Los Angeles Travel and Adventure Show

I spent most of Saturday at the Long Beach Convention Center visiting the Los Angeles Travel and Adventure Show there this weekend. Billed as, “The First Stop on Your Next Trip,” the show will visit San Francisco on March 5 -6, and Philadelphia on March 19 – 20.

If you want travel inspiration and to discover new places to visit, I encourage you to attend. There are travel destinations near (in California), somewhat near (the United States) and far at the show with brochures, information, and show specials and discounts for new and more seasoned travelers alike.

Entering the show, attendees were greeted by large booths from Fiji, Indonesia, Taiwan and China.

I met some friendly faces from Korea in the Visit Korea booth.


Some dancers from Thailand entertained the crowd.


In a large area focused on Japan, there was a model of the Shinkansen “bullet train” with the Central Japan Railway Company, and a cooking display in the Japan National Tourism Organization booth.


New Orleans Bill and his team were sharing samples of his New Orleans potato salad  and Sweet Potato Cookies in the Cuisine Noir Magazine booth. They were having fun sharing a bit of New Orleans with us!


New Orleans Bill and his crew. His potato salad is available in the deli counters of Walmart and Albertson’s locally in Los Angeles.

There were several stages throughout the convention hall with noted travel experts sharing their travel experiences and insight – pictured below (left to right) are Rick Steves, Samantha Brown and Angel Castellanos.

Many exhibits offered interactive features – attendees could ride Segways from Long Beach Segway Tours, climb a rock climbing wall in the Yosemite Experience Pavilion, and take an Olympic ski jump by virtual reality in the Korea booth (Pyeong Chang, Korea, is hosting the Winter Olympics in 2018).

While I enjoyed learning about new destinations to discover – Iran and the Cook Islands were two of my favorites – there were also travel resources at the show. Los Angeles World Airports had information about the long overdue modernization and transformation of LAX – LAX is happening! In addition to learning about updated food and shopping options and the new Tom Bradley International Terminal (TBIT), I was interested to learn about a coming central car rental facility, people mover, and links to Metro. You could learn about acquiring a U.S. passport or joining the Global Entry program from U.S. Customs and Border Protection. I was impressed by the new website www.HeadingHomeHealthy.org that compiles information on travel outside the United States from the Centers for Disease Control in a more user-friendly format.

There were many travel products at the show too. The Lazar’s Luggage booth was popular and offered discounts on travel packing items. Lazar’s Luggage is a luggage superstore in Sherman Oaks. I really liked this small wheelie bag decorated with graphic flowers.


I love this flower wheelie-bag that was at the Lazar’s Luggage booth.

The ScottEvest offers men’s and women’s tech-oriented travel vests, jackets and sweaters. There are many pockets in each design to stow your phone, e-book reader, iPad, credit cards, earphones and more. I particularly liked the sweater which offers deep pockets (and zippers to stow some cash or a credit card).

Tep Wireless offers a private wireless hotspot while you travel – you can either rent their device for one-off trips, or purchase one to keep (and then pay for wireless whenever you use it).

Tep Wireless's private hotspot device.

Tep Wireless’s private hotspot device.

A new undergarment option for women, the Travel Bra, seems like a promising new product. Built within the bra are pockets for a passport, credit cards and a USB device – a great way to keep your most important travel items safe while exploring the world. The Makeup Eraser, is a polyester cloth that when wet with only water, removes all types of makeup. The cloth is machine washable, so it seems like a great alternative to make-up removers (and easy to take on the road).

I was really excited by the vests offered by Stuffa – puff vests with internal pockets that fit several days worth of clothes. I tried the vests on – and even though all the items on the table were stored in the vest, it was easy to wear and felt light. I spoke with the founder of the company, Sandro Cafasso, and he said he designed the vests so that he could get away for the weekend without needing to bring a bag. I thought it would be a great way to bring some extra clothes on a flight if your wheelie bag is full.


The Stuffa booth

All of these items fit in the Stuffa vest!

All of these items fit in the Stuffa vest!


The Stuffa vest for women

Go Sleep is a combination of a memory foam pillow and an eye mask with straps that you attach to a seat back or head rest, enabling you to sleep upright while traveling. I can’t wait to try this on my next long-haul flight.


