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11 Gifts for Hikers and Campers

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Looking for the perfect present for the outdoor enthusiasts in your life? Get them geared up for adventure with these gifts for hikers and campers.

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1. Moon USA National Parks

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This comprehensive guide to all 59 national parks in the US covers the best outdoor adventures in every park, including backpacking, biking, mountain climbing, kayaking, rafting, and more, plus detailed hike descriptions and trail maps marked with distance, duration, effort level, and trailheads.

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2. Darn Tough Socks

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There’s nothing worse than a mid-hike blister. Avoid the pain and bandages with these durable, built-to-last socks that regulate temperature, wick moisture, and provide just the right level of cushioning.

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3. GoPro HERO Camera

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The GoPro Hero is an excellent hiking companion, even for the less tech-savvy: it’s intuitive to use and auto-adjusts for contrast, focus, and color. All you have to do is strap it on and let it document your wild adventures!

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4. GSI Outdoors Collapsible Coffee Maker

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For those of us that require a caffeine fix: this collapsible pour-over coffee maker will give anyone that burst of morning energy needed to start a new day of hiking.

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5. Justin’s Nut Butters

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These nut butter packets are a perfect stocking stuffer. They’re non-GMO and naturally made from only two ingredients, packing a powerful protein punch when you need a little pick-me-up on the trail.

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6. PlatyPreserve Wine Preservation System

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Who says you can’t hike and drink at the same time? Okay, maybe not at the same time—but with this lightweight collapsible flask that holds a full bottle and protects wine from oxygen, they’ll have a delicious glass to toast with when they reach their campsite.

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7. MSR PocketRocket Travel Stove

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This ultralight, compact stove is a backpacking favorite. It boils a liter of water in under 4 minutes, has adjustable flames from simmering to boiling, and is super easy to set up and operate.

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8. LifeProof Frē Cell Phone Case

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These phone cases are definitely a lifesaver. They come in a variety of styles for Apple, Samsung, and more, and are built to ensure your phone’s safety even in the wildest conditions: they can handle water, mud, snow, and even hard hits when dropped (it’s okay, we all do it).

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9. America the Beautiful National Parks Pass

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Give them the gift of nature by…giving them access to it! The National Parks Pass gives them access to more than 2,000 federal recreation sites across the country. More than 80% of the proceeds go directly to causes protecting the parks—and if you purchase through REI, they’ll donate 10% of the proceeds to the National Park Foundation!

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10. SPOT Gen3 Satellite GPS Messenger

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Any seasoned hiker will tell you: safety and preparation are key. This satellite messenger is great if they’re headed out on a backcountry trek where service is spotty: they can use it to reach emergency responders, check in with family and friends, and share GPS coordinates—or just track their adventures!

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11. Suunto Core Watch

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This altimeter watch means business: its many (many) functions include a temperature gauge, compass, pressure-based altimeter, weather forecast, and ascent/descent rate measurer. It’s also water-resistant up to 30 meters underwater. So it’s basically the outdoor adventurer’s new best friend.

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Hiking Camping Gift Guide pinterest graphic

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Goal Hiking Training Tips

Goal hiking can be the most rewarding adventure of your life: a little bit scary, extremely exciting, and something you can feel inordinately proud of having accomplished. Maybe your goal is to hike once a week for a year, or take on a thru-hike of the John Muir Trail. For me, it’s high up in the mountains—places like Mount St. Helens and Camp Muir in Washington State, and Half Dome and Mount Whitney in California. Whatever your goal, hiking training is essential.

Why pursue goal hiking? I personally love getting fit, pushing through my boundaries, and reaching new, exciting places. I also love the adventure, the scrappiness of pursuing it outdoors, and the peanut butter cup blizzard I treat myself to at the end. Most of all, I love feeling like I’ve conquered something—not the mountain, but the real struggle to reach an ambitious goal. I come back again and again for that rush of adrenaline and that badass feeling of accomplishment. I think you might, too.

hiker with poles in the Swiss Alps
The author in the Swiss Alps. Photo © Melissa Ozbek.

Here are some tips for training and completing a goal hike.

1. Hail a hiking buddy.

There are lots of benefits to recruiting a friend, partner, or family member: Safety, sharing the ups and downs of the adventure together, helping motivate each other, brainstorming which routes to take, what time of year to do the hike, and what to bring, as well as dividing logistics between yourselves.

2. Train consistently.

Look at the distance and elevation gain of your goal hike and work backwards. I generally take 3-4 months to gradually build up to the distance and elevation gain, supplementing it with physical activities to increase my fitness. I time it so that two weeks before my goal hike, I’ve completed its equivalent, or thereabouts (I don’t sweat it if it’s close). For me, consistent training builds a mental framework of confidence so that when I’m out there on my goal hike, I feel strong and ready knowing that I’ve put in the hard work.

3. Stretch it out.

A 5-minute daily stretching routine can help prevent injuries, increase flexibility, alleviate soreness, and just help you feel like you’ve greased the machine. For me, it truly does make a difference in how light, flexible, and ready I feel for the next day’s workout.

4. Focus on finishing.

If this is your first big hike, your goal is to safely finish. That’s it! You’re testing your limits and working towards something that is special to you. Let your purpose and excitement guide you, not speed. Anyone can train for a goal hike: You don’t have to be a seasoned hiker, or expert outdoorsperson. Take your time, and take it step-by-step.

5. Treat mental prep with equal importance as physical prep.

Invest in a quality topo map and study your route. Read up on other people’s experiences on blogs and forums. Check the weather, sunrise, and sunset. Carefully evaluate your 10 essentials. Call up the nearest ranger station and ask questions. Check parking passes and permits twice. Leave a trip itinerary with family or a friend. Why all the fuss? When you put in the mental work as well as the physical, you’re increasing the probability of a safe and successful hike.

6. Practice self-compassion.

You may have a bad hiking day, feel tired, or at some point ask yourself if it’s worth it. Remember that one or two bad days isn’t the measure of all your training—it’s just a bad day. Give yourself time and try again. Step back on your training, or talk it through with your hiking buddy. As my friend Grace says, “Be your own best friend.”

So how you do get started goal hiking? Ask around to your friends, family, and trusted groups you belong to. You never know—maybe someone you know has always wanted to try a certain hike, or is at least willing to be your partner in crime.

Think about what excites you—is it the mountains? An alpine lake? From there, consider the seasonality of your goal hike—chances are there’s a good annual window to do it. Whatever your goal, remember that it’s a privilege and a joy to explore the wilderness. Focus on your training and preparation, and breathe in the beauty as you go. Happy hiking!

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Where to Travel in 2018: Horoscope Edition

[twitter name=”name”]Not sure where to travel in 2018? Find out what the stars have in store for you…

2018 Travel Horoscope - Aries: Patagonia

Aries (March 21–April 19): A natural born leader like you is destined for adventure this year, Aries. Feed your fiery need to explore with a trip to Patagonia, where your pioneering spirit will take you to the literal ends of the Earth. Just don’t forget to pause every now and then, and savor the unspoiled beauty around you for a moment (before forging full-steam ahead like you always do).

2018 Travel Horoscope - Taurus: Morocco

Taurus (April 20–May 20): As a Taurus, you have a sweet spot for luxury and the comfort of life’s material pleasures. When it comes to vacation, go for a destination where you can fully indulge your senses—particularly touch and taste (both of which are especially important to you). In Morocco, you’ll be surrounded by incredible scents, flavors, fabrics, and sounds. Definitely get yourself to a traditional hammam for a truly immersive, luxurious experience.

