Ridding the world of land mines. On airport body-scanning machines. Where Were You in 2015?

By David Tykol
This item appears on page 2 of the June 2016 issue.
The March 2016 issue of ITN on the top shelf in a Naples, Florida, library. Photo by Nili Olay

Dear Globetrotter:

Welcome to the 484th issue of your monthly foreign travel magazine.

A frequent contributor of trip reports to ITN, subscriber Nili Olay of New York, New York, wrote, “Last year, after winning a 3-year extension to my subscription in an ITN essay contest (‘I’ll Praise Prague’), I donated part of my prize to the Naples, Florida, public library, the main branch. (I winter in Naples.) Thought you’d like to see it displayed.”

That’s her photo up above.

A generous and thoughtful gesture, Nili! Thanks for sharing the magazine with the public like that. We appreciate your getting the word out about ITN.

Bill Oakley of Reston, Virginia, is doing the same. He wrote, “I really enjoy ITN and use it as a reference for my travels. I also share older issues with people I encounter in my travels, and I ‘talk ITN up’ every chance that presents itself. Thanks much for a great travel publication.”

Susan Walz of Portola Valley, California, along with submitting the names and addresses of two friends who are interested in receiving free sample copies of the next issue, sent us this note: “Hi, ITN. As a somewhat longtime subscriber, I tell anyone who will listen about your magazine, which I think is terrific. And so are all of you… for your ongoing work, month after month, year after year. Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

We’re able to keep the issues coming because subscribers return from their travels wanting to share their discoveries and experiences with people who will appreciate and make use of the knowledge. We just keep travelers in touch.

ITN staff can take credit for organizing things, spell- and fact-checking material (usually successfully) and coming up with news items that travelers may find of interest, but it’s all of you who provide the firsthand reports. Thank you.

Here’s some good news on a somber subject.

Thanks to the efforts of multinational groups, on Sept. 17, 2015, the government of Mozambique declared that country to be “free of land mines,” the culmination of a 22-year effort of the HALO Trust (www.halotrust.org), the world’s largest organization working toward the eradication of land mines and unexploded ordnance.

HALO reports that during those 22 years, its volunteers and workers cleared 171,000 land mines just in Mozambique, making 17 million square meters (over 6½ square miles) of land safe. During Mozambique’s long civil war (1977-1992), land mines were used extensively, even near cities and on farmland. Those have been effectively eliminated, allowing Mozambicans as well as visitors to move about the country safely and increasing the opportunities for agriculture and business.

The one caveat is that Mozambique’s declaration of being mine-free came after the last known mine was removed.

As fantastic as that news is for Mozambique, there are still plenty of mines to be cleared away in other countries. Relying almost entirely on local workers, HALO Trust is operating in Kosovo, Armenia, Georgia, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka (the 200,000th land mine in Sri Lanka, out of more than a million estimated to have been buried there, was destroyed by HALO Trust in 2015), Cambodia, Laos, Somalia, Zimbabwe, Angola, Central African Republic, Côte d’Ivoire and Colombia.

According to the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (www.icbl.org), a total of 57 countries have active minefields, which account for more than 4,000 civilian injuries or deaths a year. The countries that have minefields that have been planted in ongoing conflicts are Israel/Palestine (specifically, the West Bank and Golan Heights), Syria, Iraq, Myanmar, North and South Korea (along the DMZ) and Libya.

Travelers concerned that land mines in a country they are visiting may pose a threat can visit the website of Landmine Monitor (www.the-monitor.org) for a world map that displays, broadly, the density of land mines and munitions in each of various countries, though it does not show specific locations of minefields. Another map displays, again in a broad view, the numbers of casualties from land mines and munitions across the globe. To see either map, visit the homepage and click on “Maps.”

More in-depth information — including country-by-country reports, with yearly updates on the progress of mine and munitions clearance and on the numbers of mines or munitions that still need to be cleared — can also be found on the Landmine Monitor website.

In the “REPORT SEARCH” bar on the homepage, choose a year and the country of interest and click “GO.” Note that only some of the report search results will contain the names of locations where there are land mines, or there may be links in the footnotes to more detailed maps (ex., under 2015, Afghanistan, and “Mine Action,” click on “Contamination status of districts in Afghanistan”). However, even the more detailed reports still lack exact minefield locations or maps.

