Relaxing Off-Season Travel in The Greek Isles

There’s this thing about backpacking and long term travel, and it can be hard to admit at first: sometimes you would rather relax than sight-see.

I know, it’s hard to believe that you can buy a plane ticket to another continent and have days when you would rather watch tv than visit another church, museum, landmark, or charming sidewalk cafe. If you’re spending a weekend away or even enjoying a week-long trip somewhere, it’s possible to sight-see for 16 hours a day and crash every night. But that’s not sustainable when you’re traveling long-term and, although I’ve written about this before, I think it bears repeating.

Another beautiful church? Do we have to?

Another beautiful church? Do we have to?

The first time I felt I really needed a break was in Copenhagen. I spent a full week there, and couldn’t get myself to do more than one or two things per day. I didn’t know anyone, so I didn’t go out partying at all, which meant every night I was the first person in bed in my hostel dorm room. For three of these nights, a woman who was studying abroad in France and only had a few days in Copenhagen, gave me the most judgmental look for being snuggled up watching Elementary or reading on my iPad by 7:00 pm. One day, I tried to explain to her that I was traveling long-term and was satisfied to just walk around the city rather than spend all day sightseeing like her, but she sort of scoffed, and I gave up.

This exchange happened to me on week 4 of my trip and I felt pretty awkward and sad about the whole thing. By the time I had met up with my friend Katie, however, and we’d taken our harrowing ferry ride to the Greek island of Kea, I was done caring about what other people thought of my trip. Travel is personal, and I was going to travel in whatever style I damn well pleased. Luckily, Katie and I were on the exact same page — a rare and wonderful thing to find in a travel partner.

So, when we arrived in Kea in November, saw that all the shops in the main port were closed, and we were some of the only tourists on the island… we were pleased. There were no museums for us to feel guilty about not visiting, no landmarks we had to check off our bucket lists.

Instead, we were able to relax, and isn’t that what island life is all about?

KeaBoats

We stayed at a totally amazing guest house called Cavo Perlevos Studios, which I seriously cannot recommend highly enough. We arrived in the evening and were greeted by a sweet middle-aged Greek woman who didn’t speak much English. Neither Katie nor I speak Greek, so our host had to carry the conversation. She showed us our rooms and told us that if we were hungry there was one restaurant that was open just up the street, but we needed to go soon to catch them before they closed. That is a serious amount of information to convey with a minimal English vocabulary and hand gestures.

We weren’t feeling too hungry yet, but knew we had to eat something before bed. So, before heading over to the restaurant, we dropped our stuff off in our room, pausing briefly to marvel at how great it was. The guest house is a series of buildings with two studio apartments per building, and it was a lovely little home-away-from-home, complete with a kitchenette.

Seriously

Seriously, this was a far cry from a hostel dorm room!

When we arrived at the restaurant only one table was occupied — by a group of middle-aged Greek men watching sports. It was from this table that a man, slightly exasperated by our presence, stood up, seated us, and brought us English-language menus. I don’t remember what I ordered, but we took a photo of Katie’s dish.

KatieSquid

It was good, though when she ordered the squid, she didn’t expect it to make up the entirety of her meal. A side salad would have been nice… Regardless, we ate our meal, thanked our server for letting us interrupt the game, and wandered back down the road to our guest house. There is a small bay and a beach across the road from Cavo Perlevos Studios, and we could hear the waves lapping against the shore as we walked. Because we arrived after dark, we hadn’t yet glimpsed the water, but it was nice to know the ocean was nearby.

At the door to our apartment, we were greeted by a different sort of host than the middle-aged Greek woman. There was a kitten waiting for us on our porch. This kitten (and a few other cats who lived on or near the property) became a close companion for the duration of our stay, and I was disappointed that I couldn’t take her home with me.

Isn't she darling?

Isn’t she darling?

The next morning, after an excellent night’s rest, we considered what we hoped to see and do on the island, and decided… there wasn’t much of anything. It was just a mile or two walk back to the port where we had arrived the night before so we decided to walk, talk, and take in the views along the way.

Scenic

Scenic

When we arrived in town, we had planned to get lunch, but nothing jumped out at us. Most shops were closed, and the restaurants seemed pretty standard, so, we opted for the grocery store. Grocery shopping in another country can be a fun experience in and of itself, and with our tiny kitchenette waiting for us at the guesthouse, we had a nice time loading up on food we could prepare for lunch, dinner, and breakfast the next day.

