Greenland is the 12th largest country in the world, yet its entire population would just barely be able to fill Michigan Stadium to half of its capacity. Virtually all pictures taken on the enormous island encapsulate this sparsely populated, remote nature, such as this one taken by Mads & Trine on Flickr. Greenland is a place with towns so small they have almost no signs, as residents already know where everything is. This photo was taken in Sisimiut, a town with a quaint population of just over 5,000 where the local school turns into a hostel for the summer. Located just north of the Arctic Circle, it’s an ideal place to catch the Northern Lights.
Small towns all over America attempt to find novel ways to market themselves to outsiders. You see these efforts, some of them logical, some boastful, others ridiculous, on signs all over the country. America’s friendliest town! A Great Place to Live! Boyhood Home of Rutherford B. Hayes! Home of the Little League World Series Quarterfinalists, The Screaming Owls!
The most common tactics for small towns are attaching themselves to sports teams or famous people, touting obscure awards or distinctions the town received from organizations no one has ever heard of, or simply making a claim that no one can argue with, i.e., we’re nice. I’ve long been enamored of these claims, but the oddest town boast I’ve ever seen is in the small town of Cortland, Illinois, about 60 miles west of Chicago.
Cortland is a small town with lots of farms and just a few businesses on its main street, including a laundromat, a gas station, an upholstery business, a dollar store and a diner. My wife grew up there and her family still lives in the town. The first time I went to visit them, back in 1998, I was puzzled after coming across a sign, placed on a street with nothing but cornfields advertising the place as “The Third Largest Town in Illinois.”
At the time, the town’s population was about 1,500 (it has since grown to more than 4,000 thanks to some recently built subdivisions) so I was puzzled. Of all the different ways this small community could market itself, it had decided to say to the world, “We’re big.”
When I arrived at my wife’s family home, we sat out in her backyard, which at that time featured a pleasing view of nothing but farmland as far as the eye could see.
“So I saw the sign about this being the third largest town,” I said. “How could that be?”
“Well, it’s kind of a technicality,” my wife said, laughing knowingly as she eyed her mom and sister. “There aren’t very many towns in Illinois.”
As it turns out, nearly every community in Illinois is incorporated as either a village or a city so the only incorporated “towns” in the state that are larger than Cortland are Normal and Cicero. The “third largest town” claim to fame is the town’s brand – check out the town website and you’ll see the slogan emblazoned right underneath the town name. So there you have it: Cortland, the small town that claims to be quite large, if only on a technicality.
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.
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.Talk To Locals
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.
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.
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.
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.
While many people who travel to South Australia visit the popular regions of Adelaide and the nearby Barossa Valley, there are many off-the-radar destinations that are also worth exploring. Whether you love wine tasting, unique restaurants, adventure travel, craft beer, architecture, art, or culture, there is something for everyone to experience through these lesser-traversed regions down south.
Located about 30 minutes north of Adelaide, Hahndorf offers scenic hillside views as well as a strong German influence through the city’s timber-framed buildings, German restaurants, and German-inspired art galleries. The old-world charm brings you back in time while trendy boutiques and restaurants help to keep the city modern. For wine-enthusiasts, the wineries and cellars of Hahndorf give a great opportunity to sample the region’s cold-climate varieties, which are my personal favorite because of their intense flavors. Make sure to stop at Harris Smokehouse, a fourth-generation family-owned restaurant that serves high-quality smoked fish specialties, like smoked kingfish, hot smoked barramundi, and smoked oysters from Coffin Bay. I would also recommend visiting The White House, an 1858 cottage that features everything from rustic and ethical cuisine like coddled free-range eggs with spinach and pork fennel sausages with asparagus and mushrooms, an impressive wine cellar, live music, and a Secret Garden Cinema on Friday nights in the summer and fall. As a nature and outdoors lover, I also love the country-fresh treats of Beerenberg Farm like chutneys, jams, honeys, oils, and other sauces (try the molasses!), as well as getting to pick your own strawberries.McLaren Vale
While you’ve probably heard of the Barossa Valley, McLaren Vale is also a haven for oenophiles everywhere. Located on the Fleurieu Peninsula about 45 minutes south of Adelaide, McLaren Vale is a beautiful food and wine destination with opportunities for wine, cheese, and craft beer sampling, various tasting trails, farmer’s markets, and even art and coastal activities. The opportunities for oenophiles are endless, with more than 65 cellars and family-owned wineries. If you’re more of a beer person, McLaren Vale Beer gives in-house tastings, including their Vale Ale, which own a gold medal at the International Beer Challenge last summer, as well as serves gastro-pub type food like mushroom pizzas and shucked Coffing Bay oysters. I would also recommend trying one (or all) or the tasting trails to get a variety of experiences, like the Cadenzia Grenache Trail, Wine and Cheese Trails, McLaren Vale Scarce Earth Shiraz Trail, and the McMurtrie Trail. If you only have time to do one thing, my top pick would be a visit to Bella Cosa, as it’s not only a Bed & Breakfast but also a winery, tapas bar, and sculpture park where you can stroll around and enjoy outdoor art. On the weekends, visitors to the area can drive about 2 miles to nearby Willunga and enjoy the Saturday morning farmer’s market. You can also bike to Willunga, as the towns are connected by a cycle path. Once you feel like you’ve eaten and drank enough, enjoy the outdoors by treking through Onkaparinga Gorge, relax on the beach, or go fishing or surfing.