In countries working toward eradicating their mines, many minefields are fenced off and marked, typically with a skull and crossbones. Even if they are not obviously marked, most minefields are known to locals, who avoid them or know safe paths through them and are quick to point them out to visitors.

Counterintuitively, land mines have been a benefit in one location. During the war over the Falkland Islands between Britain and Argentina in 1982, more than 18,000 land mines were placed along coastal areas near the town of Stanley, the capital, on East Falkland. Many of these areas are still mined (and fenced off and marked with warning signs), making it impossible for people to inhabit them. 

However, penguins of the five species that call the islands home are far too light to trip the mines, and, free from the intrusions of people and development, their numbers have soared to over a million individuals. 

As demonstrated in the letters quoted at the beginning of this column, many ITN subscribers feel close to this magazine and those who read it, so it is with a certain concern and trust that some share even intimate accounts, if it will benefit others. The following concerns such an account.

In the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) security screening areas of many airports in the US, passengers must pass through body-scanning machines, also known as millimeter-wave machines (Feb. ’16, pg. 2). These machines use low-level electromagnetic waves that penetrate clothing and reflect off objects.

Due to the waves’ frequency or wavelength, however, they also reflect off of water, thus sweat-soaked or damp clothing can mask the signal, raising a false alarm of the possibility of a dangerous object and necessitating a TSA agent to screen the traveler using other means, such as a pat-down.

While a spill of water or coffee on one’s clothing may not create much of a problem, one ITN subscriber wanted readers to know that he almost missed a flight because TSA agents refused to give him a pat-down after the scanning machine detected dampness in his trousers. (This was at Los Angeles International Airport [LAX] in January 2015.)

Fortunately, he had an extra pair of pants in his carry-on bag and, after changing in a restroom, he successfully passed through the scanner and caught his flight. No pat-down was necessary.

The TSA Public Affairs manager at LAX responded to ITN’s request for more information on their screening policies with, “It’s a call of our supervisor on duty whether or not a passenger will be screened. With soiled pants, with or without gloves, the hygienic issue presented is reason enough not to screen a passenger. As well, it’s unlikely the airline would have allowed him to board.”

Anyone for whom incontinence is a problem might want to keep a change of clothing in his or her carry-on.

CORRECTIONS to note — 

• John Doellinger and Gail Riba of Wimauma, Florida, wrote, “Regarding the item about Shakespeare’s Schoolroom & Guildhall, which opened to the public on April 23 (April ’16, pg. 4), please note that Shakespeare was born on that date in 1564 and died on the same date, April 23, in 1616, so this year is the 400th anniversary of his death, not, as reported, of his birth.”

• Jim Stefan of Sarasota, Florida, wrote, “The item about the Slovenian architect museum (April ’16, pg. 68) mentions that it reopened in 2015 after having been closed since 1992. Just for the record, I went to that museum in September 2007 and it was definitely open… and very worthwhile to visit.”

Thanks for your email, Jim. We rechecked our sources and found that in 1992, many “departments” in the building were moved to another location, but we incorrectly assumed that the old location of the museum was closed at that point. That was not the case.

• In his article “An Apartment in Provence” (May ’16, pg. 32), Marvin Silverman mentioned having a meal with a friend at the well-known La Colombe d’Or in St. Paul de Vence in the Provence region of France. The cost quoted for the meal should have specified that it was about $65 per person.  


And now it’s time to reveal the results of our “Where Were You In 2015?” unofficial poll. This is a tradition started by the late Armond Noble, who created ITN. At the beginning of each year, we ask our subscribers to each send us their list of countries visited (outside of their own country) in the previous calendar year, and we promise prizes for a few lucky respondents.

Well, we’ve collected all the emails, letters and postcards. So where did your fellow subscribers go last year? 

ITN subscribers set foot in 161 countries and named an additional 29 territories plus Antarctica, on average visiting 6.7 places apiece (practically the same as in 2014)!

