“I live in that solitude which is painful in youth, but delicious in the years of maturity” — Albert Einstein
Albert Einstein’s quote speaks to me on many levels. I remember the painful sting of never quite feeling like I ‘belonged’ as a child. To this day, when I close my eyes, I can teleport myself back in time within seconds to one of my earliest memories. My mum was friends with other mums with children around my age. At one of the mum’s houses one afternoon, the other girls all played together while I watched on. In that moment, for the first time in my life, I realized I was an outsider watching on as the world passed me by.
As a four-year-old (I could be slightly off with my timeline), that bone-deep feeling of isolation cut deep. Back then, standing alone was not a choice. Fast forward three decades and I find myself naturally gravitating towards solitude, as it allows me to mine for the insights I’m incapable of receiving amid noise and distraction.
Travel Is Like Stepping Into A Different Dimension
My first extended experience of overseas travel came via a family trip to Europe in 2013. A six-week whirlwind to Greece, Italy, France, Malta, and England that gifted myself and my parents with a mere snapshot of what Europe had to offer. (A trip I almost quit my job at the time to go on, but that’s another story.)
The Acropolis in Athens. Pompeii and Mount Vesuvius in Italy. The Palace of Versailles in France.
Each day was filled with a bevy of inspiring and captivating new experiences — almost too many to adequately comprehend in such a short amount of time.
That all said, one place gripped me like no other: Malta.
I was enthralled by Malta’s crystal blue ocean and rocky landscape. I’m typically not a fan of crowds but the hustle and bustle of Valletta, the capital city of Malta, played like music to my ears. As a bit of a history buff, I enjoyed hearing about the role Malta played in World War II.
And then there’s the food. A ricotta filled pastizzi (a traditional savoury pastry) for less than $1 from a small corner store, rich ice cream that makes your mouth water in the unrelenting heat of the summer… this may be a controversial statement but in my experience, no one does food like the Maltese. (Full disclosure: I am half Maltese by descent.)
While I found myself mesmerised by all of the tourist attractions that Malta had to offer, there was a stronger pull acting as a backdrop to my experience. Malta felt like home away from home (I’m from Australia). In a way that no other place ever has.
Being Alone In A World That’s Afraid To Be Alone
As self-indulgent as this may sound, I enjoy my own company. So, it came as no surprise to people who knew me well that I yearned to do a solo trip. My destination of choice: Malta.
I’d already visited and Malta is an English speaking country where I felt safe. It was an easy choice.
Most people who have travelled will likely agree it’s important to travel with the right person or people. I travelled briefly to the United States of America in 2012 with a friend and it was a blast.
That said, travelling alone removes one’s safety blanket. You are all you’ve got — for better or worse. I must admit, as the days and weeks leading into my trip in 2017 ticked by, I began feeling more and more anxious about my solo adventure.
What if something went wrong? What if everything went wrong? What if, what if, what if?
Despite these doubts, the allure of being a completely blank slate in a new destination was too attractive to bypass. The notion that I could be anything or anyone. Be whoever I wanted to be, without any expectation.
Thankfully, everything went swimmingly and upon reflection, I needed to embark on that trip alone. The freedom, the space, the thinking time… I am in no way a morning person, but in Malta, I looked forward to waking up naturally at 5:30 a.m. to watch the sun rise on the beach along St Julian’s Bay.
My journal got a good workout on my Maltese adventure. Each morning, as the sun rose, I sat on the rocks in front of the beach and wrote, blissfully aware of the tiny crabs poking out of the holes in the rocks from time to time.
My night-time trip to Mdina, which sits atop a hill and is also known as the ‘Silent City,’ unearthed some particularly powerful revelations. Perhaps it was the quaint narrow streets or the mix of Norman and Baroque architecture, or maybe I needed the quiet to come to terms with some serious truth bombs.
I had spent years working full-time on my business, trying to make it profitable. Unintentionally, I repeated the same patterns of beginning with a meaningful cause or vision, but inevitably gutting the business of that vision while trying to monetise it.
Although it was night-time and I was alone, I felt safe as I made my way through Mdina’s narrow shadowy streets and alleyways. My mind raced with thoughts that somehow spiralled into a simple promise to myself: from now on, I’m committed to doing meaningful work. In that moment, I felt both lost and found at the same time.
Lost because I knew this commitment would require me to throw away everything I’d been working on in my business up to that point. Found because this epiphany was accompanied by a feeling of peace and knowing I’d found my way.
The Answers We Seek Can Be Found In The Quiet
There have been times in my life when I yearned to be surrounded by people. A willingness to embrace solitude has come with a better understanding of who I am and what brings me joy. Lasting joy—not the fleeting kind that comes from materialism and having lots of ‘stuff’.
These days, I feel content doing almost anything alone. I’ve gone to the cinemas alone (in Malta, I watched Wonder Woman in a cinema that, besides me, was completely empty). I have no issues eating out alone, exercising, and so on.
Of course, there is nothing ‘wrong’ (I hate labels) with surrounding yourself with people or filling your calendar from dawn to dusk. But if every moment of your existence is scheduled, where is the space for you to grow and evolve?
In my experience, the real magic typically comes in the most unexpected and quiet of moments.