For all of my life I had dreamed of visiting Santorini. And it finally came true.
When you think of the island, you might picture white washed villas and blue domed churches overlooking the caldera. You may envision the sunshine, the food, the people. One thing I'm highly certain of: perhaps the last thing anyone thinks of is the idea of visiting Santorini alone.
Why should I go alone when I can travel with others? What will I do with myself all day? Is it safe? Will I feel lonely? Would the trip be worth it?
All of these anxieties and doubts swept over me as my Aegean Airlines flight landed in Thira, Santorini at 4:45pm. I have arrived. Restless, I grabbed my overly packed carry-on from the overhead compartment, and descended down the steps from the plane where airport buses were waiting to send us over to the airport building.
"i have arrived."
Santorini has huge, plush air-conditioned buses running throughout the island for cheap. I lugged my belongings and rested my head on the window, enjoying the ride to my hotel.
Stepping off the bus, I was immediately hit with an overwhelming feeling of confusion. Why was I here? I'm not on a honeymoon, nor have I ever been close to marriage, heck - what even is dating?
Choosing to visit during off-season definitely wasn't helping either. I was faced with rain and a looming aura of darkness from the clouds masking the warmth of the sun. I was cold, I was tired and boy, was I hungry.
After pulling the weight of my suitcase up several hills, I finally reached the top to see the iconic view of the Aegean Sea.
Low and behold...it was by far the most visually impactful scene I had ever witnessed. "God is quite the artist," I thought. After snapping this photo and a couple of gorgeous Instagram stories, I felt the heaviness of my body after the flights and bus rides and immediately searched for my hotel.
It was at least 30+ huge steps below the main surface area of the island. That's right. I had to carry 30 pound luggage down the slippery stone stairs to my hotel in the chilled darkness. I stayed at Mill Houses Elegant Suites, a cozy-chic boutique hotel overlooking the Aegean.
The first night was the most challenging. I felt luxurious and pampered, yet completely alone, despite the fact that I had been living in a new country as a student for two months prior. But this was a different type of loneliness - this was solitude.
I was deliberately isolating myself. If I wanted to share something with someone, I had to rely on the internet that was excessively spotty. Should anything happen to me, no one would know for a few days. Given that Santorini is an island, I felt like a castaway - completely detached from society. Even so, after coming all the way here, I was determined to enjoy myself.
"I was determined to enjoy myself."
The next day, I wanted to get out of my element and committed to the infamous hike from Fira, the town I was living in, to Oia, one of the most expensive and Instagrammable spots on the island.
According to my calculations, the total distance of the hike is about 6.5 miles and took me about 3 hours total. When I tell you that this was the most difficult and longest running hike I've ever taken, I'm not lying. I felt like Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt across the Red Sea.
"i thanked the lord."
About halfway through I was feeling like I had been doing this for days. I needed a break. I made a deal with myself that if I didn't find a bench in the next 10 minutes, I would just sit in the grass somewhere.
Five minutes pass by, and I found myself slowly going uphill. I thought that there would not be any rest stop on a hill, as they are often the climax. I was going to be in trouble.
Little did I know, I had stumbled upon a safe haven. I found a church and in this moment, I had never felt closer to God than being here.
I started to get emotional, so I got on my knees and prayed. I prayed for good health and for my family, I prayed for everlasting happiness and hope, and I prayed that I would be able to continue travelling for the rest of my life. Finally, I thanked the Lord that I had found my true passion.
My main tips for this hike:
1. START EARLY. Like around 11am. Otherwise, by the time you get to Oia (about four hours later), it will be dark.
2. BRING WATER. You can usually buy some along the road, but don't count on it. The journey feels like you are trekking through the desert for days on end. (I'm exaggerating a little, but still).
3. PET THE CATS AND HORSES ALONG THE WAY, because they are friendly and want to love you.
4. DON'T RELY ON MAPQUEST/GOOGLE MAPS. It will not work. You are on an island, there is no internet connection in the wilderness.
5. STICK TO THE PATH. You may be tempted to take what you believe to be a shortcut. DO not do this. It will often lead in a similar direction, but take you to another part of the island. Stay on the path and don't be afraid to ask the nice Greek locals for directions.
"I belong here."
Feeling equally exhausted and accomplished, I was finally beginning to feel like I belong here. I just trekked over 6 miles by myself!!! I get back to the hotel, shower, and discover a shock.
On my neck were these tiny red spots. They were painless and didn't itch, but I had no idea where they came from. Was it from a rash? Did something bite me? Was I having a reaction to something? If so, to what? Who do I tell? Cue: CALL MOM.
I did some research and concluded it may have been a bed bug situation. I decided to wait it out and see if they start going away over the next couple of days.
