Wheels up: CiaoBella's Guide to On-The-Road Entertainment

If you haven’t guessed, I am one of those people who loves every aspect of travel from planning and packing to airport perusing and arrival adventures, but I’d be kidding you if I didn’t tell you that my in transit experience is key to it all. Just the mere words in transit can stress out even the most expert of travelers - even more so during the holiday travel season when patience levels are at their lowest.

Flight delays, seat issues, comfort concerns, inflight entertainment malfunctions or tired, already views films and tv shows- we’ve all been there. Enjoying an airport afternoon and flying off into the sunset requires just a little bit of prep, reliable wifi connection and my iPad mini, aka my best friend and its holy trinity of apps.

  • Kindle: I am bookworm and fall in love with novel which is good and bad. Good because I have no problems re-reading great books. Bad because my habit makes me very anti-social. Lately, my go-to authors for long haul travel are Marisha Pessl, Neil Gaiman and Neal Stephenson

  • Texture: Texture is the app world’s best kept secret. It’s monthly subscription magazine app that gives unlimited access to all of my favorite glossies- AFAR, Travel + Leisure, Women’s Health, National Geographic and so many more. Though I love a great print magazine, I love how they are re-interpreting themselves digital- with extra, multimedia content. Remember to download magazines in advance.

  • Netflix: Yeah, yeah, yeah, everyone knows Netflix but here’s the secret to Netflix and travel: season-spanning television series. Films (especially the cheesy ones) are great in flight entertainment but they can leave you wanting more which is while you’ll want to download multi-seasonal series. My latests fave are Versailles, three tawdry seasons of the Sun King, and the time travel triptych Travelers.

Head Space

Travel is all about the headspace, and how you curate it. Most of the time, I want my mind and eyes elsewhere but sometimes people watching is good enough for me, especially if I can pick the sound track. Podcasts, playlists or meditation are on repeat. Here’s my current line up:

  • Travel: In Situ Archaeologist Darius Arya’s travel podcast (yes, this is spousal sponson). Darius goes on location to the medina of Tunis, the agora of Athens or just the backstreets of Rome to talk contemporary travel and ancient history.

  • The Trip: Roads & Kingdoms’s podcast uncorks a new bottle of travel, food, adventure and politics. You’ll want to open your own bottle for each episode.

  • Amazon Music: I just discovered I can download playlists of any kind. Binaural beats to increase my brain waves. Meditation. 1980s hip hop. Enough said.

All about Analog

Loading up an iPad with digital goodies is my ideal companion for any travel but what happens when I’m asked to put my devices away? If I’m lucky, I’ll have popped into Hudsons for a Read-n-Return book during my airport strut, but that’s only when I’m in North America- which means I better have one very strategic item in my bag, maybe two, for my Wheels Up ritual.

Wheels Up ritual, you ask? Analog entertainment with a time limit that helps those painful minutes in tarmac purgatory pass by - in other words, a competitive distraction before take off. My Wheels Up ritual is simple: the crossword puzzle and/or sudoku from the inflight magazine must be solved before take off and for that, all I require is a fully sharpened pencil (Blackwing602) or a pen (Lamy Safari). Both are incredibly beautiful writing devices, but if necessary a Dixon Ticonderoga or Bic will suffice. When I’m feeling creative and my bag isn’t overloaded, I’ll bring a Rhodia notebook, which can be a miracle maker when traveling with children.

LAMY Safari. Image: LAMY.

Essential Gear

Traveling light is my obsession, but I am willing to weigh down my carry-on with a few essential items that I know will upgrade my travel experience.

  • External Battery Charger: I can never have too much battery support so I will always bring my Mophie Powerstation Plus. So far, Mophie has proven the most reliable and durable product I have ever used, and it packs a large charge by powering up both my iPad and iPhone. If you need to reanimate your MacBook as well, Mophie’s Universal USB-XXL is a life saver.

