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Sailing to Koufonisia

I’ve always been a budget traveller – staying in hostels, buying food at a local grocery store, opting for free walking tours and museums, etc. I get a weird satisfaction from saving a few bucks and I try not to spend money where I can avoid it. But recently I’ve begun dabbling in treating myself a bit more that I used to. Maybe it’s an age thing, but in June I took my first trip to Greece with the main purpose being to relax!

As such, I booked three full days on the island of Naxos. I planned to spend two days lounging on the beach, but I also wanted to do something interesting or exciting on one of the days. After a fair bit of research, I landed on a sailing excursion day as I had never been on a sailboat and Greece seems like a great place to do it!

There are several sailing companies providing day trips for tourists on Naxos. But it seemed clear the most highly rated tour was led by Captain Panos. At first I was put off by the price tag of €70, but after thinking about it for a few days, I realised that (a) I work full time and I can afford this, and (b) if I’m going to spend money on something, I want it to be travel or a memorable experience. 92% of their Trip Advisor reviews are 5-stars (what?!) and based on what was included I knew I wanted to do it. So why not?

I showed up on the morning of my tour and took my place on the sailboat. There ended up being around 15 passengers in total, including myself. It was all couples, one family with two kids, and then me. I made friends with a couple honeymooning from New York who were really sweet so I wasn’t alone all day! There was also Captain Panos and his skipper, Eva. It was a gloriously sunny day and before we had even left the port, Eva was offering us tea, coffee, water, smoothies, or fruit to eat. We set off from Naxos and off towards the Koufonisia Islands, a nearby chain of smaller islands (just one of the tours offered by Captain Panos)

 

Our first stop was a tiny island (more like a rock formation) out in the ocean. There was no beach but we were told we could jump off the boat for a quick swim if we wanted. Just about everyone did, including myself. I was so excited I was probably the first one in! The water was cold but felt nice in the summer heat. We all paddled around the deep water, some people scaling the rock island before we climbed back onto the boat.

The great thing about the tour is that Eva took photos and videos of us throughout the day on a GoPro. We were all given a CD with the photos at the end of the day to take home as a souvenir. Like this one!

Once we were all back on the boat we continued on, sailing further away from Naxos.

Eventually we came to another swimming spot, a rocky cove somewhere. We were given snorkelling masks and jumped off the boat again. We all swam through the sparkling clear turquoise water up to the rocky shore. The shallows were devoid of any vegetation or fish, as you’d expect from a Greek island, but it was really cool to see how clear the water was with my snorkelling mask!

Koufonisia

At this point Eva was again offering refreshments, and this time she included beer! At first I was surprised that I really didn’t have to pay for it (I’m so accustomed to getting the bare minimum from my budget travel activities) but then I remembered I paid €70 for the day… Heck yes I’ll have a beer! Myself and a bunch of other people cracked open our beers for the next leg of the trip. Best day ever?

Koufonisia

After that we continued sailing along towards another cove surrounded by a cool rock formation. I wouldn’t really know how to describe it but here is a photo!

Koufonisia

We all jumped off the boat once again and swam over to the side where there was a small sea cave. We were able to climb up on the rocks next to the cave, climb up to the highest point of the cave and jump back down into ocean. Normally I wouldn’t like jumping off a high ledge into water but I was feeling impulsive and gave it a go. I’m glad I did it but I hit the water in a funny way which made my shoulder a little sore. Overall I was fine, but I’m not sure I would do that again.

One of my favourite spots of the day was the main beach on Koufonisia. We didn’t actually go all the way up to the beach but the sailboat pulled into the brightly coloured shallows and put the anchor down for a bit while we jumped off to swim again. Looking out towards the picturesque beach was like a dream. Everything was so bright and beautiful. Sensory overload!

Koufonisia

Koufonisia

We were taken to a port nearby for lunch. The tour organised a minibus to take us from the port to a nearby restaurant. Lunch wasn’t included in the price but I didn’t mind. The restaurant was located in an unreal location looking out onto a gorgeous beach. The service was pretty disorganised and the food was ok, but it didn’t take away from the rest of the day’s experience. How can you have a bad time with views like this?

