This is a guest post by Susan Guillory of The Unexplorer.
Yassas (hello) from Santorini! Right now, I’m basking in the breezy sunshine across from Perissa Beach on the southwestern coast of the island.
While you’re more likely to find newlyweds, college friends, or retiree couples here on this beautiful island, there are a few of us solo travelers. I wanted to share a few tips for getting around on your own, should you decide to be brave and adventurous like me!
1. Stay in One (or Two) Place(s)
I’m in Santorini for a week, and while it was tempting to stay on another island for part of that time, I resisted. Why? Because staying in place helps you get to know a neighborhood and make friends.
I spent the first three days in Megalochori, a picturesque and quiet village, and now I’m in Perissa for four days. I wanted to split my time between two distinct vibes (more on that in a minute).
I’m not saying you shouldn’t venture beyond where you stay. Local buses are easy to take (for less than $3 each way), and you can explore Fira, Oia, Imeroviglia, and anywhere else you want to go during the day. But staying at the same hotel or in the same area gives you a chance to feel like a local for a few days. Hotel and restaurant staff will start to recognize you, and that may open some doors for you as a solo traveler in Santorini.
2. Choose the Santorini Town That Suits Your Solo Needs
I visited Fira on my second day. While it was charming in its own way, it was also overrun by cruise boat folks who descended upon the town for several hours before reboarding. I was so glad I hadn’t stayed there, despite it being convenient to the port and more attractions.
I was pleased with Megalochori because it was sleepier and less touristy. I don’t need museums or tourist shops. I’m happy to meander the streets and take photos of the beautiful architecture.
Perissa is, of course, a beach town, so it’s got a completely different vibe, and one that is welcome after so much quiet time in Megalochori. I’m staying at Utopia Guesthouse, which is a nice and affordable hostel (my double room with ensuite bathroom is about $45 a night).
Also consider whether you’ll rent a car or not. There are many gorgeous hotels with private pools for each room, but they tend to be in the middle of nowhere, and the highways aren’t roads you want to walk along. If you want to take buses, stay in a town with a bus stop. Otherwise, you can easily rent a car, quad, or scooter.
3. Be Open to Where the Day Takes You
I’ve learned to listen to my intuition when traveling by myself. Sometimes it tells me not to turn down a dark alley (duh). But other times, it tells me to walk in one direction, where I find a breathtaking view that other tourists are missing. Or it helps me have amazing experiences I wouldn’t have found in tour books.
Case in point: right around the corner from the traditional cave house that I rented in Megalochori, I saw a sign for a place called Symposion. The sign mentioned”music and myth,” which intrigued me, so I looked it up once I was back in my house. There was a music performance, which promised ” innovative, interactive musical journey using mythological narration and fifteen hand-crafted wind and string instruments.”
The performance, given by Yannis Pantazis, was incredible. He shared bits of Greek myths, combined with the history of the string and wind instruments that he played for us. The audience got to participate as well, and before we knew it, were were creating melody that reverberated off of the arches of the converted winemaking facility.
But it gets better. Afterward, I introduced myself as a travel writer, and ended up spending an incredible four hours with Yannis and his wife, Argy. They even invited me out to dinner with their friends that evening, which proved to be the most lovely experience I’ve had here so far.
4. Make Friends
Thank goodness I’m not as shy as I once was, or I would hate solo travel. You have to be extroverted to a degree, otherwise you feel entirely closed off from local culture.
My trick? I ask questions. Everyone is eager to share a bit about themselves and their culture. Ask Yannis about mythology and Greek etymology, and you’ll have a friend for life. I like to ask people how they ended up somewhere, if they’re not local. Curiosity always makes friendships easier.
By the end of the evening, I’d shared an incredible meal with four Greeks, been treated like an old friend by the restaurant staff (go to Yalos. Trust me: you will not regret it.), and went to bed relaxed and deliriously happy.
They’re coming to Perissa to listen to music and dance later in the week, so the friendship continues! And now I want to return to Santorini even more because I have people to see.
5. Spend Less Time Doing
I know that many people, when they travel, want to see it all. I’m guilty of that as well. But if you accept from the start that you can’t possibly do it all, you’ll be happier.
Seeing the sunset at Oia is a thing here. Apparently, the sunsets over the caldera are orgasmic. But…there are also thousands of tourists vying for spots overlooking the water to take those shots of the golden sun. No thank you. I may be the worse for not having that experience, but I doubt it.
I make a point to do one thing during the day, particularly before noon, as it’s pretty hot here (about 85 degrees currently). I go back to my room for a nap after eating lunch, then read and lounge until it cools down. Then I go out for dinner.
I’ve learned to let go of having an agenda, as well, which helps me find those serendipitous opportunities like meeting my new friends. While I’m here, I might learn to scuba dive. Or swim in a volcano. Or take a sunset cruise.
Or I just might lounge by the sea and just enjoy being in Santorini on my own. Either way, I win.