In fact, we found that 2.9% of respondents each visited more than 20 countries and/or territories! Another 16.1% each visited 11 to 20 places, 28.9% went to 6 to 10, 44.4% went to 2 to 5, and 7.7% went to only one foreign destination in 2015. To name names, Richard and Susan Slaymaker of Clinton, Mississippi, visited 27 countries and territories, the most of any respondents. (Sorry, we’re offering no prize for that. This isn’t a competition; we’re just impressed.)

As for regions visited (and there’s plenty of crossover), 74.7% set foot in Europe, 43.6% went to Asia/Middle East, 41% traveled to another country or territory in North America/Caribbean, 22% headed to South America, 20.5% visited Africa and 11.7% made it all the way to Oceania.

The race for the top spot of 2015’s Most Visited Country was neck and neck until literally the final day on which entries could be accepted. In the end, it was a tie between 2014’s most-visited country, the United Kingdom, and France, each listed by 23.8% of respondents.

In third place was Italy, visited by 19.8% of our readers, followed by Germany (19%), Spain (16.8%), Canada (16.1%), Mexico (13.6%), Greece and the Netherlands (each with 12.1%) and, in tenth place, Turkey (9.2%).

Based on ITN’s Official List of Nations (visit www.intltravelnews.com and click on “Resources”… or see page 58 in this issue), here are the rankings of the rest of the countries reported visited by ITN subscribers in 2015, in descending order.

In 11th place, we continue with both Portugal and China (a mention of China plus Hong Kong, Macau or Tibet was counted as one visit to China), followed by 13. Australia and Croatia, 15. Russia, 16. Austria, Chile (including visits to Rapa Nui), Ireland, Singapore and South Africa, 21. Argentina, India, Indonesia and Thailand, 25. Montenegro and United Arab Emirates, 27. Colombia, Costa Rica, Morocco, Panama and Peru, 32. Belgium and Japan, 34. Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Malaysia, Myanmar and Norway, 40. Hungary, New Zealand, Sweden and Switzerland, 44. Bosnia & Herzegovina, Cuba, Finland, Israel/Palestinian Territories and Latvia, 49. Botswana, Brazil, Malta and Slovenia, 53. Albania, Barbados, Ecuador (including visits to the Galápagos Islands), Guatemala, Iceland, Lithuania and Oman, 60. Cambodia, Nicaragua, Sri Lanka, Tanzania (including visits to Zanzibar) and Zimbabwe, 65. Bulgaria, Grenada, Poland and St. Kitts & Nevis, 69. Georgia, Jordan, Macedonia, Namibia, Nepal, Serbia, Slovakia, Uzbekistan and Vietnam, 78. Bahamas, Kazakhstan, Luxembourg, South Korea, Turkmenistan and Zambia, 84. Azerbaijan, Bhutan, Cape Verde, Honduras, Jamaica, Kosovo, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Philippines, Romania and Taiwan, 95. Armenia, Belize, Dominican Republic, Ethiopia, Fiji, Madagascar, Monaco, San Marino, St. Lucia, Tajikistan and Uruguay, 106. Angola, Cyprus (including visits to Northern Cyprus), Egypt, Guyana, Haiti, Maldives, Mauritius, Palau, Qatar, Samoa, São Tomé & Príncipe, Seychelles, St. Vincent & the Grenadines, Suriname, Tonga and Trinidad & Tobago, 122. Andorra, Antigua & Barbuda, Bahrain, Bolivia, Côte d’Ivoire, El Salvador, the Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Mongolia, Senegal, Sudan, Togo and Venezuela, 136. Bangladesh, Brunei, Comoros, Dominica, Iran, Kiribati, Liechtenstein, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Moldova, Mozambique, Rwanda, Solomon Islands, Swaziland, Ukraine and Vatican City, and 152. Belarus, Malawi, Mauritania, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Tuvalu, Uganda and Vanuatu.

In addition to the nations listed above, ITN readers also reported traveling to a number of nonsovereign territories. Unlike places such as Tibet and Palestine, which may be more or less self-governing but are each physically within the borders of another country, each of these places controls its own borders but is self-governing only by the right of its administering (often distant) nation, and its citizens are considered citizens of the administering nation. These territories also rely on their administering nations for international relations and defense, among other things.

