Travel Adventure Show LA Kelley Ferro

Speaking at the LA Travel & Adventure Show: My thoughts…

 

 

LA Travel Show Kelley Ferro Savvy Traveler

In February, I had the honor of speaking at the Los Angeles Travel and Adventure show and I have to say, it blew me away. I’ve spoken at a dozen or so travel conferences around world, including some you may be familiar with like Travel Blog Exchange (TBEX), TTG/TTI, Eye for Travel, Social Media Week and Travel Blogger Elevator, but I really enjoyed mixing it up by speaking directly to consumers versus professionals in the travel industry.

 

 

 

Of course, I cherish my travel industry “colleagues,” and love learning, sharing and growing in this tight-knit community, but there was something really refreshing about speaking to the enthusiastic traveler. I mean, every one of us in the industry is started as just someone that loved to travel, so at the the LA Travel & Adventure show, I felt like I was speaking to “my people.” The chairs quickly filled with attentive faces, I saws notes frantically being scribbled down, and then hands shooting up to ask engaging questions like “when is the best time of year to go there?” and “what tour operator do you recommend?” At the end, I stayed around to talk individually with those that had more to ask. It is such a thrill to see how my experiences directly can improve someone else’s travels. In the end, that is why I do all of this!

My focus was on the “Top Ten Bucket List Experiences and How to Do Them”–a daunting top ten list, I have to say. It was particularly hard as I have had probably a HUNDRED experiences that I’d consider “bucket list,” and every time I travel to a new place, I find out that there are hundreds more! However, I wanted to keep this talk personal and meaningful so I only chose adventures that I had PERSONALLY experienced.

Let me preface this the way I prefaced my speech–I clearly haven’t been everywhere and don’t know about about every experience. As much as I try, I will never see and do everything. But at this rate, with 50 countries under my belt and a pretty packed non-stop travel schedule for the past 10 years, I think I’ll have a pretty good handle on it when I’m 100 years old. 

I also am not being paid to recommend any of the destinations or tour operators that I suggest in this article nor in my speech. 

Top Bucket List Experiences

How I chose to organize my top ten was focused more on the type of experience than the actual specific destination. I feel that certain travel experiences transcend the specific destination, though certain places enable you to get that experience (make sense?). For each bucket list experience, I gave specific examples where I went to have those memorable moments.

Below I’ll outline a handful of my bucket list adventures and some related video but you’ll just have to come to my next presentation to hear the rest! I will talk about #1, #2, #3, and #5 in my top ten list.

 

#1. The “Get Out of Your Comfort Zone” Trip: Papua New Guinea

I am not saying that you need to be uncomfortable on every trip, but just once, choose a destination, an adventure or a tour that might push your boundaries. Maybe it’ll involve camping outdoors, trekking or pushing yourself in some physical way. Or maybe it’ll be more about an emotional stretch–for instance volunteering at an orphanage or animal rescue center, or living without the luxuries and amenities of the modern world, as many do.

The one destination that had a profound impact on me in this way, was Papua New Guinea. As soon as I landed, I had that overwhelming sense of “wow, I am in a totally different world.” Few roads meant that we used charter planes to access different villages. I was traveling on a private journey with Swain Destinations, a luxe tour operator that has run a lot of tours in PNG and know how to facilitate incredible experiences.  In each of the location in PNG, welcoming locals brought us into the daily markets, told us stories through dance, and shared their belief system, traditions and everyday life.

Papua New Guinea travel

For one part of the trip, I lived in an open air lodge with electricity only a few hours a day, cold water and one option for every meal. I made bedfellows with some interesting wildlife a few times but in general, I enjoyed the simplicity of it! I was staying along the Karawari River, exploring the Sepik region, the lowlands of Papua New Guinea. Each day we took a river boat to experience life on the river and to stop at small villages and meet the people that called them home. I tried my hand at chopping sago palm, which I later helped form into sago pancakes with a village mom. I was granted access in the male-only spirit houses, an integral part of transition into manhood for the village’s male youths. I even took a GoPro selfie with a group of beaming children and wove baskets with a local teenager–and all this without sharing a common language!

