GadlingTV’s Travel Talk – Catalina Island

GadlingTV’s Travel Talk, episode 20 – Click above to watch video after the jump

This week we have an extra special episode – it’s Aaron’s birthday and we’ve decided to surprise him by going to one of Southern California’s best escapes for diving, watersports, and all things adventurous.

Located 22 miles southwest of Los Angeles, Catalina Island has a rich history as a private island and as a tourist destination. On the couch, we’ll talk about some of the many people who have claimed ownership to the island and why Avalon’s iconic casino isn’t the gambling type, and how Catalina is looking to boost their tourism industry once more.

Stay tuned as we take you zip-lining, scuba diving, show you Avalon’s newest hotel, and finally settle some leftover golf wagers from Orlando. Enjoy!

If you have any questions or comments about Travel Talk, you can email us at talk AT gadling DOT com.

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Interested in escaping to Catalina? Book your passage on the Catalina Express from Long Beach!
Where to stay – Avalon’s recently renovated Pavilion Hotel.
What to do – take a ride on Catalina’s brand new zip line course!
Love to scuba dive? Check out Catalina Scuba Luv.

Hosts: Aaron Murphy-Crews, Stephen Greenwood

Produced, Edited, and Directed by: Stephen Greenwood, Aaron Murphy-Crews, Drew Mylrea

Talking Travel with Avalon travel writer, Joshua Berman

Avalon travel writer, Joshua Berman, whose Moon Belize guidebook (8th edition) hit book stands in October, took time from his busy book tour to answer a few questions about travel, writing, and living and breathing idyllic Central America.

Don’t forget to enter the Gadling Giveaway of the latest edition HERE (you only have until tomorrow to enter!), or read my glowing review of Moon Belize HERE.

Enjoy the interview!

GAD: Not that I’m criticizing your choice here, but how did you end up in Belize? In your mind, what makes it such a special travel destination?
JB: It was a natural northerly progression, beginning in Nicaragua in 1998, where I served as a Peace Corps Volunteer; followed by Honduras as both a trip leader and guidebook researcher. Then one day my publisher asked if I would take over Moon Belize from Chicki Mallan, the book’s original author, who was retiring. I said yes.

GAD: Based on your experiences living and traveling in Nicaragua and other parts of Central America, how does Belize contrast with its neighbors?
JB: Belize is less crowded, more diverse, more expensive, and just as tranquilo as Guatemala, Honduras, or Nicaragua. Belize is the only English-speaking country in Central America and its heritage as a British colony also makes it stand out from the rest of Central America (including Belizeans’ unique affinity for dark beer and stout).

GAD: What are your favorite things to do in Belize, and how do those activities reflect who you are as a traveler?

JB: I like to hike, paddle, and meet people. I also like to run into old friends, which happens every time I visit Belize. My favorite is when these activities all combine, like when I run into people I know atop Maya pyramids, on rivers, or in caves. It speaks to how small and special a place it is.

GAD: Can you tell us something about Belize that the less knowledgeable traveler may not know?
JB: Belize has one of the biggest cave systems in the world, the highest waterfall in Central America, and the planet’s first (and I think only) jaguar reserve. It also hosts one of the world’s longest and most grueling canoe races every March, La Ruta Maya Canoe Challenge.

GAD: With ever increasing eco-tourism and travel advancements in Belize, what kinds of changes do you see for the country as a travel destination within the next ten years?
JB: Belize is constantly walking the line of sustainability when it comes to tourism. There are always massive projects being proposed to increase cruise tourism, the airport, and the size of the developments on delicate islands and wetlands. But when it comes down to it, more than 70 percent of Belize’s 500 or so hotels have 10 rooms or less. That means small structures, family-run hotels, and lower impacts on the environment than big resorts and mega-hotels, which are standard fare just up the coast in Cancun. Also, I’d like to think that there are just too many forward-thinking people involved in Belize tourism to let it go astray. Belize recently hosted the third annual World Responsible Tourism Conference, which is a big deal. Ten years from now, I think Ambergris Caye and Placencia will continue to be built up, but the rest of the country will remain wild and small. We’ll see.

GAD: Based on your bio, I gather you split your time between Central America and the Rocky Mountains. How is this lifestyle and do you see it changing?
JB: I teach Spanish in Colorado during the school year and I travel to Central America on jobs during my breaks. Sometimes my family gets to tag along (here’s my two-year-old, Shanti, on her first backpacking trip to Nicaragua). It’s a tricky juggling act, but so far it’s working out, and it allows me to get my travel fix every few months while maintaining a home, job, and family.

GAD: What other parts of the world (not Central America) appeal to you – and why?
JB: My wife, Sutay, and I went to Pakistan on our honeymoon. This was in 2005 when it was a little edgy but not as dangerous as it seems to have become. We went north to the Hunza Valley in the Himalayas, which was one of the most spectacular lost worlds I’ve ever seen. It makes me drool to think about the milk tea and the glaciers and the apricot soup and yak-wool hats … incredible spot and very welcoming people.

GAD: What will be your next project as a traveler/travel writer?
JB: I’m putting the finishing touches on the manuscript of my first narrative book. It’s a travel memoir about my honeymoon and is tentatively entitled YOU WILL SOON BE CROSSING THE GREAT WATERS: A Love-Marriage Memoir from Pakistan, India, Ghana, and The Gambia. I’m hoping to publish it independently in the next year. I’m also updating two guidebooks this winter, Moon Nicaragua and Living Abroad in Nicaragua, with my coauthor, Randy Wood. You can always stay updated on my blog, The Tranquilo Traveler. See you out there.

Gadling is currently accepting entries to a giveaway of Josh’s Moon Belize guidebook. Entries are due tomorrow — Wednesday, November 18 @ 5 p.m. EST!!!

While you’re at it, check out my review of Moon Belize, too. You won’t be disappointed!

Moon Belize Giveaway

Gadling is teaming up with Avalon Travel to bring you a great giveaway! A few days ago I reviewed Moon Belize (8th edition), written by Joshua Berman, who is familiar not only with Belize but also Nicaragua and other parts of Central America. This guidebook is the real deal. It has all the information you need to make your Belize holiday one worth remembering.

Now, you can win a free copy of Berman’s Moon Belize guidebook by leaving a comment in the bottom of this post by Wednesday, November 18, 2009 at 5 p.m. EST. Your comment must identify the one activity/place in Belize that you would absolutely not want to pass up when you go there. Please provide a brief explanation for why you chose this activity/place. This comment shouldn’t be longer than three sentences, please.

One lucky winner will be picked randomly and receive this awesome guidebook.

  • To enter, identify the one activity/place in Belize that you would absolutely not want to pass up when you go there.
  • The comment must be left before Wednesday, November 18, 2009 at 5:00 PM Eastern Time.
  • You may enter only once.
  • One winner will be selected in a random drawing.
  • One winner will receive a copy of Moon Belize, valued at $17.95.
  • Open to legal residents of the 50 United States, including the District of Columbia who are 18 and older.
  • Click HERE for complete Official Rules.

It’s that simple!

Just so you get the idea, here’s my destination of choice. But don’t worry: I already have my copy. Now go and win yours.

Brenda’s “entry”: I’m an outdoorsy type and like to go off the beaten path. Spending a night or two at the Macal River Camp sounds really nice. I can hike, horseback ride, and relax by the river, and be inspired by my natural surroundings.

Look for a follow-up post and announcement on Gadling late next week!

Talking Travel with Road Trip USA writer Jamie Jensen

Avalon travel writer Jamie Jensen, whose travel guidebook, Road Trip USA, hit book stands earlier this month, took time from his busy book tour to answer a few questions about travel, writing, and road tripping across the country.

Don’t forget to enter the Gadling Giveaway of the latest edition HERE, or read my glowing Travel Read review of the book HERE.

Enjoy the interview!

BY: What is the most scenic/interesting/enjoyable stretch of road you’ve encountered?

JJ: One lifelong favorite (well, 30 years and counting…) is the famous stretch of Hwy-1 along the central California coast, through Big Sur. This is an amazing engineering and construction feat – carved out of the cliffs beginning in the 1920s; it offers incredible views and takes drivers to places we couldn’t otherwise reach. The combination of the natural world and the manmade improvements (not just the roadway, but the many rustic lodges and historic sites) is simply amazing – just take it slow!

The Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina is another amazing road to drive, winding through the forests along the Appalachian crest, and for something very different I like to head down to Florida to drive the “Overseas Highway”, which is basically one long bridge over the blue waters of the Caribbean Sea, from near Miami and the Everglades all the way to the tip of Key West.

New England has tons of great two-lane country roads-and perhaps the country’s most beautiful stretch of Interstate Highway, I-93 thru Franconia Notch. And even higher up in the mountains, the Rockies have at least two unforgettable roads, the wonderfully named “Million Dollar Highway” in Colorado, and the sinuous “Going-to-the-Sun Road” through the heart of Glacier National Park.

I could go on – but these are a good starter.

BY: What compelled you to travel nearly half a million miles of asphalt?

JJ: I don’t think I ever intended to spend so much time driving around – and certainly not to accumulate so many miles – but over the years I’ve kept looking at maps and wondering what these places really looked like, and then with Road Trip USA I’ve been going back again and again and keeping track of what’s new. So it has all added up. Then again, there is something like 6 million miles of paved roads across the country, so I’ve really barely scratched the surface.