Before long we were back on the boat to hit one last destination before returning to Naxos. This spot was another sea cave, but much bigger than the other one. We all jumped off the boat once again and were given foam noodles to swim with. This time we all got to swim into the dark sea cave, which was really cool!

Then we had the option of climbing up the rock face and jumping off the peak of the sea cave again. After my last jump I opted out. It was really high! The others really seemed to enjoy it though.

 

Koufonisia

Then we all piled back on the boat for the longish journey bach to Naxos. We were given more beer, plates of fruit, and even cookies, if I remember correctly. Most of us fell asleep in the warm sunshine after an incredible day.

We were back at the port of Naxos as the sun was starting to go down. We were all given our photo CD and thanked Panos & Eva. They were so kind and took the time to get to know us throughout the day which was really nice. Even two days later when I was walking past their boat one evening, Eva called out to me by name to say hello. I was surprised she remembered my name since she runs these tours every day!

The Verdict

If you couldn’t tell, I LOVED my excursion to Koufonisia with Captain Panos and I would highly recommend it. It was so nice to have everything taken care of, and receive the absolute best customer service from very friendly people. From the constant refreshments and snacks to the photo CD souvenir, I couldn’t have been more pleased with my experience. Not to mention the scenery, beaches, and islands were so spectacular!

€70 was more than I’d usually spend on myself for a single activity but to me it was well worth the money. I’m so happy I decided not to go with a cheaper option simply because of my own stubbornness and aversion to spending money. I would have missed out on an incredible experience!

 

 

 

 

All opinions expressed here are my own. I am in no way affiliated with Captain Panos Sailing.

Reasons to Visit the Island of Naxos

This past year in Ireland has been wonderful but by last spring I was desperate to swap the cool and unpredictable Irish weather for a bit of Greek sunshine. It had been a lifelong dream to visit Greece so once the thought popped into my head, I went ahead and impulsively booked flights for June!

I knew I wanted to hit the Greek islands – But how many? And which ones? There are SO many to choose from!

I would be in Athens for a day or two and I’d have about 4 days for islands. I really learned to enjoy slow travel while in Asia so in the end I decided to stick to one island. That way I’d have more time to relax and less time wasted on ferries.

So which island? As it was my very first trip to Greece I knew I had to pick somewhere good. I researched some of the islands I’d heard of before – some just sounded too busy, crowded, or full of partiers. I’d still like to see Santorini and Mykonos someday, but this time I wanted somewhere more quaint.

I had never heard of Naxos but I kept seeing it pop up on lists of the best beaches in the Greek islands. At the end of the day, all I wanted was a good beach anyway so Naxos was starting to sound pretty good! And from what I read, Naxos was neither too quiet and deserted, nor overrun with partiers. I was sold!

In the end I fell in love with Naxos and was so happy I chose it! Here are some of the reasons why…

Beaches

Duh! Sorry, I just need to say it again. LOOK AT THIS!

island of naxos

The blogs and articles were right. I’ve seen some incredible beaches in Thailand and Cambodia but Agios Prokopios Beach certainly ranks!

Not to mention it was so easy to get to this beach from the main town. It was about a 20 minute ride on a coach bus that picks up right by the port and drops off right at the beach. Luckily a nice Canadian man sat next to me on the bus and we started chatting. He’d been coming to Naxos on holidays every year for the past 30 years! He recommended a few restaurants but best of all, he told me that when I get to the beach to walk allllll the way down, past the ‘umbrella farms’ as he called them (the area jam packed with umbrellas and lounge chairs). He said that’s the best place to be, away from all the crowds, and was he ever right!

island of Naxos

Just a girl and her donut

I followed his advice and walked down past all the crowds. The far end of the beach was essentially deserted, with only one small patch of umbrellas and chairs that were only half full. I wouldn’t have ever known to walk down that far had it not been for the man on the bus! I can’t imagine being more relaxed than I was that day.

