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Beauty In Your Own Backyard

All too often I find myself daydreaming about my next travel adventure. I would say 95% of the time, my mind wanders to international lands where I can find food, culture, and environments vastly different from my regular life.

But, then the financial reality of paying for these exotic trips that I dream of hits and I realize that the only way I can experience them as soon as I would like to is if I a) win a trip or b) win a trip. Seeing as I likely tapped out my trip winning luck for life, it’s time to look for alternatives.

Thankfully, last week I had the pleasure of attending the 2012 International Pow Wow in Los Angeles where Brand USA launched its first official marketing campaign for Discover America. Their ads are based on the four senses and how you can experience America through them.

See it. Hear it. Taste it. Touch it.

I got goosebumps when I saw this ad. Almost immediately my traveling mind started to wander to lands in my own backyard. Exploring the stunning landscapes of Yellowstone National Park. Enjoying the food, music, and culture of New Orleans. Experiencing the autumn glow of Vermont maple trees. I was excited about traveling and exploring the beauty and wonder that my own country as to offer.

Have you been surprised by what travel adventures your own backyard has to offer?

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The Taste of Travel: camel pizza and other strange eats

On my own home turf, I would not necessarily call myself an adventurous eater. But that all changes when I travel. Nothing is off of limits for me. Well, almost nothing. Eating out of my comfort zone adds an exciting new element to my travel experience that I look forward to every time I travel.

Food is an integral component of culture: from the way it is prepared, to the ingredients used. Understanding the local cuisine of a destination helps you understand the people and history of the place. Therefore, what better way to show your interest and appreciation for a destination than eating like the locals!

Yummy food - Morocco

Following this philosophy, it isn’t surprising that many of my ‘food firsts’ have happened while I have been traveling around the world. From fried alligator tail in Louisiana, reindeer stew (sorry Rudolph) in Finland, to durian fruit in Bali. I love the taste of travel.

Other travel ‘food firsts’ for me have included:

First Green Tea Waffle - Kyoto, Japan

First Lobster - Barcelona, Spain

First fish with eyeballs attached- Marathon, Greece

I racked up a lot of travel food firsts on my trip to Morocco in January with Intrepid. Some more strange the others. Moroccan tea, gazelle horns, harrira, and camel meat. Yes, camel meat. And it was AMAZING.

As soon as I found out a lunch stop for camel burgers was on our itinerary, I squealed with delight! I did not know what to expect, but knew, good or bad, eating camel was going to be a good story to tell when I got home. The whole group, minus the vegetarian, was excited for “Camel Burger Day.” Little did I know, I was actually going to be eating camel the night prior to the designated special day.

We got into Meknes pretty late in the evening and struggled to find restaurants open near our hotel. A couple of us finally decide on a pizza place that looked legit, and I had remembered seeing it in our Lonely Planet book. We ordered a couple of pizzas to share: a sausage and pepper one and one called pizza du maison (house pizza). The menu was in french, and my high school french failed me in deciphering what what was on this house pizza. But, I thought “when in Morocco, eat what the Moroccan’s eat.” If it was a house special, it must be good. What came out was some sort of mystery meat and cheese pizza. Lamb maybe? Goat? We didn’t know, but we didn’t care… it was delicious! Especially when doused in sriracha sauce .

Fast forward 12 hours and it was lunchtime on “Camel Burger Day”. We headed into the souk in Meknes and landed at a camel burger whole in the wall. 12 westerners in a very non-western spot was apparently a sight to be seen. People starred, but most were pleasantly surprised by our adventurous meal choice. After a cup of Moroccan tea and a 10 minute wait, our camel burgers arrived. As soon as I bit into my mouthwateringly delicious burger I started cracking up. I looked at my sister and said, “Katie, we totally ate camel pizza last night.”

Camel burger - Meknes, Morocco

It was good times and good eats. The only sad part was that a week later we rode camels in the Sahara desert. My camel, who I was sadly told had no name, seemed rather disinterested in me.

Riding camels in the Sahara

I am pretty sure he knew I ate his cousin the week prior. It made me feel pretty guilty, but not guilty enough to never eat camel again.

