Solo Off the Beaten Path: 7 reasons to small town travel

Two Cat Cafe Banger, Maine

I was grabbing free wifi from the Two Cat Cafe before they were open when I ran the battery down on my car.

Small towns are great.

When I was in Bar Harbor, Maine last spring (population 31,437) my car battery died. It was my fault. I ran my computer on the DC outlet in my car for too long without running the engine. I have a membership for CAA (AAA in the US) but I didn’t have my card on me and I didn’t know the phone number.

How it worked…
So I walked down the street to a local gas station. Here’s the sequence of events that followed…

  • I asked the woman at the desk for the AAA number and if I could use the phone.
  • She yelled to the owner at the back telling him what I needed.
  • A guy standing off to the side with his girlfriend stepped up to say that he does most of the AAA calls in the area.
  • He pulled out two cell phones. He used one to dial AAA for me and told the woman the situation and put me on. She confirmed who I was, checked the database and got my number.
  • In the meanwhile, he used his other phone to call his boss to tell him that he had a job coming in.
  • I passed the phone I had back to the guy and the AAA woman gave him an order number.
  • He gave the order number to his boss using the other phone.
  • We walked the block back to my car, he went around the corner to his house, picked up a portable battery booster and boosted my car.
  • Problem solved.

:) You can’t beat that!

Yes, small towns are great. Here are a few more reasons to travel solo, off the beaten path, and enjoy small towns.

  1. The pace is slower. It’s extraordinary how much of a difference this makes. The energy of a small town is quite different than that of a big city and it’s good for the soul. It’s relaxing. It’s a time to reclaim your personal rhythm without the imposition of a city rhythm.
  2. Easy to get around. It’s easy to learn the lay of the land of a small town and they are usually very walkable making everything accessible in a healthy way.
  3. The people are friendly – get the history. Go into the local greasy spoon or coffee shop and you can meet locals, learn the local history and find out what home-grown entertainment is happening while you’re there.
  4. Enjoy local events. Whether it’s a pancake breakfast, a harvest festival or the annual rodeo, small towns have events that are not on the scale of city events — and that’s a good thing.
  5. Easy to get out of town. Because the town is small, outside the town is close making it easy to go hiking, fishing or swimming — whatever is near by.
  6. Slip into the local culture. Local vendors, whether at the market or a store, are great for sharing the best local restaurants or letting you know if there is a local specialty food.
  7. Get adopted. Everyone in a small town knows everyone else. You, the traveler, will stand out. And, by standing out, being friendly and curious, you could be adopted by locals, treated to a beer or whatever is on offer.

Big cities are great but for the cost and the comfort, you can’t beat a small town.

  • JimLesses

    My pleasure :-)

  • Janice Waugh

    Love it Jim. It’s a great motto and a great line. I hope you forgive me if, sometime in the future, I end up using it without realizing where I got it. That can happen to a writer. I’ll try to remember to give you attribution.

  • JimLesses

    Great article and ideas as always, especially the ‘get adopted’ suggestion. However, during my 2008 solo visit to New York City it occurred to me to reverse the idea. That is, while staying at one of the city’s YMCA’s, I ‘adopted’ a local cafe, and made a point of eating there regularly during my three week stay. It didn’t take long before I began to feel like one of the locals myself, and within a few days I was interacting with the owners, wait staff and even some of the other locals who ate there regularly. My motto on that and subsequent trips became “Adopt the locals, and the locals will adopt you.”

  • Sandra O’RourkeGlynn

    Oh that sounds amazing. Im googling now

  • Sandra O’RourkeGlynn

    I love the towns with no chains. Like Smithville Tx I just discovered while stopping for a water. I drove out of my way and by accident found this gem. My 3 year roadtrip continues.

  • Janice Waugh

    Oops! Thanks. I’ll correct it now.


  • booksense

    Hi Janice, love your blog, BUT the pic of Two Cats Cafe is in Bar Harbor, maine not Bangor which is 49 miles away. Bangor is not a small town, at least compared to our population of 5500. I love here and can certainly attest to allege points you made in your post. Keep up the good work.


    perhaps we have a ‘bucket’ list for just that reason, so much to see and so little time

  • Janice Waugh

    I would love that trip. Oh so many places and so little time. Thanks Lee.


    Janice, have you tried solo in Alaska?  that was a thrill, no one but the moose for miles and then you are in a ‘town’, total pop. perhaps 2,000 and they know EVERYONE
    i think you would enjoy that trip.  
    take the local ferry that stops at all the towns.   
    since you like to camp, they let you camp on the deck space,  old people prefer the bunk beds in the cabins i think….