2018 Travel Horoscope - Gemini: Hanoi

Gemini (May 21–June 20): Gemini, as much as you’re chided for having “dual personalities,” truthfully, your intellectual curiosity and adventurous nature just mean that you crave spontaneity and mental stimulation. You’ll find no shortage of either in Hanoi—the fascinating dichotomies of ancient versus modern and natural versus urban will keep your mind engaged at every turn.

2018 Travel Horoscope - Cancer: Belize

Cancer (June 21–July 22): Cancer, be honest: your perceptive nature and deep compassion mean that sometimes, you get a little overwhelmed by others. Treat yourself this year with a vacation that’s for you and you alone. You’ll enjoy connecting to the vibrant cultures that make up the beautiful country of Belize, and find the peaceful solitude that you need while floating in warm Caribbean waters and relaxing on your own quiet slice of beach.

2018 Travel Horoscope - Leo: Italy

Leo (July 23–August 22): Leo, you sparkling lion, you. You are the life of the party, and you crave passion, beauty, and—let’s face it—attention. Why not head to the country that invented la dolce vita? Italy is the perfect place to soak up culture, food, music, and art that’s as vibrant as you are. (And who knows, maybe you’ll strike the fancy of a few new admirers.)

2018 Travel Horoscope - Virgo: Nashville Road Trip

Virgo (August 23–September 22): You’re a planner, Virgo. You’re innately skilled at both seeing the big picture, and tackling the details—which makes a road trip the perfect vacation for you. You can map it out, check the sights off your list, and be totally in control of your transportation. That being said, you could stand to let loose every now and then. We suggest hitting the Natchez Trace Parkway for a road trip covering the fun-loving cities of Nashville, New Orleans, and every bit of beautiful scenery in between.

2018 Travel Horoscope - Libra: Paris

Libra (September 23–October 22): Ruled by the planet Venus, Libra, you are deeply fond of all things beautiful. Combined with your intellect, romantic nature, and generally laissez-faire approach to life, this means you’re attracted to art, music, books, and good conversation. It should come as no surprise that you’ll feel right at home in Paris. Spend your vacation strolling galleries, people-watching from café terraces, and perusing used book stores. La vie est belle.

2018 Travel Horoscope - Scorpio: Grand Canyon

Scorpio (October 23–November 21): As a Scorpio, you’re deeply in touch with your emotions—but we pity anyone who dares to think that makes you weak. You’re brave, fiercely passionate, and resourceful to a fault. A bucket list trip to the Grand Canyon is perfect for you: there’s plenty of opportunity to challenge yourself physically, and you’ll find yourself forging a powerful connection to the mysterious landscape. Just think of the canyon as a metaphor for your inner self, and start exploring.

2018 Travel Horoscope - Sagittarius: Hawaii

Sagittarius (November 22–December 21): Sagittarius, you are one of the biggest travelers of the zodiac. You love adventure, crave change, and frankly, you get bored easily. How about a vacation that’s technically five destinations in one? Hawaii checks off all your boxes: boundless opportunity to try new things (snorkeling with sharks, anyone?), freedom to roam through stunning landscapes, and the ability to hop between totally distinct islands. The diversity of microclimates—tropical forests, sunny beaches, volcanic rock, rainy mountains, and snow-capped peaks—pretty much zaps any chance of boredom.

2018 Travel Horoscope - Capricorn: New York

Capricorn (December 22–January 19): Serious, critical, and unforgiving: Capricorn, these stereotypes might describe you on a bad day, but really, you’re just an independent spirit with a solid sense of practicality (and good taste, to boot). It’s exactly this attitude that makes you fit for New York, a town with about as much hustle as you. And in a city that’s bursting at the seams with new places to eat, galleries to see, and museums to hit, your travel buddies will appreciate your ability to lead them to only the best of the best.

2018 Travel Horoscope - Aquarius: Iceland

Aquarius (January 20–February 18): Never ones to go for the expected, Aquarians are true originals. You’re creative, eccentric, and full of energy—and don’t have much tolerance for boring situations, vacations included. Iceland is right up your alley: whether you’re trekking across glaciers, exploring Reykjavík, or catching the northern lights, this trip will be truly one-of-a-kind. Just like you.

2018 Travel Horoscope - Pisces: Ireland

Pisces (February 19–March 20): Pisces, while some might say you have your head in the clouds (okay, sometimes you do), it would be more accurate to say that you’re just in touch with your spiritual side. You’re artistic and intuitive, and have a soft spot for all things mystical and lyrical. Lucky for you, Ireland is teeming with both. Bring along a journal for inspiration to document your travels—or pen a few poems of your own, depending which pint you’re on.

Need a little inspiration to help you decide where to travel in 2018? Find out what the stars have in store for you with Moon's 2018 travel horoscope.

Expert Tips for Better Phone Photography

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Christine Amorose Merrill is the voice behind CestChristine.com, an awesome blog that covers her life as a traveler—with some pretty amazing photos, to boot! For those of us without a professional camera to document our travels, we checked in with Christine for her tips on taking memorable photos with a smartphone.

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Photo © Christine Amorose Merrill.

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library with classic architecture
Photo © Christine Amorose Merrill.

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How did you get your start in blogging and travel photography?

I moved to Nice, France and started my blog in the spring of 2010. Although I majored in journalism, I initially started blogging as a way to keep my friends and family in the loop as I lived out my dream of bartending and studying French on the Cote d’Azur. It’s hard not to be inspired in the South of France: the sparkling turquoise Mediterranean Sea, the pastel shutters and cobblestone streets, the bakery display windows piled high with baguettes and pains aux chocolats. And I’ve never stopped writing and taking photos of my travels—through solo adventures in Europe, Southeast Asia, Central America, Australia, and the USA, and stints living in Melbourne, New York City, and now San Diego.

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Photo of the New York City skyline taken with a mobile phone
Photo © Christine Amorose Merrill.

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What is your favorite thing to photograph when you travel? Is there a particular type of image that inspires you the most?

I’m most drawn to blue skies, colorful details and open spaces, whether that’s a tropical beach or an empty cobblestone street. I’m also always looking for shades of turquoise and pink, and elements of symmetry in cities or nature. Although I love traveling to gorgeous, remote (and very photogenic) beaches, I’m most inspired by public art or street graffiti: I love seeing how people beautify and bring color into their cities. I also love how ephemeral street art is: sometimes being captured in a photo is the only way that it will live on.

What advice would you give to travelers working with a smartphone? Any tips for capturing the perfect shot?

I strongly believe that the best camera is one that’s always on you. Some of my favorite photos aren’t necessarily grandly prepared, or even in the most photogenic tourist destinations: it’s a spectacular sunset captured while walking on the way to dinner, or a human interaction that is easier to candidly take with an unobtrusive smartphone. Although cameras in phones are getting better and better, I think the biggest drawback is how it manages in low light and how disruptive the flash can be. I always find that smartphone photos are best in good natural light: use your golden hours properly!

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colorful mural painted on the side of a city building
Photo © Christine Amorose Merrill.

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photography of the brilliant colors of sunset captured on a mobile phone
Photo © Christine Amorose Merrill.

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Do you have any favorite photo editing apps that you use? What do you like about them?

