Going Forward But Never Straight: In Conversation with La Carmina
Reading travel blogs can be an opportunity to see the world from another person’s perspective. Even if you know a destination well, you invariably discover something new about it when reading a blog. That’s certainly the case with goth and alternative travel writer La Carmina’s blog, titled simply La Carmina.
La Carmina seeks out underground and youth subcultures when she travels. Since 2007 she has been writing a travel blog with a goth and alternative bent, which has grown into a full-fledged alternative travel brand, including travel videos and TV appearances that showcase her brand of positive goth travel. She’s also authored three books, including a guide to the craziest theme restaurants in Tokyo, a city where she’s spent a lot of time.
Behind her goth-meets-cute look and emphasis on offbeat destinations, reading La Carmina’s blog feels like traveling along with her, from the catacombs in Paris to Taiwan’s French Quarter, to the fairy fields of Iceland and the malls of Dubai.
We recently had a chat with La Carmina about her journey from blogger to TV personality, and her unique travel style.
How did you get the idea to produce a blog about goth and alternative travel? And where did the name “La Carmina” come from?
I’ve had Gothic leanings since I was young; I always got a kick out of horror movies and Halloween, and experimented with dark fashion since my early teens. I was relatively savvy with web-building in the early 2000s, and so when blogs started to make waves, I was curious about this new medium and eager to give it a go. I built a blog and called it “La Carmina” because that was my flamboyant nickname at the time. The name is inspired by La Camilla, the campy-dramatic singer of the band Army of Lovers.
I wrote my first post on my La Carmina blog in fall 2007, and updated it almost daily. The site quickly took off, as it was one of only a handful of personal fashion blogs online at the time. In the beginning, I mainly shared my dark outfits (think black lipstick, chokers and Victorian gowns). I also wrote about the vibrant Gothic scene in Japan: in the mid 2000s, Tokyo was an alt-culture wonderland of Gothic Lolita Harajuku fashion, wild all-night parties, and Visual Kei J-rock bands.
When I started my La Carmina Blog, I focused on these topics simply because they fascinated me, and were a meaningful aspect of my life at the time. I met many of my closest friends through the Tokyo Goth subculture, and wanted to share the creativity and energy that fed our spirits. A lot has changed since then, and the subculture is no longer as it once was… Looking back, I’m grateful I was able to be part of it, and have a real-time chronicle of the era.
These were the first days of blogging, and I recognize my luck at being an early adopter.
As more people read my blog, I received opportunities to grow my career in new directions. These were the first days of blogging, and I recognize my luck at being an early adopter. I pitched and received two book deals through Random House and Penguin USA, and was invited to appear on travel TV shows including Andrew Zimmern’s Bizarre Foods and a No Reservations Anthony Bourdain season teaser for Travel Channel. I also was invited on some of the earliest “influencer” blog press trips, beginning in 2012.
I gradually pivoted my blog’s focus to Goth/alternative travel worldwide, as I found it meaningful to explore new places and find hidden, unexpected dark gems that tourists overlook. Thanks to jobs with tourism boards and travel companies, I was able to visit dozens of dream destinations worldwide in the past eight years. In a nutshell, the current incarnation of my La Carmina blog wasn’t planned from the start, but grew organically out of my personal passions and evolving opportunities.
Your work has a really unique emphasis and look. As a goth travel writer, what are some of your favorite things to seek out when you’re visiting a new place?
As you might expect, I seek out the local Goth culture in places I visit. I’ll look for exceptional Gothic boutiques, nightclubs, bars, theme restaurants, art exhibitions, graveyards, and other dark attractions. These can range from the HR Giger (Alien) Museum in Switzerland, to absinthe bars in Osaka, to latex fetish fashion in Berlin, to the Catacombs of Paris.
However, I also feature broader stories about art, architecture, food and culture that appeal to me and my readers. My audience tends to be young and alternative-leaning, and they’re interested in a variety of hip, creative attractions. Some of my favorite recent non-Goth but offbeat experiences include seeing space-like Niemeyer buildings in Brazil, partying in a Beirut LGBT club, popping inside Yayoi Kusama pumpkins in Naoshima Japan, and taking cooking lessons with a family in Vietnam.
Do you generally travel solo or with others?
I always travel with at least one person, as my work relies heavily on capturing visuals. I’m fortunate to have many friends who are pro photographers, or at least have a keen eye for photography, so they help me to shoot images while we’re on the trip.
I’m also typically hosted by a tourism board or travel company, so I often have a local guide with me as well. For example, I toured New Zealand with a group, went on a private Morocco journey with a small company, and did a day trip in Iceland and Laos with a local expert.
You graduated from Yale Law School. That’s an incredible accomplishment! I’m an attorney myself, and many of Pink Pangea’s readers come from the law or other professions and have moved into writing. Did you ever practice law, and can you tell us a little bit about that decision to move from the traditional profession of law into travel media?
I never ended up practicing as a lawyer, as I started my La Carmina Blog during law school, and it had grown sufficiently for me to pursue it full-time upon graduation. I had signed two book contracts with major publishers by the time I received my degree. I reasoned that I should seize this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to write, and eke out a career in an Internet “Wild West” (remember these were the earliest days of blogging, before significant monetization and the rise of “influencers.”) I knew I could always practice law later if I wanted to, or take on related work that excited me.
As an entrepreneur and freelancer, I’ve found that having a legal background has been enormously helpful in my career, especially with contracts and negotiations.
One of your most recent blog posts was about the Dia de Los Muertos in Mexico, which seems very much up your alley in terms of the goth travel blogger world. Do you find particular destinations that speak to you and to your readers as goth or alternative travelers? Or do you go wherever calls you and find what you and your audience will want to read about or watch there?
