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Mini Travel Guide: Western India

Western India on your travel bucket list? Enjoy this mini travel guide to Western India and dip your toes in Indian travel! This is one of many Mini Travel Guides, in which expats and locals are kind enough to tell us about all their favorite stuff. And then we go there immediately.

mini travel guide Western India

Hello, this is Sheena, and that’s also the name of my blog about design in India, travel and food. I was born in Western India, and though I lived in New Zealand while I was growing up, I’ve lived here for the last five years too (it’s the fresh coconuts that keep me here) – in Mumbai where in first met Sarah in real life, in Goa and in my hometown Pune.
Must go in Western India

Must Go in Western India


Still called Bombay by locals and used interchangeably, this bustling metropolis is the country’s financial center and the home of Bollywood, India’s film industry. It’s a fast-paced and densely populated dichotomy, housing some of the world’s most expensive real estate and it’s second largest slum.
Mumbai isn’t really for sightseeing. If you’ve been to Chor Bazaar, the iconic thieves market or the Gateway of India, you’ve seen enough so reserve your time for exploring and eating well.


Goa is the antithesis to Mumbai and my favourite place in the world. It’s India’s sunshine state and boasts lush paddy fields, endless palms, and a gorgeous, dramatic coastline. The former Portuguese colony is where the hippies came in droves and later the psychedelic trance movement began and Goa has mostly retained its bohemian charm.
I love the beautiful sun soaked beaches of Morjim, Ashwem and Mandrem in the north, and the quiet and solitude of South Goa but know that all over Goa, the drinks are cheap, the food is incredible and the locals are hospitable.


A hill station and strict no-car zone, Matheran is perfect for a short weekend trip. Ascend via foot, on horseback or via the slow chugging toy train and stroll past beautiful crumbling British and Parsi bungalows, shop for chikki and handmade leather shoes (it’s likely needed as you’ll definitely see a few broken sandals on your walks) and make your way to one of several scenic viewpoints for the sunset. It’s quiet and green and the perfect place to unwind.


Kutch is off the tourist trail which is odd because the region has quite a lot to offer. From Dholavira, a recently excavated ancient Indus Valley civilisation and one of the country’s most prominent archaeological sites to the Rann of Kutch, a salt desert known for its wild ass and flamingo sightings to villages around Bhuj dedicated to making textiles and handicrafts.
Must do in Western India


Must do in Western India

South Bombay for architecture

Design and architecture lovers will love South Bombay. It has the highest concentration of Art Deco buildings in the world, second only to Miami. To check them out, walk down seafacing Marine Drive, or watch a film in one of Mumbai’s art deco cinemas such as Liberty or Eros.
There are also many examples of gorgeous colonial architecture in a variety of styles such as Gothic Revival, Victorian and Indo Saracenic. Starting at the sprawling Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, walk the length of DN Road in Fort from the iconic CST station until Flora Fountain and turn left and follow the road to Horniman circle.
If you’re short on time, stroll around Oval Maidan where there are some fine examples of architecture on either side – include the Bombay High Court and Rajabai Clock Tower.

Kala Ghoda 

Kala Ghoda is Mumbai’s art and design district and houses museums and galleries – check out NGMA and Jehangir art gallery, design shops such as Obataimu and Filter and ultra cute cafes such as Kala Ghoda Cafe and The Nutcracker. Nearby Colaba is also host to many contemporary galleries – pick up a Mumbai Art Map for free and check them out!

Sanjay Gandhi National Park 

A massive national park in Borivali that’s actually within Mumbai city limits and is one of the its best kept secrets. It’s lush and green and offers a real respite from the city. It also houses Kanheri Caves, a Buddhist site of rock cut monuments which is especially lovely to visit during the monsoons when it’s dotted with tiny waterfalls that you can splash in .

Take a vacay in Goa 

Goa is made for tourism. The Saturday night flea market has independent artists and travelling hippies hawking their ultra-cool wares and it’s my favourite shopping destination in the country. The sunshine state also has some of the finest restaurants in the country offering many international cuisines. Eat at La Plage and Sublime in Morjim, Bomras in Candolim and Thalassa in Vagator.
Must eat in Western India


Must eat in Western India

Street food in Mumbai

The city’s favourite is the ubiquitous vada pav or the great Indian burger consisting of a fried potato patty in a soft bun but there’s also chaat – an array of dishes with a mixture of textures and flavours – sweet, savoury, spicy and sour. You have to try pani puri, sev puri and dahi papdi chaat. If you’re worried about Delhi Belly (Relax, you’re in Bombay!), try it at Swati Snacks in Tardeo or Elco in Bandra.

