Category Archives: USA

When The Traveler Goes To Art School: Sea Snaps

Something funny happens when you take a passionate traveler and force them to stay more or less tethered to one location for four years: they start to fascinate. Towards the end of my last semester at art school I ran into one of old professors who excitedly asked me “Are you still doing travel design?!” I had never thought of myself as a “travel designer” but as I began to put my portfolio together I realized I did have quite the repertoire of projects that I had steered with my wanderlust.

With graduation behind me and a shiny new Bachelor’s Degree of Fine Arts hanging on my metaphorical wall, I thought I’d share a some of my favorite travel related art I created over my four years at art school.

The first assignment I’m going to post is one I call Sea Snaps. The assignment was to redesign a disposable camera, and with my passion for diving my mind went straight underwater. I bought a disposable underwater camera, pried it apart, and made this, one of my favorite projects of all time:

disposable underwater camera
disposable underwater camera

In addition to my travel motif, I tend to use pattern a lot in my work, and I love this one. My fingers were covered in gold spraypaint and I was itching to go diving, but I remember presenting this in class as one of my proudest critiques.

You can see more of my design work on my portfolio website, or you can stay tuned for the next week as I share a few more of my favorite creations!

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I Love Souvenirs

First off, I’d like to apologize for the dearth in posting that has been occurring and is likely to continue until my departure for The Great Escape. A few days ago I escaped New York in a U-Haul up towards Albany and I’m now making the final rounds of final to do lists and goodbyes. It’s a bittersweet time but I’m counting down to my departure every day. Sixteen days now!

vintage souvenir photo shoot

I don’t normally post about my life outside travel (there isn’t much, really!) but I wanted to share an amazing photo shoot I assisted on. This year I was lucky enough to work with two amazing small businesses, Rock Paper Scissors, an event design company, and Melangerie, a graphic design studio focusing on event invitations. With me as a sudden communal intern, a partnership was born and together we dreamed up a vintage road-trip themed wedding and photo shoot. Stylized photo shoots like these are incredibly popular in the wedding world as they allow creative professionals to really flex their imaginations and show clients just how clever they can be. And after working with these women for a good while now, I can assure you, they are an inspiration!

vintage souvenir shoot

Photos by Jen Huang

Since souvenirs and travel were the main motif of the shoot, I feel this is just travel related enough to be allowed on a travel blog. The shoot was published on Style Me Pretty, which is the top wedding blog for stylish brides from around the world. Check out the original posting here.

vintage souvenir shoot


vintage souvenir photo shoot


vintage souvenir photo shoot

Beneath The Sea Recap Part II

Just stopping by? Check out Beneath the Sea Recap Part I to get started.

Exciting as it was to walk around the exhibitor floor and daydream about my next dive trip, the real value came from the seminars going on all weekend. The best part? They were all included free in my $18 per day day-pass. The worst part? Figuring out which of the four simultaneous lectures to attend at any given time! The offerings were split somewhat evenly between destinations, photography/videography, conservation, and tech diving. I spent most of my time at the photography lectures, though one was a last-minute swap out after the much-anticipated Lionfish lecture was rescheduled. You already know how worked up I am about that, so maybe it’s for the best that I missed it.

 

Beneath The Sea

 

I was a bit early for my first lecture so I snuck in the back of the room to hear what the previous topic was. I caught the tail end of what appeared to be a dry and boring presentation- and almost made a run for it. Then I heard an enthusiastic voice cutting through the crowd as the next presenter snuck in behind me, breezing up the aisle with a rolling suitcase behind her. For the next hour I sat entranced as the most bubbly and enthusiastic person I’ve ever met told us about her amazing career in underwater video. Annie Crawley is a member of the Woman Diver’s Hall of Fame, producer of the Dive into Your Imagination children’s series and a seasoned underwater filmmaker. The seminar was Top Ten Shots you Need to Master, but I was far more interested in learning how I could replicate this woman’s life! I left the room floating on air and this isn’t the last you’ll hear about Annie….

