What you need to know when traveling to a country that’s in economic crisis
The idea of traveling to a country that’s in economic crisis can be unsettling. You see images of protests, people yelling, long lines at ATMs. You read headlines that predict dire endings, total collapse. It can be hard to sort out click-bait subject lines from reality.
Here’s the good news: according to watchdog agencies and reputable organizations like Travel Agent Central, it’s clear that you can absolutely travel to Greece right now, and you can have a fantastic trip. Underneath the hype, things are generally quite calm. And while the thought of protests can be uncomfortable to U.S. citizens, it’s important to note that protests are a fairly common occurrence in European countries. Protests and strikes are much more a part of the social fabric for average citizens than they are for people in the United States.
Here are a few other things to keep in mind if you decide to take in Greece or another economically-distressed country (Puerto Rico is another stressed region that remains a popular tourist destination). If you prepare properly, you can protect your investment and maximize the enjoyment of your vacation.
Get travel insurance and make sure you clearly understand all the details. Especially with several unknowns hanging over Greece’s economic future, insurance can help protect your purchases in the event that a tour company or resort goes out of business. Just make sure you understand what’s covered and what isn’t. For example, if a protest or strike is predicted before you get on your plane, your travel insurance company may refuse to cover your expenses. Independence Day (March 25th) and November 17th often see protests. Talk to me or contact your insurance provider directly to make sure you understand the terms clearly.
Book with credible airlines and tour operators. For U.S. citizens, this means booking with providers approved by the United States Tour Operators Association (USTOA). Package deals also tend to protect the consumer more than buying each service separately.
Bring a variety of ways to pay for your holiday, including extra cash in Euros. Most hotels, restaurants, and tour operators will still take credit cards, and the cash limit at ATMs that’s in place for Greek citizens (€60/day) does not apply to foreign visitors. Federal credit regulations allow travelers to file credit disputes if a service wasn’t provided because of bankruptcy. Still, it’s a good idea to bring more cash than you would normally, just in case there’s an interruption in credit card or ATM services.
The recently-instituted value-added-tax (VAT) increase may slightly affect prices on some goods and services. For tourists, this mainly affects things like hotel prices and restaurant food — though there are plenty of ways to still get great deals on these services.
Consider exploring areas of Greece that you know will be quieter. If you’re truly concerned about protests, then spend more time outside of downtown in major cities like Athens and University, which are more common rally areas. The Greek Islands (people mainly know about five of them, but there are over 300 inhabited islands!) and the countryside offer gorgeous views, plenty of amenities, delicious meals at affordable prices, and friendly Greek citizens who appreciate the boost of tourist dollars.
Take advantage of an opportunity to experience an amazing place — and help boost a discouraged economy. As travel expert Rick Steves puts it:
“Frankly, this is a great time to travel to Greece. The financial crisis — while making life difficult for most Greeks — is a boon for budget travelers. … The downsides (shorter hours at sights, reduced long-distance bus service, occasional strikes) are noticeable, but not reason enough for you to postpone a trip. All the things you’re looking for in a trip to Greece — mouthwatering food, deep-blue water, striking scenery, and the thrill of connecting with ancient history — are all here waiting for you.”
Make the extra effort to connect with Greek citizens. Strike up conversations in coffee shops. Ask questions at your hotel front desk. Take an extra moment to learn about what’s going on from an inside perspective. What you see in the news does not reflect the nuance of human experience. Your trip can only be enriched by connecting with the people who live in the country you’re visiting.