Where can you find people from Moab and Mongolia in the same place?  How about Taiwan and Temecula?  Ecuador and Ketchikan?  If you said a Carnival Cruise, well…you might be right.  But the definite answer is the LA Times Travel & Adventure Show, held each spring at the Los Angeles Convention Center and featuring over 100,000 square feet of space crawling with enthusastic tourism reps from all over the world.

In today’s economic landscape, tourism is what is keeping many countries afloat, and for a lot of places the one thing they can rely on.  Support for the industry, combined with a spirit of togetherness that is tangibly prevalent within the travel community, is what makes the LA Times Travel Show such an important event.  And that support is clear – with speakers like Samantha Brown, Rick Steves, Andrew McCarthy (yes, the actor – he’s a travel writer!), blogger JohnnyJet and LA Times photographer Mark Boster, the schedule was packed with passionate people who have built their livelihoods around exposing travel and tourism to the global audience.

The LA Convention Center’s West Hall organized exhibitors’ booths left to right – domestic travel moving to international, arranged alphabetically inside of those categories.  I was surprised and impressed to see tourism boards and travel companies from all over the U.S. in such multitude.  At least half the states in the country had booths (Alaska and pals stretched almost half an aisle) and California destinations covered every attraction from San Diego to the redwoods.  Granted, it is easier and less expensive for a U.S. company to participate in the show since it is here in LA, but nevertheless I was pleased to see our strength of presence on such a prominent, visible stage.  Often times we think that exotic, interesting, multicultural or immersion travel cannot happen unless we cross our borders, fly overseas or trek through a jungle.  Exploring the country we live in – which is so wonderfully diverse in every way imaginable – is vital not only to understanding and appreciating our home but also to supporting our own economy.

Alaska Represents!

So what would an adventure show be without a few action spots?  Attendees could climb a 2-story rock wall (hosted by Tenaya Lodge at Yosemite), zipline across the length of the West Hall (thanks to the tourism reps for Ecuador), scuba dive with Malibu Diving (splashing everyone within a 10-foot radius of the pool) or learn to Bollywood dance, as some of the travel media did at Friday’s press preview. 

next stop - Travel Bloggers Dancing with the Stars?

The “Global Stage” featured music and dance acts – and Maui’s booth got into the spirit with a luau (minus the mai tais – booo).  And what did California Tourism have?  Pirates. (gotta be honest, I’m not sure I get that one)


gimme a break, that sword was REAL

But the best fun was soaking it all in – walking around, meeting people from Nepal, Morocco, Nicaragua, Israel, Tahiti, Greece and even my own backyard – Mammoth, Santa Ynez, Big Bear Lake.  Cruise lines like Oceania and Silversea, tour companies like Tauck and Adventure Consultants and vendors like Mahatma Rice (free tastings!) and Distant Lands bookstores (hawking Rick Steves stuff).  Feeling inspired from all this visual stimulus?  AAA manned a massive piece of floorspace with dozens of travel agents ready to help you plan a trip anywhere in the world, right then and there. 

why wait? plan now!

Airlines, railway lines, eco tour guide companies – all were there to share their products and destinations.  It seemed almost every booth was giving away a dream trip or exotic vacation, and though I fear the junk mail coming my way for all I entered, who cares?  It was an unbeatable experience.  Everyone was friendly and excited; there were no sales pitches, no pushy attitudes, just travel professionals and passionate attendees asking questions, learning, visiting and interacting.  If only this were the model for the real world stage!  It was exhilarating and heartwarming to see the passion for tourism – the thirst of so many to see beyond borders and step outside of the proverbial box.

I walked away with a bag stuffed to the brim with brochures, business cards, tour books and guidebooks.  I also left with a newfound respect for the travel industry and the people who patronize it.  Up until now I had focused so much on the blogging community’s interest I had almost forgotten that the rest of the world also craves experience, authenticity and the moments of wonder that come with seeing new places.  Whether its driving to Wyoming or trekking through Tibet, the market for tourism is burgeoning with opportunities to really live on this planet of ours.  Now if you’ll excuse me – I have a LOT of reading (and trip-planning….) to catch up on. Cheers, adventurers :)

In honor of St. Patrick’s Day I thought I’d share some of my favorite photos from the Emerald Isle, taken between 2009 and 2010.  I love being Irish (hi, Grandpa!), but today we truly ALL are.  Guinness says so (see photo above).  So sláinte!


Inis Mór, Aran Islands



Cliffs of Moher


River Liffey, Dublin

County Clare

ruins, Aran Islands

St. James' Gate Brewery

All  photos copyright CGTravelsBlog

Boats kind of make me nervous.  Maybe its because I got chucked off of one in rough waters around Key Largo when we tried to go snorkeling in a storm.  Maybe its because I got seasick on the way to Catalina Island in 8th grade.  Or maybe because I have a numbing fear of the Pacific Ocean, whose cold, dark waters beckon with all the grace and charm of a razor-toothed barracuda.  But ply me with a couple of glasses of wine on a beautiful day, and I could probably find boating bearable, if not actually enjoyable.  Even though “sailing” just sounds pretentious anyway.

