Pay It Forward

From Athens to Fira (Santorini)

After hitchhiking from Amsterdam to Athens twice, in winter 2016/2017 and summer of 2017, it was time for stage 3 of my journey.  After a four-week break in the Netherlands in September and October, this new stage would be:  take a flight to Athens, visit Greek islands on the route to Turkey, go to Istanbul and hitchhike back north from there.

I considered myself an experienced traveller, having hitchhiked 9,000 kilometers in less than one year. And having lost part of my luggage in Salzburg and my backpack in Athens, I had learned to travel light, with minimum equipment. 

On Wednesday 11th of October, I flew to Athens with a leather bag and a small suitcase. From Athens, I would take the ferry to the first island on my wish list, Santorini. Still on a minimal budget, I had no plan how to travel the Greek islands. Would it be possible to find people who sailed the islands and ask them if I could come along? Maybe a cargo ship? Would hitchhiking over sea be possible?

I took it one step at a time. In Athens, I went back to what was familiar, ‘my’ park in the center of Athens and the Athens University of Economics and Business, my regular working location. From there, my new adventure would surely enroll itself.


After getting my suitcase from the conveyor belt, I walked from the airport terminal to the subway. One hour later, I got out in the center of Athens and took the 5-minute walk from Victoria station to the Athens University for Economics and Business. The library was still open, so I started my working day there.

In the evening, I walked to the park for my first night in Athens, still with a leather bag and my suitcase. The suitcase contained clothes, a sleeping bag and a small tent. Taking the suitcase with me each day was too much hassle. With only my leather bag, moving around in Athens was the most comfortable.

So the next day, after a warm and comfortable night, I looked for a suitable hiding place in the park. Soon I found a spot in the bushes and covered my suitcase with leaves and branches, for extra safety. When I walked away, I checked. No suitcase to be seen. It was Thursday morning, my first full day in warm and sunny Athens. Like many Greeks, I started my day with espresso on a terrace. 

At the end of the day, when I came back to the park just before dark, an unpleasant surprise awaited me. I couldn’t find back my suitcase where I had left it. I checked the area three times, maybe I was mistaken about the exact location. But my suitcase was undeniably gone. Probably, someone must have seen me hiding the suitcase in the morning and taken it.


Luckily, the temperature was still very pleasant during the night. The first night, I managed to sleep without any equipment. But for the rest of my journey, I had to find a solution. First priority was a new sleeping bag. I went to an army dump store nearby and found a cool sleeping bag, not too expensive. The only problem was that I didn’t have any extra money for a sleeping bag, it exceeded my budget.

I thought of the most practical solution, something I had learned in northern Greece on my previous journey. In Ioannina, on the day I had to hitchhike to Athens, I had experienced that people were willing to help me with money. I had told a group of university students about my travel adventures and some of them supported me with a small contribution. This could work in Athens as well.

I scheduled my next days in three parts. After starting my day at the university library , the largest part of the afternoon I would walk around for a few hours to ask people for support. And I would end at the university in the evening, to have two or three hours to finish my working day.  The bus station and the train station nearby were pleasant places to approach people. 

It took me two days before I had the money for a new sleeping bag. Altogether I slept three nights in the park in an improvised a shelter from large pieces of cardboard. Despite sleeping light and being awake periods of time at night, I had enough energy to work and walk around the city. Before I fell asleep on my first comfortable night in a brand new sleeping bag, I was proud and very grateful for all support people had given me.

And with this need for a new sleeping bag, a solution had presented itself for travelling to Santorini. Because, if people were willing to help me with a new sleeping bag, why not ask them to help me with a ferry ticket?


On Tuesday morning, I took the subway to Piraeus for the first time. Piraeus is the port of Athens, half an hour from the city center, by subway. A pleasantly dynamic quarter, where ferries take off to countless Greek islands. A typical port quarter with shabby streets and alleys with seedy cafes. Mostly men on the terraces, strong sailors in their glory days, faded old people now.