Parsi and Irani cafes

Mumbai has many Parsi and Irani cafes owned and run by communities of settlers originally from Iran and followers of the prophet Zoroaster with bentwood chairs, marble tabletops and unique, delicious grub.
Try patrani macchi or steamed fish in banana leaves, jardaloo sali boti or lamb curry with apricots topped with potato sticks, and berry pulao, the latter available at Britannia, a veritable Mumbai institution run by the cutest 94 year old Anglophile and his family.

Local Goan cuisine

Goa is for meat and seafood lovers. You’ll find the best fare in small shacks on the beach, where you can often see the day’s haul come in. Ask for rava-fried prawns, recheado squid and tangy fish curries. It’s also home to the vindaloo (but better than you know it) and many lesser known but equally delicious dishes such as sorpotel, Goa sausages, xacuti and cafreal.
Cultural tips for traveling in Western India


Cultural tips for traveling in Western India

Mumbai is cosmopolitan and safe, especially for solo women travellers though as with anywhere, it pays to be cautious.
Like many tourist oriented destinations, Goa runs in season, typically beginning after the monsoon in October and running until before the peak of summer in April and this is the best time to come! Goa is mostly liberal (no topless sunbathing though) and you may mostly dress as you wish except when visiting the churches, where arms and legs need to be covered.
Dress modestly in Kutch.
Learn to bargain. Haggling is a big part of the culture although more and more street vendors now work with fixed price for which there are usually signs.
We generally tip around 10% in restaurants.
cheap travel in Western India


Travel on the cheap in Western India

The Indian rail system is very well connected and although it fills up well in advance and can be quite confusing, there are quotas allocated for tourists which can be obtained from tourist offices.
Government buses are another good bet for getting around, they’re affordable and timely, and easier to snag a seat on.
Try to couch surf or stay with friends in Mumbai, as Mumbai offers very little value for money when it comes to accommodation. If your budget can be stretched a wee bit, Abode boutique hotel offers great options with a heady dose of cool design.
In Goa, cheap accommodation is plentiful. Stay in simple huts on just off the beach for under $15 and rent a scooter or motorbike to get around as taxis are expensive.
Thanks so much for sharing, Sheena! Indian readers, I’d love to hear from you – what are your must-gos and must-dos for in Western Indian travels?

Mini Travel Guide: Vanuatu

Never heard of Vanuatu? In this mini travel guide to Vanuatu you can learn more about this great travel destination. This is one of Mini Travel Guides in which expats and locals share their favorite things with us.
travel guide Vanuatu
Hi! I’m Gaea. I spent three years in the Peace Corps on the stunning islands of Vanuatu. I lived on two of the islands and visited as many of the other 80 as I could. I documented my adventures here.
To really experience the diversity of life on these tiny islands you need to taste fresh baked laplap, hike a volcano, watch coconut-hatted dancers and drink a few shells of kava. Though each piece of this country has a unique culture and language, the things they share are broad smiles and bright laughter.
Must do in Vanuatu

Must Go in Vanuatu

The Outer Islands

Port Vila, the capital city and main international airport, was born from the blending of hundreds of culturally distinct groups who live on the outer islands. Head out of town and stay at a bungalow on the outer islands. Spend your evenings drinking kava with the papas or storian (chatting) with the mamas. You’ll be treated like family and bungalows are great launching points for hikes, swimming or cultural experiences like gardening and dancing.

Tanna Island and Mt. Yasur Volcano

Mt. Yasur on Tanna Island is one of the most active volcanoes in the world. Listen to the rumbling of the volcano as you hike three hours to the rim where the eruptions happen in front of your toes. Stay until Friday to visit the Jon Frum cargo cult, a religion that bridges the divide between Christianity and traditional beliefs.

