With negotiations between the Greek government and its European creditors apparently breaking down the prospects for a financial collapse within Greece rose significantly yesterday. Stories of long lines and empty cash machines filled the news, suggesting that a full-scale run on Greek banks may already be underway. It’s uncertain at this point whether leaders can step back from this brink even if they want to.
With so much confusion and negative press it’s completely normal for naturally skittish travelers to shy away from such situations. Before leaving on our month long trip to the country in May several people expressed various levels of non-specific concern. People told us they were afraid to go to Greece but, when pressed, didn’t know exactly why. With the country’s financial crises potentially accelerating and news-streams filling up with even more bad headlines such generalized fears are likely to grow. But should that keep you away?
It’s certainly true that the country’s financial uncertainty poses some potential challenges to tourists. In the coming weeks and maybe even months travelers may find ATM machines and credit card networks unreliable. Financial stress could also lead to strikes or other demonstrations that disrupt certain services. All of which could lead to potential inconveniences for travelers. Most of which, though, are easily avoided and none of which would prevent us from returning to this beautiful and welcoming country.
In fact, now may be one of the best times to visit Greece. It’s certainly one of the least expensive moments to do so within the last decade.
The combination of a strong dollar and weak local economy has turned Greece into a surprising budget destination for U.S. travelers. In our case, we spent about a quarter less per day in Greece than we did in Spain or France and about half as much as we spent traveling in the U.K. And we did that while dining out far more often and staying in much nicer accommodations in Greece than elsewhere in Europe.
Even compared with legendary budget destinations Greece remains competitive. Surprisingly we only spent about 20% more per day in Greece than we did in South East Asia. And again, we traveled much more comfortably while in Greece, even renting a car for two of our four weeks in the country.
Besides, bad headlines that keep other travelers away work to the advantage of the intrepid. While tourism to Greece has shown resiliency thus far that could change with this weekend’s developments. Travelers may soon find popular attractions a bit less crowded than they once were.
So no, the latest headlines wouldn’t keep us away. We would, however, take a few sensible precautions.
Given the uncertainty around Greece’s banking system and the now likely imposition of capital controls we’d plan on bringing enough Euros into the country to last us for our entire stay. Even if Greece exits the Euro, the currency will continue to be universally accepted and even preferred for the foreseeable future. Credit and ATM cards, meanwhile, may prove less reliable.
As we’re not overly concerned about petty crime in general (it’s really not that common), we wouldn’t have any qualms about traveling with large amounts of cash. Again, sensible precautions like spitting money among various locations, keeping it locked in bags or hotel safes and utilizing discreet money belts are generally sufficient safeguards.
We’d also want to stay abreast of developments as they occur. We’ve found Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree discussion forum to be a good resource for getting up to date information from people who are actually on the ground. It’s far better to get news from travelers who are actually in the country rather than relying on the often sensational hyperventilations of the mainstream press.
And this being Greece we’d also want to keep an eye on the Strikes and Protests website. Traditionally strikes in Greece are announced in advance and are therefore possible to plan around. Whether that remains true going forward is, of course, not guaranteed.
With those couple of steps, a bit of adaptability, and an adventurous mindset, we wouldn’t have second thoughts about heading back to Greece even in light of the latest developments. It’s a great country and one that relies heavily on tourism. Greece gets about a fifth of its national income from travelers. So now more than ever it needs visitors to keep coming. Those who do will almost certainly be glad they did.