Is your trip to Greece in jeop­ardy?

The Washington Post Sunday - - TRAVEL - CHRISTO­PHER EL­LIOTT El­liott is a con­sumer ad­vo­cate, jour­nal­ist and co-founder of the ad­vo­cacy group Trav­el­ers United. E-mail him at chris@el­

With Greece tee­ter­ing on the brink of a fi­nan­cial col­lapse, Monte Mathews de­cided to post­pone his Au­gust trip to Athens. Eu­gene Em­mer didn’t.

Their dif­fer­ent re­sponses to the un­fold­ing eco­nomic drama un­der­score the strong am­biva­lence Amer­i­cans feel about the Greek cri­sis. They’re hope­ful the tur­moil won’t touch their va­ca­tions but fear­ful it might. Even a whis­per of bad news seems enough to send some tourists scram­bling to change their plans.

The Greek econ­omy isn’t a new story, of course. But it has taken an un­ex­pected turn in re­cent weeks, as a show­down with the rest of Europe over aus­ter­ity forced banks to close for weeks. In the short term, visi­tors worry that their credit cards won’t work or that they won’t have enough ac­cess to cash. They also fear for their safety. Long-term, the con­cerns are more se­ri­ous. Will there even be an in­fra­struc­ture to sup­port tourists if the econ­omy col­lapses?

Mathews, a Bridge­hamp­ton, N.Y., owner of a food Web site, had plans to fly to Greece in Au­gust. Then he heard about the eco­nomic prob­lems, in­clud­ing the lim­its be­ing placed on ATM with­drawals. Although these lim­its don’t af­fect for­eign visi­tors, they made him ner­vous about his up­com­ing trip.

“De­spite what we’ve read — that tourists can still use credit cards, that they are not af­fected by this dread­ful sit­u­a­tion — we be­came con­cerned that this is not the sum­mer to go to Greece,” he says. “There is no way of know­ing if things will get worse.”

The way he sees it, he could have pressed on with his plans to visit Athens, Hy­dra and San­torini, but he would have had to bring more cash to deal with the ATM is­sue. Mathews feared that might make him a rob­bery tar­get. He’s wait­ing for the sit­u­a­tion to calm down be­fore reschedul­ing.

Em­mer, an Amer­i­can who owns a med­i­cal de­vice com­pany and lives in Lithua­nia, sent me a note shortly be­fore board­ing a flight for Athens. His va­ca­tion in Cha­nia, on Crete, started three days af­ter the ref­er­en­dum. Em­mer vis­its Greece ev­ery sum­mer and speaks the lan­guage.

“This year, of course, we are a bit ner­vous about the sit­u­a­tion,” he says. “We will be tak­ing suf­fi­cient cash, so we will not have to de­pend on ATMs. I’m mostly wor­ried about the pos­si­bil­ity of strikes, be­cause that is a fre­quent prob­lem in Greece. Oth­er­wise, I’m cer­tain ev­ery­thing will be fine.”

But will it? This sum­mer, the an­swer is: maybe.

“It is im­por­tant to note that Greece re­mains safe, warm and wel­com­ing,” says Mina Ag­nos, the pres­i­dent of Trav­e­live, a Bloom­field, N. J., tour op­er­a­tor spe­cial­iz­ing in that coun­try. The tourism in­fra­struc­ture is un­af­fected and the eco­nomic prob­lems are “not be­ing felt” by visi­tors, she says.

That’s par­tic­u­larly true of the Greek is­lands, where many sum­mer tourists go, she adds. “There are no demon­stra­tions on the is­lands. ATM lines are no longer than the ones in cities like New York or Washington, and there is no short­age of sup­plies, food — or won­der­ful ex­pe­ri­ences.”

Visi­tors who were on the ground when the cri­sis wors­ened tell a dif­fer­ent story. John Rampton is a tech­nol­ogy en­tre­pre­neur based in Palo Alto, Calif., and he was in Athens when news of a pos­si­ble Greek de­fault sent shock waves through the global econ­omy.

