“Why alone?” The first thing out of everyone’s mouth when I told them about this trip. Usually followed up by an “Absolutely not. I won’t allow it. That’s not safe,” until I’ve explained I’m not entirely by myself. (These are the kind of things your friends start to say after they’ve all become real-life moms, but you’ll always be their adopted third-wheel-on-every-weekend-date child.)
The simple reason: timing. I had a lot going on this summer, travel schedules weren’t matching up, and I was happy to finally start saving money to buy a house. You know — until Greece happened. Don’t worry, Dad. I’ll move out one day… Maybe.
But after the idea of a solo trip started floating around in my head, and the more excited it made me — while also completely terrifying me — I knew I had to go. And, like I mentioned before, this wasn’t entirely alone. I was booking a tour through Contiki, which means I’d be alongside other solo travelers and pairs throughout the duration of my time in Greece. I just had to get myself to and from Athens. Easy peazy. I got this.
So after two whole days of thinking about this — because that’s how long it takes to make big decisions in my life — I booked it. And 3 hours after that, I had already ordered a whole new wardrobe to take with me.
As the trip quickly approached, the nervousness started to set in, but as soon as I arrived at the airport — way too early once again, even though I tried to get there at a decent hour like a normal person — I became insanely calm.
What exactly was I worried about? Not sure. The last two years have prepared me beyond belief for this experience, but the thought — I kid you not — what if I forget how to check in to a hotel crossed my mind. A HOTEL. Obviously, I figured that one out and moved on to more important worries, like will these people want to stop and eat as much as I do during the day? Will they be okay taking 100 pics of me at each stop? WILL THEY DRINK AS MUCH AS I DO?!
But soon after checking into the hotel — like a pro — and a quick nap later, I realized I was in for a trip of a lifetime.
The first night, we all gathered in the lobby for our first official meeting. At this point, I had already met my roommate earlier in the day when I got to my room, so we headed down together where we’d meet the rest of the group for dinner, followed by rooftop drinks and lots of laughs. Our trip manager, Webby, explained how the rest of the trip would work and what we should expect in the following days. Very similar to The Yacht Week, your guide was more of your friend and would be adventuring and partying alongside the group the whole week, and since I was with a tour, we’d have a schedule for most days, with options to add on different activities at each stop.
Our first full day in Athens we spent exploring the ancient buildings around the city. Per usual, the guide was pointing out history on the left, but I was too busy looking in the windows of Hermès and Gucci on the right.
After returning to the hotel later that afternoon, we gathered on the rooftop for drinks and pool time before we all headed back into town for a traditional Greek dinner. This was considered an “add-on” and would include dinner and wine (like most of the add-on activities), so for the price, it made it worth it to pay for all the extras.
By this time, we had all bonded pretty well as a group, especially me and my new instant bestie, John. Nothing bonds people better than a mutual love for shoes and the need to be extra AF. We even snuck off during dessert to have matching friendship bracelets made. Goals.
The group I was with was rather small (12 people) compared to other Contiki group sizes that can be up to 50 people, which was amazing for us since we all got to know each other quickly and became a huge family. At the end of the night, I thought to myself how silly I felt fearing whether I’d get along with everyone. We were so comfortable together, I forgot that only 24 hours before, I had no idea who these people even were.
Since the next day was an early start, we all tried to get some sleep so we could enjoy our first day on the islands. After a 5 a.m. wake-up call, me debating to cancel the whole trip for making me wake up so early, and what felt like an eternity — but was really a 6-hour ferry ride later — we found ourselves on the island of Mykonos amongst the picturesque white and blue buildings. After settling into our adorable hotel and enjoying some time by the water, we headed into town for dinner, where we learned about the town’s history, saw views of the windmills, and, of course, dancing. Don’t worry. John and I still found time to sneak off to shop for matching hats. The two of us disappearing from the group quickly became a reoccurring trend for this trip. Attached at the hip would be an understatement.
The following day, thankfully, started much later. After breakfast, we all gathered down on the beach to begin our day of sailing through Mykonos. We stopped to enjoy some swimming in a secluded bay, checked out the beautiful views and crystal clear water, and ultimately ended up at a beach club on the southern side of the island before heading back to the hotel for pool time and drinks. Always with the drinks. Our hotel was located at Paradise Beach, which is the big beach party spot, so in typical Tara fashion, I went too hard at the day party and fell asleep long before the night party started, which would lead me to having an early morning the next day, whether I was ok with it or not. Goooood morning, Mykonos.
