Category: mini travel guide

Mini Travel Guide: Malta

Looking for a travel guide to Malta? Click through for Malta travel tips from a local - what to do, where to go, and how to travel Malta cheaply, safely, and respectfully!

Looking for a travel guide to Malta? Reading to visit an English-speaking country with great beaches, amazing food, and a favorable exchange rate? Me, too!

Today Afef, a Malta native, is sharing her best Malta travel tips – what to do, where to go, and how to do it all safely, cheaply, and respectfully!

Malta may be one of the smallest countries, but it’s the seventh  most densely populated country in the world, so prepare yourself to meet and greet people! The Maltese archipelago is actually made up of 3 islands – Malta (the largest), Gozo and Comino.

Maltese and English are both official languages in Malta and the vast majority of the population can speak English and are always willing to help you with directions if you’re lost!

Being such a small country Malta unfortunately doesn’t vary much geographically (there are no mountains apart from some low rolling hills) – but it offers some of the best and cleanest beaches and great nightlife with lots to do around. On the bright side of this – you can easily travel from one tip to the other of the island in under 45 minutes!

traveling in Malta

Must Do in Malta

Go to a beach

Grab your sunscreen and a hat as it can get really hot in the summer season – temperatures nearing  40 degrees Celsius are not a rarity! Fortunately, Malta has plenty of beaches where you can cool down.
Whether you want to try a sandy beach, a rocky beach, a shallow beach or deep sea water – you’re set! You can choose to visit all the types of beaches in a day if you like!
Gozo and Comino also offer a variety of amazing beaches – most popular is the Blue Lagoon in Comino where the water is a clear, aquamarine shade found nowhere else in the islands.

Grab a bargain at the street markets

These markets are a great way to score a bargain. There are various markets around the island on various days, the most famous is the Sunday market at Marsaxlokk. If you love fish I suggest you visit this market to purchase the freshest catch of the day (and if you love bingo – there’s a huge open air game organized each Sunday afternoon!).
If you prefer traditional shopping, don’t worry – we Maltese love shopping. The capital of Valletta, the towns of Sliema, Bugibba, and many other towns all have a prominent shopping centre containing everything from luxury brands to even cheapo ones – your wallet is not safe!

Enjoy the Maltese Nightlife

Maltese people love love love to go out – you can barely find anyone at home on a Saturday night! There are also a lot of bars and discos strewn around the island – but the leader is Paceville which is the country’s number one nightlife spot.
Imagine – a whole little town made up of nothing but bars, discos and nightclubs and no matter what you’re into (rock music, commercial music, rap and hip hop, karaoke, salsa bars or even gentlemens’ clubs) you’re bound to find it here.
There are also huge parties and gigs happening all year long. Just make sure you’re over 17 years old and have an ID card on you before trying to get into clubs – you don’t want to get into any trouble, right?

Fiesta Malta Style

If you’re in the country in summer then you must visit a traditional Maltese Festa!
A Festa is held to celebrate the patron saint of a town/village. Even if you’re not religious, you can still enjoy yourself watching colourful fireworks (both in the sky and on land) and eating at traditional food stalls.
You can attend the traditional “Sunday Morning Marc” where people gather, slather themselves in their patron saint’s colours, get drunk on beer, and run around the streets in a group accompanied by a traditional marching band. Sometimes they pick fights with the competitor groups!

must do while traveling in Malta

Must Go in Malta


Gozo, is the second largest island of the archipelago. It can be reached by ferry from the northern most tip of Malta. It is very different from urbanized Malta: it is much less densely populated and most of it is uninhibited, covered in countryside. There you’ll feel like you’ve gone back in time!


Comino is a must visit summer destination. You can walk around the whole island in less than 20 minutes  and there is only one family living on it!
The only way to arrive on the island is by boat. You can book a boat trip which will guide you along the coast of this small island and show you all the  scenery. The vast majority of these boat trips are very cheap and last a whole day (you will go swimming in the Blue Lagoon, learn about the island’s history and go snorkeling!).