“I got out the next day,” he says. “Prob­lem is, no busi­ness would take my credit cards. Lit­er­ally, the day it hap­pened they only ac­cepted cash.”

He ended up giv­ing his iPad to a cab­driver in ex­change for a ride to the air­port.

“I didn’t want to be stuck in the coun­try,” he says.

Most travel in­sur­ance doesn’t cover an eco­nomic melt­down. The only in­sur­ance that might ap­ply is a pricey “can­cel for any rea­son” pol­icy, which will pay a per­cent­age of your trip if you change your mind, ex­perts say.

Through the end of the sum­mer, sev­eral is­sues will loom large in Greece. Per­haps the largest is fi­nan­cial.

“Many trav­el­ers may find them­selves un­able to use credit cards at ho­tels and restau­rants, or even with­draw money from ATM ma­chines,” warns Jason Steele, a credit card ex­pert for Com­, a credit card re­source Web site.

He says the wor­ries are jus­ti­fied, and he ad­vises bring­ing ex­tra eu­ros, which he ac­knowl­edges can be both in­con­ve­nient and risky. The work­around? Pre­pay for as much of your va­ca­tion as pos­si­ble be­fore you leave — for ex­am­ple, by tak­ing a tour that al­lows you to pay in ad­vance for spe­cial ex­cur­sions or meals.

Although Greece should re­main rel­a­tively safe for tourists, se­cu­rity ex­perts say you’ll need to take some ad­di­tional pre­cau­tions. In past sum­mers, for ex­am­ple, you might have skipped sign­ing up for the State Depart­ment’s STEP, or Smart Trav­eler En­roll­ment Pro­gram, which lets the gov­ern­ment track visi­tors and no­tify them if a coun­try be­comes dan­ger­ous. This year, with the po­ten­tial for demon­stra­tions and civil un­rest, you’ll want to par­tic­i­pate in STEP. The online form can be found at

“Even though there is a po­ten­tial for in­creased se­cu­rity risk for trav­el­ers to Greece, there are some pre­cau­tions they can take to mit­i­gate those risks,” says Bill Har­gen­rader, a se­cu­rity ex­pert for the con­sult­ing firm Booz Allen Hamil­ton.

His tip: Buy a pa­per map of the cities you’ll be trav­el­ing to and mark the lo­ca­tions of your ho­tel, po­lice sta­tions, hos­pi­tals and the Amer­i­can em­bassy or con­sulate on the map. Why a pa­per map? Be­cause cell­phones run out of power, and if there are wire­less ser­vice dis­rup­tions re­lated to the tur­moil, you could get lost.

It may, or may not, be nec­es­sary. Em­mer, who de­cided to stick with his plans to va­ca­tion in Greece, re­ported back to me late last week from Crete. “The beau­ti­ful port area is bustling, crowded with tourists as well as lo­cals,” he said. “The tav­er­nas, shops and streets are full. There is no sign of cri­sis what­so­ever.”

The long-term out­look for Greece may be a lot bet­ter than the short-term one. If Greece leaves the euro, the com­mon Euro­pean cur­rency, the coun­try could sud­denly be­come a real bar­gain. Last week, tourists fondly re­mem­bered other cur­rency de­val­u­a­tions, such as Ar­gentina’s 12 years ago, when the dol­lar surged, giv­ing them an in­or­di­nate amount of pur­chas­ing power.

“I’m fairly op­ti­mistic,” says Niko­las Langes, the co-founder of a tech­nol­ogy com­pany based in Cologne, Ger­many. “Prices are likely to drop in the fu­ture, so tourists will con­tinue vis­it­ing Greece if it is safe to do so.”

In other words, there are good rea­sons to keep your va­ca­tion plans to Greece, and good rea­sons to break them. But don’t over­look Greece next sum­mer. It could be a real deal.

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