Hi babes! You know I love to travel. It's a relatively recent passion of mine - I never traveled much growing up because my family just didn't have the means, and then in my young adult years I had to save up any cash to get myself through university. When I started on my PhD, I finally had the means to broaden my horizon, and it has made my life so much richer.
However, not having any experience with travel also means that even the most basic practical thing was new to me. It's something you don't really stop to think about when you're "privileged" but all this knowledge that comes natural to you because of your life experiences is completely foreign to people who do not live your life. For example, if your family never had money for more expensive cuts of meat, you won't really learn about how long/hot to cook your meat to get it adequately "done". If you've never stayed at a hotel, you won't know that a hotel's restaurant is also available to non-guests.
And I always, always overthink what/how much to pack. Of course, I don't make it easier on myself by taking stuff like "I want to have enough variation in my travel wardrobe" and "I want to wear outfits that are nice enough to feature on my blog and social media" into the equation. A regular person traveling will be satisfied with nice clothes rather than perfect outfits. But yeah, dressing up is a thing that gives me joy, so that's an important requirement of mine.
Now, this need to be able to change things up and have enough "good" outfits used to result in me simply stuffing my suitcase with more cute dresses until I finally had some peace of mind that I'd packed enough (and then I generally got sick of my travel wardrobe somewhere along the trip anyway). But I found this awesome app that I recommend to everyone who is similarly obsessive about outfits as I am: SmartCloset. I just upload pics of all of the items I'm contemplating bringing, and then I can create Polyvore type outfit collages of the pieces I've added to my virtual wardrobe. It's an amazing app to get an overview of what you're bringing, and how much variation this will give you.
Also it's just really fun.
Anyway, based on my experience and use of the SmartCloset app, let me list up what you should definitely pack on a two week trip to Italy (or more specifically, Puglia) during summer. This is a collage of the minimum I'd recommend, but feel free to expand (I know I did). At least this way you'll know you have sufficient room for variation!
pieces from left to right and top to bottom (I'll add links for the pieces that are still available in shops):
1 pair of sneakers (choose comfort over style here)
2 pairs of casual sandals
If you choose your tops and bottoms carefully so that every top is a match with every bottom, you'll get, like, at least 20 potential outfits out of this relatively compact list of items without having to repeat a look.
FYI, not pictured but practical to bring along (if not for style purposes)
1 pair of flip flops or easy on/off slides that can get wet
1 pair of water shoes (European beaches are so often rocky)
1 one piece swimsuit (in case you feel bloated/just want to keep things more covered)
1 bikini (in case you want to get as much sun as you can)
1 swimsuit coverup (get one that's large enough to change in/out of your clothes underneath)
1 larger tote bag/net bag
1 small, nicer bag
1 pair of nice sunglasses
some pieces of statement jewelry
Let me show you some of my favourite outfits from our trip to Italy.
I adored these cat eye sunglasses and pearl earrings, I wore them almost every day! I got them off Shein (btw use discount code styling9 if you want 10% off if you spend over 65€), which is always my preferred shopping destination to pick up some cute new pieces just before I go on summer holiday. They went with all of my looks and provided the perfect finishing touch. Also my basket of course - it's from Dille en Kamille! The basket and the skirt are probably my most worn items from this trip. Perfect basics.
Two things of note here: this Monki ruffled swimsuit is cute enough to wear as a top, and you only have to pull off your skirt to be ready for a dip! As you can see my skirt is wet because I did just that. Second: always have a hat with you. The sun is not to be underestimated, and if you've had heatstroke once you won't want to experience it again. This pink hat is also from Shein, and I recommend it to people with a tiny head like mine. Of course larger headed individuals can also wear it, but I always have a hard time finding these types of caps that don't look oversized on my small noggin.
Two piece sets (this one is also from Shein) are fun because you can wear the pieces together and look like you've totally put major thought into your outfit, or you can mix up the separates in different looks. I wore both of these pieces quite a lot! Size down btw, the listed measurements on Shein are not entirely accurate.
