It was a match made in peripatetic heaven.

Streaming in through the doors of the Santa Clara Convention Center Saturday morning were the restless throngs, the lovers of the open road, the souls never too weary to wander.

Waiting for them inside, 200 exhibitors at the fifth annual Bay Area Travel & Adventure Show, each of them armed with maps and guides and pitches finely tuned to put their respective little dreamlands on everyone's to-do list.

"I get inspired when I come here to travel to new places around the world,'' said Stephanie Berman, 33, a special-education administrator from Oakland who also wanted to see travel rock star Rick Steves speak on stage. "I've backpacked all over the world, but it all started in college when I read his guidebook and just knew I had to go to Europe. And the craziest part was that I ran into him three times on that trip.''

She was about to run into him again, as Steves stepped up on stage to tell 1,000 fans why they must not just "visit'' their destinations, but "experience'' them. Which, of course, was the big theme at this annual two-day road-warrior extravaganza, expected to draw attract 15,000 visitors this year.

Mark Yacker, manning the booth for Australia-based travel guides Travel Indochina, said that's what touring is all about these days.

"Immerse yourself, connect with locals -- that's the big trend,'' he said. "People are looking for ways to connect with the culture of a place, meet the people and not just take pictures and move on. It's all about the emotional bond travelers are seeking with people in other countries.''


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And this being Silicon Valley, there was a lot of talk at the show about tech as an increasingly integral part of that new travel zeitgeist, in both good ways and bad. The Internet is now a treasure trove of information for travelers looking for places to explore. It's also a tsunami of data and details on transportation, lodging and cruises -- much of it misleading or downright wrong.

"Thanks to features like GPS, tech tools like the iPhone are great for the traveler looking for hotels or restaurants or information that will help break down cultural barriers as they move through a foreign country,'' said John Golicz, CEO of Connecticut-based Unicomm, which hosts the travel shows in six cities around the country. "But we've got to use the mobile device as a tool, not a crutch where you're always staring into your phone -- because ultimately, the best way to travel is to do it as a local, get up close to the culture and the people around you.

"What drives me crazy,'' he said, "is to see tourists sitting in a cafe in some exotic locale glued to their smartphones instead of looking at the world around them."

In an interview before taking the stage, Steves passionately echoed that sentiment.

"When I first started out in this business, there was not enough information about travel destinations. Now, thanks to the Internet, there is too much information. So I increasingly see my role as one who curates that information for people.''

Steves said that the Internet is gamed by the bigger players in the travel industry who have deep pockets and can buy their way up the search-engine ladders so that their hotels and restaurants and attractions are the first thing travelers find on their pre-trip web searches. "And,'' he said, "that makes it brutal for the mom-and-pop businesses in Europe, for example, who are essentially invisible on the Web because they can't pay the costs of getting their name higher on Google (GOOG) or listed with the big players like TripAdvisor or Booking.com.''

Still, Steves knows full well that the world is becoming a much more wired place, which is why his team has revamped his website, adding streaming video of his TV shows and putting his one-hour lectures online for free. He's also adding 40 different self-guided walks to his free app, so the smartphone user can enjoy a more enriching experience, literally traveling alongside Steves to explore a new locale.

Dee Dee Kay with the Grande Denali Lodge in Alaska said tech devices like tablets are adding new and rich layers of information for people on the go, especially younger travelers who would never think of picking up a printed guidebook.

"The Alaska App, for example, is a great tool,'' Kay said of the free and popular iOS app that gives travelers a virtual guide to the state, including aerial views, wildlife-viewing locations and more than 600 weather cams. Kay said the app gives a new generation of vagabonds a digital version of the famous Milepost travel guide that visitors to Alaska have been using since 1949.

"This app is like a techie's Milepost,'' Kay said. "And having all that information in your smartphone allows people to travel a lot more independently and with a lot richer experience than ever before.''

But what about the downside of tech tools up in the state some call God's Country?

"You don't see people glued to their cellphones in Alaska,'' she said with a big smile, "because the views around them are so spectacular.''

Contact Patrick May at 408-920-5689 or follow him at Twitter.com/patmaymerc

What: The 2014 Bay Area Travel & Adventure Show
When: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday
Where: Santa Clara Convention Center, 5001 Great America Pkwy., Santa Clara.
Tickets: Available online for $10 with promo code "SCPR" or at the door for $15. Children under 16 years old are free.
For more information: Visit www.adventureexpo.com, email info@adventureexpo.com, or call 203-878-2577.
Source: Unicomm