Thursday, August 26, 2010

Cajun Country meets NYC: Burlesque, alligator appetizers + music at Louisiana Tourism event

This week I attended the Cajun Country media event at Bourbon Street Bar in midtown Manhattan.  It was sponsored by the State of Louisiana and the Acadiana Tourism Coalition.

I enjoyed live music (by Grammy-winning artists), sipped Pinot Grigio and chatted with a dozen burlesque performers and tourism reps.  I learned a great deal about Cajun culture and the thriving arts scene in Lafayette, LA.

Performers with the "Les Marionettes" troupe performed musical selections from their show "Dream of the Marionettes", which is part of the FringeNYC festival.

>> Check out my article on for details: "Louisiana promotes Cajun Country tourism at Manhattan's Bourbon Street Bar"

@LeslieTravel posing with two of the friendly performers from the "Les Marionettes" theater company.
In retrospect, I dressed a bit too conservatively for the occasion! I was told the dancers' stunning costumes were handmade by a Lafayette, LA local.

The live band got the crowd on its feet!
The music was a fusion of Cajun and other styles.  The musicians were all multi-taskers: the guitarist co-wrote the "Dream of the Marionettes" show, and the bassist doubled as an accordion player.

>> Click here to view the full article, which includes a slideshow and video of "Les Marionettes"

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

NY Destinations: Bachelorette parties in NYC - from tame to wild!

My latest article on is a topic I hold near and dear: bachelorette parties in the Big Apple.

Many of my NYC friends are getting married and I have been to my share of bachelorette parties in recent months. It turns out the countless hours of drinking and dancing at "hen" parties have served a higher purpose: research.

In writing this story, I decided not to include any salacious details from the bachelorette parties I've attended in Manhattan. After all, what happens in the East Village stays in the East Village. Isn't that how the saying goes?

I had intended to include a photo from my own bachelorette party at the Awesome 80s Prom. (Note: it was G-rated, so I'm not breaking the Girl's Code). However, the photo did not appear in the published article because of problems with the new Examiner website.

Here it is, exclusively for readers of LeslieTravel! (Well, at least until Examiner fixes its Pub Tool).

Leslie (in pink hat) and friends with an actor at the Awesome 80s Prom in Manhattan.
Scroll down for an excerpt of the "NYC Bachelorette Parties" article.  The full text appears in my NY Destinations column.

Manhattan bachelorette parties for every type of bride 
by Leslie Koch  
Originally published in NY Destinations column on

Planning a bachelorette party in New York City can be a challenge-- even for the most nightlife-savvy Maid of Honor. With thousands of bars and clubs to choose from, the planning process can be overwhelming.

Will your bashful bride enjoy a racy All Male revue? Or will she cower on stage eyeing the 'exit' signs?

And where can you possibly take your outrageous college roommate who is barely ready to settle down to a life of wedded bliss?

Fortunately, Manhattan offers bachelorette party options for every type of bride. Whether tame, adventurous or downright wild, your bride will have the night of her life at the following venues...

>> Keep reading on

Sunday, August 22, 2010

NYC Traveler Tweetup: $2 beers, travel talk and all-around good times!

New York City travel professionals flocked to the East Village on Tuesday for a night of $2 beers and bonding.

The second ever NYC Traveler Tweetup attracted a mix of writers, bloggers, editors, and a dynamic PR/publisher duo.

The tweetup coincided with #TravelTuesday on Twitter.  It was a testament to Twitter's ability to bring  together strangers with common interests and turn them into offline friends.  Well, at least drinking buddies!

NYC Traveler Tweetup regulars on Tuesday.

>> Check out the slideshow below for more photos of the tweetup...

Traveler tales

Seth Miller (@WanderngAramean) kicked off the evening with stories of his recent West African adventure. He told a captivated crowd how he thwarted a taxi driver's extortion attempt in Togo and shared photos of 'medicine' from a local market.  (The dried monkey heads were a clear favorite).

He also revealed an interesting possibility for group travel.  Apparently, ordinary citizens can rent an entire airplane and hangar and stage a multi-leg "party plane" journey.  You need only convince hundreds of your closest friends to contribute to the costs.

