A Sky High Dinner Party at the InterContinental Los Angeles Downtown

It’s not difficult to find the brand new InterContinental Los Angeles Downtown. All you have to do is look up. Soaring 73 floors high, in the tallest building west of Chicago, this sky scraping hotel has a bird’s-eye view over Los Angeles. And in a city where buildings are usually shorter than the palm trees, the InterContinental LA Downtown literally stands out above the rest. The backdrop of the the 70th floor lobby, the open air Spire 73 bar, and each individual room, is naturally , the panoramic views of this expansive city. And each window has it’s own display of LA’s starlets: the Hollywood sign, the Staples Center, LA Live, Echo Park, and the San Gabriel mountains. Of course at night, all these stars twinkle across the skyline.

Spire 73 InterContinental Downtown Los Angeles

I’ve been lucky enough to check out some of the brands within the IHG family of hotels, staying at the brand new Holiday Inn Express in Waikiki and covering an event last year at the business focused Crowne Plaza near LAX. This time I was eager to see what the posh InterContinental brand was bringing to the table. I knew that InterContinental has been a leader international luxury brand for over a century, and this DTLA opening puts the property count at 190 InterCons worldwide. As you might have guessed, my expectations were almost as high at this 1100 foot building. Not only was the architecture notable, but the impressive listing of dining and drink options within hotel has had LA buzzing about it since its opening in June of this year.

Spire 73 InterContinental Downtown LA IHG

Last week, I was finally able to experience the dizzying heights for myself as a guest at the IHG Rewards Club and Mastercard #PricelessExperiences dinner. My ears popped as the high tech elevators transported us up 70 floors in the air, in just under 40 seconds. As the doors opened, we stepped out into the chic lobby, with reservationists standing in front of floor to ceiling windows. Up 3 more floors and we were standing under the stars at Spire 73, the highest open-air bar in the entire Western Hemisphere! Its no wonder every seat was taken with all the classy cocktails, tantalizing appetizers and DIY s’mores plates I spied passing by. The twinkling lights of LA wrapped around glass walls, hugging the bar with the most impressive backdrop. I couldn’t believe that I was actually looking down on all the skyscrapers and helipads of downtown.

InterContinental Downtown Los Angeles

Just opposite Spire 73, the other half of the rooftop was reserved just for our IHG Rewards Club and MasterCard Priceless Table event. An al fresco party with 180 degree views all to ourselves–my excitement levels continued to rocket up.

Alex Ott alchemist InterContinental Downtown Los Angeles

The evening began with the probably the most creative libations I’ve ever seen firsthand, courtesy of “sensory ringmaster,” Alex Ott. Alex started off by introducing us to a special elixir, pure Spilanthes flower extract, which claims to be a miracle food, aiding in everything from hangovers to cancer.

Spilanthes Flower Alex Ott alchemist InterContinental Downtown Los Angeles

At $800 per drop, we were careful not to spill as Alex placed just a few milligrams of this golden liquid on our fingertips. But one drop was plenty to feel an unusual tingling on my tongue, which apparently was the stimulation of my salivary glands. I half expected to turn into Wonder Woman and fly off the rooftop, but I’ll settle with having our palates cleansed. Tastebuds prepped, we now were able to fully appreciate the complex flavors in Alex’s curated list of signature cocktails. Ingredients like kava kava tea, levigated pearl and R-Lipoic Acid infused each cocktail with beneficial properties that ranged from improved memory, increased energy and calming relaxation. Benefits aside, the ones we tried were perfectly balanced, not too sweet and thoroughly enjoyable.

 Alex Ott cocktails InterContinental Downtown Los Angeles

Appetites whetted, we still had a dreamy, 4 course dinner awaiting us, courtesy of Chef Ray Garcia. As this year’s Esquire chef of the year, I was familiar with Chef Garcia but had never tasted his cooking. I was impressed that IHG had not only secured such a notable “chef of the moment,” but they also selected someone who is such a big part of the burgeoning local scene. Downtown LA has quickly grown to be a foodie hotspot, with new openings and star chefs, like Ray Garcia.

