Getting to Know Lara Dunning of Small Town Washington & Beyond
11 Questions About Small Towns And Lara
If you are in search of small towns, and all they have to offer, look no further than Small Town WA & Beyond. Lara Dunning started the site a little over a year and a half ago after she realized all the places she wanted to visit were never covered by any travel blogs. We recently met up with her while visiting Anacortes, and that is where the idea for this interview was born.
Read on to learn more about Lara, her travels, her blog, and more.
Questions & Answers
Tell us a little bit about yourself. Where are you from, how did you end up in Washington, how did you get into writing, etc.?
I grew up in the Midwest and fell in love with the West on our family camping trips. After living in Alaska and Montana, I knew that the west side of the states was where I felt at home. I came to Anacortes, Washington to work for my college roommate’s family. The plan was to redevelop an old cannery into a destination boutique hotel. Unfortunately, that didn’t come to be. My husband and I decided to stay in Anacortes.
I’ve always loved writing, but growing up I never thought of it as a career. A few years ago, I decided to return to my love of writing and I earned an MFA at the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts in children’s young adult and nonfiction writing. I write YA, and have several published essays. During my schooling, I developed a passion for nonfiction writing, and I’ve always had a passion for travel, so it seemed a natural fit to go into travel writing.
How long has Small Town Washington & Beyond been online and what gave you the idea to create it?
Small Town Washington & Beyond has been online for a little over a year and a half. When I started getting into travel writing, I noticed that the places I wanted to go to and write about were small towns or off-the-beaten-path locations. I started looking at other travel blogs I noticed that none focused on small town travel and I thought that would be a perfect niche for me. Having grown up in a small town and living in a small town I understand some of the challenges they face with tourism, and I wanted to create a site that inspired people to visit smaller towns and give an alternative to big city travel.
If we remember correctly, it was first Small Town WA, without the Beyond. Why did you decided to expand beyond WA?
I decided to expand it when I was invited on a FAM trip to visit three small towns in Minnesota – Owatonna, Faribault, and Northfield. Since then I’ve visited small towns in Georgia, Florida, Greece, North Carolina, Oregon, and Ireland. While I focus heavily on Washington, I wanted to be able to explore other small towns and share what I discovered.
Do you have a specific routine when you go to review each place you visit?
I don’t really have a routine. I like to ask locals where they like to eat and what they like to do. I do take photos and carry my reporter’s notebook. People often smile when I show up with a pencil tucked in my hair.
What's your favorite small town?
I used to be able to answer this. My answer ‒ Coupeville, WA. It is the second town in Washington State and has such an interesting history that includes raids, beheadings, and a historic fort. It also has my favorite restaurant in WA, the Oystercatcher. Now, I’ve been to so many amazing small towns that it’s hard to settle on a favorite.
What small town is on your bucket list?
Recently, I’ve been in intrigued by the country of Liechtenstein, which is between Austria and Switzerland. It has a population of around 38,000, so all of its towns would be small towns.
Tell us about an underrated PNW place/event.
When people ask me, where they should visit and I say Ellensburg, WA, I usually get a look of disbelief. I had the opportunity to visit a couple of years ago and I just fell in love with it. It has a very walkable downtown, lots of history, food, beer, wine, and nearby recreation.
For fun: what would be your spirit animal and why?
This question made me smile as my collection of personal essays included encounters I’ve had with animals throughout my entire life. I spent a lot of time looking through my Animal Spirit Guides book researching what it meant if you saw this animal, what characteristic it had, and if it was your spirit animal what type of person you were. I didn’t find one that spoke to me, but what I came away with was a sense that the world is more mysterious than we think and if we stay in touch with the natural world it might be telling us something about ourselves. As an example, right before I left for Ireland I saw six snakes within a week. One snake, a bird dropped right next to my car. I’m not sure what it means now, or if means anything, but I’m open to the possibility.
What is your social media network of choice and why?
I love photography, so Instagram is my favorite.
Given unlimited funds and barring all other barriers, what would be your dream travel destination?
I have two dream destinations ‒ New Zealand and Tasmania.
Tell us something about yourself your readers might find surprising.
I lived in Alaska for 10 years. Three of those years, I worked at a fish processing plant, on a remote island in the Aleutian Chain. The only way onto the island was by float plane or boat. Summers were beyond amazing. We’d have whales come into the harbor, seals, and a lone puffin I named Wilson.
Many thanks to Lara for taking the time to answer our questions about herself and Small Town Washington & Beyond. We hope you enjoy getting to know more about Lara as much as we have. We have driven by Ellensburg so many times without ever stopping, next time we are in the area we will check it out! Read more about Lara and her travels by checking out her websites and following her social media accounts.
"Dream big, travel small."
Writer and Founder of Small Town Washington & Beyond