Planning for Your Trip to Greece
Safety and Security
U.S. citizens don’t need visas or special vaccinations to visit Greece; however, you must have a valid U.S. passport. Please double-check the expiration date on your passport to be certain it will be valid until the date of your return to the U.S.
In general, travel in Greece is notoriously safe, friendly and hassle free. However, we urge you to leave at home anything of great sentimental or financial value. We recommend that you purchase a security pouch to be worn under your clothes where you can easily carry your passport, airline tickets, credit or debit cards and any other important travel documents.
In the unlikely event that you lose your passport, you will need to have certain documents with you or have a way to have them sent to you in Greece in order to apply for a replacement passport. Please check the list on the website of the US Embassy in Athens and be sure you will have the necessary documents with you, or should you need them, a way to have them sent quickly.
The euro (€) is the currency of Greece, a member of the European Union. Once you arrive in Athens, you will need to have euros for all purchases. We recommend that you have about $200 worth of euros with you when you arrive in Greece. You may order euros from your bank though it may take a few days to receive them so don’t wait till the last minute. You may also exchange US dollars for euros at currency exchange booths at all international airports, though the exchange rate will be better from your bank.
To access additional spending money on Crete, we suggest that you plan to withdraw cash from ATM machines using a debit or credit card, as ATM’s are now quite common. We have heard conflicting reports about whether both magnetic stripe and chip cars are accepted. Don’t forget to notify your bank or credit card company that you are planning international travel and verify the maximum amount you can withdraw from an ATM or charge each day. Some card companies will deactivate your card (or worse yet, tell the ATM to confiscate your card) if they suspect it is being used fraudulently. It might be a good idea to have two debit or charge cards with you in case one gets eaten by an ATM. Jet lag and culture shock can do strange things to the memory so be sure you’ve memorized your PIN number and have given your PIN to someone at home in case you forget it.
In general, plan to use cash for your purchases. Visa and MasterCard are the only cards accepted. Larger, more expensive shops and restaurants in cities may be happy to accept these credit cards, while most small shops - the more interesting ones that sell handcrafted local items, and little cafes/coffee shops - do not. Even in urban areas, many stores won’t accept any kind of credit card for purchases below a certain amount (usually €50). There doesn’t seem to be any way of predicting how this works, so having cash on hand is best. Discover Card is not accepted anywhere in Greece, and American Express cards are rarely accepted. You will find a bunch of other helpful tips here.
Telephones, E-mail and Post
If you plan to use your cell phone in Greece, be sure to check with your carrier to see if it works there. The European phone system uses different technology and only certain types of cell or smart phones will work. We’ve also learned the hard (or should I say, expensive) way to carefully check roaming rates. Some carriers offer short-term packages with international phone rates that can save you lots of money. Learn more here.
You can make long distance calls from pay phones, though phone booths in Greece are few and far between. During the last three nights of the tour, at the hotel in Heraklion (and for those of you on the Athens tour), you can make long distance calls from the hotel lobby and also use the computer reserved for guests.
Wi-Fi is widely available. While staying at the small village inns during the first part of the tour, you won’t have access from your sleeping rooms, but there is Internet access in common areas nearby.
In general, download speeds can be quite slow. One way we’ve come up with to deal with this is to set up a new Gmail email address before leaving for Greece that we share with select people and use this to send or receive emails while traveling. This way, you won’t be bogged down by the time it may take for a slow connection to download a bunch of messages.
Postal mail service between the U.S. and Greece is really, really slow. It is doubtful that any mail sent to you would arrive before you leave to return home.
We think travel insurance is a worthwhile investment and never travel without it. We urge you to purchase a policy that at minimum covers your tour fee and plane fare. We have never had to use our insurance (knock wood) so we can’t recommend one policy over another. Here is a website that explains why you need travel insurance, and another website that describes various options (with reviews) so you can determine the best policy for you.
Emergency Contact Numbers
Just before we leave for Crete in early April, we’ll send you last minute details that will include phone numbers and email addresses you may share with anyone who may need to reach you in an emergency.
Spring Weather on Crete
April is typically a beautiful time of year on Crete. The winter rains are ending and the landscape is lush with wildflowers. Temperatures may vary dramatically from warm (in the low 70’s) to cold (mid 30’s) in the course of one day.
We can expect warm, bright sunny days, a slight chance of rain, cool nights and some cold weather, especially when we are in the high mountains in the middle of the tour. Your days will largely be spent outside, so you want to pack practical, comfortable clothes that may be layered to accommodate a range of temperatures. In general, dress will be casual throughout the trip.
