One of the greatest luxuries in life is being able to travel. In addition to getting away from the daily grind of regular life, responsibilities, and a break from your job, it can also broaden your horizons, boost your confidence, improve language and communication skills, all while giving you real-life education, exposing you to new and exciting things, and creating memories you’ll have for the rest of your life.
As many of us are trying to embrace experiences rather than live mundane lives, the travel itch and a sense of wanderlust is exciting and fun to add to our bucket lists. Writer Ray Bradbury said, “Stuff your eyes with wonder, he said, live as if you’d drop dead in ten seconds. See the world. It’s more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories.”
While many people have backpacked through Europe, Disney, or even a safari in Africa on their travel wish lists, these trips come at a hefty price tag. Whenever I travel anywhere, whether it’s a big trip, or a road trip close by, I love to research unusual and exciting places to visit. These small detours can become the best part of a road trip, or stop off on a lengthier journey. Let’s take a look at 25 strange towns everyone should try and visit at least once; some of them are a lot closer to home than you may think!
25COLMA – IT’S GREAT TO BE ALIVE IN COLMA
In the beginning of the 20th century, San Francisco had too many bodies taking up valuable land, so they decided to relocate them to a small ‘sleepy’ community 10 miles south of the city. This town called Colma, has been steadily growing in its passed population for years. In 2009 there were 1,500 living residents in Colma with 1.5 million graves. Many of the tombstones are attached to buildings. But don’t worry, everyone who lives here loves it and the town’s motto is “It’s great to be alive in Colma”. Anyone who can appreciate the simple and slightly macabre beauty of cemeteries should give Colma a visit.
24NAGORO JAPAN – THE HUMAN DOLL TOWN
Nagoro Japan is also known as The Human Doll Town because there are 10 human-sized dolls for every resident (only 37 people live in the town). The concept for this town came from resident and artist Ayano Tsukimi who realized the town population had downsized from hundreds of people to 37. Inspired, Tsukimi replaced those who had left with life-sized dolls who are carefully arranged throughout the town as if they were real people going about their day-to-day business.
23SETENIL DE LAS BODEGAS
This town is like something out of a romance movie. Picture it, a riverside region of Spain, with a small town that is literally carved into the cliff. This mountainside town (that’s pretty much inside the mountain) is home to 3000 people, and a huge tourist hub where visitors can enjoy the view and Mediterranean cuisine. Don’t think that because much of the town is made of rock that they’re living in the stone ages, these local businesses know how to keep their clientele coming back for more!
22CAT ISLAND – JAPAN
This is a town for all the cat lovers. Better take your allergy medication if you want to visit, because we’re guessing it’s filled with hairballs. Aoshima and Tashirojima, are a quick ferry ride away from Japan’s eastern coast and have populations of less than 100 people, and a lot more cats, at least six cats for every human. Kitties were originally brought onto the silk-producing island to control the mouse population (since mice prey on silkworms). Fisherman in the area saw the cats as good luck. Today tourists can visit the cat shrine, and stay in the brand spanking new cabins that are shaped like cats.
21MONOWI – A TOWN OF ONE
They say one is the loneliest number, so if you ever find yourself near Monowi, Nebraska you may want to visit the only person who lives there. Monowi was once a regular populated town, but eventually, all residents moved away, leaving one lady, Elsie Eiler who is both the mayor and the sole resident. Don’t worry about her though, she’s turned the entire thing into a business and she runs a bar and public library she created from her late husband’s book collection of around 5,000 different books in a one-room library.
20CENTRALIA – A TOWN ON FIRE
Danger may as well be the middle name of this town that is on fire, and has been for decades. The fire started in a mine in the town back in May 1962, and it’s still on fire. In the 1980’s it was recommended that everyone move out of the town when a boy fell into a sinkhole in his family’s backyard. Despite the warnings of the dangers of living in Centralia, and we assume the near impossibility of getting house insurance, 10 people live in this flaming town, which no longer has a zip code.
19COOBER PEDY – MINES TURNED INTO HOMES
The best jobs are the ones where you want to eat, breathe, and live for what you do. This may be the case for the folks who call Coober Pedy in Australia their home. This is the Opal Capital of the Globe in the scorching Australian desert. To cope with the hot temperatures those working and living here have opted for an underground living to keep their cool. While it’s now easier to get opals out of the land thanks to technology, most of the 3,500 citizens continue to live both down under and underground. Thankfully the rock walls in their homes keep things cool in the summer and cozy when it’s cold out.
