Blog Archives

Dancing Matt Does It Again

Remember Dancing Matt? The guy who taped himself dancing around in different countries from his travels, posted the video online, and then became an instant viral sensation?

Let me refresh your memory…

7 years later and he is still dancing, traveling, and living life to the fullest. He just posted his most recent “Where the hell is Matt” video.

I dare you not to smile/dance along/love the world you live in while watching this.

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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?

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

The day I won the trip of a lifetime…

I woke up on August 29th like any other weekday morning.

Step 1: Turn off iphone alarm.

Step 2: Put on glasses.

Step 3: Check email on phone.

Step 4: Email from Intrepid, could be interesting. I open it and it says “Dear Lizzie, Congratuations for being one of the winners…”

Step 5: WHAT???????????????

I can probably stop with the steps now. So, after seeing my name and the word congratulations in the same email, I realized this was something I should read on the big screen of… my laptop. I whip it open, and before I could open up my curious congratulatory email, my friend Lindsay starts sending me messages to the likes of “OMG!!! YOU WON!!! WHY DID IT TAKE YOU SO LONG TO WAKE UP!!!???” (please note, she lives in Canada and saw that I won on Facebook about 3 hours before I did).

As it turned out, I had entered an Intrepid Travel contest on facebook in early August. The concept of the competition was to win the ultimate adventure, where you don’t know where you are going until you get to the airport. In order to win, you had to identify the person you would want to take this ultimate adventure with and explain why you wanted to go with them in 25 words or less. So, out of 20,000 entries, my 25 words of why I wanted to take an ultimate adventure with my sister WON!

Now we fast forward to today, December 20th. My sister and I leave on our adventure in 17 days. Do we know where we are going yet? No. Do we have any hints? Kinda.

It will be entering the cooler months of the year where we are going = North of the equator? Or, very far south?

We need typhoid and Hep A vaccinations = South America, Africa, Middle East, parts of Asia (ya, that didn’t narrow it down too much)

We need to pack sleeping bags = Camping?

Basically, there is an infinite number of possibilities of what this trip has in store for us. And I can’t wait to find out!

One of the best parts about winning this mystery trip is that it is with Intrepid Travel, one of the pioneers in sustainable/responsible adventure travel. They use public transportation rather than high carbon emitting tour buses. They have participants stay in small locally owned accommodations and eat at local restaurants to help create revenue for the communities they travel through. They educate their travelers and the local people they visit on sustainable tourism policies. Being considerate of the environment, supporting the economic development of local communities rather than international investors, and supporting education. Does it get any better?

So my question to you is, have you ever wanted a trip planned for you, where all you have to do is show up at the airport and go? Could you handle giving up control like that?

Stop And Smell The Travel Experience

The summer before I started college I participated in a month long world arts and cultures study abroad program in Bali, Indonesia. This was my first travel experience away from my friends and family. Needless to say, I was a nervous wreck about going.

Thankfully the program was lead by Prof. Patricia Harter, a UCLA professor who specialized in Asian theatre and had led this program before. One of our class assignments for the duration of the program was to keep a journal throughout our time in Bali to describe and reflect on our experience abroad.

Pat told us that the journal should not only be for her benefit, but also our own. Every once and a while she would give us some direction on themes she wanted us to write about. Our first journal assignment was give to us the day before we left Los Angeles for Bali. Pat requested that we write an entry about our initial observations about Bali; from the moment we landed till the time we went to sleep our first night in Sanur. Then she added, “as soon as you step out of the airport, make sure to take a moment and SMELL Bali.”

Smell Bali? I didn’t really know what she meant. Did the Balinese smell different than Americans? Was I supposed to walk up to someone, lift up their arm and take a whiff?

Up until this point I had never taken a moment to smell my surroundings when I traveled. Since I wasn’t quite sure how of why I was supposed to smell the tiny island nation, and was too shy to ask about it, I decided I would just follow what the other students did as we exited the airport and hope that I figured out what it was that I was supposed to do.

Segway to our arrival at Denpasar airport…

Just as we were about to exit the airport and take our first steps on this new land, I looked around to see if anyone else was following the professors directions. No obvious sniffing was to be seen. So either 1) I wasn’t the only one who was unsure how to smell Bali or 2) I was the only student who paid any attention to our homework.

I am a bit of a brown noser, so wanted to make sure I didn’t disappoint my new professor. So, without any helpful direction from my classmates, I took this smelling task into my own hands, or nose rather. As soon as we stepped outside, I took a big whiff.

Snfffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffff

WOAH.

The smell of humidity. Clove cigarettes. Rotting garbage. Spices. Car pollution. Incense.  And a hint of Jack fruit. All of these, and many other components, wrapped up into one complete smell of Bali. The smell was overwhelming, yet calming. As I let my olfactory sense take over, I was physically and emotionally transported to this new destination. So long California, hello Bali.

