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Sleepy, quiet, and chilled, the small town vacation is a real travel wonder. Don’t go thinking these backwater hamlets and villages are only for retirees and baby boomers. No sir. There are hidden treasures to be had from Ohio to Oregon, along with small town charms in Middle England, rural France, the Greek islands, and beyond.
The key is knowing how to make the most of your visit to these lesser-known marks on the map.
First off, you’ll need to identify exactly what it is you’re chasing by going off-piste. Do you come to taste suburban life and the simple things? Or do you come in search of something strange, different, and unusual?
Knowing what floats your figurative boat is the first steppingstone to enjoying any small town you come across. Then, it’s about using travel tools to pinpoint those regional hotspots that simply can’t be missed. It’s about engaging with the community to discover those locals-only places. It’s about kicking back and actually enjoying the slower pace of life.
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Where to start your small town vacation
Chicago, New York, Auckland, London – it’s the big cities that hog the spotlight in the world of travel. Think of globetrotters and most folk immediately conjure images of selfies by the Empire State Building or picnics beneath the Eiffel Tower.
But the reality of life for the locals in a particular destination is very different from that. Yes, over 2.1 million people might live in Paris. But over 19% of the total population of France still resides in rural areas and small towns and villages.
To put it another way: See the Louvre and not the vineyards and you’ll miss almost a fifth of the country!
The point is, there’s a unique and amazing travel experience waiting to be had away from the mainstay metropolises; out with the tiny towns where the rhythm is snail slow and the vibes and indelibly bucolic.
This guide runs through just a few of the ways you can really get stuck into small town life and squeeze every ounce of entertainment there is from these curious destinations.
Find strange and wonderful sights
You might just be stunned at what you’ll find in some small towns.
Duranbah Beach on the coast of New South Wales has the biggest model of an avocado on the planet. San Luis Obispo in central California has a whole alleyway made of discarded bubble gum. The tiny ski town of Cardrona in New Zealand has a fence where people have been discarding their brassieres for years – it’s covered in cups both large and small!
There are now even whole websites dedicated to helping you discover these sorts of unusual attractions during your small town vacation. Head over to Atlas Obscura and simply tap in the name of where you headed. If it’s got the world’s largest cheese or a sinkhole filled with bubbling hot springs, it’ll let you know in a jiffy.
Get excited for a diverse range of small towns
Little Santa Claus on the plains of southwestern Indiana is a medley of festive themes and grottoes filled with winter elves, even in June and July. Then come the crooked pueblo houses of Taos on the old tribal lands of New Mexico. Fairlie, nestled between the snow-capped mountains of South Island NZ, meanwhile, lays claim to the best-tasting pies on the planet (we’ll let you test for yourself).
That’s just scratching the surface of what small towns can offer, too.
Weird and wonderful places with hidden facets exist all around the globe. But, because they aren’t as famous as your NYCs or Amsterdams, there’s no way to know about them. Unless, of course, you drop by and pay a visit…
The art of doing nothing
Too often is travel championed as an action-packed adventure brimming with ziplines, bungee jumps and hikes to Machu Picchu. But you don’t have to don the harness and hop out of a perfectly good airplane to make that gap year worthwhile.
In fact, there’s plenty to be said for the solitude, the isolation, and the relaxation that doing absolutely nothing can bring. And when it comes to doing zilch, a small town vacation could just be the perfect candidate. Yes, the great outdoors herald seclusion. But you won’t have the home comforts of a B&B and a local café. Those help you fill the itinerary with reading, people watching, and lazing around by eliminating the need to pitch a tent, find water, cook your food – you get the idea.
Find festivals and events to go to
The small town is the home of the local festival.
In Ireland, you’ve got shindigs celebrating the humble potato on the Ring of Kerry, and oyster festivals on the wild Atlantic coastline near Galway. The La Tomatina fest, in Spain, means flying fruit and splattered shirts in the sierra town of Bunol. In Italy, Siena offers a rich history and hard-fought bareback horse showdowns in the summer months.
If you can plan your small town vacation to coincide with events like the ones above, there’s a much higher chance you’ll find something to keep you entertained.
The joys of local’s only
They say that small town America is the real heart and soul of the USA.
One pitstop in a smoky cowboy’s bar on Route 66 and you’re sure to agree. As you sip whiskey and bed down in a desert-shrouded motel to the sound of spinning spurs and rodeos, you’ll see just how much character there is to discover in these off-beat places.
Of course, that’s not just true of small towns in the stars and stripes. Whether it’s a salt-washed fishing town on the Norwegian fjords or a rose-flowering English village filled with thatched cottages, it’s likely there’s going to be something unique to get stuck into.
Decide what sort of small town is the one for you
There are thousands of small towns out there. From backwater cowboy ranches in Arizona to rustic Italian hill towns, the variety can be daunting. So, be sure to pick one that you think fits your travel style.
Get in with the locals
When you arrive in a small town, be sure to chat and engage with the locals. A common trait of these spots is how proud the inhabitants tend to be of their small corner of the planet. They’re a goldmine for info on the top bars, eateries, parks, and more.
Check for festivals and events
Yes, the events calendar of Broadway might be packed, but that doesn’t mean small towns don’t have their own happenings. What’s more, they also promise to be something a little more left of field, whether that’s a medieval horse race or a Maori warrior dance or something else entirely.
About the Author
Since bagging his English and Ancient History degree, Rich has traveled from the canyons of Mexico to the surf-splashed bays of Bali, done five interrails, toured India, Indonesia, Thailand, and New Zealand, hiked in Italy and France, skied across the Alps, and lived in countless countries for a month or more at a time. Now at five continents and upwards of 50 countries (gaining a TEFL certification along the way), it’s safe to say he is a seasoned traveler.
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