That said, there are two unique, and somewhat intense, elements of the Cretan climate that you will definitely experience: wind and sun. Winds may be strong, and often quite fierce at times. The Mediterranean sun is intense, even in cool weather. Your constant companions throughout the trip will be a warm, wind-proof jacket; a cap or a tie-on hat that fits snugly (and won’t blow off in a strong wind) and protects you from the sun; wrap-around or tightly fitting sunglasses; and plenty of serious sunscreen (SPF 24 or 30). See the Packing List for more details.
Cultural Insights and a Serious Request
Although visitors to Greece wear every type of clothing you can imagine, most of the people in small villages and rural areas on Crete are exceedingly conservative in their dress. For this reason, how you are dressed will make a profound difference in how comfortable (and accepted) you may feel. With few exceptions, Greeks tend to dress in muted colors (gray, navy blue, beige, brown, dark green or burgundy) and only tourists wear bright colors or pastels. Anyone dressed completely in black is assumed to be in mourning, so unless you want to field questions about recent deaths in your family, you may want to avoid wearing only black.
Some of the people you’ll be meeting, especially older people in the rural areas, may be uncomfortable interacting with you if you are dressed in a way that they regard as inappropriate.
We hope these insights will help you as you pack for your visit. Let us know if you have any questions!
Your Suitcase: Small is Beautiful
Throughout the centuries, the people of Crete have had a passion for miniature objects. The museums are filled with a treasure trove of exquisite tiny artifacts, many of which you will see during your travels. Coming from North America where bigger is better, you will find that everything, the architecture, furniture, cars, streets, art and even the people, may seem small to you.
As we will be traveling through this land of small things, we require that you limit your luggage to one suitcase, no larger 22" x 16" x 9", and one small carry-on sized bag. Please take this seriously. Measure your bags to be certain that they do not exceed these dimensions, regardless of the baggage restrictions of your airline carrier
Why are we restricting the size of your luggage?
First, cars, vans and hotel rooms, in keeping with Cretan aesthetics are small. And because we will be traveling to several places on the island, you will need to be able to move all of your bags at least 50 yards, and at times up and down stairs, at one time without assistance. (However, if you are physically unable to move your bags - and if they meet our size restrictions - we will gladly provide you with assistance. Please notify us immediately if this is the case.)
We realize that fitting everything you need into one suitcase and a carry-on bag requires careful planning. But it can be done! We’ve provided you with a Packing List, and you will find some helpful suggestions about packing light here.
You will discover that on flights between Athens and Crete, when you’ll be flying on small Greek planes, you are permitted to bring only ONE carry-on item into the cabin. This one item may be a purse or one carry-on bag or one suitcase, but you cannot bring a purse and a carry-on bag or a suitcase on board. Unlike domestic flights in the USA, where you can sometime sneak on with several bags, Greek airlines are very strict in their enforcement of baggage restrictions.
As you pack for your trans-Atlantic flight, be sure to plan ahead so you are prepared to board the flight to Crete carrying only one item having checked everything else. If you have any questions or concerns about luggage restrictions aboard any of the airlines you will be using, please contact them directly. International travel restrictions are often very different from domestic rules.
Your Daily Travel Bag
Your constant traveling companion throughout the tour will be a small backpack, or some type of bag you can carry comfortably, that is large enough to hold everything needed for our all day excursions. See the Packing List for details.
This is a very active trip. Crete is a very mountainous island and we’ll be walking on all sorts of terrain. Good walking shoes are important. We recommend that you bring a pair of lightweight, lace-up walking or hiking shoes and a pair of comfortable, casual shoes for exploring urban areas. Your shoes should provide good support and excellent traction (textured, sticky rubber-type) to keep you grounded on uneven or steep, slippery surfaces. Please don’t plan to wear dress shoes or anything with high heels. One of the wonderful things about our tours on Crete is that our groups often receive unexpected opportunities and invitations to do and see things off the beaten track, and we want to be ready!
You will have access to a washing machine and clothesline during the first few days of the tour and there are laundry services available at the hotel in Heraklion during the last few days of the tour. Your best travel strategy is to pack clothing suitable for hand washing and line drying, and bring along a few clothespins and packets of laundry soap. Fortunately, clothes dry quickly in Crete’s arid climate!
Plan to bring all the camera gadgets, power supplies, batteries, etc. that you need. Camera/electronics stores are not readily available in rural areas. Photos are strictly prohibited in museums.
Still have questions? Send us an email or give us a call, 706-490-3904.
Below is some information to help you plan your upcoming trip to Greece. We’ve included suggestions about what to pack, as well as what to expect in terms of currency, communications, etc.
Please feel free to contact us with any questions you may have.
Looking forward to traveling with you,
Patricia & Robinette
Wild Crete Travel