Travel “The Local Way”

A few nights ago I attended the March gathering of the New York Chapter of Travel Massive, “a world-wide community of locally organised meet ups for travel & tourism companies, travel bloggers, startups, and travel media to connect and share globally.”

Though I’ve been down with the flu, I went because I wanted to connect with my friends Amanda Rogers and and Steve Mann, the co-founders, producers and videographers of The Local Way, a travel video series. The videos follow local guides as they “take” you on a tour of neighborhoods in a variety of cities – so far in Paris, Dublin, New York and L.A.

What I love about the series, beyond the travel aspect, is how its format captures the essence of a city. The hosts focus on authentic, small, local businesses and how those businesses relate to the microculture of the surrounding neighborhood and its residents. These are the things that imbue a city with the sort of rich, layered flavor mostly absent from the suburbs. It’s why city folk pay twice the rent for a quarter of the space. It’s why they endure noisy neighbors and sweaty, smelly subway commutes.

Visitors come for the shopping and (sometimes) stay for the culture.

“I used to rent out my apartment [to tourists] while I was living in the East Village,” says Amanda over post-TM beers and burgers. “They would always leave behind [emtpy] shopping bags. But when they came back after a day of shopping, they would want to know where to go out in the East Village.” The Local Way New York, she hopes, will offer them a more “insider” option than the Lonely Planet and a more personal option than New York magazine.

The cool part, of course, is that New Yorkers – or Parisians, or Dubliners, or the LA-LAs (what do people in L.A. call themselves?) – can watch the videos to discover more about their own city. The key is that the local guides, because they are local residents, offer an authentic point of view. Sure, a video journalist can parachute in, grab a local, and follow them around with a camera. But The Local Way removes that extra layer between the viewer and the cocktail bar, or boulangerie, or Irish music pub.

So far the whole series has been self-funded by Amanda and Steve, who work day jobs to get by. To make their final push, they just started an Indiegogo (crowd-funding) campaign to raise money to complete their series and take the series from project to business. If you would like to support “travel the local way”, small businesses in big cities, and/or “a new form of documentary” (Amanda’s words), I encourage you to throw a dollar or two their way:

Singapore slings

On Monday evening I didn’t win two free economy-class tickets on any Singapore Airlines flight.  That honor went to Craig Zabransky, who blogs over at Stay Adventurous. Damn him.

Too bad, because thanks to Singapore Air PR guy James Boyd, I now know where to get the best martini in Singapore. And I sure could use a martini right now.

Never mind. I still had fun at the latest New York Travel Massive, the largest travel-industry Meetup in New York. The enclosed rooftop bar at Eventi Hotel was well heated by the exhalations and exhortations of 100-odd travel professionals. The travel industry is set to become much more interesting. Orbitz, Expedia, Kayak and dozens of others broke the first barrier by offering us price comparison. TripAdvisor et al gave us peer reviews to help gauge quality. But no one has quite cracked the nut of the thing that makes us price-hunt on Priceline or book a room at AirBnB: travel inspiration.

Right now, there’s no site I can search for, say, a vacation that during which I can be “active most days but relax other days, with great restaurants, English-speaking, within a 3-hour flight of my home airport and which costs $200 or less per day.” Worse, there’s no site that tells me, “Sure, I can book this trip to Bangkok for you. Bangkok is great. But the Songkran Festival will happen during your trip, and the wildest Songkran party in Thailand, by far, happens up north in Chiang Mai.”

And then there’s the destinations (and service providers to/at the destinations) themselves, trying to find new ways of marketing themselves. The more enlightened are reaching out to bloggers, leveraging social media, and engaging directly with potential travelers. But as in any other industry entrenched in its ways, these enlightened marketers are few and far between.

Speaking of which: I have never had any desire to go to Singapore. It seems a long way to go to eat good food and shop. Plus the famous chewing-gum nonsense. But now thanks to James Boyd at Singapore Airlines, I want to go get a cocktail at the following places:

3. The Ritz Carlton Millenia – “It’s got a good but basic lobby bar,” says Boyd. “And it’s my favorite business hotel in the world. The staff gets it – the needs of a business traveler. It just works.”

2. Blu Bar at Shangri-la – “Extremely glamorous.”

1. Compass Rose bar at the Stamford Raffles Hotel – “It’s on the 65th floor and has a sweeping view overlooking the harbor.” Plus, Boyd assures me, they make a great martini.





But but but…

This morning I went to see Esther, who is back in NYC after her cosmonaut adventure. As always, lovely to chat with her!

On my way home I stopped at The Strand bookstore to try to find a cheap used Russian phrasebook. In hindsight, I realize that I’m kinda a moron for thinking I could actually leave a bookstore without buying anything (they didn’t have the phrasebook). I am not a shopper or a buyer of superfluous things, but I am a pathological buyer (and reader!) of books. In this case, Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev and Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina (For the long Trans-Siberian trip! I convinced myself). In typical fashion, on my upcoming expedition my luggage will consist of 10 lbs of clothes and toiletries and 15 lbs of books. My back aches in anticipation.

None of this is particularly out of the ordinary. But while perusing the charmingly disorganized 18 miles of books, I suddenly realized that I NEED MORE TIME before I go: I want to read them all – all the Dickens and Bowles and Dostoevsky and everything else that I should have read by now and haven’t. I wanted the rhyming dictionary. And the colorful guide to the world’s subway systems. WHY HAVEN’T I READ THE RUSSIAN POETS YET? WHAT’S WRONG WITH ME?

Stricken with panic, I averted my eyes from the shelves and tables and made for the checkout counter.

Just another existential panic attack to endure before I leave!

En Why See?

So yeah, I’m back in New York. It’s so strange and familiar – my apartment, my local deli, baseball on tv, junk mail. Not sure how I feel about it all yet.

I’m just about finished uploading the giant backlog of photos from my trip.

Not sure what else to say. I’m trying to get over jet lag (stayed up til 7 last night, woke up at 3:30 am. not bad for the first day), sorting through a big pile of mail, and still deciding whether to unpack my bag.