The water was so gorgeous so I was constantly going in the water to swim. I never felt that my belongings on the beach were unsafe as there were so few people around and I could keep my eyes on them. I don’t think I would have felt as comfortable in the ‘umbrella farm.’

The best thing of all was the man who walked up and down the beach all day selling donuts. A tough way to make a living in the scorching heat, but I can’t imagine a more welcome treat on my perfect beach day!

There were a few other beaches I wanted to try on Naxos but in the end I kept coming back to this one – it was just too good!

Naxos Town

Ah, the beautiful vista of the main town of Naxos. It’s the first thing you see when you step off the ferry and it lures you in immediately with it’s stacked white buildings and mountain vista. It just looks so ‘Greek’ and lovely!

The town is the the most touristy part of the island, especially at night. There are loads of souvenir shops and there are restaurant staff lining the pavement trying to convince you to come in. Not my favourite thing, but sure it’s unavoidable in tourist hotspots!

One night I headed into town around golden hour to sit and have a nice cocktail. I must say the sunsets on Naxos are something else. The town lights up gold and the sky goes pink and purple. It’s an incredible sight!

island of naxos

Captain Panos Sailing Tour

I’m going to do a separate post about my sailing excursion, but my day on the water with Captain Panos Sailing Tour made me love my time on Naxos even more!

Portara (Temple of Apollo)

As I said above, when you’re walking off the ferry onto the island of Naxos, the first thing you will probably see is Naxos town, just to your right. But look left and you’ll see a mysterious archway sitting atop a nearby hill.

This is the Portara, all that remains of an ancient Temple to Apollo. It’s a quick 5 minute walk from Naxos town along the water and up a path to the top. The Portara is free to go up and see, and it’s a very easy climb up some stairs.

island of Naxos

It’s easy to see why the ancient inhabitants of Naxos would build their temple here. It’s clearly a magical place with breathtaking views!

If you visit Naxos, it goes without saying that you’ll want to see a sunset from up here. At first I was laughing at all the people crowded together, practically climbing over one another to get a perfect sunset photo through the arch. But then I realised I wanted that photo too!

island of Naxos

Stunning!

As an aside, there is one thing I meant to do but never got around to it. The island is home to a small castle in Naxos town with an archaeological museum. Normally I would probably make a beeline to a place like that straight off the ferry. Castles and archaeology are two of my favourite things! But for some reason the pull to the beach was a bit stronger and I couldn’t tear myself away!

One of my goals of traveling is usually to learn a bit about where I am and visit a museum or two. But I think it’s ok to to skip the cultural stuff every now and then and kick back! It just gives me an excuse to go back to Naxos and visit the museum another time 🙂

Naxos was the perfect introduction the the Greek islands for me. I already can’t wait to plan more trips to other islands in the future (although I know I’ll be tempted to go straight back to Naxos!)

Have you been to the Greek Islands? Which one is your favourite?

2018: Time to Revamp My Blog!

Happy 2018!

I started this blog 2 years ago with a bang. I booked my first long backpacking trip to Asia and blasted the link to my new blog out to family and friends on social media. I worked really hard to teach myself how to set up my own website and learn how to use WordPress so I was very proud of what I’d accomplished. I found that I really enjoyed customising my new website, learning how to use e-mail marketing, writing blog posts, and I’ve always loved taking photos (although I’m no photographer). I was sure I’d keep up with it no problem while I was away.

But in all honesty it was tough to keep up the blogging momentum while I was traveling! It took a lot of time and effort to upload and edit photos/videos, write my posts, create e-mail campaigns, etc. while on the road. I was (am) still a newbie to blogging so I was always second guessing myself and figuring things out as I went along. There were a few times, after several days or weeks of constant travel and excitement, that a quiet day of blogging in a coffee shop sounded ideal. But as time went on I found I was having too much fun and didn’t want to have to tell my new friends I would need to hang back from an adventure to work on the blog. And I’m really glad I didn’t!