 

Beneath The Sea

 

 

Next I headed to Underwater IMAX Film Production, which was a fun and interesting little presentation. Having seen quite a few underwater IMAX movies at the Boston Aquarium, I was curious to lay eyes on the filmmakers. The female half of the husband and wife  team was smaller than me- making it all the more amazing that she helps operate a camera weighing over 1,000lbs! I was also interested to learn that three minutes of filming costs over $9K in film and processing. That makes for a pretty pricey feature film! The husband also spoke a bit about an eye disease he has contracted from spending so much of his life underwater. I don’t think the average diver has to worry- these are people that stay down as long as 6 hours on rebreathers to get a shot.

My last stop on Saturday was the standing room only State of our Oceans panel given by the first family of scuba, the Cousteaus. I can confidently say this was the most inspired I have ever felt to make a change my behaviour in order to change our environment. Jean Micheal Cousteau is an engaging, composed public speaker, but about halfway through his speech he stopped, pointed out an infant in the audience, and stated simply that if we do not act now, if we don’t each make a change in our lives, the oceans will be irreversibly damaged, within that child’s lifetime.

 

Beneath The Sea

 

The entire family took turns speaking, and the mood shifted from sadness over the deterioration of the ocean (especially visible to long time divers!) to hope over how we can help. They encouraged the audience to stop blaming corporations, stop blaming governments, and stop blaming other countries and simply take responsibility for yourself and live as an example.  The warned us not to be overwhelmed, that if we can change our habits we can help others do so next.

I have a big post planned about how I plan to change my actions, and what I’m hoping to do to help with cleaning up the oceans. But if you’re eager to be informed today, visit the Cousteau’s Ocean Future’s Society for more info.

Sunday I attended three photography seminars of varying interest, but before heading home I saw one more seminar on the list by Annie Crawley. I had been thinking about her story since the day before and I decided to go to her second presentation as well, as the last one put me in such a good mood. The effect was the same. At one point during the hour Annie pointed right at me and said “and you young people, you need to do this all while you can! Sell your car, buy a plane ticket and go chase the dream!” Being at the show on my own, I had been battling shyness all weekend but at the end of the hour I forced myself to go up and introduce myself and tell her I was in fact planning to do just that. We had a great conversation in which Annie told me to please keep in contact with her and update her on my career. She ended by pulling me aside and telling me she wanted to support me in a career in underwater video and giving me a free copy of her Camera Coach DVD, something I had considered but shied away from due to the $30 price tag. It was such a touching gesture and combined with such warm words of support, I walked away from the weekend feeling hopeful and excited for the future.

 

Beneath The Sea

 

To divers at any level, I encourage you to go to a show like this in your area! You’ll meet like minded people, get ideas for new trips, and if you’re lucky, you might walk away ready to become an oscar winning filmmaker and singlehandedly save the ocean.

Beneath The Sea Recap

Like the New York Times travel show, I barely knew what to expect when I bought my ticket for the Beneath the Sea Dive Expo. I knew that the website was impossible to navigate, and so is New Jersey, where the show was located. Luckily I had use of a car that weekend so I had a way to attend, but I have such a complex about driving through the Garden State (Seriously, have you ever been on those highways?! Who designed them?!) that I basically burst into tears the second I drive through the Holland Tunnel. Finally, I spotted this car ahead of me. Calculating the likelihood of anyone with more than 10 diving related decals on their car not attending a dive show happening in a 10 mile radius, I threw the directions on the floor and followed them bumper to bumper. Two minutes later, I arrived.

Scuba Bumper Stickers

When I finally arrived forty minutes past what mapquest predicted the trip would take, I was not in the best of moods. My foul mood chipped away as I entered the show and was greeted by two smiling mermaids representing Scuba Radio.

Anyone who has attended a convention knows the chaos and excitement that fills the cavernous expo centers. At Beneath the Sea, booths were occupied by everyone from tourism boards, dive resorts and liveaboards to regional local dive clubs. The major certification agencies, PADI and SSI, were there (and PADI was selling the e-learning HARD) as well as the major equipment and camera manufacturers and several merchandise lines selling clothing, jewelery and art. It wasn’t all business and consumerism though, as several groups were there promoting conservation and special interest diving, like Dive Heart, which helps amputees and veterans regain their sense of independence through diving.