  • Janice Waugh

    Sounds like it will be a great trip.


    GREAT story, i have be plotting each years’ list of ‘the best small towns in the USA’ and hope to drive across the usa checking each one that is on the route.  this gives me encouragement that all trouble on the road will be small

  • Louise W

    I think all of this is such a help to a soon-to-be retired single person.  I am not sure that I’ll be doing international trips due to what may (but may not) be financial considerations, but I certainly plan to do some US traveling and small town visits will definitely be on my itinerary.  Thanks!

  • Adeline – {r}evolution apparel intern

    My favorite part? Small towns have less tourists! Which makes you imagine that you stumbled upon the town yourself, or, more believable, that you’re off the beaten path.

  • solotraveler

    I think that’s absolutely true. It’s amazing what can happen in small towns.

  • Alouise

    I love city travel, but I can also appreciate small town travel. It’s the type of travel my family and I did when I was a kid. I think some people pass by small towns thinking there’s nothing to do there. But small towns have their own merits, and it’s important to see that visiting a small town is just as worthy as visiting a big city.

  • Deanna Urs

    My husband & I have spent over Ten thousand miles in wonderful Colorado, exploring small towns. We have begun posting our experiences. To say we are having the time of our lives would be an understatement.

    Although my CO Pilot has gone on most of the travels with me,I have no compunction of traveling alone on these journeys.

    The simplest things in life bring the greatest joys!


  • Dave and Deb

    It is a wonderful experience visiting a small town. I did a tour of small towns in Ontario once and we have some of the best and most beautiful villages. I didn’t realize just how picturesque my home province was until I took the time to explore.

  • Kevin Hawley

    I read this article again amd felt compelled to add to it again, although a bit is repeat.

    1. The pace is slower in a small town. And it is whether domestic or Internationl. I think the key is go with that slow pace, no strict agenda and slow down and absorb the surroundings. I know others have time constraints when they travel, well instead of making a tight I tenarary for your trip, make those Itenerary changes at home and allow more time to take it all in during your trip. It can be done.

    3.Getting to know the people and the history. If your Itenerary is so tight that your rushed to get to your next site, you haven’t take the time to “Know the Town or People.” So you just passed through like a typical tourist. Would you be able to name a landmark or point of interest. How many freinds did you make, willing to give you the scoop on history and the spots to hit in the next town, the dude washing your windshield doesn’t count…

    7. This one is great, get adopted by locals. That doesn’t mean you have to hang with them 24 hours. So easy to just walk up to someone and ask a typical question, like directions or where the “Local’s” eat. In most cases this will lead to a conversation. Approach an Internation local like this and it get’s even better. They appreciate your interest in their culture and if you know even some simple phrases of their language, when you stumble out ” Como esta de Banco.” The love it, will help you pronounce it correctly and thats usually when a chat breaks out, the comfort level developed. And they are more to happy to help and / or show you around. Show interest and it will be repaid. You just became a part of the community.

  • Sophie

    I enjoy visiting small towns in foreign countries. My favourite is Walhalla in Australia. Population: 22

  • Barbara Weibel

    Ah, how true, all of it, but especially about the adoption part. I’m in Pokhara, Nepal for a few months and have already been adopted by a wonderful family, so it holds true for the world outside of North America as well!

  • Kevin Hawley

    Well said! I have nothing to add, if you can believe that.
    Well, just one thing! You can become part of the community and that is an experience in itself. Also, if you moving on to other Small Towns, guess who’s going to give the scoop what to look for, your friends you bonded with, not the travel agent. They will tell you about the hole in the walls & mom & pop shops.

  • solotraveler

    But of course – the night sky without light pollution is a huge benefit of small town travel. Thanks for adding to the list.

  • Authentic Seacoast Resorts

    Great article! Thank you for sharing the benefits of getting off the beaten track. We would also like to add fresh air, quiet and dark evening skies to your list of things to enjoy in small towns. Away from the light pollution of cities, the evening sky dances with constellations and far off galaxies. Hope to welcome you to our small town soon!

  • Marsha

    I love, love, love small town travel. In general, the people tend to be so charming and friendly and there’s really something that’s just cozy and intimate about spending time in a place where everyone pretty much knows everyone else.

  • Deonne Kahler

    I agree! I seem to *only* want to explore small towns because they have a charm and tenacity I admire. (The smallest lately was Adrian, TX, population 150.)

    Another great thing about small towns is it’s easier to make those random discoveries that are one of the best things about travel. It’s easier to see what’s there and check it out, versus having to decode a city with the web or a guidebook.