Lauren Lora

Lauren is a fashion, beauty and travel blogger based in New York City.

 

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Iceland Travel Tips that Your Guidebook Won’t Think to Tell You

My Top 5 Tips to Travelling in Iceland

 

Tourism to Iceland has skyrocketed in the last decade thanks to stopover deals offered by Icelandair and cheap flights on WOW airlines. But with the Northern Lights, Blue Lagoon (more about that one later) and many other natural beauties to see, it’s kind of surprising Iceland hasn’t been a trendy tourist destination from the get-go.

 

If Iceland has made it to your travel bucket list, keep on reading because I have some tips that I have yet to read in any travel guide:

 

 

1. Iceland is F*cking Expensive!

 

The exchange rate from USD to ISK isn’t terrible, but imagine New York City prices with an extra $10 tacked on top. An entreé for dinner at a sit-down restaurant can easily cost you about $30 per person. So unless you’re made of money or have intentions of balling out every night, here are a few of my favorite cheap eats:

 

2. Do Not Speed. I Repeat, Do NOT Speed

 

I got caught by a speed trap on my first full day in Reykjavík. We were driving the Golden Circle and I didn’t realize I was speeding. By the time I saw the speed limit sign it was too late. There was a bright flash and they got me – fingers crossed it was just a warning.

 

 

All throughout Iceland, I noticed that the speed limits will suddenly change from 90 kmph to 70 kmph to 50 kmph with a speed trap right behind the last sign. If you’re not actively pressing on your brakes, you’ll be sure to get a ticket.

 

3. The Northern Lights are Not a Guarantee

 

Some of the most iconic photos of Iceland feature the Northern Lights. It’s a beautiful sight to see, if you can catch it. Witnessing the Northern Lights strongly depends on the weather conditions and when it comes to Iceland, weather is unpredictable.

 

The best time of year to witness the Northern Lights is between September to April. There must be as little light pollution as possible, so you should either drive to or stay somewhere outside of Reykjavík. Finally, you should reference the aurora forecast and cloud cover forecast to make sure there’s enough solar activity and little to no cloud cover, respectively.

 

Photo by Jonatan Pie on Unsplash

 

4. Get a Raincoat. Your Umbrella is Useless

 

My friend told me that when he was in Iceland he saw someone’s umbrella get whisked away in an instant into the open water. The winds can be so strong that it’ll rip your car doors open. The wind also causes the rain to fall practically sideways, so an umbrella won’t do much in keeping you dry.

 

Aside from the strong winds, when you’re hiking around the waterfalls you’re better off having a raincoat. The mist they generate know no bounds and it can leave your clothes feeling damp. And if you’re in Iceland during prime Northern Lights time, the last thing you want is to be cold and damp. This raincoat from Uniqlo kept me dry and looking stylish while I was there.

 

 

5. There are alternatives to the Blue Lagoon

 

Blue Lagoon is the geothermal spa that all the influencers go to when they visit Iceland. It’s beautiful but incredibly expensive, especially if you don’t book in advance. I made the mistake of waiting until the last minute and they were charging 8100 ISK for entrance and a towel.

 

Instead of paying around 78 USD for close to bare minimum at Blue Lagoon, I decided to go to an alternate spa along the Golden Circle – Laugarvatn Fontana. It may not be as luxurious and picturesque as the Blue Lagoon but it was incredibly relaxing and half the price. If you’re traveling on a budget but you still want to experience the geothermal spas of Iceland, there are many other ones scattered around the country.

 

 

Hopefully these tips have left you more informed, but if you’re looking for inspiration feel free to watch my Iceland vlog below:

 

 

Will you be traveling to Iceland?

 

xoxo,

Lauren

My Top Tips for Planning a Greece Trip

5 Things You Should Know Before Going to Greece

It seems, these days, as if everyone and their mother has been taking a trip to Greece. And it’s to no one’s surprise once you see all the flight deals that Emirates and other airlines have been offering. If you’re one of the many people looking to capitalize on this cheap airfare, here are the 5 things you should know about Greece before you go:

1. You are at the Mercy of the Ferries

The main form of transportation between the Greek islands are the ferries. A novelty or a necessary evil, well, that’s up for debate. The ticket prices can be high, the ferries can be late and depending upon the weather or if they feel like striking that day, your ferry may not come at all – so plan accordingly.