Chef Ray Garcia

I couldn’t resist snapping many photos of the two long tables, perfectly set for our dinner. They were meticulously adorned with a collection of exotic flowers, hued in graduating colors from vibrant reds to vivid corals, then on to bright oranges and popping yellows. The elegance of the tables was only elevated when the masterful string quartet began by playing familiar pop songs in a soft, classical style.

Priceless Tables IHG Rewards Club InterContinental LA

With the full moon beaming down on this truly #Priceless scene, I grasped how moments like these were what the IHG brand was all about. This evening’s magic could not be recreated, and that was precisely the point. The ambiance, the quality and setting was all carefully crafted in order for each member attending to experience an exceptional night. The same way that the InterContinental focuses on the highest level of luxury, tonight was all about pampering, surprising and delighting. Overwhelmed with the breathtaking scene, I felt grateful to have a seat at this table and be part of something so special–and I hadn’t even tasted the food!

As I mentioned, my hopes for dinner with as high as our tables and Chef Garcia’s menu went ever further above and beyond. A vegetarian ceviche, using cauliflower, was a surprising and flavorful start. It was very delicate in preparation and I didn’t even miss the fish!

Cauliflower Ceviche Chef Ray Garcia

The second dish that followed, ended up being my personal favorite of the whole night. We enjoyed a giant scallop with molé blanco, sunchokes and hazelnuts. Each bite of the seared, locally caught scallop, literally melted in my mouth. Chef Garcia paired it so beautifully with the earthy flavors of the nuts and sunchokes. And though you think one scallop might not be enough, think again. This was easily the largest scallop I’ve ever seen, or eaten.

Scallop Chef Ray Garcia

For the main, Chef Garcia played on typical “carnitas” with a meaty combination of prime beef short rib, foie gras, truffle and bone marrows. Does it get any more carnivorously decadent than that? I enjoyed this dish but did find myself overwhelmed by the richness of it all.

Carnitas with Truffle Foie Gras Chef Ray Garcia

We ended with a not-too-sweet profiterol, topped with unique pale green, fig leaf ice cream. I’d never thought about tasting fig leaves but in ice cream form, it was delicious! Each bite of this dessert was an adventure of different flavors, like brown butter, stoneground chocolate and juicy raisin.

profiterol Chef Ray Garcia

As we toasted to new friends, delicious food, healthy cocktails and a stunning hotel, one word came to mind: hospitality. Strangers sitting next to me felt like friends. A top chef and a famed alchemist engaged in open conversations with the guests. The staff anticipated all our needs before we even realized them, including bringing me a blanket as the evening temperatures started to cool.

InterContinental Downtown LA IHG

Of course, IHG is a diverse family of hotel brands, each with it’s own traveler type and personality. The Holiday Inn Express brand has modern efficiency, the Crowne Plazas offer upscale convenience, and the InterContinental hotels celebrate their location through luxury. But as much as they are different, all the hotels share an intense feeling of hospitality. This goes beyond the requisite greetings and smiles that you find in the “hospitality industry.” There’s a genuine sincerity in every interaction, an actual desire to make your stay as welcoming as possible. That is not easy to find at most hotels around the world. With the IHG Brands, you are more than just honored guests, you are family.

Firepits on the roof of InterContinental Downtown LA

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG). The opinions and text are all mine.

If any of my musings has made you want to experience an IHG hotel for yourself, I encourage you to enter their trip giveaway! Share a #TravelFirsts on Instagram or Twitter to be entered to win a trip to NYC, Las Vegas, New Orleans, or here to LA. Let me know if you enter and I’ll cross my fingers for you! Link to learn about the contest is here.

More photos from the evening below:

Beach Wardrobe Picks (Year-Round) featuring Island Company

When I am shopping for clothes I always think about how well these clothes can travel. I need clothing that is generally lightweight, wrinkle resistant and I tend to stick with solid colors as they look better on camera and are easier to layer. Also, since I live at the beach and have a serious obsession with other warm weather destinations, I naturally gravitate to bright, beachy, breezy attire. It’s no surprise that I fell in love with the Island Company.