Pentecost Island and Land diving

The land divers of Pentecost bless each yam harvest by leaping from a tower of lashed together branches with vines tied to their ankles. After two Kiwi travelers watched them dive, they created the watered-down version we know as bungee jumping. This ceremony only happens between April and June when the vines are the right, so time your trip appropriately. While you are there, enjoy the Jurassic Park feeling of Pentecost Island by hiking through the jungle to crystalline waterfalls.
Must do in Vanuatu

Must Do in Vanuatu


The coral reefs surrounding the islands of Vanuatu are home to world-class diving and snorkeling. If you’re a first time diver, get your feet wet with a single dive. For experienced divers, head to one of the many wrecks or look for sea turtles and dugongs among the coral bommies.

Cultural festivals

Almost every island has a cultural festival to celebrate and share their dances, arts, language, and history. Spend a weekend sleeping in a bungalow, eating food fresh from the garden and learning about the complex culture of one corner of the country.

Drink Kava

Whether you head to a kava bar in town or drink in a traditional nakamal on the island, the kava experience is not to be missed. Kava is made from the root of the kava plant and tastes much like the ground it’s grown in. Knock back your half a coconut shell quickly and then enjoy the view or the conversation.
Must eat in Vanuatu

Must Eat in Vanuatu


The national dish of Vanuatu is rarely a favorite with visitors, but it is worth tasting once. This starchy meal is made by baking mashed bananas, manioc or taro in a ground oven. For fancy meals, the laplap is covered in coconut milk or meat. The more palatable option is laplap simboro, a version made by rolling the starch into “burritos” of island cabbage and boiling them in coconut milk.


Pineapples in Vanuatu are what the Greek gods dreamed of when they asked for nectar. Visit the Mama’s market in downtown Port Vila in January for the best selection.
Cultural tips for traveling in Vanuatu

Cultural Tips for traveling in Vanuatu

Smile. Everyone smiles and laughs at everything. Join in the merriment and be part of the fun.
The standard of dress in Vanuatu stopped with the missionaries. Men and women wear clothes that cover their knees and women are expected to wear skirts outside of town. Though men can go shirtless in informal environments, women should avoid wearing strappy tank tops or shirts that show their bellies.
Saying no to someone is rude. Instead, people will tell you what you want to hear, even if it lacks accuracy.
cheap travel in Vanuatu

Travel on the cheap in Vanuatu

There are two ways to get places in Vanuatu: quickly or cheaply. In town, the buses (16 passenger vans) have no set routes and will drop you where you are going in the order they picked you up. The taxis will take you directly there, but over charge you for the pleasure.
When traveling to other islands, planes are usually reliable but very expensive. Ships are cheap but may take a few days to reach your destination. If you have the time, bring a jar of peanut butter and some bread and make the ship ride part of the experience. Most importantly, be flexible in your travel plans. Set up your return to be back in Port Vila a few days ahead of your international flight and then go with the flow. Whatever happens, there will be an adventure to go with it.
Thanks so much for sharing, Gaea! I’m sure lots of Kiwi and Aussie readers have been to Vanuatu – do you guys have any tips to share? 

Mini Travel Guide: America’s Pacific Northwest

America’s Pacific Northwest is more than just beautiful Instagrammer’s photos! This mini guide to the Pacific Northwest will definitely wet your appetite for some travel. This is one of many Mini Travel Guides in which we ask locals about their favorite things and insider tips. You can find previous guides (both international and domestic) here

Mini travel guide the pacific northwest
Hi! I’m Sam from The Philosophy of Kindness. Five years ago I flew to Seattle on a whim. It was love at first sight. One month later my bags were packed and I never looked back.
When I think of the Pacific Northwest I think of it’s the green forests, cities that incorporate nature at every turn, mountains, farms, harbors, coffee shops on every corner, thrift shops and half off bookstores everywhere, and the quirkiness of cities that celebrate being offbeat.
Must Go in the Pacific Northwest

Must go in the Pacific Northwest

The Oregon Coast

If breathtaking is what you are looking for the coast is where you need to head. It’s 363 miles of isolated beaches dotted with quaint seaside towns, cliffs, sand dunes, sea stacks jutting out of the ocean, picturesque lighthouses and great spots to view sea lions.

Stanley Park, Vancouver, B.C.

Stanley Park is a breath of fresh air if you are looking to escape the city. There is so much to do here. Tour the Rose Garden, visit the First Nation totem poles or stand inside a 700-year-old cedar tree. However a stroll around the seawall shouldn’t be passed up. If the tide is in enough you can look over the side and see huge purple starfish clinging to the rock below.

