“Oh, what have I done…” I thought to myself while walking down a dark alleyway in the depths of Athens.
“Such a beginner’s mistake.” It was half-past midnight, I was EXTREMELY lost, my whole body was screaming from exhaustion, and I was beginning to lose all hope that I’d ever reach the location of my accommodations for the first-night backpacking all alone.
Somehow I had focused so much of my time on learning how to navigate the Metro in Greece that I totally overlooked the amount of preparation that should have gone into learning about navigating from the metro station to my first Airbnb. I did not know where on Earth I was going AT ALL.
I chose to start my trip by staying in an Airbnb over a hostel thinking it’d give me a chance to settle in calmly. Now, I wonder if that choice was actually a disservice to myself since I needed to find my home in the middle of NOWHERE, rather than in a well-known, often-visited hostel spot for travelers.
Given how smoothly everything went at the airport, I thought maybe I stood a chance at a smooth, seamless transition into my temporary life here in Greece. If only it could have been so simple. That whole possibility quickly vanished after I took, I don’t know, maybe ten steps out of the Metro station and into the city.
I set off on foot, with one backpack on my back and another on my stomach, in hopes of finding my first bed to sleep on.
I held my phone with the map open and rotated it 360 degrees in my hand before saying to myself, “Yeah… Who am I kidding? I have absolutely no idea where I’m going. Guess I’ll walk this way..?” Forget the fact that I can’t read maps very well. Knowing I would absolutely need something to [try to] follow, before leaving the USA I had taken screenshots of the route I was supposed to walk. I knew I would not have internet access once I arrived in Greece. It wasn’t until I was actually walking the streets of Athens that night that I discovered even my map screenshots were essentially useless.
The street names on my map were written in ENGLISH meanwhile the signs along the streets of Greece were only written using Greek symbols. Of course, that makes sense but I hadn’t planned for that!
I didn’t have a map in Greek to reference. It was nearly impossible for me to gauge where I might have been walking. I tried looking for landmarks but that didn’t do much to help either. Especially since panic was starting to set in. I couldn’t even begin to guess how to walk back in the direction of the Metro.
I was utterly out of luck.
I watched as it was getting later and later. The sky darkened quickly.
I tried showing my map screenshots to a few natives on the streets and to my dismay, they couldn’t understand them either.
NO ONE COULD MAKE SENSE OF THEM.
Isn’t that great? Eventually, one friendly young woman said, “You walk 5 minutes that way and then turn left.”
As instructed, I walked for 5 minutes in the direction she had pointed, turned left, and found myself on one of the sketchiest roads I have ever seen in my life.
Out of options, I tried turning on my cellular data figuring I could just pay the $10/day rate for Verizon’s TravelPass service and use the navigation to get to where I was trying to go. Would you believe it NEVER connected? Even after a whole hour had passed? I thought I could use my data if all else failed except when all else failed, that failed too!
I passed a few police officers monitoring the street and made my way to the corner. I decided I have to either take a taxi somewhere or prepare to literally wait out the night until morning. I didn’t want to hail a cab on Day 1 but really, I was so lost what other option did I have? At this point, I certainly wasn’t getting there on my own.
It was at that point that I realized I had a new problem. How do I even call a cab? I’ve really only ever Uber’ed (#firstworldproblems.) Sorry, but it is true. So I stood at the side of the road debating whether to wave, put my hand up, or do that whole thumbs up thing that hitchhikers do. I felt so stupid. Whatever. It didn’t matter. I just started waving at taxis hoping to get SOMEONE’S attention.
At least five taxis passed me up on roughly ten minute intervals. Two were undoubtedly empty because I could see inside of them. The drivers looked at me and drove away. I actually started to get really upset. “How am I going to survive here? I can’t even manage to hail a taxi cab.”
I started approaching taxis who were stopped for a red light since none of them were willingly pulling up to me. When I asked drivers if they could take me to the address I had on my phone, most of them didn’t have a GPS and could not read the address since it was not written in Greek. Finally, one driver accepted my request and told me to put my bags in the trunk. When I waited for him to “pop the trunk,” he became disgusted with me, got out very dramatically, comes over to click the button (which I don’t think I ever would have guessed to press because it didn’t even look like something clickable) and in very broken Greek/English says, “SIR… IT’S NOT SO DIFFICULT.”
“Ahaha sorry about that,” I reply as I quickly toss my bags into the trunk and jump into the taxi before he becomes so disgusted with me that he decides to tell me to go back to the sidewalk. (Mind you, I’m so inexperienced with taking taxis I truly didn’t even know whether to sit in the passenger seat or back seat but opted for the back thinking it was probably the safer option.) Once inside, he was very slowly entering the address into his GPS and when my phone’s screen locked, he got very frustrated and started yelling at me. Yeah, seriously, the whole experience was horrifying. The taxi driver undoubtedly hated me.