My favorite find of the show was from Otto Trading – they were showcasing a mini personal message device. It’s the size of a small ipod with medical pads that you can place anywhere on your body that needs a massage. There are different modes of massage to choose, and you can select the strength of the massage. It felt a bit weird at first, but then it started feeling really good. I asked my fellow blogging friend Kat to try it too – and we both ended up buying one. I have already tried it at home, and it gave my sore shoulder a nice massage while I was watching the Oscars last night. I think this would be a perfect fit for traveling – you can massage sore muscles after a long-haul flight or after a day of walking and sightseeing.


Kat and I enjoying the UniMed Massager.

I met and talked to so many people at the show, and I barely scratched the surface of all the vendors that were on display. Here is a quick run-down of who I met:

  • Alaska’s Inside Passage – the ladies at this booth told me about reasonably priced flights to Juneau on Alaskan Airlines from LAX via Seattle. Once in Juneau, an alternative to an Alaskan cruise would be to take a ferry to different towns.
  • Avianca Airlines – a Star Alliance partner, I chatted with them about their new Dreamliner service that flies direct from Los Angeles to Bogota, Colombia.
  • Bayou Lafourche, LA – the gateway to Cajun country
  • Best of Croatia – small ship Adriatic Cruises – Croatia is one of my favorite countries, and I would love to cruise the Croatian coast again in a small ship. We also talked about the wonderful lavender from the island of Hvar.
  • Czech Tourism – I saw the director of the Los Angeles office, Vojtěch Kačerovský, again, and said I still hope to travel to the Czech Republic soon.
  • Destination British Columbia – I looked at the map, saw that I’ve only been to Vancouver and Whistler, and realized that there is so much more to explore in this Canadian province.
  • Enjoy the Mountain – Adventure and off-road experiences (think off-road Segways!) in Southern California.
  • G Adventures – they are partnering with National Geographic on tours, and have multiple tour options to travel all over the world.
  • Gilroy Welcome Center – I have stayed in Gilroy when visiting the Monterey Peninsula, but have yet to visit their famous Garlic Festival in the summer.
  • Hande Tour – a luxury tour operator in Vietnam, one of my favorite destinations. They also offer trips throughout Southeast Asia.
  • Infinite Safari Adventures – I met this Studio City-based tour operator a few years ago at the show. Chairman and Founder Alan Feldstein and VP of Marketing Diane Haithman talked to me about the state of conservation efforts for elephants and rhinos in Africa – it was good to hear that things are improving. I like that they offer unique, custom wildlife adventures in Africa – one example is the ability to kayak off the coast of Tanzania.
  • Iran Doostan Tours – as I was standing at this booth, another attendee approached and said, “You’ve got to be kidding, right?” She was fearful of traveling to Iran, so I told her that I would happily travel to Iran. Iran Doostan Tours offers several tour options, including hiking and cave explorations. They also had a wonderful map – I love looking at country maps!
  • Israel Ministry of Tourism – in this booth I met Nir Margalith, the founder of Puzzle Israel, and his US marketing director Deb Lust Zaluda. Nir is a chef and created tours that feature Israeli guides and staff, and more experiential tours in Israel. I was particularly interested in their food tours and their yoga tours. On the back of the Puzzle Israel brochures were photos (and recipes) of delicious looking Israeli dishes.
  • Pishgharavolan – another Iranian tour operator. There was a helpful information sheet with information for US passport holders interested in traveling to Iran (how to obtain a visa, if Iran is safe, etc.). Here I learned that the exchange rate is ideal for Americans wanting to travel to Iran as its cheaper than ever. They also had a map of Iran to share.
  • Romanian Tourist Office – I met Nicolae Aldea of Romania Tours, and he jokingly (I think)  said he could help me meet Dracula when I visit Romania. His company offers tours in Romania but also include visits to other neighboring countries.
  • Rovos Rail – offering luxury train travel through South Africa and neighboring countries in Africa. They too had a beautiful map that displayed their train route options – a great and luxurious way to explore southern Africa.
  • Slovenia Tourism Office – there were beautiful brochures about Slovenia to encourage travelers to discover your #ifeelsLOVEnia. I asked about Ljubljana the European Green Capital and the capital of the country, as I have learned a bit about it from some twitter chats – it looks like a beautiful city, and I hope I can visit there soon.
  • Tourism Malaysia – I hope to visit Malaysia one day, perhaps in conjunction with a visit to the Malaysian Formula 1 Grand Prix.
  • Via Corsa Magazine – billed as, “The Car Traveler Magazine,” this is a new publication that publishes quarterly.
  • Yamnuska Mountain Adventures – hiking, rock climbing and ice climbing in the Canadian Rockies, and there are trips for all experience levels.

