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What happens to business travelers when their company is gone?

By John Rambow
updated September 29, 2021
blog_berlin_wallstreet_original.jpg
Courtesy <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/cleverclevergirl/2164908196/" target="_blank">cleverclevergirl/Flickr</a>

Last week's London Times looked at a worrisome and at least theoretically possible scenario: What happens to business travelers whose companies dissolve before they have a chance to return home? Employees of Lehman Brothers, which declared bankruptcy last week, may have found themselves in that very situation.

The Times points out that, of course, most business travelers would have airline tickets to get themselves home, so they wouldn't be stranded. But settling the bill at that pricey business-class hotel could get a little sticky. As one specialist in travel law puts it, "I'm sure most hotels would demand a card imprint from the individual as security for payment" if a company has gone under. "I think it would be practically difficult for the individual traveler to demand that the hotel honor its agreement with the corporate [entity]—when it knows it will not be paid."

It sounds as if the best option is to try hard to avoiding finding yourself in that situation altogether…

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Travel Tips

Interview with Rolf Potts on his new book and on the "tourist" versus "traveler" debate

Mind the gap! That's the sign passengers see at London Metro stations, warning them to watch for the space between the platform and the subway car. But "mind the gap" is also a good advice for Americans traveling anywhere overseas. The gap, in this case, is between your expectation of what a foreign country will be like and the reality. No American travel writer has written as much&mdash;and as cleverly&mdash;about this gap between expectations and reality as Rolf Potts. Potts has written a new book, Marco Polo Didn't Go There (Traveler's Tales, $15). It collects many of his award-winning travel articles, which cover his attempt to crash the Thai set of a Leonardo DiCaprio movie, to go native in the Australian Outback, and to look at the Egyptian Pyramids in a fresh light. Reading the book is like meeting a backpacker who charms you for hours at a bar in Cairo or Bangkok with his tales of the road, told in a self-deprecating style. You want to buy him another round so that he'll keep on entertaining you. A great thing about seeing Potts's best work from the past decade collected together in one place is to see his avante-garde writing techniques. One of his articles, for instance, is written entirely in the second person, as in "Your two dollar hotel is just down the road...Your room is bare, but you like its ascetic vibe." One of the issues touched on in the book is whether there's a difference between "tourists" and "travelers." Sometimes Rolf seems to draw a distinction between them. On page 8 he quotes a backpacker in Thailand who said, "Tourists leave home to escape the world, while travelers leave home to experience the world. Tourists...are merely doing the hokey-pokey: putting their right foot in and taking their right foot out; calling themselves world travelers but experiencing very little." Rolf argues instead that "regardless of one's budget, itinerary and choice of luggage&mdash;the act of travel is still, at its essence, a consumer experience." But then, on page 25, Rolf seems to change his mind when he describes how, during his second attempt to infiltrate the filming location in Thailand for "The Beach", he landed a job as an extra: "On my first night of work, 21st Century Fox's handlers divided all the extras into two groups: "tourists" and "travelers."...The production assistants simply made their decisions on the basis of fashion. That is, if you had dreads or wore a sarong or sported tattoos or clutched a set of bongos, you were grouped together with the "travelers." If you kept your hair short and wore nice clothes or had a reasonably neat appearance, you spent your on-camera time as a "tourist." Though my suntan was lacking at the time, I made the cut as a "traveler" on the basis of my hair (which was longish) and clothing (which, while not suitably ethnic, was a bit tattered....Despite such reductive methodology, I'll admit I felt a small flush of pride as I took my place in the extras' tent with the other "travelers." Just like being picked first for a game of kindergarten kickball, I had proof that I had made the cut: I was a member of the elite." I