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How To Enjoy A Small Town Stopover
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.
While I highly recommend doing this in every city you visit, talking to locals in the small towns you stop in is helpful for various reasons. First of all, you can learn about worthwhile activities in the area, and find out about offbeat favorites like where to get the best coffee, who the wackiest local is and where to go to for a great view. When I was in Ouray, Colorado, I became friendly with a local who told me where I could find the town's most notable dessert, The Scrap Cookie. He also told me that, although it wasn't on the menu, they would create a scrap cookie sandwich with ice cream, as long as you told them a local had tipped you off.
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.
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.
Ask Your Hotel For Help
Who better to help you find something worthwhile to do in the town than the people from your hotel. It is their job, after all. Even if there isn't much to do in the area, hotels usually have a few activity options on hand to help direct guests. For instance, when I was in Dingle, Ireland, it seemed like the town was nothing more than a body of water and a small strip of shops. However, after consulting with the hotel, I was able to find an array of day trips that allowed me to explore nearby islands, 4,000-year-old "beehive huts," scenic hikes and to meet Fungi, the town's famous dolphin.
Learn About The Town's History
If you can't find much that interests you with a town's present, try digging into its past. This is one of the top ways I spend my time in small towns, as you can almost always find something noteworthy. 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.
Take A Day Trip
If you're not happy with where you are but are forced to stay there for the night, think about taking a day trip. Find out about nearby towns, parks, hiking trails, wine regions and adventure outfitters, and spend your time doing the things you actually want to be doing on your trip.
Give Yourself A Mission
When traveling, I often like to give myself small missions to keep focused on learning about the town. If you like food, set out to discover the best places to get a burger, or the eatery serving the most decorative desserts. Maybe it's history you're into. Do some research, explore the town's heritage and visit ancient sites. If you like fashion or art, try to meet some of the local artisans and learn more about what they do.
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.
Spend This Time Relaxing
This could be a good time to ensure you don't come down with a case of travel fatigue. Instead of scrambling around to make the most of every minute of your trip, take some time to unwind with a good book and a glass of wine, lie in bed and watch a movie or just swing the day away in a hammock. You may even want to splurge and pamper yourself with a spa treatment or expensive dinner, which will always help you remember your time in the town in a positive way.
[images via Shutterstock, Jessie on a Journey, Jessie on a Journey, Shutterstock]