The concept is intriguing but-- I have to admit-- I don't know if I can fill a 737 with my closest associates.  Be sure to ask Seth for details the next time you log on to Twitter!

The old gang

Seth was joined in this second round by the rest of the original tweetup crew.

Ty Francis (@WelshWonder) revealed more tidbits about drinking culture in the Old Country and Charu Suri (@butterflydiary) shared advice on traveling as a vegan.

Alayna Francis (@GirlPR) and yours truly (@LeslieTravel) recalled their Manhattan adventures in the magical time before Giuliani enforced carding at megaclubs. (The 'Club USA' slide was a memorable highlight for these Long Island natives).

Matt Stabile (@TheExpeditioner) talked shop with writer Maria Russo (@traveladdictgrl), a frequent contributor to "The Expeditioner." He gamely tried on my giant sunglasses, which represent the latest in travel fashion (and something that Jersey Shore's Snooki might wear).

As expected, cigar aficionado Tom Johansmeyer (@tjohansmeyer) and partner in crime Laurie DePrete (@SceneByLaurie) escaped for a mysteriously long smoke break.  Undoubtedly, they were soaking up the Avenue A street culture and will feature their experiences in future blog posts!

The tweetup vets welcomed newcomers, including the mysterious globetrotter @MundoSurfer and travel writer Alexandra Bregman (@alixbregman).

Talking shop at Tuesday's NYC Traveler Tweetup.

A small world

The tweetup was a melting pot of traditional and new media.

Frommers editor Jamie Ehrlich (@JamieTravels) chatted with writer Jeffrey Tanenhaus (@EssentialNYC), author of the "NYC Essential Guide" iPhone app.

Jeffrey leads bus tours of Manhattan and-- in an interesting coincidence-- his bus crossed my path on Saturday night in the East Village.

I was talking about the tweetup to my husband while walking down Bowery.  I turned my head slightly and spotted a double-decker tour bus stopped at a light. The guide was none other than my new Twitter pal Jeffrey!

I darted into the road and started shouting, "Jeff! Jeff!" from the median.  After a few confused seconds, there was a spark of recognition in his eyes and he waved back.

Pleased at having become part of the NYC experience for this busload of foreign tourists, I didn't care that I looked like an insane stalker.

I hope that, after seeing how friendly New Yorkers are, these tourists decided to get off the bus in my neighborhood! (But not too many of them, of course).

To be continued...

Now that I'm hooked on tweetups, stay tuned to LeslieTravel on Twitter and Facebook for details of the next NYC Traveler Tweetup in September.

Hope to see you there!

>> Click on the slideshow for more images of the second ever NYC Traveler tweetup!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Inspired to travel by Eat Pray Love? Start planning your RTW trip with this step by step guide

Has the movie Eat Pray Love got you thinking about quitting your job and traveling the world?

Before you cash in your 401K and jump on the next flight to Bali, check out this round the world (RTW) travel guide.

These tips are based on my own experience as a RTW traveler. I set out in 2008 on a year-long journey with my fiance, starting in Fiji and ending in Toronto. We brought only our backpacks and round-the-world airline tickets.

We camped in the Outback, hiked through the Colombian jungle and relaxed on the beautiful beaches of Thailand and Brazil.

We had an amazing time and hope RTW trips catch on in the US!

How to backpack on a budget: The insider's guide to traveling around the world
by Leslie Koch
Originally published in the NY Destinations column on

Have you ever wanted to get away from it all? Have you sat in your drab cubicle on a Monday afternoon, watched the minutes tick by and wished you were on an exotic beach in the South Pacific?

This doesn't have to be a fantasy.

You can travel around the world for a year-- and visit dozens of countries-- for the same cost as living in New York City. This is a great time to escape from the economic recession in the United States by visiting countries where the dollar is relatively strong.

Read on for practical advice on traveling independently throughout the globe.

Why travel?
Laid off? Can't find a job? It's a great time to travel the world

Most people think round-the-world trips are only for the super rich, or contestants on Amazing Race. In fact, many Americans can afford an extended... Keep Reading »

How do I get started?

