For many of us travelers, traveling can be like crossing through a looking glass into a weird Wonderland, where we are seduced by worlds that are strangely beautiful and which we never knew existed. We’re shocked, awed, delighted, bedazzled and mortified all at once, reawakening us with a curiosity to go deeper. It allows us freedom to experience alternative spaces and it broadens our world to involve other realities, which in turn, gives us growth and a greater knowledge of the world. Personally, this is one of the reasons I love travel.
But sometimes, even in travel, we can get into a rut of falling into a pattern and mimicking footsteps before us, rather than carving out our own. How do we escape that rut even in travel?
The travel lady I have the honor to interview today stands on the other side of that looking glass in the world of the strangely bizarre, spooky and beautiful. She’s an extraordinary lady, successful at seeking out the “off-beat and cool” when she travels. From interviewing bagelheads (a form of body modification) on TV to blogging about
Japan street style, underground culture and Asia… she’s also the author of three books, one of which took Andrew Zimmern’s Bizarre Foods on a tour exploring Tokyo’s theme cafes (watch her TV host reel for a glimpse of this and to see shows she’s been on). She’s a writer for CNNTravel/CNNGo and the Huffington Post… and I could just go on. But rather than give you a resume, let me share the person. Let’s cross through the looking glass…
I’d like to welcome goth travel fashionista, La Carmina.
Where are you originally from and where do you live now?
I was born and raised in Vancouver, Canada. This is still my home when I’m not roaming the world for my work in blogging, journalism, and TV presenting. At this point, I travel to 1-4 destinations per month, so perhaps it’s more accurate to say I live in planes and airports!
When were you first bitten by the travel bug?
I don’t remember my first trip, but my parents took me to Hong Kong at the age of one, to visit relatives. I’m sure flying on a plane and seeing a bustling, neon Asian city at such a young age made a big impression on me. Since then, travel was part of my life. My family and I took vacations a few times a year, to Asia, North America and Europe, so it became a natural rhythm.
What attracts you to travel?
Nothing inspires me and opens me up like traveling. I’ve discovered new creative passions, obsessions, favorites while on the road — there are foods, people, cultural differences that you’ll never encounter anywhere else, even if you live in a cosmopolitan city. (Like camel milk and cat cafes!) I never stop getting excited to “coolhunt” (or scout out and report) on alternative culture worldwide, and share my findings with my readers.
How did a Vancouver girl make her way across the globe to find a home in Tokyo? Was this a spontaneous decision or did you plan it for a while?
I don’t live full-time in Tokyo, but I’m there at least a few times a year for TV show filmings and other projects. I lived in Japan for several months while working on my theme restaurants book. I love being in Japan, but for a variety of reasons (logistical, cultural, visas, work), I prefer Vancouver to be my home base.
What drew you to the alternative/goth fashion scene and what makes the fashion scene in Tokyo unlike any other in the world?
Growing up, my impression of the teen-pop universe that consumed my fellow classmates was… “It sucks! How annoying!“. Instead, I gravitated towards Tim Burton, Edward Gorey, Vampira and other creatures of the night. I began exploring Gothic fashion, music and nightlife, and was captivated.
In Tokyo, there is incredible creativity in makeup and clothing — the club kids can transform themselves in extraordinary ways. You won’t find fantasy evil queens like this in Western nightclubs!
One of your books, Crazy Wacky Theme Restaurants: Tokyo, ultimately found its way into an episode of Andrew Zimmern’s Bizarre Foods. Did you have any idea that book would open the doors to TV guest appearances?
Like most regular people, I was someone who grew up with no entertainment industry connections or inside knowledge. I had zero prospects of getting into TV, so it was never a goal. However, this opportunity on Bizarre Foods led to other producers reaching out, and I now appear regularly on networks like Food Network, Travel Channel, Discovery, National Geographic. On June 8, my appearance on Oddities will air on Science and Discovery Channel. I love the medium of TV presenting, and want to continue down this road.
One of the things I love about your sensibility and style is your way of finding quirky and off-the-beaten-path places, when you travel. You call it “cool hunting”.
For example, I didn’t know there were Tokyo restaurants with ninja waiters or macaques that serve you… Any tips for travelers on how they can become “cool hunters” in their travels?
I think this process (searching for emerging trends and underground, youth, sub-movements) comes organically to me. Without knowing what the word “coolhunting” meant, this is something I’ve naturally done since my teen years.
The best way to get connected is by participating in alt communities and building trusting, genuine relationships there. Be active on social media and interact with readers. Then, when you’re off to a new destination, you’ll have contacts and leads for places to explore.
What are your top three most bizarre and favorite cities?
It’s impossible to name only three, but for drag queen parties, body modifications, and alternative art/culture, I adore Tokyo, Osaka, and Berlin.
What country or places surprised you in unexpected “cool”?
I scouted out bizarre places in Milwaukee, Wisconsin for my travel web series, and was pleasantly surprised by the quirks I encountered. I went to a secret agent bar, cheese castle and retro love hotel!
What is your personal travel style, when you’re not working and what type of places or experiences do you seek for enjoyment?
I try to dress in layers, since temperatures can vary highly between destinations. I bring a light jacket and scarf in my backpack, in case I get cold. On flights, I wear comfortable clothes.
When I’m in front of the camera, I get dolled up. I like to wear styles that match the destinations, such as a retro 1920s look for Miami’s Art Deco Weekend, and head scarves in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.
You’re a woman, who has worn many non-traditional travel hats — alt fashionista, travel host, blogger, fashion consultant, cool hunter, fixer, writer….(hope I didn’t leave any out). Is there one aspect, which you feel defines you the most and what’s your secret to juggling sanity?
Today, it’s exhilarating that young people don’t need to choose one industry. The web and social media gives the ability to self-publish and get works out there. You can shoot digital photos and video, upload on the web… the process is much faster than traditional TV and journalism. I think wearing all these hats defines me; I’d hate to have to choose only one field.
You’ve found celebrity success, despite the fact you’ve not tried to appeal to the mainstream… Any tips for someone looking for career success in travel blogging or hosting, even if their sensibilities might appeal to a smaller or more alternative niche?
Don’t try to appeal to everyone. You can build a strong, passionate base by focusing on specific, alternative niches. These may seem limited, and you may have your haters… but those who “get it” will be on board 100%. And this will enable you to do work that is unique to you, and grow in unexpected ways (I started by blogging about Japan street style, and it grew to books, TV and journalism about subcultures worldwide).
What’s one personal survival tool that you feel you owe your success to?
My Scottish Fold cat, Basil Farrow! He is my rock, or more accurately, my squish-ball. Basil helps me stay relaxed and maintain perspective — his cuteness will brighten up anyone’s day. You can see a million photos of him on my Twitter, Instagram and blog.
Follow La Carmina’s travels and adventures: