Spending 48 Hours in Corfu: Instagram vs Reality

Emily Reed

Before 2019, I had never travelled on my own before. Usually, I went with my family to Florida, and I was fortunate enough to go to Costa Rica for Christmas one year. I loved travelling with my family; we all got along, had a good time, and for the most part, had mutual interests, but I always yearned for something more, something different. Occasionally, I’d book a train somewhere to meet friends, usually Toronto or Montreal, but nothing like arriving in a foreign country where I could only rely on myself and Google Maps. Although I am a relatively independent person, I knew I needed to do something far out of my comfort zone. For years, I would see Instagram posts and stories of solo travellers in Greece, and I yearned for that kind of experience; the white-capped buildings, mingling with friendly strangers, and endless glasses of white wine during dinner. A few months before my departure, I quit my job, moved my things back into my childhood home, and left Canada, leaping into the abyss of the Ionian Sea. 

After graduating from university, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life; all I knew was that I didn’t want to be in Canada. I had never been to Greece, so I figured it was a solid place to start. I applied for a job in Corfu - and got it. Advertised as hostel reception work for which I would receive free accommodation, I felt it reasonable to have high expectations; the reviews for the hostel were nothing but positive, praising the management, the location, and amenities. In retrospect, I was likely - at least to some extent -  just blinded by the idea of living on a beach in Greece.

Nearly two hours after I arrived in Corfu’s crowded, humid airport, a van with a wonderfully chaotic driver pulled up to the curb, introducing himself and asking where from I hailed. "Canada", I said. From then on, I was “Canadienne.” The drive was 30 minutes of windy, narrow roads through local residential areas, where the driver paused regularly, conversing with locals. "Ya Sou," he would cry in Greek, a common greeting which roughly translates to "Your Health" or "Cheers". At one point, he stopped the van entirely, jumping onto the roof of a nearby car to pick a few figs from a tree. Although he managed to pick a handful, he wasn't up for sharing.

I was prepared to be my best self here in Corfu— outgoing, personable, and full of life. But the closer we got to the hostel, the more my nerves got to me. When it comes to mental health, I struggle, especially with anxiety and feeling isolated. When I was back in Canada, I often found myself spiralling into a pit of loneliness if I went days without talking to my friends or having any routine. However, when it came to travelling on my own, I didn’t think it would be an issue. If surrounded by like-minded people and had a routine to keep me busy, I was sure I'd be fine. However, when I arrived in the hostel later that day, it was desolate. 

At the reception desk perched a young, vaguely unwelcomingly woman. I told her I was a volunteer. This iota provoked rapid, yelling rapid Greek but also eye contact - which was progress, at the least. Three older men occupied the bar in the reception area, humming Greek music and drinking classic Greek Frappes. 

The hostel was on top of the hill, while my room and the beach was a 15-minute walk and 22 flights of stairs down. I was shown to my room by a gentleman who walked 20 steps ahead of me, opened the door to my dorm, and left. All without saying a word. As I sat on the lumpy mattress on my bed, trying to cool down from the hot weather, I realised; there was no noise, no sounds, not even birds chirping. Just my thoughts. Just me. The hostel was empty, only occupied by a handful of people in their rooms. The nerves I experienced during the van ride were far from eased.

I cautiously unpacked my suitcase, insisting to myself that leaving was not an option. I knew staying should be for me and my experience. However, my mindset was more along the lines of “If I left, what would people think?” and that’s when I had to ask myself if I was doing this trip for me or social media.

I was worried that if people noticed I had left or hadn’t spent any time in Greece at all, they’d think I was a failure or someone who couldn’t handle being on their own. Posting all of my experiences on social media, I felt I was proving something, that despite putting my career to one side, I was still doing something worthwhile.

Yes, I wanted to go to Greece and experience living there for a short while. But I also felt like I needed to prove something; I had just completed my Journalism degree and quit my - surprisingly - well-paying barista job. By leaving Canada to travel, I needed to show people that my lack of experience in journalism and unemployment wasn’t for nothing. I wanted to post aesthetically pleasing photos on Instagram of me in a white and blue dress on a beach, or post a video of the sunset. I know there’s so much more to Greece than the basic Instagram post from influencers, but it seemed so ideal and painted a perfect picture of it. Reflecting on it, especially now since I’ve distanced myself from social media, it seems so ridiculous that this was my thought process on how I should live my life. 

For the situation I was in, where I had a mouldy mattress sharing a windowless room with six - usually drunk - guys, it didn’t make sense to stay. My stomach was in knots at the thought of telling the manager that I had to leave, but I didn’t see any purpose for me here. I wasn’t shown where anything was, there wasn’t any work for me to do, and I had never felt such loneliness. I tried to talk to my friends and family, but with a seven-hour time difference, it was hard to keep in touch. Although I wanted to be easygoing and full of life here in Corfu, this wasn’t the best place to do so. 

Aside from trying to impress my followers on Instagram with the charm of Corfu, there was no reason for me to continue my time here. I could’ve stayed, in all fairness, and got over my fear of my disgusting mattress and sharing a bathroom with six men. If I had stayed, I’m sure I would’ve been at the beach every morning, completing my reading list, gone hiking, explored the old town of Corfu, and obtained that so envied sparkling tan. But I didn’t; I left after 48 hours.

I left the island tired, but with a fresh perspective and the motivation to put myself first. I hopped on a plane to Milan, where I knew people, and put all of my social media on mute. I was determined to have a good time in Milan, and I didn’t want any travel accounts, videos, or glamorous photos getting in my way. This isn’t to say I didn’t take pictures, I did; the typical one in front of the Duomo, silly pictures in Como, and embarrassing mirror selfies in a bar. But this time around, taking pictures and posting to social media wasn’t my main focus. Although I did make friends in the hostel, I didn’t know these people, and likely, I’ll never see them again - who’s to impress but myself?

Emily Reed

“There’s always room for more mental health advocacy. Mental health looks different on everyone, and I feel that if I can write about my experiences, surely someone will be able to relate. Sometimes I struggle with my mental health when I’m doing something I’m supposed to love, like traveling, and although it seems weird at the time, it’s totally okay -- our emotions and feelings will always be valid.”

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