We made the trek home laden with groceries and prepared sandwiches loaded with vegetables for lunch. It was past the hottest part of the day by the time we were done eating, but we wanted to go swimming and dammit this was our opportunity to say we’d gone swimming in November! We changed into our bathing suits despite the breeze and headed across the street to the beach.

Our kitten friend followed us, and waited by our clothes while we dove into the refreshing Mediterranean Sea. Kitten thought we were nuts and waited by our clothes mewing loudly.

KittenFriendConcerned

On our dash back across the road in our towels, some locals wandered by and looked us up and down, but said nothing. Silly foreigners. Going swimming in November. At least, that’s what the coats they wore seemed to say.

We seriously considered changing our plans and spending and extra night, but we had other places we wanted to see and only two weeks before Katie was flying home to the United States. So, we checked out the next morning, as planned. The Greek woman who ran the guesthouse asked if we had gone swimming and seemed delighted when we replied, “yes.” She appreciated our enthusiasm for off-season travel.

The island was practically deserted, but it felt just right. We took a taxi back to the port, and didn’t talk much on the ride. Our driver turned on the radio and sang along to the music as we sped along Kea’s twisting seaside roads on our way to new adventures.

KeaChurch

Would you go to the Greek Islands in the off-season? How about swim in the ocean in November?

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7 comments

  1. This sounds so lovely. I spent about a month traveling overland in Argentina, and I’ll admit more than half of my time was spent just lounging on a lakeside beach, walking up a mountain, or just walking around as much as my feet could manage. I didn’t even have a Lonely Planet guide, eek! But the memories, people I met and did nothing with and the things I saw were all beautiful and somehow it was one of the loveliest months of my life. No guidebook needed for that. 🙂

    1. Oh wow, your month in Argentina sounds wonderful! I actually have a post that I’m working on about how some of my favorite travel experiences have been when I’ve done “nothing.” Sometimes sitting in a park and watching locals play with their dogs, or witnessing a sunset over an interesting street scene, or chatting with a stranger for a few moments on the sidewalk can be more fun than visiting a museum or a landmark. Not trying to knock guidebook recommendations or touristy things because I love those too. I guess it’s just nice to have a variety of experiences in travel and in life.

  2. I always get a pang of guilt when I first decide to slow down while traveling, but that only lasts about a minute. Then it’s great! Glad that you found that kind of relaxation in Greece!

    1. We travel for a lot of different reasons, and sometimes that reason is just to relax. Slowing down sometimes is important — I’m glad you don’t feel guilty about it for long!

  3. Colleen Brynn · · Reply

    Rest during long term travel is an absolute must. I would even argue a month is long term travel and needs rest! Even if it’s an afternoon at a movie theatre, sometimes it’s nice to just not be charging around like a crazy person trying to see everything. And boo-urns to the lady who judged you for it. That should be a travel no-no. Judging other travellers…. and what? She’s the perfect traveller? I bet there are lots of people who would judge her for traveling too rushed. You can’t please everyone, so you may as well please yourself.
    I love your swimming story. When I went on a school trip to France in early spring one year, when we arrived in Nice, the first thing we did was change into our bikinis and run down to the rocky Mediterranean beach to swim. The locals stared at us scampering around wrapped in towels.. meanwhile they were wearing jackets and scarves. They clearly thought we were nuts, but we weren’t letting this pass us by!
    I’m all for relaxing and traveling in the way that is right for you. I’m glad you managed to embrace that.
    ps That cat is the cutest freaking thing ever. What a gorgeous kitty. I love that she protected your belongings while you swam.

    1. Responding to your last point first: she was the prettiest, sweetest kitten! I wanted to let her into our apartment to sleep with us, but luckily Katie wouldn’t let me. And yes, relaxing during long-term travel or even spreading out how much running around you do during a week-long vacation is important. I’m right there with you about travelers judging other travelers. I actually have a whole series of posts about the topic drafted and in need of editing, which someday I will unleash on the blogosphere. Seriously, I have so many feelings about people judging other people’s travel styles.

  4. […] may have noticed that our mistake was trying to get from Kea to Sarajevo without any stops in between. I’m not sure how or why, but Katie and I had both […]

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