Do you have any good food stories from your travels?

Here are some other travel food posts to get your taste buds watering…

An Indulgent French Afternoon Picnic

Nicaragua: Rondon Recipe

Culturezest

Experience Ukraine as a local: comfort foods, bread, grandmas and bazaars

Agritourism – A Family Friendly Travel Option, And So Much More

A friend recently asked me, or rather begged me, to offer her suggestions on sustainable tourism options for families with toddlers. It didn’t take me long to uncover, in my opinion, the perfect form of sustainable tourism that has the ability to entertain all ages: AGRITOURISM.

As defined by the UC Small Farm Program, agritourism is “a commercial enterprise at a working farm, ranch or agricultural plant conducted for the enjoyment or education of visitors, and that generates supplemental income for the owner.”

Good for the kids: For children, participating in agritourism is a great way to have fun while experiencing what Irene Lane describes as “teachable moments.” By visiting a farm or ranch, children are given the opportunity to learn about where their food comes from, how plants and animals live and grow, and about the value of natural resources. An example of some popular agritourism activities include: farm tours, pick-your-own-fruit opportunities, animal farm visits, craft fairs, and other family oriented agricultural events.

Why is agritourism becoming so popular? I was thumbing through some old Ode magazines the other day and came across an article on agritourism in the April/May 2010 issue. Ode describes this new wave of agritourism as farms “opening their doors to a public hungry for a up-close look at how their food is grown or raised.” Similar to the attraction tourists have towards the unknown and authentic when they travel, the production of food has become an unknown entity to us. This has made agritourism a thriving niche market around the world, particularly for the American market, whereby they seek authentic food and farm experiences for personal education and fulfillment.

Agritourism around the world: Agritourism opportunities can be found worldwide. In Italy, agritourism has become a huge niche market due to the country’s visitor attraction being strongly associated with food and wine. Italy has even created a new form of accommodation called, agriturismo. Agriturismo are farm holiday accommodations often manifesting themselves as historic country farm houses. Staying at an agriturismo allows the visitor to learn about the family who run the farm, take part in farm activities, participate in cooking classes, etc. This is a unique opportunity to get to know both the history and culture of Italy, while supporting the local economy. You also get to enjoy your vacation surrounded by a beautiful rural setting and delicious local cuisine.

My most memorable agritourism experience? Visiting the Surrey Hills Llama farm in Surrey, England. In addition to offering treks with the llamas, the farm owns The Merry Harriers, a pub praised for their use of fresh and local produce. My teachable moment from the experience was learning that llama’s have big personalities. Louis, pictured on the left, likes to be at the end of the pack while on a trek. To make sure he is the last llama, he hangs around waiting and eating while the rest of the llamas and trekkers move along down the trail. However, once he can no longer see his brethren, panic sets in and Louis goes running to catch up to them! My friends couldn’t help but laugh hysterically every time Louis and I would disappear from the pack, and then re-emerge at lightening speed.

Resources to plan your own agritourism holiday:

California: Check out the California Agricultural Tourism Directory. They have a list of farms and ranches you can visit, upcoming events, and farm trails you can follow if you are up for a multi-agritourism adventure.

UK: Go to Farm Stay UK for more information on booking a Farm focused holiday in the UK.

Canada: Trail Canada offers a great comprehensive guide to different agritourism ideas throughout the country.

Everywhere Else: Agritourism World provides a worldwide search engine to find the best farm stays and ranch visits at your next holiday destination.

Sustainable Travel? There’s An App For That

There seems to be an app for everything these days. From different knock off versions of scrabble, to camera effect apps that make you and your nearest and dearest look fat, old, and/or bald.

So I was thinking, if there is an app to make you bald, there must be an app, or multiple apps, that can aid you in making more sustainable travel choices on your next vacation or weekend excursion.

I dug around the internet searching for mobile apps that might help the average traveler participate in sustainable tourism and found these 3 gems: LocalEats, Green Travel Choice, and World Customs and Cultures. Combined, these apps will help you cover all the bases of sustainable travel: supporting the local economy, supporting the environment, and supporting the local community and culture.

