These suggestions have been developed from advice gleaned from travelers experienced in visiting Greece at this time of year.
Explanations for items given below.
It is wise to pack less than you think you will need. It is very likely that you will want to buy some items of clothing in Greece and you need room in your luggage for new purchases. (Purchases may be mailed back home, but this involves an expense, a delay, and a risk.) Good packers aren’t born. They’re made. And if you need a little help, check out this video.
We once had a student who obstinately decided she wasn’t going to do any laundry in the hotel sink, and so brought with her 20+ shirts, 20+ changes of underwear, etc. It all fit into one (mammoth) suitcase, and although she is of hearty Alaskan stock, she regularly needed the help of others in the group when it came to negotiating stairs and the like. (Ramps are oddly rare in Greece.) Don’t let such stubbornness happen to you. Most airlines now allow one checked bag, which can’t exceed 50 lbs. (Well, it CAN exceed that weight, but you’ll be charged heartily. Ditto for checking a second bag. As of 2014, for example, Air France is charging $100 for a second checked bag. It’s wise to aim for well under 50 lbs., since you’re likely to come back with more than you left with. (One last-ditch strategy some have employed is to leave behind their books as we’re done discussing them in order to conserve on weight.)
As for carry-ons, passengers are allowed one bag that’s called a carry-on item, in addition to what’s called a “personal item.” Common examples of the carry-on item include a small suitcase or a backpack. Common examples of the personal item include a purse or a backpack. You can bring any permutation of these, as long as each can fit under the seat. (The requirement is not that both fit under the same seat at the same time.) Consult the airline’s website for details on baggage policies.
So a good pairing for your carry-on item and your personal item would be any two of the following: a backpack, a purse, a small suitcase. (A backpack, even a small one, or a shoulder bag is a good idea for toting around needs for a day, like beachwear, water, etc. But you can stash an empty backpack or shoulder bag into a suitcase.) Some elect to travel with only ONE item with them at their seats, thereby allowing them to expand to another bag (a soft bag or backpack wrapped up tightly inside a checked bag, for example) for the return trip. Some have even purchased a cheap gym bag in Greece for the return trip.
About packing your carry-on
- You should travel with your passport on your person (not in your backpack, or even in your purse). Many travelers like to purchase some sort of money belt for keeping important items out of sight and out of reach. See this about pickpockets abroad: http://wikitravel.org/en/Pickpockets.
- Also in your carry-on you should pack your camera or other semi-valuables, one change of clothes and any essential toiletries, in case checked luggage gets separated from us and takes a day or two to catch up to us. (This happened to our group in 2000; to prove it, I still have the very Greek shirt that I had to buy.)
- Note for the flights: The cabin temperature is often cool on overnight flights. Having access to, if not flat-out just wearing, warm clothes (including socks–some airlines provide complimentary socks, but one can’t count on this) has staved off discomfort in many a traveler. This Consider this as you’re deciding what to pack in your checked bag vs. in your carry-on/personal item.
You might also want to pack with you items like a toothbrush or other personal care items needed to help you feel alive and refreshed on or just after our flight. Some want to brush teeth on the airplane after breakfast is served; others do so by visiting the bathroom in the airport while the rest of the group waits at the luggage carousel.
What To Bring and Not To Bring
Do not bring anything that you would be crushed to lose; jewelry, nice watches, and the like often do not accompany a relaxing traveling experience. Also, although you MUST bring your college ID (for it may allow us to get you into certain sites at discounts) and a credit card/bank card/check card or two (for use in charging or at an ATM), leave at home all other materials in your wallet that would be only frustrating to have stolen. You will not need gasoline credit cards, library cards, or even your driver’s license (unless you’re driving home from the airport). No authority would be interested in a driver’s license; it’s your passport that does the work abroad. To minimize what you take is to minimize what you risk losing. (An entirely Stoic notion, by the way. More on that in Athens.) But DO bring your student ID. It’s required at some sites for getting the discounted admission for which we’ve budgeted.
[Security aside: We once had a student who left her camera behind at a site, and upon our return a couple of hours later, it was right where she’d left it, even though many people had had an opportunity to steal it. Still, there would have been less anxiety if she’s had a simple sticker on her camera with the phone number of our Greek travel agent: 210.895.1725. (This is the Athens number as it would be dialed from within Greece.) This strategy for cameras, cell phones, and the like would be especially useful if something is found in a place after we’ve moved on to our next town.]
It will be hot and dry in Greece this time of year, with temperatures sometimes reaching in excess of 100°F degrees. Rarely will the daytime highs be below 90°F, and rarer still is summer rain. (The predominant summer weather pattern for southern Europe is a southerly wind, which means that the air is coming from the Sahara.) It is a good idea to select clothing that will be loose and comfortable. You will have to do your own laundry by hand in the hotel sinks, and clothing will dry quickly in the hot summer air. This is easier than it sounds, especially if you choose your clothes with this in mind. (Denim, for example, takes longer to dry.)
You should be aware that there are some cultural differences in understanding what constitutes “comfortable and casual.” Many Americans do not think twice about putting on ill-fitting sweats and a rumpled T-shirt as they head out to, say, the discount store. We will rarely see such dress in Greece, even on a hot day. Keep this in mind: “comfortable and casual” in other parts of the world is not synonymous with “sloppy and slapdash.”
