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Monday, January 16, 2012

Travel & Adventure Show: Skepticism Eliminated

Okay, so where am I?

No, not underground writing my latest screenplay or those two book projects that are nearing deadline. Believe it or not, the 2012 L.A. Travel and Adventure Show called to me like the North Star in the dead of night.

I know. I know. I was skeptical too. But off to Long Beach I went. No traffic on a weekend morning made for a soothing overcast winter's drive.

The Fuji exhibit feature the traditional dance of the meke.
Upon my arrival at the show, I pick up my media credentials and the place is packed. Who would have guessed it? In my first thirty seconds on the trade show floor, this excited, attractive girl glides over speaking a million miles and over. At 20 or 21 years old, she wasn’t quite whom I had expected to meet here. She was desperate to find Andrew Zimmern. You know him, he’s the Travel Channel host of Bizarre Foods. I mean she’s in a hurry but she says she forgot her show guide at the scuba dive pool and was now very lost—shades of The White Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland.

“Scuba Dive Pool? Are you kidding me? Are you pulling my leg?,” I questioned her, to which she says coyly: "Show me to Andrew’s presentation and I'll show you to the Scuba Dive Pool."

For obvious reasons, I’m excited myself as the conversation escalates to the pace of her fast walking. The entire time, however, she’s gushing about Andrew Zimmern. My mind raced with inquisitive thoughts. Is she a true foodie? Or a Zimmern groupie/stalker? What in her rather large Louis Vuitton duffle? All I know is that it’s urgent she get there on time to see him and get her book signed.

When we get theater where he is speaking, it’s packed. Standing room only with hundreds there. As I begin to excuse myself, she asks where I’m going to which I reply that I don’t want to stand for an hour listening to bizarre food talk.

Her reply?

"Wait a minute!" From out of nowhere she pulls out two collapsible seats from her Louis Vuitton and whisks us near the front of the stage.

We sit down and she pours me a homemade cardamom coffee from her thermos and the conversation continues about how she can’t get enough of Andrew Zimmern and how he’s amazing and she waits every year to go to this show in order to plan her vacation for the following year.

The Scuba Dive Pool sponsored by was home to an 18,000 gallon  heated dive pool where you could learn the basics of diving.
Again I think to myself, “Are you kidding me? A travel show to plan a vacation? Isn’t that why they invented the Internet? (Yeah I know they invented the Internet for THAT. I mean besides THAT?) What about all the travel shows on Discovery, Nat Geo and the Food Network? What about Travel+Leisure magazine? Aren’t they the experts?”

As I begin to ask her if I was indeed being tricked, she blurted out a huge “SHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH! He’s coming.”

From there I was on my own.

She was riveted to every word he said. And you know what? He was pretty damned interesting. Along the way I learned a few of his hot spots for traveling foodies, including:
  • Aleppo, Syria: “This former Spice Route capitol was the world’s greatest food city a thousand years ago and is still one today. Paved with ancient pathways, it’s perfect blend of Middle East and North Africa.”
  • Barcelona, Spain: “Barcelona offers a remarkable depth and breadth of eateries. The best in Spanish cuisine is well represented here.”
  • Montreal, Quebec: “It’s a city with more culinary balls than any other on earth. Classic eats, street fare, indulgent, boozy, chef-driven, extreme cuisine.”
  • Taipei, China: “I love Chinese cuisine, maybe above all else. The night market in Taipei offers what is perhaps the best street eats on the planet narrowly beating out Penang’s New Lane and Singapore’s hawker stalls.”
  • Venice, Italy: “It’s the perfect walking city, dark and brooding at night, hidden and mysterious, and the food is once again on par with the town itself.”
After the presentation I wasn’t about to wait around for the guy who stole the girl I never had, so I walked the show—and what a glorious walk it was.

Amongst 400 exhibitors, I got a closer look at local and international destinations, familiar favorites and some under-the-radar escapes that are still somewhat crowd free even in high season. Take the Falklands.

For nature and wildlife lovers, the Falklands are the place.
With a life-sized portrait of penguins as the backdrop to the exhibit area, I was able to have a lovely conversation with Kylie, their marketing rep, who was happy to gush about the South Atlantic archipelago of 700 plus islands. Prior to the show, the only thing I knew about them was that it was the flashpoint of the 1982 war where Britain decided to prove to the world they could still fight like a world power. What I discovered was that the Falklands feature raw and unblemished nature with 227 species of birds, whales, dolphins, elephant seals and sea lions roaming the air, land and ocean.  And, if you’re a fan of royalty, Prince William is going there in February as part of his duties as a search and rescue pilot with the Royal Air Force. $2900 for an eight-day trip started to sound pretty good by the end of the conversation. Pretty, pretty good.

And as much as I wanted to see Samantha Brown [of the Travel Channel’s Passport show] wax poetic about stellar destinations, I was glued to the Global Beats Stage. There I found dancers from Indonesia, Guam, Taiwan, Spain, China and Malaysia, not to mention some belly dancing and a mesmerizing performance by Vedat. [Click below to see him comically explain Turkish love songs.]

As the day came to an end at 5:00 P.M., I caught a glimpse of my old new friend leaving the convention center, signed book in hand acting as if she won the lottery. It was then when I answered my own question from earlier. Where else could I experience the flavors of Berlin, Taiwan, Hawaii, Fiji, Ethiopia and hundreds of other destinations, climb a rock wall, gather in an Andrew Zimmern presentation, ride a zip line and scuba dive all in a single afternoon?

Only at the L.A. Travel & Adventure Show…


If you missed the show, the same folks who organized this one have three more in the next two months: the Chicago Travel & Adventure Show, January 28-29 at the Stephens Convention Center; the Bay Area Travel & Adventure Show , February 18-19 at the Santa Clara Convention Center; and the Washington D.C. Travel & Adventure Show, March 17-18 at the Washington Convention Center. Click here if you want to know more.