While we’re away, please enjoy this piece from our guest Bob Haegele!
Imagine waking up on a sunny spring morning. After being greeted by friendly faces in the hostel and maybe chatting for a bit, you head out for the day.
Adventures of all kinds lie ahead. You aren’t sure what they’ll be, exactly, but there is excitement in the air.
Your feet graze the slightly jagged, yet resilient cobblestone. This is common throughout Europe. For some travelers that means planning accordingly – these streets won’t be kind to your roller bag.
If you didn’t have a tea or coffee along with your free cereal provided by the hostel, maybe you take a stroll to the corner to grab a cup.
And make sure you bring cash. There’s a good chance your plastic won’t be accepted here.
After you’ve fully soaked up the morning, you approach the stunning castle atop the glistening hill at the edge of town. Sound like a fairy tale? Well, it’s not. I’m describing a typical day during my trip to Heidelberg, Germany.
Truthfully, Heidelberg is not the smallest of towns in Europe. It’s home to the University of Heidelberg – the oldest university in Germany. Naturally, a university of this stature is quite the draw.
Nevertheless, this town is tiny compared to the likes of Berlin or Hamburg. Sadly, though, many people only consider these cities when visiting Germany.
And, of course, this is not unique to Germany. Many travelers in France never venture outside of Paris. Those visiting the UK may never leave London’s city limits.
That is unfortunate because often, not only are the small towns the most unique, but the people there are amazing!
No Skyscrapers? No Problem!
One of the best things about the smaller cities and towns in Europe is the unique (and sometimes quirky) architecture.
There are only so many ways you can build giant chunks of steel and glass into towering skyscrapers. And even though skyscrapers can instill a sense of awe and wonder, they won’t be extremely varied from city to city.
With smaller buildings, though, things can be dramatically different. And, due to Europe’s compactness, traveling just a couple hundred miles could vastly change the landscape.
In Germany, you’ll mostly see masonry decorated in vibrant colors of paint. In another place I visited – Split, Croatia – you’ll see a lot of stone buildings that are far less colorful. Nevertheless, each is beautiful in its own way.
And, of course, there were no skyscrapers 1,000 years ago. So, if you see one of them, that obviously means it’s a newer building.
Yet, one of the things I seriously enjoy about Europe is its rich history. We have skyscrapers at home but certainly don’t have 1,000-year-old buildings!
Being able to experience this history is what makes Europe really special. That alone can make the whole trip worth it.
A More Unique Experience
So, it seems like 1/3 of the online dating profiles I look at have a picture of them next to the Louvre Pyramid. Is this the only place anyone goes in Europe!?
Not that there’s anything wrong with the Louvre Pyramid. The Louvre is an amazing museum that everyone should see at least once.
It’s just that I prefer something a little off the beaten path. Europe has so much more to offer!
Think about it: would you rather tell your friend all about your trip somewhere they’ve already been, or at least heard about? Or would you rather tell them about a place completely different from anything they’ve ever heard?
For me, this is an easy answer.
For example, I got to see the largest wine barrel in the world – the Heidelberg Tun. How many people can say that? Probably not as many as those with Eiffel Tower photos.
Again – there’s nothing wrong with the more popular destinations, but it’s good to branch out, too!
A More Authentic Experience
There is an interesting phenomenon that is becoming increasingly common. As more and more people become world travelers, more and more cities cater specifically to tourists.
That means you’ll have no trouble speaking English. It also means, even if you’re halfway around the world, you can probably find some American cuisine.
Craving a juicy burger while you’re in Berlin? Yeah, I’m sure you can find one pretty easily nowadays.
When I was in Munich, I had pancakes that came with a toothpick with an American flag on it. Seriously. I wasn’t actually expecting this and was almost embarrassed.
Why would you want that? Did you honestly come all this way to live the same life you live at home?
Sure, it can be comforting to hear a familiar dialect when you are thousands of miles away. But the experience will be so much more meaningful if it’s a more authentic one!
You may have to step outside of your comfort zone. You may have to rely on translators. But having a totally authentic experience can be so fulfilling.
Small towns are often like this. Because they don’t rank highly (or at all) on the Global City list, they may not be so used to having travelers from all over the world.
As such, they may also not cater to said travelers. Instead, you’ll be forced to have a more authentic experience. One that really captures the local culture – something you may not see anywhere else.
Honestly, that’s probably the very best thing about small cities. They aren’t trying to be something they’re not. They just are.
A Cheaper Experience
For me, the cost savings of staying in a slightly less popular destination is well worth it. It’s a fairly well-known concept that more popular destinations are more expensive. And this certainly applies when comparing London or Paris to an eastern European city.
Keep in mind it’s still possible to spend quite a bit at a restaurant even in the smaller, less-expensive cities. Most of them are at least slightly cheaper though, and you can easily find a kebab for 7 Euro.
It also helped that I flew using travel rewards, but visiting cheaper cities made it that much better!
Hostels and hotels are also cheaper in general. You can easily find a top-rated hostel for 20-30 Euro per night. That won’t be a private room, but the price is great nonetheless!
All of this can be great for your wallet – especially if you’re a budget traveler.
The only thing that could be more expensive in smaller cities and towns is transportation. That’s because the larger cities have great public transit, and it’s cheap, too. Most trips on the metro will only cost you a couple of Euro.
With no public transit, though, you may have to rely on taking a cab. That said, because smaller cities are, well, smaller, you may not need transportation at all. Depending on the size of the city/town, you might be able to walk across it in 15 minutes.
Bigger Isn’t Always Better
When it comes to cities, especially in Europe, bigger is not always better. Sure, London might have world-renowned museums, and Paris has the Eiffel Tower. Amazing as those may be, smaller cities have a certain character you won’t find anywhere else.
You’ll also get a cheaper, more authentic, and more unique experience.
The point here is not to say that you should avoid larger cities altogether. The point is to simply say you shouldn’t overlook the small ones.
Plus, if you’re a beginner traveler and don’t have a huge budget, the lower costs might make things easier for you.
Are your eyes set on Big Ben? Can’t wait to visit the Louvre? Great! Just remember that bigger isn’t always better.
Do you have plans to visit Europe for the first time? Do you have small towns in your plans? Let us know where you’re headed in the comments below!
Bob Haegele is a personal finance blogger who blogs at The Frugal Fellow. In addition to personal finance, his blog is about promoting a sustainable lifestyle. That means not only being more environmentally-friendly but also challenging the idea that the 9-5 is “normal.” He’s working toward financial independence while blogging and traveling the world. You can follow him on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram.