Honestly, I've been putting off writing this for a good bit.
While the idea of sharing my adventures and experiences with others fills me with life, I beat myself up for worrying that I won't do myself justice.
I mean, seriously, I feel like I lived an entire lifetime during my two and a half-weeks in Greece. How can you possibly put that into words?
My trip was a fruitful experience. While Greek time moves like quicksand, the days flew by and it was over well before I was ready to come home.
I met amazing people from all over the world: fellow Americans, Canadians, Brits, Irish, Germans, even Peruvians and Brazilians. It was a grand time, really.
Meeting such a variety of travelers fosters new thoughts, ideas, and perspectives. Coming back home to the same old town and the same old people is challenging. It seems stagnant.
I find it hard to articulate my experiences to those around me because they simply weren't with me in Greece. I mean, how else could you possibly grasp the magnitude of the things I'm telling you?
Perhaps I'm making this too big of a deal, but travel is my passion. I'm overzealous and eager to share and be understood. This backpacking trip only confirmed that.
Anyways, without further ado, here is the story of my first ever backpacking trip.
Catching the Travel Bug
The "travel bug" is a virus. It's a disease, not crippling but definitely possessive. It guides you and occupies your mind until you finally succumb to it and scratch the itch.
Okay, I'm overexaggerating. But seriously, it's this overwhelming desire to travel, explore the world, and see all the things that many people only dream of.
While most people have some spectacular story about where they caught the travel bug, such as traveling internationally with family or going on a mission trip, I couldn't really tell you where I caught it.
Sure, growing up I traveled to see family every year and went camping from time to time with my dad, but I never had the urge to travel the way I do now.
I think it simply hatched from a seed of general curiosity about the world. That, and a love for nature and all the pretty sights that remain unseen to me.
The first instance I remember advocating to travel was during my senior year of high school, a little over a year ago. The interest had been there after doing some camping a couple years back, but it was dormant until I really took matters into my own hands.
To my disappointment, nothing availed and I wasn't able to put together a graduation trip. However, persistence pays off.
After the idea of backpacking Europe hatched and slipped through the cracks, I made a conscious decision to work towards backpacking Europe the next summer (Summer of 2023). Whether I'd be going alone or with friends, I had no idea.
So I saved, and I saved, and I saved some more. I scrapped for money every chance I could get, making most of my money through freelance writing for a health and fitness company.
The final push was the great friends I surrounded myself with at Texas A&M. Without them, our little escapade would've been nonexistent.
I joined organizations with a purpose: to surround myself with like-minded individuals who shared the same curiosity about the world, and the appetite for adventure, as me.
In come Josh and Graham. I met them first semester, but we weren't tightly knit until the second semester when I assimilated into their friend group.
Needless to say, they walk the walk. We mentioned taking a trip one time, and then it was concrete. It didn't take any poking or prodding; we all had the money and we were ready to go!
We started hunting for plane tickets and brainstorming endless possibilities. In the end, it came down to finding an absolute deal on a round-trip from Houston to Athens.
If you're curious, the ticket was $640. For comparison, there wasn't another flight to Europe for less than $950.
The moment when an idea transforms into a concrete trip is unreal. Getting the confirmation for our flight to Athens was nothing short of joy-inducing.
Off we went.
Breaking the Ice
If I learned one thing about backpacking on the duration of our trip, it's that nothing ever goes as planned.
I would count myself lucky in the grand scheme of things, but our trip was hectic to begin with. Weather delayed our first flight, so we missed our second flight, meaning we also missed our third flight.
The bright side? I got to leave the airport in London and marvel at the city for half a day!
The down side was that after 40 hours without a bed, you get pretty exhausted. That, and the fact that we had to find our hostel at 5am in a foreign country in a city I've never been to in a language where I don't even know the damn alphabet.
Nevertheless, we made it to our hostel and managed to sneak in a few hours of sleep before our first day in Athens.
Athens is a massive city! I was mesmerized at how far the city spans once you get a bird's eye view of it.
That said, it wasn't my favorite place. It was pretty dirty for my taste and it smells of cigarettes everywhere you go, although I did appreciate some of the unique graffiti that is present down every alley.
Nevertheless, the buzz of Athens drew me in. There's greenery everywhere accompanied by small mom and pop shops and cheap street food.
I will say, I definitely experienced some culture shocks the first day. Where is the bathroom? Do these people drink anything besides coffee and alcohol, like where is the water?!
Running into other Americans in Athens was...interesting as well. I completely understand the stereotype of American ignorance now.
The Acropolis has things other than the Parthenon, like the Theater of Dionysus. Trying to explain to a fellow American that it wasn't the Roman Colosseum remains one of the funniest memories from our trip!
I have a lot of admiration for the al fresco culture in Greece as well. One of my favorite parts of Athens was getting to enjoy fresh food and a drink on the streets with my friends.
It's something that I wish the United States had. We go to dinner, sit on our phones, scarf down our meal, pay the bill, and get out. Probably takes 45 minutes to an hour.
Meals are a social event in Greece, not a necessity. You get your meal and some wine and everybody has a lively time. Live music fills the air and cats crawl around hoping for a bite while everybody shares stories and lots of laughs.
A welcomed diversion from the usual travel itinerary in Greece, the mainland doesn't get nearly enough respect for everything that it is.
Kalambaka is cradled within the mountains of Central Greece. The main attraction is the centuries-old Greek Orthodox monasteries built on these incredible rock spires.
