What Greece gave me

It’s hard to believe that one year ago I wrote my story about how life drove me into rashly planning a trip to Greece for six months. I had no idea where I was going, or what I was doing, or why I was doing it. But I was so tired of sitting around the house feeling sorry for myself. Feeling heartbroken and stuck and like I wasn’t getting anywhere, at all.

I will not lie when I say those first few months in Greece were some of the loneliest months in my life.

It’s easy to look back on those experiences and to idealize them – to gloss over the facts. Some people say you can’t run from your problems, but I don’t believe that. You can run. You should run. You should go somewhere new, start fresh. Where nobody knows you and you’re separated from all the things that make you hurt, to gain new perspective. So I drank too much wine at a bar spilling onto Monastiraki Square in Athens. I explored the ghostly Santorini streets on a sunny February afternoon. I sat alone on a beach in Naxos and muttered a “thank you” to the black-robed elder woman who handed me a pamphlet with Jesus on the cover.

Just go and be and do.

It was hard, and Greece was hard.

The thing about travel dreams is that they almost never amount to your expectations. I admit I had more fun in other countries: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro. But Greece gave me everything. It healed me and renewed me and gave me courage. Greece was the lifeline that pulled me out of my funk, and brought me to the surface for air again. It took less time than I thought.

Candice in Santorini

Mostly, I hold people accountable. I remember that first evening in Athens vividly: I sidled up to the bar at AthenStyle hostel, perched awkwardly on my stool, and ordered a pint of Mythos from Anna, the Finnish bartender. There were three people watching a football game. So we started talking, and we fumbled our way through small talk, and I remember the grin plastered across my face when I began to realize how I COULD do this, how I could meet people and travel alone and have new experiences that weren’t shadowed by heartache and self-doubt and everything else. Then came the other characters in the story: Steve and Milly and Dan and Maya and Julie and Rusty and Amanda and Tara and Lena and Theo and Madison and Madison and everyone in between.

How I navigated the streets of Lesvos without any Greek, or dragged myself through farm duty everyday, is beyond me. It seems impossible now, to work up the courage to ask a Greek person for directions, or to shuttle myself onwards to Albania, and onwards even further, alone, shy, timid, and determined. Me, afraid of talking to strangers or answering my phone or being forced out into public in my hometown. Me, throwing myself into the terrifying and yet unbelievably simply act of just living and going and doing and thriving.

I am certain I’ll never fully fit in anywhere. If I move to Berlin I’ll feel lost among the skyscrapers and din of artists and history. But I’ll do it anyway, and from there I’ll explore Poland, and I’ll visit friends in Ireland, and I’ll take a trip down to Spain just because I can. Just because I KNOW I can, because Greek showed me that I could.

I spent half the year travelling in 2014. I can trace back to my happiest moments: getting lost in the maze-like streets inside Kotor’s Old Town in Montenegro. Luxuriating in having an entire apartment to myself in Split, Croatia. Watching the sun set from a yacht in the Mediterranean. Fresh squeezed orange juice from a farm on Lesvos. Making new friends on a bus in Bosnia.They were simple but beautiful.

Travel doesn’t have to include enormously life-altering moments to fill your soul with joy.

I’m also more certain than ever that the best education you can give someone is travel. I think the world be a little less scary if we all did this. You cannot come to places like Bosnia and Herzegovina and not leave without the most profound emotions for such a war-torn country and its warm people.

I didn’t do everything I wanted to do in 2014. I didn’t write beautiful stories, although I read beautiful books. I was really optimistic about that last year – how quickly I’d pick up my pen and start writing fiction again. And now here I am, a year later, with a 30,000-word fiction deadline looming for a romantic travel story, and working on my first manuscript under the guidance of Canadian author Olive Senior, whose praise has already swollen my head to disproportionate sizes. And although I have not found the courage to test the waters of romance again, I’m finally happy. Happy and content and excited to see where I’ll be a year from now, because honestly, I don’t have the foggiest clue.

That’s my idea of adventure.

  • January 16 2015

    1) This is an awesome post and it makes me happy to hear what Greece was able to do for you. I’ve taken some of my biggest adventures for the same reason and I agree that travel can be one of the best things for the lost and brokenhearted.

    2) I also agree that if everyone travelled, the world would be a lot less scary. If there is one thing I hope all people get a chance to do in their lives it’s travel1

    • January 19 2015

      Thanks so much, Sara! And GOD I wish travel were a mandatory part of education, haha. We’d all be better off.

  • January 16 2015
    Rosss Strickland

    I love the way you write in this post. You words are poetic and evokes emotions. I felt as if I was listening to pleasurable wonderful music. The essence of what you were saying was quite clear too. I’m just appreciating not judging.

    • January 19 2015

      Mr. Strickland (I can’t get used to calling you “Ross” haha!), thanks so much! I appreciate it. I can’t wait to get started on more adventures this year.

  • January 16 2015

    Great post, Candice! I love this line- “travel doesn’t have to include enormously life-altering moments to fill your soul with joy”- and I completely agree. It’s the small moments that always make me smile most when I think of past travels.

