Have you considered more small town travel this year? You’re not alone! There’s a wave of seeking off-the-beaten-path destinations to visit these days.
Maybe you’re staying local and exploring more places in your own region. Or maybe you’re traveling internationally but shirking the big cities.
However you’re traveling (or dreaming of traveling) right now, we LOVE the idea of small town adventures. That’s why we dedicated a whole session to it at the Wanderful Woman Summit.
You should especially review the session “Small Town, Big Adventure: How to Find, Visit, and Support Small Towns and Small Business.”
These travel experts offered ample insight into exploring small towns wherever you travel in the world!
Get all their tips — plus expert advice for outdoor adventures, budget travel, road trips, and more! It’s all free and available on-demand for your convenience.
Learn how to support small business and when to know if a small town can handle your tourism with these great tips from Nikki Vargas of Unearth Women, Nada Raphael of Tourleb, and Geetika Agrawal of Vacation with An Artist (VAWAA)
Check out the full recording (for free!) to hear all of their tips for finding, visiting, and supporting small towns and small business around the world.
Why We Love Small Town Travel
Small communities and small towns are the heart and soul of a place. There’s something more intimate and personal about visiting a small town.
It feels like cities have become so globalized that you could be anywhere in the world and see the same things. There’s a Starbucks and a Hard Rock Cafe no matter where you are in the world.
But small towns show off a different side of a place. It’s perhaps a more realistic view of this place, or at least a variation of it.
There’s an interdependency in small towns, too. The local creators will work with local cafes and bars; the local artisans will sell their work through local stores and accommodations.
So there’s a beauty in being able to tap into this local space even as a tourist.
Don’t forget: small town travel can be done locally, too!
The passport stamp and the far-flung destination doesn’t have to be the only dreamy travel you could plan. In fact, those bucket list types of places you’re dreaming about might just have similar locales near home.
Whether you’re considering small town travel to stay local or to get a glimpse into a different lifestyle from your own, the options are plentiful.
You could drive just a few hours and see something and somewhere utterly different. Or you could book your next international trip and include those small towns in your adventure.
Remember, just because the airport is located in a large city doesn’t mean you need to stay there.
How to Plan an International Trip to Small Towns
It can be a bit more challenging to plan travel to smaller towns. By their nature, they are less famous and written about less often than the big cities and popular destinations!
But you could start in the simplest of ways: just by looking at maps!
If you want to have some outdoor adventure, then seek out those parks or places where you can get outside. Nearby, you’re likely to find a small town that can offer a unique perspective on this place.
Another idea is to search for local events and festivals. Small towns might be locally known for very specific annual events, like a butter festival or a cider festival!
Look those up and try to plan your trip to that place to experience this local activity.
Follow local bloggers and see what they’ve written about under the “off-the-beaten-path” topic. Local bloggers love highlighting the lesser-known destinations in their areas. They have the time and interest to explore this place in-depth.
If they haven’t written about something specific that you’re seeking, it’s okay to reach out and ask for suggestions to meet your needs. Just be sure to thank the blogger for their other work!
Local travel planners are another fantastic resource.
Whether it’s a tour company like Tourleb or a local blogger offering itinerary planning services, there are plenty of options!
Seek out those local experts and pay for their help to find the best small towns to visit and the locals to support.
Finally, check out Airbnb. There is a section they offer for “nearby getaways” that might spark your interest to research even more.
Instead of just going straight to the major city you’ve heard of, start there and search a little deeper to learn even more about this place and people.
Keep in mind that your favorite travel agents or international travel businesses will likely have local contacts!
Big companies like Intrepid Travel or G Adventures love to support local endeavors. They can make recommendations to inspire your small-town adventures.
How to Find Minority- and Women-Owned Businesses
Finding and supporting minority- and women-owned businesses when we travel is an ideal way to make sure our tourism investment is staying in the community.
Finding those businesses can be a challenge.
Local tour companies, experts, and bloggers could all personally advise you. There’s a tendency for this type of local information in small towns to only travel by word of mouth.
While this is a bit more difficult, the extra research certainly pays off!
Tapping your own personal network — including the global Wanderful community! — can also help you find and support those businesses locally.
Try asking questions of the people who have been there before. Folks in travel communities love sharing their tips and tricks!
Finally, there are some places that have formal guides and listings of women- or minority-owned businesses in that location. There are many places in the US where you can access this insight, though that’s not always the case internationally.
How to Appreciate Without Appropriating
There is certainly a challenge to traveling in places with smaller tourism industries. We don’t want to commodify a place or a people when we visit, which means doing research and being respectful throughout our tourism journey.
The goal in traveling is to appreciate learning about this other place with its unique history and culture, without appropriating that culture.
So how can we appreciate this small town travel without overstepping our boundaries? Big cities and popular tourist destinations are more accustomed to having tourists around gawking at places and even people. In small towns, that type of behavior is as completely foreign as it is rude.
If there’s one positive thing to come from the chaos of 2020, it has been a pause in the mass tourism industry.
Places that were struggling with overtourism are now empty. Destinations dealing with pollution and congestion are easing into a better balance.
But that is not a forever change.
To be a responsible traveler, it’s important to ask yourself what you’re getting from this travel you’re doing.
What is your impact? Are you giving back more than you’re taking? And are you learning about this place and people and allowing it to challenge your preconceptions?
The exchange of ideas and space and time is the beauty of travel. Keeping that in mind can make such a difference in how we all travel over time!
Understanding that this place might have different values or traditions than you do and respecting that fact can open you up to unique experiences.
And remember that we all have influence!
You don’t need 100,000 followers on Instagram to influence other people’s travel choices. Your friends and family who listen to your travel stories will potentially be influenced in their future travel decisions.
Providing context to your photos and stories is the best way to ensure you’re appreciating a place and passing that appreciation on to others.
How to Travel to Small Towns Responsibly
Whether during current concerns or due to any local events or issues, being a responsible traveler is so vital to the health and safety of everyone involved.
Consider your transportation, your accommodations, your activities, and everywhere you dine or drink. Try to take care with the decisions you make for all of these interactions with locals.
We all want to make sure that we’re being respectful of local concerns as well as the impact we have on those communities.
Stay updated on local news in the lead-up to your trip so you are aware of current events and concerns.
It’s a great idea to follow bloggers, tour companies, and travel experts on social media who are local to that area. They will likely post updated information that can help you ensure you’re keeping up with local requirements or regulations.
Making a positive impact — especially in small-town travel — can leave a better impression for future travelers and their interactions with locals.
We love small town travel and hope everyone will consider heading out to meet people from other places and backgrounds in these smaller communities.
Whether it’s in your backyard or around the world, get out there and see the small towns that are the heart and soul of a place!