Malta offers some of the best dive sites! You can visit a WWII wreck, poke around inside a sunken ship and look at the most diverse fish fauna the Mediterranean has to offer. Don’t worry if you don’t have a diving license – there are a lot of diving schools around the island who can take you on your first try dive.

Historical Visits

If you’re interested in historical artifacts then Malta is most definitely the place for you! You can visit the world renowned prehistoric temples, Roman remains, Arabic architecture, The Medieval Silent City of Mdina, and of course, the capital which is a whole monument in itself.

Looking for a travel guide to Malta? Click through for Malta travel tips from a local - what to do, where to go, and how to travel Malta cheaply, safely, and respectfully!

Must Eat in Malta

Maltese people, like our Italian brothers and sisters love to eat and know good food! Some of the traditional plates include: rabbit, gbejniet (Gozo cheeselets), octopus in garlic, Maltese bread and galletti amongst many other dishes.

You can easily find these dishes incorporated in almost all restaurants throughout the islands. In summer, you can also grab some sausages, a barbecue set and head to the beach!

The below foods are the most sought after!


Layer upon layer of crispy buttered puff pastry with a pea or ricotta filling – sinfully delicious! Can be bought from all pastizzerias which dot all towns (they’re a very quick and cheap takeaway!)


This is a date filled snack which is usually fried. Stands selling imqaret can be found in the capital and at the street markets (and also some pastizzerias sell this tasty dessert as well).

Cultural tips for Malta

Cultural Tips for Traveling in Malta

The vast majority of the population is very religious, so you should not even think of going into a church with a sleeveless top or a pair of short shorts!
If you get caught without “decent church garments” you can find a little basket or usually a nice lady near the entrance of the church handing you out shawls and long skirts so as to make you decent enough for your visit. Just make sure you return them when you finish snapping photos!
Stilettos are not allowed in the capital’s cathedral either because the marble flooring is fragile – in this case, if you’re caught without flats you can purchase your very own pair of safe slippers (what did you think? You’re going to borrow other people’s shoes? EW!)

Looking for a travel guide to Malta? Click through for Malta travel tips from a local - what to do, where to go, and how to travel Malta cheaply, safely, and respectfully!

Cheap Travel tips for Malta

Malta relies heavily on tourism, so it offers a lot of variety when it comes to choosing places to stay. Airbnb is always cheaper and more authentic than a hotel and let’s you support local families.
Here’s a three-bedroom apartment in Gozo for $64 a night and here’s a private room with a pool for $24 a night. If you’ve never used Airbnb before, here’s $40 towards your first booking!

Any Malta travel tips to share?  Questions for Afef?

Mini Travel Guide: Spain

Looking for a travel guide to Spain? Click through for Spain travel tips from a local - what to do, where to go, and how to travel Spain cheaply, safely, and respectfully!
Looking for a travel guide to Spain? Wondering if there’s more to this country than tapas and tile? Well, the tapas and tile are preeeeetty great, but we found more for you to do. We brought in Monica, a local, to share her best Spain travel tips – where to go, what to do, and how to do it all cheaply, safely, and respectfully!

Spain is a country of great contrasts. It may seem that it’s just beaches, sun, and people dancing flamenco, but there is so much more!  The weather, the people, the food and the landscapes are completely different in each area and that’s what makes the country so interesting.

No matter what you are looking for, you can find it in Spain. There’s lots of history, nice beaches, great mountains, cold sangria, and awesome parties every night.

Must go places in Spain

Must go in Spain


Spain is known for its great weather and nice beaches. You can lay down in the sun in the Mediterranean, enjoy great landscapes on the Atlantic, or even practice surfing. Spain has 605 Blue Flag beaches – that means we have tons of clean, safe beaches for you!


Granada is my favorite city: it has mountains, sea, lots of history and the best tapas I’ve ever eaten. Located in Andalucía (the south of Spain), Granada is a place to have fun, relax and enjoy all the little pleasures of Spanish life. The Alhambra is probably my favorite building, so don’t miss it. You may want to make reservations though, since only a limited number of visitors are allowed each day.