 

I had no problems with ferries during my trip but my other friends were not so lucky. One of my friends almost missed his flight home because the ferries stopped running due to inclement weather. Hearing this and other stories, I decided our safest bet would be to end our trip in Athens. However, if you do find yourself in my friend’s position, there are flights between Athens and the main islands but they’re limited and can book up quickly. Try not to take a chance if you don’t have to.

Santorini

Photo by Andre Benz on Unsplash

You should also note that ferry schedules change depending upon the season. During high season there are more times and routes whereas on the shoulder season there could be only one ferry going to your destination that day. A great resource to check the ferry schedules is Greek Ferries but I’d recommend booking directly on the company’s website such as Blue Star Ferries or Sea Jets just to be safe with your credit information.

2. The Islands are Expensive

Yes, the sunsets in Santorini are beautiful and the beach clubs in Mykonos are popping but there are downfalls that come with being on an island full of tourists. Fine dining establishments are pricey and if you happen to forget some necessities be prepared for some price gouging.

 

You are welcome to eat gyros for every meal but if you truly want to enjoy yourself you’ll have to eat at a fine dining establishment once in a while. A meal for two including appetizers, entrees and wine cost about $50-$60 per person. Coming from New York these prices are easier to swallow but I know not everyone in the world is accustomed to paying this premium.

 

And if you’re a bad packer, you will likely find yourself paying double the price on certain items such as sunscreen or toothpaste. A bottle of Neutrogena sunscreen at a market in Mykonos was on the shelf for almost $20! Make a list and check it twice.

3. Most of the Stores Sell the Same Things

It’s always nice to bring home souvenirs for friends and family but it never feels nice when you buy something and the store next door is selling it for half the price. Most of the stores sell the exact same things but at all different prices. I picked up an ashtray for my friend for $10 in Oia and after wandering around some more I found the same ashtray for $4.

 

This extends across the islands and even in Athens. If you’re looking at soap sets, magnets or Grecian style dresses, chances are they’ll have it at your next destination. Walk around, shop around and don’t be afraid to haggle.

4. Expect to Rent a Vehicle On the Islands

Public transportation on the islands is minimal; there’s usually a bus that the locals take and privately run taxis. From what I saw the buses were infrequent and I had the personal pleasure of waiting almost 2 hours for a taxi. As such, I’d recommend renting either an ATV or a scooter to get around.

Three Bells of Fira

Photo by Matt Artz on Unsplash

Be sure to research the vehicles, rental companies and rates beforehand since there seems to be no regulation and you’ll often get quoted a price depending on how the owner feels that day. If there’s two of you I’d recommend getting at minimum a 300cc ATV or scooter, anything less and you’ll have trouble climbing up hills.

5. Athens is Tiny!

Unless you’re a history buff, I’d recommend planning to spend at most one and a half days in Athens. There isn’t much to do aside from visiting the Acropolis and wandering around Plaka, Monastiraki Flea Market and Syntagma.

 

To put things in perspective, you can join the Athens Free Walking Tour and cover all the major sights in 2 and a half hours. You’d have to enter the Acropolis and the Acropolis museum on your own but the free walking tour is a great way to quickly see the city and learn a little bit about each place.

 

If you’re looking for more inspiration for your upcoming or dream trip to Greece, feel free to watch my vlog below and leave me any questions you may have in the comments.

 

So, who’s going to Greece?

xoxo, Lauren

Here’s Everything You Need to Know if You’re Traveling to Japan

My Top 5 Tips for People Looking to Visit Japan

Japan is a country that I think everyone should visit at least once in their lifetime. It’s brimming with culture, excitement and delicious food. However, planning an international trip can be confusing and oftentimes overwhelming. So, here are my top five tips for those of you who are looking to travel to Japan.