Lapse in judgement aside, signing up for an afternoon wine pairings cruise with Corks Away Wine Adventures turned out to be a step forward in overcoming my fear of water-bound vessels, rather than 90 minutes of sheer panic.  Anthony, our captain for the day, met 6 of us on the docks at Alamitos Bay in Long Beach, CA and led us down to the slip where we boarded a refurbished 1961 sailboat.  After assuring us (translation: me) that the boat tipping over was improbable at best, we settled into a triangle of comfortable padded benches, spread blankets over our legs and clinked glasses of almond champagne as the boat pulled into the harbor waters around Naples Island.

They had me at the first free refill.  As we settled into the seats cradling the cool glasses, out came Anthony with miniature wooden treasure chests filled with dried cranberries, almonds and cashews, set on latticed wooden tabletops that proved extremely sturdy what with the rocking motion every time a jet-skiier passed.  Sailing smoothly and slowly past paddle boarders, other sailboats and waterfront mansions (including the Magnum P.I. house – cue the 80’s flashback), we quickly transitioned to course two of the four-course wine pairing schedule – a pinot noir with homemade hummus and warm, sliced pita triangles.  Next came a cabernet, paired with Corks Away’s “specialty” (in all likelihood store-bought, but delicious nonetheless) – provolone-wrapped loaves made of pesto sauce, sun-dried tomato chunks and crispy pine nuts, served with an assortment of crackers.  Aside from the carb-and-dips pattern I was seeing with the menu, it was tasty and fresh.  Also it is impossible to be annoyed on such a glorious southern California day as we were fortunate enough to have.  

Dessert was a port wine served with dense chocolate truffles, drizzled copiously with raspberry sauce and served in colorful clam half-shells – a lovely and surprising presentation after the multitude of plastic trays.  Alas and all too quickly our cruise time was up, and we pulled gently back into the slip, tied up and hopped back onto the dock, where we were presented with 50% off certificates for our next Corks Away “adventure.”

While clearly a homegrown operation – no frills, no thrills – Corks Away was relaxing, which is really all I had hoped for aside from staying dry and out of Long Beach bay.  The staff was friendly and casual, much like the entire business seems to be.  Prices, to my notion, are not cheap, but Corks Away offers deals on LivingSocial, which was where we picked up 30% off a 90-minute cruise for 6 (normally $100).  There was no gourmet cuisine, no fancy explanations about why the items were paired together, no bottle labels flashed around and no program once you’re out on the water – it’s snacking and sipping while spending time with friends in the sunshine, while someone else steers the boat.  Which, sometimes, is a pretty refreshing thing.

Corks Away Wine Adventures
(562) 606-4546
*book well in advance, as most cruises sell out quickly.  Corks Away also offers private and charter opportunities, mimosa cruises, carriage rides through Seal Beach and event bookings aboard a schooner or larger flagship, also part of their collection.  If you’re a wine snob or a vegetarian they have options for you, too :)  Ask for Captians Nate or Shane!

Before we begin, Captain Obvious is compelled to point out a couple of noteworthy specifics relevant to this post, namely:

1). The globe is quite large,


2). There are manifold ways to experience it.

Now that’s out of my system, let’s take a look at (coincidentally) the post with the most hits on my blog ever – which I did a year ago – about my Travel Bucket List.  We have some major housecleaning to do here.  Some items must merely switch positions on the list, others just hafta go entirely (sorry Norway, it’s not you, it’s me!)  I have discovered that even in the space of a year, my attachments, priorities, curiosities and needs can change rapidly and emphatically.  Understandings I have reached, books I have read, people I have come to know and discussions I have shared continue to shape my focus.  I have watched impatiently as my desires take their own wayward routes and lead me inexplicably to wonder about a new place I had not previously considered.  And given my willingness to follow those types of proclivities blindly, I am left with no further choice but to unveil a new list:

10. Bhutan
9. Botswana
8. Vietnam/Cambodia
7. Slovenia
6. India
5. Peru
4. Patagonia
3. Australia
2. Iceland
1. Nepal/Tibet

Now let’s get down to brass tacks. *stands up* “My name is Leslie, and I have Travel A.D.D.”

OH that feels so good to get off my chest.

Now before you judge (me OR yourself, for having the same problem) know that this doesn’t axiomatically mean you are an evil, fickle person.  Truly what do you owe anyone but yourself in your travel goals?  If they change, let them.  Travel can be a means to an end or a journey with no aim at all: its intrinsically malleable nature gives us the freedom to make those snap decisions.

Maybe I’m justifying my problem.  But I don’t think I’m going too far off a ledge, am I?  If having a valuable experience means I take a walk through the country or spend an entire day in an Italian bakery (which I have) instead of going to a thousand museums or taking a tour, fine!  You can’t beat yourself up for changing your mind.  The world isn’t waiting for us, so make the most of your time, your resources and your money and GO WHERE THE WIND TAKES YOU.  I want to go on a voluntourism trip to the Galapagos to save turtles, go on a yoga retreat to the coast of Mexico or at an Indian ashram, take a river cruise down the Danube and hike the trail through the Himalayas to Mt. Everest Base Camp.  Next year I may not want to do any of those.  Last time I was in Italy I was supposed to be exploring Perugia’s art treasures and instead I ended up spending an entire day at the Eurochocolate Festival, navigating the town’s narrow cobbled streets with my 2 best friends, staring over the city walls at Umbria below and eating absinthe chocolate (yuck).  And that afternoon was AMAZING.