El Pirineo

If you want to take a break from beaches, sun and people, I strongly recommend a trip to the North. The Pirineo, in the border with France, is the perfect spot to enjoy clean air, great landscapes and the peace and quiet that can’t be found in a city.

This is my favorite vacation spot; the mountains really charge my batteries. It also shows a different side of Spain and its people. And the hiking here is amazing!

Must do in Spain

Must do in Spain


Spain is an open country. People are loud, eat too many tapas and tend to sleep more during the day than the night. It’s easy to start the night with every intention of going to bed early and not getting home before 6:00 am!

Obviously, it’s not possible to do this every day, but once in a while, enjoy it!  That way you’ll have the perfect excuse to take a siesta (nap). You always know when the night starts, but never when will it end!


I think this is one of the things that applies to every country in the world: if you really want to get the feeling of a place, you have to walk it. Unless you are extremely tired, or the weather is crappy, forget those tour buses and just walk the city.
Of course it’s important to visit monuments and famous places, but don’t forget to take a little detour every once in a while. You never know if the next bar you enter has the best tortilla ever!

Must eat foods in Spain

Must Eat in Spain

Sangría & Tapas

There is nothing better in the world than a cold sangría in a hot summer day. Let me rephrase that: there is nothing better in the world than a cold sangria with yummy tapas in a hot summer day.

My advice when ordering tapas is simple: just ask for what the locals are eating. Oh, and don’t be afraid to try anything: I guess some foods may seem gross (octopus! pig’s ear!) but really, you’d be surprised by how good they are.


I’ve tried “Spanish tortillas” in other countries and I’ve yet to find a good one. Really, it’s nothing fancy: egg, fried potatoes and onion (always ask for the onion one, it’s 10 times better!) but, really,  it’s so good.

If you can get your hands on a homemade one, you’ll never want anything else in your life (there are a lot of difference from the ones to try in bars and restaurants.)

Churros with Chocolate

This is the most Spanish breakfast I can think of. Churros con chocolate are the best thing to eat when you are coming home after a long night of partying, when you wake up ready to face a full day of walking or in a cold winter afternoon.

If you’ve already tried churros, go for the porras. Those are longer and thicker, and taste even better!

Travelling tips in Spain

Cultural tips for Traveling in Spain

Lunch is usually taken between 2 and 4 pm and dinner starts at 9 pm (at the earliest), although some hotels and restaurants open earlier for tourists. When going out, people usually meet for drinks at 11 pm, meaning the night starts much later than in other countries.

Language is not usually a problem if you go to touristic spots, but when traveling to lesser known places, be sure you know at least basic sentences –  just in case.

Travel tips in Spain

Cheap travel tips for Spain

Spain is not an expensive country if you stay away from all the tourist-y places. There are lots of bars and restaurants in the main streets and squares charging sky high prices for normal food; sometimes you just have to walk down the street to find cheaper and better alternatives. The rule of thumb is to check the people: if there aren’t many locals in the restaurant, avoid it.

Also, Airbnb is always cheaper and more authentic than a hotel and nicer than a hostel. Here’s a two-bedroom cottage for $82 a night and here’s a highly-recommended apartment in Granada for $19 a night! If you’ve never used Airbnb before, here’s a $40 credit towards your first booking.

Any Spanish travel tips to share?  Questions for Monica?

P.S. This mini travel guide to Çuracao + 7 travel tools I will not shut up about until you buy them!

photos by nick kenrick // chris //  camelliatwu // chris brown // michael foley // dylan passmore // @ornellabinni // Johan Mouchet 

Notes From The Road: San Francisco + Sacramento

For the last nine months, I’ve been living out of a backpack in India, Nepal, Thailand, Laos, Malaysia, New Zealand and Australia.  This is my last stop before I return home to Minnesota!  You can read about my other travel adventures here.



Oh hai, America!

It warms my little heart whenever I go through American customs and the border patrol says “Welcome home, Ms. Von Bargen” (instead of “How did you hear about Peru?”)
It’s been lovely being back in the states, particularly in Heaven On Earth (re: San Francisco and Sacramento).  I’ve been so busy hiking and picniking and Napa-ing and Lake Tahoeing and blog buddy meeting, I really didn’t take that many photos.



how cute are Amy and Tami?!


