Traveling around the U.S. I hear nearly everyone in every small town say, “There’s nothing to do in *insert your hometown*…except leave it”. This could not be further from the truth in almost every case. Being a graduate student for several years, and living in a time of economic hardship for everyone, I’ve figured out how you can spend your weeknights and weekends having fun without traveling too far and without spending a ton of money. Here are some of my findings.
1. Start with Google
Sound silly? It shouldn’t. How many times does someone ask you a question at work and you don’t know the answer but you tell your colleague to ‘Google it’? Why not take your own advise?
Almost without fail, every time I plan to travel to a new town (small towns and big cities alike), I find cool things to do for little or no money. A simple search for “things to do in *insert town name*” or “free stuff to do in *insert town name*” should garner something, even things you didn’t know about your small town.
Case in point: When I spent time in Greeley, Colorado, all of my old acquaintances told me there was nothing to do in that sleepy town. However, a quick Internet search showed us the city had a new history museum with free admission. Also, I found several books of pictures of what the town used to look like. My partner and I traveled around town finding all the oldest buildings and learning about things and seeing things we didn’t even know existed (even though my partner lived in Greeley her whole life!). We even met people who wondered what we were doing with a large coffee table book outside their business and pointing at things.
2. Find your Town’s Tourist Division
Having given up on manufacturing as a viable means of maintaining city vibrance, most cities and towns across the U.S. have attempted to increase spending and employment through tourism. Whether you know it or not, your town has probably made an attempt to encourage passersby to stop and shop.
Case in point: Don’t believe your tiny town has a tourist division? Nunn, Colorado, a town with no paved roads and a population of less that 600 (2010 U.S. Census), has made efforts to reign in money and tourists via a huge history museum. Learning this, my partner and I traveled to Nunn for a visit. As soon as we got out of the car, someone met us in the street and invited us to a pot luck barbecue being held in the town park. We had a blast.
3. Arcadia Publishing
Arcadia Publishing (website) is a publishing company that focuses on small towns in the U.S. If you want to know fascinating places and people who lived in your town; or better yet, you want to put one of these books together because you found out your town does not yet have one, this is the place to start. You can use their website to see if your town has been written about. If not, you can submit to create one yourself.
4. Festivals, Festivities, Fun Outside the Cities
One thing small towns know how to do better than big city (with exception to Milwaukee perhaps) is that small towns know how to party. Almost every small town in America has a Harvest Festival or a Springtime Festival or Memorial Day parade. Some even have River Fires (source), hot air balloon mass assents, or bonfires which are not usually on holidays but just an attempt to bring the community together and raise awareness of local businesses.
Since not every day is a holiday worthy of a small town’s attention, these festivals are not every day. But they do usually take place on weekends when you are not working and you’re wondering what to do with yourself.
5. Local Music
What do people do when they have nothing to do? They drink too much or they pick up a hobby. Many start bands. These bands generally play for free at your local bars or at community centers during festivals.
Checking out the local scene does two things. First, it gets you out of the house and having some well-intentioned fun on a Thursday, Friday or Saturday evening. Second, it supports local businesses and musicians.
6. “I Can’t Find Anything to do in My Town”
Yes, you can! Searching on Twitter for local bars or even your town’s government or tourist division Twitter account can help keep you abreast of great things going on in your town and upcoming events. Facebook works the same, but I’ve found Twitter is more efficient.
Craigslist can be helpful. Now with the ‘adult’ section on Craigslist cleaned up and erased, you can search through ‘events’, ‘discussions’, ‘activities’, ‘groups’ and just about anything else you can think of. Just go to Craigslist.com and search for your small town or the next closest town or city. Don’t be discouraged if your small town isn’t on the list of Craigslist sites per say; people from your small town will post in the next closest town or city. Also, some small towns like the one I travelled to in the Aspen area of the Rocky Mountains had signs for their own make-shift Craigslist-like site because Craigslist didn’t have their little town, and quite frankly their small town was pretty secluded from the rest of the world.
At no point should you ever have to say, “There’s nothing to do in this sleepy town.”