The experience put so much into perspective for me in terms of what we value as humans and what we need to not only survive, but to thrive. I boarded my return plane a changed woman.

#2. The Animal Trip: South Africa & Churchill, Manitoba

For me, this is a very important one as we as a race are continuously depleting the chances for survival for many of our planet’s most amazing creatures. I will try to stay positive and focus on what we can change, but I do believe that understanding the need for conservation efforts is the first step to improving the situation.

Safari Polar Bears & Lions

There are many tours and experiences out there that will give guests up close experiences with wild animals but I strongly encourage you to look deeply into the activity that you book. There are many that aren’t following the conservation guidelines or respecting the wildlife, the land or the local people. I fortunately found Swain Destinations, which took me to Kruger National Park where I was able to see lionesses and cubs, lounging cheetahs, grazing rhino, stoic elephants and lionesses with cubs. But they also made sure that the guides were from the local villages, that they supported local anti-poaching and conservation organizations and the hotel property was involved in environmental sustainability efforts.

Polar Bear Churchill

I also have to mention experiencing the polar bears in their natural element: the tundra. Tauck, a well known luxury tour operator, organizes trips up to the very remote Churchill, Manitoba, only accessible by train or plane. Churchill is the “capital of Polar Bears” as it is in the midst of where polar bear territory. We were able to get a close up view of these majestic, endangered bears emerging from hibernation. I learned so much about their life cycle, how they hunt, raise young and how they are struggling to cope with our warming climate that I hope I can be an ambassador for their plight.

#3 The Road Trip: Switzerland

I think most people have done a road trip or two, whether it is a day jaunt to a neighboring town or a long haul to Grandma’s house. But I’m referring to a longer road trip, where you experience a totally new environment, moving from point A to point B. The reason I like road trips is because there is so much focus on the journey. What you see out the windows is often the true look into the local life of the destination. You’ll see cars going to work, vendors selling roadside food and will pass small town life in between.

Switzerland Road Trip

What I also really enjoy is being able to pull that car off the main road and taking a side route, meandering through in little village, stopping for a bite at mom & pop restaurant–you can do what you want! It’s that flexibility and spontaneity that we don’t often find in our daily lives and this is one of the rare opportunities where the unexpected can be much better than what you had planned.

As I write this, visions of driving across Switzerland in the sunny Autumn weather springs into mind. Turning a corner and gasping at the snow covered mountains, or passing young cows jingling their brass bells or getting lost on a medieval carriage road and realizing it might be the most magical road you’ve ever seen–these images won’t leave my memory! My cameraman Sam and I drove a spectacular route: from Geneva to Lausanne, on to Vevey and Crans-Montana, then Zermatt and ultimately, Basel. We went from a cosmopolitan French influenced metropolis to a bustling university city to historic lakeside village. Of course the alpine village of Zermatt was breathtaking and the culturally rich Basel felt like the epicenter of cool, modern life. Yet it was all those moments in between and the unexpected stops–even the car train that took us through the insides of a giant mountain–that painted a real-life picture of Switzerland.

 

#5. The Travel Back in Time Trip: Egypt

You may think that humanity today is intelligent but take a look at what the Egyptians were doing in 3000 BC. There are many ancient civilizations with artifacts, architecture and visible impact still accessible today. However to me the Pyramids of Giza, the Step Pyramid of Djoser, Luxor Temple, the Valley of the Kings, the tomb of King Tut and the Temple of Dendara were each so impactful, I have to recommend a trip to Egypt for your bucket list. The fact that you can see all of them on the same trip is truly awe-inspiring.

Sphinx Egypt Cairo Giza

I traveled with the very reputable Abercrombie & Kent, a tour operator that at the time in 2014, employed over 300 locals on the ground in Egypt. This not only made the tours, the guides and the experience feel seamless, it also added to the sense of safety in this often tumultuous country. Your view of humanity will be forever changed.

 

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I have to stop myself before I write a novel about these Top Ten Bucket List Experiences but I hope this gives those of you that weren’t at the LA Travel and Adventure show, a little taste of what was discussed.

If you want to learn more about my travels, check out my Youtube series and subscribe!

If you have any questions or suggestions, feel free to leave a comment below and I’ll answer you!