BY: How did you gather all of the information about the places you traveled?

JJ: Because I’m interested in older roads, the ones that were main roads before the Interstate Highway system came thru in the 1960s, my first best source of ideas for places to travel was a series of 1930s and 1940s travel guides covering all the old US Highways-these were put together as a “New Deal” project for out-of-work writers, and were written by the likes of Saul Bellow, Ralph Ellison, and Jim Thompson.

The WPA guides are great stuff – and full of insights that still resonate today.

More practically, since I cover places to eat and sleep and have fun, as well as the history and culture of these different places, I used to write or call the sundry Chambers of Commerce and tourist promotion organizations for each state, region, city and town, and ask for their brochures and maps.

Now of course, all of that information is on the Internet – but nothing is as valuable as actually visiting these places and seeing (and tasting!) them for myself.

BY: What is the biggest advantage and disadvantage to traveling by car?

JJ: The advantages of traveling by car – especially in a country as huge and car-dependent as the USA – are numerous and probably obvious. Cars offer freedom to go where you want when you want, in comfort and at your own pace. And because it costs about the same to travel with four or more people as it does to go alone, the economics of driving over buying airplane or train tickets is pretty compelling.

That said, the downside of traveling by car is closely tied with the advantages – namely, what with sound systems and air conditioning, etc., cars are so comfortable that is sometimes means it can be hard to stop and actually experience the places you pass through.

So, despite the inertia of buzzing along at 70 mph, for a memorable road trip it’s important to make every effort to stop and get out of the car, even for a few minutes, so the sights and sounds can sink in, and really leave an impression.

BY: How did you score the gig to travel across the country and write this book – and what advice do you have for aspiring travel writers?

JJ: Before I wrote Road Trip USA, I had already established myself as a travel guidebook author, writing and overseeing guidebooks to California and all of the USA for a number of “traditional” publishers (Rough Guides, Michelin Guides, Fodor’s, and those nicely illustrated “Eyewitness Guides” from Dorling Kindersley) so I had a pretty good track record. When I started working on what became Road Trip USA, I never thought I would find enough sights to make a 900-page book, but nowadays the challenge is to keep it from getting too big!

My advice to aspiring travel writers is simply to write. Unfortunately, it is very hard to get paid very much for travel writing, but if you can combine it with other things, it may work out. Once you’ve written something, you’ll have it forever, but if you don’t write things down and tell your stories (even it’s just for yourself right now), the stories start to fade away. And who knows! Maybe tomorrow you’ll find a publisher who wants a whole book of your adventures. If you’ve written your stories along the way, you’ll be much better placed to take advantage of opportunities.

On a more positive note, with the wonderful world of the Internet, it is a lot easier for people to be “published” and reach interested readers directly (through websites and blogs etc), though I don’t know of anyone who is making anything like real money doing this.

BY: What will be your next project? More road tripping or are you growing roots in California?

JJ: That’s a good question. Since I finished the last edition of Road Trip USA, I switched gears a little, and have taken a 6-month trip to Berlin, where the relationship between history and tourism are so much more complicated than they are compared to say, getting your kicks on Route 66. For me, growing up in southern California during the Space Age 1960s with all the fear of Commie infiltrations and imminent nuclear war, it’s been fascinating to spend a length of time where so much horrible stuff happened. Though I don’t think I’m going to do a “Guilt Trip” alternative of my “Road Trip” work, I’m more interested than ever at looking into the mechanics of how we (as individuals, communities and as countries) “remember” history, through monuments and parks and preservation of “historic” places.

Gadling is currently accepting entries to a giveaway of Jamie’s Road Trip USA guidebooks. Entries are due by Friday, April 24 @ 5 p.m. EST!!!

Check out my review of Road Trip USA while you’re at it.

One for the Road: The Palace of the Snow Queen

I’ve had a copy of this book for awhile, but unfortunately have not had a chance to read it yet. However, I want to let you know about Barbara Sjoholm’s new book now, because she’s got an event coming up this week. The Palace of the Snow Queen is a travel narrative that follows the author through Sweden, Finland and other parts of Lapland. Sjoholm visits the Ice Hotel in Kiruna, takes part in traditional activities like reindeer racing and dog sledding, and adjusts to the ever-darkening days of the Far North. Bookslut recently posted a positive review.

If you live anywhere near Bellingham, WA, you can meet the author and view a slideshow of photos from her travels in Lapland at an event at Village Books this Thursday night. She’ll read from her book, and also discuss the culture of the indigenous Sami, who are currently in a struggle to maintain their traditional reindeer grazing lands and migration routes.