Island Company, based in sunny West Palm Beach, seems to have the island wear on lock. Their coconut scented stores whisk you to the islands when you enter and I find their styles to be an updated take on the safari wear–perfect for explorers like myself. 🙂 They use cottons and linens and keep to a pretty classic look with trendy twists, so their pieces don’t go out of style. The quality is also very high–you are meant to have these pieces for a long time. But to be honest, they had me at their iconic slogan (see below).

quit job travel the world

Though it may be fall and chillier in some areas, I am still rocking my Island Company pieces as they pair well with other items in your wardrobe. A sweater with the shorts, a cardigan over the dress, a vest with the Commandante shirt–classics like these work in every season. Oh and white after Labor Day, ABSOLUTELY.

 

Spencer Striped Tempest Dress

Spencer Striped Tempest Dress

I fell in love with this dress right away. I love how the stripes change at the bottom and the fit is very flattering. Being cotton, it is much lighter even though it is a long dress. I wore this to a picnic, a dinner in Malibu and a concert at Hollywood Bowl already–it is so versatile!

 

White Whitsunday Shorts

Whitsunday Linen Shorts

These shorts are classic, lightweight linen and go with everything. The bow adds a cute, girlie flair and I like wearing them with a tucked tshirt or tank.

 

White Relaxed Linen Pants

relaxed linen pants

I cannot believe how elegant these pants are yet they are so comfortable. The wide leg pairs well with a dark top and the whole look is so summery.

 

Nautilus Commandante Shirt

Nautilius shirt

I love the color Nautilus color–it is a periwinkle meets heather blue. The whole feel is just so crisp and flattering! I like wearing it with the white linen pants or the whitsunday shorts and a chunky necklace.

 

Vagabond Shirt in Navy

What a perfect travel shirt! This oversize shirt actually works as a dress! I love the easy of just throwing on one breezy piece of clothing and it looks great always. I feel put together but really am just wearing a long, comfy shirt. Win/Win! It has five buttons and slit pockets. The navy color is lovely–very flattering and almost has a weathered, softer look than true navy.

 

Seal Charter Dress

Seal Charter dress

I wasn’t sure about this dress… until I tried it on. It definitely walks the line of being dressy yet super casual. It is a shift dress so definitely easy to wear from day to night in the warm months.

 

Flamingo Lounge Tee

Flamingo Lounge Tee

The Peruvian cotton jersey of this tee is butter soft. The oversized fit makes it super comfy and it has a flowy feel of the sleeves. I don’t have any shirts like this and find myself wanting to wear it a lot!

 

I am packing up for my next adventure, and guess what, several items on this list are coming with me! Not going to a  sunny beach or tropical isle any time soon? Don’t worry–you can still dress like you are escaping to paradise. 🙂

 

island company beach

 

This post was in collaboration with the Island Company. I was not compensated for this post. All thoughts and feelings expressed here are honest and my own. 

calligraphy suzhou

Calligraphy in Suzhou & Trip Giveaway to Suzhou, China!

Garden of Cultivation Suzhou I only returned from exploring Suzhou, China two weeks ago and still am reeling from such an eye-opening, visually stimulating and immersive trip!

Suzhou is just what you expect traditional China to be.

Though there are high-rises and busy modern center, the old town is basically in a time warp. As you walk the cobbled street or cruise down the canals on a wooden boat helmed by a singing local, you will truly feel that you are 2500 years in the past.

I was exploring Suzhou to shoot a series on the ancient arts and traditions. My cameraman, translator, guide and other team members joined me in what would be a jam-packed 4 days of Suzhou culture. Each episode in our series included working with a local artisan or master craftsman.

These are my favorite types of stories to tell–the real stories of the local people.

Through meeting these masters, learning their skills and understanding their stories, I was able to understand what is Suzhou today by understanding its history.

You will be seeing 4 Master Class videos from this culture series: Calligraphy, Bonsai, Dumplings & Silk. These four elements are woven in the fabric of daily life yet have been important in Suzhou’s culture for centuries.