But as a result the blog fell to the wayside and there are still so many stories from my trip to Asia that I haven’t told. Not to mention the subsequent 8 months I spent at home working my butt off in a restaurant to save money. And then the past year where I’ve fulfilled my dream of moving to Ireland!

2017 was a whirlwind for so many reasons – a new home, new friends, a new job, lots of weekend trips and road trips around Ireland, a trip to Greece, and plenty of time spent exploring and getting to know my new home city of Galway.

Now that I feel settled in my new home I want to revive the enthusiasm I had when I started this blog. I’ve realised that in addition to my international travel, I do have a lot to say and write about Ireland specifically, now that I live here and have seen so much of it. Plus with all the gloomy weather here, I think blogging would be a more productive use of my time than watching Netflix when I’m bored! So I hope in 2018 my blog posts will be come more regular and I’ll gain the confidence to publicise it more. Bear with me while I continue to tweak and update things… I don’t have everything with my theme and layout exactly as I want it just yet!

Goals for 2018:

  • Dedicate more time to blogging and continue to learn and improve
  • Buy a new camera so I can stop relying on my iPhone photos (my nice camera was stolen in Cambodia! I haven’t had the money the get a new one since then, or at least I haven’t made it a priority to get one until now)
  • Travel more, especially in Europe. Can’t believe I only made it out to Greece this past year!
  • Put myself out there again with my blog and market myself a bit!

I hope 2018 will be just as epic as 2017! What are your goals for 2018?

9 Things to Do in Galway (Other than Pubs!)

Looking for things to do in Galway? It’s no surprise, based on the number of pubs per square mile, that Galway is known for it’s unbeatable nightlife. Oftentimes visitors to Galway use it as home base to visit the Aran Islands, Cliffs, of Moher, and Connemara during the day, and then go out to the pubs in the evening. By all means, make some time to do all of those things if you can. But also be sure to spend a little time getting to know what Galway is all about.

Here are my best suggestions for things to do in Galway besides drinking:

  1. Galway City Museum – Located just behind the Spanish Arch, it’s a nice thing to do on a rainy day. It’s not the biggest or most comprehensive museum you’ll ever visit but sure look, it’s free! And it will give you a taste of local history, from the collection of prehistoric artefacts and the exhibit on Medieval Galway. It won’t take you much more than an hour to poke around through it.
  2. Galway Weekend Market – If you’re like me and like to get an early start when exploring a new city, this is a great place to start on a Saturday morning. Grab a coffee in town and wander through the small but quality market. There are all sorts of vendors, grocers, local artists, food trucks, and more. It’s great for souvenirs to bring home! The Galway Market is open all year round on Saturdays from 8.00 am to 6.00 pm and Sundays, Bank Holidays, Fridays in July and August and every day during the Galway Arts Festival from 12.00 to 8.00.

Things to do in Galway

 

  1. People watching – In terms of things to do in Galway, this is my favourite! This one may or may not involve enjoying a pint – up to you. But you’ll find that there are countless pubs, café’s, restaurants, and coffee shops lining Shop Street with outdoor seating where you can kick back, watch the world go by, and enjoy the live street music always on display. Galway is famous for its lively busking community and this is the best way to enjoy it.

Things to Do in Galway

  1. Standup comedy – I was surprised to find out how popular standup comedy is around a small city like Galway but it’s now become one of my regular activities. There are a couple places that have standup shows throughout the week but my favourite one is the Friday night show at the Roisin Dubh Comedy Clubh. Introverts beware that the the venue is tiny so you may have a few lighthearted jokes cracked at your expense! They bring in a couple different comedians every week so the headliners are always changing. More often than not they’re top notch and from both Ireland and abroad.
  1. Salthill – As a resident of the cutest little village by the sea, I’m quite partial to this one. But on any sunny day in Galway you’ll find hordes of Galwegians heading down the road to the Salthill Prom for a stroll or a run along the ocean. In summer you’ll need to make sure to get yourself a ‘99’ ice cream with a chocolate flake and sit on the steps near the diving tower as brave souls do backflips into Galway Bay. In the summer there’s also a small carnival with rides, carnival games, and mini golf!