 

Oh, and check out this fun video that my friend Sarah Dandashy of AskaConcierge made just after my talk. She is a go-getter and glad I got some of the energy of the day on video!

 

Travel Well,

xx Kelley

travel guide to switzerland

My Travel Guide to Switzerland

This is my ultimate guide to an incredible country: Switzerland! I spend two weeks on a road trip, and I take you with me–showing you where to eat, stay, what to drink and see and how to experience the best of the best!
Starting in the posh Geneva where I visited markets, ate amazing Michelin cuisine, took a steamship cruise and river ferry and saw the UN. Next we cruised along the coast of Lake Geneva, stopping at adorable villages like Saint Saphorin, sampling wines of Lavaux, staying over in fun cities of Vevey and Lausanne and heading into the hills on a vintage train to make cheese and roam the alps in Chateaux D’Oex.

Food Guide of the Lake Geneva Region

 

Cheese. Lake fish. Chasselas grapes. Chevreuil. Mushrooms. There’s so much good food in the Lake Geneva region, you need to come with an appetite! I toured through Vevey’s Farmer’s Market, the farms of the Pays D’enhaut, tasting the cheeses of Château-d’Oex, Michelin restaurants L’Auberge de L’Onde & La Brasserie at the Royal Savoy Hotel and sipped wines in Lavaux. Don’t miss the lake fish, the family run wineries and vineyards in Lavaux, like Domaine du Croix Duplex, and the amazing cheeses!

Papua New Guinea: A Country Profile

Explore this remote part of the world with me as I go from Papua New Guinea’s mountainous Highlands to the Karawari River and Sepik in the Lowlands. With few roads, we took a charter plane between locations on the most remote experience of my life!

 

Sponsors: United States Tour Operators Association

Custom tour itinerary provided by Swain Destinations.

Tohoku Japan Ginzan Onsen

The Five Places You Need to See in Tohoku

Before coming to Japan I hadn’t heard of the Tohoku Region and now I’ve been completely charmed by this pastoral, natural part of northern Japan. This is the antithesis of the bright lights and hustle and bustle of Tokyo, and that’s what makes it special. Many retreat up North to enjoy farm fresh foods, breathtaking natural beauty and to take step back into Japan’s traditional roots.

1. Spend a morning at Hirosaki Castle

Though not quite a castle in the “fairytale” sense of the word, the Hirosaki Castle is a lovely Japanese style building, with ornate roof details and impressive silhouette. However, the real reason you visit is for the vast park that surrounds it. We happened to be fortunate enough to be visiting in the spring, when the cherry blossoms were at the height of their bloom. It felt like walking through a sea of pink, every different hue, with delicate petals floating in the breeze. The cherry blossoms created avenues of flowers, and I meandered over bridges that crossed the series of pleasant canals.  Everywhere I turned was worthy of a photo–especially when I got to the viewpoint of the majestic snow capped mountain in the distance.

My Recommendation: Go there early (like 7am) if you want more flowers than people in your photos. Also, next time I go, I am bringing a picnic so I can waste an afternoon under one of the swaying sakura trees.

2. Eat Wanko-Soba

Wanco Soba

Tohoku is famous for its buckwheat noodle, soba. I tasted it in tea, in ice cream and in many variations of the noodle form. However, the best soba experience that I had was Wanko-Soba in Morioka. Here, diners are encouraged not only to eat soba but to eat as much as they can and as fast as they can. An average lunch can turn competitive as the waitresses serve you soba in small “mouthful” sized dishes. The waitresses tower over you, shouting encouragement as you slurp, refilling as fast as you can eat. Of course the other options were delicious as well–I really enjoyed their tuna sashimi and pickled vegetables. But if you plan to nab the record, don’t waste stomach space. You are going to need it since you’ll need to eat over one hundred bowls! Slurp!

My Recommendation: Bring a competitive friend and have a soba eating contest!

3. Stroll through a Samurai Village

Kakunodate

Kakunodate

Tohoku is known for it’s storied Samurai culture and to get as close as you can to it today, visit Kakunodate, a well preserved Samurai town. There is one completely original house dating back 200 years and it’s still in the ownership of its original Samurai family line. There’s another home that also has a museum, just a few steps down. The museum has an impressive display of Samurai gear, with intimidating swords and helmets. Even just wandering down the streets, stopping for an ice cream  and to admire this organized village, makes for a picturesque visit.