  • Headphones: I’ve learned the hard way (ear aches, muffled sound, ambient noise) that not all headphones are created equal, and that quality headphones and sound filtering/noise canceling can transform my travel experience to sublime. Since I need headphones that will also block out my family as I work from home, Santa is bringing me Bose QuietComfort35 wireless II. Note to self: wireless headphones do not jack into the inflight entertainment.

  • Sleep Mask: Sleep masks may have the reputation of being for the oh-so-spoiled, but a well-made sleep mask can project you out of your seat and into your podcast. The freebies will work, but for those willing to invest in self-indulgency for under $20, take a look at 40 Blinks.

Mophie’s Powerstation USB-C XXL. Image: Mophie


Up, up and AWAY: upgrading my carry on

Carried away in Ischia.

A few months ago, I realized that I didn’t have a carry-on. Well, I did. It just wasn’t mine, a fact pointed out to me by my husband when we were both packing for three-day trips in opposite directions. His faithful roller was like a best friend- kind of scruffy, always there, and able to keep lots of secrets. I had nada. So I shoved everything I needed into my polka dot shoulder bag, and what was left went into my daughter’s elementary school backpack. It was about time I invested in a proper carry-on of my own.

Luggage, in my opinion, should be functional, durable and hopefully economical. A great suitcase should take you from destination to destination with ease, organization and maybe even a little security. For most of my life of long trips, I’ve used a banal black suitcase personalized with colorful, handmade luggage tags (i.e left-over ribbons). Yes, my bag always gets confused for someone else’s, and no, I don’t care that the suitcase itself is unattractive. In fact, aesthetics are last on my mind for two specific reasons: suitcases are always knocked around and scuffed up, and Roma-FCO, aka my main hub, is a black hole for luggage. But a carry-on? That’s an opportunity to style at airport lounges, flirt at the Duty Free shops and rock the runway, while having one’s entire life (or weekend life) neatly packed in a properly dimensioned bag at your side.

Enter: AWAY Travel. Or better yet, enter my mom, an avid reader of tech and entrepreneur mags, who was fascinated with the direct-to-commerce start-up’s story, and insisted I needed to meet co-founders Steph Korey and Jen Rubio. A meeting with them didn’t make it on the travel itinerary, but I did I visit AWAY’s Bond Street boutique in Manhattan - a tranquil showroom of light woods and whites which gets the point across: travel is meditation, and so should shopping. Only one wall is lined with the rainbow of polycarbonate suitcases in AWAY’s dark and pastel colors, while the floor features a bag or two to show off AWAY’s clever details like 360 wheels, compression pads, external pockets for laptops, ejectable battery chargers, and limited editions. Utilitarian with some perks like quarterly travel magazines, travel bags, packing cubes, tile luggage tags and personalization. I loved everything but it was the Bigger Carry-On, Aluminum Edition that came home with me.

Ever Flying.

Ever Flying.

How’d it fare?

The Bigger Carry-On can hold quite a lot. It easily fit five days worth of clothing plus sneakers, sandals, summer homework books, computer, iPad, camera gear, make up bags and a few stuff animals for me and my 9-year-old on a mid-summer trip to Sicily. As an origami-style packing geek, I loved the compression pad, and was happy to shove shoes, toys, gear and the nylon laundry bag (stuffed with wet bikinis) on the zip half, aka b-side. The EF stickers, which I told my daughter were for Ever Flying, charmed everyone in the airport. We both loved the combination locks that give the carry-on a smart spy vibe. In the past two months, my carry-on has knocked around seven airports, several trunks and two train rides, so yep, it has some scratches and scuffs, but that adds personality. My only gripe is the weight (and I did choose to remove the charger) especially when packed for two. At 11.2 lbs, the Bigger Carry-On in unbreakable aluminum is heavier than its polycarbonate companion who weighs in at 7.8 lbs (or the smaller Carry-On 7.6 lbs). Maybe not the most logical choice for a peripatetic travel writer but the Aluminum edition is by far the prettiest. .

The Bigger Carry-On, Aluminum edition and me on the Cayucos pier.