Find cheap flights to exotic destinations

Americans are discovering the benefits of round-the-world travel. Round-the-world trips are common among Australians and Europeans, who often take a... Keep Reading »

Where should I go?

Discover your dream destinations

Is there somewhere in the world you have always wanted to visit, but you never thought you had the time or money to realize your dream? Perhaps you... Keep Reading »

What gear do I need?

Picking the right luggage for your vacation: Backpack or Suitcase?

Picking the right luggage is an important step in vacation planning. When selecting luggage, consider your itinerary and needs. Will you be... Keep Reading »

Where can I find adventure?

The world's most interesting hikes

Whether you are a seasoned outdoorsman or a weekend warrior, hiking is a fun way to get up close with nature. It is also an inexpensive pursuit; you... Keep Reading »

What sanitary conditions can I expect?

The dirtiest toilets on Earth

You may wince when entering a grimy gas station bathroom, but, chances are, you haven't come across a truly filthy toilet until you have traveled in a...
Keep Reading »

What will the food be like?

Strange foods from around the world: Crocodiles, dogs, worms and more

Dogs, crocodiles, ants and even raw chicken are popular dishes from around the world that seem outright bizarre to most Americans. The next time you... Keep Reading »

Are there any side benefits to travel?

The travel diet: Lose 15 to 30 pounds by backpacking

Forget fad diets and cancel that costly gym membership. There is a simple way to lose weight without even trying: travel to rural Southeast Asia (Laos, Cambodia and Thailand). Keep Reading »

Remember: you don't need a trust fund to travel around the world-- just a sense of adventure and a willingness to venture outside of your comfort zone!

>> For more information on our RTW trip (including per country costs), visit the Jake & Leslie Travel Blog

Check out my guest post on Spunky Girl Monologues!

As my readers and Twitter followers know, I absolutely loved my recent trip to Wyoming.  Jake and I had a blast camping at Yellowstone-- even though we didn't see a much-hyped grizzly bear!

In just two weeks I took over 3,000 photos of the Cowboy State with my trusty new Canon G11. Most of the shots were taken at Yellowstone, the nation's first national park and home to the most amazing thermal features I have ever seen. At times I felt like I was walking through Mars or, alternately, the set of Neverending Story.

When Pamela MacNaughtan (@spunkygirllogue) invited me to write a photo essay for her Spunky Girl Monologues website, I jumped at the chance.  As I wrote about Yellowstone's colorful hot springs, all of my Wyoming memories came flooding back.

Check out my guest post on Spunky Girl Monologues and see what Yellowstone has to offer!

>> Click here to read my article, "Photo Essay| The Beautiful & Deadly Hot Springs of Yellowstone N.P"

Monday, August 16, 2010

Honeymoon in Yellowstone: Dealing with the threat of a bear attack

I survived Yellowstone in the summer of 2010.

Ordinarily, this would be nothing to boast about. But this summer season was punctuated by a deadly bear attack just outside of the park, a trio of escaped convicts on the run, and a record number of visitors in July.

And it's not over yet!

The triple threat of bears, convicts and crowds has not diminished the appeal of this iconic American destination.

But it does add to the excitement of visiting a national park known for its untouched landscape, wild animals and implicit dangers.

Yellowstone National Park is beautiful-- and deadly.

The Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone National Park, August 2010. (photo: Leslie Koch)

When bears attack

When my husband and I chose to honeymoon in Yellowstone National Park we knew it would be an adventure. We weren't interested in the standard honeymoon-- Caribbean beaches, Tahitian luxury or Italian villas. We'd already traveled around the world (literally) and were ready to explore the US.

Besides, what could be more exotic to a couple of New Yorkers than camping in the woods without cell phone or Internet service and possibly being eaten by a grizzly bear?

Yellowstone National Park is "bear country." August 2010. (photo: Leslie Koch)

In fact, bears were on my mind when I arrived in Yellowstone on August 2.

A few days earlier, on July 28, a family of grizzly bears killed a man and injured two others at a campsite just north of Yellowstone National Park. The victims had been camping at Gallatin National Forest in Montana and were asleep in their tents when the attacks occurred. A few days later, the mother bear was caught and euthanized. Her cubs (who reportedly fed on the victim) were sent to a zoo.

