Please don’t misunderstand me. I love Paris almost like a member of my family, salivate over the thought of fish and chips at the pub in London and think that the chaos and history of Rome are an experience that every traveler should have.
Despite my fondness for the world’s biggest cities and tourist hot spots, my most memorable travel moments most often happen outside of the big cities, in smaller towns and villages.
Even if we are visiting a large city like Paris or London, we always try to make time for at least a day trip to a smaller town to see something of the country side. We feel strongly that it gives us a different perspective on the culture and history of that place than we would get than if we just stayed in the big city.
There is something about seeing the countryside and its quaint, small villages that feeds my soul moreso than seeing the big attractions in busy cities. Maybe it is the slower pace of life which gives me a more relaxed vacation, the fact that the locals have more time to interact with you, the freedom to stop at the market and spend time sampling cheese, or to spend the time searching out that great, out of the way restaurant.
So often, when visiting touristy places, I feel like I am in such a hurry to see all of the sights that I miss getting a taste of what life and culture is really like in that place (something that is really important to me when I travel.)
Whatever it is, being outside of the city allows me to truly relax and feel like I have succeeded in getting away.
Here are some great reasons to head out of the city on your next vacation:
1) Slower pace: Cities are frankly exhausting for me. The noise, the crowds, the lack of fresh air all take their toll on my endurance. Being in a big city feels like a marathon to me; I feel pressured to see everything in the limited amount of time that we have.
When you get outside of the big city, life really does move at a slower pace. Locals have more time to stop and chat with you. Many times, there are less “must see” sights in smaller towns, taking away the pressure to see everything (instead of big sights, you soak up the ambiance of the town as you leisurely walk around, finding your own hidden gems).
When you stop rushing about, you have more time to stop in that cute little cheese shop and sample cheese with the shopkeeper as you try to find a common ground of language. Out of the city, you have time to take that interesting looking detour without feeling like you will be missing something big on your itinerary.
2) More time to interact with locals: One of the wondrous things for me about travel is feeling like I have made a real connection with the people and culture in a new place. Seeing the big sights is great, but if I never expand my understanding of a new destination’s culture and people, I feel like I have missed a big piece of the puzzle.
Outside of the big city, making deeper connections with locals is easier. People in general are friendlier and less rushed. When you have that moment where you are in a market with a friendly local who is helping you with your language skills while you buy handmade, artisan soaps, I think that you will remember that moment at least as much as you remember the big sights that you saw.
3) More authentic food: I have a bad track record for finding good, authentic cuisine in large cities. In places with a lot of tourists, you will generally find a much higher percentage of bland, safe looking restaurants with expensive, generic cuisine. Whether by necessity of hunger or lack of other options, we get drawn into these unfortunate culinary experiences like a bug to a bug zapper.
In a smaller town, it is easier to get away from these “easy” options to find restaurants serving cuisine that locals would actually eat (in a very small town, you might not have any “easy, safe” options, and you will have to expand your horizons to accommodate a more authentic food experience.)
4) Less ‘Americanized’: For me, part of the thrill of travel is the change in perspective that comes from getting outside of my own little box.
As wonderful and beautiful as big cities like Amsterdam and London are, for the most part, they have become so connected to the rest of the world that they are easy to navigate and somewhat generic in many ways.
When you get away from the city, authentic cultural experiences can be easier to find, and you might be challenged to step outside of your comfort zone.
No, not everyone will speak English. Restaurant menus might only be available in the local language, necessitating that you to interact with your waiter to figure out what to order. The signs might only be in the local language, forcing you to think, get out your translating book and learn something.
It might not be as easy, but for me, the challenge of having to adapt to an environment that is not just like home is rewarded with a deeper and more meaningful travel experience where I feel like I really got away, not just like a continuation of my life at home.
5) The opportunity to get “off the beaten path” and see things that are not a typical part of the tourist itinerary: I know that the term “off the beaten path” is super overused, but the concept behind it is what really drives my passion for travel.
Being the only foreigner in a local pub, or finding an ancient castle on an unnamed road in the middle of nowhere that I don’t need to share with anybody is the mark of a successful adventure for me. It frankly just gives me a thrill. These are the stories that you will tell to your friends and family back home when you reminisce about your trip, not necessarily all of the little details about the “touristy” stuff that everyone knew that you were going to see anyways (“yup, saw the Eiffel Tower and it was tall…”)
6) Price: Getting out of the big city is almost always cheaper! That meal that you might spend 35 euros for in a cafe in Paris might be only 25 euros in cafe in a small village. Accommodations will be cheaper, too.
The tradeoff? The variety and selection might not be as wide as you would have in a big city, but I would generally stay in a small, family run hotel in a small town that will cost me less money than staying in a chain hotel in a big city, anyways.
If budget is an issue for you when you travel, planning to spend part of you trip exploring outside of the city will help to stretch it so that you can afford to spend a couple of days splurging seeing the must see sights within the city, and it will give you a more well rounded travel experience, too!