Our last day on the island ended up being a free day since none of us chose to opt in for the historical add-on tour. These are my kind of people. And a trip to Mykonos wouldn’t be complete without a stop at Lindsay Lohan’s new beach club, so off we went. *Cue the horrible dancing.* Soaking up the sun was exactly how I wanted to end exploring this island before heading on to Santorini. Unfortunately, we ended it with getting lost and a 3-hour walk to find the bus stop instead. Ughhh.
Bright and early the next day, we headed to Santorini where we’d have 3 days to explore the island. The first day we spent relaxing by the pool followed with a nice dinner at Argo overlooking the water, which was a good contrast that prepared us for all we endured the following day.
It started slow by heading into Fira town to explore and enjoy some wine tasting at a local winery, Santos Wines, which was accompanied by another incredible view. Next, we hopped on a ferry to the volcano island. I was quite disappointed when we got to the top because, apparently, tops of active volcanos aren’t open craters you can look down into and see lava. Talk about needing a refund. As if hiking wasn’t enough working out for the day, next up was swimming through the ocean to a secluded hot spring cove for mud masks. I really thought spa days were supposed to be more relaxing than this.
Our day ended at the Old Port with the iconic donkey ride back to the top of the island. Me and my little guy bonded quite well. He didn’t like anyone passing us, so we somehow were in a race to the top, getting terrifyingly too close to the edge and cutting off any donkey that tried to go by. 10/10 would not recommend. The views on the way up are breathtaking, but there is also a cable car option if you opt out of the donkey ride. Because, honestly, I felt more like the “ass” making him carry me up the 600 stairs.
Before this trip, when I imagined the free days, I saw myself wandering the streets by myself, exploring beaches and shops. In reality, we had all become so close, we would make sure we had a van big enough to to fit everyone so we could all still stay together and explore. For our Santorini free day, we first headed to Akrotiri red beach. It’s quite rocky and very prone to mud slides, so we only viewed this colorful beach from up above. If you plan on heading down to the shore, I’d really recommend bringing sneakers. The rest of the day we chose to spend relaxing at Perissma black sand beach. If you buy food or drinks from any restaurant, they let you lounge on their chairs or bean bags out on the sand. We were really lucky to be there at the end of season, so the mass amounts of tourists had already disappeared, making it easier and more empty for us to do things and enjoy.
That night, we headed into famous Oia town to take pictures at the famous blue domes and watch the sunset. There are tons of rooftop terraces to grab a drink or dinner at that will allow you to have prime seating for the sunset. If not, be sure to get there early to claim space along the city’s walls to get a good view.
The next day, we left for our third and final island to explore, Ios. We all made sure to rest up plenty the night before since the next few nights were set to party until sunrise as this was the big party island — with each of the 50 bars on the island having their own 7-shot challenge. Our hotel was located right on the beach, and being the end of season, daybeds were free to use. This also meant the sushi bar was closed for the year. Booooo! We spent the afternoon soaking in the sun — trying to get more tan than our fellow Contiki friend, Hayley — and also played a few rounds of volleyball. This hotel was definitely the best we had stayed at thus far. It was on a great beach, had an amazing pool, and the restaurant served amazing food… plus you can’t beat those 10€ pitchers — I mean “jugs” — of beer that they even let you take out to the beach.
Our second day in Ios, was the day I was looking forward to most, the sailing day, because of how clear I had heard the water was around the island. Sometimes I realize how spoiled I really have been in life when I get bummed that we’re on an average boat instead of a catamaran when I’m in the middle of Greece swimming in some of the clearest water I’ve seen so far on a private beach we have all to ourselves. Don’t worry. I checked myself real quick on that one. #blessed
When planning our free day in Ios, we had seen that Mylopotamos was supposed to be the best beach in town, so before setting out, we checked the map for how to get there, only to realize it’s the exact beach we had been on the last 2 days. Oooops. There’s a water sports company right on the beach that offers anything from paddle boarding to scuba diving (this is also where we rented a volleyball from a few days before.) Since I was feeling under the weather — I had heard of the dreaded ‘Contiki Cough’ before this trip, but no amount of vitamins kept me from catching the bug floating around the group — I opted to lay in the sand and hopefully sweat out the cold before my long flight home.
After one final dinner together back in Athens, we all said our goodbyes. I used to think those girls on The Bachelor were crazy for falling in love after 2 weeks, but now I totally get it. These were some of the hardest goodbyes I’ve had to make yet, but I now have a new set of homes to visit across the world… and I may or may not have already bought a flight to visit John. Obviously.
This really was one of the greatest experiences I’ve had so far — a journey I think everyone should have once in their life — and I’m beyond thankful for all the amazing people I’ve met along the way. So as I get ready to board my plane, I remind myself that these aren’t actually goodbyes, they’re just “see you laters.”