Beneath The Sea

In contrast to the New York Times Travel Show there were nowhere near as many giveaways and contest but diving is a fairly low profit business (from what I understand) so I’m not too surprised. In the same vein, the booths were, in general, a bit less splashy.  It took me about two hours broken up between different seminars to see the whole show, stopping to chat to a few camera people, conservation groups and my old buddies the Cayman Islands, Bay Islands, and Blackbeard’s Cruises. It’s always fun to talk to people who live in a place you’ve visited and compare notes.

With the exception of a roofing contractor (seriously?) and some sort of asian ballet theatre group, every single exhibitor had something that drew me towards it. These were my highlights:

Beneath the Sea

• The Women Diver’s Hall of Fame booth was staffed by a lovely and friendly group of women who told me all about some fantastic scholarships that I’m hoping to apply for next year, especially if I ever go for my instructor. They were very excited about me (I was one of very few single women I saw at the event) until I let it slip that I was taught to dive by my instructor boyfriend, yay for me! Then their eyes glazed over a bit. Not that I blame them, there’s a huge misconception about diving that women only get into it to make their husbands/boyfriends happy, and I kind of fit right into that. Better a diver who got into it to impress a boy than not a diver at all right? Right? That’s what I keep telling myself, and yet I’m pretty sure every time I repeat that story a feminist angel loses her wings.

• I stopped by the Sea Shepherd booth hoping to meet some hard core pirate members of the group famous for ramming and sinking whaling and shark finning boats violating international law. Their mission is to end the destruction of habitat and slaughter of wildlife in the ocean- and they clearly aren’t sitting around writing letters to senators and waiting for results! But there were no mean pirates to be found- just some super nice New Yorkers who let me in on how easy it is to be a part of the organization. I have a fantasy of someday getting involved on the boats here or at Greenpeace, but I’m guessing they are primarily looking for crew with the ability to lift more than 12 pounds at a time. So I’ll keep you posted.

Beneath The Sea

• If I could have picked one destination or trip from the many that were being promoted at the show, I would hands down pick the Arenui Liveaboard in Indonesia. Without a doubt the most luxurious liveaboard boat I have ever seen, it makes quite a contrast to the Blackbeard’s trip that I recently took and loved. However luxury alone wouldn’t be enough to make this my top pick, in addition it is beautifully designed with an Indonesian style and has a true boutique feel.  At around 6K a trip this is going to have to rest at the bottom of the bucket list for now.

• One thing that surprised me at the show were the number of artists displaying their diving and underwater inspired art. Most were not really my style but I fell hard for the paintings of Pascal Lecocq. His tongue in cheek interpretations of classic paintings with a diver’s twist really felt to me like a perfect way to show how all consuming diving can be for the true enthusiasts… to the point that they can see nothing else! I’m kicking myself for not buying some of his postcards.

Pascal Lecocq

Pascal Lecocq

Into the Drink is new show about scuba diving and the lifestyle that often accompanies it (note the double entendre). These guys have incited quite the controversy over at Scuba Board for their heavy focus on the ahem, surface interval activities rather than hardcore diving, so I had a feeling they’d be a fun crew. The host and the producer were the ones at the booth, and they were not only passionate divers and friendly guys but also excellent salespeople, as I walked away from the booth with both the Season One DVD (okay, I wanted that anyway) and a t-shirt. Sigh. I haven’t had a chance to watch yet but when I do, you’ll be hearing about it!

As fun as the exhibitors were, the most rewarding and exciting part of the show were the seminars. Stay tuned for part II to hear about how I was starstruck by the Cousteau family, learned where iMax movies come from (not two iphones taped together in a plastic bag, as one panelist predicted), and appointed myself a new life mentor (I’ll fill her in soon).

New York Times Travel Show Recap

Oh, New York Times Travel Show– how did I not know of your amazing existence earlier? In late February, I and over 20,000 of my travel obsessed comrades convened at the Javitt’s Center in Manhattan for a weekend of wanderlust and networking. I had no idea what to expect, but whatever I had in mind, it was better.