Tokyo Alley

Photo by Andre Benz on Unsplash

1. Japan is A Lot Larger Than You Think

If you look at any map, Japan seems tiny. But don’t be fooled, you could tour the country for a month and still have things you may have missed. Tokyo alone would take a week if you insisted on seeing everything. With that in mind, you should tailor your trip based on the length of your stay and which locations you’d like to visit.

There are four main cities that most people visit when in Japan: Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka and Hiroshima. Depending on how much time you have you likely will not be able to visit them all. Tokyo is definitely a no-brainer, but when it comes to the other three you should consider what kind of traveler you are and what experience you’re looking to have.

For example, are you interested in traditional Japanese architecture? Kyoto with its many shrines would be the place to go. Or maybe you’re a huge history buff? Then I’d recommend Hiroshima. But what if you’re a huge foodie? Osaka is street food and fine dining central. There are even more destinations beyond that, such as Nara for the bowing deers or Hakone for the onsens. Just be sure to do your research and choose the appropriate cities for you.

Kyoto Tori Gates

Photo by Lin Mei on Unsplash

2. Choose Your Home Base Wisely

Once you’ve figured out where you’re going to go, the logical next step would be to figure out where you’re going to stay. My advice would be to pick somewhere central, preferably near a large train station with multiple lines. It’ll not only make it easier to get around but it’ll also ensure that you have plenty of food options at all times.

I stayed in Shibuya while I was in Tokyo and getting around was a breeze. Shibuya station is one of the busiest stations in Japan containing lines from JR Rail, Keio, Tokyu and Tokyo Metro. This gave me multiple choices when it came to commuting but that also meant there were plenty of 24-hour food establishments in the area. And trust me, there is nothing more depressing than returning after a day of exploring with an empty stomach and having no food to eat.

How do I know this? Well, I didn’t stay in such a central area when I was in Kyoto. I stayed one stop away from Kyoto station and it made a world of difference. The train didn’t run as frequently and there was practically nothing to eat around our AirBnB. So take it from a person with experience and pick a convenient location to stay at.

3. Getting Around is Easier than it Looks

When I first heard that there were multiple lines in Japan that were owned and operated by different companies I was overwhelmed, and I’m a New Yorker. But fret not because Japan’s transportation is a lot simpler than it first appears. Although there are multiple lines to get to the same destination, as long as you stick with one you’ll be fine. There will be a few times where you need to hop onto a different line but that’s where a PASMO comes in handy.

A PASMO is a smart card that can be used in place of a train ticket or cash. It’s accepted by multiple railway companies and even at 7/11 and vending machines on the street! All you need to do is purchase a PASMO at any participating train station and load up the card with cash. Then you just tap it on the card reader at the subway gates to get in and then tap it again to get out, much like how an Oyster card works in London.

However, PASMO is not accepted on the Shinkansen, otherwise known as the bullet train. You’ll most likely be taking the bullet train to travel in between cities in Japan but this is where a JR Pass is key. The JR Pass is for tourists only and it is a discounted railway pass that is valid for travel on all national trains in Japan. Basically, you pay a flat fee for a 7-, 14- or 21-day pass and show it to the officers at each station to get in and out for free for however long your pass is valid. JR Rail also operates within cities so it might even be possible to get around on a JR pass alone.

4. Cash is King

If you’re an American like myself then you probably survive off of credit cards, but many places in Japan will only accept cash. Be sure to bring enough cash with you for the duration of your trip and check with your bank to see if you’ll be charged foreign transaction fees. If they do, I’d suggest trying to avoid withdrawing from an ATM while abroad since those foreign transaction fees can add up and end up costing as much as a nice dinner!

In case your bank does charge foreign transaction fees, my friends have often recommended opening an account with Charles Schwab Bank. They don’t charge a fee when you use a foreign ATM and don’t charge currency conversion fees for debit card transactions. However, depositing cash can be hard as there aren’t many branches so be sure to do your research before you apply.

