9 Things That Are Great About/Suck About Small Towns

We’ve just returned to Tok after five weeks away. Thank you to everyone who has hung in here and also contacted me about the blog silence. My daughter and I were staying with my folks in Florida while my husband did some traveling on his own. And now we’re back. And it’s cold.

Coming back to a small, rural community like Tok makes me think of a lot of things, both good and bad. I always do try to see the silver lining on things, but I can’t deny that living here is very hard.

Here are my thoughts on the good things about living in small towns and the not so good. I think this can apply to smaller towns and communities anywhere.

Good Bad
It’s quiet. It’s lonely.
It’s safe, especially for your kids. It’s isolated with few resources for kids.
It’s a slower pace. It can be boring.
No traffic. No place to go.
You can see thousands of stars in the night’s sky. Dangerous, pitch dark, icy roads.
No close neighbors. No close friends.
People are there to help in a pinch. People make it their business to know your business.
No crowds or long lines. Nobody shows up for events.
No urban sprawl. No bookstore, no movie theater, no restaurant variety.

What are your impressions of or experiences with life in a small town?

Leave a comment


  1. Iaato

     /  November 11, 2009

    Winter in Alaska. Hmmm. It’s not unusual to get a little down in the dumps this time of year. Make sure you’re taking a daily multivitamin, or at least some Vitamin D. And get your face outside daily in the sunlight. Even the little ones can shuffle along on cross-country skis. And when the significant other comes to the big city for meetings, go with him. And try to get another dose of Florida later this winter. Candles help, as do celebrations. And be sure to celebrate solstice. After that, the light starts to come back. Hang in there. November is probably the worst. It’s cold, it’s dark, and there’s not much snow.

  2. Disagree strongly re ‘safe.’ I’m far safer in NYC or in the livelier parts of Seattle than I am out in Methland USA, where doing anything different (eg., walking at night, being single while female, living alone) is asking for trouble from the lunatics, the holy rollers, the casual pervs-in-high-places, or all of the above. Can’t imagine how you’re managing; I escaped my own small town and I will never, ever go back.

  3. Bee

     /  November 11, 2009

    My preference is small communities to large cities, as that’s all I’ve ever known and I grew up in New York state. The noise, distractions, and inconveniences of a large city are annoying. My family was always very active in our small community in various roles and functions, and we knew everyone, and a lot of great people, thus I grew up knowing whom I could trust and not trust – rich and poor. I prefer the Salt of the Earth people, hands down.

    If I had grown up in another setting, I don’t think that I would have appreciated the small things in life, the basics, and doing without non-necessities. When I went away to a private girls college it was appalling to see the entitlement and attitudes and these girls displayed. They had accomplished nothing! Especially compared to most of my friends back home who worked extremly hard before and after school on the family farm, and intuitively knew more about science and business practices from their years of dedicated work, with no complaining and a lot of self-sacrifice.

    The only thing that I would have changed back then if I could would be the racial dynamics. We were a community of mixed ethnicities of white people, and one Italian family! We were so excited when the first black family move into town when we were in high school. At first, I’m sure, the kid thought it was a mob attack in the hall until he realized he was just annointed the most popular kid because he was a really nice guy, had the coolest hair (it was the ’70’s) and was the best middle distance runner on the track team and could propel us to the state championship race. Mostly, he was just a really great guy.

    To this day I prefer staying in my house and occupying my mind, keeping my hands busy sewing or flipping the pages of a book. I still don’t like to shop at malls and only go when I’m in Seattle and buy everything I need then and order the rest online. The rest I can get in Fairbanks or Anchorage. I’m only 5 miles from Fbks, but don’t really like going into town much.

    Then again, I don’t think my town was nearly as remote as Tok.

  4. Jennifer

     /  November 11, 2009

    It’s nice to see an updated blog about living in AK!

  5. Get outside and take lots of photos of the Tok winter. I just bought land there and might be relocating. Get out and explore all the trails!

  6. Sharon Severson

     /  November 11, 2009

    I lived in Tok for many years with lots of kids. We never lacked for interesting things to do. The kids always seemed to have plenty of exciting things to do but maybe that’s because we were coming into Tok after many years in the even more isolated areas on the western coast of Alaska. We didn’t even have cars there. I think we got closer to folks because we saw each other often. We didn’t miss movie theaters because we had never been around them. We didn’t have TV either. We did have books. I think we counted about 5000 when we started to move. Our kids all loved reading. We all loved Fast Eddys when it came along.

