Formula 1 Fan Fest at the US Grand Prix

We returned to Austin last year to attend the Formula 1 United States Grand Prix at Circuit of the Americas (we last visited the race during its inaugural race in 2012).

I flew to Austin on Wednesday, and thanks to following  F1 on NBC Sports on Twitter, I managed to meet Manor F1 Driver Alexander Rossi shortly after landing! I rushed over to the food truck court while he was filming a segment for the show, “Off the Grid.” You can read more about my experience here.


I met Manor F1 driver Alexander Rossi while he was filming a segment for NBC Sports show, “Off the Grid.”

We were staying with my sister outside of Austin, so drove downtown on Thursday to walk around, visit the Circuit of the Americas Fan Fest and then later that night attend Will Buxton’s Big Time Bash at the Rattle Inn. We parked close to the Rattle Inn, since that would be our last stop of the night. As a huge fan of Topo Chico water, Dave was thrilled to see this Topo Chico mural on the side of the their building and had to take a picture.

Sidebar: Topo Chico water is carbonated mineral water from Mexico. My sister and her husband introduced Dave to it a few years ago, and he is hooked. Topo Chico is only gradually entering the market in Los Angeles, so it has been difficult for us to find. It is everywhere in Austin – you can even order it at bars! Needless to say, Dave was in heaven – we were in Austin to watch Formula 1 AND he could drink as much Topo Chico as he wanted.


Austin Rattle Inn Topo Chico

Dave outside the Rattle Inn, thrilled with the Topo Chico mural on the building.

Aryton Senna Exhibit

While walking around the city, we discovered this exhibit on famed Formula 1 multi-World Championship driver Aryton Senna. It was a small exhibit, but featured some of his race suits, helmets and wings from the cars he drove in Formula 1.

Aryton Senna helmet Formula 1 USGP Austin

One of Aryton Senna’s helmets.


Aryton Senna Formula 1 Austin USGP McLaren

Senna’s helmet, race suit and gloves, and the steering wheel and wing from his McLaren Formula 1 car.

Aryton Senna display at Formula 1 USGP Austin

The small display of Senna memorabilia

Circuit of the Americas Fan Fest

After enjoying the Senna exhibit, we headed to the COTA Fan Fest on Rainey Street. The Fan Fest is free, and listed an impressive line-up of musical acts including Public Enemy and Trombone Shorty, but since we were there to see the race, we did not stay to watch them. We knew we would be tired walking around the track on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, so we decided to focus on being well-rested. That being said, the Fan Fest provides entertainment for the serious and casual race fan, and excellent live music.

The skies were threatening rain, but we walked into the enclosed area and explored some of the food and drink booths. Not surprisingly, Topo Chico was there!

Circuit of the Americas Fan Fest USGP Austin Topo Chico

We had to have our picture taken in the Topo Chico photo booth, and we took home a Topo Chico poster (Dave is that obsessed with this water that he wants a poster!).

COTA Formula 1 Fan Fest USGP Austin Topo Chico

All smiles drinking Topo Chico!

There was an Illy coffee truck, which was exciting for me since I love Italian coffee.

Circuit of the Americas Fan Fest USGP Formula 1 Austin Illy Coffee

Free cans of Illy iced coffee drink!

On the main stage, later in the evening the musical acts were set to perform. First though, our main focus was hearing Formula 1 drivers interviewed.

COTA Formula 1 Fan Fest Austin

The main stage at the Fan Fest

I really enjoyed this as we usually only hear the drivers interviewed on TV immediately after qualifying sessions or the race, and this informal interview, with four drivers at the same time, allowed us to hear their personalities more. I was thrilled that my favorite driver Felipe Massa was on the panel – he is quite funny! Joining Felipe was his Williams Martini Racing teammate Valtteri Bottas, Ferrari Reserve driver Esteban Gutierrez, and Force India driver Nico Hulkenberg. There were rumors swirling that Gutierrez would be announced as a driver for the new Haas Formula 1 team, and while he was asked about that, Gutierrez artfully dodged that question (and he was indeed announced as one of Haas’ drivers the following week).

COTA Formula 1 Fan Fest Gutierrez Hulkenberg Bottas Massa

Formula 1 drivers Esteban Gutierrez, Nico Hulkenberg, Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa

I remember Felipe Massa teasing Gutierrez about having a long conversation with Ferrari driver Kimi Raikkonen (Kimi is notorious for being a man of few words).