I absolutely loved this sage green polkadotted dress because it was just so perfectly suited to that retro Italian holiday feel. I linked it above, it's also Shein! That ice cream was a divine pear-ricotta flavor, btw. Ah, I miss it so.
The skirt was very remixable because it went with almost every top I brought. And it's nice to have the opportunity to switch between shorter and longer hemlines depending on your mood - and whether you want to add an extra layer of mosquito protection.
Ah, and a final two piece set I ended up taking out of my suitcase last minute because, thanks to my use of SmartCloset, I'd figured out that I had packed enough and didn't need to bring along another skirt and top.
Cute, but not for this trip. Also from Shein btw, be sure to note that the top is two separate pieces: a tube top and the ruffle. Kind of weird but also versatile? Not sure how to feel about it.
Hope this helps you. In sum, be sure to pack pieces that you can combine in different ways, bring comfortable shoes that will work with most of your outfits, and pick the right accessories to finish your look because those don't take up a lot of space and will have a relatively high impact! Oh, and use SmartCloset. I'm not sponsored by them, I'm just a huge planning nerd.
top: Zara - denim bike shorts: Stradivarius - handbag: Kipling (gifted) - woven mules: Bershka - earrings: Shein (gifted)
Hi babes! We just got back from Italy and our baby wisteria has flourished in our absence, almost all of our laundry has been done and tonight I'm cooking a dish local to the area we visited in Italy, so all things considered things are as good as they can be! Can't say I'm completely fine with not be enjoying the sun, sea and amazing Puglian food anymore, but ya take what ya get in this life.
At least I have tan legs as a souvenir, as well as these denim bike shorts I bought in the sales on our last day in Italy. I love how these have an 80s-90s retro casual vibe that can easily be dressed down with an oversized band tee and sneakers, or made all FASHION by choosing the right pieces, like these woven mules I'm completely obsessed with.
Kipling sent over this Art M tote bag for me to style (and use of course, I love my Kipling bags), and it turned out to totally complement my tan and the slight sporty vibe of the denim bike shorts. As it turns out we're planning on getting back into working out now that we're back - gotta do something about that carb overload - and this bag will definitely come in handy for a trip to the gym.
Now you'll have to excuse me, I have orechiette to cook! I'll be sharing a lot of gorgeous Italy content soon so sit tight.
Two weeks ago, I met up with my dear friends to enjoy a high tea at Domestic in Antwerp. I had been wanting to do so for ages, because the pink salon is basically what Instagram dreams are made of, and I ain't above that. Not to mention that Domestic Bakery has some of the most delicious pastries and bread around (get their sourdough and their lemon curd pie!), so I was sure the food wouldn't disappoint either. The perfect spot to enjoy some quality time while sipping on that good tea and sampling sweet and savory bites. Definitely worth the 34€ per person.
Of course I couldn't contain myself from taking some pictures of that gorgeous interior. Enjoy!
For 34€ you get a salmon bread roll, a slice of bread with pumpkin cream, olives and chicken, a spring roll, mushroom toast, a scone with cream and fresh jam and three little pastries (lemon curd pie, chocolate pie and a layered white chocolate cake), plus a range of teas and coffees including refills. We all definitely had enough to eat, but my boyfriend would have left with room for an extra bite - whether the portions are large enough depends on your appetite!
I also sneaked in some shots of the golden salon - also gorgeous, but the pink has my heart. I do feel a desperate need for a gold/mustard velvet couch now.
As someone who blogs/spends time on Instagram/doesn't shy away from all of those influencer clichés, but is very aware of those clichés being a potential killer of originality and creativity, I often wonder whether I should refrain from posting about places like these. We're all visiting the same spots and photographing the same corners and liking each others posts. It's a self-referential world where true creativity and unique angles are rare. But in the end I enjoy beauty, whether it's cliché or not. There's a reason why some of the best things end up becoming cliché: they spark joy for most people.
And I'm not about to stop enjoying pink velvet and high ceilings just because that makes me an influencer cliché. Might as well enjoy the ride! And honestly, rolling our eyes at the typical influencer aesthetic isn't free from misogyny. Or have you ever heard anyone ridiculing the classic masculine interior featuring leather couches and mahogany furniture? Didn't think so.
