People and places change over time, sometimes dramatically. Often our own perspectives change as well which affects how we interpret and interact with the world around us.
I’ve certainly read a lot about various places and the people inhabiting these places. Often we hear the stereotypes and arrive with a preconceived notion of what to expect when we explore a new place. Sometimes we fear a bogeyman that doesn’t really exist to the expected degree (crime, rude people, etc) and sometimes were disappointed by what we see and experience, which doesn’t match what we were told and read.
I’ve had the experience of seeing places change over the course of time too. One place I’ll mention below I would have considered one of the three friendliest states in the country 10-15 years ago. Now I would say that is sadly no longer true. There are different reasons why places experience change (growth, interstate migrations, economic conditions, and unfortunately politics), but life and humanity does evolve over time and so might this blog post.
So what states, cities, and countries seem to have the friendliest people? Well, we need some criteria to help answer that.
- Openness: How likely are people willing to open up and talk to you without knowing you in advance? This covers everything from simple hellos on the sidewalk, to conversations at the table, to advice from a local in a cab.
- Authenticity: How legitimately nice are people? I think we are all well aware of the types of people that will feign friendliness just to separate you from your money. Genuine people are trustworthy and real and make people feel safer and more welcome.
- Courtesy: Even generally unfriendly people can have a degree of courtesy and respect, which includes holding open doors, letting you merge in traffic, avoiding certain language that would result in getting sent to the principal’s office in school, etc.
- Live-and-Let-Live: This is kind of a way of saying how open are people to allowing people to think and act a little different than the herd. You can often feel this one more than hear it, in terms of questioning looks or feelings of isolation.
- Cliquishness: Friendly places don’t have many socially isolated groups that make it difficult or impossible to integrate or feel welcome.
So keeping this list of criteria in mind, here is my list of the friendliest places I’ve been.
Wyoming is the smallest state in population and many of its town have less people than a single city street in larger states (I’m not exaggerating). Wyoming also has some of the friendliest and most open people I’ve ever met.
With the exception of Jackson (which has slowly become a millionaires and billionaires club), Wyoming-ites are about as genuine as they come. They also have the mountains states Live-and-Let-Live ethos and are as open to talk as they come.
In one small-town restaurant stop the owners almost treated us like family members. It was honestly a bit of an odd feeling for us, coming from a more urban area where such a welcoming attitude is cause for suspicion. No, it’s just a different life in Wyoming.
Santa Fe, NM
I’m not going to speak for the entirety of New Mexico, which is pretty varied depending on what city or region you are in. But Santa Fe just has a friendly, calming vibe that is hard to describe.
I’ve walked through the town and hung out in the tourist areas and I notice that even the visitors begin to pick up a disarming attitude. People are friendly, no one is rushed, people smile. Yes, they smile at you, which in a lot of other places would make people think twice about their intent.
There is no cliquishness here and people are genuinely friendly. This is also a place where Live-and-Let-Live is never in doubt.
It’s important to understand the distinction between the locals and the out-of-town visitors. The Black Hills fill with tourists in the summer, who bring their medley of attitudes. But the actual South Dakotans are a friendly lot of people that could not be any less pretentious.
Rapid City is a big metropolis only in a place like South Dakota (or neighboring Wyoming), but it does have the best brewpub in America (The Firehouse)and really great people who smile and chat. The surrounding towns and cities in the region are worry-free, calm, and really scenic. The last time we were in South Dakota I honestly thought about moving there.
The first of two Carolinas I’ll mention on this blog is a more populated place than the three earlier mentioned locales, but from my brief experience it belongs on this blog. North Carolina had one of the nicest waitresses I’ve ever experienced, who cared a lot that I enjoyed my food and was all too happy to take the item off our bill. We also had a great time eating BBQ in downtown Charlotte, where we could easily have felt out of place if not for the friendly people. People seemed genuine and kind as a whole.
I also encountered a lot of friendly people at Chimney Rock State Park. I do need to visit more of North Carolina to get a fuller picture of this place, but my initial experiences were all positive.
