Splitscreen of woman in red jacket hitchhiking at side of the road with sign for Gander and view of the Gander airport.
Experience the legendary friendliness of Gander for yourself.
Photo Credit: Global Goose / Kelly Dunning

5 Charming Small Towns That Are Perfect for Budget Travelers

The Benefits of Small Town Travel

Big cities can be great — they are hubs of culture, art and history and they have a dazzling array of attractions to enjoy. However, they also come with a big city price tag. Plus, they only offer a view into the urban metropolis lifestyle in your destination.

It’s worth taking the time to visit smaller cities on your travels as well. Not only will accommodations, food and attractions be generally more affordable, they also provide a glimpse into a quieter side of life in another country. In a small town you can see what life is like for ordinary locals — not just what life is like in a busy, touristic, large city.

Also, staying in a destination of a smaller scale allows you to adapt a more laid back pace of travel, as there is less pressure to run around and see everything. It’s an experience just to be there and to live the local lifestyle for a while.

While not having an obvious set of attractions to visit might seem daunting, there are generic things you can do when exploring somewhere new that will guarantee you get an authentic experience.

So, where are some of the coolest small towns worth exploring? Here are some beautiful small to mid-sized cities to consider on your next budget travel adventure.

Gander, Newfoundland, Canada

Make the journey to the remote and rugged island of Newfoundland off the east coast of Canada and when you arrive in the town of Gander, you’ll be greeted with legendary friendliness.

With a population of 11,688, Gander certainly qualifies as a small town. Before airplanes were able to make long transatlantic flights without stopping for fuel, it used to be the main refueling stop (earning it the nickname “Crossroads of the World”).

In 2001, this small town became internationally famous for its warmhearted hospitality in a time of need. In the hours after the September 11 attacks when North America’s airspace was closed, more than 6,600 passengers and airline crew members were forced to stay for six days until flights resumed.

The locals opened their doors and fed, housed and entertained the travelers — a show of welcoming generosity that was written about in a book called The Day the World Came to Town.

View from above of the rooftops of Freiburg.Freiburg has the feel of a small town, with plenty of hiking and exploring to be done on its outskirts.Photo Credit: Getty Images

Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany

Sure, Germany’s big cities are great. However, once you are finished with Munich, Berlin and Frankfurt and you want to see different side of life, get a train ticket to Freiburg im Breisgau.

A beautiful university city in a secluded wine-rich area of Baden-Wurttemberg, Freiburg is known as the “Jewel of the Black Forest.” It’s technically a city and not a small town as it has a population of 220,000.

However, it feels like a small town — especially when you are walking through the quaint medieval streets lined with historic buildings.

Also, you don’t have to go far out of the city until you are in the gorgeous Black Forest where you can go hiking and exploring.

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Woman walking beside her bike outside of a colorful building in Hoi An.You'll feel like you've traveled back in time when walking around lovely Hoi An.Photo Credit: Global Goose / Kelly Dunning

Hoi An, Vietnam

The streets of Hoi An (pop. 120,000) feel positively tranquil compared to the snarling swarms of motorbikes and pedestrians in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. This lovely town has a historic downtown district that has been designated a UNESCO Heritage Site,  as it is an exceptionally well-preserved example of a southeast Asian trading port dating from the 15th to the 19th century.

Visiting this graceful port is like traveling back in time to an older version of Vietnam. You can stroll alongside ornate Chinese temples, narrow alleyways, ancient tea houses and perfectly preserved merchant houses.

The dining is superb, the architecture is beautiful, the colours are vibrant and Hoi An is also known for its affordable custom made clothing. No matter what you want, whether it is a suit, an evening gown or a tailored jacket, you can have it made for you at a fraction of what you would pay in your home country.

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