Possible laptops-in-carryons ban. Online sources of current travel warnings. “The Mindful Traveler.”

By David Tykol
This item appears on page 2 of the July 2017 issue.

Dear Globetrotter:

Welcome to the 497th issue of your monthly foreign-travel magazine.

Before I get into the latest news and all, I want to remind you about the helpful new addition that we made to our website, which I told you about last month.

If you are an ITN subscriber who feels you have had a travel insurance claim improperly denied, you can apply to have a claims adjuster from the online travel insurance broker Squaremouth (www.squaremouth.com) investigate your claim and possibly mediate on your behalf — for free — in an effort to get the denial reversed. 

There is no guarantee that your case will be selected for review, nor can Squaremouth guarantee a reversal in the denial of your claim, but — hey! — it’s worth a shot.

If you do take advantage of this resource, the link for which you will find on our homepage, please write to ITN so that we may share the outcome — or anything you learned — with your fellow subscribers.

On March 20, citing credible information that terrorists were working on an explosive that could fit inside of a large electronic device like a laptop or tablet, the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) banned all such electronics from carry-on luggage on flights operated by the national airlines coming direct to the US from 10 airports in eight countries: Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the UAE (May ’17, pg. 2). Those items would have to be checked into the cargo hold. In the following weeks, the DHS considered expanding the laptop ban to flights to the US originating in European countries as well. 

On May 29, the EU announced that, after negotiating with the DHS, there would be no laptops-in-carryons ban aboard flights from Europe to the US. However, the DHS disputed this claim and further suggested that it was possible it would institute a complete ban on electronics in carry-on bags on all international flights into the US.

As of press time, no definitive rule or statement had been made regarding whether or not passengers’ electronics would be relegated to their checked baggage. 

A clear example of the dangers of instilling such a rule occurred on May 30, when a JetBlue flight from New York to San Francisco had to be diverted to Grand Rapids, Michigan, after the lithium battery in a passenger’s laptop burst into flames. The laptop was not being used at the time; it was simply sitting in a carry-on bag. Since the laptop was in the cabin, the crew was able to extinguish the flames long before they threatened the plane. If the laptop had been in the hold, surrounded by flammable material, that may not have been possible.

Whatever decision the DHS makes about electronics in carry-ons, let’s hope it is measured and has the best interests of safety in mind and not just fear.

In last month’s “News Watch” section, we printed an item about an attack on a popular tourist island in the Philippines — Bohol — by the terrorist organization Abu Sayyaf. While, sadly, this kind of event has happened several times in the southern Philippines, it’s important to note that just two days before that attack occurred, the US Embassy in Manila informed US citizens on its website that there was credible intelligence indicating that Abu Sayyaf would attempt to kidnap a tourist somewhere among Bohol’s island chain.

• Each month in ITN, we print the list of countries that the US Department of State recommends travelers avoid (see page 64). Philippines is currently on that list. These official Travel Warnings, however, are of a general nature, describing known groups that present threats in each country, giving details of specific past events and making sweeping cautions about possible future events. (Visit travel.state.gov and, in the “Alerts & Warnings” box, click on “SEE ALL ALERTS AND WARNINGS.”)

However, these warnings are updated only periodically. Even as this issue of ITN was going to press, almost two months after the terrorist attack occurred, and two weeks after the eruption of new extensive fighting (see page 18), the Philippines warning hadn’t been updated since Dec. 20, 2016.

There are two ways you can learn about more immediate warnings that have been issued.

• The first is to visit the website of the embassy in the country you’re planning to visit and, under the heading “U.S. Citizen Services,” click on and read the “Safety & Security Messages.” (Though some embassies use different headings, typically the link to the messages will include the word “safety” or “security.”)

A link to each US Embassy can be found at www.usembassy.gov. After choosing a country, clicking on the name of the embassy will take you to their website. (North Korea is the only country with no diplomatic relations with the US at all.)

• The second way to be kept up to date is to enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). When you belong to STEP, you let the State Department know where you’re planning to travel, and then you regularly are electronically sent news and warnings and can receive assistance from the embassy in that nation. You can fill out an application for STEP at step.state.gov. Enrollment in STEP is free.