AWAY The Bigger Carry-on, Aluminum Edition

Exterior measurements 22.7" x 14.5" x 9.6"
Interior measurements 20" x 13"
Weight 11.2 lbs
Capacity 40.9L

*At the time of writing this, the Carry-On dimensions were perfect (and still are) for Alitalia and Delta, my main carriers. It seems like every day, airlines surprise us with updated baggage policies. Check Luggagepro and SeatGuru, and then double check on your carrier’s site.

MI OLA: my bikini bitch just got a new look

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You're not going to believe but theBikini Bitch has just had a bit of a lift, thanks to Facebook.  Yes, Facebook.  For a long time, I've been quite content maintaining friendships the old fashioned way - visits, calls, letters, emails, not really using Facebook for anything more than a post or like. [I am pretty shy too].  That all changed with the social serendipity of stumbling into my university friend Helena through that trickle down via mutual friends, and the "confirm" button.  Next thing, I know I'm wearing Helena's bikini.

Wait a second. Back it up.

Helena's name appears on the screen and out of character, I make a friend request and suddenly, I am full immersion in a world of gorgeous photos: family life, sunsets and surfing, and a never-ending parade of sexy, kick-ass bikinis. Helena, a pre-Med midwesterner, was not just living pura vida in Costa Rica, it turns out she was making it and putting it on your body as designer and founder of MI OLA, Sexy Bikinis that Stay On-   Mind-blowing and awesome, so of course I had to try the bikinis.  I spent the entire summer in her bikinis.   I tested them out in every scenario- from sunbathing and cocktails to paddle boarding and rock jumping, they don't lie.  MI OLA suits stay up, even with a six-year-old pulling on them.  My summer was also all about the underbum-  it was me and the flirty Super Cheeky bottom.  I loved how tiny it was, but yet covering up the butt perfectly.

If you've heard me talk Bikini Bitch, you know that bikini shape is key for whatever your body type is.  It's all about cut and confidence.  Helena totally gets it.  She has an incredible eye for body types, which she shows off with the MI OLA  range of styles and fun palette of colors and prints meant to mix and match.  But I am old school and was caught up in Pescadito (black metalic fish scale pattern) for both the Pin Up top and Super Cheeky bottom.  I felt sexy, sporty and ready to make some mischief.  Maybe I just loved the bikini or maybe the bikini just loved me...

#dontgosummer… we just jumped in! || swan dives with @insta_susi by @kkbrunvaer || #getoutthere #miolawesome

A photo posted by MI OLA (@miolasurf) on Sep 16, 2015 at 5:39am PDT

The Q & A:  an email interview with Helena to find how she went from Ivy League and Chanel to bitchin' bikinis.

I know we were out of a touch for some years but weren't you a biology major? And then you worked with Chanel? How did that happen, what's the story? All true! When I was a kid, I dreamed of being a fashion designer or an architect. But growing up in the Midwest, with a lawyer as a dad, I wasn’t really sure how to make that happen. So, I got into Penn and went. And, because I was at an Ivy League, I felt like I should be Pre-med, Pre-law or business. That seemed like the the thing to do.  I took art classes on the side… and tried to find my way towards a career.   I am not from a wealthy family…so practicality won over!  Ultimately I decided I’d be a terrible doctor, so I finished my degree in Neuropsychology and got a job in medical publishing. How fun is that? Hey, it paid the bills and got me to NYC. I sang in punk bands on the side and had fire engine red hair, before I shaved it all off, that is.

   **fast forward, Helena springboarded  to an interactive agency where she led Avon and Bloomingdale's businesses.  She launched the first e-commerce site for Avon, won several awards, which brought her to Hearst Publishing, where she was led the digital team on Harper’s Bazaar, CosmoGirl, and a few other magazines and TV shows.  She got an MBA and hit high fashion...Chanel.

