Confessions of a City Girl in a Small Town

Here’s a weird fact about me: Despite my many travels, I’ve only ever lived in big cities. I mean BIG cities: Washington DC, Atlanta, London, Xi’an, Buenos Aires. In fact I don’t think I’ve ever spent more than a month in a metro area with less than 1 million people in my adult life.

New York I Love You

I really love big cities: their busyness, their complexity and the fact that it’s nearly impossible to be bored. I love being able to find ethnic foods from around the world, the possibility of always meeting new people and being able to find an adventure without ever leaving town. I am definitely a city girl and on my travels I’ve found myself drawn to them as well: Rome, New York, Hong Kong, Bogota and Saigon are all places I would willingly call (at least temporary) home.

So now I find myself in the oddest fish out of water situation. For the next five months (and the past two) my home is Sayulita, Mexico, population 4000 according to the Wikipedia. Talk about a drastic change.

The beach is not small

Even though Sayulita was my idea in the first place, I was still kind of worried. Would I be bored and restless in under a week?

Surprisingly, I like it a lot.

Sayulita consists of about three major streets and a warren of small side street. It probably has more restaurants and shops than most non-touristy Mexican towns, but it’s not big by any definition. There are no chain stores save one OXXO convenience store, no supermarkets. Most of the roads are unpaved or covered in annoyingly uneven cobblestones. It’s the kind of town where an unaccompanied horse can trot down the street and nobody bats an eye.


Baseball game (actually they are having an argument that was soon settled with beer)

It’s remote too. About an hour by rickety public bus from Puerto Vallarta, a major city with hundreds of thousands of people. Surprisingly we’ve only been there once since we arrived- to go to the movies.

Yet, I really like it here. I like knowing my neighbors and running into them all over town. I like being able to walk literally everywhere and being able to cross the entire town in less than ten minutes. I like knowing which local produce stand is best and being able to grocery shop in under 20 minutes. Things are easy here. Relaxing.

More importantly, there is community. The heart of Sayulita is the plaza, a small park where locals congregate to skate, play, sit and chat. In the evenings the plaza is busy and loud with small children running amok, dogs playing and teenagers sipping Coca-cola and trying to look tough. On some nights we join them to eat ice cream and watch the world go by. It’s all incredibly wholesome and it makes feel warm inside each time.

The plaza in daylight

It’s not really boring either. There’s always something going on, whether it’s a festival, a different festival, a spontaneous parade or a stand up paddle board race. It’s high season now and the town is flooded with new faces and different activities.

Am I converting to small town living? No, probably lot. There are things that bug me, as I knew they would. There’s not enough places to eat (particularly, not enough Asian food, although that is to be expected seeing as I’m in Mexico and all). In just two months I’ve eaten nearly everywhere in town and we’ve visited our favorite places upwards of a dozen times.


Weird/terrifying street art

Likewise, it’s hard to make friends in this close-knit community. Everyone is nice, but most of the expats are retirees and many of the Mexicans aren’t really interested in being buddies with some random gringos who are only here temporarily. We have our blogger buddies, but they are mostly leaving this month, after which we’ll be back to square one.

And I do feel the restlessness creeping in. Although to be fair I felt that living in DC as well, I have a hard time sitting in any one place for longer than a few weeks. There’s not a lot left undiscovered here though, and I feel like I’m starting to beat against the walls Despite my pledge to enjoy the moment I find myself making plans for just a little trip, anywhere is fine really.

Thankfully though, it is just an experiment. We don’t live here permanently, although on some days the tacos and the sunset make me wish we did. Our experiment has an expiration date, which means I can relax my overactive mind and enjoy our temporary time in this gorgeous small town.

Are you a Big City or Small Town Person?

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15 thoughts on “Confessions of a City Girl in a Small Town”

  1. I can definitely relate to this. While I’ve grown up in the suburbs, I’m still a short train ride from New York City and whether I need mountains, ocean, Mexican food, Asian food, live music, etc etc I’ve got it within an hour of me in either direction. But then there are the days where I wish I lived in a small remote town on the beach where I can just relax and not deal with the hustle and bustle of major metropolitan area life. In the end I think it’s important to have a balance of both of those things in your life…. which is why I too can never stay in one place!

  2. I used to think I’m a city/mountains kind of person. Now that I’ve made a home in small island towns (villages by European standards), I am convinced the dichotomy is useless. There are big cities I love (Istanbul) and dislike (Athens), just as there are beach towns I couldn’t live in (Manzanita, Oregon) and some that I enjoy more than I thought I would (Bang Por on Koh Samui, Thailand). Every place has its plusses and its minuses, and sometimes what’s good about one place is precisely what makes another dissatisfying. Sometimes a place can surprise you!

  3. We moved from London to Mysore, India a year ago. Population of around a million but definitely a small town by this country’s standards. We love it here although the lack of choice in food gets to me too. Big city or small town – each has its advantages and yes, it seldom gets boring no matter which!

  4. Oh, I’m definitely a big city person, Steph. I grew up in a farming village of a population of less than 100. We had a church and a village hall – not even a corner shop where you could go to pick up a loaf of bread or a chocolate bar. Right now, I’m at my mum’s place, in a town with a population of around 70,000. Bigger, but still, not what I’m used to after four years in Korea.

    As long as the town has a few hundred thousand people, then I’m happy. I went to Newcastle for university, and carried on living there for a couple of years after I graduated. Daegu in South Korea has just over two million people, and I loved the hustle and bustle and the bright neon lights. I can’t wait to get back to that in Taipei.

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