Why Ikaria, Greece, Needs to be on Your Travel Bucket List

This summer, I had the opportunity to basically experience a Mamma Mia!-esque adventure — in a way. My family background is 100 percent Greek. My mom is from a very small, remote island called Ikaria. She lived there for a short amount of time when she was younger but moved back to the United States. Before this summer, the last time I had been to Ikaria was 10 years ago, so clearly I was excited to go back to Greece as a more mature person.

My trip was not your typical family vacation with sightseeing and selfie sticks. We stayed at my uncle’s house, who lives part-time in Greece. We kind of got into a routine for the couple weeks that we were there. We would sleep in, go to one of the beautiful beaches on the island, have lunch, nap, and go to dinner around 10 at night. Europeans have a different way of living, but Ikarians are another breed.

Ikaria is known as an island of longevity. The people who live there often surpass the average age of living. In America, this fact is pretty shocking. Why such longevity? The key is the Ikarians’ way of life.

Many people, including my uncle, have their own gardens where they get their fruit and vegetables for their daily meals. On the contrast, in the United States, we live in a culture where we’re constantly eating out and often eating unhealthy. Everything in Ikaria is fresh. Even when you’re at a restaurant, you can tell that the food you’re eating is freshly grown and cooked. Mediterranean diets are the norm in Ikaria because they’re filled with fruits and vegetables.

“Blue zones” are certain places in the world where people live longer than usual, Ikaria being one of them. According to Bluezone.com, Ikaria is “the island where people forget to die”. Along with healthy eating, the locals spend a bulk of their time outside. Whether it’s walking around or doing yard work, the sun is part of their bodies.

In the middle of the afternoon, everything closes, and the city takes a group nap. As a sleep lover, this was perfect for me. It helps with stress levels and of course, everyone loves to sleep. Their way of living is something we can all admire.

Being able to experience this all firsthand was eye-opening. Ikaria isn’t extremely touristy, so most people we saw around were locals or people from the US who also have family there. The village we stayed in is very close-knit — everyone knows each other. As we walked around, my mom ran into people she’s known from her childhood, which was amazing to see. Ikaria is a place where people can go and embrace the culture they’ve had within them since they were younger.

Ikaria is very remote. In the village, there are two grocery stores and two gas stations, but that’s what everyone is used to. There’s something really special about not knowing it any other way. I felt relaxed and stress-free as if there was nothing to worry about because there really wasn’t.

One day we drove to the back of the island, which takes about an hour. Oddly enough, the “road” to the back isn’t exactly a road, but rather a whole mountain. As we drove, the car stayed on a path barely bigger than the body of the car. We saw a goat every 10 minutes, which is completely normal to all of the locals. To us, it was all picture-worthy.

In our busy lives today, simplicity is truly something that needs to be considered and appreciated. We are all swamped with school, work, social lives, and other pressures that come along with life. Being in Ikaria gave me a chance to breathe and realize what’s really important. Being with these people and witnessing their simple lives gave me a new perspective that I didn’t even know I needed. Most people go through their everyday lives with stress strapped on their backs. In Ikaria, this isn’t even an issue. There is something very special about this island that we can all admire and use in our everyday lives.

My trip can be hard to put into words because it’s something that I feel like I had to see for myself. We can’t all hop on a plane to Ikaria tomorrow, but the island’s values are an aspect that we can factor into our lives. We probably all have aspirations of living long, healthy lives. Looking at how the locals of Ikaria live can shed some light on how to do this — the island hosts inspiration for everyone.