I edit all of my photos in VSCO; I use the same filter so that my Instagram feed and blog have a consistent feel, and usually increase the exposure, contrast, and possibly the saturation. Lately, I’ve been impressed by the editing tools in the Instagram app as well. They’re also super easy to use, and I like that all of the editing can be done instantly on my phone.

Lastly…if you had to choose, what’s your favorite photo that you’ve taken?

That’s such a tough question! I think this one is one of my favorite photos and memories. Peak bloom is always one of my favorite times of the year, and being the first person to see the cherry blossoms at Brooklyn Botanic on this morning was magical.

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Want to take better travel photos with your Android or iPhone? Learn how to level up your phone photography skills with these expert tips from travel blogger and photographer C'est Christine.

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Where to Travel in 2016: A Month-by-Month List

Most of us at Moon have an ever-growing list of places we want to visit, a common side effect of working on a book–or even just seeing the cover options. The following list reflects a few of the destinations that inspired our wanderlust in the last year. There are trip-of-a-lifetime-type destinations and there are smaller destinations, but all of them triggered that classic reverie, imagining what it would be like to be there, and the pull of awaiting adventure.

Where to Travel in 2016 Moon Travel Guides


January

Aruba

Kick off 2016 like a Beach Boys song. Find your own travel inspiration in Aruba’s best beaches and our best of Aruba in one week travel itinerary.

Eagle Beach and Manchebo Beach…offer a tranquil, secluded getaway…. There are many spots where a visitor can settle down, look around, and not see a soul.”
–From Moon Aruba by Rosalie Klein

Soft waves lapping onto a wide white sand beach with swimmers in the water near a beachfront resort in the distance.
Aruba’s beaches are never too hot for a barefoot stroll even at noon. Photo © Iuliia Nufrychenkova/123rf.

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Start the new year with a run up the Rocky Steps at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. And don’t stop there–Philly is museum-rich. Check out the museums in Old City Philadelphia and the Museum District. Once you’ve had your fill of history and art, take in the rest of the best of Philadelphia in three days.

And if you don’t mind bundling up, winter offers the lowest hotel rates, fewest crowds, and, if you’re lucky, perhaps a beautiful snowfall.”
–From Moon Philadelphia by Karrie Gavin

Rocky Steps, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Photo 123rf.
Rocky Steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Photo © Natalia Bratslavsky/123rf.

February

Sanibel Island, Florida

Join the snowbirds and escape winter at this low-key beach destination. Wildlife lovers will have fun birdwatching on Sanibel Island and the South Gulf Coast is perfect for a road trip.

The quiet, secluded island feels like a beach town that has only hesitantly embraced its identity as a beach town…. Twenty-five miles of wide, multi-use trails run parallel to the main roads, and the flat terrain is optimal for biking.”
–From Moon Sarasota & Naples by Jason Ferguson

Sanibel Island, Florida 123rf
Lighthouse Point on Sanibel Island, Florida. Photo © Daniel Korzeniewski/123rf.

Granada, Nicaragua

Come for the international poetry festival, then set out for some of Nicaragua’s natural wonders. Start with experiencing the city’s colonial charm, and don’t forget to sample some of the best boating, swimming, and cycling in the country. If you can, take in the best of Nicaragua in two weeks–or pick and choose from our itinerary to craft your perfect trip.

A lot of the city’s charm lies in the interesting excursions…. Choose a day trip to Volcán Masaya, Mombacho, or the Laguna de Apoyo…. The annual Poetry Festival (February 14-20, 2016) is a knockout.”
–From Moon Nicaragua by Elizabeth Perkins

Granada, Nicaragua. Photo © Rafal Cichawa/123rf.
Granada, Nicaragua. Photo © Rafal Cichawa/123rf.

March

Big Bend National Park, Texas

Enjoy the great outdoors and get some alone time in this vast, isolated park in the Chisos Mountains.

It’s a true getaway to a relatively untouched land…. The solitude and seclusion amid a gorgeous backdrop of rugged beauty are ultimately soul cleansing.
–From Moon Texas by Andy Rhodes

Big Bend, Texas. Photo 123rf.
Chisos Mountains from Sotol Vista Overlook on the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive at sunrise, Big Bend National Park, Texas. Photo © Steve Lagreca/123rf.

St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands

Experience diverse and authentic island culture against a backdrop of Danish colonial architecture. Whet your travel appetite with our expert author’s introduction to St. Croix, then start your planning with our seven-day travel itinerary.

The largest of the U.S. Virgin Islands is the richest in history, culture, and landscapes…. Nowhere is St. Croix’s diversity more evident than in its music, food, and arts.”
–From Moon U.S. & British Virgin Islands by Susanna Henighan Potter

Salt River Bay, St. Croix, Virgin Islands. Photo © Susanna Henighan Potter.
Salt River Bay, St. Croix, Virgin Islands. Photo © Susanna Henighan Potter.

April

Cuba

Soak in the infectious energy of this enigmatic island—and perhaps even get there on a direct flight from the U.S. Here’s why you should travel to Cuba and just as importantly, five ways to immerse yourself in the experience.

Cuba is a mother lode for anyone who loves classic American autos, fine cigars, quality rums, and Las Vegas-style cabaret revues…. The tail fins of ’57 Eldorados still glint beneath the floodlit mango trees of nightclubs.”
–From Moon Cuba by Christopher P. Baker

View over the Parque Céspedes in Santiago de Cuba.
Parque Céspedes in Santiago de Cuba. Photo © Christopher P. Baker.

Bourbon Trail, Kentucky

Sample small towns and small sips of Kentucky’s spirit along this idyllic route. To make the most of your meandering along the trail, check out our five day itinerary.

Travel along the famed Bourbon Trail and you’ll get to taste more than the nation’s only native liquor…. This is small-town America, …where neighbors are never strangers and where the best cooking is home cooking.”
–From Moon Kentucky by Theresa Dowell Blackinton

Oak barrels used for aging whiskey along the Bourbon Trail, Kentucky. Photo 123rf.
Oak barrels used for aging whiskey along the Bourbon Trail, Kentucky. Photo © dcslim/123rf.

May

Hudson River Valley, New York

Catch a northbound train from New York’s Grand Central Station for a weekend of antiques and historic estates. There are plenty of day trips to the Valley for those short on time but big on travel.

A handful of majestic estates line the Hudson River…. Kykuit, the sprawling hilltop estate of the Rockefeller family, is a must-see…. If you want to browse antiques shops, …stay on the train until it arrives at Cold Spring Station.
–From Moon Hudson Valley & the Catskills by Nikki Goth Itoi

There are tremendous views to be found in the Catskills, like this scenic look at North-South Lake.
There are tremendous views to be found in the Catskills, like this scenic look at North-South Lake. Photo © Colin Young/123rf.

Cobá, Mexico

Climb the Maya pyramid Nohuch Mul at the Cobá Archaeological Zone—an increasingly rare experience.

Just an hour from Tulum are the terrific jungle-cloaked ruins of Cobá…. The view from the top is impressive—a flat green forest spreading almost uninterrupted in every direction.”
–From Moon Cancún & Cozumel by Gary Chandler & Liza Prado

Coba, Mexico, 123rf
Mayan Nohoch Mul pyramid in Coba, Mexico. Photo © Nataliya Hora/123rf.

Quito, Ecuador

Wander through Quito and enjoy the sights of cobbled, hilly Old Town in the (nearly) year-round springtime air.