The answer is a bit of both. Most of my Goth friends have a similar “bucket list” of destinations that appeal to our dark dispositions. These include Wave Gotik Treffen Festival in Leipzig, Dracula’s castle in Romania, witchcraft in Salem, vampire and voodoo in New Orleans, and Tokyo’s spooky-cute attractions. I’ve been fortunate to have visited many of these places through my work.
However, I also love visiting destinations that don’t seem to have an alternative bent. I get a thrill out of finding hidden, quirky things in the most unassuming places, such as a spy bar and a kitschy love hotel in Wisconsin, of all places! I live for all things indie and artistic; I was enthralled by the imaginative and beautifully presented food in Slovenia, for example.
I always find ways to add my subculture twist to any project. When I was hired to feature a Riviera Maya resort, I made sure to include a sugar skull folk art museum, boudoir karaoke bar, and pyramids nearby. I feel there’s always a way to find something off-kilter, no matter where you go.
You have such a unique and alternative style. Is that a conversation starter when you’re traveling to places where people don’t tend to see goth or alternatively-dressed people as much?
Thank you. I like to put a local spin on my personal style, and respectfully incorporate elements of the destination into my outfits. I wore a dark blue sari in India, a gift from a hijra, or person of the third gender, who I met in Jaipur. For the space-like Easter Island, I put on a rocket ship dress. Recently, in the Yucatan, I dressed in an indigenous huipil and wore sugar skull makeup for Day of the Dead.
I am careful to respect the local culture and norms, such as covering my shoulders to enter temples in Bali, and not wearing revealing clothing in Egypt or Morocco. Everywhere I’ve travelled, I’ve received smiles and positive comments from locals. Children especially seem to love my colored hair and four-inch platform shoes! I think some people assume that Gothic style looks morbid or scary, but on my blog, you’ll see how my friends and I wear a broad variety of coordinates and colors that come across as alternative.
You’ve built a brand and business based on your interests and passions, with speaking engagements at fashion shows, appearances on major TV shows, and as a correspondent for Business Insider, Huffington Post and other widely-known publications. What has that process been like for you, and do you have any advice for our readers on building a similar career, as many are interested in following a similar career path?
Everything has grown gradually over the years. I’ve challenged myself to try new routes and experiment. If I find something to be invigorating, then I look for ways to keep on doing or broadening it.
For instance, I was hired to be a guest expert and guide on a few travel TV shows, and loved the experience. I was also asked to suggest filming topics and locations, since I knew of the most bizarre places in Tokyo. I realized that my business partner Naomi Rubin and I could start a company, offering local TV production arranging in Japan. This led us to work with more major programs worldwide, and let me continue on-camera hosting around the world.
Opportunities also tend to build upon each other organically if you do good work and build great relationships. I had wonderful experiences with some editors and TV producers, which led to a series of jobs with them. Sometimes, the most random encounter can lead to more. A fun example: a Hong Kong airline saw one of my photos, and asked if they could publish it on the cover of their in-flight magazine. They ended up also interviewing me, and liking my tips so much that I wound up writing a “Go Go Goth” travel column for each issue!
I’d advise Pink Pangea readers to maintain kind and professional work relationships, and keep an open mind (don’t limit yourself in your head to a certain type of role or writing topic). While your career may not progress exactly the way you predict, this approach will help you diversify and learn, and encourage new opportunities.
You’ve spent a lot of time in Tokyo and have also worked as a fixer for TV shows to show people around there. What do you love most about the city, and do you have advice for women traveling there?
There’s so much to recommend in Tokyo. This is one of those rare destinations that has something for every type of traveler or interest, whether you’re a cosplay enthusiast, or a family that loves hiking, or a budget foodie.
I personally feel inspired every time I check out Tokyo’s pop culture and subcultures, which are constantly changing. For instance, the Godzilla Hotel and Sailor Moon Cafe popped up over the past few years, and my friends Yukiro and DJ Sisen started a fabulous “Witch Garden” Goth party.
I find it hard to generalize and suggest one thing for all women to do, as interests will vary. However, if you are into skincare and makeup (and many of my male or non-binary friends are too!), then head to the giant general store Don Quixote, which has multiple locations. You can stock up on the highest quality Japanese sunscreens, hyaluronic acid (skin hydrator), liquid eyeliner, dolly false lashes, and other fantastic beauty products from Japan.
As for one thing not to do… this is a suggestion for every traveller, but I suppose especially for women who are more likely to walk around bare-legged. Don’t get eaten alive by pesky Japanese mosquitoes! You may not realize that Tokyo has aggressive mosquitoes, even in developed districts like Shinjuku, especially in summer and fall (rainy season). Cover your limbs and wear spray with DEET, or be prepared to be bitten up.
We’ve been following your travels and are excited to hear what’s next for you. Where are you based these days? What’s next for your career?
I’m based out of my mid-century modern minimalist apartment in Vancouver. It’s a Zen-like space that’s conducive to writing and working out, between my trips. The interior decor reflects my love of travel, and Miffy the cute bunny.
In 2019, I had several big travel partnerships that allowed me to travel to dream destinations, including Egypt. The tour company was pleased with the results and engagements, so I’ll be working with them again in 2020, this time visiting eight countries that I’ll announce soon! I’m also starting off the year in Palm Springs and LA. Excited to share stories with my unique Gothic take.
As for what comes next, I’ll keep exploring new technologies and platforms as they arise, and sharing alt/travel stories that I find meaningful. My friend Yukiro has a great motto: “Always go forward, but never straight!” Now that’s something I can carve on my gravestone.