18MANSHIYAT – GARBAGE TOWN
Cairo has a city called Manshiyat, and it’s filled with garbage thanks to Cairo never having adopted a workable garbage collection system, or anywhere to store their garbage. This town not only houses trash, it’s also the home to around 60,000 people who work as informal garbage workers. For nearly 70 years, people in this community go door to door collecting trash, then take it to Manshiyat to sort and recycle, boasting a 90 percent recycling rate. In 2003, when the city hired garbage workers, this increased the competition for residents. Manshiyat has become an unusual tourist destination since being featured in the award-winning documentary Garbage Dreams.
17PAID TO LIVE AT THE BASE OF A VOLCANO -MIYAKE-JIMA ISLAND
Want to live rent-free in Japan? There’s a big catch. This small island town of Miyake-Jima Island, 160 kilometers south of Tokyo houses nearly 3000 people who are paid by the government to live there, thanks to the location at the base of an active volcano. Those living there are exposed to high levels of sulfur and routinely must wear gas masks to help limit the chances of them dying thanks to their extremely dangerous choice of habitation space.
16ISLAND OF THE DOLLS
This island is the premise for a horror movie. This uninhabited island in Mexico, just south of Mexico City, named Xochimilco has creepy dolls hanging from its trees. Urban legend says that a doll washed up on the shore of the island after a young girl drowned nearby under ‘strange and mysterious’ circumstances. The only person who lived there, Don Julian Santa Barrera lived for 50 years, and routinely hung dolls to please the girl’s spirit, which was haunting him. It is said that Julian was found passed in the same spot as the young girl. In 2001 the spot became a tourist destination where visitors can bring their own dolls to ‘please’ the spirit of the girl.
15ELISTA AKA CHESS CITY
Obsessed with Chess? Looking for the perfect vacation destination to take your chess champion partner? Do we have the perfect destination for you! This Russian town was designed by a person who had quite a penchant for the game, and the entire town is themed after chess. There is a giant chessboard in the town center, and the town hosted the 1998 Chess Olympiad in a domed complex. In addition to a love of chess, Elista is the only Buddhist region in Europe. To marry chess and Buddhism together the town’s chess complex is also home to a Buddhist Art Museum.
14THAMES TOWN – CHINA
Visiting China and homesick for Britain? They’ve got you covered. Thames Town is a synthetic ‘British’ city located in Songjiang, China. Features of Thames Town include traditional British architecture, food, and a bunch of English phone booths to pose in. The streets are, naturally, paved in cobblestones and you can enjoy a pint of stout at the pub, or pose in front of statues of famous Brits like James Bond and Harry Potter. In addition to regular tourism, the town is really popular for wedding photography.
13THE VILLAGES FLORIDA
Frisky and getting on in the years? You may want to pay a visit to The Villages in Florida, a community that you need to be over 19 years old to live in, and house at least one person in your home who is 55 years old or older. This senior community is enough to make The Golden Girls look like a bunch of prudes, since this is where geriatrics go to hook up with the goal of a peaceful retirement destination. This retirement community is larger than Manhattan.
12ROSWELL – NEW MEXICO
Whether you believe that there is life out there or not, Roswell is a neat town with a mysterious past. This small town located in New Mexico is also known as UFO town because a UFO is alleged to have crashed there in 1947, changing the town forever. The entire town is mad about aliens and even their McDonalds is shaped to look like a flying saucer. The town is crawling with alien enthusiasts each summer for the annual UFO Festival. Shows like Roswell have helped boost the tourism of this small town.
11HASHIMA – AKA “BATTLESHIP ISLAND”
Hashima is an island that is a part of Japan and that constantly piques curiosity, located about nine miles from the city of Nagasaki. This island is walled in by a pretend battleship, and was once the home to a number of people. Although no one has lived there for several decades, it is one of 505 uninhabited islands in the area, and it is dilapidated and a little spooky from its abandonment. It’s become somewhat of a tourist trap where people can arrange to go on a scary tour.
10GIBSONTON – A TOWN OF RETIRED CIRCUS WORKERS
Gibsonton, also known as Showtown, is 12 miles from Tampa and was the winter home to many circus and carnival workers (thousands by the 1960’s), and the place where many decided to retire. The town has a giant statue of a boot to commemorate a previous resident, giant Al Tomaini who had size 27 shoes. People who live here are encouraged to leave their circus trailers and ‘pets’ on their lawns as a sort of badge of honor. While you’re there you can visit the Museum of the American Carnival or stop by the Showtown Bar and Grill and maybe run into some of the more famous town folk.
