When I started telling people that my summer travel plans included a visit to Greece, it was at the height of the Greek economic crisis. Actually, scratch that. Let’s say it was at the height of the media’s coverage of the Greek crisis, and things were not looking too good for the indebted Mediterranean nation.
I finally had the chance to visit a country that had been on my dream destinations list for ages, but what I saw as incredible news was met with less than enthusiastic responses from some friends and family.
Really? You’re going to Greece? Are you sure that’s a good idea?
Seriously? You better bring a lot of cash with you!
Be careful out there!
Why don’t you just cancel your trip?
To which my response looked a little something like this:
My friends and family weren’t alone in their concerns, though. When I got to Mykonos, the first stop on my itinerary, I heard many stories from hotel owners and tour guides about worried visitors who had either cancelled their trips or seriously considered doing so because of the crisis. One couple even went as far as to email their hotel almost every day for weeks before their arrival asking if it was still safe to visit and if they’d be able to buy food.
The more time I spent in Greece, the more I realized these fears that so many people had and tried to instill in me were totally unfounded. Even after visiting Athens, the capital city of Greece and epicenter of all the drama and protests surrounding the crisis, I am still steadfast in two opinions:
Greece is a wonderful country with SO much to offer its visitors.
The economic crisis SHOULD NOT discourage people from visiting Greece.
Even now as things are winding down and Greece is at the point of reaching an agreement with its international debt creditors that will at least begin solving some of its economic problems, people are still asking me:
Is it ok to go to Greece right now?
My answer, in short, is YES. If you need a little more convincing, though, here are some details on why that “yes” is not a passive, “Yea sure. Why not?” but more of an enthusiastic, “Hell yea it is! As a matter of fact you should go to Greece!”
You CAN take money out of the ATMs
People seem to have had selective memory when recalling what the media reported about the capital controls in Greece. They knew about the new rules but forgot to whom they applied. The capital controls limited the amount of money that Greeks (not tourists) could take out of the ATMs. ONLY Greeks and people with Greek bank accounts were affected by the capital controls. So the only logical reason for a tourist to travel to Greece with huge wads of cash would be to avoid their bank’s ridiculously high fees for using an ATM overseas. Other than that and the occasionally empty ATM, there would be no problems accessing your cash in Greece.
You CAN pay for things with your credit/debit card
I don’t know where the rumors that people wouldn’t be able to use a bankcard in Greece came from, but it was a common warning I got form people who knew I was traveling there. Like most rumors, this one turned out to be false. I was able to use my card almost everywhere. Now, of course there were some smaller vendors who only accepted or preferred cash, but I’m sure that was the case even before the crisis. Europe in general definitely runs more on cash for smaller purchases than it does on credit/bank cards.
They HAVE NOT hiked up the prices of everything
People seriously dove deep down the rabbit hole of “worst case scenario” on this one. The fear was that vendors would increase their prices in order to get as much euros as possible while they still could just in case Greece left the euro. Although that might have been a brilliant strategy, according to everyone that I spoke with, it simply didn’t happen. Things are always more expensive in touristy areas so that is to be expected, but aside from that normal increase, the price or accommodations, food and items that the average tourist would buy hasn’t changed.
Greece is SAFE
After all the money-related paranoia, safety was the second biggest concern people have questioned me about. Money first. Safety second. Funny how people’s priorities work, right? But that’s beside the point. Greece is a country going through an economic crisis not a war. Their money woes have not made the country any less safe than before, and Greece was a safe country to begin with. Common sense safety precautions still apply (pickpocketing, for example, is a big problem in Greece as it is in a lot of Europe), but I always felt very safe walking around the islands and even around Athens. One Greek after another assured me that my trust was not misplaced.
But, Jessica, what about the protests?!
Excellent question, my virtual friend. Well, the Greek islands are a completely different world compared to the mainland, so you definitely won’t see any protests there, but even in Athens the protests are not affecting the tourists.
I was in Athens on a day when the government gathered together to discuss some crucial decisions that needed to be made. When I passed by Syntagma Square, where both the parliament and important financial offices are located, I did see some protests, but they were all peaceful. I spent the rest of my day visiting the Acropolis, strolling around the city, and just generally going about my touristy business. Everything seemed fine and normal until later that day when I connected to wifi and got a text from my dad:
“You’re staying away from the riots right?”
My dad is not usually the worrier of the family so I appreciated the text of concern but I couldn’t help but think, “What in the world is he talking about?”
Apparently the protests I had seen earlier that day did get rowdy and somewhat violent at one point with police having to throw teargas at the crowds, but there were no signs of that turmoil anywhere else in the city. As I spoke to some Greeks about it, they expressed a sentiment I was quite familiar with thanks to the American media: The reporters focused too much on the few bad apples and not the overall peaceful nature of the protests. They were preaching to the choir.
So what is the moral of this story? Not that the media is lying to you, but they know what sells, and other than sex, doom and gloom is their best seller. Don’t let the scary images of protests scare you from visiting Greece. When there are protests, they are usually confined to one small area (Syntagma Square) away from some of the most important touristy spots, and they are mostly peaceful. They are easily avoidable and the rest of the city carries on with business as usual.
In a nutshell… GREECE IS SAFE!
Greece is AMAZING!
If the few photos I have so stealthily included in this post so far haven’t made my point obvious enough, allow me to spell it out for you: Greece is absolutely wonderful. With its incredible history as the birthplace of democracy, theatre and the Olympics along with several centuries-old archeological sites to match, the only thing that rivals Greece’s historical appeal is its natural beauty.
The Greek islands are unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. I don’t know if there is a scientific explanation for this, but on the islands, the blues of the ocean, the sky and even on the Greek flag itself just seem more vibrant. As a matter of fact, every color stands out more on the islands and that made for sunsets that left me in awe. Every day I would go out by the water and just this bright pink and orange sun disappear beyond the horizon as if it were taking a dip in the sea. The views were unforgettable.
As if all of that were not enough, add on the super easy train/ferry transport around the country, the undeniably friendly people with their impressive English skills (seriously, everyone spoke English not just people in the tourism industry) along with the totally underrated but amazingly delicious food and there truly is no reason not to visit Greece. Greece has quickly gone from my dream destinations list to my MUST revisit list.
You can HELP Greece by visiting
No matter what the government ultimately decides to do to solve Greece’s economic troubles, it is clear that the country has a long road to recovery up ahead. Tourism certainly won’t save them from the deep hole they’re in, but there’s no doubt that it can help.
As the archeologist/tour guide/my new Greek friend, Marily, once told me:
Tourism is one thing that Greece does really well, and the biggest help that people from other countries can give to Greece right now is to come here for vacation because that brings money into the country.
Marily was only one of many Greeks to tell me something like this. Tourism is a large part of the Greek economy so by traveling to Greece you get to visit a gorgeous and intriguing country while doing your small part to help that country overcome its economic crisis. Sounds like a win-win to me.
If you feel the urge overcoming you to lecture me about the politics and economics behind Greece’s current crisis, please do yourself a favor and take that conversation to someone actually qualified to have it because I am FAR from that. I do not claim to know everything about Greece’s incredibly complex problems nor am I trying to belittle them. This is a very difficult time for the Greeks, and believe me when I say I understand that. My only objective with this post is to hopefully calm the fears of those interested in visiting Greece, dispel the rumors I’ve encountered about the country and encourage people to travel to this exceptionally wonderful place.
Using my voice and my little corner of the Internet to sing Greece’s praises is the very least I can do for a country that lived up to my dreams and so much more.