How do you guys deal with post-travel, post-vacation life?  I’ve got to hit the ground running with heaps of family catch ups, lots of new copy-writing clients and navigating a summer at the lake without high speed internet (!!!!) (that’s the sound of me frantically searching for contract-free mobile broadband with coverage in rural Minnesota)

Mini Travel Guide: Turkey

Looking for a travel guide to Turkey? Click through for Turkey travel tips from a local - what to do, where to go, and how to do it all safely, cheaply, and respectfully!
Looking for a travel guide to Turkey? Hankering to stroll markets, buy beautiful rugs, and eat your weight in kebab? You’re in the right place! I brought in Iris to share her Turkey travel tips, gleaned from four months of living there.

 The country has a lot to offer visitors culturally, geographically, culinarily and socially, including: Mediterranean beaches, Whirling Dervishes, ancient tombs, the birthplace of the Ottoman Empire, Hittite castles, intricate mosques and more.

People are friendly and genuinely pleased if you can speak a bit of Turkish. I lived in Turkey for four months as part of a study abroad experience.  I am by no means an expert or a local,but I hope I can give a decent introduction to this amazing place!

Looking for a travel guide to Turkey? Click through for Turkey travel tips from a local - what to do, where to go, and how to do it all safely, cheaply, and respectfully!

Must Go in Turkey

(I purposefully left out Istanbul here. It’s a wonderful place, but Turkey has so much more!)

Cappadocia, the land of ‘fairy chimneys’ and rock-cut churches, is a geographical marvel located in central Turkey. Make sure you see the Three Beauties and the Goreme Open Air Museum. A hot air balloon ride over the area wouldn’t be a bad idea, either.

You might want to take a trip to the southeast of Turkey, where the topography and climate are different. You can base yourself in Sanliurfa, but you’ll need to go a bit north and hire a tour company to take you up Mount Nemrut.
There you’ll see what remains of the large statues from a 1st century B.C. royal tomb, not to mention the amazing view. On your way up, you may be able to stop by the weaving school to see what the locals are up to.

Turkey is a great country to backpack and I would be remiss if I didn’t mention one of the great gathering places of the young traveler. Stay in cabins on stilts, nestled in orange groves…or stay at one of the more partying treehouse communities.

Walk five minutes to the Mediterranean coast, climb cliffs overlooking ancient ruins, eat figs from the forests below, see the flames of the chimaera come out of a rocky mountain, and afterward go to the dance bar with a roof open to the sky.

travel in turkey

Must Do in Turkey

Turkish Bathhouse (Hamam)

Typically the routine goes as follows: you undress, sit in a marble sauna for a bit, a woman exfoliates a bajillion layers of dead skin off your body and then you’re done. It makes your skin feel like new!
All hamams are gender-separated except for the really expensive ones in resort towns. Most are either partially or fully nude, although men’s hamams are generally never fully nude.

Shop for Turkish Carpets

Even a broke college kid in her early 20s can afford a beautiful flat-woven Turkish kilim and turn it into an instant family heirloom. Prices are cheaper outside of Istanbul but be sure to haggle a bit anyways. This is very much a haggling culture.

Looking for a travel guide to Turkey? Click through for Turkey travel tips from a local - what to do, where to go, and how to do it all safely, cheaply, and respectfully!

Must Eat in Turkey


Ayran is a traditional salty, yogurt drink. You can purchase it pre-made at restaurants, or even add your own salt and water to a mixture from the super market.

Iskender Kebap

Europe is familiar with the fast food ‘kebab’, while America is familiar with the ‘shish kebab.’ There are so many other different ways to prepare this thinly-sliced, slow-cooked lamb.
Iskender kebap may be one of the fancier versions, with wide slices of lamb served with tomato sauce and yogurt (oh, the yogurt, soooo good). I could go on forever about the food.