I was always working on the business and marketing sides, though, never actually in design…until now.  And I’m only doing it now, because there’s a need for chic, sexy bikinis that stay put… what we stand for with MI OLA.   Our goal is get more women feeling good and empowered, and doing more of what they love (without worrying about losing their tops!)

I'm guessing Costa Rica was a getaway, when did it become The Destination? Gradual evolution or epiphany? I went to Costa Rica a long time ago and thought “been there, done that.” Then, I learned to surf in Maui after my MBA, and became obsessed. NY beaches were flat that summer, so I booked a trip to Costa Rica (to Witch's Rock Surf Camp – my FAVORITE place).   I loved it. I went down to WRSC a month later with friends. Then again. And again. I returned approximately 17 times over 3 years.

In late 2008, I thought I was getting promoted. Instead I got laid off. I threw a killer New Year’s Eve party, and then headed to Costa Rica for a few weeks. My travel buddy was trying to convince me to stay in Costa Rica, at that point. Instead I went back to NYC and there were no jobs or interviews to be had. At all. So I booked a trip back to Costa Rica for a month, to see if I could actually live in a town of 3000 people.   Loved it. I went back up to NYC and packed my stuff into storage, rented my apartment, and moved down to Costa Rica with my pooch. I wasn’t sure how long I would be here. And I wasn’t sure if I would stay in Tamarindo. But 4 months after moving here, I met my husband… and here I am. 

#miolagirls are mysterious || sly style with @lenamahfouf in our Reversible Wrap Top in Pescado || #getoutthere #miolawesome #sundaystyle

A photo posted by MI OLA (@miolasurf) on Aug 16, 2015 at 10:56am PDT

Tell me about completely switching gears to MI OLA and  bikini: when did you start? When I moved down to Costa Rica, I was surfing 4 hours a day, every day.   And I was constantly adjusting my bikinis.   You get into a rhythm… paddle paddle paddle, duck dive, pull up your bottoms, paddle out to the break. Get to the break, make sure your top is in the right place before sitting and waiting for a wave.   Then catch a wave. Adjust your suit. Surf, and do it all over again. Every time I went out to surf I was thinking “dude, why aren’t there better sexy, chic bikinis?” I didn’t want to start a bikini company.   But I had to. I had to make bikinis that would free up women to do more of what they want to do, with less stress and worry.

When you think about it… we’ve been pulling up our bottoms and pulling down our tops since we were 18 months old. Believe it. I have a 4 year old and this is when she started. Why do women put up with such an inferior garment? To look cute?   Well… with MI OLA, you can look and feel terrific without having to adjust your suit.

Do you have experience in design and sewing? is that a bad question? Ha! It’s not a bad question!   I do not sew!   And I did not have experience in designing clothing, but sometimes you need someone from outside the industry to come in and think about making things a different way….to really change what’s being done. Each time I work with a new factory, they question what we’re doing and think they can do it better. But we’ve actually considered and tested every stitch and material, and we’re making our suits this way for a reason. Making swimwear the way it’s always been done is not working well for the women who wear it. So we’re doing things differently.   I am the designer. I sketch every style. I also work with a great team of people that are able to translate my sketches and my direction, into actual suits that we can test and fit, who are experts in garment construction and sewing.).

What are you bikini-swimsuit inspirations? Our baseline requirement in MI OLA is that our styles must make our women look and feel terrific. I’m more inspired by fashion, than by other swimwear. I’m always inspired by Tom Ford Gucci and Alexander McQueen. Add in there a color palette that’s heavily influenced by my tropical environment and an obsession with layers – whether we’re talking armor, mermaid/fish scales, birds feathers, etc.



You had me at Sexy Bikinis that Stay On.  I have this working theory I call "Bikini Bitch philosophy".  Part philosophy and part way of life that comes from spending most of my life around Italian women who know that to love your body doesn't mean it has to be perfect but a bitchin' bikini and great accessories help.  Do you think Mi Ola bikinis fit the bill? (I do)I love the Bikini Bitch Philosophy! From working in fashion, I know if you’re going to wear something, you should own it. And being in Costa Rica… and being a mom… I don’t have time for body shame and not wearing a bikini. I do it and expect that my confidence, happiness, awesome bikinis and accessories will outshine any extra lumps.