In 2015, the nonsovereign territory visited by the greatest number of our respondents was Madeira, a Portuguese territory in the Atlantic Ocean, listed by 4% of the respondents. It was followed by, in order, 2. the Cayman Islands (administered by the United Kingdom), 3. Canary Islands (Spain), French Polynesia (France), Gibraltar (UK) and Martinique (France), 7. Aruba (Netherlands) and British Virgin Islands (UK), French Guiana (France), Saint-Martin (France) and Sint Maarten (Netherlands), 12. Azores (Portugal), Bermuda (UK), Bonaire (Netherlands), Cook Islands (New Zealand), Curaçao (Netherlands), Greenland (Denmark), Mayotte (France) and the territory of St. Helena, Ascension & Tristan da Cunha (UK), 20. Falkland Islands (UK), Niue (New Zealand), Réunion (France) and Saint-Pierre & Miquelon (France), 24. Christmas Island (Australia), Guadeloupe (France), Guernsey (UK), Montserrat (UK), Pitcairn Islands (UK) and Turks & Caicos Islands (UK).

Also, 2.2% of ITN travelers shivered in Antarctica, which, by international treaty, does not belong to any country.  

No ITN readers reported going to the countries of Afghanistan, Algeria, Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Gabon, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Iraq, Kuwait, Lebanon, Lesotho, Liberia, Libya, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Paraguay, Sierra Leone, South Sudan, Syria, Timor-Leste, Tunisia or Yemen.

In analyzing the results, we discovered that some countries had big upswings in visits from the year before. Countries not reported visited in our poll of 2014 trips but listed for 2015 included Côte d’Ivoire, Marshall Islands, Mauritania, Nauru, Sudan and Tuvalu. 

Among the countries that improved their rankings in 2015, Kazakhstan moved up the most, a whopping 55 spots, from the number-133 position in 2014 to number 78 in 2015. Macedonia moved up 33 notches, from 102 to 69. Chile jumped from 40th place to 16th, and Australia slid up six spots, from 19th to 13th. Hopping into the top 10, the Netherlands went from 17th place to 8th.

Papua New Guinea had the largest descent in ranking, from position 91 in 2014 to 155 in 2015. Among other drops, Thailand went from 10 to 21, Japan went from 19 to 32, and the Philippines fell from 69 to 84.

I should note that, last year, we neglected to include Malaysia in our printed results, though we did include it in all of our calculations. It should have been listed as sharing 39th place with Bulgaria.

OK, with the “rising and falling numbers” portion of our board meeting done (I spared you the charts), let’s get to business, or, rather, the fun-and-refreshments part. Which participants in our poll are this year’s prizewinners? 

This time, noting that our poll focused on places visited in 2015, we’re passing out 15 prizes to respondents, each selected in a random drawing.

And the winner of our grand prize is… Kathie G. Larsen of Seattle, WA, who will have three years added to her ITN subscription.

We have three winners of our second-place prize, 2-year subscription extensions: John Haseman of Grand Junction, CO; Barbara McMahon of Williamsburg, PA, and Paul Wheeler of Birmingham, MI.

The next seven prizes, one-year extensions to their subscriptions, go to the following entrants: Valerie Howell of Miami, FL; John and Patti Marcus of Fairfax, VA; Paul Simon of Villa Park, CA; Karen Schneider of Chicago, IL; Sylvia Levi of Sherman Oaks, CA; Julie and Tom Cassen of Charlotte, NC, and Richard Fox of Ventura, CA.

A set of TSA-approved luggage locks is the prize for Herschel “Vince” Anderson of Mesa, AZ. We’re sending an ITN mug to both Susan Hamilton of Boulder, CO, and Martha Calta of Fairfax, VA. And the winner of the last ITN travel hat EVER is Robert Morton of St. Louis, MO.

I thank all of you who took part in our unofficial poll, sending in lists of destinations you went to last year. Aside from keeping ITN staff informed about the locations in which our readers have been most interested, the data helps us in promoting the magazine to potential advertisers. 

You may have noticed that advertisements in ITN often involve off-the-beaten-track and far-flung destinations, places you don’t always see advertised in your local paper’s Sunday travel section. In ITN, however, such ads get results.

If an ad in this issue catches your eye and you contact the travel firm for any reason, let them know that you saw them in ITN. It all helps keep the news coming.