A life of luxury on the Greek Islands on a backpacker budget.
I know what you’re all thinking, the first time I venture in to the continent of Europe I head straight for the big one, the Greek islands. So many people have asked me how I afforded this trip without any debt or loans, but the trick is just so know how to budget, be willing to skimp on some luxuries, and trust me, you can afford to travel! Yes, even on those pristine Greek Islands! I realise that staying in hostels and strategically planning meals isn’t the kind of holiday everyone wants, but if even some of these tips help you budget your holiday, it leaves you with all the more cash for souvenirs and cocktails! I decided for my trip to visit Santorini, for the views, duh. And Milos, a lesser known island that is known for its tranquility and pristine beaches. No Mykonos or Ios for this traveler. Partly because I’m not particularly interested in partying which admittedly helps the wallet and partly because I wanted to go somewhere a little off the beaten track, which I found Milos certainly was, more on that later!
After staying one night in Athens (which I have already written a blog post on) I was to head to Santorini the next afternoon. There are two ways to access the islands from Athens, via plane or via ferry. If you keep an eye on Skyscanner you will find that the costs are actually relatively similar and obviously flying will save you a lot of time. So you need to just weigh up cost and time and which is going to be more valuable to you. I decided to: Fly Athens-Santorini (45 mins approx $52 AUD) Ferry Santorini-Milos (6 hours approx $40 AUD, this was the cheaper ferry option and this ferry was damn lush! I slept on a couch the whole trip!) Fly Milos to Athens (1 hour approx $100 AUD) It should be noted I also visited the islands in what is known as a ‘shoulder month’ of May. Meaning a month either side of the peak summer season. So you will experience less tourists and save money but you chance it a bit with the weather. In my opinion I was very lucky with the weather and did not feel like I could have picked a more perfect time. Especially for Santorini, any busier and hotter would had made it far less comfortable. I would have liked Milos to be a little busier but more on that later.
We’ve all seen the picture perfect postcard shots, but you kind of just think it must be too good to be true. But in all honesty, Santorini is like the girl you want to be, it’s the Charlie Hunnam of islands, it is so perfect, and so beautiful it’s almost intimidatingly so. It’s cliffy landscapes with the picture perfect stark white Cycladian homes. Surrounded in every direction by sea that literally sparkles! The sea views are so misty and entrancing it becomes impossible to look away. I stayed in the centre of the island in a gorgeous little village called Karterados. I’m talking donkeys (for a real purpose not the cruel touristy ones), Yia Yias and windmills. More on my blissful accommodation later in the post. Karterados was right in the centre of the island, about a 10 minute stroll from the ‘island capital’ of Fira. From Fira you could easily catch transport to either extreme end of the island. One end contained Oia, which is what you picture when you picture Santorini, white houses with blue roofs (the blue roofs actually symbolise churches), windmills and those world famous sunsets, packed with tourists to boot, but of course, a must visit. The other end of the island is spectacular in its own way with rugged cliffs and crashing waves. Castles and lighthouses perched over the ocean and volcanic beaches (in the colors red, white and black!) All over the island people are kind, the food is to die for, the feeling of being in picture perfect quintessential Greece is abundant, and a smile will be plastered to your face. I don’t think I have ever fallen so deeply in love with a destination, as cliche as that may be. Slowly wandering the rambling streets admiring the contrast of the perfectly stark white houses against the cyan bougainvilleas, watching Yia Yias hanging their washing out overlooking the ocean. Wandering up to buy a coffee or a pastry from one of the many scrumptious European bakeries. (More on those bad boys later because they deserve it) I was in absolute heaven. I know what you’re all thinking though. This is not a backpacker destination, beauty comes at a price. Sure it does, and I’m sure if you were paying $700 a night to have the views and the label of Oia it would. But I still well and truly soaked up the Santorini atmosphere AND I didn’t break the budget.
Most of the backpackers are located near the black volcanic beach Perissa which is down one end of the island. Apparently these are really fun but I ended up opting to stay at ‘Caveland’ which is an old winery that has been transformed in to accommodation that is literally in kind of boutique caves. I could not have been happier with my decision. The staff and the other guests were gorgeous. It was in a quiet and more relaxed part of the island with easy access to more happening areas. And with spectacular ocean views and all the decor was in traditional Greek style. My room, or cave, was very comfortable and spacious for a dorm, with day beds to relax on, a modern chic chandelier, and a gorgeous little patio complete with two gorgeous pooches to soak up the sun. The only thing that could have made this accommodation more perfect was if there spacious swimming pool was filled. It’s only maintained during the summer months and I could have used a swim after my sunset yoga sessions. The temperature was more than warm enough to warrant it. Accommodation at this hostel only cost me AUD $25 per night including breakfast which was plentiful.