If I’d been in a museum all day, I’d have missed this view:

There are so many things I want to do it makes my sinuses hurt.  But I think that kind of fervor – even if it makes you change your mind a thousand times, be so spontaneous your friends question your sanity or try a million different things – is beautiful.  The same force that keeps you hungry for your next journey makes you appreciate what it is to be Home.  It enriches your life.  And is that not why we travel to begin with?

This impetus has maxed out my credit card, worried my parents, used up all my vacation time and given me a lovely collection of new allergies.  But I wouldn’t trade any of it because it’s like putting fuel in your car – it keeps you on the road.  Perhaps we should think of it as “continued inspiration” rather than “A.D.D.” (it’s such a dirty word…or acronym, whatever).  One curiosity blends into the next, one awakening leads to another, one trip shepherds you forth into the next.  I tend to think of each adventure as a piece of a greater collection, one which I will spend my life amassing.  Just as I bring prior conventions, a developed openness, and many, many questions to a new place, I also carry a trove of memories, experiences, thoughts and wisdoms from past journeys.  In the process of travel we add to those lessons, and this learning inevitably raises further questions – questions which can only be answered by searching for the next opportunity.  It seems like a vicious cycle but I’d be willing to bet we’d all be more than a little disappointed if there were ever an end.  It’s the discovery that counts.

The only drawback I can find is the danger of this “A.D.D.” propelling us somewhat to live in the future rather than the present.  When your curiosity gets the better of you, it can distract from the current moment.  Travel is fleeting and, for most of us, only a small part of our precious time, that we must live it while we are in it. I try to record my questions and ideas for other adventures and leave them to the page, to aid in planning another trip when I’m back home at my computer, reveling in the delicious anticipation of the next expedition.

See? It’s OK!  I have Travel A.D.D., there are no shots for it, and I have made my peace with it.

Alright, enough postulating.  Back to life.  As Jack Kerouac says, “Why think about that when all the golden land’s ahead of you and all kinds of unforeseen events wait lurking to surprise you and make you glad you’re alive to see?” ~ On The Road

And hey, Norway – I’ll get there :)

Norweigan fjords



Hassan Mosque at sunset - Casablanca, Morocco

Photo by CGTravels, January 2009

I think what’s funny about the obvious difference in stature between the boy and the mosque is that it rather distorts the true equality of the greatness and possibility that lies inside them both.

Originally written for and posted on GotSaga as a guest article, January 2011

One of the biggest challenges as a native Angeleno is trying to direct friends and colleagues in Los Angeles where to go while visiting.  Not only am I battling a multitude of frustrating cliches (celebrity-fueled trends, celebrity-frequented neighborhoods, celebrity-owned restaurants, traffic, smog, etc.) but frankly, to narrow down the overwhelming amount of opportunities in this sprawling metropolis is nearly impossible.

The truth is that the cliches DO exist.  But so does a vibrant city teeming with art, music, culture, natural beauty and a wonderfully stubborn follow-your-dreams mentality.  There is nothing more satisfying than hearing a tourist say, “Wow – I had no idea LA had all this!”  And so with that, I present you with a list that will take someone to the far corners of the city, from delicious eats to world-class culture and back –  yes, even to Sunset Blvd. itself.  Los Angeles is a place where you can be whoever you want – why not let go and discover it for yourself?

1.  Catch a concert at the Hollywood Bowl

This iconic outdoor amphitheater has hosted some of the world’s greatest musicians, conductors, orchestras, artists and performers since its opening in 1922.  Nestled into the Hollywood Hills and open during the summer season only, it has become one of the locals’ favorite nighttime spots for entertainment and relaxation, especially thanks to a lenient policy that allows concertgoers to bring their own food and drinks (even alcohol!) into the venue, thereby encouraging a longtime tradition of picnicking.  Once you’re ensconced in your seats (or for the lucky few, a box), sipping a glass of wine under the stars to the classical strains of the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, the rousing chorus of voices at the annual Sound of Music sing-a-long or the smooth sounds of the Playboy Jazz Festival, you’ll know why there’s no place like LA.


2.  Hike the Santa Monica Mountains

photo by R. Perkins

Forget Runyon Canyon and its overpopulated bevy of dogs, spandex and noise – real rugged outdoor beauty lies just a few miles north in the Santa Monica Mountains that hug the coast along Malibu.  Trails range from the challenging to the near-effortless, with everything in-between.  At Sandstone Peak, the highest point, gaze upon the sparkling Pacific Ocean to your left and the bustling valley below to your right – a view of Los Angeles most people have never seen but will never forget.  Then sign the visitors’ log, return to your car and head down the road a few miles to the secluded Malibu Winery for a glass of crisp chardonnay in their charming outdoor garden.

3.  See the stars (literally) at the Griffith Observatory

photo by neebs

Opened in 1935 and nestled snugly atop Mount Hollywood in the hills above Los Feliz, where it is visible from points all over Los Angeles, the Griffith Observatory has become one of the country’s premier venues for the study and exhibition of astronomy and the science of space.  The recently-renovated facility boasts several enormous state-of-the-art telescopes, including the massiv Zeiss Telescope, which is regularly trained on the moon, a visible planet or other night sky phenomena and includes a planetarium with unrivaled projection capabilities and a series of visually stunning exhibits that are sure to make any visitor marvel at the world beyond ours.  Housed in a stunning art deco-style building and surrounded by lawn and gardens, it promises the kind of out-of-this-world experience tourists expect from LA – in the most unexpected way.


photo by mcshots

4.  Surf Zuma Beach

With some of the best waves in the state and a consistently top-notch water quality rating, Zuma Beach is a healthier, less-crowded and more visually appealing stretch of coastline than Santa Monica, Huntington and Manhattan Beaches together.  Leave the crowds (and the inevitable flurry of hungry pigeons they attract) and spend a day at Zuma – it’s a premier spot for local surfers and perfect for beachgoers looking for a pristine piece of coastline where they can truly relax in the sunshine.  And for all you entertainment buffs – it’s where Baywatch was filmed.