Granite Falls, WA

The quaint town isn’t so much the destination, but it is the main stopping point to get info and park passes for Mountain Loop Highway. The Highway cuts its way through the Cascade Mountain Range where you can find camping sites, lakes, hiking trails, and picnic areas can be can be found throughout the area. The biggest attraction are the Big Four Ice Caves, which are a short hike from the highway. Further down the road is Monte Cristo, once a booming prospectors city now it’s a ghost town.
Must do  in the Pacific Northwest

Must Do in the Pacific Northwest


If you are looking for a unique event Seafair is a summer long festival that takes place throughout Seattle. At any given time you can take part in the Solstice Parade celebrating artists, watch milk carton boat derbies, or check out the Seafair pirates storming the beach. Every town also seems to host their own street fairs where you can check out the local handcrafted scene.

Get out of the city

Hood Canal, Olympic National Park, San Juan Islands, Mount Rainier, Mount St. Helens, Earth Sanctuary, Mount Baker, Mount Hood the list goes on. If you are visiting a city you can easily find a National or State park within a hour or two drive from where you are staying. The Cascades surround the area and are beautiful to view from the city but are spectacular to hike through.

Take a ferry

They are rather an inexpensive way to get around and offer some of the best views around. Plus if you they aren’t a normal tourist attraction so they will drop you off in non­-tourist spots that are fun to explore.
Must eat  in the Pacific Northwest

Must eat in the Pacific Northwest


The coffee culture in the Pacific Northwest is unlike anywhere else in the US. Skip Starbucks or anything with a name you recognize and go to any of the local cafes. Many coffee shops roast their own beans and if they don’t, they surely buy from local roasters. Try a pour over to bring out the flavor profiles or a Chemex to share.

Dungeness Crab

It’s sweet, tender, meaty, and best of all it’s a sustainable seafood. There are so many ways to cook it. You can find it in crab cakes, chowder, wontons, but my personal favorite is just to dip it in butter and savor the flavor.
Cultural tips for traveling  in the Pacific Northwest

Cultural tips for traveling in the Pacific Northwest

The Pacific Northwest is a really liberal area. We are very much about environmental causes, sustainability, buying local, and organic. You will see trash, recycling, and compost bins everywhere.
People here are really friendly, especially in the the more touristy areas. Bus drivers were one of the best sources I found in regards for help in getting around and information on what to see and do.
cheap travel in the Pacific Northwest

Travel on the cheap in the Pacific Northwest


Outside of the cities transportation can be difficult. However buses and bikes are a great way to get around. There are two options for traveling between Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver. Amtrak operates between the cities and you can get great views of the ocean from the train. The Bolt Bus also runs between the cities and you can get a seat for as low as $1.


Hostels are a great way to go and can be found in each city.

Things to do in the Pacific Northwest

In the summer is when the Pacific Northwest comes alive. There are festivals, an abundance of parks to visit, Shakespeare in the Park, Pow Wows, farmer’s markets (usually there is live music), and parades. All of these things are free or very minimal cost. Also many areas offer year round art walks and markets with entertainment. Some museums also offer free entrance certain times each month.
Thanks, Sam!  I’m sure lots of you guys are native P.N.W.-ers. What else do we need to know about or other travel tips for the Pacific Northwest?
P.S. I’m looking for expats and locals to write Mini Travel Guides about these places. Is that you?

Mini Travel Guide: Myanmar

Myanmar is rarely traveled, which makes it a unique travel destination. This mini travel guide to Myanmar will give you a taste of this not-very touristy locale! This is one of many Mini Travel Guides in which locals and expats share their favorite things with us!
mini travel guide to Myanmar
Hi, I’m Laura and today I want to give you the lowdown on one of my favourite countries – Myanmar. I’ve been working with Burmese refugees in Thailand for over 2 years and will be making the move to Burma soon. Every time I’ve hopped over the border to neighboring Myanmar I am rewarded through encounters with kind hearted people, a chance to enjoy a slower pace of life and the feeling of stepping back in time to a place where things are haphazard, modern amenities are lacking but people care for one another and are happy to see tourists.
Must go in Myanmar

Must go in Myanmar

2 weeks is a great amount of time to visit and travel around Myanmar. It is a country to be experienced and savored not rushed!

