As travelers, we uncover so much about ourselves as we discover new cultures, taste new and interesting foods. In this digital age, it’s becoming easier for us to share our experiences. At Contiki, we love profiling and interviewing travel writers, bloggers, and enthusiasts who love sharing their excitement for this great big world.
This week, we’re asking 10 Contiki Questions to La Carmina, a travel TV host and journalist whose vibrant style and exuberant personality capture the world in a cute and spooky light. Check it out!
Tell us a bit of background on how you become a travel TV host and created the cute and spooky world of La Carmina!
I started La Carmina blog in September 2007, when blogging was a relatively new phenomenon. I was discontented with law school and needed a creative outlet, and this proved to be a tremendous release. I loved chronicling my spooky-cute world: alternative travel, dark fashion, flamboyant friends, underground nightlife — and my adorable Scottish Fold cat, Basil Farrow!
I never expected I would do TV, or even travel widely. However, producers enjoyed my LaCarmina blog and began inviting me to be on TV shows, including National Geographic “Taboo,” Discovery’s “Oddities”, and Food Network’s “World’s Weirdest Restaurants.” Since we kept getting offers, my “First Mate” Naomi Rubin and I started a TV production and fixing company called “La Carmina & The Pirates”. As alt/Goth/fetish insiders, we help our clients get access to underground culture, and film episodes in Japan and worldwide.
I also began writing for CNN and Huffington Post, and my focus gravitated to travel journalism. Right now, I have a travel video series published in AOL / Huff Post; I’ve showcased Day of the Dead in Mexico, Prague absinthe, New York Fashion Week and more.
Today, I travel constantly for my work in travel TV and video presenting. I just finished press trips to Phoenix and Miami, and will be in Tokyo next month for a 1-hour documentary shoot. You can see my film clips at http://www.lacarmina.com/bio.php; they include The Doctors, The Today Show, Travel Channel, NHK Japan and more.
You have such a unique style and approach to travel. What inspires you to travel and share your experiences with the world?
Even as a child, I felt dissatisfied with the dominant culture and people around me. In my early teens, I began exploring Punk/Goth fashion, music, and lifestyle — I felt much more at home in this world. Subcultures gave me a space to fully express myself, and find like-minded friends.
I’m fascinated with the way alt culture expresses itself around the world: such as Gothic Lolita fashion in Japan, extreme body modifications in Phoenix, hardcore fetish events in Berlin. Since these lifestyles are often misunderstood, it’s my personal aim to do coverage that’s smart, fair and positive. Today, I’m equally passionate about travel TV/video and blogging; I love the process of arranging and presenting a program, and sharing my world with my readers. Hopefully, it helps open people’s eyes, or at least start a conversation.
What are some of your favorite destinations that you have traveled to and why?
Last summer, apartment rental company Go With Oh (http://www.gowithoh.com) sent me on a dark journey to Berlin, Leipzig and Prague. I attended the world’s largest Goth festival (Wave Gotik Treffen), browsed Berlin deathrock shops, and drank absinthe in Czech cafes. As someone who’s identified as Goth since my teens, it was a dream – or nightmare! – come true.
One of my favorite destinations is the Harajuku neighborhood of Tokyo – I love to come here with friends. Everywhere you look, there are Japanese youths wearing colorful street fashion, such as Gothic Lolita, Visual Kei, Kawaii (cute) and Punk. It’s a joy to browse the poppy clothing boutiques and soak in the atmosphere.
Since my travel coverage relies heavily on photos and videos, I try to make arrangements so that someone can help me with camerawork. This can range from a friend to a professional film team. However, I have no qualms about traveling to destinations alone, and I often look forward to spending time by myself. Both travel styles have their benefits, and it’s important to not be dependent on either.
You were featured on Andrew Zimmern’s “Bizarre Foods”. What is one of the most interesting or bizarre meals you’ve ever had abroad?