Hi babes! I hope you're doing good, enjoying those last days of spring before summer fully kicks in. I have a high concept picnic coming up tomorrow, and this weekend I've gotten some gardening done and enjoyed a birthday high tea at Domestic Antwerp, so I'm making the most of the my time outside of work. I feel like a good balance between work and play + getting things done is key to my mental health, and these longer days definitely help in that regard. I'll always be a summer child.
But on topic: I have another review ready for you! I received six of Maybelline's new Made for All lipsticks - a line that was designed to flatter a wide range of 50 different skintones, so basically everyone. I'm loving the fact that big brands are recognizing that diversity is a thing and that you can't just cater to 50 shades of beige and call it a day - especially when drugstore brands hop on the inclusivity train.
Sadly I wasn't able to swatch these on a range of different skin tones (which would be ideal), but I'd gladly add my swatches to google image search so you can compare. I've spotted some gorgeous, flattering pics of these lipsticks on dark skinned women so it seems that Maybelline did do good in formulating these shades. Maybelline has a lot of pics of these on different women on their website as well, so go there if you want to figure out if these will suit you!
Anyway, let's get swatching!
From left to right, top to bottom: Mauve For Me - Pink For Me - Fuchsia For me - Red For Me - Ruby For Me - Plum For Me
Mauve For Me isn't really a mauve, I'd call it a mid tone neutral beige/tan shade - definitely not pink/purple enough to be called mauve. It's a very lovely colour however, definitely the type of My Lips But Better shade that was super popular in the 90s and will remain a classic. Pink For Me is a neutral muted pink, a bit too sweet for me, but perfectly flattering. Fuchsia For Me is probably the most wearable bright pink I've ever swatched, a very cute, happy colour that feels great for summer.
Red For Me is THA BOMB. Like a drugstore dupe for Mac's Ruby Woo, and the only matte lipstick in this Maybelline range: the perfect bright, popping neutral red that is just so incredibly flattering. Ruby For Me is another neutral red, just a smidge deeper than Red For Me, and a satin finish like the other shades. Finally, Plum For Me is a lovely deeper colour - the type of shade I don't generally go for, but again, definitely a flattering shade.
All of these are very creamy and saturated, full coverage in one stroke. Not smudge-proof of course, but the fact that these are so pigmented makes them cling to the lips longer than other satin finish drugstore lipsticks. And that pigmentation is absolutely key to look good on a wide range of skin tones - makeup that sheers out will just disappear on darker complexions.
Never underestimate how being pale basically acts as a primer underneath your eyeshadows and lipsticks, making it much easier for beauty brands to slack off on pigmentation and still get by. You can't provide middle of the road pigmentation and claim that you're catering to customers with dark complexions as well. Another positive is that all of these are rather neutral in undertone - always the most widely flattering.
You can get these for about 12-13€ at your drugstore, but I've seen deals at bol.com for example selling the Made For All lipsticks for around 8€. Worth it! If you get only one, get Red For Me or Mauve For Me, both must-have shades in a beauty collection.
Hi babes! I have another beauty review post for you. But not just a review, nay, I will provide irrefutable proof that investing in hair styling tools is worth it.
But first things first: I was sent over the NuMe Octowand 8-in-1 curling iron to review. I used to own a practically identical curling wand but it broke down on me after a couple of uses. This was quite the disappointment to me because I had grown to love the wand, pretty much instantly. The versatility of the different shapes and sizes is great in itself, but the reason why I loved that wand (and, as it turns out, the NuMe Octowand as well) is because my curls lasted SO much longer than with a cheaper styling tool.
I have tried to research why these more expensive, higher quality curling tools provide that superior performance, and I haven't fully figured it out but I suspect it has something to do with the heat being distributed mor equally throughout the wand. Also, the heat being more consistent. This decreases the risk of damaging your locks, and makes sure your curls will have a better (more even) shape. Maybe because the barrels are 100% tourmaline or because they work with infrared heat and negative ions - I just know that the result is top notch.
