Newsletter: Escapes: Put down the phone and pay attention to the slice of heaven that is Alaska



That’s the number of times we check our smartphones each day, according to CNet, citing Deloitte’s 2018 Global Mobile Consumer Survey.

That number was 47 the year before.

Here’s how many times Larry Bleiberg checked his phone during his trip to the Alaskan wilderness: zero.

Bleiberg was 100 miles north of the Arctic Circle to write and report the story that leads this week’s newsletter. “The scenery and wildlife are the prime reasons for taking the trip,” he said in an email, but “there was an unexpected benefit: a glorious (and increasingly rare) feeling of being literally off the grid.”


The guides had a radio, but it was not used.

“The feeling of isolation and disconnection from headlines, tweets and emails was almost therapeutic,” he said. “Each day away from the electronic chatter that makes up our lives, I could feel my head clearing.”

My name is Catharine Hamm, and I’m the travel editor for the Los Angeles Times. We know that travel opens our eyes to new ideas, to different perspectives, to other ways of living, but it’s also a chance to reevaluate the way we live our own lives, what holds us back and what propels us forward.

Could you do a digital detox?

I’m not sure I could. I’m also not sure I could do what Scott Kraft did: climb the iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge, even though I don’t have a fear of heights. (Although when you’re up that high, I’m guessing you could develop it.) But that’s another benefit of travel: It asks you to step outside yourself.

Before I get too woo-woo, let me direct you to a few other articles that may delight you (a Weekend Escape in Amador County), annoy you (the new federal government report that tells how many mobility devices airlines mishandled in December and January), give you cause for celebration (a special birthday in Las Vegas) and so much more.

Travel is the gift that keeps on giving.

Alaska, unplugged

Larry Bleiberg grew up in Washington, D.C., but says he is a wilderness guy. (Coincidence?) In any case, his beautifully written article about being completely, stunningly enveloped by nature in the 6.5-million-acre Noatak National Preserve, complete with bears and caribou, made me want to pack a bag, and I’m not a wilderness person.


Top of the World, Ma

Scott Kraft has an adventurous side that often manifests itself in quick trips to exotic places. (India for the weekend? But of course.) This time, he and travel buddies took in Sydney, Australia, which included a climb of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. It’s great fun, unless, of course, you hate heights.

Zin for the win

The rich history of Amador County’s winemaking leads to an even richer result. Follow Michele Bigley’s quest for a bottle of that amazing Zinfandel, which leads her to a not-your-aunt’s-B-and-B and a dinner that included mushroom cigars.

Seeing the world without moving a muscle

People who “collect” countries, each new one visited earning a notch on their imaginary belt, are fascinating — and afforded opportunities the rest of us may never have. But that doesn’t mean we can’t see the world. April Orcutt describes how the globe unfolds in “flying theaters,” which are growing in popularity and show you what you may only dream about.


60 and fabulous

It’s often said that a woman who would tell her age would tell you anything. But a sign is supposed to tell you something so it’s not a surprise that it has copped to being 60. Happy birthday to a Vegas icon that just gets better with age. Read the story by Jay Jones about the quirky icon that’s not even really in Las Vegas.

The new face of Hawaii Island

It’s been a little more than a year since Kilauea volcano erupted on the island of Hawaii, an event that shook, literally and figuratively, the largest of the islands. The day was marked with a quiet observance, but it was a time for many to reflect on the forces of nature and how they have altered an island considered sacred, Jay Jones writes.

New report paints a troubling picture

“Twenty-six people a day lose their ability to move,” says Shaun Castle, deputy executive director for the Paralyzed Veterans of America. That’s information gleaned from reports that airlines now file detailing how many wheelchair and other mobility devices are mishandled, Yomi Wrong reports in “All Systems Go.” This information may help travelers choose which airline to fly based on these new-to-the-public reports.

Fliers now can learn which airlines have the worst rates of mishandling wheelchairs and other mobility devices.
(kokouu / Getty Images)

What we’re reading

Imagine wanting to hang out at an airport. That’s the case for Tampa International Airport in Florida, which offers passes to shopping and dining options beyond security checkpoints. It’s only on Saturdays for now, but people are snapping up the op like, well, hotcakes, Gabrielle Calise reports for the Tampa Bay Times.

