The financial crisis in Greece has left some people wondering whether to cancel their trips there. While certain media outlets have made the situation sound scary for tourists, that’s not the reality for seasoned travelers currently on vacation in Greece. To find out how the situation is affecting such travelers, I spoke on Wednesday with two WendyPerrin.com readers who are in Greece right now.
“It’s not affecting our trip, except that it’s providing a lot of interest and cultural exposure we wouldn’t get otherwise,” said Jeff Goble of Scottsdale, Arizona, who arrived in Athens on Monday, June 29. “There are no outward signs of a crisis. If you’re not standing in Syntagma Square watching a peaceful protest, life is normal.”
Goble and his wife, daughter, and son-in-law spent Monday and Tuesday nights at the King George Hotel on Syntagma Square—Athens’ main square and the site of Monday’s and Tuesday’s rallies.
“We watched Monday night’s protest from our hotel balcony, and the people were completely peaceful and well-mannered, and it was great to observe a democracy in action,” said Goble. “On Tuesday night we had dinner at the Grande Bretagne, then walked back to the King George. We ended up having great conversations with the people in the street. Other than that, there’s been no impact on our trip.”
“We actually found it exhilarating to be at ground zero while this was going on. The crowds were jovial, they were passionate about it, they were in good spirits, and everyone was incredibly polite both evenings. The protests were announced in advance, so you knew when and where they were going to happen, and they even did it wisely, with the ‘no’ people protesting on the first night and the ‘yes’ people on the second night, so they didn’t need to interact with one another. That prevented anyone from being a hothead.”
Some travelers headed to Greece soon are concerned about the referendum coming up on July 5 and any fallout from that. “I’m no expert on Greece,” said Goble, “but I’m not really concerned about the referendum. It’s on a Sunday. I’m not worried about it, but nor am I going to be hanging around polling stations looking for trouble. If you just exercise common sense, that’s sufficient for traveling in Greece at the present time.”
Goble and his family flew to Crete on Wednesday, as per their pre-planned itinerary, and will continue to Santorini and Rhodes, then back to Athens for one night before flying home. A week from today, they plan to be back in the heart of the action—on Syntagma Square, staying at the Hotel Grande Bretagne. “I’m perfectly happy to go back and stay there on July 9,” said Goble. “If for any reason things get raucous, we’ll switch to a hotel out near the airport. But I don’t expect that. It’s a bit heart-rending. You feel for the Greek people. This is our first trip to Greece, and we’ve fallen in love with the people. We’re feeling good about doing our small part to help the economy here, and at the same time we get to enjoy this amazing country. And the country is chock full of tourists: The flight to Crete today was full, and both the King George and the Grande Bretagne are incredibly well-populated.”
Mykonos is chock full of travelers too, said Lucy Stutz, a reader from Los Angeles who is currently on that island with her husband and adult children. And, like other Greek islands, Mykonos is a very long way from Athens.
“Here in the islands, you wouldn’t even know anything was going on,” said Stutz. “Seriously, you wouldn’t even know there was a crisis. There are plenty of tourists here, and nobody’s having problems. The island’s whole business is based on tourism. So the stores are taking credit cards. Yesterday we went to the cash machine, in the main town next to the bus stop; there was no line, and we withdrew as much as we wanted. Then we went to the exchange place next door and converted dollars into euros, and there was no line and no problem.”
Stutz and her family plan to continue with their original itinerary: They leave for Santorini on Thursday, will fly into Athens’ airport on July 5—the day of the referendum—and drive to Porto Heli for three nights, then spend the day and night of July 8 in the center of Athens and fly out on July 9. “If we get to Athens on the 8th and there is any danger, TrueGreece said they’d put us up at the airport overnight rather than bringing us into town.”
TrueGreece is the travel agency run by Christos Stergiou, my Trusted Travel Expert for Greece. Goble and Stutz both found Stergiou on my WOW List and contacted him via his WendyPerrin.com trip-request form. He designed their itineraries and has been executing their trips, and they feel confident that, should things go south, Stergiou will provide whatever in-country help they need (and I’ll offer my advice too, as part of my trip-monitoring service). “The people at TrueGreece have been highly supportive,” Goble told me. “They’ve been exactly as we would expect someone on your WOW List to be.”
Stergiou says he is monitoring the situation, and his clients’ itineraries, “extremely closely” and that no changes have been necessary thus far. “All of our guests’ trips have gone on uninterrupted. We haven’t had any schedule changes. There have been no issues with flights, cars, tours, anything. Right now we do not anticipate any threats to our travelers’ itineraries. If TrueGreece feels at any time that our guests might be in danger, we will notify them and let them decide whether they want to move to a hotel in a different area. Right now there is no indication that rallies could turn violent. If a rally were to turn violent, personally, I would stay in the hotel, not leave my room, and enjoy room service. That’s personally what I would do.”
What should you do, if you’re headed to Greece soon? Here are two pieces of advice that Stergiou is giving to his clients whose departure for Greece is imminent:
Bring extra euros.
In case of unforeseen circumstances, bring more cash than what you would ordinarily spend. The amount to bring depends on your usual spending habits. Bring a multiple of what you would ordinarily carry—say, two to three times your usual amount. (Keep in mind that Stergiou’s clients have prepaid for most components of their itineraries.) My advice: Obviously, when you’re out sightseeing, the place to keep your extra cash is in your hotel-room safe.
Pay with a credit card when possible.
Once in Greece, preserve your cash by using it only at those places that are not accepting credit cards.
And if you should want to cancel a prepaid trip to Greece? Keep in mind that thus far there have been no disruptions to airline, cruise line, or other schedules. Few if any travel companies—whether a tour operator, cruise line, or hotel—will issue a refund to travelers who are within the cancellation-penalty period. Protecting your payment in a situation like this is, of course, what travel insurance is for. Most travel insurance providers do not cover cancellation for a circumstance such as what has happened in Greece, but some offer a Cancel for Any Reason policy. If you are the sort of low-risk-tolerance traveler who needs the freedom to be able to cancel a trip simply because you’re uncomfortable with whatever unforeseen event might happen in a country you’ve made plans to travel to, a Cancel for Any Reason policy is the policy that, in future, you will want to get.