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In the time leading up to my solo trip to Greece, I admittedly didn’t know much about the country except that I liked feta cheese. What little I did know came from the countless Instagram images of blue-domed buildings, breathtaking beaches, and flowy clothing.
Regardless of my severe lack of research, I wanted to take the trip alone. I’d heard a ton of positive stories about solo travel and liked the idea of exploring on my own time. I found a fairly cheap September flight on an airline I’ve wanted to fly with for a long time (Emirates!) and took the plunge.
However, it wasn't long before the idea of traversing Greece and its many islands alone started freaking me out. I still wanted to go by myself, but not totally by myself… know what I mean?
So I started researching group tours. I had gone on one jump on, jump off group tour to Norway a couple years prior where I was the youngest person by about 40 years. Since I had a friend with me that time, it wasn’t so bad.
But this time, since I would be completely on my own, I looked for age-specific Greece group tours. There were a few to choose from. Contiki and EF College break stood out to me based on ages, and I finally decided on going with Contiki’s Aegean Classic tour as the dates fit within my flights while giving me a couple days to explore on my own outside of the tour as well. I had absolutely no idea how many people were going to be on the trip with me, but hoped for the best!
Day 1: Alone in Athens
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a total panic attack on my way to the airport on Friday afternoon when I was scheduled to fly out. I was nauseous and holding back tears, and more than once thought, "eff this! Eff the money, I don’t care! I’m going home!" But (as much as I wanted to) I didn’t turn around and go home, and four trains later I was sitting the airport waiting to board my flight.
Upon arriving in Athens on Saturday morning, I had a full night and day ahead of me before meeting up with the Contiki crew. I booked a night City Circus hostel in the Psyrri area (whose complimentary WiFi ended up being my savior) and made my way there via Athens’ airport train line. The hostel was super nice, and in a fun neighborhood that I felt safe walking around alone in.
That night, the hostel hosted a happy hour. I’m a really shy person so I almost didn’t attend, but convinced myself to make the most of my solo trip and meet some new people. I was rewarded by meeting Chantal who, as it turns out, was also heading on the Contiki Aegean Classic!
Day 2: Met Contiki group
We weren’t scheduled to meet the Contiki group until 6 p.m. Sunday, so Chantal and I did some sightseeing in the morning. We got up early and hit up the Acropolis in an attempt to beat the crowd and the heat (we were only semi-successful on both fronts).
We then split up before meeting the rest of the group while Chantal went to sightsee and I (unsuccessfully) looked for a SIM card and then fell asleep in the air conditioning back at the hostel.
I eventually headed to the hotel where the Contiki group was scheduled to meet up and got my room number and coincidentally, Chantal was my roommate! We then went down to meet the rest of the group. There were a TON of people — way more than I expected — and a lot of them seemed like they already knew each other. I soon found out that my Contiki group technically only had seven people in it, but it was merged with another Contiki group of 24 that was in the midst of a European tour that had already spent weeks traveling together.
After getting to know our guide and fellow travelers, as a group, we took the subway to the Plaka area of Athens. It’s surrounded by beautiful ruins and full of shopping and small restaurants. We indulged in dinner at a traditional Greek taverna (which unfortunately was an add-on, so it cost an additional $40 Euro). Despite the extra cost I took advantage of the opportunity to get to know the rest of the group, eat some food in a traditional space, and see Greek dancers (that I got to dance with myself!).
Day 3: Boarded ship to Mykonos
Another facet of the trip I didn’t know about? The humongous cruise ship we were set to sail on! For whatever reason, I was picturing a small group on a little sailboat type deal. Nope. This was a 13-story cruise ship with two saltwater pools, multiple restaurants and bars, and a gym that I never looked at.
Mykonos was our first stop. Again, I didn’t know much about Mykonos except that celebrities party there, but I was incredibly pleased upon arrival. We got there as the sun started setting and made our way through the curvy stone streets towards the windmills, crossing paths with an infamous Mykonos citizen along the way: Petros the pelican!
After catching the sunset we rushed to Jimmy’s for some gyros and I would literally fly straight to Mykonos right now to have one again if I could. After eating, we had some time to explore on our own before heading back to the ship.
