Airport security in India. Also, a Google Maps primer.

By David Tykol
This item appears on page 2 of the December 2012 issue.

Dear Globetrotter:

Welcome to the 442nd issue of your monthly foreign-travel magazine, the one that prints the reports you send in.

In the July issue, I wrote on the rules about having spare batteries, particularly lithium batteries, in checked luggage and carry-ons on planes. I then made this request of ITN subscribers: “After you next board a flight within or from India, or if you recently did so, tell us what regulations you were made aware of in regard to packing spare batteries in your checked luggage and whether or not the rules were different for lithium batteries.”

GeoEye-1 satellite image of part of Bangalore, India. Photo courtesy of eMap International

Gail Riba of Wimauma, Florida, wrote, “On a photography tour to Bhutan, my husband and I flew from Gujarati, India, to Bangkok, Thailand, aboard Drukair on May 10, 2012. There were 11 photographers and two tour leaders on the trip. We each had more than one camera and, naturally, many batteries.

“I had all my cameras and batteries in my carry-on luggage. All the cameras had batteries in them. The spare alkaline AA and rechargeable AA batteries were in a plastic case with grooves to separate them from each other. The batteries for my SLR camera were loose but with covers on them.

“We were never questioned about the number or types of batteries we had.”

Jane B. Holt of Hinesburg, Vermont, wrote, “Since my husband, Clyde, and I began traveling annually to India, we have wrestled with the rules regarding batteries on Indian airlines. We travel with numerous expensive and, now, irreplaceable lithium batteries for our cameras. After eight trips to India in as many years, we still are uncertain exactly what the rules are and whether and how they will be enforced.

“Back in 2004, we had read in guidebooks and online that no batteries were allowed in carry-ons on flights within or from India. The fading signs we saw in domestic airports in Jodhpur, Jaipur, Khajuraho and Varanasi prominently listed batteries among the items forbidden in carry-ons.

“For our first flight, I removed all batteries from our cameras, CD player, headphones, watches, etc., and put them in our checked luggage; I left two AAA batteries in each of our three PDAs in our carry-ons. We sailed through security with no problem; no agents said anything about the batteries.

“For our remaining flights, I left all batteries in place in all devices in our carry-ons and put the spares in our checked bags. Before our last domestic flight, from Varanasi, after our bags went through x-ray, a hand search turned up an unopened package of AA batteries buried and forgotten in my husband’s camera case. The security woman didn’t seem to care and put them right back in.

“Since then, on these trips, we have been cavalier about packing batteries for the domestic flights. It is India, after all, and a lot seems to depend on the whim of the security guard. We travel with many lithium, AA and AAA batteries for our electrical devices, some in our checked luggage, some in our carry-ons.

“Whenever we enter an airport in India, whether for a domestic or international flight, our checked luggage is x-rayed before check-in and sealed with a plastic band. We have on occasion had to open our bags and explain the assortment of multi-tools, pocket knives, telescoping canes and other hardware.

Our carry-on luggage is screened quite meticulously by both x-ray and visual inspection, sometimes two or three inspections. At times, we have had to open the battery compartments of the cameras to show how the spare lithium batteries fit, but there has never been anything other than puzzled looks and raised eyebrows.

“Where we have seen signs in airports proclaiming the rules, they have applied to all airlines, not just Air India. In newer airports, we’ve seen no signs at all. We have never asked about the rules at the airport, since we do not want to call attention to the matter, but we have never had anyone confiscate batteries nor threaten to do so.

“I should mention that India has a different set of rules regarding liquids. We have been told that no liquids of any sort nor in any amount are allowed in carry-on luggage for flights within or from India. Certainly, during a March-April 2012 trip, no liquids of any kind were allowed on domestic and international flights from Delhi.

“There were no signs warning of this. Our trusted meet-and-greet had advised us of this rule beforehand, so we were able to put all liquids into our checked luggage before checking in.”

Mort Blake of Miami Beach, Florida, got around to writing about something he learned on a trip he took in May 2011.

He wrote, “My wife and I flew to Venice. Online, through, I had reserved a car from Thrifty to be picked up at the airport. At the Thrifty counter, I was informed that I would not be allowed to drive outside of Italy. Since we wanted to visit other countries, I had to rent with another company (Europcar) at the airport at a cost $500 above the original rental cost.

“Back home, I went back online, found Orbitz’s link to Thrifty’s website, dug into the restrictions and saw that they do not allow driving into adjacent Slovenia, which they categorized as Eastern Europe.

“When checking with the other major companies at the airport, I asked about driving into Slovenia and none of them had such a restriction.

“I think that such restrictions should be prominently displayed at the point of rental. In my case, the point of rental was the Orbitz website; I should not have had to learn about the restrictions by linking to another site.”

The lesson here — before making a rental car reservation through an online-booking site like Orbitz, check the website of the rental company, itself, for rules and restrictions.

The Royal Geographical Society, in London, is soliciting travelers’ pictures taken out of airplane windows at various altitudes for its Hidden Journeys Project. Selected aerial pictures of things on the ground will be added to others of daily life in areas along particular flight paths. Those plus educational material will provide — for students and the general public — a broad introduction to various countries, highlighting the contrasts between them.

If a photo of yours coincides with one of the flight paths on the website and is of good quality, it might be published on the website along with a photo credit.

The minimum information required with each photograph is a short description of the main subject in the picture plus the route (from which city to which city) you were flying when the picture was taken. Information regarding location coordinates and altitude would be helpful but is not essential. Photos that are out of focus or overprocessed cannot be used.