I'm providing proof of the lasting power of my curls when using the NuMe Octowand, but let me first show you the tool itself.
The Octowand comes in this neat little heatproof beautycase, ideal to travel with. Every wand is neatly secured with elastic band, and there's a protective glove in there as well. I generally don't use it because I rarely burn myself using styling tools, but if you're prone to singeing those fingertips, the glove will sort you out.
Now, let's look at the different wands and what kind of curl you can achieve with these!
The pearl wand is perfect if you want more natural looking, irregular curls. The 32mm wand is more about bounce and volume than about curls, and this one won't really work if you have shorter hair. The 13mm wand will give you big disco hair, but you have to make sure you curl your locks neatly all the way to your roots or it will look weird. The 25mm or the 19mm wand is the most versatile ones, somewhere around that diameter is the width I always recommend to people who want just one curling iron. It can give you beachy waves or glamorous Veronice Lake hair.
The 25/13 and 18/9 mm ones are great because the way the curl becomes tighter towards the ends is a bit more natural and realistic compared to non-tapered curling wands. The 13/25mm wand is a weird one I have to experiment some more with, but I think it should work well if you want more volume on top than on the bottom.
Now, just to benchmark the results I'll be showing you next: if I curl my hair with my 30€ 25/13mm wand, I have a nice amount of curls on day one, on day 2 I have waves, and on day 3 I just have volume and some (frizzy) structure left.
However, if I use one of the medium to narrow Octowand barrels, I have good hair right up until I wash my hair again, on day five. The curls drop a bit from day to day but they remain defined. But don't take my word for it, pictures speak louder than words!
This is after using the 18/9mm wand:
And this is after using the pearl wand:
To say I love this wand is an understatement. And I have owned multiple more affordable curling irons, but they honestly never get me long lasting curls like the upscale styling tools do. $200 isn't cheap, but if you use heat-tools often and you're looking to invest: look no further.
PS: if you don't know what to do with your bangs if you put in some tighter curls all over (tightly curled bangs are hard to get right): I curl my bangs with a 25mm barrel, curling them sideways/up and away from my face, to create that Farrah Fawcett effect. Kind of like this:
Everyone probably has that one silhouette/style/colour they always keep reaching for. For me, that silhouette is dresses like these. A pinafore style with an open back, nipped-in waist, knee length or slightly longer and not too revealing in the front. I have a bunch of different dresses with this exact shape, and they're the first thing I grab when the weather warms up. Dresses like these make me feel feminine and elegant but still carefree. The smallest possible amount of fabric you can wear without feeling like you're dressed too casual or overtly sexy.
This particular dress (another Shein steal) is just a bit too revealing to wear it without anything underneath I think, but I might give it a go on holiday. We all dare to go a bit further when we're abroad, don't we?
BTW, if you were thinking "damn, her hair looks good": I have a curling wand review coming up that I'm very excited about, so stay tuned! But for now, I just listed a number of other open back/crisscross back dresses you can currently shop on Shein, in case you're equally obsessed with this type of dress. Enjoy!
From left to right and from top to bottom: 1//2//3//4//5//6//7
I spotted this field filled with purple flowers when we were on our way to the dentist, of all destinations, and I instantly made a mental note to return to take some pictures. Living in the countryside, I'm lucky in that the change of the seasons always brings a change in scenery with it as well - but of course fall and spring are the most beautiful in that regard. We haven't had many warm days yet over here in Belgium, but the wild flowers have been flourishing so there's an upside to everything.
I'm in love with this dress! It could be a Reformation dress, but at a fraction of the price. Honestly, I love the Reformation aesthetic, but just like with Realisation Par and all of those influencer-popular brands, I've heard time and time again that the quality does not match the hype nor the price point. And I don't have a problem with paying a bit more for that one perfect piece, but not if the quality is a letdown.
My birthday is this weekend! And the weather forecast is looking amazing so I'm stoked AF. You only get a bday on Sunday once every seven years (I think?) and I don't actually remember any of my birthdays having sun and 25°C+ temperatures, so this totally feels like a gift in an of itself. I can use some fun, because my boyfriend has not been feeling well the past days which has resulted in some dumb arguments and just an overall less than ideal atmosphere. 100% ready to move on into the weekend!
