Tips for Travel in the Digital Age

Angel Castellanos is a confident young traveler, so young in appearance you might not want to trust him with the family car. But when it comes to traveling in the digital age, his expertise is impressive.

Angel Castellanos is a confident young traveler, so young in appearance you might not want to trust him with the family car. But his confidence when he talks about travel in the digital age is partly founded on the reality that computers are better handled by the young but also based on the fact that he’s older than he looks—and he started young. “My photograph in my first passport was black and white,” he says, then goes on to reveal he has traveled through 45 countries in 4 continents for 10 years.

He is experienced. It shows. He is speaking to a sold-out crowd at the San Diego Travel and Adventure Show on Feb. 15. The show will be coming to a half dozen other United States cities in the next 12 months. (Details here.) It is an inexpensive, fun 2 days with informative enthusiastic speakers, but for this story we will discuss the rapid machine-gun useful stuff Angel shoots at his audience.

When we finally get down to study our notes this is what we have learned from this young guy passionate about travel.

Traveling with a cellphone.

Learn about the useful cell phone apps for travel. His favorites include Skype, TripIt, HotelTonight, ITA, Rick Steves’ Audio Europe, Expense Tracker, Gas Buddy, Glass Jar, DB Train app, currency converters, and language translators. He particularly likes Google Translator. He can translate foreign menus by pointing his iPhone at them and he can get a waiter to talk the choices into his iPhone and the app translates!

What an advance! In Germany 25 years ago I tried to order from the menu in broken German and was interrupted by a local diner who asked, “May I help you? You have just ordered a coat hanger!”

Says Castellanos, who favors Apple products so if you are using a Droid you will have to find equivalent apps, “Before you leave the United States, bookmark important places in Google Maps such as your hotels, load Pocket Earth and apps like City Mapper. Here for example is the City Mapper for Paris and the beauty of the app is if you want to go from A to B, the app will show you which option makes more sense: Car, public transportation or walking, for example.

If he’s driving in the USA he uses the controversial Waze which saves his having to pay for GPS on a car rental; it offers helpful live traffic reports but warns of speed traps, which displeases government agencies.

Castellanos mentions what some smartphone users already know: You can go to, say, Google Maps and take a screen shot (on the iPhone it’s the top and bottom button and click! what you are looking at is now an image in your Photos). This protocol has 2 advantages. 1) You can photograph subway maps at the point where you entered the system to remind you of your return point and 2) you avoid showing yourself to pickpockets as a naive tourist sitting on a park bench with a huge map in your lap. He photographs rental cars at the beginning and when he returns them to prove they were not damaged.

Traveling Well, Smart and Often

Castellanos’ energetic presentation to make traveling more fun comes fast and furious. It’s hard to write down his suggestions and not make them sound like telegrams but here goes:

Angelo is like a conjuror pulling rabbits out of a hat when he displays the contents of his carry-on that would give him 2 weeks’ travel!

If you haven’t bought luggage in the last few years you need to do so. Four wheels make more sense. You can walk comfortably upright with your carry-on right down the aircraft central aisle and if the streets are cobbled go back to using two wheels. For safaris where the tour operators ask for your possessions in soft duffels, you can’t beat brand name Eagle Creek (who really started the quality duffel market).

Before you travel, call your credit card company and your bank—but be very specific with your trip and its routing. And speak to the right person, not just Customer Relations but ask for the fraud department and give the particulars to that office. Make the calls from your cell phone so you have the telephone number now in your contact information.

Photograph your passport in color mode and photograph the back of your credit card to save its telephone numbers. Create extra passport photographs and have them with you but do not store your photo copies with any originals, you may be able to use those photos for rail passes and so on.

His advice may give personal physicians more work. He says, for long foreign vacations, travelers should carry medical information, and the list of their medications on a letter from their doctors on their letterheads for credibility. Couples should have their own doctor’s letter and a copy of their companion’s.

Travel today is about personal responsibility. “Gone are the days when Dad holds all the passports,” he says. Each family member should have a RFID travel wallet. RFID (Radio Frequency I-D technology is used to track sensitive data in many of today’s transactions and can be easily scanned without your ever knowing. If you wear such a blocking wallet on a lanyard under your clothes the device hides your wallet from pickpockets and blocks its contents from high-tech thieves.

Castellanos is aware that all this is a 2-edged sword. “Travel is not for fearful people,” he says.

The answer to fear is apparently to be sophisticated. He doesn’t put his personal possessions into the TSA bowl in security but uses the top pocket of his carry on. He clearly feels we all should understand the 3-1-1 TSA rules for liquids and follow them.

Your suitcase may have itineraries and home and hotel addresses inside but all that should be on the luggage outside label is name, email, and cell phone number. We should not advertise that our home is unoccupied. We ourselves advise travelers to put an office address on their luggage labels not their home address for the same reason.

Our speaker has the confidence that comes from youth and experience.

On busy routes we’ve all noticed airlines don’t have time to disinfect or even clean aircraft. TSA employees going through dirty bags then your clean ones wear those blue plastic gloves to protect their hands not yours. Same for aircraft cleaning staff. Castellanos, once he is settled in his plane seat, tries to sterilize parts of the aircraft that he may touch. He may have a point especially when we read about cruise lines and their norovirus problems.

He agrees travelers checks no longer are useful. ATMs are everywhere but use only bank-owned ATMs, take out the maximum and covert the funds into your petty cash hidden in your special wallets. Avoid multiple withdrawals because of escalating fees.

If you check the website you will find other hints such as diversifying your funds on your person, and he even suggests you obtain a stout rubber band to wrap around your wallet to increase friction. He has luggage advice and packing hints, too. He has it all online at Angel’s Travel Lounge. It’s even a fun read.

Angelo favors keeping all his electronics together and in your carryon bag. He favors Eagle Creek as many experience travels do. He doesn’t escape the crowd when he thinks he’s done for the day; they still surround him with questions. Our question would be: if all your information is on your cell phone and it gets stolen, what then? We suppose the answer is that’s why security and theft protection should be a prime concern of travelers.

The Andersons, who live in San Diego, are the resident travel & cruise columnists for Physician's Money Digest. Nancy is a former nursing educator, Eric a retired MD. The one-time president of the New Hampshire Academy of Family Physicians, Eric is the only physician in the Society of American Travel Writers. He has also written 5 books, the last called The Man Who Cried Orange: Stories from a Doctor's Life.