Visit the website and click on one of the “journeys,” such as “Hong Kong to Singapore,” then on “Explore the flight path” to see a number of images. From there, click on (to the left) “Contribute to Hidden Journeys.”

Images for the project can also be submitted at the Hidden Journeys Flickr group, where more than 1,000 photos sent in for the project can be viewed. More “journeys” will be added.

Those of you with Internet access have probably used Google Maps. In addition to calling up neighborhood street maps (by typing a street name or full address in the search bar) and getting directions from one place to another, you can pick any point on most of the globe to see a photograph that was taken of it from an orbiting satellite, even zooming in for a close-up. (Some classified locations are not available.)

For example, from a Google street map of your town, click on the box that says “Satellite” in the upper-right corner. Using the zoom tool (that looks like a thermometer), on the left side of the image, you can zoom in on your neighborhood, look for your home’s rooftop and yard and try to tell in what season the picture was taken.

(For more on how to use the maps, go to the help page.)

Google Maps also has a Street View option that allows you to pick particular places on the planet and review the sights from ground level.

Since 2007, Google has used cameras — lots of them mounted in one spot on a vehicle and pointing in every direction — to take pictures all over the world in major cities and other places, providing panoramic still pictures taken in sequence. It’s now a simple matter to go online to check out the neighborhood of a hotel you’re considering using or a restaurant you’re planning to visit.

On the Google Maps website, type an address or the name of a famous site (ex., “Eiffel Tower, Paris”) or street or town into the search bar and, once the map for that area loads, use the zoom tool to enlarge the target area, if necessary, finding the road you want.

Click on the little-yellow-man icon (located above the zoom tool) and drag him onto the street map. There will be a little green oval hovering under him that you’ll need to place onto a street on the map, then release your mouse button.

Up comes a photograph taken at that spot, one of many snapped as the vehicle drove along. Move your pointer over the picture and directional arrows will appear. Click on one to rotate the image (as if turning your head) or to virtually move up or down the street. You can also navigate directly on the screen image by holding down your mouse button and slowly dragging the pointer to the left or right.

For the privacy of those who happened to be caught on camera, faces, license plates and other personal information have been blurred out. In some countries, like Germany, residents who don’t want their house, store, barn, etc., to be shown can opt out, which results in an occasional blanked-out area on the photos.

Most major cities and towns in the US and Canada and many cities in Europe have been cataloged. The coverage for cities in South America, Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Russia is much more limited.

In August 2011, Google volunteers began taking cameras on boats and bicycles in the Amazon, recording panoramic images along a 50-kilometer stretch of the Rio Negro River near Manaus, Brazil. Google also has cataloged parts of Antarctica, the Swiss Alps and other off-road places; visit the gallery here.

In October, a hiker descended into the Grand Canyon in Arizona wearing a backpack that held a metal ball over his head with 15 cameras mounted on it pointing in all directions, in addition to GPS equipment to record location data. The results will be posted after a few months, once Google software sequences all the images.

And in May, Google Maps, along with UNESCO, the World Monuments Fund, Getty Images, Panoramio, YouTube and others, came out with several collections of panoramic “street views” of many ancient, modern and natural wonders of the world. The World Wonders website, showcases 132-plus locations in 18 countries, including Pompeii, the Palace of Versailles and Itsukushima Shinto Shrine.

Information on each site is provided by UNESCO and the World Heritage Centre, and there are extra galleries of photos as well as some contributed by the public from the website

Seeing pictures or even a movie about a place never measures up to actually being there, reacting to the sum of what our physical senses provide, but these tools from Google can answer a lot of questions.

Anita Lees of Vista, California, wrote, “I took a trip to Bolivia in September ’12 with Lifebound Tours (Fallbrook, CA). Company owner Rick Marin advertised his trip in ITN’s The MART, which is how I found out about it. The trip was great, and I will travel with him again.

“I am a Lifetime Subscriber to ITN and look forward to receiving every copy. Please send complimentary copies to the following, who joined me on this adventure.”

Anita enclosed a list of names and addresses, each of which was put on the list to get a free sample copy of the next issue.

Something to tell your traveling friends — unlike most publications and many businesses, ITN does not sell or trade anyone’s name and address to any other firm. We work to keep your trust.

Dale Wilson of Paris, Kentucky, wrote, “Keep up the great work. We have requested at least a dozen free copies of your magazine for friends. We hope they signed up.”

Marvin Feldman of Jacksonville, Florida, called in to say, “My wife and I are new subscribers to ITN and just got our third issue. Your magazine just knocks the socks off of us! Unlike the slick magazines that just sell fancy cruises and tours, yours has interesting stories off the beaten track, our kind of travel.”

ITN has stories about ALL kinds of travel, of course, including luxury trips. But if you read in ITN a subscriber’s recommendation for a hotel and you can tell us about a satisfactory accommodation that you stayed at recently in the same area for a lot less money per night, a chunk of our subscribers would appreciate your writing in about it.

Places that are “simply adequate” but provide what they promise are worth mentioning, as travelers have different budgets. Include contact info or directions, a little bit about the “amenities” and info on the neighborhood, the approximate nightly rate and when you were there.

This magazine reflects the adventures of its subscribers. From sipping tea by the Thames to hiking in Tierra de Fuego, someone is interested in how you arranged to get someplace and what it was like. Write it up and send it in… with pictures, if you have them. — DT