Steep, narrow streets characterize [Quito’s centro historico], and cars barely fit in lanes designed for horse and foot traffic.”
–From Moon Ecuador &the Galápagos Islands by Ben Westwood

Aerial view of the city of Quito, Ecuador. Photo © Nicolas De Corte/123rf.
Aerial view of the city of Quito, Ecuador. Photo © Nicolas De Corte/123rf.

June

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Stare out at the garden of sandstone spires and see first-hand what a hoodoo is. Take three days to experience best of Zion and Bryce, or craft your own weekend escape.

Bryce Canyon isn’t a canyon at all, but rather the largest of a series of massive amphitheaters cut into the Pink Cliffs…. A short walk down either the Queen’s Garden Trail or the Navajo Loop Trail from Sunset Point will bring you close to Bryce’s hoodoos.”
–From Moon Zion & Bryce by W. C. McRae & Judy Jewell

Thor's Hammer, a large hoodoo, bathed in early morning light.
Thor’s Hammer at sunrise in Bryce Canyon National Park. Photo © Pierre Leclerc/123rf.

Prince Edward Island, Canada

Tour the quaint Charlottetown on the island inspired the bucolic setting of Anne of Green Gables and get back to nature in Prince Edward Island National Park.

L. M. Montgomery portrayed rural Cavendish as an idyllic ‘neverland’ called Avonlea, imbued with innocence and harmony. The most pastoral and historic places are preserved as part of Prince Edward Island National Park.”
–From Moon Atlantic Canada by Andrew Hempstead

Prince Edward Island, Canada, 123rf
Prince Edward Island harbor. Photo © Darryl Brooks/123rf.

July

Vancouver and the Canadian Rockies

Take an epic drive from one of Canada’s most dynamic cities to the glaciers and ice fields of Banff and Jasper National Parks. Roadtrip to Vancouver and make sure the car’s packed for camping in Banff. If you’d like to take in more of the city or Vancouver Island, here’s when and where to go.

With the purple of dusk coloring the sky, Vancouver's city lights reflect in the water.
Vancouver’s city skyline. Photo © Lijuan Guo/123rf.

Vancouver [is] a splendid conglomeration of old and new architectural marvels, parks and gardens, and sheltered beaches.”
–From Moon British Columbia by Andrew Hempstead

The 230-kilometer (143-mile) Icefields Parkway, between Lake Louise and Jasper, is one of the most scenic, exciting, and inspiring mountain roads ever built.”
–From Moon Canadian Rockies by Andrew Hempstead

Icefields Parkway and Cirrus Mountain in the Canadian Rockies. Photo © Feng Yu/123rf.
Icefields Parkway and Cirrus Mountain in the Canadian Rockies. Photo © Feng Yu/123rf.

San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

Step up your Spanish game with a short-term course at a language school in this charming town. Use these tips on learning and speaking Spanish in Mexico and bolster your studies by taking in the best of San Miguel and more with our expert author.

As evening falls, …amber streetlights illuminate the sandstone domes of 18th-century churches, while clanging iron bells herald the end of another day…. Mariachis tune their instruments and sidewalks hum with diners, gallery-goers, and revelers. This is Mexico mágico, the mythic place of corridos (ballads) alive and thriving on the high plains.”
–From Moon San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato and the Bajío by Julie Doherty Meade

San Miguel de Allende. Photo 123rf.
San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, overlooking Parroquia Archangel Church. Photo © William Perry/123rf.

August

Boise, Idaho

Savor authentic Basque cuisine in this up-and-coming capital city, which also hosts a summer Shakespeare festival in a riverside amphitheater. Before you travel, discover all Idaho has to offer.

Once you arrive in Boise, take in a summer play under the stars at the Idaho Shakespeare Festival after touring the Basque Block… a thriving ethnic enclave with restaurants, bars, and a museum.
–From Moon Idaho by James P. Kelly

The foothills of Boise, Idaho. Photo © rck953/123rf.
The foothills of Boise, Idaho. Photo © rck953/123rf.

Charlevoix, Québec

Follow the St. Lawrence River north out of Québec City for relaxingly beautiful scenery, quaint towns, and perhaps a beluga whale sighting. Once winter hits, skiing Le Massif de Charlevoix is an incredible experience–despite modernization, the mountain maintains its unique, untouched beauty.

Charlevoix’s landscape is distinct in its variety. At times pastoral and hilly, the region’s high cliffs and breathtaking fjords are adorned with tundra, while nearby, steep sand dunes rise unexpectedly along the coastline.”
–From Moon Montréal & Québec City by Sacha Jackson

Landscape of Port-au-Persil in Charlevoix, Quebec, Canada. Photo © Denis Roger/123rf.
Landscape of Port-au-Persil in Charlevoix, Québec, Canada. Photo © Denis Roger/123rf.

September

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Kayak around Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore to view these colorful cliffs at your own pace. Start planning your visit early to make the most of the experience.

The remarkable colors, cliffs, and rock formations of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore stretch out like an artistic masterpiece being unveiled.”
–From Moon Michigan’s Upper Peninsula by Paul Vachon

Miner's Castle in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan. Photo © ehrlif/123rf.
Miner’s Castle in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan. Photo © ehrlif/123rf.

Machu Picchu, Peru

Hike through the Andes–for two hours or upward of four days–to add to the unforgettable reward of seeing Machu Picchu. Make this trip-of-a-lifetime the full experience by taking on the trek to Machu Picchu, and explore the best of Machu Picchu in eight days.

The mist lifted to reveal the spellbinding sight of perfect stonework backed by the towering mountain of Huayna Picchu…. Machu Picchu is the culmination of a once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimage.”
–From Moon Machu Picchu by Ben Westwood

Machu Picchu, Peru. Photo 123rf.
Machu Picchu, Peru. Photo © a41cats/123rf.

October

Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina to Virginia

Road trip along “America’s Favorite Drive” surrounded by the warm hues of fall foliage. Take a full two weeks for the experience, and make sure you brush up on these driving tips for the Blue Ridge Parkway.

North Carolina’s High Country is no joke. The mountains are steep, and the road grows aggressively curvy, making for unworldly views as you round corners with nothing but space and the Blue Ridge Mountains in front of you.”
–From Moon Blue Ridge Parkway Road Trip by Jason Frye

Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina. Photo 123rf.
Linn Cove Viaduct, Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina. Photo © Mark VanDyke/123rf.

Oaxaca, Mexico

Celebrate Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) and the week leading up to it in Oaxaca City and surrounding towns, the best place in Mexico to experience this fiesta.

You can spend your entire week admiring altars and tapestries, and enjoying the party in Oaxaca City. Or you can head out into the valleys and hills, and celebrate…in a dozen different towns and villages. Every single one will have its own way of honoring their dead.”
–From Moon Oaxaca by Justin Henderson

La Catrina costume, Dia De Los Muertos. Photo © Alejandro Duran/123rf.
La Catrina costume, Dia De Los Muertos. Photo © Alejandro Duran/123rf.

November

Northern Sonoma, California

Visit this quintessential California wine country region on a weekday during this most popular season to beat the crowds. Between tastings, there’s always plenty of hiking, boating, and biking.