5.  Grab a burger at Bob’s Big Boy

LA’s retro culture continues to thrive even today, and perhaps nowhere is that more prevalent than at the oldest original Bob’s Big Boy Restaurant in Toluca Lake.  Nothing – from the decor to the staff – has changed much since the ’60s, and that’s exactly the way their entire customer base likes it.  Bob’s has been serving up their famous grilled double-decker burgers with secret sauce and signature small sesame buns for decades, and the iconic checkered boy holding a giant hamburger still stands, polished and jolly, on Riverside Drive, beckoning all who drive past to step back in time for a bit a savor the best diner cuisine in the city.  Stop by on Friday “car night” for traditional car-hop service and watch the parking lot behind the restaurant as it fills with restored vintage automobiles driven in by enthusiasts from all over southern California.


6.  See the masters at the Huntington Library

We all know about the Getty, LACMA and the Norton Simon.  No doubht (but sometimes suprisingly) Los Angeles is one of the best cities for art-lovers in the country, no matter what kind of art you fancy.  But tucked away in San Marino, an affluent suburb near Pasadena, is the grand Huntington estate, which houses one of the finest gatherings of American and British art in the U.S.  Doubling as a research institute, this legacy of railroad magnate Henry Huntington dates from 1919 and features a collection that includes a Gutenberg Bible, original Chaucer manuscripts and paintings by Turner, Sargent Hopper, Cassatt, Rembrandt, Dürer and Gainsborough.  Tour the mansion, stroll through 120 impeccably-groomed acres of themed botanical gardens and then stop for afternoon tea at the Rose Garden Tea Room for a taste of what the good Southern California life was like in its burgeoning days.


7.  Tour the Kodak Theatre

Far be it from me to prevent any tourist from walking the iconic Hollywood Walk of Fame, passing by the Chinese Theater and posing with one of 6 Marilyn Monroes who’ll gladly take photos with you along Hollywood Blvd.  But once you’ve discovered which celebrity’s hands and feet match your own, stop inside the Kodak Theatre for an inside look at the current home of Oscar.  Their daily tours take visitors into VIP rooms and onto the incredible stage where the annual telecast happens (and where, the rest of the year, it is fantastically rigged to support LA’s new Cirque de Soleil show) – you even get to see an Oscar statue up-close!  Even as a native there is something magical about walking the very same corridors and sitting in the same front row seats as the modern actors and actresses we have come to love and respect over the years.  Watching the Academy Awards will never quite be the same!


8.  Hop a ferry to Catalina Island 

photo from Destination360.com

Technically it’s part of LA County, but in reality it’s a world away.  Once you’ve tired of the bustle and traffic, take a 30-minute boat ride from San Pedro or Long Beach harbors and spend some time on Santa Catalina, one of California’s Channel Islands.  Spend the evening in a cozy B&B in the main town of Avalon, rent a bike and ride through the quaint streets and hike or camp all over the island, among wildlife like foxes, bald eagles and bison.  Catalina also has incredibly clean, clear waters offshore, making conditions perfect for kayaking and snorkeling almost year-round.  Coming face-to-face with harmless leopard sharks and the island’s signature fish, the gentle bright-orange garibaldi, you’ll almost think you’re in Hawaii.

9. Sip a cocktail at the Chateau Marmont

OK, so I slipped something a little trendy in for good measure.  But a list like this just wouldn’t be complete without including the legendary hotel and bungalows, located smack dab on the Sunset strip and teeming with celebrity ghost stories and folklore.  Infamous former guests include Jim Belushi, Greta Garbo, James Dean, Vivien Leigh and Howard Hughes, and today you’re likely to rub elbows with Johnny Depp, Demi Moore or Jake Gyllenhaal, all of whom frequent the hotel’s hard-to-get-in restaurant and bar.  This is the stuff LA is made of.  If you can’t get, hop next door to Bar Marmont, where although the drinks are pricey and poorly-mixed, the scene is great and the decor magical – all the way to the silk monarch butterflies that dapple the dimly-lit ceiling.