This list is a small sample of the tour operators, destinations, travel suppliers and travel products at the Travel and Adventure Show. But with so many exhibitors, there is surely something to meet everyone’s interests.

Another bonus of attending the show was catching up with friends in the travel industry. As I was leaving the show floor, I bumped into Mike Siegel of Travel Tales Podcast, and we chatted about the show and Formula E car racing. Once outside the Long Beach Convention Center, I saw Russell Edmond, Kat Von B and Sarah Good taking a break. After sitting for a few minutes to refresh and grabbing some iced coffee, we headed back inside to listen to Rick Steves talk and do one last run through the show. Sarah, Kat and I then met up with Nick Kontis and headed across the street to the Auld Dubliner for a drink. While there Michael Bennett of Muddy Shoe Adventures and Annie Neukomm from Interlaken Tourism joined us. It was nice to share some laughs and travel stories with people that love to travel as much as I do.

The Travel and Adventure Show will return to Los Angeles (and other cities) in 2017, but there is still an opportunity for people in San Francisco to attend the show there this coming weekend, or in Philadelphia March 19-20. Check the Travel Show website for more details.




Amara Chocolate and Coffee Cafe in Pasadena

Earlier this year, my friends Lisa, Melissa and I were looking for somewhere to meet and catch up with each other. Melissa suggested a few places near her in Pasadena (California), and one of them was a place that served hot chocolate. That quickly became our pick, and we met there on Saturday afternoon.

I arrived first, and since I left the house early that morning, I was hungry. Not knowing if we would be ordering only hot chocolate or food too, I decided to try an empanada while I waited for Lisa and Melissa to arrive.

Pasadena empanada

Beef empanada at Amara

It was the perfect size for a small snack, but you could also order several to make a full meal.

Although I wanted sipping chocolate, I needed some caffeine, so I decided to try a cacao latte, but I had choices as to how dark I wanted the chocolate in my mocha to be, a choice I never had before! I am a big fan of dark chocolate, so I ordered my cacao latte with the 61% dark chocolate. According to Amara’s menu, the chocolate is paired with Guatemalan espresso. It was the perfect combination of chocolate and espresso flavors with a hint of sweetness.

Pasadena mocha

Amara Cafe’s dark chocolate mocha – note it’s already half gone because I was too excited to drink it before taking a picture!

While waiting, I realized that Amara Cafe was not simply a pastry cafe but a Venezuelan cafe – the empanadas on the menu was one clue. There was a selection of the usual sandwich combinations, but at the register, an ipad displayed photos of other menu items. One thing that caught my eye was a tortilla that seemed to be covered with beans and plantains. There were also churros on the menu! I did not expect that. I knew I wanted to order some but decided to wait to see if Lisa and Melissa were interested in sharing some too.

Melissa arrived next, and while she was looking at the menu, she too noticed the tortilla photo and was intrigued. We decided to order that to share and learned that in addition to the beans and plantains there was beef and cheese as well. It is called an arepa, a Venezuelan corn flat-bread. We ordered La De Pabellon which included the arepa, shredded beef, white cheese, black beans and plantains.

Pasadena pancake

When it arrived at our table, we split it between the three of us (by this time Lisa joined us) – it might make a main entree for dinner, but with both beans and meat, it is pretty filling for one person for lunch. It was delicious – the sweetness of the corn tortilla and plantains balanced nicely with the meat and beans. So, so good!

After finishing that, we had our next big decision – how many churros to order, and with what sauces? We decided on six to share with dark chocolate and nutella sauces.

Pasadena churros

Churros con chocolate -mmm the perfect morning, lunch, mid-afternoon or late night treat!

We were all surprised by this little cafe in the heart of old town Pasadena. While there is typical cafe fare, the Venezuelan menu items – especially the chocolate – give it something to stand out. Read more about Amara’s chocolates on their website.

The space is small, but we were able to find a table with ease to enjoy our orders. There was a steady stream of customers coming in for food to sit and eat or a drink to have on the go.

I would recommend visiting this unique cafe and trying some of their Venezuelan delicacies and chocolates!

Amara Cafe

55 South Raymond Avenue
Pasadena, CA 91105
Phone (626) 744-1765
90 min Free Parking

The 2016 Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona – My Trip via Social Media

Rolex24 start

It was a quick weekend trip to Daytona Beach for the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona at Daytona International Speedway. Here is a quick re-cap of the weekend based on my social media posts on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook via Storify.

Has anyone attended a long endurance race – either 24 or 12 hours? Let me know what you thought about the experience!