A railed wooden path leads towards the shore.

Photo © Laura Martone.

Despite my lifelong passion for travel, I admit to possessing certain qualities that often make it difficult to be a travel writer. Besides those that I’ve already blogged about—such as my perfectionistic streak and severe aversion to heat—I also suffer, at times, from a deplorably poor sense of direction (yes, I indeed see the irony in that) and an inability to make decisions in a timely manner. I distinctly remember, for instance, a long-ago visit to Washington, D.C.’s Smithsonian complex, during which I had a momentary panic attack—overwhelmed by the sheer vastness of those beloved museums and dismayed by the realization that I could never fully experience all the artifacts contained therein.

In other words, I simply couldn’t decide on what to see first—so, thank goodness my mother was there to guide me through at least some of the varied collections. These days, I’m equally grateful for my husband, Dan, who finds it much easier to make decisions—concerning where to go, how to get there, and how long we should stay in any one place. Don’t get me wrong: I certainly feel comfortable enough to voice my own opinions when it comes to travel-related decisions, but it must be noted that Dan is a much more efficient decision-maker than I.

Before you wonder where this rambling post is headed, I should explain—I’ve decided to share such foibles with you for one very important reason: to demonstrate just how difficult it is for me to create “best of” travel lists, no matter the topic. Although I’ve offered my fair share of such lists over the past few years of overseeing this U.S.-centric blog—including the most romantic cities, the top bargain destinations, favorite movie locales, the most haunted cities, must-pack items, and the top beaches in the Great Lakes State—I confess that it always takes me longer than it should to compile such selections.

Nevertheless, I’m fascinated by the proliferation of such “best of” lists among travel blogs and magazines, and I always find it rather hard to resist offering my own take on such round-ups. Several months ago, for instance, Moon’s online marketing manager, Jen Rios-Burns, sent me a link to Budget Travel‘s 2012 list of “America’s coolest small towns”—which encompasses such coastal gems as Beaufort, North Carolina; Cape May, New Jersey; and Port Townsend, Washington, plus quiet villages like Cooke City, Montana, near Yellowstone National Park and Damascus, Virginia, on the Appalachian Trail. Other selections include Hammondsport, New York; Nashville, Indiana; Ste. Genevieve, Missouri; Jerome, Arizona; and Weaverville, California, and while, at the time, I understood the reasons such towns were chosen, I couldn’t help but reflect on my own favorite small towns in the United States. Then, after reading Smithsonian‘s more recent list of “the 20 best small towns in America”—which highlights some of my favorite places, such as Taos, New Mexico; Durango, Colorado; Marfa, Texas; Princeton, New Jersey; Key West, Florida; Laguna Beach, California; and Oxford, Mississippi—I realized that several of my most treasured destinations were still missing. So, I decided to compile a list of my favorite small towns in America—18 in all—and share them with you over the course of a six-part series (seven parts, if you count this intro post).

Needless to say, it wasn’t easy for me to narrow down my selections—and stopping at the “top 10” or the “top dozen” proved to be impossible. There are, after all, hundreds of terrific small towns in this diverse country, and while I hesitate to call my choices the “best 18” in America (despite the seemingly misleading title of this series), I do believe that all of them (none of which, incidentally, have populations over 10,200) are ideal for travelers.

So, stay tuned for the first (official) part of this series, which will feature three towns on or near the West Coast—and be posted early next week. In the meantime, what’s your favorite small town in America?