5. Having an Itinerary Doesn’t Mean You Need to Stick With it

I’m the type of person who enjoys setting up itineraries for all my travels, but i don’t live and die by them. They’re more of a suggestion of what to do with my day, and I give myself the freedom to switch things up if I want.

If you need some itinerary inspiration, feel free to consult my Japan 2017 itinerary. But when you’re actually in Japan and exploring, if a certain location interests you a lot, feel free to spend more time there than you allotted. If you hold yourself too tightly to your itinerary you can end up feeling rushed and stressed out. Remember that you’re on vacation and this trip is for you to enjoy yourself.


Will you be planning a trip to Japan anytime soon?
xoxo, Lauren

Where To Go for an Affordable Kimono Rental in Japan

My Experience Renting a Kimono at Yumeyakata in Kyoto, Japan

A Dream Come True

I’ve long admired the beauty of traditional Japanese kimonos and it’d been a dream of mine since I was a child to dress up in one. So when Kristi and I made our Japan trip official, I immediately began researching different kimono rental stores.

Full back view of my kimono rental at Maruyama Park

After searching tons of websites and watching plenty of YouTube videos, I finally decided on Yumeyakata in Kyoto. They’re one of the most popular kimono rental stores with a large selection of patterns and accessories at an affordable price point. To make your experience even more seamless, they have associates who speak a wide range of languages such as English, Chinese, French and of course, Japanese. Be weary though, because of it’s popularity the store is packed!

Choosing Your Kimono (and the Cost!)

From the moment you enter Yumeyakata you can tell that they have the kimono rental system all figured out. Each floor is a different step in the rental process, starting with check-in on the ground level. From there they direct you to the second floor where you can choose you Kimono and Obi patterns, as well as any extra accessories, such as the faux fur stole I picked. Afterwards, you head on up to the third floor where an experienced associate will help you get dressed. You can also choose to have your hair and/or make-up done as well for an extra fee. Then you head to the fourth floor where you choose your rental bag, grab a complimentary stole and check-in your streetwear with them. Finally, you return to the ground level to choose your shoes.

Close-up front view of my kimono rental at Kiyomizu-dera

As you can see from the photos, I chose a simplistic yet beautiful cherry blossom pattern on a light yellow fabric. For the Obi tie, which is the band around my waist, I went for a brighter pink with light silver flecks for contrast. I also decided to pick out a cream colored faux fur stole for extra fabulousness. Since I can’t do more than a high pony-tail with my own hair, I paid the extra fee to have them do mine for me. Following with the cream and pink-colored theme of my kimono, I picked out a pretty pink flower for my hair accessory. The total rental cost me approximately ¥6,200 or $56 for an all-day kimono rental (not including tax).

Where to Take Photos

Now that you look absolutely gorgeous (or handsome), you obviously want to take a shit ton of photos. Yumeyakata is a short bus ride away from Kiyomizu-dera so I’d recommend starting there. Most of the photos in this post are from that location as it’s one of Kyoto’s most picturesque temples. From there we wandered down to Maruyama Park and across to Gion. Whilst in Gion we found a purikura shop at one end of Nishiki Market to take adorable, and equally ridiculous, photobooth pictures in.

Close-up shot of the hair accessory from my kimono rental

Turning Back into a Pumpkin

As per Yumeyakata’s rental agreement, we returned our Kimonos prior to 7:30pm. You head directly up to the fourth floor where they return your checked-in belongings and help you get undressed. I’ll admit I was a little heartbroken as they helped me out of my kimono and I changed back into my regular clothes.

Now if you find yourself at the end of this post and still debating whether or not you should rent a kimono while you’re in Japan, I have one thing to say to you: Just do it! When else and where else are you going to be able to play dress up and live out a fantasy without being judged? It’s definitely worth the extra bucks for the experience and memories. I can already guarantee that when I revisit Japan with my boyfriend, that I’ll be making him do the couple kimono rental experience with me!

