#FBF: Followback Friday is a weekly interview series where we get real with some of our favorite travel influencers. We want to learn what makes them tick, their best tips and tricks, and share stories of (mis)adventures from the road.
We've always thought highly of Lauren Monitz, but, then again, we may be biased. After all, she is the editor here at iExplore. A self-described "Jack of all trades," Lauren is quick to tell you her bucket list is constantly growing. We have a feeling working for a travel site doesn't help matters. Luckily with Denver as her home base, she can get an adventure fix just about any time she pleases in the mountains. When she's not exploring the mountains or planning an adventure abroad, she's seeking out the best eats Denver has to offer and chronicling her finds (of all kinds) on her website The Down Lo. She says she's working on her A-game (Africa, Argentina, Australia) and always at the ready if adventure comes knocking. Here are her some of her best tips, tricks, and hacks from her journeys.
Let’s do a humble brag. How many countries have you visited so far?
Well if we’re counting, 30 countries and 35 states. The goal is to hit all 50 states and at least 50 countries before 50.
Where’s the first place you’ve ever visited abroad? Have you revisited it since?
Aruba was our family vacation for many years. My first solo trip abroad was teaching English in Israel. It’s one of the few countries I have repeated (visiting) and have considered living in. It really spurred the wanderlust to experience more places that shatter expectations.
How would you describe your travel style?
I’d say I’m actively experiential. Jack-of-all-trades, master of none. I try to find unique adventures wherever I go from ski biking to zorbing to glacier climbing. I’ll just as likely be found on an epic hike as perusing a local market or trying a new spa treatment. I plan enough that I know the must-sees, but leave enough time in the day to explore. I’m also pretty laid-back and adaptable: you’re just as likely to find me at a hostel as a five-star hotel.
So how did you get into the travel industry?
It just kind of happened. I hated my super corporate office job and was looking to do literally anything else. I ended up taking a marketing job at iexplore.com and growing my freelance portfolio writing the Chicago City Guide for Haute Living magazine. It was a bit serendipitous because now I can't imagine working in any other industry.
You’re actually known as the go-to food writer in Denver. If you had to choose three must-eat restaurants in Denver, what would you recommend?
Food depends so much on mood. I like ethnic hole in the walls just as much as fancy splurge meals, but three of my reliable staples are Mercantile Dining & Provision, Acorn, and Tag.
What’s the weirdest thing you’ve eaten?
Food is the way to my heart and truly the way to get to know a place. I have had whale and puffin in Iceland, bugs in Thailand and Mexico, and guinea pig in Peru (yes, it does taste like chicken).
A lot of people find packing incredibly stressful, but you seem to be the opposite. What are a few packing hacks you keep up your sleeve?
Having lost my luggage completely twice – I never bring more than a carry-on with me (even if I’m going somewhere for 2-3 weeks). Stick to neutral colors you can layer and dress up with a chunky necklace or scarf, have a tote you can lug around during the day and a small clutch for nighttime extravaganzas, and make sure you have super comfortable shoes you can also wear out like flats, boots, or sandals (have you tried walking in heels on cobblestone?). Throw a dryer sheet in your suitcase to keep everything smelling clean and fresh. And most importantly, there’s nothing a good pair of yoga pants can’t fix.
Be honest, what’s one thing you refuse to leave home without?
Abdominal Abe. It’s silly, but he’s this stuffed snowman my friends and I found in a cab in Chicago. We mail him back and forth a la Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. He’s been around the world with us.
If you had to list it, what would you say are your top three travel memories to date?
- Becoming a Certified Viking in Iceland
- Visiting an Elephant Sanctuary in Thailand
- Oktoberfest in Germany for my 30th birthday
Honorable Mentions: living in Israel, Sail Week Croatia, hiking Machu Picchu
Where are you planning to go next?
Patagonia (with a stop in Santiago and Buenos Aires)! I’m hiking Torres del Paine, cruising the glaciers and (hopefully) going on a puma safari.