• A fourth source of security information — updated less often than even the official Travel Warnings list but containing descriptions of past incidents of crime and terrorism that are not found on the official Travel Warnings page — are the country information pages that can be found at the State Department’s travel website (travel.state.gov).

Type the country’s name into the search box on the left-hand side of the homepage (labeled “Learn about your destination”). On the country’s page, click on “Safety and Security.”

For example, southern Thailand is home to a number of separatist groups that have set off bombs indiscriminately in the recent past, and you will find a listing of some of those attacks on Thailand’s page on the State Department’s travel website, yet Thailand is not one of the countries on the official Travel Warnings list.

Be aware that, for reasons either political or practical, the mentions of many incidents of possible concern are left out of countries’ “Safety and Security” sections on the State Department’s travel website. By the way, those sections also contain advisories about crime, public transportation, currency, etc.

It should be noted that for any country, though the US Embassy website and the travel.state.gov site each use the heading “Safety and Security,” they each will have a different set of messages posted under that heading.

An encouraging update — 

In May, I warned American travelers about a European Union (EU) Parliament proposal to end visa-free travel by US citizens in EU countries.

The proposal was made because the US was continuing to require visas of citizens of Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Poland and Romania (all members of the EU) when they traveled to the US. Because EU laws stipulate that all of its citizens must be treated equally, the EU requested, in 2014, that the US rescind those visa restrictions or face reciprocity.

The US has not ended those restrictions. However, thankfully, for US travelers, the proposal was shelved May 2 after US and EU officials negotiated a deal that would eventually bring the outlying EU countries into the United States’ visa-waiver program, though a date has not been set for that to occur.


• The Travel Brief “Concert Hall in Berlin” (May ’17, pg. 12) stated that the new Pierre Boulez Saal would be a “venue for young musicians from Israel and the Middle East.”

Sparked by a question from Edna R.S. Alvarez of Los Angeles, California, we would add that the concert hall is a venue for those students because it is the performance stage within the Barenboim-Said Academy — whose mission is to bring Middle Eastern and Israeli music students together to encourage cooperation and dialog through music instruction and performance — but it is not exclusively a venue for those students. Concerts by other performers will also be held there. 

We appreciate your asking, Edna.

• In the letter titled “Breaking a Leg in the Bush” in the May issue, on page 27 the subscriber mentioned the Olasiti Lodge “in Arusha, Kenya.” I claim fault for this one. In a last-minute edit, I added the name of the country, but, even though I’ve been to that city, which is in Tanzania, for some reason I typed “Kenya.”

I thank Sally Bingley of Richmond, Virginia, for reporting that error.

• Philip Shart of Tamarac, Florida, reported an error in his own letter, “‘Sunny Portugal’ with Collette” (May ’17, pg. 30). You’ll realize his itinerary, which ended on Nov. 20, 2016, was much less rushed once you know that he flew to Lisbon from Miami not on Nov. 16 but on Nov. 11.

• In the feature article on Ireland in that same issue, on page 33 the writer mentioned the friendly proprietress Yvonne at Butler House in Kilkenny. Actually, the author stayed at the nearby lodging called Butler Court (Patrick Street, Kilkenny City; phone +353 56 7761178, butlercourt.com), run by John and Yvonne Dalton.

Lorraine Kerwick from Butler House kindly straightened us out on that.

• Patrick Wikstrom of Warne, North Carolina, wrote, “I greatly enjoyed reading the article about the Crystal Serenity’s 32-day Northwest Passage cruise from Seward, Alaska, eastward “over the top of Canada” to the Atlantic and New York City, but I was left wondering if the author had also enjoyed a pre-cruise Inside Passage voyage. 

“I noticed that the article included pictures of the town of Ketchikan and, outside of Juneau, the Menden­hall Glacier. Both are well south of the stated embarkation point at Seward. What’s the story?”

