5 Minutes With La Carmina

For McCool Travel’s 60th travel interview, I am pleased to present La Carmina. La Carmina is an international travel and culture TV host, popular blogger, author, and journalist. She specializes in passionate, personal stories of underground culture worldwide and is particularly known for her Asia & Gothic subculture coverage.
La Carmina’s bio:
“La Carmina is a travel journalist and blogger, specializing in offbeat stories about Tokyo and Asia. She wrote 3 books about Jpop culture, and hosts travel TV shows for networks including TLC, Food Network, Discovery, National Geographic, and Travel Channel. La Carmina and her film crew shoot travel episodes about youth trends, style, and subcultures worldwide, including Seoul and Cape Town. See more of La Carmina’s colorful style and travel guides on her popular website, lacarmina.com

La Carmina photo
La Carmina

La Carmina

Vancouver, Canada
Always in my luggage…
I always bring both my iPhone and my DSLR camera — I currently shoot with the Song Alpha 7 mirrorless, and highly recommend it. It’s a full frame DSLR, yet half the size and light, so I can easily carry it around. In my purse, I carry around big sunglasses, wallet, keys, tissue, and mints. I make sure my luggage has extra contact lenses and solution, different types of shoes, a compact Japanese umbrella (necessary to protect film equipment), and clothing that I can layer in case the weather changes.
3 favorite home-away-from-home places…
My second homes are Tokyo and Hong Kong – these are my most visited destinations, and I have close friends and relatives in these cities. I also feel a strong connection to the alt / Goth / underground scene here. If I had to pick a third home, it would be an untouched, gorgeous beach getaway, like the Maldives.

La Carmina photo
La Carmina

A favorite travel memory is…
Co-hosting Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern in Tokyo, for his show on Travel Channel. We filmed at several strange theme cafes, including maid cafes and one where diners get locked up in cells, and eat “Russian Roulette” takoyaki (one is filled with wasabi). Zimmern is wonderful in person, and we continue to be friends. You can see more of my travel TV clips, like CNN and Discovery Channel, at http://www.lacarmina.com/pirates
3 favorite travel brands…
I always enjoy staying with Kimpton hotels, and I adore the staff at the Orlando in Los Angeles’ West Hollywood. I’ve been working with a Japanese travel startup called Odigo, which makes trip-planning easy, and helps people put together customized trips to Japan. I’m excited to see it grow in 2015 – it’s a fantastic way for travelers to get off the beaten path in Japan.
3 money-saving travel tactics I use are…

  1. Order local currency from your bank at home, before you begin your trip. The exchange rates are far better than if you arrived at the foreign country and then took money out.
  2. If hotels are too pricey and hostels aren’t your scene, then consider short-term apartment rentals. In Europe, I recommend Go With Oh. I’ve been able to rent entire apartments in central locations for the price of a hostel stay.
  3. If you’re a travel blogger / influencer, reach out to tourism boards. They’ve getting a lot better at working with online media, and now do blogger and social media press trips. Bureaus will often help out with arranging subway passes, restaurant meals, accommodations, and even flights. Also try asking hotels for a media rate or comped stay, in exchange for featuring them on your site.

3 ways that I have fun while traveling are…

  1. I love sharing travel snapshots on Instagram. It’s fun to post photos and stories in real-time, as I experience new people and places.
  2. My friends and I do creative photoshoots on-location, as we travel. We get inspired by our surroundings, and I style myself to match the mood. For example, the neon lights and heat of Mactan in the Philippines resulted in these night-time photos, with a Wong Kar Wai feeling.
  3. I’m a big fan of cute, quirky, bizarre theme restaurants, and try to visit them wherever I go. I went to the Hello Kitty cafe in Seoul, the Charlie Brown one in Hong Kong, a Barbie cafe in Taipei, and dozens of maid, cat, and fantasy restaurants in Tokyo. One of my recent favorites was the Japan owl cafe, where the live birds will sit on your head!

8 word (or less) travel mantra…
“Dig deep into the local, alternative youth culture.” This sums up my travel niche: I’m passionate about reporting on subcultures, nightlife, weird trends, avant-garde artists, and designers.

La Carmina photo
La Carmina

most memorable souvenir…
I appeared on the Discovery / Science Channel TV show Oddities to buy a souvenir that reminded me of home. It turned out to be a giant elk head from Canada! You can see me hugging this beast, on the video clip.
favorite cheap eat…
As soon as I arrive in Tokyo, I have a tradition—I run to the nearest convenience store. I buy an onigiri (rice ball stuffed with fish, and wrapped in dried seaweed), as well as bottle of yuzu juice (a tangy Japanese citrus that is my favorite flavor).
recent discovery…
Until last year, I didn’t know anything about my heritage that went further back from my grandparents. Then, I discovered I’m a direct descendant of 16th century Chinese military leader, Yuan Chonghuan! In the Ming Dynasty, Yuen was a celebrated commander who twice defeated the Mongol army, but was later betrayed and killed via Death by a Thousand Cuts. His enemies in Beijing rushed to buy and eat his limbs, but his loyal friend She managed to rescue the head. For the past 300 years, She’s descendants have been guarding my ancestor’s decapitated head. I’m not sure where it is today, but my family still has an ancestral plot of land in Dongguan, his southern Chinese hometown.
I am fortunate to have met…
Andrew Zimmern, host of Bizarre Foods. I’m beyond grateful that he was a supporter of my work from the start and continues to champion me. I wouldn’t be doing these passion projects in travel and TV today if it weren’t for him.
I would like to meet…
Very hard to pick one person. It would be fascinating to meet my Ming dynasty ancestor Yuan Chonghuan and hear his story.

La Carmina photo
La Carmina

Thank you, La Carmina, for sharing your travel inspiration and tips with the McCool Travel audience.
Follow La Carmina on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and La Carmina’s blog.

Check out McCool Travel’s previous profilesMcCool Travel presents tips from travel experts in our 5 Minutes interview series—featuring travel industry giants, super frequent travelers, and adventurous persons. Previous 5 Minutes post: Spencer Spellman.

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