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The Cons
By Gail Palmer
filed: 02.08.2010

“The government shut me down two days ago. So, if anyone asks, you’re my friend.” These are the words used to greet my arrival at the hostel in Valetta, Malta. mapI am temporarily speechless, my body standing inside the sparse flat weighed down by 30 pounds, which after a day and a half of flying in five different airplanes feels more like 60. My mind has wandered back down six flights of stairs and recalls the poorly illuminated puzzle of streets. It sees rows upon rows of stone buildings stuck together like Siamese twins, distinguishable only by the color, size or shape of the door. It remembers looking up for any sign I am in the right place as my taxi driver hands me my pack, closes the trunk and waves good-bye. Back inside I am rapidly taking a mental inventory of my situation:

It is almost midnight in Malta, a country unfamiliar to me
My taxi has driven away.

I carry no cell phone, nor do I know what number would provide information should I need it.

I have seen nothing resembling a hotel since leaving the airport.

I am female.

I am traveling alone. (These two facts are highlighted on my mental list.)

I see before me a man with a male friend sitting on the couch smoking a cigarette.

I have neither seen nor heard any other sign of life since entering this building (which is badly in need of repair).

I am brave, but am I crazy?

I ask to see the room and inquire about others staying, consciously keeping my body between his and the door I entered through. I hope to see other faces of travelers paying less than 12 Euro to stay with my new “friend”. Other eyes who will whisper I am safe and can sleep here with only the worries I packed before leaving home. Worries like, “How do I keep my new camera from being stolen when I take a shower in the morning?” Or, “Will the money belt I brought to hold my passport and cash make sleeping uncomfortable?” Not, “If I have to defend myself from an attacker tonight, do I think I can take this guy?” (I will spare you additional details about my state of mind for fear of giving my mother a heart attack as she sits in South Carolina reading this article.)

I’m told there are two other travelers, but they’re out now. Out? At midnight in what appears to be a dark city? I add this information to the inventory. I see a computer in the corner and inquire about internet. I hear the answer I want and decide to stay. I also decide to create an exception clause in my “no accessing the internet while on vacation” plan.

Exception: When you think your life and safety could be in jeopardy, go ahead and send a few emails.
First order of business, post a “safe landing” message to Facebook so friends and family know I arrived. Second, a quick email to my co-workers so they know the same. Subject line: MALTA. Message field: whimsically left empty and press send. I suddenly question the brilliance of my messages which imply I am fine. Panic! Can he see what I’m typing? One last email to my co-worker who also happens to be my close friend and keeper of what itinerary I do have. “If I go missing, look where I am staying tonight.” Seriously… you can ask him.

Now for extra safety precautions. Camera bag strapped to headboard by my pillow? Check. Tiny little scrapbook scissors placed in drink holder of said camera bag? Check. Passport and cash in my money belt beneath my clothes? Check. Boots ready by bed? Check. Door locked? No lock. Water bottle hung precariously on door such that it will fall if the knob is turned? Check? Does it actually work? Check and check again. Light left purposely on? Without a doubt, check. Now, will my mind let me sleep?

So yes, there are cons to traveling without a great deal of planning and preparation. There are cons to forgoing the 3 star hotel my travel agent suggested I book. There are cons to opting to leave your cell phone in Alaska while you fly halfway around the world. Sometimes, you get unexpected surprises in the night. Sometimes you find yourself lying awake in bed fearful you may have already committed the crime of stupidity which will get you nominated for the Darwin Awards this year. Sometimes, you hear the bottle fall, and you jump up in the night, only to meet your suite mates from Russia and Egypt who have to go through your room to get to theirs. And sometimes you end up laughing and talking for hours with your new friends. And sometimes, just sometimes, you get a parade. I did, but that wasn’t until days later in Florence, Italy… and I’m still trying to seize the day in Malta.

coffeeMy hostel owner, as it turns out, was not one of the cons of my trip. In fact, Alan is who led me to the best cappuccino I would experience during my entire vacation.