Shwedagon pagoda

Starting in Yangon you must take a trip to the Shwedagon pagoda – It is said that inside the golden stupor are hairs from Buddha himself! It’s the most famous pagoda in the country and when visiting the golden complex you can see real Burmese life happening with families getting together and catching up or couples meeting for a slow walk and lingering conversation (public displays of affection are a no-no)!


Further up the country Bagan is a stunning array of temples as far as the eye can see. It’s a magical place that makes you feel as if you have found a forgotten kingdom. Climb to the top of one of the bigger pagodas at sunrise to be astounded at the amount of temples unfolding with the morning or take a balloon ride at sunset to truly feel the magic of this place! Top tip – the horse drawn carriage drivers know the best spots to visit so let them guide you!

Lake Inle

Finally take a boat out on the lake of Inle to see traditional fishermen, floating gardens and riverside life. Starting at sunrise you can easily spend a whole day stopping at villages along the banks of this giant lake in Shan state and its one of the natural wonders in Myanmar.
Must do in Myanmar

Must do in Myanmar

Visit a market

Myanmar’s markets are amazing! You can find beautiful antiques next to colorful spices alongside strange foods – every time I go I am rewarded with seeing a new kind of vegetable! Buy spices, tea, traditional longyis (skirts) or wooden umbrellas to take home as souvenirs – the tacky I ‘heart’ country t-shirts and keyrings are not yet popular so you can buy some truly unique gifts here.

Talk to Myanmar locals

Whether wandering around downtown Yangon or sitting in a teashop in Mandalay you will likely be approached by someone wanting to practice their English. Due to former British occupation you will find many older people with great English (and British accents to match!). Chatting with people is a great way to discovering what life was like under military rule and how they are affected the recent changes in their country.
Must eat in Myanmar

Must eat in Myanmar

Tea leaf salad 

Myanmar has a surprising array of salads – tomato, pennyworth, ginger, cucumber – but the most famous one is Tea leaf salad (La-phet–toe). A must try this dish is made from pickled tea leaves, roasted peanuts, broad beans and sesame seeds, garlic, tomato and sometimes small dried shrimps. Eaten as a snack or main meal, it’s delicious and available all day long (but don’t forget tea leaves have caffeine so don’t eat it for dinner if you want to sleep early!)

Breakfast and tea

Myanmar is famous for its teashops with small stools, lighters hanging from the ceiling and over sweetened tasty drink concoctions. Some are open all day but I have always found the best food to be served in the early morning and the most popular places run out by 10am. Try a cup of milk tea, naan bread and chickpea curry or opt for the more traditional Mohingha soup, a noodle soup dish that is popular for breakfast. If there is no English menu just take a look at the other customers and point, or order one of everything, tea shops are cheap and delicious!
Cultural tips for traveling in Myanmar

Cultural tips for travel in Myanmar

Be aware that tourism is still new to people so don’t be shocked if they stare, just smile as they will always return an even bigger smile. Conservative and breathable clothing is advised, traditionally Burmese women cover their shoulders and knees so I wouldn’t recommend short skirts or vest tops. Longyis (traditional Burmese skirts) are a great way of staying cool whilst covering up.
On the whole Burmese people are very welcoming and open people. They rarely try to rip you off and will go out of their way to help you. Haggling in markets is usually done for fun, but remember the average monthly wage is about $50 so haggling over the odd dollar is bad etiquette.
Travel on the cheap in Myanmar

Travel on the cheap in Myanmar

Myanmar is a very cheap country (except when it comes to hotels) – I would recommend booking accommodation before you go so you are not left stranded and have to pay for expensive rooms. I would avoid flying as internal flights are expensive and most of the airlines are tainted with ties to the former military government. Buses are fast and cheap but their air conditioning is usually very cold so take a jacket or prepare to freeze!
Thanks so much for sharing, Laura!  Have any of you guys been to Myanmar? Any Myanmar travel tips to share?

Mini Travel Guide: The Appalachians

The Appalachians are a beautiful mountain range in Eastern United States perfect for road tripping! Enjoy this mini travel guide to the Appalachians. This is one of many Mini Travel Guides in which locals and expats share their favorite things with us. 
Mini travel guide to the Appalachians

Hi! I’m Kelly. I’ve lived in Virginia my whole life, with a yearlong stint in West Virginia for Americorps, and two years in North Carolina for graduate school. The Appalachian Region is, in my opinion, among the most beautiful and friendly our country has to offer. Come check it out!

