1. Allow enough time. Everything from weather changes to long meals, leisurely taverna service, and extended coffee breaks, will affect your travel plans. Unless you’re with a tour group, allow for at least one or two extra days per week of flex-time, just in case. Have a Plan Alpha, a Plan Beta and a Plan Omega! Weather fluctuations can delay travel to most islands (unless you’re traveling by plane). This is especially true off-season when there are fewer connections. But don’t assume that you’ll avoid this problem by traveling during the summer. One year, one of the major ferry connections to the Sporades (islands in the Northern Aegean) had broken down and was out of commission indefinitely. Another year, I was stranded on the Cycladic island of Naxos, because “the captain decided to go fishing.” At least, that’s the reason I was given.
Instead, while there, why not enjoy the Greek way of life, and slow down! …if you can. I dare you!
2. Be flexible. If you aren’t flexible, Greek travel will be hazardous to your health. Honestly, you’ll end up with a stroke or a heart attack. Nothing may work out the way you planned, but this is part of the fun. Once, I was on the island of Paros with my cousin, on a small beach a few miles outside the town of Naoussa. We had arrived by a tiny caique. After several leisurely swims, we treated ourselves to an equally leisurely meal—a huge plate of mezedes (appetizers) and, of course, ouzo. It was a lovely day…lovely that is, until we found ourselves stranded — on the rocks lit by the pink-purple sunset— waiting for the little boat to return. We went back to the taverna, which had less than a half-dozen occupants, and asked the owner to call for a taxi. No answer. I sat down on a rock, enjoying the peaceful night…waiting. My cousin became more and more tense and was ready to walk the several miles back to town. I attempted to dissuade her, knowing full-well the disadvantages of sharing a small unlit road with crazy Greek drivers. I assumed it would all work out without a night walkabout. It did, when the last of the taverna occupants finally rose from their chairs and offered us transport. My cousin now remembers that crazy crammed ride as one of the most eventful of her trip.
3. Have access to cash. You will need Euros, cash, in Greece. You cannot use credit cards at most tavernas or when renting rooms from the locals. The vast majority of purchases I make in Greece require cash. If you have an ATM card, this is your best bet, but make sure, in advance, that it will work. Contact your bank, ask about extra fees, and have a backup in case your card falls through.
4. If traveling alone, try to blend in. This is always good travel advice and not particular to Greece. This is best accomplished by observing what the natives are wearing and adjusting your attire accordingly. Don’t forget Greek shoes and sunglasses. (Yes, remember the sunglasses--essential protection from that blazing Greek sun and dazzling light!) Greece is a fairly safe country for single women travelers, but exercise caution. You will, most likely, be approached by Greek men, so you need to know how to handle them. (See blog post, “Single Women Travelers and Greek Gods.)
5. Expect the unexpected. Follow the wise advice offered by my friend from Skopelos “Don’t be a tourist; be a traveler. He further explains that a tourist tries to change his surroundings to match his native country, whereas a traveler seeks to experience new surroundings. Most of my greatest Grecian adventures have been unplanned. A corollary to this--take advantage of the opportunities that present themselves. I have an entire Greek community of friends that I consider family, all of whom I’ve met because I took advantage of these opportunities.
6. Don’t be alarmed by passionate exchanges in the middle of the street—and I’m not talking the romantic kind that you’d see in, say, Paris! Greeks are extremely passionate about everything. They express their opinions, usually quite openly. Even the quiet ones are passionate. Don’t let them fool you. If two people appear to be screaming at each other on the street, they may, in fact, be ready to murder one another, but more likely are discussing their preference of cigarettes.
7. Do travel off-season, but not so far off season that everything has shut down. Spring and Fall are best—May-June or September-October. Off-season ferry or hydrofoil service may be limited, and even if you’ve managed to catch the only one that services your destination this week, you may arrive to find a ghost-island. This happened to my mom and me on the island of Hydra in early November. I had to locate the Port Police to find a room; they considerately set us up with a place in their relative’s hotel. By the time I returned, my mom had accepted a better hotel room from another local. Needless to say, for the remainder of our stay, I was on my best behavior, not wanting to anger the Port Police any further.
8. Do interact with the natives, but, obviously, show discretion. The Greeks are very social. Community and family are extremely important to them. This means that they will be confused if you sit by yourself—and will be tempted to join you—or ,at least, to sit as close to you as possible. They are also extremely curious and always open for a discussion. They capitalize on any opportunity to learn something new, usually as it relates to you.
9. If you’re American, and the Greeks discover this, be prepared for long political debates. At least yours will have a chance now that Obama is in office (in other words, you won’t be spending your entire vacation trying, unsuccessfully, to explain the actions of George Bush); and since we manage to be at war continuously, you will most likely not escape these discussions, nor the Greeks’ strong opinions either.
10. If you want to avoid cigarette smoke, then sit inside. You non-smokers are extremely fortunate. In the not-so-distant-past, Greeks smoked everywhere. Now law bans smoking indoors, including transportation vehicles—so you’re finally exempt from asthma attacks and smoky clothes. But this also means that you won’t be interacting with the Greeks as much, because Greece is a smoking nation.
So, now that you’re a little better prepared, Happy Grecian Travels!
*This post also appears on feisty foodie slash lit-chickie slash globe trotting wannabe Frenchie friend Andi's blog: Misadventures with Andi.
Thank you, Andi!