10.  Shop vintage

London it isn’t, but Los Angeles may just be second-best in the world of great vintage discoveries.  From Ventura Blvd. to Melrose, from Silver Lake to downtown, LA is a mecca for time-worn treasures from any decade.  Exploiting its status as a haven for designers, as well as being the world capital of film, LA finds often include chic retro cast-offs from the likes of Chanel and Christian Dior as well as items once worn for film or television.  But perhaps the most charming of all are the enormous collections of denim, boots, hats and blouses that evoke the carefree days of the sixties and seventies that put a blonde-haired, hippie California look on the stylish map.

photo by Stephanie Schneider

“Oh no, I couldn’t possibly….”  Famous last words.  Oft-uttered by those faced with tertiary helpings at a holiday meal, trying on an expensive piece of jewelry, or offered anything gratis, anywhere.  On vacation, as Cameron Diaz succinctly put it in The Holiday, you are supposed to “vacate your life.”  Things like not exercising, saving money, getting reasonable amounts of sleep and perhaps most of all, indulging the palette (not to mention the stomach) are thrown asunder in favor of sweet, beautiful gluttony in all its forms.

thumbs up from a Regent Seven Seas kitchen

Nowhere is this glorious release more prevalent that on a cruise ship.  An all-inclusive life is just as tiring. but only because all those hours on the lido deck are so dehydrating.  Say “cruise” and one automatically dreams, as I admittedly do, of endless Vegas-style seafood buffets, tourists in Hawaiian shirts with farmers tans giving our country a bad name as they stroll ignorantly among foreign natives at various exotic ports of call, and nightly shows that involve Copacabana-esque dancers covered in feathers coaxing the recently-retired on stage for a little one-two-step.

I dream of these things only because I, the self-proclaimed world traveler, have never once set foot on a cruise ship (unless brunch on the Queen Mary counts, but I doubt it).  And so I must live vicariously through my mom and aunt, two sisters who have sailed the world’s seas together in just a few years – from the Bering Straits to the northernmost Scandanavian cities of the Arctic Circle, from the balmy shores of Greece and Italy to the sparkling waters of Australia and the engineering wonder that is the Panama Canal.  And they have done it all on the luxurious decks of Regent Seven Seas’ stately but small Voyager.  With each return home I have voraciously scanned their photos, vicariously living on a deluxe cruiseliner and wondering what a hedonistic life at sea, even a temporary one, must feel like.  So when I saw the food….

…I was shocked.  Beautiful? Sure.  Creative? Certainly.  Delectable? So I hear.  Portion-control? 100%.

Regent Seven Seas may hand out menus as long as your arm, display tables upon tables of carved chocolate and pastries and a wine list that could tire even long-winded Ovid himself, but they’d be loathe to spoon out the plates of victuals an American might normally expect from a dining establishment.



Luxury cruise food is a whole different ballgame.  Order a cookie sandwich – it’s about the size of a small macaron, artfully drizzled with sauce that is decorative, not dumped.  Craving sliders? How about ones that are actually bite-sized, the way God intended.  Filet mignon?  6 oz. at best, cleanly presented alongside al dente vegetables that perhaps, just PERHAPS have not been doused in oil and butter. You are distracted from the angry ogre inside your tummy growling for satisfaction by a visual buffet of ice sculptures, exquisite florals and oddly-shaped dinnerware.  The ocular feast is just enough to distract your stomach, so that instead of wolfing down overloaded plates you are rubbernecking around the room as you gently fork fresh fruits, vegetables, tender meats and lightly-sweetened aperetifs.  To use a hackneyed phrase in all its glory: it’s quality, not quantity.  Tricking the mind into slow consumption and thereby a realization of fullness and gratification is the key.  Add to that the oozing charm of a world-class staff and a tableside visit by a chef who may just happen to be 30-ish and roguishly handsome, and you have the recipe (pardon the pun) for a perfect meal.  No over-indulgence or pleasure of the purely guilty kind, unless you count joy as a sin.

Now the bar…that’s a whole different story.

What’s up, 2011?

Sooooo I had a whole other blog post I was going to kick off this Year of the Rabbit with, but I have been stricken with some sort of infuriating writer’s block and it isn’t coming together.  Maybe because my football team just lost their bowl game, I don’t know.  Then I realized I have been hoarding a particularly hilarious and insightful guest article since LAST MAY, thinking I would use it to launch my site’s re-design (the article is THAT good), which is likewise taking longer than the next Ice Age to come about….so what else am I waiting for? 

Today's Guest Author

If you’re at all familiar with my blog, you already know today’s author, Bob, as one of the Jet-Setters.  Besides being one of my favorite people on the planet and my very best friend’s adoring husband, he’s also an adventurer at heart and a journalist by nature, so it was more than fitting for him to be my first guest author here on CGTravels with a fun write-up on how to live out your favorite movies in locations around the globe.  I asked him to write something – anything – and he penned this work of genius in like, a day. ITS SO UNFAIR.  Anyway, if you like what you read here, check out his awesome blog, Path of the Polymath, for more – I promise you won’t be disappointed.


There’s nothing like sitting around and watching a good movie to make you want to stop sitting around and start seeing the world. Pack your bags: here’s how to make 10 classic celluloid dreams your reality.

1). Casablanca: Casablanca, Morocco

  • The movie: The 1942 black-and-white classic starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman as former lovers unexpectedly reunited against a backdrop of intrigue and espionage in a bar in unoccupied Africa during the early days of World War II.
  • Live it: How else? Down a glass of gin at Rick’s Cafe in Casablanca. Kathy Kriger, an American expat who worked with a U.S. Embassy in Morocco, left her government job to found the real-life bar/restaurant based on the movie in 2004. Along with alcoholic beverages (which can be difficult to come by in a Muslim country), Rick’s features a muted-but-subtitled screening of the movie Casablanca on loop in its upstairs lounge. Most nights, Krieger can be found making her rounds of the tables and keeping an eye on things at the bar. Nazis goons, fortunately, are nowhere to be found.

