Peter Greenberg, the "road warrior" who reports on travel for AARP magazine and other outlets, recently wrote about how much cheaper and more convenient it can be to travel to smaller cities than big ones.
As examples, he called Milwaukee,Wis.; San Antonio, Texas; and Spokane, Wash., "fabulous" places for a less expensive getaway.
Among the travel lures Milwaukee has that Chicago, a few dozen miles to the south, doesn't have is the "hog-packed" Harley-Davidson Museum, Greenberg noted. Dallas has a $45 taxi ride in from the airport, while it costs only about $25 to get to town from San Antonio's airport. And, he says, Spokane hotels can give you a good night's sleep for about $100 a night — much less than Seattle down the road.
Yes, price is a great reason to go smaller when it comes to travel destinations, particularly for travelers of a certain age who want to make their travel dollars stretch from here to there and back again. And it's often easier to get around, too — smaller crowds, less stress.
But we might go a step further. Some of our best travel memories were made in suburbs, villages, or towns where the hotels aren't necessarily five-star, but the people are friendly and the cuisine isn't so haute you have to go back to your room to dress for dinner.
You have to go to the big cities to see many of the big sights, of course.
Only New York has the Empire State Building and the Museum of Modern Art. Only Rome has the Coliseum. And only in Australia can you marvel at the genius of a relatively unknown 38-year-old Dane named Jorn Utzon who stunned the architectural world in 1957 with his soaring design for the Sydney Opera House.
But, like Greenberg, we've found smaller cities to be fine destinations. We loved a convention trip a few years ago to Little Rock, Ark., home to the Clinton presidential library, a beautiful river walk, and delectable grits and greens.
And Cully, Switzerland, where our inexpensive hotel room was perched on Lake Geneva beneath hillsides lush with vineyards.
And Takayama, Japan, where we happened on an August festival where courageous — or crazy — young men lit up the night with enormous sparklers strapped to their backs. (Yes, they sometimes suffer a burn from the cascading sparks, we were told, but it's an honor to be part of the fireworks display, so it's OK.)
We never stay in London proper — too pricey and hectic. We stay in one of the suburbs and take a train or the Tube, as London's subway system is known, into town. Raynes Park, where we've stayed several times, is a leisurely commute southwest from the center of the city — one stop from Wimbledon and a short jaunt from Hampton Court, where Henry VIII dallied with his six wives, two of whom lost their heads at his behest.
A couple of Octobers ago, after visiting Leipzig and Dresden on a trip to what used to be East Germany, we hit the byways, tracing the small-town lives of Martin Luther and Johann Sebastian Bach.
Luther initiated the Protestant Reformation in 1517 when he nailed a freshly printed copy of his "Ninety-five Theses" to the chapel door of the University of Wittenberg, where he was a professor. The door is still there, as is the print shop, and it's not unusual to come upon a local walking down the street in full 16th-century dress. You won't see that in bustling Berlin.
The Bachhaus Eisenach, a small museum in Eisenach, the town of Bach's birth, is dedicated to the music of Johann and his talented family. There you can enjoy a concert played on antique instruments, or park yourself in an ultramodern cocoon-type swing that's almost soundproof, put on a pair of earphones, and lose yourself in the music of the master. You can't do that in Munich.
The places we've mentioned have at least one attraction for people who want to add depth to their travels: Beautiful settings to nourish the soul.
When we reminisce about Little Rock and Cully — half a world apart — we talk about long waterside walks. And from Cully it's just a bit of a climb to get to the trails that wind through the grapevines into the hills above the lake.
Takayama, with about 97,000 people, is half the size of Little Rock and five times larger than Cully.
But it's nestled in the mountains northwest of Tokyo and has a water presence, as well. When the local boys aren't lighting up the stream with their fireworks, it provides a burble of background music for a town that looks much the same today as it has for 600 years. Our favorite tourist pastime was trying crispy snacks from street vendors parked outside buildings that might have been there to serve visiting samurai.
Very different — and much, much less expensive — than turbulent Tokyo.
On your next journey, skip the big city and try a smaller one nearby. We think you'll like it.
John and Sally Macdonald are freelance writers who live on a houseboat in Seattle.