New York Times Travel Show

THE EXHIBITORS

The enormous main room was separated by continent. I was first struck by the huge amount of floor space being taken up by cruise lines and domestic travel. I know it wasn’t called the International Travel Show but I didn’t consider that there would be anything other than foreign destination! I suppose the floorplan was an accurate reflection of the amount of tourist dollars spent by Americans, and shows how distorting it can be to look at travel writing constantly in which the more exotic destinations are given the most ink.

The other surprise was the large amount of travel agencies as opposed to tourism boards. I guess I naively didn’t think that many people really booked travel through agencies and tour groups anymore. Looks like I need to do some research! I did however enter every single contest, of which there were many, tour group or not. Someone has to win! Aside from promo material and contests, there wasn’t much “swag” to be had, but the two things I did pick up, a perfume from Bermuda and a 8GB flash drive from South Africa were a pleasant surprise.

 

Rhino USB

 

I was looking forward to stopping by the Scotland and England booths but they were noticeably absent from the show! I suppose they have more than enough tourism to keep them happy. Some of the biggest exhibits belonged to Greece, Puerto Rico, Aruba, and oddly, Panama. Thailand knocked it out of the park with samples of Thai dishes and tons of promotional material, including, entertainingly, an entire book on ways to experience elephants in Thailand. I was mostly drawn to talk to people representing places I have already been to or have plans to go to in the immediate future, as I almost didn’t want to infect myself with the obsession to go to another part of the globe right now. However I couldn’t help but pick up a booklet on great train journeys in Australia (Paul Theroux would be so proud!) or whitewater rafting opportunities in Malaysia…

 

SEMINARS

The exhibitors, amazing as they were, were really the least the show had to offer. The real draw is the seminars, which ran in two at a time in opposing rooms throughout the length of the show. Here were my highlights:

• Social Media Panel by Kim Mance, Andrew Evans, Robert Reid, & Jen Leo
This was the seminar I was most looking forward to as it was hosted by none other than my Travel Writing teacher at NYU, David Farley. The panel was meant to discuss how to use blogs and social media to maximize your travels, though it evolved (or devolved, depending on your point of view) into the Twitter Conference. It was focused but effective, and the final nail in the coffin convincing me that if I want to take blogging seriously I will have no choice but to join twittering masses. As soon as I decide my new domain name, I will be swallowing four years of twitter related jokes and signing up.

New York Times Travel Show

• Getting Out of Your Vacation Rut by Arthur and Pauline Frommer
I admit, in part I simply wanted to lay eyes on one of the first families of travel. I was skeptical of what they would have to offer me when they opened with the fact that “many people struggle to break out of their vacation routines of Orland and Las Vegas” (Okay, I just came back from Vegas. Whatever.) But they had some really good suggestions that I think apply to everyone- Starting with travel like a travel writer. To do this they suggested meeting locals by reaching out to your social networks or through programs I had never heard of like the Greeters. The next idea was to take education trips, where you can stay at universities like Oxford and learn from scholars. As a current university student I can’t think of anything less appealing, but I can see how this would be a good suggestion for some people! Finally they suggested volunteering. Even if you aren’t taking a full on “voluntourism” trip, they advised seeking out a local organization that will let you donate a day of your time and give back to the place you are visiting. I really liked this suggestion, though I can see how some people might balk at the idea of volunteering for a whole day when they only have a one week vacation. But its something I have tried to do (at animal shelters in both Thailand and the Cayman Island) and need to remember to do in the future.

 

• Around the World With Julia Dimon by Julia Dimon
This was a fun presentation in which tv host and travel writer Julia presented 20 of her favorite travel memories from her years on the road. She had some great stories and fun trip ideas, but what I mostly took away from this presentation was that I can never be a TV travel host, because I will never eat bugs on sticks, ever. On a serious note, I got to meet Julia as we share a mutual friend who I attended the show with, and it was inspirational to meet someone so young who has found such success in the travel industry.

New York Times Travel Show

• 1,000 Places to See Before You Die by Patricia Schultz
Another fun slide show type presentation, this time by the author of traveler favorite book 100 Places to See Before You Die. Patricia showed some great photos and told romantic stories of some of her favorite places from the book. An hour later I walked out dreaming of Jordan and India.

• Emerging Destinations in Asia Panel
I passed up the Samantha Brown seminar for this sparsely attended panel, and in the end I was glad. Three different tour operators that focus on Asia highlighted their favorite destinations, from India to Vietnam to Thailand to Bhutan. I left with an almost painful desire to visit Bhutan, charmed by the stories of Gross National Happiness and untouched culture, but I know it will be a long time before I can afford a trip of that caliber. The government there is anxious to keep away backpackers, and I understand why. On the upside I learned about a pottery colony in Bangkok, Koh Kret, that I had never heard of and now intend to visit.

New York Times Travel Show

AND BEYOND…

The weekend did not end at the show, however, as Saturday night we headed down to Lolita Bar to the Restless Legs Travel Reading, a series hosted, again, by my professor. The readers were the panelists from the social media panel earlier in the day and they were on fire. Their readings were fantastic and the energy in the basement of the Lower East Side bar was palpable. Standing room only, it was filled with people who were making a life, or dying trying, out of what they love: travel. I’ve always said that the amazing thing about New York City is you can always find a group of people that share your lust for whatever it is you love in live, and that night I really felt it. My only fleeting sadness was that I didn’t find it earlier in my four years in the city.

It was a great weekend and a highlight of my semester (I can’t wait until I count time in years again like normal people) as I was able to meet so many people who I look up to and make contacts with so many others that I can’t believe I went so long without knowing existed. I was lucky to attend with my friend Matt of Nomadic Matt, who introduced me to published authors, a Lonely Planet editor, a National Geographic photographer, New York times columnists and several of my favorite bloggers, like Andi from My Beautiful Adventures and Gary from Everything Everywhere. The night was filled with advice and warm wishes as I divulged my travel plans and writing dreams, and continued until I poured myself into a cab, buzzed on happy hour mojitos, big plans ahead, and life.

Photo Essay: The Wynn Las Vegas

On of my favorite parts of Vegas was simply walking through all the hotels. The designs were opulent and the attention to detail meticulous. One of my favorites besides our own hotel, The Aria, was the Wynn. It houses a beautiful hotel, top end boutiques and restaurants, a Ferrari dealership, and one of our favorite clubs, Tryst. The resort cost over 2.7 billion dollars to build, ranking in at the most expensive privately funded construction in the country. What do you think? Worth it?  I admit, this design geek was impressed.

Wynn Las Vegas
Wynn Las Vegas

Wynn Las Vegas

Wynn Las Vegas

Wynn Las Vegas

Wynn Las Vegas

Wynn Las Vegas

Wynn Las Vegas

How I Made a Trip to Vegas Vaguely Affordable

Vegas was, per night, the most expensive trip I’ve ever taken in my life. Still, It could have been much, much worse. So while I will never call Vegas a “budget” destination, I think this cheapskate did a pretty good job of sniffing out some of the best ways to do Sin City on a padlocked bank account.

1. Visit Off Week

Vegas is a seven night a week city! Sure, the weekends are super extra crazy wild but for the price difference, I’ll settle for merely super extra wild. We nabbed discounts on our hotel and flight by going Wednesday to Saturday. And judging from the photos below, Vegas can be a pretty good time on Wednesdays. And this was only our first stop for the night.

Las Vegas Wednesday

Las Vegas Wednesday

2. Visit off Season

When I think of Vegas I picture the searing hot desert, sweaty people dancing in open air clubs and beautiful people lounging around hotel pools, waiting to get murdered. Whoops, looks like I’ve been watching too much CSI again.  I must say after my visit I understand a lot more of the insane plot lines on that show.

Back to my points that don’t involve comparing destinations to their TV world counterparts: the off season. While I didn’t get to lay by the pool, I did get to walk outside in January sans parka and rubber boots, and that was worth the cost of the trip right there for this reluctant winter New Yorker. Once again, we got great flight and hotel deals by visiting in the winter.