Piraeus also had large luxury shopping areas, with broad streets and beautiful terraces. Occupied by stylish young people mainly, and tourists. This part of Athens had cafes and restaurants  on every corner. On first impression, this neighborhood fitted me like a glove.

From the subway station I walked to a supermarket first and had lunch. By doing so, I had time to look around and get used to the atmosphere. After lunch I started walking, just following the line of terraces . In the center of Athens, I had learned to ask not for too much, just 50 eurocents. 

Being able to address many people in a short time, I had changed my strategy. Instead of starting with a 30-second pitch and tell my travelling story each time, I now simply started with : “Can you help me with 50 cents?’ If people said ‘Yes’ directly and gave me money, I was fine with that. Only now and then people asked me what I needed the money for. Doing so, by the end of the week I was halfway the ferry ticket, which cost 32 euro’s.

The American

Every day, I expanded my route with a new block of streets. On Saturday, I discovered the marina of Piraeus. A luxury marina, with lots of sailing boats and expensive yachts. And class restaurants with large terraces on the water. Going for a last line of terraces before returning to the subway station, I came upon a restaurant with just one man on the terrace. He was chatting with the waiter and just about to finish his desert.

I walked to him and asked for 50 cent. “Well, I don’t think I have 50 cent”, the man replied. “You see, this is all I have”. He took his wallet and pulled out a 20 dollar banknote. “This is the smallest I have at the moment”. When he handed me the banknote, I was flabbergasted. Used to receive just coins, I stumbled “Thank you”. I turned around to walk away. “One thing”, the man added. “Just to remind you. You have to pay it forward”. Knowing this term from a movie I saw several years before, I replied: “I know what you mean, I will”.

I walked away in the direction of the subway. I suddenly realized that the only thing left to do now was change the dollars to euros and buy my ticket for the ferry. And I had to pay this forward, which at that moment I took as ‘From what you receive, do good to others’.


The next day, I changed the 20 dollar note and got 16 euro’s. I went to Piraeus to buy a ferry ticket to Santorini. I now had two days left to relax a little.

On Wednesday 25th of October, after spending two weeks in Athens, I took the ferry late in the evening. I slept on the ferry and arrived to Santorini Thursday morning around 6 am. While it was still dark, I waited in a café until daylight, so I could see where I had to go.

I started walking from the port, assuming that there would be a town not far from the port. After walking two hundred meters, a car stopped and the driver invited me to come with him. Arthur was an Albanese contractor, on his way to a building job in Fira, the main town of Santorini. Fira was about ten kilometres from the port.

Just before Fira, Arthur had to turn right. From what he told about Fira, I wanted to check this town out first. I looked at the scattered white houses, high on the dark volcanic rock. I had made it to Santorini and felt like my new journey started just today.

Pay It Forward

‘Pay it forward’ is an expression for describing when the beneficiary of a good deed repays it to others instead of to the original benefactor. The concept is old and was used as a key plot element in the denouement of a New Comedy play by Menander: Dyskolos (a title which can be translated as "The Grouch"). Dyskolos was a prizewinning play in ancient Athens in 317 BC.

The concept was rediscovered and described by Benjamin Franklin, in a letter to Benjamin Webb dated April 25, 1784.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, in his 1841 essay Compensation, wrote: "In the order of nature we cannot render benefits to those from whom we receive them, or only seldom. But the benefit we receive must be rendered again, line for line, deed for deed, cent for cent, to somebody."

Pay It Forward is a Hollywood movie as well, a 2000 American drama-romance film based on the novel of the same name by Catherine Ryan Hyde. It chronicles 12-year-old Trevor McKinney's launch of a goodwill movement known as 'pay it forward'. It stars Haley Joel Osment as Trevor, Helen Hunt as his alcoholic single mother Arlene McKinney, and Kevin Spacey as his physically and emotionally scarred social studies teacher Eugene Simonet.