My first episode is released today (!) and it is focused on Calligraphy. We went visited the Garden of Cultivation, an ornate garden with rock formations, caves and a lovely central pond with lily pads. There was also a popular teahouse in this garden and we had a private room inside to conduct our calligraphy lesson. Our master, Fanwu Zheng, didn’t speak any English so he and I used a translator to communicate. But quickly, we were able to understand each other through laughs, gestures and brushstrokes.

Calligraphy in Suzhou

Suzhou was one of the premier places for calligraphy, being home to the Wu School of professional artists and some of the country’s most skilled calligraphers. Calligraphy was considered one of the highest forms of visual art, along with poetry and painting. It is much more than just writing, it is the creation of moving pieces of artwork.

The best way to understand Suzhou, our experience and the significance of calligraphy is through our first episode. Take a look and let me know what you think!

Now the travel giveaway! 

The contest is on Twitter only.

Prize:

  • Roundtrip airfare from the US or Canada to Suzhou, China (You fly into Shanghai then transfer)
  • 4 Nights Accommdations in Suzhou (hotels are nice!)
  • All meals included (YUM!)
  • The 4 Cultural Opportunities that I experienced with Calligraphy, Bonsai, Dumplings & Silk!

How to Enter:

  1. Follow @VisitSuzhou on Twitter.
  2. Retweet: All you have to do to enter is to Retweet my video launch tweet here OR Retweet the launch tweet from @VisitSuzhou.
  3. Enter by October 4th!

My tweet:


One lucky winner will be selected from there. I cannot wait to see who wins because this trip was so special to me and I want others to share it! GOOD LUCK!

Bracelet Compass Coordinates Collection

Travel Gear: The Best Camera Bag, Watch & Travel Bangle

Being a vlogger ain’t easy. It might look like all fun and games, but it is a nonstop hustle, not a lot of job security and usually involves me lugging bags and gear all over the planet. No, I am not complaining, but just wanted to give you an idea why certain traveler friendly products have made a huge impact on my work life. I wanted to share some of my favorite travel related products–from functional to fashionable.

VLOGGER ESSENTIALS: Tenba Camera Bags

When I started off as a travel journalist (back in 2009!), I used to stuff my camera in my favorite bright orange Tumi waterproof tote. That was great until my microphones broke from being wedged in too tightly with my computer, camera bag and toiletries. Frankly, I’m lucky my camera didn’t break! Cameras & lenses are not cheap, so I had to upgrade my camera bag game, BIG time.

tenba roadie hybrid

Being able to use only carryons and avoid checking any bags is something I just can’t give up! After trying out several different bags, I’ve finally figured out how to have a carryon that can safely house all my gear but can also carry my laptop, wallet, notebook, kindle and other personal things I’ll need for the plane (eye mask, ear plugs, gum, headphones etc). I recently tried out a backpack from Tenba, a camera bag company that is built for photographers. I got the Roadie Hybrid II in their larger, 22 inch model. It has completely transformed my shoot travel.

tenba roadie hybrid

This Tenba bag is small enough to be a carryon, fitting easily under the seat in front of me or the overhead. However, it is large enough to give my 2 Canon DSLR cameras, 4-6 lenses, my various GoPros, audio and all the other accessories, the space that they deserve. It has adjustable, padded compartments inside that also just keep everything very organized and safe. I appreciate the interior zipper pockets so I can store extra batteries and SD cards easily.

tenba roadie hybrid

All that is just in the main compartment. There are several, easily accessible exterior compartments which have designated pockets for things like wallets, phones and even a key clip. The padded laptop pocket is a life changer and can fit laptops up to 17 inches.

tenba roadie hybrid

All of my expensive, important equipment not only fits but is protected. The bottom is waterproof and the whole bag is made from water repellant nylon, but they included a water resistant rain cover as well. The best part? This rolling bag also has a backpack straps! I can easily choose how to carry it based on my shoot.

tenba roadie hybrid

The only thing I’d change about it? I wish it came in different colors! I’d love to have my Tenba Roadie backpack in bright orange!

 

SOPHISTICATED ADVENTURE: One Eleven Watches

One Eleven watches

I am a watch girl. I have always loved watches and I have worn a watch just about every day of my life. I seem to gravitate towards classic, somewhat masculine styles. I also like BIG watches. You know what I hate? Changing batteries.