I like the way Avital Andrews thinks. (I’m cheating a little bit because I know her, and I know her work, so this isn’t new news for me.) But in her Smarter Travel article “The 9 Worst Decisions You Can Make on a Cruise,” she notes that taking work with you is not only violating the spirit of what a vacation is supposed to be but also is unfair to the people you’re traveling with. Read about the eight other sins you may wittingly or unwittingly commit.

Slip on a sweater. You’ll get chills reading Darmon Richter’s account in Atlas Obscura’s look at Chernobyl, the Ukrainian nuclear site that melted down in April 1986. About 60,000 people visited in 2017, but now, restrictions have tightened. You can see in the photos how nature has taken over in what was the worst nuclear disaster in history.

An aerial photo of the concrete-and-steel sarcophagus that entombs reactor No. 4 at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, taken July 23, 1998, in Chernobyl, Ukraine.
(Efrem Lukatsky / Associated Press)

Why read, where to read, why we love what we do

I’ll start with the last part of that sentence fragment — why we love what we do. I do not know of a greater pleasure than serving readers, especially travelers who are a special affinity group.


Then there’s also the spark of “I was there.” It does happen, as detailed in an email from Renate Mai-Dalton, a professor at the University of Kansas. She was reading Lynn Yu’s article on Chongqing food and, well, I’ll let her tell you the story.

“Just having been in Chongqing a few weeks ago, the article was amazing,” she wrote. “It even showed the exact building where we had our hot pot! It’s a nice city to get to know better and easiest to access when you come from the Yangtze River cruise, as we did.”

Mai-Dalton, now a Southern Californian, was one of my professors at KU, so we do have that connection. But the newsletter, which we relaunched about a year ago, also gives her and other readers a chance to catch up or browse. You can subscribe to the newsletter and others from the Los Angeles Times for free.

One other thing to consider: subscribing to the Los Angeles Times digitally or on paper or both. If you buy a digital subscription, you’ll hop right over that pay wall. A print subscription means you can get that tactile experience and digital access. Either way, you are supporting an organization that supports your desire to be part of this community. Thank you. (And, no, nobody told me to say this.)

End paper

One of my other college professors used to tell me this: There is no good writing. There is only good rewriting. I still teach that in writing seminars.

I’m pretty sure she’s smiling as I rewrite this newsletter. About 7 Tuesday evening, my Word program crashed and took with it everything I’d done for the newsletter the last two days — even though I have my Word programmed to save every minute. The only thing that was there was the item about the Tampa airport, which I wrote Monday.


Oh, well. Which I can say not because I don’t wish I had the time back but because I will be on an airplane about the time this is delivered to your inbox.

It’s a business trip, so there’s that work thing. But there’s also something about a change of scenery that gives the spirits a jolt and a lift. And it helps if you’re going somewhere you truly love, and I am.

Eric Barker writes in “The Science of Having a Great Vacation” that it isn’t always the fact of travel; it’s the anticipation of it that is much of the pleasure. “Believe it or not, anticipating your vacation can be even more enjoyable than the trip itself,” he writes. (Booking early, he adds, lengthens the love fest.)

In my dotage, I’ve learned that important lesson and one other: Love where you’re going; don’t hate what you’re leaving. That’s true of any life event — a move, a job change, a vacation. We all need to get away from what drives us crazy in our workaday lives, but if we are reaching out with arms open, ready to embrace what we are moving toward, whatever it is is apt to hug us back.

I am not walking away from a week of clogged sewer lines, unexpected vet bills, a surprise visit to the local emergency room. I am moving toward a place where some of my happiest memories dwell, where there’s a chocolate outlet store (Yes! Good chocolate for less!) and where the trill of a meadowlark on a spring morning is as sweet as any symphony.

How lucky I am to be moving toward my heart’s delight.

Wherever your bliss leads you, remember to travel safely and well and we’ll be here to welcome you home.