Day 4: Kusadasi and Patmos
We woke up the next day on a different continent — Asia! Docked in the shore town of Kusadasi in Turkey, we took the included trip to Ephesus, an ancient city that was destroyed in an earthquake in 614 AD and only fairly recently uncovered.
After the Ephesus tour, we drove to a small Turkish rug gallery where we saw how the gorgeous rugs are made and had the opportunity to buy. There was still time before we had to head back to the ship so we explored the Kusadasi bazaar before making our way to Patmos.
There was an optional monastery tour in Patmos, but me and a few others in the group declined and made our way to a small beach to take a swim and then get dinner.
Day 5: Rhodes
Surprise! Another Greek island I hadn’t heard of. A beach bum at heart, it turned out to be my favorite. Blue skies, warm clear water, beds on the beach — I was in heaven. There was even a diving board into the water.
I eventually peeled myself off of the beach to explore the Old and New Towns on the island with another member of my Contiki group, and we made the ever-important gelato pit stop.
Day 6: Crete and Santorini
Not surprisingly, Santorini is the island everyone was looking forward to. Thanks to its stunning blue-domed, white buildings and 360-degree picturesque views, Santorini has proven to be a favorite spot for gorgeous travel photos.
But before we got there, we hit up Crete to check out the seaside town of Heraklion. It was blistering hot and compared to the other islands we'd seen, honestly a little boring. So after a quick loop around Heraklion, Chantal and I headed back to the ship.
Then we were on to Santorini. Unsurprisingly, it was beautiful. Also unsurprisingly, it was so. so. crowded. It was next to impossible to get any photos that didn’t have a million other tourists in them, and the pathways are thin so pedestrian traffic jams were unavavoidable.
Based on photos I’d seen, I imagined tons of blue-domed buildings when in reality, there were only a few and reaching them was rather difficult between the crowds and closed-off pathways.
Regardless, it was a beautiful island and one I’d love to get the chance to visit again.
I had one day left in Athens after the Contiki tour ended. Introvert that I am, I imagined I’d be grateful to have the day to decompress and spend time alone. However, the minute the group split up I was surprised to find that I was so indescribably lonely! After going six days surrounded by other people 24/7, the silence was almost unbearable.
Overall, I had an absolutely incredible time. I’m so glad I decided to go the group trip route.
Pros of traveling with Contiki
One thing that made this one of the most unforgettable experiences of my life is, of course, the group of people I got to enjoy the trip with. Overall, the group had a really great chemistry. Literally everyone got along — they were open, friendly, and I immediately felt right at home. Most of my tourmates were Australian and there were a couple Kiwis as well. I was the only American. I chatted with friends from the trip who’d gone on to other Contiki tours following the Aegean Classic who said the new groups were fun, but nothing like the one we had on our Greece tour, so I’m grateful for timing this trip the way I did to end up with such a great group of people.
I also have to shout out our tour guide, Lydia. She was so welcoming and positive, and knowledgeable about everywhere we went. Through her, I learned a lot of history that helped make each island more memorable. We were her last Greece tour, but follow her on Instagram to keep up with where she’s going next!
Perhaps the biggest reason I’m glad I traveled with Contiki is that I had the opportunity to travel to a few places I would’ve never even thought to go to before. For example, I loved Rhodes but hadn’t even heard of it before this trip (can you tell I didn't do much research?), so I would’ve totally missed out. It was also nice to be able to do everything stress-free, just going wherever I was told to go when I was told to go there and getting to see a bunch of incredible places along the way.
Cons of traveling with Contiki
Of course, every pro has its con. The one major downside is that there wasn’t enough time in each place. I’d love to go back to the places I especially liked, namely Mykonos, Rhodes, and Santorini. There was also a lot of downtime on the boat. It was nice to have the pools to relax in, but I would’ve preferred to spend more time exploring each island.
All in all, I’m so glad I did it. I didn’t have a SIM card for my phone the whole time, so had I gone totally alone I would’ve been completely lost and flustered. But on the group trip, not having a working phone turned out to be a good thing because I didn’t use it as a safety net and instead spent valuable time enjoying the company of my fellow travelers.
The Contiki trip was a great transition to solo travel, and now I feel like I’ll know how to prepare for next time if I want to go totally alone.
And yes, the feta cheese was to die for.