Watch OneEleven

Made the husband pose with his watch in Venice

This new watch seems to check all my boxes plus it is eco-friendly to boot. One Eleven is a completely solar powered watch brand so no more changing batteries, ever! Why haven’t we seen more of this? It has a sexy, rugged look that looks great on a hiking trail or at a classy dinner out. There have several strap colors, but my favorite was the light brown. The contrast of the rich mahogany leather with the faded black face and stainless steel is just perfect. There is a useful date function and a purposefully scratched look on the face that definitely gives it that rugged, worn in feel. Besides that, the watch is simple, classic and strong.

 

 

 

Though I got this watch for my husband, I sometimes make him let me borrow it. I personally think it looks just as good on a woman!

One Eleven watches

 

TRAVEL MEMORY: Coordinates Collection

“Collect memories, not things.” That has been my motto all my life. Of course, I have and love “things,” but if there was a fire and I had to grab only a few things, it’d be my photos, my cigar box of trinkets from all over the world and my memory box from my wedding in Saint Lucia. Those memories are so much more important than my newest pair of shoes or a cute bag.

coordinates collection bracelet

Cut to Coordinates Collection. This company seems to have read my mind.

  1. Simple: I love simple jewelry that I can wear every day or with a variety of outfits. Perfect for my trips!
  2. Gold: I also only wear gold. The tone of gold just matches my skin and my personality perfectly.
  3. Travel: Now this what completely sold me. The idea of wearing a meaningful location really speaks to me. That location that you choose is transformed on your wrist (or ring or pendant) into coordinates that are so uniquely special to you. Not everyone will know where it is but that’s the beauty of it! It is like your own little secret that you can share, or choose to hold close to heart.

coordinates collection bracelet

Inside the bangles, they also you to customize your own message as well. I went with my initials as well as a heart symbol, which I was impressed they could do!

coordinates collection bracelet

They have a variety of coordinates pieces in their collection but I chose the Legend Bracelet. I loved that it was an easy to wear with other bracelets and I think bangles are super cute. I also find that I wear many of the same bracelets every day so I will get the most mileage out of it!

If you are interested in these bracelets, I have a 15% discount code you can feel free to use! Just type in: Kelley15 for your 15% off at checkout!

coordinates collection bracelet

 

Which of this travel gear would you use? Do you have any questions about it? Feel free to leave comments and questions below!

Happy Travels!

xo Kelley

 

 

Speaking at the #TravelwithMeaning Travel Talk

It was a pleasure to have been asked to speak at last night’s Travel with Meaning Travel Talk in Venice Beach. I was invited by the #TravelwithMeaning founder, Mike Schibel, who has started hosting these monthly talks with prominent individuals in the travel industry. I was honored to have been asked and felt the laidback atmosphere, the candid questions and the positive vibes in the room made for a speaking engagement that is so much different than my others.

travel with meaning venice

The event was held at Outsite, a co-working space/hotel-like house where digital nomads from around the world can connect, work and also, stay over! It was pretty unique and the house reminded me of the interesting Venice bungalows I always pass by.

Our stage was in the living room, with couches, benches and chairs surrounding. And though we were on two high chairs, the vibe still felt very communal, like we were a bunch of friends hanging out. In many ways, we were. Everyone there was united by their passion for travel in some way. It was easy to meet new faces and mingle with old travel friends.

The other speakers truly impressed me. Frank Castro has had an interesting career in the adventure, nature travel space, coordinating tours and on-the-ground logistics for premier tour operators around the world. Sarah Haywood was on the other end of the spectrum–a truly nomadic artist that has developed her passion for light photography into a cool, conceptual brand called Moon Scribe.

When I got up there, I tried to be as open, honest and helpful as I could because I wanted those that attended to get something out of it. I spoke about my beginnings starting a travel magazine in college, interning at National Geographic Adventure and later switching over to travel video in 2008, where I joined a small start up called Tripfilms.

