Nov 25th, 2019, 05:04 PM

Lessons Learned in Malta

By Jill Campbell
Lower Barrakka Gardens in Valetta, Malta
View of the sea through an archway in the Lower Barraka Gardens / Image credit: Jill Campbell
Tips for Solo Travel Realized by Yours Truly

One gloomy day in early October, I was in class, staring out the window with that "when will my husband return from war" gaze. Looking deeply into the generic chaos of a Parisian boulevard, I became overwhelmed with the desire to get away. I needed to shock my system-- to overthrow my routine and the monotony of student life, just for a few days. And that was when "Fall Break" appeared in flashing lights. And I ran towards it with all my might.

10 minutes later, I had a round-trip flight to Malta with no possibility of cancellation. I chose to spend nights (also non-refundable) at a little Bed & Breakfast on the island of Gozo: the country's second-largest island that is less frequented by tourists than the main island of Malta, which gives the country its name. Gozo is thought of as off-the-beaten-path, which was exactly what I wanted for my getaway. 

I had never done any solo traveling before, and had little idea of what to expect, or more generally speaking, what I was going to do with myself. I picked up some things along my way that might be useful if you're thinking about doing some solo travel yourself. Or, if you belong to the small group of people that is genuinely interested in what the hell I was doing in the center of the Mediterranean, alone, allow me to enlighten you with my little guide to solo travel, all learned from experience.  

Gozo's rural island landscape as seen from my hotel room/ Image credit: Jill Campbell


  • First off, if you're thinking about solo traveling for the first time, that probably means you should go for it. 

We AUP students are spoiled rotten by the sheer volume of cultures and languages reachable in under four hours. That said, solo travel doesn't have to be for everyone. For a long while, I was pretty actively uninterested in traveling alone, even when I was doing quite a bit of touring through Europe with friends. And that is just fine because I wasn't particularly ready either.

Obviously there is no test you have to pass before you can travel alone. That said, it's pretty clear that solo travel takes confidence and independence. If you're seriously considering doing it, you probably have a strong sense of these two things already. So go for it. 

A residential street in Gozo, Malta, seen on a walk I took one morning/ Image credit: Jill Campbell
  • You're going to feel how you're going to feel, and there's a good chance you'll feel lonely at some point.

The key is not to let these feelings rule your behavior.

As soon as I got to my room at the B&B and the owner of the place shut the door behind her, I was instantly overwhelmed by the weight of my solitude. But did I spend the first night of my vacation in a fetal position in my comfy bed, which is certainly what I felt like doing? No, I acknowledged my discomfort and remembered that this was something I signed up for. That shift in thinking allowed me to focus on what I was really interested in doing, and that was eating. So I left the hotel and took myself out to dinner. In no time there was a glass of Maltese wine in my hand, and on my plate, the freshest, most magnificent seabass I have ever tasted in my life.  

I think about that fish every day. 

There will likely be times where you have to tap into your own resilience to get what you came for, which brings me to my next point:

  • Set intentions, but don't set that many.

Intentions are what you want out of your trip. They should partly be about seeing and doing things unique to the place where you've chosen to invest your time and money in. But also consider what's driving you to go on a vacation in the first place--it's probably more than just wanderlust.

I had four full days of vacation. I set out to see three major attractions and read two books. I also decided that each day, I would write, stretch, and meditate.

The reason my trip went so well was that I set reasonable goals, was flexible with my planning and freed myself from the mentality that I had to see and do everything. One day, I didn't leave the hotel at all. But I managed to create a pretty ideal balance of relaxation and tourism, and when I finally left Malta, I had the feeling that I had gotten everything I set out for. 

One of the attractions I wanted to see was the Citadel in the town of Victoria, Gozo. This structure dates back to 1500 B.C. / Image credit: Jill Campbell
  •  Keep a book at arm's length. 

If you're at all like me, you may have a slight (or not so slight) aversion to spending an excess of unstructured solo time, and/or being by yourself for a long time while in public. I found that keeping a book on me at all times was an ideal way to nip uncertainty and vulnerability in the bud: you can always count on having something to do--something to direct your attention towards. Dining alone is relatively new to me, and having a book makes it a breeze. And for that matter, by the last few meals I had in Malta, my book didn't even come out of my bag.

On another note, solo traveling is a great time to finish the books you've started and let go of. 

A picnic at Ramla Beach in Gozo with a spread of Maltese cheese, bread, Charcuterie, bruschetta topping, hummus, produce, almonds, and a marzipan pastry, featuring my copy of 'Giovanni's Room' by James Baldwin / Image credit: Jill Campbell
  • Consider getting your chakras balanced by a small Maltese tantric shaman named Vee.

Maybe this one is too niche. But, the point is a good one. I popped into what I thought was a spa to ask about getting a massage. I struck up a conversation with the man at the front desk, who turned out to be a tantric shaman, and the leader of the place, which was actually a spiritual healing center. Three hours later, I left, having undergone a comprehensive energy healing session that involved a discussion about my mental health and well-being and highlighting areas I wanted to bring attention to. This was followed by a massage, chimes, crystals, interesting smells, flaming wood and lots of deep breathing. 

This experience is something I remember fondly from my vacation, and something I probably wouldn't have done in any other circumstance. Getting Vee to balance my chakras was my way of getting out there and pushing myself to try new things, which is really what solo traveling is all about. What I'm really getting at here, be open-minded and curious, and you will run into all kinds of new experiences, some more out there than others. 

The road I took to get to Ramla Beach, also the road where I stumbled into the healing center where I got my treatment / Image credit: Jill Campbell
  • The advice I will leave you with: think long and hard before you do intense hallucinogenic drugs with a small Maltese tantric shaman named Vee, even though he did quite a good job balancing your chakras, and he says that licking the Colorado River Toad (whose skin is covered in a poison containing DMT among other chemicals) seems like a logical next step in your healing process.

You may be expecting me to advise you against this. However, I can't tell you what to do here, not only because the likelihood that you will ever be in this position is nominal. All I can do is remind you, dear reader, that you are the sole protector of your safety, perhaps more than ever when alone in a foreign place.

As it turns out, I didn't lick the toad with Vee. But if you had licked the toad, maybe you'd be writing a far more interesting article than this one. I would read that article.