Williams Martini Racing Valterri Bottas and Felipe Massa at COTA Formula 1 Fan Fest

Williams Martini Racing teammates Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa

Valtterri Bottas and Felipe Massa interview at COTA Formula 1 Fan Fest Austin

Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa being interviewed at the COTA Formula 1 Fan Fest 2015

Williams Martini Racing Formula 1 drivers Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa at COTA Fan Fest

Williams Martini Racing driver Felipe Massa answers a question while teammate Valtteri Bottas looks on at the COTA Formula 1 Fan Fest in 2015

The interviews continued, but we wanted to make it back to the Rattle Inn for the Will Buxton event. We quickly jumped in an Uber (sadly ride-sharing car services Uber and Lyft are no longer allowed in Austin), and made it over to the Rattle Inn just in time to see…

Buxton's Big Time Bash at Rattle Inn Austin with Esteban Gutierrez and Felipe Massa

Blurry photo of Esteban Gutierrez and Felipe Massa on stage at the Rattle Inn with F1 on NBC’s Will Buxton

Esteban Gutierrez and Felipe Massa on stage with the evening’s host, NBC Sports’ Will Buxton!

There was a suggested donation to join the party as Will and organizer Austin Grand Prix were raising money for Austin’s Meals on Wheels and the Justin Wilson Children’s Fund. The room was packed with race fans.

After Gutierrez and Massa left the stage, we were treated to hearing Alexander Rossi. Rossi, an American driver, had only recently been named a driver for the Manor Racing Team for the last half of the season. As the first American Formula 1 driver in several years, everyone was thrilled to watch him race in Austin.

Manor Formula 1 Driver Alexander Rossi with F1 on NBC Sports reporter Will Buxton Austin Rattle Inn

Manor F1 driver Alexander Rossi on stage with Will Buxton

Some of the loudest cheers that night were for the F1 on NBC Sports television team of Leigh Diffey, Steve Matchett and David Hobbs.

F1 on NBC Sports Steve Matchett, David Hobbs and Leigh Diffey at the Rattle Inn, Austin.

F1 on NBC on-air talent Steve Matchett, David Hobbs and Leigh Diffey on stage at Will Buxton’s Big Time Bash at the Rattle Inn in Austin, 2015.

F1 on NBC Sports Steve Matchett, David Hobbs and Leigh Diffey at Rattle Inn in Austin

A packed house to hear and see F1 on NBC Sports’ Steve Matchett, David Hobbs and Leigh Diffey live at the Rattle Inn in Austin.

Steve Matchett, David Hobbs and Leigh Diffey from F1 on NBC Sports

Throughout the evening, Will Buxton and organizer Austin Grand Prix raffled off prizes from some of the Formula 1 teams. Sadly, we did not win anything.

After the official program, all the fans stayed to mingle, and we managed to meet both Leigh Diffey and Steve Matchett. David Hobbs proved to be elusive!

F1 on NBC Sports' Leigh Diffey and me at the Rattle Inn in Austin

Meeting Leigh Diffey at the Rattle Inn

F1 on NBC Sports' Steve Matchett with me and Dave at the Rattle Inn in Austin

Dave and I with Steve Matchett at Buxton’s Big Time Bash at the Rattle Inn

After mingling with other fans, we were looking for a bite to eat before heading home. Luckily for us, Austin has many options for getting your fill of Tex-Mex, and the Violet Taco food truck was right next door. We ordered a few, and a Topo Chico of course, and they were really good! I would recommend stopping here the next time you are in Austin.

Topo Chico and tacos from the Violet Taco food truck in Austin

Tacos and Topo Chico from the Violet Taco

After filling up on tacos, we headed back to my sister’s to rest up for the official events at the track starting on Friday.

This year, Austin Grand Prix announced that they will be taking a break from organizing the Buxton Bash, but they are already planning for an event next year. You can read a complete re-cap of the 2015 event, with a listing of the prizes donated by drivers and teams here.

There is a Fan Fest in downtown Austin again this year on Friday and Saturday nights, and it’s a great opportunity to hear live music and enjoy Austin nightlife. There are also car displays, photos and exhibits, and it is FREE! If you’re staying downtown, you don’t have to worry about driving to and from the track like we did, leaving you more time to enjoy the fun!

Are you attending the USGP in Austin this year? If so, let me know what your plans are while you’re in town. We will be watching the race from California this year.


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 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.