 2). Roman Holiday: Rome, Italy 

  •  The movie: A bored princess on a European tour sneaks away from her entourage and goes on an adventure through Rome with an American newsman.
  • Live it: Rome may be the last place on Earth where it is still cool to ride a Vespa, so rent one and own that look like a pro. Next, cut loose and tour like a princess on a jailbreak: enjoy a gelato on the Spanish Steps, fling some coins into the Trevi Fountain, and have a coffee at one of the little cafes near the Coliseum. Then go get a short haircut and break a journalist’s heart. This one practically writes itself.

 3). The Year of Living Dangerously: Jakarta, Indonesia

  • The movie: Mel Gibson stars as a rookie foreign correspondent caught up in political and romantic turmoil during the 1965 Indonesian civil war.
  • Live it: Though Jakarta has calmed down somewhat since the 1960s, recent terrorist attacks on hotels and the Australian embassy have shown that a trip to Indonesia isn’t just a walk in the park. Depending on how committed you are to following in Mel Gibson’s footsteps, you can schlep along a camera and laptop and try to convince a news agency back home to publish your scribblings, or you can just hang out in the sort of dive bars frequented by expat journos. Admittedly, I’ve never been to Indonesia, but I hear that Block M in South Jakarta is a decent place to get a drink with some fellow Americans before getting knifed.

from TheRaider.net

4). Raiders of the Lost Ark: Cairo, Egypt

  • The movie: If you haven’t seen this movie, then hello and welcome to the 21st Century. I hope you enjoyed your 30-year stay in that bomb shelter underneath your dad’s house. Seriously? You won’t be getting any summaries from me.
  • Live it: This is a hard one. After all, I’ve spent the past two decades of my life attempting (unsuccessfully) to live out this movie, from using a stick to dig a giant hole in my parents’ front yard at the age of 5 to graduating college with a degree in archaeology at the age of 23. That being said, I haven’t tried a trip to Cairo, so maybe there’s still hope. Paid archaeological gigs can be tough to nab, particularly if you have no experience and want to work in an exciting corner of the world, so try volunteering on a dig while you’re out there. Volunteer archaeology resource http://www.ubarchaeologist.com/ has a whole section devoted to connecting wannabe Indys with digs throughout Egypt. Just don’t forget to bring your whip and fedora.

 5). Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: Las Vegas, Nevada

  • The movie: Dr. Hunter S. Thompson’s most famous book translated onto film, starring a pre-Pirates Johnny Depp as gonzo journalist Raoul Duke on a drug- and alcohol-fueled search for the American Dream in the desert black hole of Las Vegas.
  • Live it: No, you don’t want to live this movie. Not actually. There was a time I thought I did, and I wound up riding five deep in a clapped-out old sedan, sandwiched between a handle of Captain and my friend’s disastrously skanky roommate, on the five-hour pilgrimage from LA to Las Vegas. Twelve (or so) hours later, I woke up wearing someone else’s clothes in “Slots of Fun,” the budget casino that lurks in the parking lot of Circus Circus. Things went downhill from there.

 6). African Queen: Ulanga River, central Africa

  • The movie: Based on C.S. Forester’s classic WWI novel, the movie depicts the unlikely romance that blossoms between a cockney boat captain and a sheltered missionary woman as they travel up the Ulanga River in central Africa.
  • Live it: Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn may have done the trip over a long stretch in a little coal-powered riverboat, but you don’t have that kind of time. Grab a paddle and river raft, and shoot some rapids! The African continent features some of the best whitewater rivers in the world. Try the Zambezi River in Zimbabwe, where Class V rapids will blast you near the gorgeous Victoria Falls, or the Ono River in Ethiopia, which winds you through a hippo-filled canyon. Need to cram some romance in there, too? Lean over and give the rafter next to you a big smooch.

 7). Cliffhanger: Rocky Mountains, USA

  • The movie: A muscle-bound mountain rescue worker with emotional baggage but no shirt sleeves must track a team of foul-mouthed thieves through the gloriously vertical landscape of the Rocky Mountains to rescue his friend and save the day.
  • Live it: This movie is glorified mountain porn. Even my friends who are hardcore rock climbers and feel the need to point out every technical inaccuracy in the movie’s climbing (WTF, a bolt gun?) will watch it just to enjoy the beautiful mountain landscapes. Though many of the sweeping vistas were actually shot in the Dolomites of Italy, the Rockies offer amazing views and rock climbing that is every bit as fun as it looks on film. Hit Colorado and check out Longs Peak, the tallest 14er in Rocky Mountain National Park, featuring 1,000 feet of granite trad-climbing routes.

 8). Australia: Northern Territory, Australia


screencap from 20th Cent. Fox's "Australia"


  • The movie: The Never-Ending Story. This three hour-long action/drama/historical fiction/romance/war movie/epic starring Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman’s shirtless torso tells the tale of an aristocratic woman whose husband is murdered, leaving her in charge of a large cattle ranch in Australia. Some stuff happens, and then we all learn a valuable lesson about the evils of colonialism.
  • Live it: Walking out of the theater after this movie, I immediately began talking with an Australian accent and decided to move to the Northern Territory. That was 2008. A year and a half later, I’m still faking the accent and still living in LA. To live this one, I think we should all go on a walkabout in Australia. We’ll start in Darwin and work our way south along the Stuart Highway to Alice Springs and then jaunt over to Uluru with nothing but a knife and floppy hat. Crikey!