recently interviewed Rolf by e-mail to discuss this and other questions raised by his book. Sean: Do you believe there is a difference between a tourist and a traveler, and if so, what is it? Rolf: At the most essential level, there is no difference between travelers and tourists. I touch on this in my first book, Vagabonding, where I write, "The tourist/traveler distinction has largely degenerated into a cliquish sort of fashion dichotomy: Instead of seeking the challenges that mindful travel requires, we can simply point to a few stereotypical 'tourists', make some jokes at their expense, and consider ourselves 'travelers' by default." Perhaps the most vivid illustration of this dichotomy in my new book comes in chapter 11, where I lay out how my Burmese barber in Thailand was probably the greatest adventure traveler I've ever known &mdash; and how all of his adventures were less a matter of bravado than staying alive and feeding his family. I wrote: "Does this all mean that we, as First World wanderers, should feel guilty every time we pack our bags and take a journey? I don't think so. But it certainly can't hurt to retain a sense of perspective as we indulge ourselves in haughty little pissing contests over who qualifies as a 'traveler' instead of a 'tourist.'" As for the endnotes to chapter 1, I was being ironic when I claimed that being chosen as a "traveler" by the producers of "The Beach" made me "a member of the elite." Obviously their selection criterion&mdash;choosing people on the basis of their looks&mdash;was ridiculously reductive. The childish flush of pride came from the fact that they considered me hip enough to be one of the cool kids. This had more to do with junior-high lunch-table vanity than a serious analysis of travelers and tourists. Sean: Backpackers have a bad reputation in some circles for being party-going layabouts who do not engage with the local culture. On page 173 of your new book, you serve up an impassioned defense of backpackers: "Outside of the predictable traveler ghettos (which aren't as insipid as press accounts let on), independent travelers distinguish themselves by their willingness to travel solo, to go slowly, to embrace the unexpected and break out from the comfort-economy that isolates more well-heeled vacationers and ex-pats. Sure, backpackers are themselves a manifestation of mass tourism&mdash;and they have their own self-satisfied clich&eacute;s&mdash;but they are generally going through a more life-affecting process than one would find on a standard travel holiday. My experience at the Sultan [Hotel in Cairo] is a good example...Most of us studied Arabic and learned the rhythms of the neighborhood around Orabi Square; we attended Sunni mosques and Coptic churches; we lingered in tea shops and made Egyptian friends....Along with a stint as an expatriate, there are few other activities that&mdash;if approached mindfully&mdash;can sharpen the senses and tweak the perspective of someone who intends to leave home and experience the world." Is the real issue whether a person is "mindful" as they travel, not what his or her luggage or budget is? Rolf: I completely agree that meaningful travel experiences aren't tied to your budget or your luggage. In the endnotes to chapter 10 I was just defending backpackers against the media-driven notion that they're all oblivious, self-absorbed, cheapskate stoners. Naturally, backpackers have their own dumb prejudices and pretensions. Anthropologists have actually gone in and studied backpacker communities and found that when backpackers are hanging out together, they most often tell lies about two things: the amount of time they spend with local people, and how little money they've spent. Every social milieu, it would seem, has status games. In defending backpackers, I wanted to point out how it's a great rite of passage for travelers, especially young travelers. Many of the elements of mindful travel&mdash;going slow, utilizing local economies, getting off the beaten path, etc.