Must do in the Appalachians

Must go in the Appalachians

FloydFest, Floyd, VA

This annual summer festival is a must for music lovers or anyone who is bummed they missed Woodstock. Spend a few days near the beautiful Blue Ridge Parkway, pitch a tent, and make some new friends by the campfire. You can also float down the Little River or add a mountain-biking excursion while you’re at it.

The Greenbrier Resort, White Sulphur Springs, WV

No reservations are required to drop in on this gorgeous hotel steeped in history. Established in the late 1700s, the hotel was occupied at different times by both sides during the Civil War, and as an internment facility for diplomats during World War 2. In the 1950s a bomb shelter was constructed under the hotel, to be used to house Congress in case of a nuclear attack. The bunker was exposed and decommissioned in 1992, and can be viewed on tours that are open to the public.
must do in the Appalachians

Must do in the Appalachians

Sinkland Farms Pumpkin Festival, Riner, VA

Have you ever wanted to take a hay ride to pick your own pumpkin? Here’s your chance. Every weekend in October the Pumpkin Festival provides just that opportunity, along with kettle corn, ice cream, a corn maze, and if you’re lucky, “punkin chuckin” (watching a pumpkin being launched into a field by a giant lever is way more fun than you would think).

State Fairs

The North Carolina State Fair, held every fall in Raleigh, is an impressive display of rides, food, and livestock. Make sure to try a deep fried Oreo, or if that’s not your speed, grilled corn on a stick (delicious!). The West Virginia State Fair, held in August, is a much smaller version of the same. Grab some homemade donuts and stroll by one of the livestock barns to watch children with exceptional wrangling skills show their prize sheep (and learn a thing or two about animal husbandry in the process).
Must eat in the Appalachians

Must eat in the Appalachians


It’s no secret that North Carolinians love their barbecue. The Lexington Style (tomato or ketchup-based) v. Eastern Style (vinegar-based) feud is older than the Duke-UNC rivalry. Any visit to the state is a good chance to fill-up on barbecue and decide which style works for you.

Vineyards + Breweries

Wineries have been popping up all over Virginia in recent years. You can get your fill of wine, but also try high-quality beer and cider thanks to the Brew Ridge Trail, a group of small craft breweries. Many of the wineries are located on beautiful properties that make for great picnics, and live music is generally offered in the summer months.

From the food trucks

Durham, NC has a wide variety of offerings that are served via food truck. Pizza, popsicles, and Korean are just a few of your choices. Look for them at community events or outside of bars and breweries on weekend evenings.
Cultural tips for traveling in the Appalachians

Cultural tips for traveling in the Appalachians

Basketball is almost a religion in North Carolina. If you’re not a basketball fan but you’re hoping to meet people on your trip, it’s probably a good idea to brush up on some of the state’s teams before you go.
Everyone I met during my year in West Virginia was very conscious of the state’s “redneck” reputation. Some despise it, a few are proud of it, but fewer still actually fit that description and no more so than any other state.
Cheap travel in the Appalachians

Travel on the cheap in the Appalachians

The Appalachian Region is blessed with the perfect land for outdoor activities. In every state you can find hiking trails, rivers, bike paths, and so much more. Even if you don’t feel up for a hike on the Appalachian Trail just yet, there are plenty of free options for being active. And if you find yourself near Fayetteville, WV, make sure to check out the spectacular New River Gorge Bridge, which you can cross on foot on Bridge Day in October.
Sarah Duke Gardens at Duke University: These stunning gardens are free to the public, and feature displays of native southeastern plants as well as plants of eastern Asia.
Thanks so much for sharing, Kelly!  Do you Appalachian readers have any other travel tips to share?

photo 1 by nicholas t // photo 2 via dreams in hd // photo 3 by adrian valenzuela // photo 4 by sodanie chea // photo 5 by us navy imagery // 
photo 6 by nicholas t 

Mini Travel Guide: The Mountain West of America

The Mountain West in the United States is full of Big Sky and great outdoor sights that can’t be missed! Enjoy this travel guide to the Mountain West. This is one of many Mini Travel Guides in which locals and expats share their favorite stuff! This one comes to us from Lauren.