Ok, this place really stood out for friendliness. I was literally taken aback by how friendly, polite, and genuine the people of South Carolina were on our visit in 2020. We traveled across the state from the north near Charlotte, NC to the southern coast of Charleston and Kiawah Island, and back across to the northwest border and we fell a little in love with the state enough to say we might move there someday.
We had multiple conversations with people that we would likely not have elsewhere (or not so frequently or easily). There were literally zero people that we can think of along the way that were rude or unfriendly. It felt good in South Carolina.
I grew up in the American Midwest and traveled to a number of neighboring states. The Midwestern states of Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Kansas, and Missouri deserve a mention of their own here.
These states can be a little cliquey (honestly I hated some of this growing up and found life genuinely boring as a kid with a thirst for adventure), but this region has some of the most polite and authentic people in the country. People have a really strong sense of ethics and you will find that if your car breaks down anywhere in America, you’d be happiest to have it happen in one of these Midwestern states. They’ll take care of you and make sure you’re safely back on the road.
Yes, I’m including an entire country here. I heard before traveling there that the people are very friendly and nice. For once, the truth is exactly what other people say. I think a lot of this comes down to stress. People there just don’t feel it, or let it get to them. Ticos are just fun-loving and really friendly.
Even the expatriate Americans are friendly there. They live with a lot of inconveniences like unreliable electricity, challenges acquiring things, etc and theft is a real issue (we had no issues and realized our concerns were a bit unfounded), but when you wake up every day with beautiful scenery and monkeys hanging out overhead you tend not to stress much.
The Ticos rate high in all five of my criteria for the list, except maybe courtesy on the roadways. That’s a different story 🙂
The friendliest place is not a place at all but a group of people who all share a love of the outdoors. Hikers are the friendliest people in the entire world.
When I go hiking to escape the daily grind I not only get to enjoy the outdoors but enjoy the friendliness of the hiking community as well. When on the trail “hello” and “good morning” are just the standard greeting. Everyone is happy and ready to share their happiness as well.
There are groups of outdoors enthusiast groups that are not friendly. Bicyclists are the worst ones, followed by the often douchey/pretentious/stuck-up skier community. But hikers…they are just great and love being at home in nature.
Make sure to go out early BEFORE the crowds of tourists arrive to understand fully what I mean 🙂
A Few More Thoughts
There are a few places that are unfairly maligned by stereotypes that I think I’ll mention here:
- California: It is crowded in areas but the people here are friendlier and more fun-loving than they get credit for nationally. They can’t help a lot of things that go on in their state.
- The South: When I first went to the Southern states I thought as a whole they were some of the friendliest. That seems to be changing somewhat as more people move in and the culture as a whole seems to be changing. Hopefully Southern hospitality isn’t going away.
- New England: I heard that New England was rather unfriendly and rude before visiting. It didn’t really stand out that way to us on our visit. We even met some nice people (and one or two that were somewhat pretentious). But it is not, as a whole, unfriendly at all.
- Utah: I have been to Utah many times and for most of that time I would say Utahns are some of the nicest people in the country. The last few visits we’ve run into some rather unfriendly people. Some of those people I believe were out-of-towners, but it resulted in me removing Utah from the friendly list.
Least Friendly Places
I’m hesitant to list the most unfriendly places I’ve been but here goes:
Seattle, WA: Offish, sort of rude, and unhelpful (even giving you wrong directions)
Victoria, BC: Very stuffy, even to children.
Las Vegas, NV: Literally some scary people that might go off on you without warning.
Orlando, FL: We met not a single nice person our last time there.
Washington D.C.: The government employees could use some training on being kinder to the visitors.
Chicago, IL: Really didn’t like it the last time I was there.
Gatlinburg, TN: Crowds were really a problem there – I’m sure the people were nicer individually. Pigeon Forge felt better.
Miami and Fort Lauderdale, FL: There are a lot of transplants there. The genuine Floridians I’ve known are much nicer.
New Orleans: I love the history, food, music, and culture of New Orleans and Lousiana. I would love to take the family back there and explore it more. But I think I’m fully done with Bourbon Street 🙂