&mdash;are intrinsic to backpacker ideals. I'm not saying you have to travel like a backpacker your whole life, but it is a good way to learn the value of slow travel. I'm not big on declaring one type of traveler better than another. Much of my first book, Vagabonding, is dedicated to debunking the social pretensions of travel. The value of travel doesn't come in comparison to other people, but in terms of how it enhances your own life in any number of ways. Sean: I'm going to continue to ask questions you probably won't be asked elsewhere during your "virtual book tour." What's an example from your book&mdash;if any&mdash;where you confront someone who feels smug about being well-traveled? Rolf: I don't know that I've ever personally confronted anyone for being smug about how much they've traveled. Why go to the trouble of getting upset just because someone is bragging about being well-traveled? It's like getting upset at someone because they brag about having a lot of money, or being good at tennis, or having gone to Harvard. Who cares? Let people keep their pretensions. In general, I think traveler "pissing contests"&mdash;regardless of whether they take place in a hostel lounge or an Explorer's Club banquet&mdash;are just kind of annoying, and I elect not to participate. One general piece of advice I might offer is to not get defensive when someone is talking about their travels. So your next-door neighbor went to Guyana and he wants to tell you all about it&mdash;is he showing off or just channeling the excitement of his journey? Odds are it's the latter&mdash;and if you reflexively judge him as a travel snob just because he went someplace exotic and enjoyed it, then you're the one who's being a jerk. In a way, returned travelers and new parents have a lot in common. They're both excited about what just happened, and they both tend to overestimate people's interest in it. So, just as it's polite to look at photos of that wrinkled little infant and ask some friendly questions, it can't hurt to take a little interest when someone tells you they've just been someplace interesting and off-the-beaten path. In all likelihood they're not showing off; it's just on their mind, and they want to share their excitement. Sean: We've all heard people return from trips overseas and say that their time abroad made them more appreciative of the U.S. Should we believe them when they say that? Given mass media and college educations, do we really need to travel to another continent to learn that America is a privileged country? Rolf: I think it's perfectly normal to come back from your travels with a better appreciation for the United States&mdash;just as Brazilians come home with a better appreciation for Brazil and Egyptians come home with a better appreciation for Egypt. One of the joys of travel is that it allows you to see and appreciate your home in a whole new way&mdash;not just in the economic sense but in the cultural and communal sense as well. Sure, education and mass media can make us aware of the differences between the U.S. and the rest of the world on an intellectual level, but travel brings it home on a gut level. I'm not just talking about extreme differences like wealth versus poverty; I'm talking about the whole myriad of differences, from social mores to individualism to religious freedom. It's one thing to ponder, say, the joy of shopping at Whole Foods, but it's another thing to come home and shop at Whole Foods after a month of getting food from poorly stocked kiosks in Moldavia. It's one thing to think about the hygienic value your nice hot shower, but it's another thing to enjoy a hot shower after a month in India, where people have to bribe local officials to get proper plumbing. You can intellectualize the joys of making out with your girlfriend on a park bench, but you appreciate this activity more vividly after having been in Saudi Arabia, where such public affection would attract the wrath of the religious police. It makes perfect sense that you better understand the freedoms and comforts of home after you've been to places where you literally can't enjoy those freedoms and comforts. It's one thing to read about, but another thing to experience it. I mean, come on. When someone eats an Argentine steak are you going to scold them for saying it tastes good because you'd already confirmed this sensory information from other sources? When you get kicked in the nuts do you refrain from howling in pain because this is universally accepted as an unpleasant experience? Of course not, when you experience something in a visceral way it's natural to let other people know about it. MORE You can follow the rest of Rolf Potts' virtual book tour online, or see him in person at one of 20 cities nationwide as he celebrates the release of Marco Polo Didn't Go There (Travelers' Tales, 2008). We encourage you to ask for the book at your favorite local bookstore or Amazon.com, and follow Rolf's tour diary at Gadling starting Sept 29th. Tomorrow's virtual book tour stop will be at BootsnAll.com. To read yesterday's tour stop, go to The 4-Hour Workweek. You can also ask Rolf questions at World Hum.

