Let me just preface this by saying: I cannot believe that my 16-year-old little brother is getting to Greece before I am. Just know that I have never been more jealous of you in my entire life. It seems like just yesterday that you were freaking out because you were afraid you would get sucked down the bathtub drain if Mum pulled the plugged before you got out (sorry; as your big sister, I am obligated to embarrass you just a little). And now, you’re setting off on the trip of a lifetime and I am so excited for you. Here is my advice to you, as your experienced older sister, for making the most of your first trip overseas.
1. Take zillions of pictures, BUT…
Of course, you have to take a gazillion photos on your journeys of everything you see and do and eat (don’t come back until you do, because I need to experience Greece vicariously through you!). But don’t forget to take in everything the country has to offer you without the barrier of a camera lens in between. I promise you, it will be a totally different experience if you just soak it all in. Capture it in your memory, as well as on your phone.
2. Make sure you’re actually in the majority of those pictures.
I’ll give Mum credit for this one because she’s the one that told me, but it is true. Of course, you’re going to need some landscape photos (I mean, it’s freaking Greece!), but make sure you and your friends are in most of them. Whether it’s a selfie or a group photo, you will have much more vivid memories when you look back on those photos if you are present in them. You can find pictures on the internet of all the landscape pictures you want, but you won’t be able to find the feelings from that captured moment or the funny experience that happened right before the camera click.
3. Learn a few phrases in the local language.
Even if you totally butcher it, the locals will appreciate your effort, and be more enthusiastic about engaging with you. Make a conscious effort to immerse yourself in their culture and take in everything they have to offer you.
4. Talk to the locals.
That being said, the locals are your best asset in having the most amazing—and authentic—Greek experience. Your tour guides are going to take you to the most touristy, expensive places in the country, which is also nice because, of course, you want to see the most famous attractions and restaurants on your trip. But the locals are your key to having an experience that differs from all the other tourists. They will give you tips and insider-know-how that you won’t get from anywhere else.
5. Don’t be afraid to separate from the group
Mum will not approve of this tip (hi, Mum), but I think it’s kind of essential. Be safe, of course, and don’t do anything totally stupid or dangerous, but be daring and do something your guides aren’t including in the tour. You will be given free time at certain stops; use this time to your advantage! Explore the nooks and crannies of the country, find little hole-in-the-wall shops and cafes, and discover an unknown but perfect photo spot. Who knows when or if you will get back to this exact spot again; make the absolute most of every moment.
You will not realize how lucky you are until you get there, but I hope that you do. Everything is not going to go as you planned (I can tell you that right now), but just try to go with the flow; as long as you are safe, take the bad with the good and just go with it—it might turn out to be your favourite memory of all! I hope that you feel the magic of being in a foreign country, completely anonymous and free. I hope that your heart and mind grow bigger and take on a new appreciation for places and cultures outside of your own. I also hope you discover a new sense of gratitude for your own country as well. I don’t think you truly understand what is in store for you, but I know that it will be the most life-changing experience of your life, and I can’t wait to hear all about it.