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Travel Planning: Choosing Between A Big City Or Small Town
Finding things to do
In a big city, you're never at a loss for things to do. There are street performers, markets, parks, shops, theaters, clubs, bars, restaurants, museums, art galleries, spas and more. Doing something as simple as riding the subway or people watching at a cafe can provide hours of entertainment, as big cities tend to attract some of the most interesting people in the world.
This doesn't mean small towns are boring. You just may have to get creative or choose a place that offers an activity that you will be happy doing often. For example, on a trip to Germany I spent some time in the tiny, cobblestoned village of Bacharach. While there were no shopping malls, big theaters or nightclubs, there were endless opportunities for hiking, wine tasting and sailing on the picturesque Rhine River. Most importantly, not a moment went by that I felt bored or unhappy with my travel decision.
For the most part, big cities tend to be more expensive than small towns. Accommodation, activities, food, and transportation will usually cost more. Even if they don't, you're less likely to enjoy the free things nature has to offer – like in a small town – and more likely to splurge on costly shows and events. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, depending what your budget is and what you want to get out of the experience. It is just something to keep in mind.
Getting to know the culture
Every place has a culture. Whether you're in a highly populated, bustling metropolis or in a rural village with a population of 10, the inhabitants of the area have certain ideals, beliefs, customs and behaviors. When I visit a new place, it's always on my agenda to learn as much about its culture as possible. I ask locals what their favorite foods are, hostel owners what a normal day for them is like and taxi drivers how they went about asking out their last boyfriend or girlfriend. What I've found during my travels is, while there are more people to bombard with my incessant questions in big cities, it's easier to have an in-depth conversation with a local when you're in a small town. In small towns, you usually end up seeing the same few people, who all go to the same few places. Your bonds become closer and you're able to ask more personal questions. Furthermore, whether you do a homestay or stay in a hotel in a small town, it's usually a very cozy accommodation. Big-brand chain hotels tend to favor big cities, so there are more family-type hotels in small cities where you can really get to know the staff. However, if you're more on the shy side or don't love the idea of interacting with strangers, big cities may be a better option for you, as you'll be able to frequent many educational museums, theaters and institutions.
In a big city, you'll feel a constant buzz. There's a lot of energy, a fast pace, a lot of noise and many people moving about at all times. It can be hard to focus sometimes, in a good way, as different things grab your attention all at once. Maybe you're hungry and you see someone barbecuing and it smells really good, but then you notice an Ethiopian restaurant serving food you've never tried. Then again, there's always the eatery down the street that features live bands and free tapas.
In a small town, the pace of life is usually a lot slower. People aren't in a hurry and it can be easier to take things in one at a time. This can be in your favor, as it means locals usually have a lot of time to spend with visitors. Many small towns also have a lot of natural experiences to take in, which can help to relieve stress and find an inner peace.
In a big city, you'll be able to find any type of accommodation, tour, or restaurant your heart desires. Whether you want frivolous luxury or comfort on a budget, you'll be able to find it. Depending on how rural you go when staying in a small town, this may or may not be the case. For example, when I was in Ghana I started my trip in the capital city of Accra. Here I stayed in a hotel with amenities like flushing Western toilets, hot water, and onsite restaurants and bars. When I traveled two hours out of the city and into the rural village of Achiase, however, these comforts were not as easily found. What I do find is when staying in a small town or rural area is that a homestay is a great accommodation choice. You'll at least get the comforts of home, even if it's not the same you experience in your own. Best of all, you'll really get to know the area firsthand.
Why not do both?
If you can't make up your mind and have the time, why not opt to do both? There are a few ways you can go about this. First of all, you can opt for a homestay and then take weekend trips to other cities. You could also simply travel continuously during your trip, starting in one type of city and then moving on to another. Personally, I think having a homebase to come back to is always comforting, but that usually works out better if you're traveling for a minimum of two weeks. If a week is all you can spare, separate the trip into two parts and spend half your time in a big city and half in a small town, giving you two unique experiences and the best of both worlds.