Travel Tips

Leaf-peeping in Vermont: An expert's guide

It's leaf-peeping season! We asked Moon Vermont co-author Michael Blanding to let us in on some tips for having a great time in the Green Mountain State. What are some great websites for planning a trip? The Vermont Department of Tourism has an excellent foliage page on its Web site, vermontvacation.com, which has up-to-date information on the quality of the leaves as well as lodging. Another great foliage site is run by Yankee Magazine, yankeefoliage.com. It features an interactive map updated with reports from readers, and a leaf blog by Jeff "Foliage" Folger, one of the most prolific foliage photographers in New England. Also, www.foliage-vermont.com has an active forum in which readers give updates on color in their areas. When and where can you see the best color? The general rule of thumb for Vermont is that the color starts getting good in mid-September, and the show is over by late October. All that said, you should know that trying to predict when the color will be absolutely perfect is a loser's game, and frankly not necessary. Being overly preoccupied with chasing the elusive "peak" of foliage is a great way to spoil a trip&mdash;and takes away from all of the other things that make a fall weekend in Vermont so magical: harvest festivals, farm-stands, fresh-pressed apple cider, and sunny days of crisp mountain air. The geographical variety of the state means there is a wide variation in color in different areas at the same time&mdash;and at any time you can find good color just by driving an hour north or south or heading up into the mountains (or down into the valley) depending on where you are. Finally, this season is already shaping up to be an unpredictable one because of all of the rain that we got in August&mdash;the trees are expected to hold onto their leaves a little longer, making late October still perfectly viable for some peak color in some areas. The only essential piece of advice is: book now! Most lodgings are already full-up for Columbus Day Weekend (Oct 12-13), though because of the economy, it's not as difficult this year to still find space in mid-week and even in the first and third weekends of October. When making bookings, you'll have the most luck in the Northeast Kingdom&mdash;where color is well underway by mid-September. Later in the season, try basing yourself in the southeast corner of the state, either in the Brattleboro area or the Okemo Valley, which tend to have more available lodging than the middle and north-central areas. What would a best-of-Vermont tour look like? We actually have just such an itinerary in our book (forgive the shameless plug). Our perfect two-week tour (adjust as necessary) starts with two days in artsy Brattleboro in the southeastern corner of the state, taking in the monthly Gallery Walk and the Brattleboro Museum; continues north to visit the Grafton Village Cheese Company in Grafton, the Vermont Country Store in Weston, and Billings Farm in Woodstock; then heads deep into one of our favorite areas, the Mad River Valley, which has some of the most quintessential Vermont scenery in the state, and is a perfect area for hiking or canoeing. From there, it's north to tour the Ben &amp; Jerry's factory in Waterbury and go skiing in Stowe (or ride the tramway to the top of Mount Mansfield, the highest peak in the state); then up to Lake Champlain to visit the maritime museum, aquarium, and historic sites in the big city of Burlington; and down the valley to the college town of Middlebury and the nearby sites dedicated to poet Robert Frost. Finally, you finish out the circle 'round the state by driving south to see the maple museum and covered bridges outside Rutland, and the historic sites in Bennington, before heading back to Brattleboro, full of cheddar cheese, maple syrup, and happy memories. Sometimes, during the height of tourism season, some of the main highways and roadways can get crowded, making the experience of driving in Vermont a bit stressful. Do you have any advice about going to less-well known destinations and yet having just as magical an experience? As I mentioned, the Northeast Kingdom is always a safe bet for getting away from the crowds. But there are a couple of other areas that are less remote yet that, for some reason, don't draw the same number of tourists&mdash;whether because they don't have any obvious "sites" or ski mountains that have put them on the map as destinations. One of the state's best-kept secrets is the area known as the "Southwestern Lakes Region," along the New York border west of Route 7. Lake St. Catherine is one of the prettiest in the state, and the surrounding countryside is just classic rural Vermont, with country stores and churches at every turn. Another area that tends to see less traffic is the "Vermont Piedmont" area, along known