 9). The Motorcycle Diaries: Argentina, Chile, Peru, Colombia, and Venezuela

  • The movie: The Oscar-winning movie about revolutionary Che Guevara’s motorcycle trip across South America with his best friend.
  • Live it: There are really two ways to do this trip. If you have the money, buy an expensive, buffed-up BMW motorcycle, ship it south of the Equator, and sign up for any one of the guided tours. If you don’t, just buy whatever motorcycle you can afford, point it south, and aim for the horizon. This route involves a bit more adventure (and by “adventure” I mean breakdowns, run-ins with guerillas, and occasional starvation) and a lot more faith. Either way, keep a blog about it. It seems that this is becoming quite the thing: http://www.knitteldude.com/South%20America.htm

Theatrical Release Poster

10). LA Confidential: Los Angeles, California

  • The movie: Off the record, on the QT, and very hush-hush: this star-studded 1990s film noir explores the seamy world of cops and crime in 1950s Hollywood.
  • Live it: This one’s easy. Los Angeles is populated largely by transplants whose dreams are so commonplace they’re practically plagiarizing one other with their very existence. While on break from trying to make it big by “accidentally” leaving a draft screenplay on the table at their local Coffee Bean for some big producer to discover, they love to pretend that LA really is the city they fell in love with in the movies. So when you want to drown yourself in nostalgia, do what they do, and head downtown. Sure, downtown is sketchy and only a pale imitation of the grand East Cost metropolises, but hidden in the rough are some bars where the past comes alive. Swill a cocktail at The Edison, an industrial art deco bar housed in the area’s first private power plant; or duck into the dark underworld of the Golden Gopher; or even have a “Black Dahlia” martini at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel’s Gallery Bar, where the drink’s namesake was last seen alive.

Where does the time go?  It seems like only yesterday I was sitting at my desk musing over 2009 and here I am, writing my annual round-up for 2010.  How do you sum up a year?  Travel changes you – life changes you.  Every year I feel as though my eyes are opened wider, my heart having become fuller.  I bid farewell to another year having seen incredible new places, met inspiring people and bound myself closer to my fellow adventurers.  And although I rather feel like my voyages were somehow less exotic this year, they were no less fascinating.  Plus I did one thing I’ve never done – visited the same foreign country twice in one year (actually twice in 8 months if you really want to split hairs).  A small feat for many, but with a bucket list as long as my arm it was something I didn’t think I’d do until much further down the road (so to speak).  In any case, I really Anglo-philed it up this year – and still my British accent makes me sound like a cross between Dudley Moore and a very confused Canadian.

Lake Tahoe, CA

From exploring the Tower of London, attending the Golden Globe Awards, hiking the Rockies and wine-tasting through central California, to marveling at the Vegas strip for the first time (not in a good way), curling up with a book in the Belfast City Library and moving to a new home, 2010 was jam-packed with memorable moments.  I camped on a Santa Barbara beach, rafted down the Truckee River, marveled solomnly at wall-length Raphael tapestries from the Vatican and mastered the Liverpool bus system.  And most importantly I collected ever-more important travel knowledge, primarily that if you walk long enough and fast enough, you can maintain a steady diet of sticky toffee pudding and chicken pot pie and not gain an ounce. 

London, UK

Atlanta, GA

I am used to crisscrossing the Atlantic a couple times a year, but I began 2010 with zero solid plans to go anywhere and absolutely no budget, so frankly the amount of traveling I managed over the last 12 months impresses even me.  Sometimes spontenaity and where it leads you can be an infinitely more fun way to travel – and allows less time for stressing out about the whole scenario.  Last-minute journeys are something I’ve only done once before (to Venice for 4 days in 2008, a snap decision made about 3 days before I hopped on the plane).  I finally revisited that thrill on a random 5-day jaunt to London with my retired flight attendant mother, whose high seniority number nabbed us delicious Business Class seats on both in- and outbound flights.  (I’d almost forgotten the beauty of unlimited wine, warmed cookies and lie-flat seats!) The trip confirmed a long-harbored suspicion that one day London would overtake Venice as my favorite city in the world; after 2 visits this year, I can safely say the two destinations are now neck-and-neck.

Belfast, NI

And yes, the Jet-Setters squeezed in our 3rd adventure together, pub-crawling, museum-hopping and otherwise blazing a 10-day trail through the British Isles.  It is a vital blessing to have solid travel companions with whom you can share cramped quarters for weeks on end without wanting to kill each other, and who understand – nay, partake in your inexplicable need for cocktails much earlier in the day than when at home.

I learned a lot about discount airlines, making my first jaunts on Ryanair and Southwest, the former who does whatever they feel like (or don’t feel like) as far as service goes and whose on-board food costs 3 times as much as your ticket, the latter who has a maddening boarding process but which I otherwise found pleasant, with the possible exception of the caliber traveler I generally found sitting next to me (the word “smarmycomes to mind).  Ryanair’s trumpet salute, played gleefully over the cabin’s loudspeakers whenever they make an on-time landing, was an amusing highlight.  I have a sneaking suspicion they over-quote the actual flight times to trick you into thinking they really ARE the “never-late” airline.  PS – the runway at Belfast City Airport is, ahem, very short.

