Here’s the thing about teaching folks how to fly airplanes – you try to avoid doing it next to big buildings. This seems fairly reasonable, so I was not very surprised when my husband’s training base was in the middle of Mississippi about 2.5 hours from any major city. Then it dawned on me when we were looking down the road at career paths – even once he learns how to fly, it takes up a lot of space to have an airfield, let alone one large enough for a fleet of Air Force jets. So a great majority of the air bases would *probably* not be taking up prime real estate in the USA’s Top 30 Places to Live Under 30. And while I never identified particularly as a “city girl,” as my definition always resembled a caricature from Sex and the City, I realized how much I loved the lifestyle of being in the hustle and bustle of a vibrant metro area.
Does this mean that I’m doomed to years and years of living in obscure parts of the world, wallowing in my remoteness? Absolutely not! It does mean that I’ll get to live in places I never would have thought up myself and have a grand adventure!
Small-town living seems to be much more of the norm in the Air Force, which can be a tough pill to swallow for some. There are some distinct challenges – the most popular grocery store is usually a Walmart, the closest airport is at least 45 min away and costs about $500 to fly in and out of, and the coolest bar is more likely a dive frequented by the local fellas who have been going there for 30 years. Call me crazy, but I like enjoying where I live and the community I’m a part of, so with each move, I make it a point to find the things that I love about that place. Here are my 4 things that I have loved to learn to love about living in small towns and how to make the most of them.
- Money, Money, Money
The Air Force isn’t the only one who gets to benefit from the cheap real estate! The cost of living is typically incredible, and it’s amazing to see how far your dollar will go. What we paid for a one bedroom apartment in Atlanta translates to something more than 2-3 times the size with no threat of rent increases each year. Money management becomes much more manageable in your 20’s when everything around you isn’t so dang expensive! This can mean paying off debt more effectively, saving for actually owning our houses and cars, and having the money for bigger experiences when you take well-earned leave.
I may sound like your mom or dad on this tip, but take the advantage of this circumstance to get ahead on your financial goals!
- Small-Town Foodies
I’m not going to lie, one of the first things my husband and I look up is how close the nearest Chick-fil-a is to our new base. After a little party (or mourning) for the chicken biscuits we have in our future (or lack there-of), we start asking around for the best places to eat in town. Note – don’t trust Yelp and Trip Advisor in these areas!! The “find dining” option is often an over-priced trap and the recommended breakfast spot is McDonald’s on these sites. This is when word of mouth becomes so important. It’s actually incredible how often the random restaurant attached to a gas station makes the best sandwiches you’ve had in your life.
Interestingly enough, the “cheap eats” of these areas are normally the way to go. In Columbus, MS, our favorite spots were Little Kitchen (two double-wides smacked together that sold some mean breakfast burritos and the best Chinese food in the state) and Hank’s (a bar-b-que joint with a tin roof that smoked new meat on the daily and had their ribbons and trophies lining the walls to prove how much folks loved it). In Altus, OK, our new favorite spot is Donuts and Fried Rice – yes you heard that right. They sell amazing donuts and killer fried rice (or lo mein if that’s more your thing).
Don’t judge these books by their cover, and if you do, place your bet on the dinkiest “looking” option, because they’re probably not wasting their time on trendy décor and letting their food speak for itself.
- Local Festivities and Surroundings
Ever been to a rodeo?? Well I hadn’t either until the Great Plains Rodeo showed up 5 min down the road from my house! It was quite literally my first rodeo, and I had zero regrets paying the $10 entrance fee and eating the foot-long corn dog. These are the kinds of “cultural experiences” that make living in a new place so fun and exciting. In all seriousness, going to these events normally gives a great peak into the heritage of the area and how it’s been a part of building this country in its own little (or big!) way. Also when you look within the 1-2 hour radius of the area surrounding you, it’s incredible the natural gems you can come across. I thought I would desperately miss all of the trees and green that I was surrounded by in Georgia, but I’ve be struck by how open and free the plains of the West/Middle America can make you feel – and how big the sky is!
I think it’s so important to take a moment to appreciate the unique beauty and culture of a place, particularly if it’s different from your own. After all, it’s a piece of patchwork that makes America (and the world!) such a great place to explore.
- The Patriotic and Pleasant People
Beyond a doubt, my favorite part of living in these small Air Force towns is the people. You have your Air Force community who can get you better than family. Then you have the locals who are basically the definition of “salt of the earth.” It’s like they have this 6th sense that you’re a new person in another foreign land and could use some extra support and encouragement! They notice those Air Force decals on your car (or military hair cut) and add in the military discount without you asking. They ask you questions about who you are and how you’re liking it here, and you know they genuinely care about your answers. They make settling into your new normal actually possible.
Adjusting to a new environment is a choice, and we get to choose whether we go about it dragging our feet and counting down the days until we get out of there OR making the most of it while we’re there. Slowly but surely, we can all become Transitions Experts together and fall in love with every little town we transition through along the way.