  7. No close friends: You pick your friends. Perhaps writing this is destroying any hope that you’ll make some. Hasn’t it been almost a year since you’ve been there? This is a personal choice, not a small town downfall.

    People make it their business to know your business: In small towns, it’s best to know everything that’s going on. Wouldn’t you rather know what’s happening, then to play stupid and push concerns aside. Everyone is connected in a small community, because that’s what it is, a community.

  8. I moved from NYC to a community of less then 100 people in Western Alaska.

    I lived off the road system, which is even more isolating then living in Tok. At least you can drive to Anchorage, for me I it either took two planes or a snowmachine/boat ride and one plane ride.

    I agree with all of your pros and cons. I espically hated all the small town gossip and everyone being such busybodies.

    Making friends, I never made any friends with the locals because I didn’t have much in common with them. Drinking, smoking and sleeping around seemed to be the main pastimes of the adults in town and that’s not me. Plus, there were a fair number of burglaries in town, so I didn’t want people to know what I had in my home.

    I’m not sure what the social dynamics of Tok are like, but if people are anything like commenter J (whom I am guessing is a bitter resident of Tok) I feel your pain.

    Good luck and get out as ofter as you can.

  9. intok

     /  November 15, 2009

    Tok’s a pretty nice place to live. Lots of people have good friends here. But you have to be here and be a friend to have friends.

  10. Welcome back! It’s hard to settle back in to the slow life when you left before winter settled in…it’s hard to suddenly slow to winter pace.

    Here there’s a townie mindset that fits your list pretty well…the folks that live ‘out the road’ are well aware of it and go out of their way to be nice. You’ll find a good friend, don’t give up!

    I sit in front of my full spectrum art light in the morning knowing I need more light, take my vitamin D pills and remember that at some point the northern lights will make me feel pretty dang lucky.

  11. I’ve been in both and agree 100% with your 9 Things =) There’s something about Fairbanks, though, that’s a special combination of both.

  12. I agree with all that you said above. Life here is hard.. harder than I definately ever thought. I don’t live in Fbx but outside in a smaller town and it’s a hard adjustment. I wish I had some friends here. It is lonely.. alot of the time.

  13. I agree with some of the comparisons as I have lived in both situations…..

    I for one really miss Tok a lot. I loved all of my wonderful friends there and loved the life that I had in the rural setting. I miss my tiny cabin and sitting by the toasty warmth of the stove while I quilted away on my projects or did my yoga practice or watched movies with my hubby.

    I don’t think J is “bitter”, I think she was just making a point that you have to reach out to others and make an effort to build relationships and it’s hard for people when they only see the critical side. Maybe you could consider joining some boards or volunteering in the community (I know you have already done some of that) it would allow you a chance to meet some other moms and people that you have something in common with.

    Yes, rural communities do tend to be a bit more isolated and lots of times people specifically live in small communities BECAUSE they want to be left alone, so I understand that aspect of it. You just have to find what works for you, and like you said – See the silver lining – There is so much good to be had there in Tok and it’s a beautiful town and place to live. The people are full of love and the area is stunning with it’s Alaskan beauty…..There are difficulties in adjusting to every place, you just have to find what works for you. It’s all part of the adventure.

  14. Funny how people assumed that I don’t have friends here in Tok. (Waving to my Tok friends. You know who you are!) But I will admit that traveling so much on business can make it difficult to spend a lot of time with good friends or to get to know new friends better. Thank goodness we’re nearing the holidays!

  15. Loved your recent blog about giving back to the community….In larger or smaller communities it’s all the same – What you put in is what you get out! I did not personally feel you were referring to Tok specifically, but thought that in any small town – big or small – there can be frustrating times, so it’s nice to be encouraged in a positive way! Hope your holidays and winter are happy, and enjoy spending time with your friends this winter by the fire playing games and having fun!