We discussed favorite trips (Papua New Guinea, Cartagena), where I want to go next (everywhere) and places I recommend to everyone (Istanbul!). The questions after my talk were really educated and clever and it was great being in a room of inspired people.

If you are curious about other Travel Talks, head over to the #TravelwithMeaning site for the next ones!

 

Here is a clip of my answer to the first question:

Keep rocking all you travelers out there.

xo Kelley

Jetsetter Style: My Summer Essentials

It is the best time of the year! Personally, summer is my spirit season–I love the beach, the barbecues, the laidback attitudes, summer Friday’s, summer vacation… And even though I’m not on summer break, I still have been bitten by the summer lovin’ bug.

Since we are in the throes of summer, my focus has been on what makes life easier and better for these hot, sandy months. I’ve been traveling a lot at the beginning of the summer and now, finally hitting pause of the far off travel to focus on local fun, catching up on life and seeing my friends finally. Since home is Santa Monica, CA, these 3 products have GREATLY improved my life–in fashion and in fun!Just a quick note: Since traveling is my full-time gig, whatever I buy has to work for my trips & shoots too–I’m happy to say these do!

 

BEACH WARDROBE: Island Company

Just the name invokes the image of swaying palm trees and endless beaches. I’ve been attracted to Island Company ever since I first read their iconic Quit Your Job slogan. In many ways, I feel that Island Company embodies my philosophy on life and my passion for beaches, islands and warm weather. Though I don’t think everyone should actually ‘quit their jobs,’ I do support the idea that life is too short to waste it doing a job that doesn’t fulfill you. I luckily figured that out early on and struck out on a somewhat atypical career because it inspired me.

Quit Your Job Buy a Ticket

So with that in mind, their clothing is very much on brand with the laidback, carefree island vibe. The materials are often linen and all are lightweight. Sizing is a little on the billowy, flowy side. I feel the cuts are flattering yet very tasteful. And most of all, I appreciate that all the styles are classically chic. They don’t cater to every trend of the moment but focus rather on the classics that always look good. Their linen button down and linen shorts will look just a sharp in 100 years as they do now. They also serve as great travel clothes, being so lightweight and easy to wear in almost any warm weather situation.

Island Company Beach Clothes

If you want to know my specific list of favorites from Island Company, I will have a full blog post on each item. I will list each piece that I’ve tried and why it is considered one of my new summer favorites!

SHADES FOR GOOD: Fello Eyewear

If we all are going to need sunglasses, wouldn’t you rather buy a pair that actually help others in need? For every pair sold, Fello Eyewear donates to VOSH International, a non-profit organization dedicated to bring the gift of sight to people around the world that need it. Not only can you feel good when you buy these still, very affordable glasses, the styles are super cute too!

They have fun bamboo styles, like this blue mirrored lens pair that I love: Beech. Their classic line includes aviators and a retro style, which I really like in this black/gold combo here: Black Konvoy.

Personally, my light hair looks better with brown or tortoise and I knew that I wanted a classic look with a twist. I found my perfect pair in their Konvoy Tortoise. They are very well-crafted and feel sturdy and durable. I like the gold accents and slightly hipster look. They also go with everything!

By the way, all the glasses are polarized so you are keeping your eyes safe too!

 

WEEKEND PLAYTIME: Beachmate

Beachmate

My friend Sally making sand castles in Newport Beach

I go to the beach at least once a week when I’m home in Santa Monica, or more. We usually take our backpack chairs, reading material, towels and lots of water. However, if we are planning on having a drink or two on the beach, we now always bring down the Beachmate. This monogrammed bag is the epitome of compartmentalization. Not only does it have shovels  and sand castle toys, it also has a cooler! We don’t have any kids yet but I can see how this bag will make the young ones, and the adults, both very happy.

Beachmate pup

Sally’s incredible dog, Samson

What are some of your summer must haves? I am always looking for new eco-friendly brands and interesting ways to beat the heat! Leave your tips in a comment below!