While most people wanting to experience south Australia’s wine country opt to visit the Barossa Valley, another option that’s just as beautiful but a bit off the beaten path is Clare Valley. Located about 2 hours north of Adelaide, this is one of the more historical wine regions in South Australia and visitors can experience this through tastings at unique wine cellars. I love this region for its countryside ambiance and the way life here seems simple and organic. While there are many different vineyards and wine cellars in the area, there are a few that stand out from the rest. First there is Sevenhill Cellars, which is the oldest winery in the region and was built by Jesuits in 1851 for the purpose of making sacramental wine. Jesuits actually still work there, and along with tastings in the cellar you can also visit a historical crypt that resides underneath the on-site church. Another winery I really love is Knappstein Winery, mostly because I’m a big craft beer fan and there is a micro brewery in their wine cellar. Moreover, Annie’s Lane is a great stop when checking out the Clare Valley wineries, not only because they have delicious Shiraz but also because they have a free art gallery with works from local artists as well as a complimentary wine museum where you can learn more about vino production through the ages. To sample an array of wineries, I would suggest doing the Rieseling Trail, as Clare Valley is famous for its German Rieselings.
While this Outback mountain range is a bit further from Adelaide (about 4-5 hours from the central area), it’s a great way to experience the rugged beauty of South Australia. The experience literally feels like going back in time or a trip to a different world as people live in the bush among wild kangaroos and emus with little signs of civilization and modernization. The landscape of the area is extremely unique, with glowing red rocks, vast desert, jagged mountains, and bright starry skies at night thanks to little light pollution. In the Flingers Ranges National Park you will still find a rich Aboriginal culture as these people have lived in the area for thousands of years. The Aboriginal rock art that you will find is impressive as well as the ancient ruins. Another unique outdoor experience is visiting the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary , where bird watching, off-roading, and hiking are popular activities. Explore precarious-looking mountain peaks, scenic lookout points, ancient seabeds, radioactive hot springs, and see the endangered Yellow-footed Rock-Wallaby in Bararranna Gorge.
With Michigan’s economic news sounding about as grim as economic news can sound, Sarah Aldrich has written an ode to seven of Michigan’s small towns. Her recent post at Intelligent Travel captures the essence of each of the towns she adores. Reading Adrich’s missive reminded me of various friends of mine who have vacationed on Michigan’s shores. Everyone of them came back with stories about a wonderful time.
Although Aldrich was “reluctant to share” details about each of the towns she loves for fear that they might become overrun if they became too popular, she decided that Michigan might need a morale boost more than her need to keep these destinations just as they are. Tourist dollars talk. In a way, going to Michigan is do good travel. Your presence at an attraction, an eatery or a hotel puts dollars where they’re needed.
I’ve spent a few tourist dollars in Michigan myself. I’d recommend Greenfield Village and the adjacent Henry Ford Museum to anyone. Both are top notch attractions and well worth whatever money you have to spend. Staying in a hotel in Dearfield easily fits into a budget vacation.
If small towns aren’t appealing, another friend of mine just returned from Detroit and was pleasantly surprised by his experience and what the city had to offer. Even if you are only in Detroit for a few hours on a layover, consider taking a foray outside the airport to take in a smidgen of Michigan’s offerings. Grant has suggestions for what you might do and how to do it..
The message is: “Go to Michigan. The state needs you.” Aldrich would be ever so pleased if you did.