A few days into our trip, we began to realize that Google Maps GROSSLY underestimates the amount of time it takes to walk around Greece. It bit us in the ass in Meteora.
We hiked up the rocks to see the monasteries rather than take a taxi; we weren't in a rush and everyone was happy to walk off a heavy lunch!
Problem was, we spent a couple hours soaking in the scenery once we got to the top. We had earned it, worked hard for the view, and we intended to enjoy it.
What we didn't realize was how quick the sun was setting and how far we were from town. With only an hour of sunlight left, we realized we were in trouble.
Mother Nature also decided to bless us with an impenetrable wall of rain that was coming straight for us.
Facing the reality of being stranded in the middle of Greece, my buddy Graham called a taxi while my other friend Josh tried to map a quick route through the forest.
Both were epic failures. The taxi driver couldn't understand Graham, and we realized there were bears, wild hogs, and lots of loose rocks in the forest. Not our brightest idea.
So we walked, contemplating hitch-hiking or walking 6km back to town in the pitch-black night.
With nightfall announcing its arrival, Graham made a last-ditch effort to call a taxi. Thank God, he got through to him and the taxi driver raced up to get us.
In fact, he was driving so fast he passed us in the process. We had to wave and yell to put it in reverse and come back for us!
In return for saving us from the terrors of the night, we had a beer in his name at dinner. Seemed like a fair deal to me.
After what might've been the best sleep of my life on an overnight ferry, we arrived in Crete, Greece's largest island.
Crete has two main cities, Chania and Heraklion. With limited time, we chose to spend two days in Chania and only one day in Heraklion purely based on logistics.
We took a cooking class our first day in Chania with a Greek woman named Veerna and her family. It was really fun and insightful into Greece's culture, and I couldn't help but crack up when the others questioned why we weren't off partying.
It was only a matter of time.
But seriously, this cooking class was an amazing experience. As someone who enjoys trying new food, it was right up my alley. However, I would recommend taking a cooking class to any traveler purely for the cultural insight and the people you meet.
Veerna and her family were warm and welcoming, just like the rest of Greece, and I really admired their dedication to the things that mattered most to them. They built their own chapel for worship, created an olive tree farm to make EVOO, and they encouraged us drinking ourselves into a stupor on their homemade wine.
Aside from that, Crete was the calm before the storm. We spent a couple days relaxing and resting for the weekend to come, which turned out to be a good play considering it rained most of the time.
No island-hopping trip is complete without visiting Santorini. At first, I was adverse to the idea due to over-tourism and high prices, but I'm happy we went.
We spent one day and one day only on Santorini; in my opinion, that is the perfect amount of time to take in the views, snap your pictures, enjoy a Pina Colada on a black sand beach, and jet.
The town of Oia was breath-taking, but it's absolutely over capacity. When you have to wait in line to take pictures, that's how you know you're at the breaking point.
We spent an afternoon there, grabbed a bite to eat, and then hopped on a bus back to the other side of the island to hangout at the beach and get some rest.
To my delight, we had a black sand beach five minutes from our hostel. I'll save you all the details, but it's basically eroded volcanic material from previous eruptions. I'd never seen anything like it.
Having checked Santorini off the bucket list, it was time to cap the trip off with a bang: the party island of Ios.
I stumbled upon the idea of Ios when my girlfriend's tour guide recommended it to her for anyone traveling to Greece; she passed the message along and the rest is history.
Out of everywhere we went on the whole trip, Ios takes the cake for my favorite place!
It's the perfect balance: good food, secluded beaches, and a town that likes to party 'til the sun comes up.
It's basically got the same flair as Santorini with all the beaches and Cycladic architecture, just less crowded and more affordable.
Ios brought with it some interesting experiences.
I, unknowingly, went to my first nude beach. As the "brave friend", a hippie challenged me to swim naked by the time I left Ios.
In case you were wondering, no, I never bore it all.
I "had the American slapped out of me" at a bar that slaps you with face paint after you take shots.
I took a tour of the seven most beautiful beaches on Ios, only to find out when I showed up that our boat driver, Nikos, was the bouncer from the club we were at the night before.
His cousin was our taxi driver too. Small world.
I learned lots of slang from a group of Irish girls staying at our AirBNB. In return, we proved to them that Americans aren't so weird after all. Shoutout y'all if you're reading this!
I snorkeled, cliff-jumped, and partied hard.
We would have gone scuba-diving too if everyone hadn't been so run down by the end of the trip.
Enjoy this gallery of photos and videos from my weekend in Ios, and please go visit yourself. It's magical.
Reflecting on my Experiences
On the flight back to Houston, I spent a lot of time thinking and reflecting on everything I had experienced, both the good and the bad.
It was my first time in Europe, and I did it with a level of independence I'm proud of. I learned a lot of things culturally and about myself.
It reaffirmed that travel is a central pillar of my life. It's non-negotiable and without it, I will feel unfulfilled.
It helped me realize how best to align my life, financially and habitually. To read more about international news, continue my pursuit in learning a new language, and choosing to save money for travel instead of expending it on frivolous purchases.
I'll leave you with a quick overview I created on the plane ride back:
- Total cost for 18 days in Greece: $2,638.19
- I'll miss: Greek food, the hospitality of Greek people and other travelers, the beautiful beaches, partying, café culture, perfect weather, cute cats, and public transport.
- I'll not miss: Greek drivers, an abundance of cigarettes, scams and beggars, and massive tour groups.
Thanks for reading! For more useful information, check out my Greece Travel Guide!
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