Why Bother Traveling to Small Towns?
Global travelers tend to go to the extremes when they encounter small towns. They over glorify them for their humble quaintness or resent their slowness. Either way, travelers move through small towns quickly. We see small towns as convenient stopovers on the way to the main attractions; the half way mark between bright city lights and outback adventure. But small towns are worth more than their cliché charm. Traveling to small towns is an integral part of the cultural cross section we so desperately search for. Forget Thomas Kinkade paintings of romanticized country lanes, and forget the backwards ignorance of To Kill a Mockingbird. Small towns are not about extremes. They’re about real life.
Most travelers don’t have enough time to get to know cities. According to the Beyond Disney Travel Tips official study done right now in my head, it takes an average of 18 to 22 months to really understand a city. On the other hand a small town is, well, smaller. That means you can learn it quicker and know it better in the short time you have to spend. Sure, you’re still a tourist, but at least you can appreciate the nuances of at least one small section of a new country or place.
Here are a few places that will give you inspiration to start your small town traveling.
Lexington has the classic Main Street and stone library to give it the obligatory small town charm. It also has neighborhoods of tiny but amazingly functional real life beach houses. Most of them have been passed down through families and manage to fit 16 grandchildren comfortably into 900 square feet. Lexington is the Midwest in miniature. With just over 1,000 residents, Lexington still manages to have an award winning theatre, a few really cool bars and a stunning harbor overlooking one of the largest lakes in the world, Lake Huron.
Philadelphia, South Africa
Not the Philadelphia you normally think of. This Philadelphia is located just up the West Coast of South Africa from Cape Town. It consists of two roads, an enormous church, an old graveyard that is equal parts cool and creepy, and artists. Philadelphia is easy to underestimate as a nothing town trying to lure in tourists. The ridiculous amounts of art galleries seem a bit insincere at first. But spend a bit of time there and you’ll begin to realize that this town is run by the locals for the locals. People who live here work here, growing hot peppers, running small restaurants, and making art. There’s even an aspiring fashion designer; a high school student who’s made some of the coolest dresses I’ve ever seen. The town’s appreciation for art is evident. It’s in the strange tea cup tree decorations seen throughout the neighborhood, the wavy tiled roof of the largest house in town, the old mill-turned-art-gallery and in the sheer number of local artists offering their creations at a fraction of what they’d cost anywhere else.
Cabuya, Costa Rica
Cabuya is the shy sister town to the brighter, louder, Montezuma. Both share incredible coast line in the Nicoya Region of Costa Rica. Both are a paradise for surfers, beach walkers and adventurers. But while Montezuma entertains the tourists with a zip line course and internet cafes, Cabuya focuses more on its small bakery and namesake island. You can get by with English in Montezuma, but just one kilometer away in Cabuya, Spanish is mandatory. This is a town where families still rely on the fish they catch and where Sunday naps are observed religiously.
Wicklow is fast becoming a known tourist destination for those traveling to Ireland to drink beer in Dublin…and then remember that they should also see the countryside. Wicklow embraces many of the clichés of Ireland but refuses to dance around in a leprechaun outfit. Just a train ride outside of Dublin, it’s a small seaside town that still closes everything but the church and coffee shop on Sundays, regardless of the tourism they could bring in otherwise. Instead Sundays seem to be the day where fathers take the children out fishing on the pier while mothers all meet together at the one closet-sized restaurant that’s open.
Maybe it’s poor taste to include two Michigan towns in one post. What can I say? I love my home state. Onekama, like Lexington, defines itself by a Great Lake. Only Onekama’s lake of choice is Lake Michigan. Onekama has one grocery shop, one pizza joint, one fancy restaurant for the summer visitors and one small toy store that sells t-shirts, candy and overpriced puzzles. Onekama has the remnants of Dirty Dancing style family vacations at the Portage Point Inn. It also has shoreline on both Portage Point Lake (gorgeous) and Lake Michigan (even better). While other Great Lake towns are overwhelmed with tourists during the summer, in Onekama a busy day on the beach means seeing four other people. It’s some of the most beautiful coast line in the world and it’s virtually empty year round.
So now’s the time to go travel to the places you once overlooked. What are some other small towns worth visiting?