I always second guess myself when I share some more negative thoughts and reflections here (should I, shouldn't I?), but I'm still convinced that if there's one thing the internet can use, it's a little more realism and perspective. Not everyone's life is sunshine and butterflies all the time. Sometimes I deal with stress and anxiety, sometimes my boyfriend and I bicker, sometimes I fight with my girlfriends, sometimes I hate my job, sometimes I feel like all I do is mess up. I like to take pretty pictures but please never think that anyone else's life is perfect because it isn't. And the older I get, the more I realize that life is exactly that: realizing that we're all just making messes and failing and succeeding and zigzagging our way forward (and sometimes backward). Might expand on these thoughts in a retrospective birthday post. I feel like I've evolved so much since turning 30.
I have lusted after fringe jackets and vests since as long as I can remember, but I've always stopped myself from actually acquiring one of these because it felt so on the nose. I love a lot of look, but I try to keep myself from following my enthusiasm into the trap of looking like an extra on Westworld. I almost bit the bullet when vintage shopping in San Francisco, because there's something magical and irresistible about a fringe jacket paired with flowy maxi dresses. But I held strong.
Until a couple of weeks ago when I first tried on another fringe jacket while spending a lovely Saturday on a little city trip to Lille, which reignited my obsession. And then I spotted this cute jacket/shirt hybrid on Shein. Only 25€, and I figured life is too short to stop myself from having some sartorial fun. I have actually worn this piece constantly since adding it to my wardrobe - safe to say I have a little crush. BTW I still have this discount code for you to use: styling9 for 10% off if you spend over 65€.
I'm counting down the days until summer starts - and until we leave on holiday to Puglia. First time in Italy for me! If you have any tips to share, please do.
San Francisco is one of my all time favourite travel destinations (The architecture! The rolling hills! The relevance to 60s Flower Power! The melting pot of cultures!) and I'm happy to spread the love. One thing that became clear to me is that while San Francisco isn't that big, many of the points of interest aren't exactly near to each other which makes planning a visit hitting all the sights complex. In addition, the most popular/tourist region (near Union Square) is incredibly expensive to stay in and not the most authentic. This made me put some research into SFO's different districts before our first trip there, in 2017.
After two action-packed visits to San Francisco, I feel like I've gathered a pretty good overview of the city: what it has to offer, what districts should be on your must-see list, where to stay and how to plan your time there. Here are my tips!
1. Stay in: Bernal Heights
Bernal Heights is a mostly residential area, set at a higher point which gives it some amazing views. Choosing a more residential area as your base has important perks: you can keep your rental car (absolutely a plus if you want to go across Golden Gate Bridge, which I recommend), and you will be able to stay in one of the city's gorgeous Victorian houses rather than a cramped hotel room, at the same price point. We spent four nights at this stunningn spacious Airbnb, which had all of the clawfoot bath tub charm we had wished for, plus a deck offering breath taking views of the city, for about €85 a night per person. Great value for money in a city like San Francisco.
If you stay in Bernal Heights, try to get a place close to either Mission Street or Cortland Avenue, since those to streets are lined with cool bars and restaurants. And it's nice to be able to walk to dinner instead of having to grab your car and look for parking. If you love Italian food, be sure to schedule one of your dinners at Emmy's Spaghetti Shack because their spaghetti and meatballs is divine. By the way, if you hop over to Knockout, the dive bar across the street, be sure to do so on the 4th Sunday of the month because that's their The Simpson's Trivia Night from 6 to 9pm. It's as awesome as it sounds. Oh, and they do bingo nights on Thursdays.
2. Visit/eat at the Mission district: Latino heritage, international cuisine and street art
The Mission district is mostly known for its stunning street art, and its rich Latino heritage. This is the place to be if you want to grab a bite at an authentic taqueria. However, the Mission is also home to probably the most diverse range of international cuisines in all of San Francisco. I've walked past From Senegalese to Tibetan, you're bound to find a restaurant offering this type of food somewhere around the district.
