12 Things I Wish I Had Known Before Moving to a Small Town

Every year, thousands of city dwellers give up their frenetic lives and move to small towns in search of affordable housing and a more relaxed pace. They certainly find less hustle and bustle, but they soon discover that their quieter new life involves some trade-offs. We chatted with former big-city dwellers who learned that small-town living can come with a few surprises.

  1. It Takes Longer to Get Groceries

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    Grocery shopping in a small town

    When Andy Peterson moved to Saratoga, Wyoming (population: 1,660), he figured buying groceries would be a snap, but he soon learned otherwise. “I rarely get out of the store in under an hour,” Peterson says. “In small towns, everyone wants to talk, and I usually end up having two or three long conversations before I can leave.” But Peterson doesn’t mind. “It’s actually one of the things I like most about living here.”

    Related: The Best Tiny Town in Every State

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  2. Volunteering Is a Way of Life

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    Volunteering in a small town

    When Brenda Miller and her daughter moved from Chicago to Hesston, Kansas (population: 3,782), she thought she’d have lots of free time. “Was I ever wrong,” Miller says. “A week after we moved in, two women from the PTA asked me to serve on a school committee.” And it didn’t stop there: "I’ve been asked to bake goodies for fundraisers, decorate floats, and even serve food at the annual fall barbecue that feeds all the town’s residents.” Small towns run on volunteer help.

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  3. There Aren't Many Options for Eating Out

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    Dining out in a small town

    Annie Jackson was looking for a slower pace of life when she moved to Walnut Grove, California, a town with just 1,340 residents. “I used to live in Hayward, California, and any type of cuisine I was hungry for was just a quick drive away,” she says. “Now, if I want to eat out, I have to drive to Sacramento, which takes 45 minutes.” Jackson reports that the lack of eating-out options has an upside; she’s learned how to cook all her favorite foods.

    Related: 50 Tiny Towns That Attract Hordes of Tourists Every Year

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  4. Not Everyone Is Friendly

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    Unfriendly neighbors in a small town

    Small-town life isn’t for everyone. When Rod and Patti Mitchell moved from California to Huntsville, Arkansas (population: 2,456), they felt ostracized by others in the community. “We got the feeling they really didn’t like us,” Patti Mitchell said. “We even heard comments about how they didn’t want us to bring the influence of California to their town.” The Mitchells decided to move back to San Francisco after just one year.

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  5. There's Limited Access to Contractors

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    Limited options with contractors small town

    It isn’t always easy to find just the right contractor in a small town, as Jared Gieselman discovered when he moved his family to Peabody, Kansas (population: 1,123). “I really wanted to install an asphalt driveway when we were remodeling our house,” Gieselman says. “But I couldn’t find an asphalt company within driving distance.” The Gieselmans finally settled for a concrete driveway, but if the range of contractors had been wider, they might have chosen differently.

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  6. There's a Lack of Job Opportunities

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    Job opportunities in small towns

    Mary Wallace was thrilled when she and her husband, Mark, found an affordable home in Ramona, Oklahoma, just a 20-minute commute to their jobs in Bartlesville. “We love the slower pace of life here, but in a town with just 550 residents, the only part-time job our daughter can find is babysitting,” Mary said. While tiny towns are great for retirees, they lack employment opportunities for the working set.

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  7. There's No Place to Hide

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    No anonymity in small towns

    It’s easy to avoid people in large cities, but Brenda Roberts found out that small towns lack the luxury of anonymity when her husband was transferred to Homer, Alaska, a town of just 5,690 residents. “I said something I shouldn’t have to my son’s teacher, and I felt really bad about it, but everywhere I went I kept running into her.” When she figured out she wasn’t going to be able to avoid the other woman, Roberts decided to apologize and clear the air. The two women have since become close friends.

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  8. There Can Be Utility Problems

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    Utility problems in a small town

    The picturesque mountain town of Silverton, Colorado, which has a population of around 650, is a popular tourist attraction. But despite its popularity, resident Cheryl Wentling noted that the utility service isn’t always up to par. “The electric service was so much better in Denver. Here, you have to be prepared to be without electricity at times,” Wentling says. Almost all houses in Silverton have fireplaces to help residents stay warm if the power goes out during Colorado’s brutal winters.

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  9. There Are Fewer Medical Options

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    Medical options in small towns

    One of the biggest drawbacks of small-town living is the lack of medical options, according to Tammy Kramer of Whitefish, Montana, a town of 7,800 residents. “We have good doctors,” Kramer says, “but we don’t have a lot of specialists.” When Kramer injured her foot, she had to see a specialist in Spokane, a four-hour drive away. “It’s an inconvenience,” she says, but added, “I’d still rather live here in Whitefish.”

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  10. The Sunsets Are Beautiful

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    Sunsets in small towns

    If she had known how beautiful the sunsets would be in Trinidad, Colorado, a town of just over 8,000 residents, Crista Unruh says she would have moved there sooner. She and her husband moved to Trinidad in 2011, and now they never want to leave. “We rarely saw sunsets when we lived in Philadelphia,” Unruh says, “but here, the sky turns to a blaze of reds and oranges almost every evening. It’s spectacular.”

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  11. It's Great for Raising Kids

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    Raising kids in small towns

    Beverly Schrag grew up in Dallas, so she was understandably a little nervous when she and her husband moved to York, Nebraska, a town of fewer than 8,000 people. “I worried that we’d miss out on the culture of a big city,” she says. According to Schrag, however, it turned out to be a great place to raise their kids. “As a kid in Dallas, I was never allowed to roam,” she says, “but my kids walk to school and ride their bikes all over town with their friends.”

    Related: The Best Tiny Beach Towns from East to West

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  12. There's Less Public Transportation

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    Public transportation in small towns

    In New York City, James Mason got around on the subway or bus, but that all ended when he retired to Sanibel, Florida, a small town of just 7,300 residents located on Sanibel Island. “I guess it’s the price you pay for living in paradise," Mason says. “Fortunately, the island isn’t too big and a lot of people here walk or ride their bikes.” Mason says he’s in better shape than ever because of all the walking he does now.

    Related: The 20 Most Bike-Friendly Cities in America

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