The Mindful Traveler

Save your places of interest with the star button.

After my 2-part article "They're Called Smartphones for Good Reason" ran in the February and March 2018 issues, a number of readers wrote with suggestions and comments about using smartphones for saving critical itinerary information and navigating with maps, especially while offline.

The following are the most helpful tips, along with my own comments. All my comments pertain to using an iPhone with iOS version 11.4.1 and the latest update of Google Maps as of 8/8/18....


The title of this month’s column is oxymoronic. It would be more appropriate to call it “Trying to be less miserable in coach” (that is, in an airline’s economy-class seat).

If you’re like me, you’ve become inured to the increasingly class-based system of paying for passenger preferences. It’s like background noise: after a while, we don’t really notice it until something new jumps out or we jump back in after a long absence. We go after...


Smartphones have a number of functions that travelers find most useful, and I began describing a few of them last month, including the camera, the Geotagging feature and Google Maps. I’ve been referencing the iPhone 6’s functionality, since that’s what I use, but Android phones are similarly capable, if not more so. 


Like millions of other people, I’ve become a big fan of Uber, the phone app where you tap a button and get a ride that...


They’re called smartphones for good reason

(First of two parts)

I prefer to use my bike to get around my hometown of Santa Barbara, so I see firsthand the number-one distraction of modern life: the smartphone. And it’s not just drivers who are distracted; cyclists and pedestrians are guilty of it too. 

On the other hand, the device has been positively life-transforming. For travelers, the smartphone is like a digital Swiss Army knife —...

An RFID-blocking wallet can prevent data thieves from remotely scanning RFID chips, such as those in passports and some driver’s licenses. Photo by Mark Gallo

There is a lot of confusion and fear among consumers when it comes to protecting their personal information on credit cards containing computer chips and on US passports with RFID chips buried inside. Also, some states issue so-called “enhanced driver’s licenses” with RFID chips. 

Here’s a simple explanation of this technology and how you can guard against data theft.

Credit cards with chips

As a means to combat counterfeiting of...

In some places — like this bamboo grove in the Arashiyama district west of Kyoto, Japan — travelers need to be aware that mosquitoes may be present. Photo by Mark Gallo

Understandably, the Zika virus is getting plenty of attention right now for travelers considering visiting Brazil or the Caribbean; however, mosquito-borne diseases like dengue fever, malaria and chikungunya are much more widespread.

Dengue is considered a leading cause of illness and death in the tropics, according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), with an estimated 400 million people infected yearly. It occurs in more urban areas than does malaria...

Australia Plug

Traveling with a hair dryer or curling iron? It may or may not require a converter to safely power up overseas. How about your cell phone and tablet? These have built-in voltage converters, so only an adapter is needed to plug into a foreign wall socket. 

Here is the skinny on powering up your devices in foreign lands.

Adapter or converter?

Most of the time, what you need for plugging in overseas is simply an adapter plug, not a converter. 

While it...


If you ask 10 Americans how they tip in the US, you’ll get 10 different answers, right? 

These days, nicer restaurants typically expect 15% to 20% on top of the bill for good service, and 18% or more is often added onto the bill for larger parties. But that doesn’t mean that’s what folks will tip. 

Do you deduct tax from the total before you calculate the tip in a restaurant?

With cab fare, you might tip up to 10% or just round up the fare by...