as the northern part of the "Upper Valley"&mdash;a hilly area in the east central part of the state centering around Fairlee and Corinth. Like other parts of Vermont, this area has seen a resurgence in agro-tourism, with all kinds of specialty farms and sugarhouses; and Route 5 along the Connecticut River is a classic fall foliage route. Lodging is generally marked-up during the height of tourist season. Any creative suggestions for saving money on hotels or inns? Foliage season sees big spikes in rates in Vermont, and you won't find any dirt cheap lodgings anywhere. But in fact, fall is not nearly as busy as winter ski season. Outside of Columbus Day weekend and the weekend on either side of it, lodgings are still competing for tourists, and you can find relatively cheap motel rooms if you are willing to book mid-week or slightly outside of peak foliage time (for example, late September or late October). Vermont's emphasis on local businesses means that there are still many independent motels that work hard to undercut the chains and where you can still find a room under $100 in high season. Try around (but not in) ski resorts, for example around Killington, Stowe, and West Dover (Mt. Snow). Rutland is also a good city to look for less expensive rates&mdash;and it is perfectly located to jump off to the northern and southern sections of the Green Mountain State Forest, Middlebury, Manchester, and other attractions. Last but not least, two of our personal favorite "value" lodgings: the Old Red Mill in Wilmington (oldredmill.com), a friendly lodge with clean and comfortable rooms in the south-central part of the state; and the Latchis Hotel (latchis.com) in Brattleboro, which just went through a renovation of its 1930s Art Deco building and has an attached movie theater with discounted admission for hotel guests&mdash;but still offers $95 rooms in foliage season. Skiing. What's the most common mistake out-of-state visitors make when planning ski trips to Vermont? The biggest mistake people make is the head right to the "biggest" mountains with the biggest names&mdash;especially Killington, Sugarbush, and Mount Snow. While those mountains have earned their reputation for some of the most exciting and difficult terrain in the northeast, and its understandably tempting to want to test yourself against them, they can also be a frustrating exercise in standing around in lift lines or spending half the day trying to make it across a bewildering trail map for those one or two perfect runs. Meanwhile, there are many mountains in Vermont that will more than test your skiing ability and offer a much more satisfying overall skiing experience&mdash;especially if you are not all about the double-diamonds. Mountains like Burke Mountain and Jay Peak, both in the Northeast Kingdom, are virtually deserted in winter, and both boast lots of natural powder. Mad River Glen, just up the valley from Sugarbush, has a cult following among skiers for its uncompromising terrain full of rocks, moguls, and glades, with a full half of its trails for experts. On the other side of the spectrum, families would do better to leave the big mountains behind and head to Smugglers Notch or Ascutney, which offer a range of terrain for all abilities as well as excellent kids programs. Finally, in a welcome contrast to the sometimes impersonal "mega-resort" feeling of Mt. Snow and Killington, Stowe Mountain has kept it real, with an authentic village full of real people and businesses that make the time off the mountain just as enjoyable as the time on it. Tell us about your guidebook. Thankfully we hit the ground running when we produced the first edition of Moon Vermont because we had recently completed Moon New England (another shameless plug!) the year before. So we were able to use some of the material from that book to form the basis for this one. As we started spending more time in Vermont, however, it quickly became clear to us that this was its own place with its own unique sensibility that was influenced by the rest of New England, but also stood proudly apart from it. Capturing that unique quality was the challenge and pleasure of writing the book. Personally, I feel proud that we took time to highlight the kinds of things that visitors to Vermont are truly looking for (even if they may not be aware of it): farm tours and farm stays, restaurants using organic or local ingredients, quirky country stores, and family sugarhouses alongside the more "obvious" attractions like Ben &amp; Jerry's and Killington. Along the way, we fell in love with parts of the state that aren't as familiar to tourists&mdash;and weren't as familiar to us either&mdash;such as the Mad River Valley and the Northeast Kingdom. We truly hope that readers enjoy exploring them with us! (Moon Vermont is available at Amazon.com. Find other great guidebooks at Moon.com.)