Close-up view of the back of my kimono rental at Kiyomizu-dera

Photography by Kristi Truong

xoxo, Lauren

Travel Diary: A Weekend in Boothbay Harbor, ME

A Travel Guide of What to See, Eat and Do in the Small but Quaint Harbor Town located in Maine.

After eight hours of driving, I found myself in the small town of Boothbay Harbor with my parents and my boyfriend. We traveled from New York City over Labor Day weekend for my god sister’s wedding. The venue, which also happened to be where we stayed, was Spruce Point Inn. A 57 acre waterfront resort that had been around for over 100 years.

On our first day we took the complimentary resort boat into town and spent our time exploring. Coming from a big city like New York, towns like Boothbay Harbor always intrigued me. My boyfriend and I grabbed brunch at Waves, a traditional American diner that has an amazing lobster eggs benedict! Afterwards, we wandered around town and checked out the many, and I mean many, different gift shops. I also found a cute pet supply store called Two Salty Dogs where I bought my cat a new bowl. The owner was incredibly nice and keen to point out that my cat more than likely resembled the cat shaped bowl I had picked out.

The next day we went back into town, mindful that the wedding was that afternoon. We each had a lobster and a side of corn for breakfast. Apparently there are “lobster pounds” where you can buy lobsters by the pound, hence the name, for much cheaper but since we were in a time crunch we went to the Boothbay Lobster Wharf. The lobsters were so delicious that I also ended up sharing a lobster roll with my dad. Afterwards we went to grab some ice cream at the Downeast Ice Cream Factory. They had tons of flavors with lots of genius and wittily named combinations.

 

I didn’t film much during the wedding because I wanted to be really present for it so unfortunately I didn’t include any footage. However, here’s a picture of me and my godsister looking like a fairytale princess bride!

We headed back to the city the morning after and we were all a little sad to say goodbye. Boothbay Harbor was such a great escape from the noise and congestion that plagues our daily lives. Spruce Point Inn also had so much more to offer than we were able to take advantage of during our short stay. I’ll definitely be missing taking a boat into town instead of the MTA!

 

xoxo, Lauren
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Travel Guide: A Weekend in Chicago

What to See, Eat and Do in the Windy City

Back in August, my boyfriend and I spent a long weekend in Chicago. It was our first time visiting the windy city and also my first time trying my hand at vlogging! It took a while to put together but I hope this Chicago Travel Vlog is helpful to anybody looking to travel to Chicago in the near future.

 

Neither my boyfriend or I are huge fans of tours so we decided to create our own itinerary. I’d highly recommend you purchase a Chicago CityPass if you’re looking to do a lot of sightseeing like us. It’s $98/adult and $82/child for VIP entry to 5 attractions. It’s definitely worth it and the VIP entry is a life-saver for the Skydeck because the general admission line snakes, wraps and never ends. You literally cut everybody and hop straight onto the elevators to the top. Plus, you get to feel like a total boss.

 

Another must do is a boat tour. I picked Wendella’s Sunset Cruise because it fit in well with our itinerary and was a very romantic and beautiful way to wind down the night. I’ve also heard great things about their Architecture tour and would definitely do that when we go back to Chicago.

 

As for restaurants, the Girl and the Goat is the hot restaurant right now. Place a reservation immediately if you’re considering dining here! We’re having the roasted pig face in the vlog and even though it sounds totally disgusting, I swear it’s delicious. The other two nights we went to The Publican and the Pump Room. The Publican might be, dare I say it? Better than Girl and the Goat. However, Pump Room left much to be desired and it was the priciest of the three. Skip it and find somewhere else to go.

 

xoxo, Lauren
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A Weekend in DC

Source: Wikimedia[/caption]

 

One of the first trips my boyfriend and I ever took together was a 4 hour drive down to Washington, D.C. I’m one of those people who believe traveling together is a major test of the relationship and my boyfriend passed with flying colors. That was over a year ago, but more recently we spontaneously booked a hotel room in D.C. and made the 4 hour trip back there for a small weekend getaway.