  1. Festivals – Galway is a city of festivals of all sorts. Galway International Arts Festival and the Galway Races are the biggest events of the summer. But there’s also the Film Fleadh, Sea Fest, Food Fest, Comedy Festival, Oyster Fest, Christmas market, and many more all throughout the year! Do a bit of research in advance to see if there’s anything going on during your visit to Galway.
  1. Murphy’s Ice Cream – This ice cream company is based in Dingle, Co. Kerry and recently opened up shop in Galway. Their ice cream flavours are uniquely Irish and oh so delicious. It’s high quality ice cream, but with a price tag to match. You can choose from favourites such as caramelised brown bread, sea salt, Dingle gin (made with gin!), and Irish coffee (made with whiskey!). They have classic flavours like chocolate and chocolate chip too if you’re more of a traditionalist. Bonus: You can try as many samples as you’d like before ordering and their staff are outrageously friendly.

Things to Do in Galway

  1. Charlie Byrnes Bookshop – This magical little place sells both new and used books in a wide variety of genres. They’re especially great for books about the local culture and history of Galway, and literature from around Ireland in general. Unlike the bustling Eason’s on Shop Street, Charlie Byrnes is for the person who likes to wander around and enjoy the tranquil atmosphere of an old fashioned bookshop. You really never know what you’ll find in there!
  1. Gaelic Football & Hurling – Be sure to check out the GAA scene while you’re in Ireland (not just Galway). Most of the world has little exposure to hurling and Gaelic football but they’re a huge part of Irish culture. If you’ll be here on a Sunday in the spring or summer, ask around at your hotel or B&B to see if there’s a match on at Pearse Stadium in Salthill. Assuming it’s not too late in the season, you can usually buy a ticket at the stadium before the match. If there’s an away game happening, fear not – You’ll still find all the matches on TV in all the pubs.
Things to Do in GalwayImage source

There you have it. There are so many things to do in Galway, a city that feels more like a small town. Have you been to Galway? What was your favorite thing to do?

How to Rock Your First Solo Travel Experience

If you’ve always been curious about exploring the world on your own – This post is for you. If you’ve never considered solo travel but you found an amazing flight deal and you don’t think any of your friends will be able to join you on a trip – This post is for you, too!

Here I am on my first solo trip to Iceland!

Solo travel is on the rise, especially for women. According to the Visa Global Travel Intentions Study, 24% of travelers had traveled solo on their most recent leisure trip in 2015. As someone who took their first solo trip to the UK & Iceland in 2014 and recently spent two months backpacking solo in Southeast Asia, it’s no surprise to me that this trend is taking hold. I can’t recommend the experience enough and would be so happy if just one person decided to take the plunge on a solo travel adventure after reading this post.

Here are a few steps to ensuring you have the most epic and successful first solo trip:

1. Choosing your destination

Are you looking to go near? Far? Domestic? International? For some people, even going to a nearby city is enough to give them a taste of solo travel. If you haven’t done much traveling in your life up until this point, I would recommend at least an English-speaking country to start. But at the end of the day, if you have your sights set on a certain destination and you are confident enough to embrace all the cultural and linguistic differences you will encounter, then by all means trust your instincts.

2. Booking the flight

This is the hardest part: Committing. There have been so many times when I’ve been sitting at my computer wondering whether I should book that flight. I always question myself, wondering “Should I save that money for something else?” But I always end up telling myself that travel is the best thing to spend my money on and it’s the thing that makes me happiest. I get a crazy adrenaline rush once I take the plunge and buy the ticket – it’s such an exciting feeling! There’s nothing quite like having an upcoming adventure to look forward to.

Don’t let fear or anyone else’s opinion stop you if you really want to go. There’s nothing wrong or weird about wanting to travel solo!

3. Telling your friends and family

While most people will be excited for you, prepare to receive mixed reviews and have some people concerned for your safety. It’s wonderful that they are looking out for you but it’s likely that those people who are most concerned have never done anything like this before (and probably never will). All you can do is assure them that you will take all the appropriate safety precautions and keep your wits about you. But this is YOUR trip, your adventure. Don’t let anyone rain on your parade.