You’re right, Patrick. We contacted the author, who wrote, “Yes, I did a 10-day segment from Vancouver to Seward immediately prior to the Northwest Passage cruise, and I should have noted that in the article in order to make those two photos relevant. Sorry!”

And here’s a news flash from Al Podell of New York, New York: “I just tried to book the Northwest Passage cruise and learned that Crystal Cruises will be discontinuing the trip after their cruise this August. My travel agent also told me that no other big-ship cruise line is making, or planning to make, the trip during at least the next two years.” 

ITN contacted the cruise line, and a representative confirmed, “The 2017 Northwest Passage cruise on Crystal Serenity will be the last sailing on one of Crystal’s classic ocean ships.”

She added, “However, we do plan to return to the Arctic region when we launch Crystal Endeavor in 2019 under the Crystal Yacht Expedition Cruises brand name, as this vessel will be the first purpose-built polar-class megayacht….”

• Dave Brown of Wailuku, Hawaii, noticed that in the map within the article on Guadalajara, Mexico (June ’17, pg. 44), the boundaries between Belize, Guatemala and Honduras were misdrawn, cutting northern Guatemala off from the sea. 

He wrote, “I just got back from a cruise which included Guatemala, and Guatemala does have land and ports on the Caribbean.” 

Yes, it accesses the Caribbean via the Gulf of Honduras.

Not much gets past our well-traveled audience. If any of you see something that is incorrect, please let us know about it so we can set the record straight… in print and on our website.

Updates are welcome too. 

Jane B. and Clyde F. Holt of Hinesburg, Vermont, wrote, “Here’s an addendum to our letter about the Denpo¯-in temple garden in Tokyo (April ’17, pg. 14).

“We returned from another trip to Japan in late April 2017. The 5-story pagoda of Senso¯-ji, which is visible from the Denpo¯-in garden and which serves as a lovely bit of borrowed scenery for photographs (along with the Tokyo SkyTree, which is an unpleasant addition to the scene), is currently being renovated and will be under wraps until September 2017.

“While the pagoda may add a lovely backdrop to your photos, the large gray tarp which presently covers it most certainly will not.”

An announcement I’m happy to make —

As a traveler, you may be familiar with Magellan’s Travel Supplies, a company that sells travel products by mail-order. Established in Santa Barbara, California, in 1989 by two former employees of Pan American World Airways, John and Gloria McManus, it grew to an international level during the 16 years the McManuses owned the business.

In 2005, Magellan’s was sold to a private-equity company, and in 2006 Mark Gallo stepped in as its president and CEO, serving the company until 2012. Early in his tenure, Mark contacted ITN’s publisher, the late Armond Noble, and an ad for Magellan’s began running in this magazine, continuing for many years. 

In 2014, the mail-order catalog — along with the “Magellan’s” brand name, most of the inventory and the catalog mailing list of customers’ names and addresses — was sold to the Massachusetts-based Potpourri Group, which continues to send out the catalog of travel merchandise (Magellans.com)

At the same time, Mark Gallo purchased the Santa Barbara brick-and-mortar outlet of Magellan’s plus its on-site inventory and the mailing list of its local customers. He retained the experienced Magellan’s staff and renamed his store CircaTerra Travel Outfitters (3317-A State St., Santa Barbara, CA 93105; 805/568-5402, circaterratravel.com).

That store continues to thrive, selling a mix of new gear and clothing and tried-and-true travel products. (By the way, the CircaTerra store still honors old Magellan’s store gift cards, if you’ve got ’em.)

In March of this year, Mark Gallo paid a visit to our offices in Sacramento, and I’m pleased to announce that, starting this month, Mark will be writing a column for ITN. Entitled “The Mindful Traveler,” it will provide insights, information and practical advice for travelers. (This month’s topic — guidelines on tipping in other countries.)

Welcome aboard, Mark!

The basis of this magazine is that we print letters, articles and pictures from our subscribers, people who enjoy traveling to other countries. Tell us about a hotel or tour that you recently enjoyed (or did not enjoy) or share a report on a special destination. What would the next person to travel there appreciate knowing about?