The cool, lush Russian River Valley has forests, rivers, small farms, and some of the best pinot noir and chardonnay in California…. The warmer Dry Creek Valley and Alexander Valley are home to big red wines from small family-owned wineries.”
–From Moon Napa & Sonoma by Elizabeth Linhart Veneman

Napa Valley, California. Photo 123rf.
Napa Valley, California. Photo © Andrew Zarivny/123rf.

São Paolo and Iguaçu Falls, Brazil

Head to Brazil’s economic and cultural center for urban sophistication then combine it with a side trip to Iguaçu Falls to stare into the Devil’s Throat. A stroll to take in the sights along São Paulo’s Avenida Paulista is an excellent daytime activity, as is shopping for the latest Brazil fashions between browsing antique galleries.

“Teeming with noise, activity, and a certain degree of urban chaos, …São Paolo offers a wealth of artistic, gastronomic, nightlife, and shopping options.”

“Iguaçu is not just one big cascade but a series of 275 falls that rush over a 3-kilometer-wide (2-mi) precipice. The sound is deafening, and the sight absolutely unforgettable.”
–From Moon Brazil by Michael Sommers

Iguacu Falls, Brazil, 123rf
Iguaçu Falls, Brazil. Photo © leksele/123rf.

December

Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona, Colombia

Watch the sunrise from one of the beaches in Colombia’s famously beautiful national park. Plan your visit for early December to avoid the winter holiday rush, and make certain you pack the essentials for Colombia travel.

The frequently tempestuous waters of the PNN Tayrona provide dramatic scenery, with palms growing atop massive island boulders, waves crashing up against them.”
–From Moon Colombia by Andrew Dier

Tayrona NP Colombia
Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona, Colombia. Photo © Andrew Dier.

Nashville, Tennessee

End the year to the beat–and inspiration–of Music City. Seek out live music venues as you take in the the best of Nashville in the fall and winter.

People come here to make their dreams come true…. You don’t have to be here more than a day or two to encounter truly talented musicians singing on the curb on Broadway.”
–From Moon Nashville by Margaret Littman

Nashville, Tennessee. Photo 123rf.
Downtown Nashville skyline, Tennessee. Photo © Sean Pavone/123rf.

Five Women Share Their Experiences Living Abroad

I never imagined myself living outside the United States until I took an extended trip to Mexico in 2001. After eight weeks exploring pre-Columbian ruins, ordering tacos at street stands, and strolling through bustling open-air markets, I’d fallen in love with Mexico’s warmth and color. Young and exhilarated, I blithely decided to extend my stay indefinitely.

But, as I soon learned, visiting a country and moving there are two very different propositions. Living in Mexico required far more elbow grease and patience than a vacation did, as I navigated both the complex and the mundane aspects of my new life, from immigration paperwork to Spanish-language job interviews. In the end, I loved the intermittent culture shock and ongoing challenges, and Mexico became my home.

Born in Germany, Ulrike Lemmin-Woolfrey, author of Moon Living Abroad in Australia, is a veteran expatriate who lived in both England and the Middle East before moving to Australia when her husband was transferred for work. Though she finds living overseas “positively addictive,” she agrees that it’s a challenge. “You need to be a quite adventurous and interested person,” says Lemmin-Woolfrey. “If you don’t like a challenge then it can be quite difficult. After all you have to start all over again each time: everything from finding a dentist, to not recognizing the money and brands in the stores, to settling your kids and finding new friends.”

Tackling the essentials—food, housing, work, visas—is a constant across the world. Making friends and building meaningful relationships is a more elusive part of the equation, but no less important. What does it take to feel at home in another culture, sometimes halfway across the world? The answer varies from person-to-person and country-to-country, but, many expats agree, assimilation isn’t necessarily the goal—nor is it often possible. I spoke with five women who lived in countries across the world, and asked them to share a few tips and insights about living as an expatriate in their adopted country.

Moving World Artwork, Heathrow Terminal in London.
Moving World Artwork, Heathrow Terminal in London. Photo © Jim Linwood, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

Ruthy Kanagy, Japan: On Being a Good Neighbor

Ruthy Kanagy, author of Moon Living Abroad in Japan, was born in Tokyo and raised in Hokkaido, though today she makes her home in the Pacific Northwest. Kanagy tells me that foreigners are no longer seen as exotic in Japan, as they once were, and many Japanese “have experience living overseas and are well acquainted with foreign politics and cultures.” Nonetheless, Kanagy recommends foreigners be proactive in connecting with locals in Japan. Rather than rent an apartment in the popular expatriate enclaves, Kanagy suggests that a very simple way to “blend into Japanese society and become a neighbor, is to live in areas where Japanese do.”

Once there, she suggests you reach out to your neighbors by dropping by their home with a small gift, as is often done in Japan, or joining the neighborhood association to get involved in the local community. Good advice anywhere in the world, Kanagy says, “The easiest way to make friends is to have a common interest.” A good place to start is one of the many neighborhood community centers, where you might find “classes in Japanese arts like flower arranging or tea ceremony, sponsored hikes, or ballroom dancing.”

Learning to speak Japanese is also key. “The rewards of living in Japan and making friends is proportional to speaking the language,” Kanagy says, noting that the Japanese study a foreign language in school and are very sympathetic to the challenges facing those learning a new language. “The more you make an effort to speak Japanese, the more people respond,” she adds, emphasizing that there are many phrases and expressions (like those used after a meal, for example) in spoken Japanese that are easy to learn.

Michelle Weiss, Mexico: On Sharing Studios and Speaking Spanish

Michelle Weiss, a native New Yorker, lived in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, for over 15 years. Weiss notes that the large, long-standing American community in San Miguel can ease the transition for many expatriates. “For people moving to places that have significant long-term expat communities, it is not so much that they can successfully integrate but rather that they can live in a place that accommodates their foreignness into the weave of everyday living,” she explains.

However, Weiss was able to build relationships outside the expat community by connecting to people with common interests and learning to speak Spanish fluently. “I think I was able to integrate to a high degree. My friends were Mexican. I speak Spanish,” says Weiss. “We ate the same food, listened to the same music, shared studios and professional and creative endeavors.” Speaking the language, says Weiss, isn’t just about communication, but about truly understanding the nuance of Mexican culture. “To really integrate into the culture, it is essential to speak the language,” Weiss says. “Even though many Mexicans do speak English, you will not be privy to their true selves, to the depth and subtle nuances of their culture.”

At the same time, Weiss doesn’t believe the goal is assimilation. “It isn’t necessary to leave one’s cultural experience behind to live in another country,” she tells me. “You can deepen and broaden your experience by allowing your past experiences to color your present.” However, she adds, “It is necessary to bring a sensitive and open mind, a willingness to adapt. And most importantly to always have respect for that which is different or unknown.”

Ulrike Lemmin-Woolfrey, Australia: On Enthusiastic Expats

The mix of professional opportunities coupled with the warm, outdoorsy lifestyle are what bring a lot of newcomers to Australia, where the expatriate community is both large and well-integrated. In fact, Ulrike Lemmin-Woolfrey tells me, “The vast majority of Australians are immigrants, be it first or third generation, and the mix is fantastic here: People are either visiting, studying, or working here from all over the world, and a lot are here to stay.”

With previous experience living in Europe and the Middle East, Lemmin-Woolfrey has a strong frame of reference when she says it’s “relatively easy to integrate” into the local culture in Australia. In the Middle East, Lemmin-Woolfrey found the more tight-knit expatriate community provided a “support net of people who know what you are going through when you have just arrived and are struggling with the most basic of basics.” In Australia, there is a less structured expat community, though newcomers often make connections through international schools and activities. Lemmin-Woolfrey recommends sports as a way to inspire new friendships: “Pick a team, go out and play, and you make friends in moments.”