According to news reports, the victims had taken proper steps to prevent bear encounters, like leaving all food outside of their tents.

While deadly bear attacks are not common in Yellowstone, this incident had me on high alert. My fears were not assuaged by the signs posted all over Yellowstone, warning of wildlife attacks.

I poured over the bear literature provided at the Yellowstone entry gate. The official newspaper, Yellowstone Today, warns visitors to stay 100 yards away from bears and advises hikers to "make loud noises, shout or sing" on trails.

If a bear charges you, the National Park Service recommends standing your ground. And if the bear physically attacks you? Don't run or climb a tree. You're supposed to crouch down into the fetal position and protect your neck.

Of course, there are different rules for brown and black bears, and none of the park rangers seemed to agree on the usefulness of bear spray.

My head was throbbing as I tried to sort out the instructions. I was pretty sure that if I did encounter a bear, I would have no idea how to react. And I certainly wouldn't stay calm if a half-ton beast started to charge me.

Hiking in bear country

When Jake (my fearless husband) insisted on hiking in "bear country" on our first day in Yellowstone, I was apprehensive. I pointed out that the Riddle Lake Hike was a in a "bear management area," according to the hiking trails brochure.

In a clever move, Jake suggested we drive to the trail head and then I could decide whether or not to go on the hike. When we arrived at the parking area I was reassured to see a half dozen cars and a family with small children. If these parents can risk their kids' lives on a hike, I rationalized, then how could I stay behind?

The author and her husband survive Yellowstone. (photo: Leslie Koch)

Still, I insisted on jabbering loudly about bears and celebrity gossip during the entire walk. I occasionally broke into a Lady Gaga song, much to Jake's embarrassment.

I must have succeeded at annoying the wildlife with my chatter since we did not see any large mammals (excluding a few heartland tourists) and made it to the beautiful lake without incident.

Close encounter

As it turned out, we didn't see any bears during our four nights in Yellowstone.

However, I did have a close encounter with a bear skin at an information center just east of the park. A friendly volunteer, Dave Leslie, 78, greeted us in the parking lot and invited us to pose for photos holding a grizzly pelt.  He draped it across my torso and positioned the sharp claws against my throat.

Photo-op at the bear information center in Shoshone National Forest 
outside of Yellowstone National Park, August 2010. (photo: Leslie Koch)

We kept expecting Dave to ask for a tip or at least a donation, but after taking our photo he bid us goodbye with a handshake and scurried over to the next group of tourists.

After worrying about bears for the better part of a week, I was actually a bit disappointed we didn't spot any bears on our Yellowstone trip.  It would have been great to see a live grizzly-- from a distance, of course.

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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Exploring Wyoming, the Cowboy State

I just got back from a two week trip to Wyoming, also known as the "Cowboy State." Thanks to everyone who followed my adventures on Twitter at #LeslieInWyo!

I kicked off the trip in Cheyenne, where I covered the annual Cheyenne Frontier Days festival.  I was invited by Wyoming Tourism to experience the country's largest outdoor rodeo.  I had a blast at the parade, pancake breakfast and Frontier Park.  Attractions included Native American dancing and historical reenactors, not to mention the rodeo cowboys and beauty queens.

I even picked up a hat to complete my cowgirl look!

 Posing with the Little Sun Drum dancers at Cheyenne Frontier Days (photo: Leslie Koch)

For details of my Cheyenne Frontier Days trip, check out the NY Destinations column:

After five days in Cheyenne, my husband met me and we began our honeymoon!  Our road trip provided a glimpse into small town Wyoming and included stops in Laramie, Cody, Yellowstone, the Grand Tetons, Jackson, and Kemmerer.
Needless to say, the honeymoon was packed with adventure. We camped in Yellowstone National Park and marveled at the beautiful (and deadly) hot springs. We rode horses on a dude ranch and even visited the original JC Penney store.
 Having a City Slickers moment at the Vee Bar Ranch in Wyoming (photo: Leslie Koch)
I took over 3,200 photos in two weeks... so stay tuned to the NY Destinations column for some amazing slideshows!