This time around we were much more laid-back and decided to put less of an emphasis on the monuments. I’ve included them in this travel guide for any D.C. first-timers but if you’ve already had your fair share of patriotism then feel free to skip it.

Where to Stay:

My boyfriend and I always stay at a nearby Hilton that offers free parking since we drive down from NYC. (Hint: If you book through the Hilton Honors website you’ll typically get a lower rate. Hilton Honors is their loyalty program but it’s free to sign-up!) However, if you’re flying in then I’d suggest staying somewhere within the city out of convenience, if you have the budget. If not, I’ve had friends who stayed at hotels in the outskirts or rented AirBnB’s and have taken public transportation into the city.

Where to Park:

Finding parking is known to be a nightmare but strangely enough, my boyfriend and I have never had any troubles finding street parking. If you’re patient enough and don’t mind a bit of a walk to your final destination then don’t believe the horror stories. Worse comes to worst you can find a nearby lot to park your car in, my boyfriend and I found one in the Immigration building for $12/all day.

What to Do:

Day 1 – Union Market

 

This is the D.C. version of NYC’s Smorgasburg except it’s indoors and has ample parking in a public lot right outside. Is it not already sounding heavenly? Union Market combines restaurants, high-quality grocers and locally run retailers. Two vendors that I’d highly recommend checking out are Tricking Springs Creamery and Salt & Sundry. The first vendor happens to be where The Dabney, a must-try restaurant that I’ll mention later, sources their amazing butter from. The latter is a retailer where you can find the most gorgeous tableware, linens and other lifestyle goods to bring home.

 

Landmark Hopping

 

Feel free to skip this if you’ve already seen the monuments but if not, now would be a good time to explore what most people come to D.C. for. Don’t be fooled though, everything may look close to one another but they’re really not walking distance. I learned this the hard way when I tried to walk to Capitol Hill from the National Archives Museum and felt like I was heading toward a water mirage in the Gobi Desert. I’d recommend purchasing a ticket with one of D.C.’s many hop-on hop-off sightseeing tours since you can conveniently ride them to whatever your destination and get a quick history lesson while you’re on board. My favorite happens to be Old Town Trolley Tours because they’re affordable, informative and the bus is literally designed to look like a trolley.

 

Tidal Basin

 

If you’re lucky enough to be in D.C. during the Cherry Blossom Festival then you have to stop by Tidal Basin for a photo op. The entire reservoir is surrounded by beautiful Cherry Blossom trees and when it blooms it looks absolutely gorgeous. Even if you’re here off-season, Tidal Basin is a nice place to sit down and relax. My boyfriend and I like to post up on one of the benches surrounding the water and just enjoy each other’s company.

 

The Dabney

Source: DC Eater

 

After a long day of exploring you must dine at my favorite restaurant in D.C. and one of my favorite restaurants of all time, The Dabney. Hidden away in an alleyway, this farm-to-table restaurant does not disappoint. Their waiters are incredibly knowledgable and the dishes are to die for. This might sound silly but the best bread and butter I’ve ever had in my life came from their kitchen; my boyfriend and I loved it so much we asked for seconds. However, be sure to book a reservation in advance because this place fills up quick!

 

Day 2 – Renwick Gallery

 

You may be tired from day one but be sure to wake up early and make it out to be one of the first in line to visit the Renwick Gallery. Since it’s part of the Smithsonian, entry is free, but by midday the line tends to extend down the block. This contemporary museum is home to one of the most mind-blowing exhibits I’ve ever seen, Wonder. The rainbow below is particularly insta-worthy and this photo definitely doesn’t do it justice.

 

Georgetown

Source: Wikipedia

 

Once you’re done being artsy and cultural, head over to Georgetown to end your trip off right where you can find food, shopping and sights all in one. I typically like to make my way down M street while popping in and out of stores that fancy my interest, hello Barneys! The real gems are located on the neighboring streets though, where you can find local stores and hangout spots. After you’ve accumulated enough shopping bags, I think it’s finally time to head home.

 

xoxo, Lauren
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