Margot Bigg, India: On Jus Sanguis

Margot Bigg moved to India from France, after falling in love with the country on an extended visit. She lined up a job in Gurgaon, near Delhi, at a time when most expatriates in India were “young single people looking for an overseas adventure, most of whom were willing to put in long hours for low wages in return for the experience of living in such an awe-inspiring country.” India’s expatriate community has only grown in the years since, though Bigg notes that Indian law has made it more difficult for foreigners to settle in India without a considerable salary.

Bigg says the environment in India is “usually pretty positive” for foreign residents, though she notes that “few foreigners become a part of society, especially if they don’t have ancestral ties to the subcontinent.” India’s nationality laws play a role in the separation of foreigners. Biggs explains, “India’s citizenship model is jus sanguinis, meaning that ancestry—rather than place of birth—is the decisive factor in determining what it is to ‘be Indian.’”

Shannon Aitken, China: On Waiguoren and Opportunities

For native Aussie and author of Moon Living Abroad in Beijing Shannon Aitken, making local friends was key to a positive transition in China. “Personally I found it really easy to adapt, but I have to say that a lot of that was because I got a job almost straightaway and immediately found friends who helped me,” she remembered. “If you have a patient Chinese friend or colleague who is willing to show you a few things when you get here, it’s much easier.”

Aitken paints an appealing portrait of life in Beijing, where expatriates are treated with kindness and respect. “On the whole, the Chinese are incredibly welcoming to foreigners. They love it when foreigners can speak Chinese and are interested in the Chinese culture,” Aitken explains. The professional opportunities have also drawn a “huge variety of expats” to Beijing, including “families, usually here because the father or mother work in an international or diplomatic organization that has brought them over; university students here to study either Chinese or an MBA, lots of entrepreneurial people; and then people like me who come over themselves seeking cultural experiences and who hunt out jobs and a lifestyles on their own bat.”

She notes, however, that few foreigners plan to stay on China long-term, telling me, “There is a point that most people never seem to cross, no matter how fluent your Chinese, how long you’ve been here, or even if you end up marrying a Chinese person. You’ll always be a waiguoren, a foreigner.”

Expats Abroad: The Changing Paradigm

A quiet, empty street in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.
A quiet, empty street in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. Photo © Jack Newton, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

In Mexico, the fluctuating world economy had very different effects. With strong ties to its NAFTA partners, Mexico suffered heavily during the worldwide economic crash, and a considerable number of Mexican immigrants living in the United States found themselves out of work. In 2012, the Pew Research Center found that in the wake of the 2008 global economic crisis, more Mexicans were leaving the United States than coming into the country, a surprising shift in what had been decades of unrelenting northward migration.

[pullquote align=”right”]People don’t move to Costa Rica to make a fortune. They move there because they want adventure or a better quality of life.[/pullquote]Mexico’s expatriate community—which includes the largest number of Americans living outside the United States, estimated at as many as one million—was also affected. The anemic economy, coupled with increasing security concerns in Mexico, propelled many long-term residents to return to the U.S. and Canada, while sales in real estate dropped off in traditional expatriate communities like Ajijic, San Miguel de Allende, and Puerto Vallarta.

Even so, plenty of expatriates continue to live and move there. While Mexico may not have weathered the economic storm with ease, it is still a destination that appeals to people who are attracted to the country’s unique culture, the warmth of its people, and the relatively low cost of living. Today, Mexico’s expatriates aren’t necessarily looking to buy a second home or invest in the country; they choose it for the lifestyle. In San Miguel de Allende, where I lived for a number of years, expatriates own restaurants, bed and breakfasts, graphic design studios, shops, and art schools. While the entrepreneurial ambition may not equal what Shannon Aitken witnesses in Beijing, expatriates in Mexico don’t come to simply retire or live off the grid—they want to make a life in the country.

Erin Van Rheenen, a travel writer who has covered Costa Rica extensively, has seen similar changes to expatriates there in recent years as well. After 2008, she says, “Real estate sales to foreigners slacked off, and people in the U.S. hunkered down to weather the storm.” That doesn’t mean people have stopped moving to Costa Rica, but those coming now have a different attitude than their predecessors.

Van Rheenen says, “There’s a different feeling now—less ‘I want to chuck it all,’ and more, ‘How can I reinvent myself and my career in another place?’” As examples, she mentions expatriates she’s met in Costa Rica, like an American couple who bought a small parcel of land where they run a small farm and “live off the land,” and another expatriate pair who have launched a small enterprise brewing honey wine. However, as Van Rheenen explains, “Central America is not a hotbed of economic opportunity. People don’t move to Costa Rica to make a fortune. They move there because they want adventure or a better quality of life.”


So is the future a completely global job market, where professionals move as freely between Mumbai and Hong Kong as they do between San Francisco and Los Angeles, and entrepreneurs can launch a start-up as efficiently in Beijing as in Seattle? While the cultural challenges to moving overseas remain, it is certainly true that a wider range of people are finding ways to build a life and career abroad—whether that’s as a banker, a beach bum, or an entrepreneur.

Read Part Three

Expats Abroad: Emerging Opportunities

Fishing at Jade Belt Bridge, Summer Palace, Beijing.
Fishing at Jade Belt Bridge, Summer Palace, Beijing. Photo © Dimitry B., licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

Across demographics, financial factors are usually key components in a decision to move overseas, and changes to the global economy have resulted in fluctuations to immigration patterns worldwide. According to data released by the United Nations’ Department of Economic and Social Affairs in September of 2013, an estimated 232 million people live outside their country of origin, as compared to 175 million in 2000. The UN also found that migrants from developing nations are settling in equal numbers in both developed and developing regions, a change from recent decades.

[pullquote align=”right”]Although it wasn’t just the job market that inspired Aitken to relocate to Beijing, the opportunities the city offers professionally are a large part of what has kept her there for more than seven years.[/pullquote]In many emerging economies, longtime residents have witnessed the growth and diversification of the expatriate community around them. For example, after the worldwide financial crisis of 2008, employment opportunities in the United States and many European nations declined sharply. Shannon Aitken, a professional writer and author of Moon Living Abroad in Beijing, first came to China from Australia on a charity cycling tour with Oxfam. Attracted to Beijing’s traditional culture and the opportunity to learn Mandarin, she says she chose to settle in the Chinese city because she “wanted to be able to work professionally but still experience something quite foreign to [her] Australian life.” Although it wasn’t just the job market that inspired Aitken to relocate to Beijing, the opportunities the city offers professionally are a large part of what has kept her there for more than seven years.

“I originally intended to come for one or two years,” she explains. “The thing with Beijing is that opportunities keep coming up. You work on a project here and think to yourself, I’ll go home after this is over, but then just when you’re getting into that mindset, someone puts another job on your plate.” Aitken notes that even though “the true golden days for foreign opportunity are gone, there really are still so many opportunities here that you might not get back home.”

The result is a highly diverse expatriate community that ranges from families who come on diplomatic posts to entrepreneurs, university students, and executives. Most foreigners stay in the city for around three years, but Aitken says, “I no longer find it surprising when I meet someone who’s been here for 10 to 15 years.”

