Lauren Bravo is a freelance fashion, travel and lifestyle writer and the author of two books, What Would The Spice Girls Do? and How To Break Up With Fast Fashion. She lives in east London and spends her time in pursuit of spare plug sockets and custard-based desserts.
When you're done with Lauren's terrific tips, cast out into her fine piece on how fishing became cool (with the help of a Swedish social network) and this deep-dive into the Italian city of Matera – the Bond approved hilltop town on a cultural ascent.
What single item would you never travel without?
"A swimsuit. Trust me – always pack a swimsuit, even if you don’t think you’ll need one. Even if it’s for a winter city break in a landlocked country with nary a sniff of chlorine. When you don’t have a swimsuit, I find that rooftop pools, secret spas and irresistible bodies of water will always magically present themselves."
What’s your sneakiest travel tip?
"Take time to gather recommendations for restaurants, bars, coffee shops and street food spots before you go – but instead of writing a list, favourite them all on Google Maps. That way you have at-a-glance recommendations when you’re walking around (that work even without Wi-Fi), you can plan your routes via the tastiest neighbourhoods and avoid the grumpy trudge between tourist traps if your first choice is full. Don’t look back in hanger, is my motto."
What’s the weirdest place you’ve ever been?
"It has to be Rangi Saun, a traditional smoke sauna located in a residential back garden a few miles outside Tallinn, which I visited for an easyJet Traveller article in 2018. I’m not usually in the habit of getting naked with my interviewees within an hour of meeting them, but proprietors Anni and Adam were so passionate about the benefits of Estonian sauna culture that it was probably my most relaxing assignment to date. Until the ice-cold plunge pool."
What’s your sketchiest ever travel experience?
"My friend Sarah and I once got very lost in Copenhagen’s anarchic district Freetown Christiania. We’d navigated the infamous Green Light District and headed into the fairytale forest around it, but then dusk fell just as our phone batteries died and we realised we’d completely lost our bearings. We regretted not pulling a Hansel and Gretel with a trail of cinnamon bun crumbs, but eventually some kind hippies pointed us in the right direction. Otherwise, It has to be heading out on a fishing boat from Harstaad in Norway, in weather so rough that even the professional fishermen had decided to stay at home (let’s just say there is nobody more determined than a PR with a schedule). I ended up clinging to the floor of the boat for dear life, severely regretting how hard I’d gone on the pickled herring and brown cheese at breakfast."
What’s the most memorable thing you’ve eaten?
"Tel Aviv is hands-down the best food destination I’ve ever visited – and let’s be honest, those hands were mostly down in a vat of warm hummus. It’s hard to pin down a single dish from that trip, but I still have passionate memories (and very bad photos) of a dish that the menu at Romano described as ‘Golden baby cauliflower melting into itself’. Pure poetry."
What cultural site would you recommend above all others?
"Call me old-fashioned, but I love a good church when I travel – from humble chapels and ritzy cathedrals to the hulking neo-Gothic spear of Reykjavík’s Hallgrímskirkja. But my favourite has to be the Sagrada Família in Barcelona. Gaudí’s unfinished masterpiece is hardly a hidden gem, but the way those rainbows of light dance in through the modernist stained glass windows somehow makes the tourist hordes dissolve around you. Truly divine."
Where are you most looking forward to visiting post-COVID?
"As two non-drivers, my husband and I had the ultimate USA non-road trip all planned out for May 2020 – starting in LA and then travelling through San Francisco, Portland and Seattle. We had the Amtrak tickets, the SPF, the brunch spots all mapped out… and then of course, COVID had other ideas. When we’re finally on that train with a kombucha in hand, I’ll know the pandemic is really behind us."
Where would you most love to see in the springtime?
"I must have been to Paris nearly a dozen times, but somehow always in the height of summer or the depths of winter. Not to say that shivering through Père Lachaise or sweating your way around the Marais isn’t lovely, but one day I would love to see the city at a more ambient – and amorous – temperature, when the Parc de Sceaux is a riot of cherry blossom. Plus I need to see if I can pull off a bucket hat à la Lily Collins."
What's your perfect foreign date night?
"There has to be dancing. There should probably be cocktails. I’d head to Area8: a deeply sexy bar, restaurant, cinema and shapeshifting cultural hidey-hole in Matera, Italy, where the drinks are always as strong as the vibes. Like so much of the ancient cave city, it’s partly subterranean, which means shadowy corners and seductive acoustics – while the fairy-lit courtyard is perfect for a dance once the DJ heats things up."