Isolation can be one of the most challenging aspects of travelling. I spent a hot summer month on a smallholding in rural Malta, living and working alone without electricity, internet, hot water, or a bathroom. This was part of a volunteer exchange, swapping a few hours of garden work for a place to sleep and food to eat. In many ways, my time in Malta was like stepping through a portal 50 years into the past. When I look back, I can still clearly see the amber glow of candles and kerosene lamps, the shadows of their flames flickering against the walls on balmy nights as I curled up with a book and spiced tea.
For the adventurous traveller, cookie cutter itineraries just don’t cut it, and the unknown off-the-beaten-trail is much more alluring. Whilst deviating from the path well trodden doesn’t have to mean total isolation, the less travelled road can be a remote and a lonely one.
I came to Malta to experience the real country, with its mysterious stone age temples, eclectic culture, unique history, stunning coastline and day-to-day town life. I certainly got what I bargained for. The owner of the land was a cool local guy with a passion for archaeology and adventure, and he came by pretty regularly and showed me amazing things around the island. However, he lived in another town and I ended up spending a lot of time by myself in a very out-of-the-way place. It was a challenge to deal with the remoteness, but I came to embrace the somewhat monkish life, welcome the solitude and dive completely into the unique cultural landscape I was in. I found that by temporarily forfeiting my connection with other people, I had more time to focus on my connection with nature, the wider world, and myself. I learned a few things on the lonely road off the beaten path. When it comes to dealing with isolation, here are 5 tips I picked up.
1) Take time to appreciate the small things
For many, the sunrise and sunset merely signal in and out the commencement of our daily routine, the beginning and end of our day-to-day grind. But something as simple as the rising and the setting of the sun can be a spectacle, we only need to give it a stage and become spectators. Travelling alone and remotely, we have a freedom to spend our time in a way that is not always feasible. Away from the daily grind, take a bit of extra time to appreciate the sun, the moon, the stars; the simple forces of nature that are so often taken for granted. Find somewhere nice to witness the sun rise and set, whether that be over a city skyline or a clear horizon.
Ok, so this might be an obvious one, but remote situations away from distractions are a perfect way to get some good reading done! That book you always said you would get around to but never did? Time to pick it up. In absence of people, books are especially good friends.
3) Work on your skills
Keeping your mind occupied is a simple way to navigate travel isolation. For me, it was freeing to have so much time to spend working on the things I was interested in. Whether it’s photography, origami, fitness, logarithmic graphing, whatever your interests are, use the abundance of time to explore your interests and work on your skills.
4) Research where you are
Experiencing somewhere first-hand through sight, smell, and taste is valuable. However, to come away with more than a just an acquaintance with a place is extremely rewarding. Research something about where you are, that you can take away with you when you leave. Can you learn a bit of the local language? Some history? Or perhaps even a few tasty local recipes? Putting in an effort to learn or understand something will enhance your travel experience and connect you more deeply with place and people. Immerse yourself deeply in your surroundings, foster a relationship with place and let it fill you up.
5) Just embrace the loneliness
In strange and foreign places, our displacement from our usual environment strips us from our normal crutches of identity. As an outsider, our bearings within our normal social and professional spheres are no longer relevant identifiers of who we are. Embrace the nakedness, the vulnerability and the immense freedom that comes with being both no-one and anyone. Roam, wander, and explore your surroundings in this transient state of being, find freedom in solitude, lose yourself and get totally lost. Being alone is ok.
Originally published on Pen and Trail