Happy Summer!

xo Kelley

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US Japan Seminar Japan Embassy Tohoku

SPEAKER: Japan – U.S. Tourism Seminar on Tōhoku

Japan has always fascinated for its mix ancient history and cutting-edge modernism. It has such a defined unique culture and sense of tradition.  I was very fortunate to be able to travel to the Tōhoku region of Japan in April of 2016 for an assignment. This was my first trip to Japan and I was hired by CNN Asia to host a video that focused on some of the main highlights of this Northeast region of Japan. (Check out my CNN Video of Japan here!) 

This June, I was able to relive this dream trip and share it with all the attendees at the Japan-U.S. Tourism Seminar. I flew to D.C. for this event, which was sponsored by the Embassy of Japan and the Japan National Tourism Organization.

The evening was focused on bringing awareness about the state of tourism in Japan and to share more of this dynamic country with an audience of 300 US journalists. When I first arrived, I was in awe of the tranquil yet grand residence of the Japanese Ambassador, the setting for this wonderful night of celebrating Japan.

I was asked to speak on my experience in Tōhoku; detailing where I visited, what we covered on our shoot and my impressions of the region. Since I spent 6 days, from before dawn to way after dusk, I managed to see a lot in almost all of the 6 prefectures of the region.

After our host, H.E. Kenichiro Sasae, the Ambassador of Japan to the US, welcomed us all into his home, the guests mingled and interacted with the Japanese food, drink and travel products that were on display.

My presentation came at the middle of the event, and it was such a pleasure to explain what it was like to experience Japan for the first time through the Tōhoku region. I spoke about 5 key themes that we covered throughout the visit: Landscape, Arts, Traditions and Pastimes and Cuisine. I told the stories of meeting the locals and experiencing each of these as not only an American, but as a female traveler as well as a travel blogger. I had some funny stories to relate regarding the competitive eating of Wanco-Soba or trying to paint a Kokeshi doll with a master craftswoman. I also detailed the experience on the stunning Sanriku Coast and at Ginzan-onsen, a hot spring town.

Curious? Check out my full presentation here (don’t worry, it is mostly photos and bullet points!)

We also heard from the esteemed individuals such as Mr. Ryoichi Matsuyama, the president of the Japan National Tourist Office, as well as Mr. Hiromi Tagawa, the chairman of the JATA and Mr. Keith Kirkham, the Incoming Minister Counselor for Commercial Affairs at the US Embassy Japan.

Overall, I met wonderful representatives of Japan and talented journalists in the DC travel community. We later visited a party at the National Geographic headquarters, which rounded out this impactful 2 days in DC. It still is such an honor to be an “ambassador” of sorts for this incredible country and the stunning region of Tōhoku.

Have you been to Tōhoku? If so, leave me a note!

xo Kelley
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Kelley Ferro Taste Awards

YAY! I won a Taste Award!

The 8th Annual Taste Awards was held this past month and I was thrilled to win the Best International Program Award! My Eat Like a Local show was the grand prize winner in this category of nominees from producers all over the world– I am honored to be among such an impressive lineup of travel producers.

The Taste Awards 2017

If you haven’t heard of them, The Taste Awards are very prestigious awards for the food & travel industry. Their website most accurately describes them: “The Annual TASTE AWARDS are the original awards for the Lifestyle Entertainment Industry, and the highest awards for creators, producers, hosts, and directors of Lifestyle Programs, Series, Shows & Cinema. Also known as the Tasty Awards, they are the premier broadcast awards show celebrating the year’s best achievements in Food, Fashion, Home and Lifestyle programs on Television, in Film, in Online Video, and in Apps, Radio, Podcasts and Photography.”

Kelley Ferro Taste Awards

They cover quite a lot of programming, and this year Jamie Oliver, Carla Hall, Vice, Tastemade, Outside, MasterChef and many more big names received awards. The red carpet ceremony was held here in Los Angeles on the rooftop of the 60 Hotel. Unfortunately, I was out of the country on a travel shoot (comes with the territory) so I wasn’t able to attend. However I did receive this (heavy) gold medal award and of course, I wear it constantly. 😉

Colombia Cartagena family dinner

My Eat Like a Local series has been close to my heart (more like my stomach…) because I strongly believe that food is an authentic tool into a culture. My series has 74 videos, ranging from outdoor feasts on the Montana prairies, to night markets in Taiwan to the finest Michelin restaurants in  Europe. The preparation is the most important part, so I’ve filmed episodes on cooking classes in Tuscany, going to markets with locals in Papua New Guinea and learning how to make dumpling by hand in China. To me, food is the great equalizer and through this series, I was able to meet passionate chefs, generous home cooks and excited locals that wanted to share their favorite foods, and ultimately their country with the world.