Travel Tips

Who really believes that fliers lose 12,000 laptops a week?

This summer an eye-popping statistic was reported by several reporters and bloggers, including ones at the Associated Press, CNN.com, and WSJ.com. Here's the Chicago Tribune's version: More than 12,000 laptops are lost each week at U.S. airports, according to a study conducted for Dell by the Ponemon Institute, a research think tank. Only one-third of laptops lost and found in airports are reclaimed, the study said. Hmm&hellip;12,000 laptops a week is an enormous number of laptops. Skeptical, I called the man who put together the study: Larry Ponemon, founder of the Ponemon Institute. I learned that Larry has a different definition for the word "lost" than the one in the dictionary. [Update 10:40 a.m. ET.: Larry's response has been added to the bottom of this post.] [Update: Sept. 16: A WSJ.com review by Carl Bialik and a follow-up study find that far fewer laptops are lost than the press release said. Vindication!] When Larry uses the word "lost," he mainly means what happened to his laptop ten months ago. Larry was passing through a security checkpoint at Chicago's O'Hare airport, juggling a large garment bag, another bag, and his laptop. After screening, he picked up his belongings in a typical rush. He walked about 30 feet from the checkpoint when someone shouted, "Hey Mister, you stole my computer!" It turns out that Larry had picked up the wrong laptop. The two men swapped machines and parted grumpily. By Larry's reckoning, two laptops were lost. He says a laptop is lost if it is "at least temporarily and knowingly out of my possession." I disagree. I think he and the other guy each misplaced, or accidentally swapped, their laptops. The laptops hadn't disappeared long enough to be "lost." Larry politely insists that if a laptop is out of your control, even momentariliy, then the data inside has been left defenseless. Okay. Some laptops are temporarily lost and some are permanently lost. Fine. There's still a major problem: The press release outright misled reporters when it said that most laptops are never reclaimed. Here's the damning quote: "A new study conducted by the Ponemon Institute has found that more than 10,000 laptops are lost in the 36 largest US airports each week, and nearly 70 percent of those laptops are never reclaimed." But that's not what the study said! At major airports, such as LAX and O'Hare, workers at Lost &amp; Found offices guessed that roughly two-thirds of laptops that end up in Lost &amp; Found offices are never reclaimed. Yet Larry told me that most of the "lost" 12,000 laptops a week never end up in Lost &amp; Found offices. The study didn't publish an estimate of how many laptops are temporarily lost either. Confused? I don't blame you. Travel reporters and bloggers were confused, too. Many mistakenly reported that most of the laptops lost at airports are permanently lost. Curious how the Institute came up with its 12,000-laptops-a-week figure? I hope so. It's an amusing little story. Larry's team decided not to ask for official statistics from Lost &amp; Found offices or from any spokespeople at any airport, airline, or government agency. Larry says his team "did try to go through official channels, but that seemed to stall the project." Larry's team instead interviewed janitors, baggage handlers, and TSA screeners over many months at large and small airports. His team didn't care about the "authority" of the people being interviewed. The opinion of, say, a part-time janitor who had only been working at an airport for a week was as valued as the opinion of, say, a security officer working at the airport for five years. Larry says there is a strong precedent for conducting a study in the manner he chose. His type of "benchmark study" is commonly done when sociologists "don't know the size and make-up of a population and doubt that their survey samples are representative of the larger pool." Larry is a former partner of PricewaterhouseCoopers and a respected researcher, so I'll defer to him on those points. But I ask you: Is it believable that 12,000 laptops are permanently lost at airports every week? When the statistic appeared on the news site Digg.com, several readers questioned the claim. For example, one reader said: "10,000 / 7 days a week = 1428 laptops per day or 59 every hour. how can this be possible in the most secured/patrolled and VIDEOed checkpoints in the world?" A different reader on Digg defended the statistic by doing a back-of-the-envelope calculation with government statistics: 55.5 million people flew in the month February of 2008 (Feb is usually the slowest month, by the way), that's 13.875 million per week. Assume 20 percent of them had laptops, that roughly 2.8 million laptops per week going through the airport, and if 10,000 are lost, that's only 0.36%, or roughly 1 in 278 lose their laptop. You think that's so wildly out of line (remember I picked the slowest month the airlines have)? Is this reader right in believing that 12,000 laptops are stolen at airports every week? Well, some other people also agree. For instance, a spokesman for the Airports Council International North America, who was interviewed by AviationWeek.com, said that roughly 3.5 million business travelers fly each week. "Only less than one half of one percent...would have to lose their laptops to reach the 12,000 a week number," he says. Here's my take: What the Digg reader is essentially saying is that about one out of every 278 of all passengers at a major airport today lost his or her laptop today. Or, to use the second example, roughly 1 in about 340 business travelers at a major airport today lost his or her laptop today. Imagine what these examples mean in real life. Think about the last time you were