With a name that sounds like the center for people with dark and dangerous pasts that they’re looking to escape, this town in Jackson County, Tennessee is more famous for an unusual name than anything else. There is debate over how the town’s name came to be – some say an application for a town post office was left blank, hence the name, whereas others believe the name was created from an early resident of the town who said, “This here’s a nameless place if I ever seen one, so leave it be.” Nameless is featured in the Elvis Costello song, “My Dark Life”. This is an Instagram worthy signpost should you ever pass it on a US road trip. Other runner-ups include Ugly, Texas, or Peculiar, Missouri.
8RENNES-LE-CHÂTEAU – THE TOWN OF THE DA VINCI CODE
The town that birthed the popular book The Da Vinci Code is a wonderful visit for anyone in France who considers themselves to be a bit of a conspiracy theorist. This hillside village has many secrets, one being the legend that this is where the Holy Grail is hidden. Back in the 1800’s a local church was able to fund major renovations and some believe that the priest discovered a treasure map inside the altar which led him to the fortune that funded the churches impressive facelift.
7HELL – MICHIGAN
Hell, Michigan is a small town about 24 miles away from Ann Arbor and is a town that grew around a sawmill, gristmill, distillery, tavern, and Hell Creek. The name of the town is believed to come from overheard comments from German travelers that stuck when they said, “So schön hell!” (Translated as, “So beautifully bright!”), or early resident George Reeves who when asked what the town should be called said, “I don’t care, you can name it Hell for all I care.” Less than 300 people live in Hell, but all of them embrace the name, and there are many restaurants and tourist traps to visit. Best time of year to visit, Halloween, naturally!
6RESOLUTE – NUNAVUT
Iceland has become a popular vacation destination, but maybe it’s time for Resolute, Nunavut to shine right along with the Aurora Borealis. Situated on Cornwallis Island, this is just about as far as you can go in Canada and still encounter human life. It is one of the coldest places on earth where people live, and is home to a small Inuit community. While it’s cold and there are times of the year where there are nearly 24 hours a day of sunlight or darkness, it’s the perfect spot to view the Northern Lights in all of their glory.
5THE DWARF VILLAGE – CHINA
Yangsi is a village in China where around 40 percent of the folks who live there are shorter than three foot ten. 36 of the 80 people who live in this village are dwarves, and no one can really explain why. Scientists have tested the soil and water for anything unusual, but the elders of the village believe the cause was a disease that struck the town one summer many, many years ago when a number of villagers, mostly children, became ill and just stopped growing. Others believe that it is a curse caused when the town feasted on a turtle who cursed them. Bad news, unless you are from China you are not allowed to visit Yangsi – no tourists allowed, I guess we’ll have to visit through the photos!
4ACCIDENT – MARYLAND
Another small town with a really cool name, Accident came to be with the first settlers in the 1786 original land survey. Home to only 325 people, residents of this town are called ‘accidentals’ which is fun just in itself. While we know that many towns share the same name across North America, or around the world, Accident is truly unique. Accident is the only town with that name in the entire United States – and there’s no accident about that.
3SPOTTED LAKE, BC
This is a sacred location to people of the native Okanagan Sylix. During the summer the water in the lake evaporates, leaving small mineral pools which give the appearance of different colored spots. This is a view truly worth taking in, but note that you need to be respectful of this land, which belongs to the Sylix. You can view and snap photos of the spotted lake on Highway 3, just northwesterly from the tiny town of Osoyoos, but do not trespass on the tribal land when taking in this natural wonder.
2THE GIANT’S CAUSEWAY
It may be worth visiting the small town of Bushmills, as just 4.8 kilometers away is The Giant’s Causeway, the fourth greatest natural wonder in the United Kingdom. Here are around 40,000 huge interlocking columns, which were created by a volcanic fissure eruption 50 to 60 million years ago. Most columns are hexagonal, and the tallest ones are around 39 feet high. This is one of the most popular tourist traps in Northern Ireland, and definitely worth visiting for the awe-inspiring view of what nature can create!
1THE YELLOW FLEET SHIP COMMUNITY
This is a community that has since left, but is worthy of remembering should you ever find yourself in the Suez Canal. Humans have generally been pretty crummy when it comes to littering. In the 1960’s fifteen yellow ships from numerous countries were just left to rot in the Suez Canal instead of being returned to their homelands after a six-day war, and the merchant ships became stuck in the sand. A number of sailors decided to claim squatter’s rights of sorts and made the ships their home for several. They even organized ‘neighbourhood’ activities and their own postal system between the ships, but eventually abandoned their posts when the ships were cleared in 1972.