Lancashire, England

Domestically I fared much poorer than last year, adding no new states to my growing roster.  However that in no way takes away from the travel I did manage, which involved novelties like sleeping in a giant pyramid (Vegas), dancing into the wee hours at a  sushi bar (Aspen) and discovering what its like to be a human icicle (the Sierra Nevadas).

Four Seasons, Las Vegas

And of course the travel blogger community continues to amaze me in unexpected ways.  Kindness, humor and a deep curiosity runs through both the local Los Angeles group I have come to know (@LA_COT), and the global community at large.  From here, 2011 looks to expand upon the growth I’ve experienced in 2010, with impending trips ranging from the Windy City to the Alamo, from Vancouver to Vienna (or…Vietnam?).  TBEX ’11 is expected to be a rousing adventure – and plus, the Jet-Setters have yet to decide on Destination 2011! 

So here’s to all of you trying to chip away at your own bucket lists, winging your way through the skies and trekking tirelessly from city to city.  I hope the next year will find us all experiencing those “moments in time” where we sit back and marvel at the glorious effect journeys taken have upon each of us.

Bon voyage, a presto, cheers,

The Annual Whopping Life Travel Total Round-up as of Dec., 2010:

U.S. States visited: 30, plus D.C.
Countries visited: 11
Shoutouts: much love to fellow wanderlusters the Jet-Setters, mom and dad, Maureen H., Katy C., the LACOT and my dear friends abroad in Azerbaijian (Jeremy), Italy (Andrea) and Kabul, Afghanistan (USAF – Felisa & John).

Santa Monica Mountains, CA

*Author’s note: please, please take this with a grain of salt. we are not trying to start any arguments here.

I rarely rant. Nay, I almost ALWAYS laud the gloriousness of people, places, things, food.  But no longer can I sit idly by and observe the swirl of heated debate over the Airport Body Scanner.  It is (and I preface by saying in my opinion) utterly ridiculous.  Please also note (just so you know I’m not ignoring the issue) that here I am addressing one problem with the body scanners. The health concerns of x-ray technology (which the FDA refutes, by the way), the feeling that this is only the beginning of future invasions of privacy by government and the rare instances where people truly feel they’ve been violated during a pat-down or whatever are not part of this post, and I do consider those valid.  I am referring to one issue and one issue only.  Now onto my point…

It appalls me that in today’s world – where people love to strip down on TV, wear clothing that is either see-through or made of lycra in such small increments that body parts which have rarely seen sunlight hang out in profusion, and in large part appear to eschew conservativism completely – people are so angry about these body scanners.  Literally every day I see articles in travel publications, blogs and news sources about how people refuse to go through them or throw a hissy fit because they feel violated or that their civil rights are being taken away.  No  one is singling you out for personal humiliation.  We all have to walk through the scanners, one after the other.

Here I would like to present the phrase: the common good.  People argue “Why should I have to put up with this? I didn’t do anything wrong. I just want to get to XYZ destination…”  Though unfortunate, it is a reality of our world that people exist who want to do us harm…and wouldn’t you rather avoid being a victim of that at almost any cost?  Can you just suck it up and be one of the gillion people a day security examines to make sure you’re not a wacko?

I’ve been through body scanners.  They take about 10 seconds and you’re on your merry way.  I don’t get the fuss.  I am relatively comfortable with my body but I’m also the type of person who hates being stared at and assumes whoever is doing the staring could possibly be thinking something unsavory.  Call it paranoia.  But if I’m THAT person and these don’t bother me… I mean do you think the TSA guy applied for his job because he hoped he could stare at naked people of ALL SHAPES AND SIZES (many probably not very glorious) all day long? Doubtful.

Clearly and fairly so, we all have varying levels of preference when it comes to our personal privacy.  But what I feel like people are missing here is The Big Picture.  When you travel there are compromises you have to make, whether you like it or not.  Sometimes you have to sit next to screaming kids, eat bad food and buy all your shampoo at your destination because the bottle was too big for your carryon.  Well we also live in a world of increased security for very CLEARLY proven reasons, and honestly any measure that can ensure safety, short of making us all walk nude through the scanner in front of everyone else in the vicinity, seems apropo to me. 

We’ve come a long way from 20 years ago when airport security was pretty predictable.  You went through the motions and that was it.  Nowadays if you go to the airport expecting not to wait in line, submit to a pat-down or have your bag searched – no matter WHO you are – well, you’re going to be sorely disillusioned.

Frankly if Joe Schmo the TSA Man wants to sit in a room and gaze upon fuzzy black and white photos of lady bits or man boobs, who cares?  They can’t see your face and they don’t care to.  You’ll never see them again.  You don’t have to date the guy.  And what is the percentage of losers who do that?  Miniscule.  Thank the yutzes who shove drugs and who-knows-what-else in all manner of orifices, and think about whether you’d rather feel comfortable knowing you are traveling safely or take a risk 30,000 feet in the air because people were so offended by these machines that they were discontinued.

It is probable there will be better measures in the future that don’t require such close inspection of the human body.  But until then I advise the traveling public to deal – arguing with airport security is not the way you will prefer to start or end a trip.  So stop being embarassed – maybe give a little wink and a wave while you’re in that scanner to give Joe Schmo a thrill.  Because while you’re drinking a beer at 35,000 feet, he’s watching the rest of America’s well-fed nude shadows graze across his TV screen – and getting paid very little for it.

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