My Recommendation: Earlier is better to avoid the crowds!

4. Commune with Nature

Sanriku Fukkuo

The rugged coastline of Tohoku blew me away. It looked like the Mediterranean coast or even New Zealand–but it certainly did not look like Japan. The Sanriku Fukko National Park stretches along a pristine part of the coast, with three steep trails that allow you to walk through old forests and view the majestic cliffs. There are three lookouts with views, number 2 being the best.
My Recommendation: If you want a good workout, hike all the way down to the beach to get up close with the bright blue waters.

5. Visit Teapot Workshop Iwachu Nambu Tekki

IMG_1333

I hadn’t paid much attention to teapots until now. Tea is an extremely important part of Japanese culture and here at the factory, you can witness how some of the finest traditional teapots are made by hand. You can step inside the workshop, watching the craftsman painstaking create the signature dots that cover these iron pots. Each teapot takes about 2 weeks to create so it’s no wonder that they aren’t cheap. I toured the museum but was most taken by the gallery where their finest work is on display. Neon colors and even Hello Kitty tastefully grace some of the newer models of this old brand.

My Recommendation: Visit the workshop first to understand the intense labor and dedication needed to create each teapot. Then go to the shop and buy one for yourself!

BONUS TIP: GINZAN ONSEN

Ginzan

Ginzan-Onsen is a hot spring town, built lining a central spring. Stay at one of the handful of traditional style hotels, from boutique to more contemporary, each with their own onsen experience. The postcard worthy town has charming pedestrian bridges, boutique shops and several eateries. But the real reason to come here is to soak in the geo-thermal waters. I didn’t realize how therapeutic it could be until I tried it for myself. After a few minutes in the healing waters, I felt renewed from the inside out.

My Recommendation: Check out Ginzanso if you want large tatami style rooms with your own private onsen on your deck.  

For more recommendations, leave me a comment! Be sure to tune in to CNN on May 18th to watch the full video of my Tohoku experience!

Millennials Talk about Modern China today

Just as China is so ancient, it is very futuristic and advanced. In Shanghai, Xi’an & Beijing, the three cities that I visited on my experience with Wendy Wu Tours, I met up with many young locals and learned a lot about what it was like to live in modern China. From head sprouts, children laws to street dancing–I was able to get a real look at the country today through these honest, Chinese millennials.

Show: Live like a Local in China with Kelley Ferro: USTOA Travel Together Series featuring Wendy Wu Tours & Visit China Now

Exploring the Ancient Side of China

I recently explored China and I was blown away by how China’s rich history is still very much alive and in full focus today. Beijing & Xi’an both had neighborhoods where I felt like I was stepping back in time. Take a trip through history with me in this episode where we see the terra-cotta warriors, the Hutongs of Beijing and the Great Wall!

Show: Live like a Local in China with Kelley Ferro: USTOA Travel Together Series featuring Wendy Wu Tours & Visit China Now

Kelley Goes Local in Brazil

I get local all over this country, from Salvador to Lencois to Rio de Janeiro. Whether I am spelunking caves, snorkeling in grottos, learning capoeira, drinking caipirinhas or climbing Corcovado, I experience only what the locals love in their country.

Shows: Live Like a Local in Brazil with Kelley Ferro USTOA Travel Together Series

Exploring Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Rio de Janeiro is as beautiful as it is cultural, and on our tour, we explored its peaks, beaches, historic neighborhoods, favelas and everything in between.

 

Show: Live Like a Local in Brazil with Kelley Ferro USTOA Travel Together

 

Country Life in Saxony

Live like a Local: Saxony, Germany
USTOA’s Travel Together Series hosted by Kelley Ferro
The cities were really picturesque but it wasn’t till I explored outside of the towns that I was truly blown away by Saxony’s beauty. Impossibly green, rolling hills, wildflower fields and lazy rivers—I can see why Saxony is popular for it’s hiking, biking and outdoor pursuits. The Bastei Rocks was a particular highlight.