4. Research!

This is the fun part. Well I think it’s fun anyway. Especially before your first solo travel adventure, I would recommend a healthy amount of research on your destination. For my first solo trip I was in the habit of printing out maps, confirmation e-mails, and lists of all my hostels and their contact info/addresses in the event I was stranded somewhere with a dead phone battery or no wifi. I don’t do that as much anymore but it can’t hurt to prepare for the worst.

Be sure to check out some blog posts about things to do in the city you’re traveling to. You might find a great lookout point to take photos or an amazing café known only to the locals.

Are you on a budget? I usually am, so I try to avoid taking taxis and other luxuries if possible. Research is key here. How will you get from the airport to your accommodation? Is there public transportation available? It’s important to have at least an idea of your plan so you can feel confident upon arrival, especially after a long flight.

5. Booking accommodation

While Airbnbs are all the rage right now and hotels are always a safe bet, if you are truly looking for adventure and to come home with some great stories and new friends, I would always recommend booking a bed in a hostel for solo travelers. I would only recommend a hotel or Airbnb if you are looking for solitude, relaxation, and a retreat from the world. Nothing wrong with that, either, but it can be isolating and you might come out of your experience thinking that solo travel is lonely and boring when it doesn’t have to be!

In the US, there are all sorts of preconceived notions about hostels. Many people think they are unsafe and sketchy, when in fact they are usually safe, clean, comfortable, and a lot of fun as long as you do your research. If you are a woman concerned about your safety, most hostels have female-only dorm rooms which should set your mind at ease. It’s so easy to make friends in hostels and you’ll most likely end up going out to explore with them or grabbing dinner and drinks. You’ll meet people from all over the world and some might be traveling solo just like you! I met a wonderful group of fellow solo travelers in Thailand just by chatting while I waited in line for the bathroom. Many hostels have activities like free walking tours and pub crawls as well.

And of course, the best thing about hostels is that they are usually very affordable!

Amazing open-air hostel I stayed at on the island of Koh Lanta, Thailand

Hostelworld.com is where I usually look first. You can sift through photos, ratings, reviews, prices, etc. to find the hostel that is right for you. Every city has hostels that are geared more toward a party scene, and some are more for a quiet night’s sleep, but many fall somewhere in the middle.

6. Getting ready & packing

Be sure to bring a good book and a journal for airports, trains, and other boring places. You’ll want to remember the highs, lows, and emotions on your first solo travel adventure.

How much luggage should you bring? I always recommend packing LIGHT. It’s so much easier said than done, but you will thank yourself later. If you are going for a weekend, you shouldn’t need more than a backpack or carry-on suitcase. Even if you’re traveling long term, I would never recommend a large suitcase. They’re so clunky and if you’re staying in a hostel it’s likely it won’t fit in your storage locker. You will also get checked baggage fees from most budget airlines.

And let’s be real: When you’re traveling solo in a new city or country, who do you need to impress? There’s no need to have a completely fresh outfit each day. Bring a couple items that you can mix, match, and layer, and you’ll be set.

The video below is awesome and concise. I utilize all the same tricks and methods. She’s traveling for a year, but her advice rings true for any trip length.

7. Go have fun!

The best thing about traveling alone is that you are on YOUR schedule. If you are someone (like me) who worries about arriving at the airport too late or likes to move slowly through museums, you will enjoy the freedom you have on your trip. You don’t have to worry about anyone else’s schedules or priorities other than your own. If you want to wake up super early to catch a sunrise, go for it! If you want to spontaneously join your new hostel friends on a day trip, go for it! Your time is your own. Embrace it!

Your solo travel adventure should leave you with a sense of accomplishment and pride that you tackled a completely new place on your own. It’s a great feeling and you may just be itching to get back out there by yourself before you know it!

Check out some of my solo travel posts if you want to read more about my solo travel experiences!