A lot of people on Santorini hire ATV’s or quad bikes to get around the island and granted it did seem a cheap and easy way to do things. I mostly used the bus. It cost 1 euro 50 per trip and could take you almost anywhere on the island. Plus the view of the bus taking the corners on the cliff were both terrifying and spectacular. On my last day although I was brave enough to jump on the back of an ATV with my new Canadian friend and it was certainly an exhilarating and easier way to see the island as you could make more stops and go on your own schedule! So I am very grateful to her for letting me tag along. Also, don’t forget the number one rule, walking is free, the best way to see things and good for your mind and body!
Food and spending
This section may as well only be called ‘food’ since obviously I was in Greece and obviously all I was spending my money on was food. The first night in Santorini I went out for a ‘Greek tasting menu’ offered by the hostel. 12 euro for basically an absolute Greek feast plus desert PLUS wine. That’s what’s up. I sampled many things some which I’d had before and some new but everything was damn delish, and it was such a good way to meet people. We all went in to Fira town for a drink and a dance after. Breakfast was included at my hostel and I visited the local supermarket to stock up on snacks, Greek yoghurt and fruit to keep me going then I was really only buying one meal a day. The food in Greece is fresh, delicious and cheap so I had no problems there. The bakeries in Santorini are beyond scrumptious and filled with plenty of treats for a savory or sweet lover. Many of them are also open 24/7, which makes these bakeries the perfect pit stop on the way home from a night out or before an early morning ferry. I also had my amazing ‘eat pray love’ travel moment on Santorini. I was having a day of feeling pretty bummed about traveling alone, I had visited Oia and had seen all these incredible things but I was kind of starting I wished I had someone to share it all with me, in particular my poor boyfriend who was freezing at home. But then I decided I could sit around and mope which just felt utterly rude in the world’s most beautiful place or that I could find a way to make myself feel better. So I found a bar with what I thought would be a picturesque view of the famed Santorini sunset, and brought myself a glass of wine. I then started to get a little hungry, so I asked about antipasto platters. The waiter hesitantly told me they were usually shared between two people, I looked to the couple on one side of me who’d just gotten engaged, the couple the other side of me who had just gotten married and told him to the bring all the food to me. Of course I smashed out the whole thing like every independent lady should and it ended up just being such a defining moment of my trip.
I don’t think there was any other time I was walking around Santorini, alone or not that I didn’t have a big grin on my face. But sadly the time came for tearful farewells and an early morning ferry to Milos.
After an absolutely divine ferry ride from Santorini to Milos which stopped at many other Greek islands before I arrived in sleepy Milos. I was soon to discover that sleepy was an understatement and I had arrived in an absolute ghost town (ghost island?!) and I thought I was alone in Santorini! I had taken advantage of the off season prices (now known as non-existent season prices!) and booked myself a full apartment with ocean views for around $40 AUD a night. I was met by a lovely lady and a not so lovely wind storm so I battened down the hatches in my room and watched some Netflix, which every traveler needs from time to time. Later I braved the wind and was the solo customer in a large restaurant for some moussaka and explored the town a little. It was charming yet slightly off putting that not only were there no tourists but no locals either, but I just put it down to the fact of being a Sunday and bad weather. I tucked in to bed early ready to face a big day of walking the next day. When I arrived in Milos I knew I wanted to cover a bulk amount of it’s gorgeous beaches that I had been dreaming about in the one and a half days there. So I thought it would probably be best to spend a little more and join a tour so that I could see as much as possible. Disappointingly, I found out this wouldn’t really be possible at this time of year so I decided that I would just walk to one of the beaches from my hostel. This probably would have been a scenario where not being too scared to hire an ATV would have been ideal. But given how deserted the island was it would have been really difficult if I ran in to any kind of trouble. So I decided to make the trek. It was about 4 and a half kilometers from my hostel to the beach I wanted to go to most ‘Sarakiniko’. So I set off with my backpack, my GPS and my tunes pumping. I realized pretty soon in to my walk that this is the kind of travel my mother tells me not to do, and this is the kind of travel hipster cool ‘genuine’ backpackers tell you to do. Just me and the open road. I’m not joking. I walked for 10km through acres and acres of farmland and there was literally no one. No signs, no stores, no people, nothing. The odd car would drive by and occasionally I would check my map to see that I was in fact on the right track, eased in to my walk and kept on going. I had a little break in a flower field as it was quite a lonely and hilly 4.5 km when FINALLY I saw a sign for Sarakinilo, hallelujah I had found it. And wasn’t I so lucky to have to share this pristine beach with only an amount of tourists I could count on one hand. There is no sand at this beach, just perfectly formed swimming holes in bizarre volcanic limestone rock formations with crystal clear water. I ended up spending the whole day here swimming, jumping off cliffs and sunbathing. Heaven! Then I begun the trek back, stopped for a Greek salad and met an older couple from the U.K who I just kept running in to (probably because we were the only 3 tourists on the island), walked back, had some dinner, watched the sunset and packed my bag for my flight to Athens the next morning.
All in all it’s not that I wouldn’t recommend Milos island. It certainly was a tranquil paradise but it was a little lonely as a solo traveler in the off season. But we live and we learn and I still enjoyed my time there. Keep traveling, ✌🏼S xx