97% of the country might be Muslim, but Turkey is a secular state and they have a ‘national’ alcoholic drink. Raki is an anise-flavored spirit much like Greece’s ouzzo. So if you don’t like black licorice, stay away. Maybe add a bit of water to dilute the intensity a pinch.

Looking for a travel guide to Turkey? Click through for Turkey travel tips from a local - what to do, where to go, and how to do it all safely, cheaply, and respectfully!

Cultural Tips for Turkey 

The headscarf issue is a touchy topic in Turkey. Women were not allowed to wear the hijab at public universities, government jobs, as teachers, etc. The rules have been changing recently, but as a visitor you should know that the only times you must wear a headscarf is when visiting a mosque.

I would dress more modestly when in more conservative regions such as the east or the south of Turkey (possibly in Konya, too), but there is no necessity to do so elsewhere.

traveling in turkey

Cheap travel tips for Turkey

A large portion of the population travels by bus and mini-bus. If you want to get around on the cheap, you should too.
The buses have bus-attendants who bring snacks up and down the aisles and if it’s an overnight bus trip you’ll get to stop at a neon-lit 24/7 bus stop selling candy and lentil soup. I miss that bus stop lentil soup!
Airbnb is more authentic and cheaper than a hotel. Here’s a private room in Cappadocia for $26 a night and here’s a 2-bedroom bungalow in Olympos for $47 a night! If you’ve never used Airbnb before, here’s a $40 credit towards your first booking.

Any Turkey travel tips to share?  Questions for Iris?

P.S. 7 travel tools I will not shut up about

Photos by Oziel GómezChris PopleBlaque X on Unsplash

Notes From The Road: Taiwan, Ho!

For the last nine months I’ve been living out of a backpack, poking around India, Nepal, Thailand, Laos, Malaysia and New Zealand.  Now I’m making my way home to Minnesota through Australia, Taiwan and California.  You can read about previous adventures here.


I’m not usually into 16 hour layovers.  Really, that sounds slightly awful, doesn’t it?  However!  It is significantly less awful if you actually used to live in the place of your 16 hour layover and you’ve been quietly keening for a healthy serving of Tepanyaki with a side of bubble milk tea.

From August 2004 – April 2006, I joined legions of other twenty-somethings teaching English in Asia.  It’s practically a rite of passage if you earned a liberal arts degree and own a backpack.  And really, I can’t recommend it highly enough.  Teaching ESL abroad in your twenties won’t really fill out your resume or make you any more employable, but it will make you significantly braver, gustier and more interesting.  Also, you’ll develop a whole new appreciation for clothing that’s available in sizes larger than 6.


I spent my 16 hours in Taiwan doing all my favorite things:  eating fantastic food (dan bing, tepanyaki, bubble milk tea), visiting temples, buying designer knock-offs, getting a cheap mani/pedi and stopping by my old haunts.  I’m not sure if I’d want to live in Taiwan again, but revisiting it was nothing short of magical.

Have any of you taught English in Asia (or elsewhere abroad)?  I worked with Hess and it’s a great place to start – lots of training and support!

Notes From The Road: Katoomba

For the last nine months I’ve been living out of a backpack – in India, Nepal, Thailand, Laos, Malaysia and New Zealand.  Now I’m headed back to Minnesota via Australia, Taiwan and California.  You can read about my previous travel shenanigans here.


Would it surprise you to know that I’m a outside kid?
  It seems kind of counter intuitive doesn’t it?  I’m on the internet all the blessed day, but I’ll very happily trundle around in the dirt, sleep in a barn and then build a fire using the all-important cabin/teepee method.
Yes.  I’m just an enigma wrapped in a mystery wrapped in overpriced outdoor gear.
In an attempt to get in my weekly dose of Outside, I took a train from Sydney to Katoomba where I hiked about, watched flocks of noisy cockatoos and witnessed punctuation mistakes on directional signs.


Are you an outside kid or an inside kid?  Do you like to do outdoorsy stuff when you’re traveling?

Wanna hike around the world?  Check out my ebooks on quitting your job and traveling for months at a time.  Only $15 for 12,000+ words, 60-minute podcast, 14 worksheets!