at a large airport. Every hour, there were a few hundred people passing through each section of the airport that you visited. How often have you ever seen a laptop lying unattended in one of those sections? If you follow the logic of these examples, you should see at least one laptop piling up every hour or so on average at every major gathering place at an airport. Laptops by check-in counters. Laptops by gates. Laptops at bars. Laptops in bathroom stalls. Did journalists and bloggers question the statistic? The Atlanta Journal-Constitution was the only print newspaper I found whose reporter (namely, Mike Maciag) called officials at a couple airports to ask their opinions. Maciag interviewed Orzy Theus, public information manager for Atlanta's main airport, who said, "I think the credibility of the methodology is really questionable." My favorite parts of his article are when it contrasts official data with the Ponemon Institute's data. For example: At Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, 276 laptops were turned into the airport's lost and found last year, 269 of which were returned, according to the Washington Airports Authority. The Ponemon Institute study says, in contrast, that 450 laptops are lost at Reagan National airport every week. Most of those 450 were not reclaimed, if one believes the press release (which one shouldn't). That's quite a difference! Only 276 laptops lost and nearly all of them reclaimed in one year, versus about 23,400 lost&mdash;and a majority of them not reclaimed&mdash;in one year. Atlanta and Detroit airport spokespeople also reported very low numbers of lost laptops. (Larry would likely interrupt at this point to say that such official statistics probably fail to count the many times that laptops are lost, stolen, or misplaced at airports without being reported by travelers.) Props to Patrick Thibodeau of ComputerWorld, who called experts to put the study in context, and to the folks at an AviationWeek.com, who tried to spell out the details of the study and who posted a link to the full report. Disappointingly, a couple of the most visited travel blogs didn't put the statistic in context or express any skepticism. Gadling reprinted it and so did USA Today's Today in the Sky blog. (On the other hand, Jaunted, Gridskipper, and Christopher Elliott ignored the statistic entirely, which was probably the right approach.) One non-journalist travel blogger, Mark Peacock at BoardingArea.com, said he was skeptical about the study. Victor Godinez of the Dallas Morning News also expressed doubts in a blog post. [UPDATE Aug. 22, 10:40 a.m. ET: Larry Ponemon has asked for an opportunity to respond to this blog post. I've added his response, here:] I appreciate the coverage in Sean's blog, especially the excellent photo of me on my boat at Torch Lake. A good friend and mentor told me a long time ago that you have to have a "thick skin" to do controversial research. Here are just a few points that need to be made about Sean's interpretation of our research. Sean's blog piece diminishes the risk associated with lost laptops that are ultimately recovered. His article suggests that we have blown out of proportion the risk associated with a temporarily missing laptop. The fact is it only takes seconds to extract sensitive or confidential information from a computer that leaves the owner’s custody. This is why our study's numbers include laptops that are recovered. This is also why major news media found our study's results compelling enough to print. We stand behind our research methods. Since airports do not have statistics that track lost or stolen laptops, we surveyed airport employees who are in the front lines of this issue. We believe that these employees are an excellent source for understanding the prevalence of travelers who leave their laptops behind or report their laptops missing. Our study is successful because it has raised awareness among travelers in the United States and abroad. Clearly the airport environment is conducive to security risks because people are traveling with portable computers that contain sensitive or confidential information. Think about it! What other public facility exists where so much data is in one place at one time? Sean's article is entertaining. However, as a research institute that studies privacy and data protection, we believe the issue of lost or missing laptops to be a serious risk to companies and to the people whose information is on those computers. In other words, this is no laughing matter. Respectfully, Dr. Larry Ponemon Chairman &amp; Founder, Ponemon Institute. What do you think? Feel free to post a comment below. More Links

Travel Tips

Alitalia rumors: What's next for the Italian airline?

Troubled Italian airline Alitalia is continuing to fly thanks to a nearly half-billion dollar investment by the government this spring&mdash;which European officials have challenged as unfair. Flights this month should not be affected by backroom talks. To avoid strikes, the government has postponed any decisions until the end of the month, says Reuters. This fall, the airline may be put under "special administration", which is similar to bankruptcy in the U.S., explains Reuters. Then, Alitalia might receive up to $1.5 billion from private investors, says the newspaper Il Giornale, without naming sources. Potential investors include Air One, a profitable Italian competitor that we've blogged about before, and Lufthansa, the profitable German carrier. Here's hoping there's a way to save the national airline, making it stronger without harming budget travelers. "Brand Italy" has a powerful pull worldwide. It's a shame that no one has yet figured out how to make the Italian national carrier be as sexy and appealing as the country's reputation.