  • January 16 2015
    Lauren @BonVoyageLauren

    You’re such a great writer and this post is so inspiring! It was just what I needed to read. I’m feeling similar to how you were last year and am sending myself to Spain for three months starting in February. I have a few friends there and will be doing a volunteer program for a couple of weeks. Other than that, I’ll be on my own. I’m terrified but also totally excited and ready. I think?! Thanks!

    • January 19 2015

      Aww thanks so much Lauren!! Whereabouts in Spain?! I met so many amazing people because I was travelling alone. It’s just such a good way to travel sometimes.

  • January 17 2015
    Rebekah Crabtree

    I love this post. I think its crazy how such hard experiences can really be our best ones. I sort have similar feelings about China right now. Also, I completely agree that running away from your problems is sometimes a really brilliant plan. Distance can be a girl’s best friend.

    • January 19 2015

      Oh my god, if I found Greece challenging, I can’t even begin to IMAGINE how difficult China must be at times! Haha. It’s one of the biggest reasons I wanna go to India — to push myself further. I’m glad you agree about the distance thing. :)

  • January 17 2015
    Adelaide Haynes

    Isn’t Greece a gem?! I went to Zante and fell in love!


    • January 19 2015

      I don’t even know where Zante IS! Whaaat

  • January 18 2015

    I love this post so much, and I related to it a lot. I spent a couple months in Brazil this year (was only supposed to stay for a month) and it wasn’t all wonderful. I went through some real low points and got pretty lonely. It was also my first time staying anywhere long enough to go through culture shock: I missed being home, where I just “got it,” and at times I really resented that every little daily exchange was a struggle in a second language. But now I’m home and I miss it, and I saw (in retrospect) how these struggles helped me to get stronger over time. I’m actually going back to Brazil next week. This was my favorite part of your post: “Travel doesn’t have to include enormously life-altering moments to fill your soul with joy.” Every time I hit a low point traveling, I’d try to stop myself and and be present; all those times that I thought, “Oh my god, I’m actually here” were some of my favorite moments.

    • January 19 2015

      Right?! I love when that moment hits you, and usually it’s so unexpected, and you sometimes you’re not even doing anything special. There was a little old Greek lady who took care of me on a ferry to Santorini once, and it made me feel so loved in such a foreign land. Brazil, though. Damn, I gotta get there.

  • January 20 2015

    This is beautiful and it made me ache. In a good way! Or at least a necessary way.

  • January 21 2015
    Maia Jardine

    Awesome post, it’s just another reminder that I need to book a plane ticket and get out and see the world again! I recently spent almost a year in Pennsylvania volunteering at a school for special needs children, and it was an unforgettable experience where I met people from all over the world, explored NYC and Philadelphia, and learned so much about myself- it was also my first time being away from home for a prolonged period of time so needless to say it’s had a huge impact on me! And in the 6 months or so since I’ve been home I’ve just felt a little incomplete and impatient, like I’m just waiting until the next time I can pack my bags and travel again. While home and “real life” is nice, I’ve got to say this travel itch is getting the best of me…reading your article makes my dream of visiting Germany (solo) this summer more tangible, and gives me more hope for my future adventures, thank you! :)

    • January 24 2015

      That’s awesome!! Doooo it!! It’s so much easier than everyone thinks it is, I agree. And who knows, maybe I’ll be there when you are!

  • February 02 2015

    This is so raw and beautiful and poetic. And I can completely relate! That exhilarating feeling of suddenly knowing that you CAN is life changing. I had a very similar experience in Bali last year. Gosh, we are so eat-pray-love haha. So glad for your happiness. :)

    • February 03 2015

      Thanks so much! Hahaha, so very Eat Pray Love!

  • February 02 2015

    You are writing a romance? Woohoo- I am revising my own ms set in Santorini. Welcome to the ranks! Look forward to reading your travel romance! Keep us posted on your progress!

    • February 03 2015

      Hahaha I am! But I know very little about romance, so…lol

  • February 25 2015

    I knew Greece would move you in many ways Candice :) You inspire me quite a bite, so now for fun, I started a site too documenting life abroad. PS: I live in Amsterdam now! visittttt http://www.kates-explorations.com/

  • February 25 2015

    I knew Greece would move you in many ways Candice :) You inspired me quite a bit, so now for fun, I started a site documenting life abroad. PS: I live in Amsterdam now! visittttt http://www.kates-explorations.com/

  • February 25 2015
    Katherine Frangos

    I knew Greece would move you in many ways Candice :) You inspired me quite a bit, so now for fun, I started a site documenting life abroad. PS: I live in Amsterdam now! come for a visit. We didnt get a chance to meet in Greece so I figured to open the invitation here ;) http://www.kates-explorations.com/

    • February 25 2015
      Katherine Frangos

      I dont know why it posted my comment as a guest? feel free to remove it, I cant seem to figure out how to do it on my end

      • February 25 2015

        It doesn’t say “guest” on this end! Thanks so much, Katherine! I’ll have to follow along. Plus I may be in your neck of the woods soon. WOOT!

  • March 25 2015
    Felipe Marques

    You didn’t write beautiful stories… You are the beautiful, wonderful story of the year! You are a lesson for all of us poor mortals lol… Also, as a bay girl you’re always welcomed to our tiny land of countless bananas and never-ending carnival lol… Keep up the good work!

    • March 30 2015

      Hahaha thank you Felipe, you’ve made my day! :)