Art is everywhere, but definitely put Balmy Alley and Clarion Alley on your itinerary if you want to feel like you're visiting an outdoor museum. The art here is vibrant and political, and 100% San Francisco.
3. Not essential but very coo: Chinatown/Union Square
I am a sucker for Chinese doughnuts. Both of my visits to San Francisco have taken me to Eastern Bakery, and I wholeheartedly recommend them to anyone who gets excited about a crunchy sesame seed pastry filled with red bean paste (trust me, it's so much better than it sounds). San Francisco's Chinatown is the oldest Chinatown in North America, and the largest Chinese enclave outside Asia. Of course there is a bunch of tacky shops where you can buy cheap trinkets, but mostly it's a bustling area filled with restaurants, awesome architecture and a culture-within-a-culture that is completely mesmerizing.
It's easy to combine Chinatown with a visit to the area around Union Square - it's where the Pyramid is, and most of San Francisco's tallest buildings which makes for an impressive stroll. All of the big brand stores are in this neighborhood, so if you have to hit a Sephora/Levi's/Nike before you go home: this is the place to be.
4. Walhalla for vintage/Flowerpower lovers: Haight-Ashbury
My favourite area in San Francisco is, hands down, Haight-Ashbury. This is where the 60's and 70's never really ended. Where Jimi Hendrix was born and where Janis Joplin lived in a pretty pink Victorian house. Where you can walk around in literally any outfit and not get weird glances. We spotted a group of middle aged ladies wearing some type of steampunk get-up and no one batted an eye. The vintage shopping is, obviously, absolutely amazing here. It's like walking around in a museum.
There is also a lot of homelessness and drug use in the area, but let's be honest: that was also always a big part of hippie/Flower Power culture. Artists and young people living in the streets. You could hide the dirt and call it bohemian, or you can expose its edges and see an obviously homeless woman running off stealing a vintage leather jacket from one of the cool kid stores (yes, something we witnessed while there). Both valid views of what is happening here.
5. Cliché but definitely worth it: Fisherman's Wharf and Alcatraz
I wasn't that keen on visiting Alcatraz nor Fisherman's wharf since both are such tourist clichés. However, I wholeheartedly recommend these on your trip to SFO. Alcatraz is a place with such profound historic relevance, both regarding organized crime and regarding Native American civil rights. Apart from that, Alcatraz offers some of the most beautiful views of the city. The audio tour is narrated by actual Alcatraz guards and inmates, and it's like listening to an immersive podcast. So cool.
Fisherman's Wharf is great if you know what to expect: beautiful sea views, sea lions, chowder served in sourdough bread bowls, funnel fries, hotdogs and a strong breeze. I always love its lively vibe, so I don't mind it being very tourist-centric. And it can be fun to get an espresso-strength shot of every cliché people think of when it comes to San Francisco.
6. Can't miss: Golden Gate Bridge
Of course you need to make your way to this amazing landmark. You have to take a bus/uber/car to visit the bridge, and it takes some time to make your way up there, so plan accordingly. Also, the bridge is barely visible on a cloudy/foggy day, and those aren't exactly rare in SFO, so if you have one day with a sunny forecast in your itinerary: make it a Golden Gate day. And if you're already there, drive your car across the bridge and visit Muir Woods!
7. A breath of fresh air 30 minutes outside of the city: Muir Woods
Finally, technically not a San Francisco district, Muir Woods is actually about half an hour's drive from Golden Gate bridge. It's the nearest place for you to see actual redwoods in the area, and it's an overwhelming experience. The air there is so pure and sweet, the trails are wonderfully calm and quiet, and the drive there takes you over hilltops, through fog and into this expanse of lush green woods - an experience I'll never forget. Also, their souvenir shop is pretty much the best one we visited during our entire California roadtrip, and that's saying a lot. I bought my favourite t-shirt ever there, and there's plenty of beautiful items carved out of redwood branches.
I hope this blog post represents the amount of beauty the city has to offer! I can't wait to go back myself. It's one of those cities that actually create a feeling similar to homesickness when I think back to my time there. If you have any questions: shoot!
