A few times in the past year, we’ve headed to relatively unknown small towns in rural locations. We’ve had interesting comments from people when announcing those destinations. “Why are you going there of all places? XYZ is a much better city!” “That is hardly a good representation of [insert country].” “Why on earth would you go to [insert city name]?”
I find it kind of amusing, really. Everyone has their own travel style. Yes, there are some really popular places to see; often for a good reason. Umm, Paris comes to mind immediately. It kind of comes down to why you travel or your travel style. There is no right or wrong way to travel. We’re just different.
Sure, we’d like to see the popular sites, but really what gets me the most interested is seeing the parts others don’t see. People who have been to Marrakech often don’t get why I love Morocco. Well, that’s just one of many facets to the north African country. For me, I found Morocco in Essaouira, and even more so in the relatively small town of Guelmim.
Big cities have their attractions for sure. Recently, we’ve visited Sydney and Melbourne and absolutely loved them. But in Australia, I’m even more in love with our tiny village of Buninyong and the bigger town of Ballarat. To me, these locales are Australia.
One thing I’ve noticed in all my travels is that big cities tend to be very much alike. They all have their own cool things, sights, interests, culture, and vibe, but they tend to be more homogeneous. I feel small towns represent more of the local culture than the large, metropolitan communities.
Sometimes they’re less welcoming than large cities, but generally speaking I’ve had some of my best experiences while in smaller, rural areas. You may also miss out on the conveniences of a large city such as an easy transportation system, a plethora of restaurants offering a variety of ethnic cuisines, sights and attractions, but to me it’s all worth it.
Just like when people visit primarily touristy attractions, you miss out on a lot of culture when you only visit the popular big cities.
And some large cities just aren’t all that wonderful either. For instance, Jakarta was one of the least interesting cities I’ve been to, yet it’s huge. You know it’s going to be challenging when you ask a longtime local for tips on things to see and she responds: “I was hoping you’d tell me.” Unless you’re a mall rat or a kid, you’re not really going to find a lot of interest in this city of at least 10 million people.
After several days in Vietnam’s capital, we retreated to the mountain town of Dalat and absolutely loved it. There isn’t much in the way of attractions, but we hardly ever saw another Westerner which by itself made it wonderful. Restaurants were designed for locals, not tourists. Yeah, we were a bit of an attraction ourselves, but it was an incredible 2 weeks, and I would’ve happily stayed there longer.
When planning travel, don’t underestimate the value of rural, small towns. You just may find something incredibly special.
What has been your experience with visiting small towns or untouristed places?