Women pretty much rule the world. So let’s stop worrying about the basic stuff: “Am I the cutest?” “Does my butt look big in this?” “Am I sexy?”… and focus on what’s important…. Living the best life.   It’s very “Oprah” but seriously… who’s having more fun?  Let’s care for ourselves (inside and out) a little bit more. And when you go to the beach, put on a great swimsuit!

I just have to tell you, both my sister and I tried your bikinis this entire summer and in every element.  We paddle boarded, rode waves, kayaked, rock jumped, sunbathed and fought of small children who pulled every string they could reach. Your suits really stay on.  I absolutely love this. Thank you for letting me know. That makes me proud.

We're the same age, do you think I could still learn how to surf? Better yet, do you have room for me and my 7 year old mini-me later this year? Yes, and yes. I would LOVE to have you two visit. I’m serious.

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If there is one thing I love more than an incredible bikini, it is an incredible woman who does her thing, and in Helena's case, that thing just happens to be making the world a better place for bikini wearers. And I am not the only one who know this. MI OLA has been a guest star in Sports Illustrated, Elle, Seventeen and Self magazines, and are the tops (and bottoms) for professional athletes (and wannabes like me!) in and out of the water. In fact, MI OLA's Instagram gallery is filled with on-site and in-action photos from a gang of ambassadors who are #MIOLAwesome, just like the suits.



Look, Ma, I'm on TV! Me + The Travel Channel Metropolis

I'm going to be honest- I don't like photos of myself so why would I agree to be interviewed for the Travel Channel Metropolis? And if I got over my self-consciousness and shyness, why oh why would I ever agree to talk about porchetta? Aired in June 2015. 

Here's the synopsis:  Metropolis stars reveal Rome as you've never seen it before. How did secret ingredients and an ancient recipe build the first metropolis? Also, learn how American GIs helped create an iconic pasta dish.

Roadtesting Lavazza's Espressgo

In December, I was invited by  Lavazza to join 9 other social media chiacchieroni in Milan and Rome to spend a personalized day with Espressgo, Lavazza's very clever portable espresso-maker. I needed to catch up on some street art, so I chose to head to Rome's Quadraro neighborhood first thing in the morning.  And of course, I needed a caffe...

The Concept:  Espressgo is a magic thermos that allows you make a shot or two A modo mioespresso flavors in a matter of minutes, and all while in the comfort of your car.   It is the very definition of Italianismo-- from concept (efficient espresso shot) to design (sexy, slick, high tech) to philosophy (everybody needs espresso on the go) to communication (it inspires conversation).

The Basics:  The Espressgo has an "on" button, temperature dial and 12-volt plug.  You will need a 12-volt/cigarette lighter outlet is required, a bottle of cold water and espresso cups.  Likewise, sugar and milk should that be your flavor.

The Process:  Unscrew lid (which will act as filter), add 50ml of cold water, put in the capsule, screw on lid, plug it to outlet and press on. Brewing takes approximately 1 minute with a nice vibration, after which you just need to wait approximately 30 seconds for three "beeps" which alert you that the espresso is ready.  Then you just unplug, flip thermos over and pour into a cute cup.

My reaction ~ a three-part revelation:

    • Espressgo is my mother's dream come true.  When my family went on road trips, my mom would make bottles of espresso and bring them with us because it would be hours before we could put our moka on a stovetop.  These bottles were sacrosanct and could be not broken, misplaced or emptied.
    • It is cute, adorable and very easy to use. I had no problem making the shots and I loved it. Its design is perfect for a driving picnic, and super cute.  My only wish that it came with a portable foaming device because I am milk-addicted.
    • It is the perfect wing man.  Imagine yourself at a stop light.  With espresso ready to go,  you timidly offer a shot of espresso to the cutie to your left. . .  oh, the things I could do.....