Las Vegas Palms

it was freezing up there!

 

Tip: Vegas is not a coat check kind of place. If its winter, make a run for it or take a cab!

3. Do The Sardine

What is The Sardine, you ask? Is it a trendy dance move all the young kids are doing these days in Vegas? No, its when you cram twice the legal limit of humans into a hotel room without paying the extra persons fees! While this may seem ethically dubious, I figured we weren’t actually costing the hotel anything extra by putting four people in a room rather than two. In fact I would argue we added to their revenue by buying four rather than two bottles of obscenely overpriced Gatorade each morning in the lobby convenience store.

The Aria Las Vegas

The Aria Las Vegas

The only legit argument against this is that its more work for the maids, but the hefty tip we left (hush money) assuaged any guilt I felt there. And thanks to our foolery we were able to stay at one of the hottest new hotels in Vegas, The Aria.

The Aria Las Vegas View

our view

4. Take Advantage of all That is Free!

As I confessed previously, I actually only did ONE thing on my list of free attractions that I compiled en route to Sin City. Lucky for you I immortalized it on the internet here for your free entertainment getting pleasure.

5. Gamble Wisely

The boys I was traveling with spent nearly twice what my girlfriend and I spent, thanks in large part to gambling. However, for them it wouldn’t be Vegas if they didn’t throw a $50 down on the roulette table every once in while. But even for those who don’t care much about gambling, it can be easy to throw away money here and there every time you walk through the lobby. Whether the casino is an important part of your trip or not, set a FIRM budget for gambling and stick to it.

Las Vegas

two vegas vices: gambling and girls

6. Buffet It Up

Okay so I admit that this was nothing of a concession for me as buffets really appeal to the finicky eater inside of me. But even food snobs will find something to get excited about at Vegas buffets, from lobster tails at the Bellagio to champagne brunches at Mandalay Bay. The best parts are the low prices- you can gorge yourself for about $15 at breakfast, lunches $15-20, and dinners topping out at $25-36.

Mirage Buffet Las Vegas

Mirage Buffet Las Vegas

pretty much the most flattering photo of me ever

Tip: We loved Cravings, in the Mirage, which had a futuristic cafeteria thing going on, but felt cheated by Fodor’s after their recommendation let us to the Buffet at TI. Should have followed the gut on that one.

7. See Shows on the Cheap

The Vegas equivalent of TKTS, Tix4Tonight is a last minute discount show ticket provider. Due to a variety of circumstances we didn’t see any shows on this trip like we had planned, but we stopped and looked at the TKTS screens a few times to see what was on offer and it seemed there were great prices and good seats- as long as you aren’t picky about seeing a Cirque show, in which case prepare to pay full price! But if you’re flexible and looking for comedy, a variety show, or a traditional Vegas showgirl show, check out the various TKTS booths around the strip to see if anything catches your eye.

8. Get into Clubs Free

Okay, so this was a big surprise to me. Thursday morning we headed out looking exactly as fabulous as you would expect us to look after 8 hours of traveling, 6 hours of partying, and 4 hours of sleep, in consecutive order. Kristin and I went in one direction looking for souvenirs and the boys went in the other direction looking for ways to gamble their hangovers away (they didn’t have to go far). Imagine my surprise when within ten minutes we were approached by a friendly girl wanting to give us club passes and put our names on a list. Being a skeptical New Yorker I was super suspicious and almost blew her off but she came through and handed over the passes and her business card without asking for a dime. By the time we got back to our hotel all four of us were on VIP lists for 4 of the hippest clubs in Vegas with drink tickets to some of them. Shockingly, the boys had none of the same offers.

Diplo Las Vegas

Las Vegas The Palms

Tip: Be female. Sorry guys.

Whew! This post has now reached 1000+ words so I’ll wrap this up: travel against the crowded days and seasons, take advantage of free and discounted entertainment, curb the gambling, and enjoy the buffets.

Las Vegas

Viva Las Vega$!