One experience that epitomizes how food can open doors, occurred in Colombia. I was filming a series in Cartagena, with one episode on food. A local family of 3 girls, a doting dad and perma-smiling mom, invited myself and my cameraman, Justin, to their home for dinner. Their modest house was outfitted in blinding but festive, blinking Christmas lights, and the music was on & doors wide open when we arrived.

Justin and I couldn’t speak any Spanish and this lovely family didn’t speak English, but that didn’t stop us from sharing a lot of laughs, miming out stories and feeling the love & hospitality of Colombia. The young girls toured me through their rooms, the oldest so proud of having her own room. One giggly teen showed me photos of boys on her phone, and cracking up as we both swiped through photos of actors.

I fried plantains with the matriarch, learning the process of smashing them first and sampling them to make sure they were crispy.  Their mild mannered dad arrived a little later to a chorus of excited daughters, which showered him with kisses as he walked through the door from work. I was able to be a part of this true slice of life–learn about a local life, about Colombian traditions and about family, all under the roof of what started out as strangers. And all this happened because we were sharing a dinner together. The food was loving prepared but I learned so much more beyond the recipes. Food was just the beginning of the conversation, and I still am in touch with the daughters even today.

If you are curious, you can see highlights of this dinner in my Food of Cartagena video below.

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

TBEX 2012: Kelley’s 5 Takeaways from the 2012 Travel Blog Exchange in Keystone


“Rocky Mountain High…” was running through our mind’s as we breathed in the crisp, green air of Keystone, Colorado. The scenery of Keystone was pretty hard to beat–gorgeous peaks, bright blue skies, an overdose of greenery at every turn. Many travel industry veterans and newcomers came out to the 4th Annual Travel Blog Exchange Conference and with the recent BlogWorld acquisition, the pressure was on.
In short, they succeeded.

The conference was run smoothly and had useful enhancements like a pre-conference networking & an appointment interface that allowed attendees to arrange quick “speed-date” style meetings during Sunday’s free time.

Keystone Mountain & Vail Resorts went above and beyond, literally, to make sure that we were fed and well taken care of. From the opening celebrations at 11,000 feet on Keystone’s summit, to the shuttle vans that always seemed to be ready to take you door to door, it felt like the whole town of Keystone was trying to make sure all TBEX-ers were happy.

A standout panel was hosted by Expedia and they discussed their success at working with bloggers & vloggers (several which are Tripfilms’ own all stars). It was refreshing to see big brands see the value in blogging and vlogging, and accepting that these voices are some of the most influential in travel right now.

I was very excited to have almost everyone at the conference know about Tripfilms and to have so many people come up to me to ask about how they can start making videos or include videos on their sites, or how they can make their current videos better. The time of video is upon us and we are excited to be at the helm!

The best moments of TBEX though are never planned–the casual conversation in the hallway between sessions, the jokes shared in line for lunch or the introduction to a new future partner over hors d’oeuvres–just being there opens you up to your own community and together we can only bring each other up! A great man once told me, “rising Waters lifts all boats.” And that’s what I feel TBEX was for me this year.

My Five Biggest Takeaways From TBEX 2012

1. Meeting many NEW people in travel and building upon past relationships

2. A better handle on the state of travel industry today and the trends to jump on for the future (ahem video…)

3. An introduction to new concept and ideas that inspires yourself to start thinking in new ways

4. To be able to learn techniques from leaders in the field and how to improve your own brand/company

5. A unification and strengthening of the travel community as a whole

*I was going to add lots of free delicious foods (chocolate towers?!) and free drinks (margaritas on the ranch) but figured that just contributes to the success of the 5 takeaways!