Every autumn, students in Denmark go on a one-week holiday for Kartoffel-Ferien (pronounced something like “kartahfull-fia”), or “Potato Holiday” in Danish. In the past, this was to allow children and young adults to return home from their studies to help their families harvest potatoes (a staple of many Danish dishes), as well as prepare the fields for the next growing season.
Now, those attending a Danish school generally don’t have to worry about helping the fam bring in the taters. However, the holiday persists, and so does the mass exodus of sleep-deprived college students from campus halfway through the semester. Many of my European peers returned home to see family, some stayed on campus or explored Denmark, and the rest of them (and us non-European “foreigners”) ran around the continent in packs to hurriedly visit as many tourist destinations as possible.
What did I do?
I flew to Greece on my own. During the week, I met up with my friends who were also there, wherever they were, and visited some other landmarks that my Greek friends from DTU recommended. This decision came after waiting weeks to decide which of my friend groups I was going to join in their string of day trips around northern Europe. Based on pricing, the little time spent in each location, and how I really wanted to visit Greece, I eventually decided to go it alone.
I had wanted to travel to Greece for most of my life. Something about the history of Ancient Greece and its mythology, as well as its current culture, beckoned me. And who can say no to 60-80 degree (Fahrenheit, of course), sunny weather for a week straight (especially when your host country’s weather is the exact opposite)?
Well, for one of the first times in my life, I had decided not to let others’ plans or wants dictate how I enjoyed something important to me. That doesn’t mean I care about my friends any less. Instead, I am (finally!) more strongly following my sense of adventure and facing my fears of traveling alone, among many others. (Character development?)
What I didn’t expect was how effortless it would be to meet so many amazing people who were as adventurous and outgoing as I am, and to have a blast with complete strangers and friends I hadn’t known long. Not to mention, I learned so much more about the world and myself through the moments I shared with those I met throughout my journey.
Of course, you have to be smart and safe at all times. It sounds dangerous to travel independently and explore new places with strangers if you’re not used to the idea (I was definitely scared at first), and it definitely can be dangerous
. However, the experiences and worldly education are what the ever-growing hobby of backpacking is all about. Backpacking is similar to studying or working abroad in many ways, specifically in how educational and freeing it is. Fortunately for many “lone wolves,” Athens is a traveler’s beacon. Additionally, the Greeks overall are incredibly friendly and will go above and beyond to help you if you simply ask.
The only plan I made before arriving in Greece was to explore Athens during my first day and stay overnight in a cheap hostel. As a result, I met several backpackers and travelers from the get-go. The first of which: a Dutch university student who took the bunk above mine, minutes after I checked in.
Throughout the week, I explored Athens and then jumped around to the islands of Aegina (mostly known for its pistachios and to-die-for pistachio foods), Mykonos (for its party scene), and Santorini (for its gorgeous landscapes and blue-domed, white concrete buildings). After island-hopping, I journeyed up north in the mainland of the country to Meteora, the home of centuries-old Greek Orthodox monasteries surrounded by unbounded natural beauty.
One week in Greece wasn’t nearly enough time to truly experience the country. It was, however, enough to gain a whole new appreciation for the world, travel and of course, potatoes.