While I was in Istanbul and I was about to hop on a plane to Athens it was right during the hight of the financial crisis. People weren’t sure if Greece would stay in the EU, if they would return to the drachma or keep the euro, or if they could even access their money in the banks. Many travel groups I belong to on Facebook and various blogs I read at the time were all cautioning people to avoid Athens and maybe Greece altogether. I took a chance and jumped in head first like I always do and went to Athens anyway!
Here are some things I learned along the way:
The first thing I noticed (which I mentioned in my post about Athens) is that the metro from the airport into the city which is normally about ten euros was free, so were the buses and other metro lines within the city. I talked to people at the stations and they said that the government couldn’t pay it’s workers and the locals couldn’t easily get money from the bank so they were doing this to help everyone out. I don’t know if it is true or not, but I enjoyed the free transport for most of my stay in Athens.
Cash is King
Before I left for Athens, all of my friends were telling me that if I did go to Greece that I needed to bring as much euros as I would need for that week or so that I would be there because getting euros out of the ATM might be a challenge. At the time locals could only get 60 euros a day from the ATM and the banks were closed. I only took about 100 euros with me and then took out more once I got to the Athens airport. There was no limit for foreigners while I was there, but a couple ATMs were empty of cash so I had to try two or three before I got the amount I needed. This is the main reason why I recommend that foreigners bring plenty of Euros with them.
Also, my hostel in Athens said they would give me a five percent discount if I paid in cash and my pansion in Santorini basically begged me to pay in cash because the owner didn’t have an ATM card and since the banks were closed she didn’t have access to her money. I was still able to use my Visa credit card for big purchases like the wine tour in Santorini (they also said they would give a discount for cash) and my hostel also accepted my card.
I never felt unsafe. I know that I’ve lived in Venezuela for three years and it is not the safest country in the world, so I may have a warped sense of safety, but I never had a single problem. I was alone for much of my time in Athens and nobody tried to rob me. I spent a lot of time in the two main squares in the city of Athens and while I did encounter a small protest with a couple handfuls of people, it was relatively quiet and orderly while it went on.
I think that if you take the normal precautions you would be fine. Bring only the money you think you will need for the day and one card with you just in case. Don’t wear flashy jewelry or clothes that scream rich traveler. If you are going out at night go with a friend and stick to well lit areas. Don’t get drunk and become an obvious target in a foreign place. If there is a large protest scheduled your hostel or hotel can tell you the spot to avoid.
Problems in the Future
In August Greece signed another bailout so the European Central Bank and the IMF will continue to finance Greece for the next three years. This has diminished the possibility that Greece will exit the Eurozone and take up the drachma. This means that Greece will remain the same for tourists and that the 60 euros a day withdrawal limit will remain in place for the locals. I think this will mean that local businesses will really appreciate doing business in cash since they wont have free access to their own bank accounts.
Since unemployment is still at about 25% the Greek economy could really use a tourism boost. Go see the amazing land that is Greece, just bring lots of Euros with you to be on the safe side!
Share your thoughts! Did you travel to Greece this summer? Did you encounter any problems along the way? Would you recommend traveling to Greece in the near future?