Many times when you’re traveling long-term, and sometimes even during shorter trips, you’ll find yourself having to stay a night or two in a small town with not much to do. Instead of sitting around complaining about how you have to waste a travel day, use these tips to make the most of your small town stopover.
1. Get To Know The Locals
If you’re having trouble finding interesting things to do in the town you’re in, look to the people to satiate your curiosity. Get to know interesting locals like artisans, bartenders and chefs and hear their stories. Learn about their up upbringings, what they do in their spare time, their jobs and their unique life experiences in the town you’re visiting.
2. Ask For Recommendations
Segueing from getting to know the locals, you can also look to these people for recommendations on things to do. Certain experiences aren’t apparent upon simply walking down the street. Maybe there’s a bakery that serves an unusual pastry, a nearby scenic hiking trail or a bar that makes interesting handcrafted cocktails. If anyone can give you a recommendation for something that will pique your interest, it’s a local. Additionally, reach out to tour guides, hotel staff and other tourism workers who have a vast knowledge on interesting things to see and do.
Jamaica State Park is an easy day trip from West Townshend, Vermont
3. Take Day Trips
No matter where you are, there are often interesting things to do within a few hours. National parks, historical attractions, theme parks, vibrant botanical gardens, big cities and cultural villages are some things that can be experienced near to your small town home base. Ask your hotel, locals and other travelers for their top picks.
4. Head To A Museum
Sometimes learning the backstory of a place can help you appreciate it more. Maybe that small park you saw was the site of a historical battle, or the restaurant you ate dinner in was a favorite of John Wayne (like The Outlaw in the small city of Ouray, Colorado). I’ve learned about haunted sites, public scandals, local celebrities and where to find heritage buildings this way. For example, when in the old mining town of Ouray, Colorado, after a bit of prying I was able to discover some old ghost towns in the area. It was intriguing to hear tales of the people who once lived in these towns and to actually see their homes and hangouts.
5. Keep An Open Mind
If you arrive in the town thinking “Wow, this is going to be boring” then it will be. Instead, keep an open mind and seek out interesting experiences. Wander around, peruse shops and sights and keep an eye open for anything that might be worth taking notice of. Something as simple as stepping into a woodworking shop and chatting with the craftsman can help you to discover something special about the town. Additionally, sometimes small towns have passionate philosophies that can be interesting to explore, as well. For example, when I spent a day walking around Brattleboro, Vermont, it was palpable how much the tiny town focused on “going local.” Every shop sold locally produced products, and the businesses all worked together to help each other out.
6. Just Relax
If you can’t find something to do, why not take the opportunity to just relax? Do nothing, watch TV, write in your journal, get a massage, drink wine, take bubble baths, lay in bed and read…Anything you find relaxing and rejuvenating.
7. Give Yourself A Mission
To make your small town stay more interesting and learn about a specific facet of the town, give yourself a mission. Seek out the area’s juiciest burger, try to learn about local art or create an album of beautiful landscape photographs that you take while exploring the area. This allows you to delve deeper into a topic that interests you, which will make your small town stay more interesting.
Mazapan handicrafts in Calderon, Ecuador
8. Discover A Local Specialty
Most places, including small towns, usually have something they’re known for. It may be something they’re only well known for by community members, however, it’s usually still worthwhile. Find out what it is and try it for yourself. Maybe they’re known for having great seafood, or making a special kind of handicraft. For example, the small town of Calderon in Ecuador is well known for making masapan handicrafts. They are made of bread and then laminated with clear glue to make different figures. Not only are they aesthetically pleasing, they have a cultural meaning, as masapan is used to honor the dead in Calderon.
9. Plan For Your Next Stop
If you can’t find anything you want to do in the town you’re in, take some time to plan for the rest of your trip. Find an Internet cafe and do research, read blogs, peruse travel guides and look at photos to decide how to best allocate your time for the rest of the trip.
10. Stop At The Library
So maybe the town library doesn’t scream “exciting!” but you can often find a lot of information, history, exhibits and classes at these places. Stop in, take a peak to see if there a seminar schedule and check out what’s inside. At the very least, you can always find an interesting book to help you pass some time.
This post was adapted from my original article on Gadling. Featured image via xameron.