We drove for almost 10 minutes. Which told me one thing. By foot, I walked very far away from where I was actually trying to go. When we arrived there, he was just going to drop me off at the corner but I was so exhausted from the whole ordeal I desperately just wanted for him to drop me off at the exact entrance so I didn’t have to walk the street guessing which “Greek number” was the number I actually needed. All of the entrances looked the same at night and I was OUT. OF. ENERGY.
“5 Euros,” he requests. (I really expected the fare to be so much more given the distance, the time of night, and the headache I must have given him.)
No problem. I reached for my wallet and realized it was in the trunk. I awkwardly got out hoping that it isn’t taboo to exit a cab before paying, retrieved my bags, and went back to pay him once I had my belongings. I entered the building, met the woman who helped me get checked in, and then I got some of the best sleep I have ever gotten. It was past 2 AM.
If nothing else, this was a major wake-up call that I need to work on a bunch of different skills if I am going to be able to last more than two or three days in any of the countries I hope to visit.
Can you lose the Verizon account and buy SIM cards for the places? That would help a bit with the baseline stuff. My iphone is SIM unlocked but it did not help me in Japan since the SIM did not want to work due to a really basic issue that I could not figure out until the next day with what it wanted to do to enable the service. I ended up walking around and around in circles, jet lagged and completely tired. Ended up walking around and around for about two hours not able to find the subway station when it was about 300 meters away from the train station. That was kinda funny in retrospect but not when it was happening.
I would lose the Verizon service if you could and rely on local sim cards. Here in Vietnam, I pay by the month for a plan that gives me plenty of data and to “top up” I just find a 7/11 or Circle K and buy a card that has a code on it. My first stop after customs is to find the store or stores in the airport that sell prepaid sim cards.
Hi Michael! Yes, great advice! On my third day in the city, I actually did swap my Verizon SIM card out for a local carrier. It’s data only but it was super cheap and now I have fairly reliable internet access allowing me to use maps and online messengers. While it has been helpful having the SIM card now, I didn’t get one prior to arriving so TravelPass was my only option the night I showed up in Greece.
I have been in Athens. It is very confusing, even in the daytime. A taxi was definitely a good idea to get yourself sorted on your first night. I always research the H— out of any place I am going and that does not always help in every situation. I know it takes the spontaneity out of the trip, but safety and security are key. Good luck.
Agreed! I think that might be the best option on Day 1 when you really aren’t sure where you are going. Especially if you arrive at night. Lesson learned.
But you did it! I think you are off to a great start, Rocky. Lesson 1 is always the hardest. Daylight approaches. Have fun.
Thank you! I am doing my best haha! I am still creating the next few new posts but I think you’ll be happy to hear that things have drastically improved since Day 1!!!
stories like this are the ones you’ll always remember.
congrats on making it to Athens! can’t wait to see more pics.
You’re totally right. There’s certainly no forgetting this one!
I enjoyed this!
It reminded me of the first time I left the US – but I at least had a friend I went with!
Egypt was similarly jarring once I left the airport. But trust me, you’ll get your legs under you, sounds like you already have with the SIM card.
You just got off to a rocky start.
(C’mon, how was I the first to go there?!?)
Hahaha I probably should have expected that one. That is awesome though, glad you liked it! Yeah, traveling with someone offers the benefit of not having to go through the more sucky situations (like this) alone. Hopefully I will get better with navigation as I gain experience. I did buy a temporary SIM card for Greece which has turned out to probably be the best decision I have made since I got here.
Welcome to the world of travel. It is always the same in any new place. Taxi drivers in most places are purveyors of attitude once it passes midnight. They’ve already worked a full day and you’re at risk of being their “one last fare before they go home.” Have fun and enjoy! Naked hugs!
The time of day and work hours never even crossed my minds. I always assumed many taxi drivers would work late hours at night due to the increased demand with people who might go out and need a cab afterwards. It took me a few days to realize I should also pay attention to whether the sign on the top of the cab is lit up or not. I was probably targeting cabs that weren’t even in service.
The whole time I read this I was laughing WITH you, not at you.
Hahahaha I’m glad you appreciate the humor of it all! What an experience!
It may have been a rough start but you made it. Onto better days and nights!
Cheers to that!
Wow. What an experience. I think everyone should go through this. Getting around in a country you are not used to. Gives one a different appreciation.
I agree! I’ve only been at this for nearly a month and I’ve already learned so much. I really believe traveling changes lives!