A few years ago, a Travel Channel producer found my blog, and read my book “Crazy, Wacky Theme Restaurants: Tokyo”. She asked me to appear on the show as Andrew’s guide to strange Japanese theme cafes. Together, we visited a schoolboy cafe in Harajuku (where the waiters dress as boarding school students), and a jail-horror restaurant where you eat behind bars, and monsters run around screaming! It was a life-changing experience, and Andrew is wonderful in person.
I’ve eaten many strange foods in Japanese theme restaurants. At this jail restaurant, I didn’t quite know how to react to the cocktail that came with a hot pink vibrator. The waitress patiently explained that I was supposed to mix the drink with the dildo.
What is your funniest travel story?
I’m still laughing over a cute mix-up at my favorite LA hotel, The Orlando in West Hollywood. Seby and I called the front desk and requested two forks and two knives, so that we could eat our takeout. Five minutes later, a little old lady opens the door… and hands us a piece of paper with “2 forks, 2 knives” written on it!
What advice would you give to first time female travelers who are looking to go abroad?
I tell people to “buck up” and get out of their hotel rooms. While it’s important to stay safe, too many first-time travelers psyche themselves out with unnecessary worries. Often, I receive emails from people who want to go to Tokyo alt events, but are too afraid to go alone. In fact, these are perfectly safe and accepting environments — if they only gave them a chance! Travel is challenging, but I know many young females who took the jump, and now have experiences they’ll never forget.
What are the must-have items that you pack with you every time you take a trip?
For the past few years, I haven’t gone anywhere without my iPhone. Today’s travel coverage relies heavily on social media sharing, such as uploading photos on Instagram and using hashtags. A camera is a must; I mostly shoot with a Canon Powershot S100, arguably the best hand-held on the market.
What are your favorite travel rituals?
I make a bee-line the foods that I can’t readily get at home. For example, in Tokyo, I drown myself in yuzu (a citrus rarely found outside Japan), and Coco Ichiban curry. When I’m in Germany, I subsist on the dark grain breads. Italy’s all about mozzarella di bufala.
I rarely bring objects back with me. I focus on capturing photos and video, seeing friends, enjoying the destination and people. The only exceptions are Hong Kong and Japan, where I go a little shopping-crazy, since the clothes are unlike any in the West. I also bought my friend a jar of chocolate-covered poison from Obscura Antiques, the New York shop featured in the Science/Discovery TV show “Oddities.” Look for me in Season 4 of “Oddities” – I’m the spooky girl in a Wilde Hunt skeleton corset!
Where are you headed off to next? Which destinations would you love to visit in the future?
I just got back from interviewing a well-known body mod artist in Phoenix, and attending Art Deco Weekend in Miami. Next, I’ll be in Tokyo to arrange and appear in a one-hour arts documentary, airing in Europe. I’m dying to visit South America, Egypt, Dubai, Taiwan, Singapore, Russia… and outer space! Hopefully I’ll cross out most of these terrestrial destinations this year.
No matter what, I want to keep traveling and sharing my first-hand experiences with alt culture. To me, my work is meaningful when it helps people understand different lifestyles. You can always keep track of my adventures on LaCarmina blog, http://www.lacarmina.com/blog, and my social networks @lacarmina. All my travel reports, including my Tokyo shopping and clubbing guides, are listed at http://www.lacarmina.com/travel.php
About La Carmina
La Carmina’s young alternative travel, fashion, and pop culture blog – http://www.lacarmina.com/blog – has led to international TV hosting, press trips and appearances, including New York Fashion Week and Hong Kong Social Media Week. She’s a Huffington Post Travel journalist, author of 3 books (Penguin and Random House), and hosts/coordinates TV shows for Discovery, National Geographic, Food Network, Travel Channel and more. Visit her LaCarmina website for spooky-cute fashion, bizarre nightlife, youth subcultures, theme restaurants and Scottish Fold cats.