Like China, India’s economy is one of the fastest growing in the world, and it has also attracted professionals and entrepreneurs looking for opportunity outside the United States and Europe. Margot Bigg, a freelance journalist and Moon Travel Guides author who lives in Delhi, has noticed a change in the types of foreigners seeking opportunities in India. After the 2008 financial crisis, Bigg says, “Suddenly, there were a lot more mid-career people eyeing India as a possible place to start over, many of whom brought their families with them.” Of these, some were new to the country, while “others had Indian parents or ancestry and knew a bit about the culture already.”

The new influx represented a notable shift from the type of expatriate that chose India in the past. The previous expat population was made up of generally “young, single people looking for an overseas adventure, most of whom were willing to put in long hours for low wages in return for the experience of living in such an awe-inspiring country.”

Since 2008, the climate has lost some of its sheen for foreigners: India’s GDP growth has slowed, and the government made any foreigner earning less than $25,000 ineligible for a legal work visa—“a fortune by local standards,” explains Bigg. Despite those stumbling blocks, there are still many opportunities for executives and other skilled foreigners continue seeking jobs in India’s information technology, manufacturing, and finance sectors, adding their numbers to the entrepreneurs, adventurers, and writers typically drawn to the country.

Read the Introduction or Continue to Part Two

Movies to Inspire Wanderlust

Movies to Inspire Wanderlust

At the start of every year, feverish anticipation descends upon Hollywood. It’s awards season—a flurry of televised shows and much-coveted parties meant to celebrate the best of the previous year’s films. From the Golden Globe Awards in mid-January to the Academy Awards earlier this month, the 2014 awards season is filled with glamor and accolades. As the co-director of two film festivals, I’m always curious about the nominees, the ultimate winners, and, admittedly, the films that should but don’t get recognized.

Of course, as a travel writer, I’m often most impressed by films that manage to tell a compelling story while sparking my interest in the places featured on screen. Although films like Gravity and Captain Phillips probably won’t encourage most people to head into disaster-prone outer space or the pirate-plagued ocean, plenty of movies over the years have definitely inspired wanderlust in me and, undoubtedly, my fellow travelers. Here are films that highlight specific destinations around the world—and may just persuade you to start packing.


Sideways (2004)

In this Oscar-winning dramedy, two wayward, middle-aged men embark on a weeklong road trip through central California’s wine country, a region rife with golf courses, well-regarded wineries, and delectable restaurants. Filmed just north of Santa Barbara in and around the Santa Ynez Valley, this flick has enticed many a wine lover to recreate the movie’s tour of Santa Barbara and the Central Coast. Visit Firestone Winery—yes, that Firestone of The Bachelor fame—where you can take a tour of the giant barrel room and get a look at California winemaking behind the scenes. The Hitching Post II has been a local favorite for decades, but the restaurant’s upscale take on classic Santa Maria-style barbecue hit a new high upon appearing in Sideways, when patrons snagged so many souvenir cocktail napkins that the restaurant’s owner couldn’t keep them in stock. Get your own with a glass of their house-label Highliner pinot noir. The best way to experience this region is by car, as Jack and Miles do, stopping frequently to drink in the perpetually sunny skies, rolling golden hills, and sprawling live oaks that adorn the landscape. (Download a map of locations featured in the movie here.)

The Beach (2000)

In this Danny Boyle-directed adventure, a twentysomething traveler and his two new companions follow a strange map to a secluded island paradise in Thailand. While many dangers—from gun-toting marijuana growers to unexpected shark attacks—plague them in the wake of this decision, they do temporarily find that the “paradise” does live up to its legend. Actually shot in Thailand, the film features verdant jungles, secluded lagoons, white sand beaches, swaying palm trees, and underwater caves—all of which entice travelers annually. To experience this magical place for yourself, head to Koh Phi Phi Ley, the second largest island of Thailand’s Phi Phi archipelago, and now part of Phi Phi National Park. Essentially a ring of steep, foliage-enshrouded limestone hills, the island encloses two shallow bays, Maya Bay and Loh Samah, and a shallow inlet, Pi Ley. Maya Bay, where much of The Beach was filmed, is popular among snorkelers and scuba divers. However, the island has undergone quite a transformation since the film’s release: visitors will now encounter permanent facilities, such as restrooms, campsites, and a snack bar, and the beaches can be a lot more crowded these days.

A River Runs Through It (1992)

Based on Norman Maclean’s semi-autobiographical novella, this Robert Redford-directed drama focuses on the two disparate sons of a Presbyterian minister in rural Montana. Like Maclean’s story, the Oscar-winning movie takes place in and around Missoula in western Montana, though it was actually shot near Livingston and Bozeman in the southern part of the state; for example, Redeemer Lutheran Church in Livingston served as the father’s church in the movie. However, the reason the film inspires me to travel exists outside any of the buildings—the landscapes are truly phenomenal, particularly the crystalline, forest-lined streams that feature prominently in the numerous fly-fishing sequences. Many of these outdoor scenes were filmed on the nearby Yellowstone, Gallatin, and Boulder Rivers, and the latter two are particularly popular among fly-fishing enthusiasts today. Given the natural beauty and enviable serenity of this untamed wilderness, it’s no wonder that the state has long been known as Big Sky Country.

Somewhere in Time (1980)

Several movies underscore the diverse state of Michigan, from the gritty streets of Detroit to the wilds of the Upper Peninsula. Perhaps no film, however, is as well-regarded as Somewhere in Time, a passionate love story that was shot almost entirely on Mackinac Island, a nostalgic locale that sits at the convergence of Lakes Huron and Michigan, between the state’s two peninsulas. To this day, fans of the movie flock to its principal backdrop, the Grand Hotel, a gorgeous, many-columned edifice constructed in 1887. Resembling an enormous hilltop mansion, the hotel even welcomes non-guests who want to explore its historic public rooms and well-landscaped grounds (for a small fee).

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)

Unlike the other films on my list, the first installment of Peter Jackson’s epic, Oscar-winning trilogy wasn’t shot in the place it represents. The story’s setting is the fictional world of Middle Earth, but most moviegoers know that the entire trilogy was staged in Jackson’s home country of New Zealand. This remarkable locale is filled with picturesque lakes, rivers, valleys, meadows, glaciated mountains, jagged volcanic rock formations, and deserts, all of which were utilized in the three movies. Predictably, the films have inspired many people to venture to New Zealand, where they can visit “backdrops” like Hinuera Valley (which doubled as Hobbiton), Kaitoke Regional Park (Rivendell), Mavora Lakes (Amon Hen), and Tongariro National Park (Mordor). Although you can visit all of these locations on your own, you might appreciate taking an official, two-hour tour of the Hobbiton movie set near Matamata on the North Island of New Zealand. Here, you’ll be able to see several gardens and structures, from hobbit holes to The Green Dragon Inn, that were built for the Lord of the Rings trilogy as well as The Hobbit films.

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (1997)

Inspired by the bestselling nonfiction account by John Berendt, this atmospheric mystery focuses on a magazine reporter and his unlikely friendship with a murderous millionaire, but the real star of Clint Eastwood’s film is the town of Savannah, Georgia. With its moss-covered trees, scenic squares, atmospheric graveyards, and eccentric denizens, this coastal town routinely lures culture lovers and outdoor enthusiasts alike. The movie features several recognizable locales and has inspired many people to plan a trip to this historic destination. If you’re one of them, be sure to visit the Mercer Williams House Museum, which was once the home of Johnny Mercer’s great-grandfather and later housed restorationist Jim Williams, the focus of Berendt’s book. To follow in the film’s footsteps, take a narrated tour of the Bonaventure Cemetery (a memorable backdrop in the movie and perhaps the city’s most famous graveyard), stroll amid the shady walking paths and athletic areas of Forsyth Park, and enjoy a meal in Churchill’s Pub.

