, thieves who pose as guests at a hotel in order to steal luggage while the owners of the luggage are distracted.

One method a hotel rat will use is to enter a hotel lobby with a tour group, blending in as a group member. At a moment when the group's luggage is unattended, the rat will abscond with a bag or two. A thief may even rent a room in a hotel under an assumed name in order to justify being in the lobby, but his or her tactics remain the same.

This is a problem not only in Paris. Parisian police explained that hotel rats are migratory, moving from city to city during peak tourist seasons, and they have been spotted in Rome, Barcelona, Berlin, etc.

The best way to protect your belongings in a hotel lobby is to keep your bags with you at all times. If possible, avoid placing them among a group of other people's bags, and, especially, do not leave them near a stairway or elevator.

For an insider's perspective, ITN got in touch with the tour operator Adventures Abroad (Blaine, WA; 800/665-3998, www.adventures-abroad.com) and asked a number of questions about how the company handles travelers' luggage.

Assistant Manager and Senior Tour Leader Martin T. Charlton responded, writing, "The topic of luggage handling is covered in depth in the orientation meetings at the start of each tour (especially for European tours, where theft is more common).

"When a tour bus or van arrives at a hotel, we usually have the driver unload the luggage, and then the travelers take it, themselves, into the lobby. If tour members take their own luggage into the lobby, then they usually remain in possession of their bags and keep them nearby. Unless the tour leader specifically mentions that porters will be used, the clients are to always be in possession of their own bags.

"At hotels where porters take the luggage inside, it is very common for the bags all to be assembled in one location or kept on luggage trolleys. When bags are left in one place, we try to have someone there watching the bags.

"Upon checking out, we prefer to have clients transport their own luggage to the lobby and/or the bus. Of course, if the assistance of a porter is required, then we arrange for this. A location in the lobby is designated for the group's bags, and they can be placed there (by porters or clients) until boarding begins."

Mr. Charlton continued: "One procedure that we have been steering away from over the past several years is requesting that tour members each set their bags outside of their hotel rooms at a particular time on the morning of departure so that they can be conveniently collected.

"There are places where we still allow group members to put their bags outside the rooms, however. An example would be a lodge on an East African safari, where the rooms are quite a distance from the reception and the chance of theft is almost zero."

Mr. Charlton acknowledged, "We have seen an increase in baggage thefts from members of all tour companies over the past five to ten years, so this is something we are aware of.

"Ideally, we want the travelers to be in possession of their bags as much as possible."

Here's another Paris story, one of an unpleasant nature.

Starting in February 2017, Paris began to place uritrottoirs (open-air urinals) in prominent places in the city. As of press time, there were only a few, but they were conspicuous.

The first two were placed outside the Gare de Lyon train station with little controversy. However, in August 2018 an uritrottoir was set on the banks of the Seine on the Île de la Cîte, within sight of both tourist boats and Notre-Dame, causing an uproar among locals and tourists alike. It was the third uritrottoir to be placed on the island and the fifth in the city overall.

The uritrottoirs have no walls or curtains and are not attached to any plumbing; each is basically a stand-alone bin with an opening near the top. It's filled with straw to soak up liquids and mask odors. (The straw is periodically removed and used to fertilize crops as well as the flowers in the planters mounted on top.)

It's not just the very public nature of the uritrottoirs that is eliciting outrage; critics have pointed out that the units can be used only by men, leaving women without relief. On Aug. 29, two uritrottoirs were vandalized with cement, with notes left decrying that Paris seems to encourage men to relieve themselves in the open while there is still a stigma about women breastfeeding in public.

Parisian officials responded saying that the urinals are both necessary and more economical than installing more public sanisettes (fully enclosed pay toilets located in pedestrian areas).

As for the sanisettes, there are currently 450 self-cleaning units in Paris, most available 24 hours a day. Despite that, more than 5,000 fines were levied against people urinating on buildings and sidewalks in the first half of 2018, most of those violators being men.

As for the uritrottoirs, the city government shows no signs that they will remove the ones already in place, at least those that are not vandalized, and it seems likely the program will be expanded. For more info, visit uritrottoir.com/?lang=en.

A different problem has elicited a heartening solution.

One question that world travelers often need to ask when planning a trip is 'Can I take my medication to where I'm going?'

It can be a tough question to answer, as, in some countries, some medicines widely prescribed in the US are outright illegal. Even if a medication is legal in a destination country, it may be illegal to "import" it, meaning you will have to try to find someplace to get it once you're there — not an easy prospect for even the most seasoned traveler.

One organization that can help is the International Association for Medical Assistance to Travellers, or IAMAT (Niagara Falls, NY; 716/754-4883, www.iamat.org).

IAMAT is made up of a number of English-speaking doctors around the world. To take advantage of their services, you must become an IAMAT member. Membership is free for the first year, after which membership can be renewed yearly by making a donation.

Because their reach is so wide (there are IAMAT-associated private doctors and clinics in more than 300 cities), IAMAT is capable of finding out, from a doctor in a specific country, whether or not any laws or regulations prohibit visitors from importing a particular drug.

In addition, if a drug is legal in a country but a traveler is unable to actually carry it in, IAMAT can connect the traveler to a local doctor within that country to get a prescription for the medication after arrival.

If a drug is completely illegal in a country, the local doctor may be able to prescribe an alternative medication that is legal to possess.

Even if there is no IAMAT doctor present in a particular country, IAMAT offers IAMAT members information guides on every country, covering topics such as prescription drugs, endemic diseases, recommended vaccines and safety.

Most importantly, if you are an IAMAT member and you get injured or sick overseas, IAMAT will find the nearest English-speaking doctor to offer treatment for your condition.

For an IAMAT member, a consultation with an IAMAT doctor will typically cost only $100 to $170. Additional services or hospital visits will be charged at whatever the standard rates are for that area.

CORRECTIONS to note —

• The author of the Feature Article on Bangladesh in our September 2018 issue (page 20) let us know about a couple of errors he discovered after publication.

Gary LeClair wrote, "Turns out I used the wrong prices. For the two of us on our private tour with Nijhoom Tours, my wife and I each paid $3,850. The $3,100 that I quoted is the per-person price for a group of four people.

"In addition, while the tour company owner goes by the name Hasan, his actual name is Raw Hasan, not 'Hasan Raj' as was printed."


• Russell Gluck of Franklin Lakes, New Jersey, wrote, "A correction appears to be in order for the Travel Brief about the Canary Islands aquarium (Oct. '18, pg. 4). A mere 1,500 gallons of water behind the 118-by-24-foot window would likely provide less than an inch of water for the fish to swim in. Perhaps the number should have been 1,500,000 gallons."

Russell is correct. The tank holds 5.5 million liters of water, which, when converted correctly, equals 1,452,946 gallons.

Russell added, "On the good side, you get to know that I read just about every word in every issue."

• This next error proves that not everyone is reading every word in ITN.

We got a message from Pat Ove of Aurora, Colorado, whose information request appears in the introductions in the 4-part series "The World on $100 a Day" (the last part is in this issue). Pat has pointed out that, in each issue, we incorrectly placed her hometown in California.

If there is a topic that you would like travelers — ITN subscribers — to share their knowledge and experience about, let us know. If you have information that may be of interest or benefit to travelers, that's another reason to write in. ITN is the place where people who like to travel can, with a reasonable amount of oversight, compare their notes. The smallest observation may improve someone's trip.

Email editor@intltravelnews.com or write to ITN, 2116 28th St., Sacramento, CA 95818.