Curious Traveler

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When my husband and I last visited Rome in 2008, we remember seeing a 10% tax already added to our bill, so it was a surprise this year when they told us that we each owed 15 additional euros. We thought they were just trying to take advantage of us, and we started to get irritated because no one would explain what we were paying for. We decided to pay it anyway, but then they told us we had to pay “la nuova” tax in euro bills. Can you explain what this “new” tax is all about?
—Tim G. New York, NY

Tim, unfortunately the money you and your partner had to pay is Rome’s latest way to make an extra buck off already cash-strapped travelers. The tax, implemented last January, is the Rome hotel tax. The tax is based on the quality level of the accommodation you choose to stay in. Rome officially ranks hotels on a scale of one to five stars. So, if you choose to stay at a property with one to three stars expect to pay 2 euros per night and a hotel with four or five stars will cost you 3 euros per night. And while it would make sense that if you were renting one room, you should only pay one tax, that’s not the case—each person must pay the tax. The only time you are exempted from the tax is if you were to stay in a hostel (just don’t stay in one of Rome’s official hostels—that will cost you). And yes, when the law was first implemented it stipulated that the collection of the tax must be in cash euros. For the modern traveler, though, this can be a hassle, as many of us don’t even take money out of an ATM when we travel anymore. A year since the law has been implemented, many hotels have worked hard to make sure you hardly notice the tax (which could be a good or bad thing). Some will accept credit cards and then use their own cash to pay for the tax, but if your hotel insists on collecting it in cash, the best thing is to be prepared. The good news is that Rome is using the extra funds to help improve the city and promote it as a tourist destination. Also, you mentioned that you had paid a tax when you booked your visit in 2008. Indeed you did (you have a good eye), that tax you’re referring to still exists. It’s called the VAT (value added tax), which is a 10% charge that is integrated into your bill throughtout all of Italy. Oh, the prices we will pay to enjoy the Eternal City.

Last year was the first time that I brought my boyfriend to Western Massachusetts to meet my parents. We were both quite nervous and in his need to impress them he was adamant about not showing up with just a bottle of wine. He spent all day preparing his family’s favorite apple pie recipe. As it was not a liquid, we thought it would be perfectly fine to take the nicely wrapped pie with us on our flight. Unfortunately, the TSA agent was a bit of a Scrooge, and he not only took the pie for “additional testing,” but he then told us that the pie couldn’t be taken with us on the flight because it “contained too much liquid.” Is this the correct TSA policy?
—Jay M. Los Angeles, CA

Each year, the TSA releases their list of holiday items that are not permitted as carry-ons. This list does not include pies, and the TSA (last year) pointed out that “you can bring pies through security checkpoint, but please be advised that they are subject to additional screening.” So it seems that the liquid/gel rule makes an exception during the holiday season for pie filling. We’re not 100% sure what an “additional screening” entails (hopefully not a finger in the middle taste test), but further security measures usually means a test for chemicals or explosive material. So, unless your partner’s apple pie was completely made out of water then there was no reason for a TSA agent to take it. This holiday season, if you are worried, you can always ship it ahead or figure out some way to check it in your luggage (but that seems a bit too risky to us). While the TSA is publicly pro-pie, other holiday items you may want to travel with but can’t bring on board with you include: creamy dips and spreads (cheeses, peanut butter, etc.), gift baskets with food items (salsa, jams, and salad dressings), gravy, jellies, maple syrup, oils and vinegars, salad dressing, snow globes, soups, wine, liquor, and beer. Happy holidays!

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