Runaway Jury (2003)

Based on a John Grisham novel of the same name, this riveting thriller pits a mysterious juror and his girlfriend against a man who manipulates court trials involving gun manufacturers. Naturally, as with many films shot in and around New Orleans, this one takes full advantage of my hometown’s iconic settings, such as Café Du Monde, the St. Charles Avenue streetcar, and a quintessential French Quarter apartment. Like Cat People (1982), The Big Easy (1986), Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles (1994), and many other movies, Runaway Jury captures the unique essence of the city and may just convince you to experience it for yourself.

Evita (1996)

Based on the popular Broadway musical, this popular, Oscar-winning biopic illuminates the life of Eva Duarte, a B-movie actress who eventually became the controversial wife of Argentinian president Juan Perón. Partially filmed on location in Buenos Aires, this energetic film highlights several historic sites in Argentina’s capital, such as Casa Rosada on the Plaza de Mayo, where Evita (played by Madonna) sings “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina” to a riveted crowd. Fans of the film may also recognize the town of Pilar, which is part of the greater Buenos Aires area, as well as the Estacion Retiro in the city’s Federal District. This Renaissance-style train station played itself in the film, not long before being declared a national monument in 1997.

Under the Tuscan Sun (2003)

Based on an autobiographical book by Frances Mayes, this sumptuous film is the ultimate inspiration for both short-term travelers and expat wannabes. It’s the enviable tale of a writer who, in the wake of a gut-wrenching divorce, impulsively purchases a run-down villa in Tuscany. Filled with zany, memorable characters, the movie also serves as a love letter to Italy, highlighting the cities of Florence and Rome, the Tuscan town of Cortona, and the seaside village of Positano on the Amalfi Coast. The climate, scenery, history, and cuisine of the country are all exalted in this life-affirming story.

Perhaps the most sought after adventure in life is to travel—to take a hiatus from reality and escape into an unknown world brimming with exotic foods, interesting culture, and picturesque views. Book-turned-movie Under the Tuscan Sun has captivated audiences since its release in 2003. Sloping valleys and decadent foods fill the screen and motivate everyday people to forgo their typical hustle and bustle and claim their own small piece of paradise. Audiences get just a taste of Italy’s old-world charm, captivating architecture, and divine landscaping. The allure of someday sipping espresso in a corner café along the cobblestone streets of Tuscany is almost impossible to ignore!

Ashley Le Sage, Receptionist at Avalon Travel


Naturally, these aren’t the only films that have inspired my yen for travel. Whenever I watch Dr. No (1962), I feel a sudden desire to fly to Jamaica, and 50 First Dates (2004) always finds me craving a trip to O‘ahu. Meanwhile, The Blues Brothers (1980) routinely makes me miss Chicago, and not surprisingly, Midnight in Paris (2011) makes it hard not to yearn for the Arc de Triomphe, the Cathédral Notre Dame, the Musée du Louvre, and all the other romantic aspects of the jewel of France. Even Mary Poppins (1964) sends me back to the picturesque streets of London, despite the fact that it was actually filmed at Walt Disney Studios! Of course, any number of movies can entice me to visit the bustling cities of Los Angeles and New York.

So, which films give you a reason to plan your next vacation?


Moon Staff Picks

Here are four films that inspire us, encourage us to hit the road, make us remember our favorite journeys, and remind us how truly wonderful traveling can be.

To Catch a Thief (1955)

In Alfred Hitchcock’s winner of the Academy Award for Best Cinematography, John Robie (Cary Grant) and Frances Stevens (Grace Kelly) fall in love while zipping along the winding roads of the French Riviera in an electric blue convertible. In addition to showcasing the staggering hills and pastel homes above the Mediterranean, this classic film pays homage to such landmarks as the Nice flower market and the Cannes Carlton Hotel. From the sprawling villa where ex-cat burglar Robie tends to his vineyards to the white sand beach at Cannes where he and Frances sunbathe and banter, To Catch a Thief could convince anyone to take a trip to the South of France!

Anna Gallagher, Publicity Assistant

The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994)

Take an old tour bus, add two drag queens and a transsexual woman, put them in the Australian Outback, and you have the cult classic The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. The film features a road trip from Sydney to Alice Springs, a small town in the heart of Australia. Along the way, viewers get a taste of the Outback towns Coober Pedy and Broken Hill, in which much of the filming actually took place. Of course, nothing beats the gorgeous views of King’s Canyon when the trio climbs it in full drag regalia to fulfill a lifelong dream. Their ultimate destination is Lasseters Hotel Casino, a real hotel where you can book a room with views of the Todd River and the mountains of the MacDonnell Ranges. I can’t watch this movie without wanting to hop in my car (or better yet, buy a bus) and drive off to parts unknown.

Cat Snell, Operations Assistant

Once (2006)

For me, the movie that always evokes the strongest travel memories is the indie musical Once. The film takes place in Dublin, where I spent the better part of a two-week literary study tour of Ireland in 2006. When Glen Hansard belts out “Say It to Me Now” and plays his ragged acoustic guitar in front of Dunnes Stores in the opening scene, I imagine that I’m back in Dublin, walking along the red brick road and people-watching as I dip in and out of boutiques and coffee shops.

In one scene in the film, Hansard even chases a pickpocket into historic St. Stephen’s Green, one of the first sites I visited. Many of my favorite memories of my trip took place in Temple Bar, and every time I watch Hansard and Markéta Irglová walking together through this district, I remember the nights spent with my fellow travelers—drinking beers, talking about all of the sites we’d visited that day, and declaring how we’d never feel quite ready to leave Ireland and head back to the States…

Jesse Wentworth, Associate Publicist

The Fall (2006)

One movie that never fails to whet my appetite for travel is The Fall, a film directed by Tarsem Singh that was shot on location in some of the most colorful and awe-inspiring sites in the world. The Fall tells a story of a journey through many fantastic lands—the high dunes of the Namib Desert, verdant rice terraces in Bali, lush botanical gardens in Buenos Aires, and the ruins of the Bayon Temple in Angkor Thom, Cambodia.

But the majority of the film is a wonderful tour of sites in the director’s home country of India. We first meet one of the characters in the City Palace in Jaipur, a major landmark built in the 1730 that features walls, ceilings, and frescoes that are elaborately decorated with intricate carvings and paintings. The film then takes us throughout India, from the “Gate of Magnificence,” Buland Darwaza, to the Emperor Akbar’s tomb and Agra Fort in Uttar Pradesh. I always marvel at the Mehrengarh Fort overlooking the Blue City of Jodhpur, the iconic Taj Mahal, and the stunning architecture of Chand Baori, a “stepwell” built in 800 AD. One of the oldest landmarks in the state of Rajasthan, this massive irrigation system collected and stored groundwater in the arid region, and also served as a gathering place for the local villagers.

The entire movie is a visual treat, and it’s sure to make you want to pack your bags for distant lands that seem like they could only exist in your imagination.

Carrie Hirsch, Marketing Associate

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