Later that evening I realized that I had booked a photoshoot through Airbnb Experiences. One does not simply visit Santorini without getting those iconic shots with the villages, so I decided to take advantage of this opportunity for once-in-a-lifetime photos. I shot with the Santorini Photographer, a local who knew the ins and outs of the island as well as the best spots to shoot. I had to choose my outfits!
Luckily, I had visited a shop in Athens a few days ago and picked up a traditional Greek maxi dress. I was told that the best colors to wear in Santorini were bold, bright colors like yellow and red that would contrast well with the whiteness of the buildings. Instead, I selected a royal blue shade that matched the top of the domes.
I also realized that I would be shooting alone for the first time. Again, those feelings of awkwardness began to develop, but this time I cast them aside. I utilized the empowerment I felt from my journey, packed my clothing options, did my own hair and makeup and met with Panos.
Nothing was on my side during the shoot. The weather was unpredictable, the sky was a dull grey, those strange marks on my neck were still there, my hair became frizzy AND on top of it all, I was bloated. Then it began to rain. Luckily, Panos had the most open and welcoming attitude - he made shooting SO easy and even told me exactly how to pose in each shot. I felt so beautiful striding along the island with him.
"i felt so beautiful."
After sending a few proofs to my mom and receiving her feedback, I realized that I had made the right choice. I am so glad I wore this dress. This photoshoot was EVERYTHING and more.
On my final day in Santorini, I felt that the perfect sendoff would be to explore the island on horseback with the locals. I was determined to feel grounded and connected with the island's nature, its animals and its people. The company I booked with was a local company, a husband and wife team.
The wife, Zanet, picked me up and brought me to her family's ranch in Megalochori, a small town with grand pastures and fields. Zanet was from Poland and told me that she had actually met her husband while doing the very same horseback riding tour here during a solo trip in Greece. They fell in love. She later moved to Greece to be with her husband, and the two took over the family's horseback riding business. Notice the unexpected benefits of doing solo trips.
Arriving at the ranch, I was expecting to encounter at least one other tourist, but I was the only one there. I used this to my advantage and got to really know the couple, how they raise their horses, their history as well as the history of the island.
"I took the sunset tour."
Zanet brought me to the shed, geared me up with riding boots and a fitted helmet, then walked me to the stable. I wasn't given many options for the horses since I was just a beginner, so the couple matched me with this white mane. I reached my hand out to stroke his head, and he grumbled. Not a great first impression.
I told Zanet, "maybe he'll respond to your commands during the ride." She replied, "oh, not to worry, my husband will be with you the entire way." Husband? Was she not riding with us?
I was correct. I spent the next hour riding horseback into the sunset alone with a very gorgeous and very married Greek man. I was having the time of my life. Zanet understood.
It wasn't until he snapped this photo of us that my horse began what I call "bumping." He galloped so slowly and made the ride so bumpy I nearly slid off. I figured he was tired, and hadn't rode in a while since it was a chilly day and mid-March. My horse maintained such a great distance between the husband that I lost sight of him sometimes. The husband told me to gently pat his rear side to catch up.
"Horses don't respond well to gentle riders. You are so nice, and a beginner. He can sense that. Be deliberate with him," the husband revealed to me.
"I'm trying!" I screamed back.
We trekked around the pasture for another 30 minutes and returned to the ranch. On the drive home, I asked if Zanet went to university. She said that all of her friends had studied STEM subjects, and she was the only one to study art. I asked why she decided to travel solo to Greece, and her reason wasn't far from mine.
Zanet wanted to discover the world, to expand her horizons, to meet people she wouldn't have met otherwise, to break away from the ordinary, to mess up and to recover herself, to challenge her mental framework, to find new inspiration. Zanet inspired me to keep going. I decided I was going to be like Zanet.
"Zanet inspired me to keep going."
As my beautiful trip began coming to a close, I understood that I would have to say goodbye. Goodbye to a girl unsure of herself, goodbye to my anxieties and fears, goodbye to the old version of me.
I would have to leave an island full of freedom, nice people and plenty of loving stray cats.
Reflecting on my journey, not once did anyone question my solo journey; I didn't receive any questions on why I was alone, nor did anyone make a strange face at me when asking for a "table for one" at a restaurant.
I was never harassed by locals or any foreigners, never robbed nor stolen from. I did mistakenly leave my passport in the hotel safe, but that's another story. All in all, I felt completely safe and surrounded by love, which highly increased my confidence.
I left Santorini, Greece ready to embark on my next greatest adventure: London!
It is entirely possible to visit Santorini without having found "The One" and without having a large budget. These are simply perceptions made by your mind to avoid disappointment. But when you stop feeding yourself a certain way of thought, you realize that it is only yourself holding you back - that you've been trapped by your own limits and others' opinions. I hope this post inspires you to take action and look into your own first solo trip.
The world is waiting for you to explore. Heck, you might even meet your husband.