Throughout my month in Bali I learned to love the smell of the island. Even with it’s rotting components, every whiff was a constant reminder that I was in a place completely different than my home, and it helped me appreciate the opportunity I had to experience it.

The best part about taking that initial moment to “smell Bali” was that it left a memory imprint in my brain. To this day, I have moments when I am out experiencing life and am stopped in my tracks and realize that I smell Bali. Sometimes it is when I pass by a sewage vent on the street, or when I walk by a store that sells incense. Wherever it occurs, when I smell Bali, I am instantly transported back to my time there, living among the people, learning their history, culture, and arts.

So, as a work of wisdom to anyone who has yet to take a moment to smell their travel experience, do it. Your olfactory memory will be one of the best souvenirs you can bring home for yourself. And it is free of charge.

Want to read more about travel smell memories? Take a look at “Want memories? Follow your nose” in the latest issue of National Geographic Traveler.

Smell ya later.

Music and Travel: Jason Mraz, From Grammy Award Winner to Global Traveler

I’m a touring artist who seeks out unique corners of the world to find influences for my music. – Jason Mraz
(Jason Mraz concert, Manchester, UK, 2003)

(Jason Mraz concert, Manchester, UK, 2003)

You may not believe me, but I have traveled around the world multiple times with the Grammy award-winning musical wordsmith, Jason Mraz. Albeit, the majority of the time he was encased in my ipod and communicated with me through my headphones. But a few times he was on stage, in his element, as a traveler just like me.

For me, and I imagine many others, music and travel go hand in hand. Can you really imagine a road trip without the radio on or your favorite “on the road” playlist? For musicians, like Jason Mraz, travel can be a form of inspiration and musical education.

Not only is Jason Mraz an amazing musician and songwriter, he is also a thoughtful, inspired traveler. Below are some excerpts from a recent interview Jason did with National Geographic Traveler, for their One on One feature.  The full interview can be found here: Traveling Troubadour.

What style of traveler are you? A spontaneous one, with little preparation. I pack light. I don’t feel a need to rush through all the major landmarks. Like, if I go to Paris, I might just take a walk, with no map or tourist site in mind, and end up in a neighborhood coffee shop. That’s how I ended up in San Diego. I traveled there and found this great coffee shop that I love to make music in and I ended up staying. I’ve lived there for 12 years now.

Are there places that have moved you to write songs? Many. I wrote several songs during my time in Ghana. I made a return trip to Brazil for a week to absorb the music and culture, and I wrote many songs. New York had a profound effect on me, as well as California. I’m a touring artist who seeks out unique corners of the world to find influences for my music.

What has really surprised you in your travels? I’m constantly surprised that no matter where I go, people are similar, just trying to make it. We’re all quiet and shy in an elevator with other people. Most people hesitate to make eye contact. Before I ever traveled to Japan I thought maybe it would be like another planet. But when I got there I realized, oh, these are just humans over here doing the same human thing, perhaps with different resources. It made me feel less timid about going places and more able to just walk through a village in, say, Ghana, looking like the only white guy alive.

Are there places you haven’t been to yet that you want to visit? I’ve always wanted to take that cruise to Antarctica to see the unspoiled continent. That would be just a brilliant trip for nature, solitude, and for writing in the journal. To really see Earth, you should visit all seven continents, and that is the only one I have not been to.

This interview got me thinking about how much music has influenced my travel experiences. I am curious how it has influenced yours as well.

What are some of your favorite music/travel memories?

I’ll start things off…

  • Always seeing Peruvian Pan Flute bands when I travel outside of the US.
  • Going on a road trip to the Grand Canyon with my family and listening to REM and the 4 Non Blondes on repeat the entire way.
  • Singing so loud at the karaoke club in Kyoto, Japan that my friends took my microphone away from me.

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.

Local Travel – Values To Take On The Road

Local Travel. It is a simple concept that most people can understand. You can apply it to local travel within your own community, as well as traveling like a local to destinations outside of your home base.

I recently came across the Local Travel Movement blog, through my connections with WHL, an e-marketplace for local accommodation providers.  While reading about the Local Travel Movement, I discovered their Local Travel Values (as shown below):

  • If you are mindful of the local people, you put yourself in the locals’ shoes and discover what they really think.
  • If you are mindful of the local environment, you put yourself in the heart of it, feel its beauty and power, and do what you can to preserve it for the future.
  • If you are mindful of the local culture, you put yourself in the local mindset and share in activities and experiences as locals do.
  • If you are mindful of the local economy, you put your money into local business and ensure that your tourism benefits the right people.

These are exactly the type of travel values I would deem appropriate for supporting sustainable tourism. With all of the different sustainable tourism terminology out there, that I mentioned before, it can be confusing for a new traveler to know how to travel the “best” way. But, the concept of Local Travel seems to fit the bill perfectly.

My challenge to you: keep these Local Travel values on hand and put them into practice when you plan and embark upon your next vacation. You may be surprised to find your travel experience more fulfilling and meaningful than ever before.

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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