Omni Traveller

Budget Backpack Travel in Europe

The Greek Islands Offer a Cool Camping and Travel Experience

The Greek Islands are a marvellous sprawling water world that is one of the last few truly rambling, Kerouac-ian adventures left in Europe. There is something to be said about travelling by sea, sleeping in tents, and changing your island residence very week on a whim. It’s a real trip. The crystal clear Aegean Sea and the aqua blue Sea of Crete are full of magical places to visit. The lotus-eaters are all but gone and only a couple of Cyclopses still exist, but adventure abounds.

The Greek Islands are a travel destination for serious explorers seeking fun, meeting new people, and maybe getting in some sunbathing. But while it is tempting and romantic to take an island hopping trip through the island sectors of the Aegean, Cyclades, Dodecanese, and the Ionians, there is an opportunity to make your plans as you travel, by whatever mood suits you. But be forewarned, this approach is not as cheap as you may wish.

You will be taking a trip that is as if you were stepping back a few centuries. It is a dream, an adventure, but you need to be realistic. The ship companies that ferry people to islands must make a living. They know that travellers will pay what they need to pay to get where they wish to go.

Many people like to spread the word to potential travellers that the ships that ferry people around the Greek Islands are cheaper than any other transportation means you will encounter in Europe. True, the definition of expensive is relative, but when the average fare of island hopping is about around $45 USD (€35, £28) per island for the equivalent of a bus ride to the next town, you will need to have enough bread to hit the spots you want to experience. I’m not saying to limit your plans, on the contrary, visit these magnificent islands, but just make sure you bring enough for expenses.
 

6,000 Islands

Greek Island Beach

Greek Island Beach
 Photo: Janice Waltzer

There are up to 6,000 islands that are part of the Greek nation. Of these, about 200 are inhabited, about 20 are open to tourism, and of these a dozen are accessible using a public ferry. All the islands provide the same sun-drenched relaxation many seek, but the variety of the attributes and activities available on each island is what makes hopping around from one island to the next such an incredible adventure.

Visitors can choose from many islands depending on what cultural feature or importance appeals to them. The mythological minded can fly or ship straight to Crete to try to figure out the mystery of the Minotaur. Nature lovers can admire the sheer natural precipices of Santorini. Romantics can bask in the iconic white washed, blue roofed homes and buildings on the isle of Mykonos. The archeologically minded can imagine the glorious past at the ruins the Temple of Apollo on Naxos (as well as beautiful and important ruins on a variety of other islands). Those who plan their calendars around spring break can party on Corfu with British university students and hundreds of vacationing Canadians and Australians, all eager to make friends. So, the choice is yours.

 

Tantalizing Food Variations

Greek food on each island is always prepared a little differently than the others. So, similar menu items at each location will have its regional variation. Eating the same type of dish or food on each island will never be boring as each dish will be prepared with a different spin on it. It may be new to you, the taster, but for the cook it is a centuries old tradition. Trying the local variation of moussaka and wine at each stop on your trip can tell you much about the community you are visiting. So, since you’re already in Greece, enjoy local culinary variations.

At some point, should you begin to worry about the €1 euro price of bottled water and you can’t shake the feeling that your money supply is one candy bar away from being exhausted, there is always a bountiful supply of inexpensive souvlaki to be found in every town. This will get you by.

 

Camping

If you’re in love with camping and saving money is your mistress, the Greek Islands are your home in suburbia and weekend in Fantasyland wrapped-up in one. Each major island has at least one camping ground with criminally cheap lots for you to set up base. While the less rugged but still poor visitor can stay in the dormitories or single cabins that most of these places offer.

But do a little advance research and it will go a Homeric odyssey of a long way. I remember “winging it” one time and arriving on an island only to find its camp ground had no amenities, dirt plots, and no room. I found out the hard way that a little research would have changed my mind about visiting that isle, because other islands had classy camp sites with vacancies. So, check out the camp site before you arrive and make a reservation before you arrive.

 

Getting Back to Italy

Island Chapel in the countryside under stormy skies

Island Chapel
 Photo: zooK2


Just as important as knowing how to get to the Greek Islands is knowing how to get back out of the Greek Islands. There are a small handful of escape routes that all visitors should be aware of, especially if you are improvising your travel itinerary as you go. Let this section be prefaced by the following disclaimer: There are no commercial flights off of any of the islands except for Crete.

This means a traveller can either travel all the way down to Crete by ferry and hope to catch a flight back to the mainland or cut their losses and take the next ferry back to Athens.

But the journey doesn’t end there. If you are travelling by ground, getting back to Italy From Athens is a little involved. You can take a two-day bus ride through the Balkans back to Italy, or a much shorter bus ride to the port town of Patras on the west coast of Greece, then take the night ferry to Cefalonia, and then take the overnight ferry to Italy the following evening.

Or the more prepared traveller could simply book a flight out of Athens ahead of time. Having a little less spontaneity and some preplanning has its advantages.

 

Backpacker Heaven

It can be said that for all the potential downs that could be brought about by the adventurous but unprepared travelling backpacker, the Greek Islands have so much more to offer than any other European travel destination. The Greek Islands are magical. There is no place quite like it in the world we live in. Nothing can top the experience of standing on the deck of a mostly empty ship in the middle of the night as you look at the rolling waves and a brilliant full moon as you cross the mysterious ancient world seas to whatever new adventure awaits you on your next Greek Island. Now, this is cool.