(yes I ventured a few feet off the walkway but I only walked where the grass was already gone!)
Americans probably don't realize this, but for Europeans, travelling through the U.S. feels like stepping straight from regular life into a movie. And of all the places I've visited in the U.S.A., nothing looks more like a movie set than Yosemite. A scenic beauty that seems unreal, makes you pinch yourself and try to make every second last twice as long because the time you have here never feels quite long enough.
We visited Yosemite as a stop between Seaside and San Francisco, spending one night in Mariposa. I don't know if I'd recommend this unless you would be able to spend two nights in Mariposa to maximize your time in Yosemite. Our planning was for us to leave Seaside early in the morning, drive into Mariposa to drop off our bags, and drive straight into Yosemite until the evening, then spend the night in Mariposa before leaving for San Francisco. Frankly, that's too ambitious, but that's kind of the main theme for any California road trip. Always take more time than you think you'll need because you'll spend more time driving than expected, and there is just too much beauty to rush through it.
Still, I am so very grateful to have experienced even 1% of what Yosemite has to offer. Next time I'll be better prepared to make the most of it! More hiking, definitely. That's my first tip for first timers: come prepared, with an actual paper map of what you want to see because reception won't be great in Yosemite Valley, and the park is HUGE.
Second tip is to start saving up and be prepared to book your lodgings up to a year in advance, because any lodgings close to or actually IN Yosemite fill up within the blink of an eye. If you have less time to plan ahead, or a more modest budget (because lodgings in Yosemite are expensive AF): go for Mariposa. A charming little town about an hour's worth of driving from Yosemite valley's entrance. Apparently, the county of Mariposa has NO traffic lights anywhere, that's how rural and laid back it is here.
There are also buses between Mariposa and Yosemite Valley, but the bus takes even longer so I wouldn't recommend it. People often warn you that it will be impossible to find parking in Yosemite Valley, and I have to admit it was pretty crowded in September but we always found parking within minutes, so in September your own car is the way to go. You'll pay $30 per vehicle driving into the park, and it's completely worth it. Let me show you why. Cook's Meadow, the first real place we were able to stop and take it all in.
Are you dead yet? If not, the next couple of pics will kill you.
How is this even a real place?? It's these kinds of views that make me fully understand that American patriotism that always feels so over the top to us Western Europeans (except probably the French). Seeing this type of natural splendor is almost like a religious experience.
Let me share another little tip: there's actual bears in Yosemite, so if you park your car, be sure to not leave any food out (or even covered but smell-able) or a bear might raid your car. And I don't know whether your rental insurance will cover bear theft. The only animals we spotted were birds and mosquitoes though. My friend Natalia's was very happy not to meet any bears.
Another first timer's tip to Yosemite: most of Yosemite's biggest draws, like El Capitan, the Half Dome and the Lower Yosemite Falls are easily viewable from right beside the road after parking your car. This is what we did, because we had so little time, but I absolutely recommend taking more time to actually hike somewhere to take in the beauty of nature in a slightly more authentic way rather than on a quick stop outside of your car. So American, a great way to see a lot in a little time, but not ideal. Still worth it though.
Another tip: timing. If you're someone who enjoys taking photographs, be aware of the fact that the sun sets early in Yosemite valley because you're enclosed by, well, high mountains. Don't roll your eyes at me, I know that's obvious, but I'm from one of the flattest countries in the world so this isn't top of mind for me.
Which also makes it necessary to take the position of the sun into account when planning your visit to certain sights. The famous Valley view featured above was photographed around golden hour, which made the light contrast between the background and the forefront very stark. Very beautiful, but not the easiest to shoot. The viewpoint can be found on the one-way Northside Drive, after Bridalveil Fall and before Pohono Bridge. You'll encounter this on your way out of the park.
Also, certain parts of the park are closed during certain times of the year because roads may become too dangerous to drive in winter, or because nature needs time to recuperate.
I am not a Yosemite pro by any means, but I feel like these tips are some good first pointers for anyone who wants to venture into this stunning park.