LocalEats – This app is hosted by www.WheretheLocalsEat.com. It is a great resource to find the best eats in town while supporting the local communities economy. The purpose behind the website and app is that it promotes local eateries in cities as opposed to large chain establishments. By supporting local businesses, you are supporting the local economy, as opposed to giving your money to international investors who are less likely to be connected to the communities they do business with. Favorite App Feature: The app has a ‘search nearby’ function. So, as long as your phone has GPS functionality, LocalEats can identify where you and produce a list of all the best local eats options in your immediate area.

Green Travel Choice – This is a pretty simple app that calculates and tracks your total carbon emissions as you travel. You can enter your starting and ending point and the app will produce a chart for you listing what your carbon emissions will be for 9 different transportation choices. For example, if I were to travel from where I am sitting right now, in Davis, California, and go to New York City, these are the carbon emissions I would potentially produce:

  • Hiking/Biking – 0.0lbs
  • Train/Subway – 573.9 lbs
  • Bus – 684.6 lbs
  • Motorbike – 1167.8 lbs
  • Small Car – 1409.5lbs
  • Medium Car – 2114.2 lbs
  • Large Car – 2970 lbs
  • Medium Hybrid Car – 1761.8 lbs
  • Airplane – 1872.6

I think the most interesting result here is that taking an airplane to NYC creates almost the same carbon emissions as driving a hybrid to NYC. This is a great resource to help you realize how your travel choices affect the environment. This app, however, could improve itself by offering a carbon offsetting program where you can donate money to tree planting to offset  your carbon footprint. Favorite App Feature: By purchasing the Green Travel Choice app, you get a $15 discount code for membership to the International Ecotourism Society (TIES).

World Customs and Cultures – I recommend this app to any international traveler. The value get from this app is that it covers a huge variety of country specific customs and cultural eccentricities. By studying up on the country you are visiting ahead of time, you can save yourself from potentially embarrassing and/or rude interactions with the local people. Topics covered range from communication styles, to eye contact rules, to local taboos. There is also a great greeting component that goes over the expected greetings between different relationships with people: man/man, man/woman, etc. If you have ever been to Europe I am sure you have encountered the awkward “how many kisses do I give this person” moment. This app could have saved you from that experience. Favorite App Feature: The random button. Every time you hit it, it will tell you a random cultural custom or ritual from around the world. Example: In Cameroon, sometimes the forefinger and pinky are extended and used to mime Dracula teeth, making fun of someone for having bad teeth.

Those are my mobile app recommendations. What are yours? Do you use any apps that help you travel more sustainably? Make better choices in your everyday life? Get you more connected with your community or other communities?

Eat Local, Eat Cheap – California Restaurant Month

As I previously mentioned in my Sustainable Tourism post, part of traveling sustainably is supporting local economies. One of the most fun and self-indulgent ways to do this is through food. Particularly in California, where most of our food is locally sourced, eating out means you are supporting local agriculture, as well as local business owners. Additionally, visiting local eateries allows you to experience the local culture of a destination, by tasting their culinary delights.

The California Travel and Tourism Commission has decided to kick off the new year with California Restaurant Month.

So, what does this mean and why is it so cool? Let me tell you…

Throughout the month of January, cities and towns from Northern down to Southern California will be holding Restaurant Weeks. Each destination is doing it a little bit differently, but the underlying theme is that some of the best restaurants, cafes and bistros in California, for their designated week, will be offering discounted prix-fixe meals just for you. For 1 entire month you can enjoy the seasonal and local culinary concoctions of some of California’s best known chefs, but for a fraction of the price.

You can go to official California Restaurant Month website to see the list of participating cities, as well as the dates of their participation.

For those living in or near Sacramento, or just want a reason to come visit me, our Restaurant week starts TOMORROW! Dine Downtown runs from January 7-16. 30 of Sacramento’s best restaurants will be offering top class 3 course meals for just $30. To see who is participating, what the menus will look like, and to book your reservations in advance, go here.

So what about those of you not from California, or not planning to visit the sunshine state this month? Don’t worry! Many cities and states across the nation are planning similar events this month! Here are some examples. Check out your cities tourism board to see when they are hosting one.

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