  16. SMR

     /  November 25, 2009

    I think your “pros” are dead on. Which is what keeps most small town people in their small towns, and your “cons” are just as dead on, if not more.
    It most definitely can be lonely in Tok, especially if you are a newcomer with no family or friends that live nearby. Tok (and many other small towns) does have very limited resources for kids. The ones we do have, like the group socials at Head Start, are great, but we don’t have much variety. Teens are definitely left with pretty much nothing except for school sports. As far as being boring and having no place to go, they kind of go hand in hand. For some people, not having anywhere to go is exactly what they want, but for those of us who would like to switch it up every now and then, life can get kind of boring. The dangerous, icy roads are, aside from the ridiculous temperatures and long dark nights, one of the worst things about winters in interior Alaska. I’m sure the people who have a hard time understanding the “no close friends” con are people who have lived in Tok for many, many years. The “lifers” seem to have forgotten how it was when they first moved to Tok, or any new town for that matter. It takes a little while to make friends, but even longer to make CLOSE friends. As far as nobody showing up for events, I can’t even count the number of times I have been at an event ,or heard later from someone who was, where only a handful of people show up. During the cold winter months, it is sometimes understandable, but still very much a bummer for the people who put their time and energy into something only to have a terrible turnout. No bookstore, theatre or restaurant variety is a big con. Wouldn’t we all love to be able to pop on over to the bookstore and get a few new books or maybe go out to a movie every once in a while. I know I definitely get cravings for some good Chinese or Italian food every now and then.
    Those people who take any of these things personally, seem to be looking for something to b*tch about. I don’t see how any of them could have been seriously offensive in anyway.

  17. Aliens In Tok

     /  December 4, 2009

    Friends are where you find them, I always say. I started visiting Tok in 1981 cuz I had friends here, and eventually, the place just kinda grew on me. I have lived around the world, and have enjoyed people of many cultures, but for some reason, I keep coming back to Tok. Yeah, I know; maybe I must be crazy. Oh well…..enjoy every day; it’s all we have.

  18. Julie in Alaska

     /  December 9, 2009

    Insightful list, pros and cons. I agree with you! Not having a few close, old friends around is my hardest burden. I cope with everything else pretty well, even SAD. My remedy includes having almost 600 pages (1 1/2 spaced) draft of a novel done! I finally have the time and space for this project…. And I got to fly my niece up here last summer for a few weeks using my AK Airlines Frequent Flier miles!

  19. ThatGuy2

     /  December 21, 2009

    But what I really like about Tok is that if the wimmen find me too dawg gone ornwry, my horses will still like me. Not just cuz I feed ’em, but they’re just not so picky and don’t mind if I don’t bathe every cotton-pickin’ day ! Tok’s great for a good ol’ boy like me !

  20. Maybe you should start a blog called
    “what tok women don’t like” ha

  21. Dade Murphy

     /  December 13, 2014

    This post is a warning to the city slickers considering a small town for what ever reason.

    I am a city slicker to the bone. I learned how to survive in a city, and the city offers anonymity as one of your greatest allies. I have also been blessed to travel the world, and introduced myself to various, wondrous cultures and languages. As I travel for my chosen career path, I have taken contracts in small towns in the past, all I can say is NEVER AGAIN!

    Small town safety: Well you’ve lost the ability to remain anonymous, that sums it up for me.

    Small town culture……….Not much to talk about.

    Outsider acceptance: Nope, if you are not of the local areas, from the town itself, and you bring to the table an experienced “Citizen of the World” mindset, you might as well keep your mouth shut at all times. Not many will be able to relate to any of your experiences.

    Police/Cops/Troopers etc: Avoid them at all costs, think “Rambo First Blood”, and god forbid they pull you over with out of state plates.

    Entertainment: Drinking/dive bars/ and more drinking. Unless the county you are in is “Dry” That pretty much covers it.

    Hours for business operations: Nothing 24 hours Unless there is a Walmart. The switch man usually turns the city off at 9pm.

    Making friends: Don’t bother unless they themselves are from elsewhere in the world. Keep your mouth shut and divulge nothing, don’t worry, small towns are gossip machines, and the town will create your entire life history for you. No sense in wasting your breath and time.

    Dating: Just don’t….Please just don’t.

    The vortex: Small towns are like gravity in a weird way. They will take a new comer and by whatever means force that new comer to stay, and hate their own live. You must butch up tough and run if you “the cultured” person are to survive. A small town to a cultured person is like Predator killing a human, but instead of the Predator ripping your spine and skull out of your body, a small town will rip the soul out of a cultured and life experienced person in pretty much the same fashion.


  1. Giving Back to Your Community « Living in Tok Alaska: Social Media Capital of the World

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