Mini travel guide to the Mountain West


Big skies, tall mountains, and snowy peaks into July, the Mountain West is exactly what I read about in the history books. Though I never thought I’d live here, after almost 10 years in New York and DC, I decided that I’d try the Mountain West out for a few months. Almost a year later, I’ve backpacked in Colorado, Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho, and skied Big Sky, Winter Park, and Bridger Bowl. Needless to say, I might be sticking around for a while.
Must go in the Mountain West


Must Go in the Mountain West

Bozeman, Montana

Affectionately known as “Boz-angeles”, this small Montana college town has a mixed personality of wild-and-free adventure types and Ph.D-holding environmentalists. With unparalleled skiing in the winter, and tons of free lectures, outdoor film screenings, and local food festivals in the summer, it’s hard to find a bad time to visit.

McCall, Idaho

McCall is one of those towns you’ve never heard of, which is the reason you should visit. About 90 minutes north of Boise, a McCall winter holds skiing, snowshoeing and Winter Fest, which draws 10,000 people for a weekend of music, food, and ice sculptures. Summer brings aqua enthusiasts for kayaking, fishing, and sitting in a cafe on the shore of the Payette Lake, staring into tree-covered mountains.

Breckenridge, CO

Though Breckenridge is a famed ski town, its high season is actually summer. With long, warm days, and clear, cool nights, Breckenridge has that small-town charm and is nestled in the heart of an outdoor playground. Have breakfast on Main Street, get to the trailhead at 9 am, hike for a few hours and then go fly-fishing on the Colorado River, all before dinner.
Must do in the Mountain West


Must Do in the Mountain West

Get thee to a National Park

Put that RV to use and start driving! Wyoming’s got the Grand Tetons, Montana, Idaho and Wyoming share Yellowstone, Utah’s home to Zion and Bryce Canyon, and Colorado has Rocky Mountain National. And those are just the major ones!

Go floating

Here’s what you do: grab your friends, buy a bunch of inflatable inner tubes, pack a few p-cords and your adult beverage of choice and launch into one of the rivers. In Montana, there are the Gallatin, Madison, and Yellowstone, which flow just leisurely enough for you and your friends to spend a day on the water, cold drink in hand, and still making it to town in time for happy hour. Win!

Relax with a soak

With natural hot springs abounding, outdoor soaking is a popular activity at night after a hard day playing outside. Usually only costing around $5, some hot springs have yummy treats, local beers on tap, and live bluegrass music.
Must eat in the Mountain West


Must Eat in the Mountain West


I’ve been a vegetarian since 2008, but when, within the first week of me landing in Montana, a friend of mine tossed me an elk burger that he had hunted himself the previous fall, I couldn’t say no.

A nice, cold microbrew

The winters are so long and cold here that a local has to get through it somehow. Instead of paying for a mediocre beer in a can, try a local beer or cider on tap. And because it’s local, no shipping is required. Friendly for the environment and friendly for your wallet!
Cultural tips for traveling in the Mountain West

Cultural tips for traveling in the Mountain West

People hunt and own guns, but still believe in social equality.
Being from the east coast, I found that the number of people here who own guns and actually used them to be shocking. But, most of these people also believe in social equality, lessening our overall impact on the environment, and other stereotypically “liberal” ideals.
Expect to be invited on an outdoor adventure rather than to happy hour.
As I was making friends here in the Mountain West, I found that instead of grabbing brunch or 2-for-1 beers, we’d hike after work or cross-country ski on Sunday morning. Better on my waistline for sure.
cheap traveling in the Mountain West


Travel on the cheap in the Mountain West


If you want to get the most bang for your buck, pack a tent and camp. Since so many people camp out here, some campgrounds are equipped with pools and even hot tubs! Sure, you’re sleeping in a tent, but leave the fly off at night, watch the moon rise, and you’ll forget all about that bedbug-ridden mattress from the Super 8 down the road.

Rent a camper

Cruise America rents RVs to get around between the National Parks. These puppies will cost you some change in gas, but you have the option of traveling AND sleeping in them. And! Walmart allows all RV’s and campers to stay in their parking lots for as long as they want for free. Say what you will about Walmart, but after a long night of driving around looking for a campground, sometimes it’s nice to know that mall police won’t be knocking on your door at 2 am telling you to move on.
Thanks so much for sharing, Lauren!  I know tons of you live out west – what other advice can you share or other Mountain West travel tips?

photo one by dawn, cc // photo two by thomas green, for sale here // photo three by evil erin, cc // photo four via tapirtantrum // photo five by america y’all, cc // photo five by bhantu.t, cc