Suggestions of what to bring: generally, three to five sets of daily clothes, one set of nicer clothes. You should select clothes that can be washed and dried in a bathroom sink, without undue wrinkling. If in doubt about something, try washing it this way at home prior to departure. Do not count on having access to an iron there, although if people wish, resources can be pooled and an iron purchased. Ditto for items like a hair dryer, although the dry heat lessens the need for such things.
- 4-5 sets of underwear (depending on how often you do washing)
- 3-5 short-sleeved button-up or T-shirts
(Beware that T-shirts leave your neck at risk of sunburn. Also, if you have the choice, you may want to leave behind any clothing with any college’s name on it other than yours–for there’s no way any college would put on its website a photo with such an item–or with any image or wording that might make you cringe when you look back at the photos 20 years from now.)
- 2-3 pairs of shorts
- 1 long-sleeved shirt
- Nightclothes (a low of mid-60s would be an unusually cool night)
- Maybe a light sweater or sweatshirt, though even evenings are rarely cool enough to require these
- Maybe one pair of jeans or the like (Jeans take longer to dry than most fabrics, but it’ll be fine as long as you plan your washing time in advance. Deciding to wash jeans at midnight if we’re departing early the next morning might not work.)
- Light beach towel (although cheap towels are available there, and don’t thereby take up precious suitcase space)
- Hat (the more brim coverage, the better; a baseball cap at least protects the face, but leaves the neck singed). You can see such hats in the photo galleries on the website.
- Sunscreen (at least one full bottle of SPF 30 or higher–a good investment because sunscreen is more expensive in Greece than in the States)
- Sunglasses (available in Greece too)
- Shoes: sandals are ubiquitous in Greece in the hot summer. The most common strategy is to bring one pair of sandals that is sturdy and thick-soled (for rough and rocky terrain), with good traction (for walking on stones polished by millennia of feet), and into which your feet entirely strap (for steep inclines and declines; slides or flip-flops won’t substitute). A common such style is often called “river sandals”; a second such is “Keen’s.” If you have a pair of sandals meeting this description, and if your feet are used to wearing them daily, you can get by for the entire trip with only this pair of shoes. If only to give one’s feet a break, many have found it helpful to bring additional shoes, like sneakers, (there are some pick-up basketball and soccer games with local kids), light hiking shoes, or light sandals. (Most people find heavy hiking shoes to be too hot and to take up too much space.)
An alternative strategy would be to just bring a pair of less outdoorsy sandals (like fashion sandals–if that’s a genre–or even a nice version of flip-flops), as long as you also have a pair of sneakers, breathable and with good tread, that you can wear on those days when our terrain will be rocky, slippery, or damp.
Whichever strategy you use, make sure your shoes are comfortable and already broken-in; still, a few band-aids are a good idea to bring, along with whatever foot care you require for dry and dusty conditions.
- Socks for whatever shoes you have
- One “good” outfit, for sometimes you might want to take a break from dressing like an American collegiate tourist. And for visiting monasteries, men must have long slacks and collared shirts–short sleeves are fine–and women must have slacks, or skirts and blouses (or dresses) that cover the shoulders and knees. Footwear is not a problem for monastery visits, for even flip-flops suffice.
- For men, no need for coat and tie. Even a dress shirt isn’t necessary; khakis, for example, and a presentable shirt with a collar are fine.
- Many women have found useful a sarong, which is usable in various ways.
Coordinate with your roommate on some of these items; it’s not necessary for every traveler–or even every room–to have all these items.
- Travel alarm clock to get you up on time, so as not to hold up the group (with a fresh or extra battery) In the past, we’ve had members get themselves into trouble when they depended on a cell phone or a music device; cell phones might be out of service areas, and anything needing regular recharging is less dependable than a cheap, dedicated alarm clock. (See the link to the NPR report below about the dangers of bringing cell phones abroad–even just to use as alarm clocks–without clarifying some issues with your service provider prior to departure.)
- For each room or two, a stretch clothesline for drying laundry in one’s bathroom, and a small-pancake-sized rubber sink stopper to facilitate doing one’s laundry in hotel sinks. This is the kind of stopper we mean; just pack it flat (like between books) so that it doesn’t get bent. Available in the plumbing section of many hardware stores for a few dollars.
- A few large (2-gallon works best), zippered, plastic bags, for those times when you may have damp swimsuits or laundry that nonetheless need to be packed in a suitcase when we leave one hotel for another, or for additional confidence in packing bottled gifts, like olive oil, you might be bringing back.
- Something to use as a dirty laundry bag; usually a plastic shopping bag suffices.
- For any shampoos and the like, you might consider going over with several trial-sized bottles, instead of one larger bottle. That way, you can discard the small bottles as you use them up. This goes for other toiletries. For example, travel packs of Q-tips are commonly available–they seem like a great idea, adorable and all as they are. But since they’re hard packs, you don’t gain any space in your luggage as you use up half of them, 3/4 of them, etc. So taking some in a small zip-lock bag might be better–if less adorable.
- Feminine care products are available in Greece in the same sorts as in the U.S. Sometimes the islands have smaller selection, but this can be prepared for by visiting a store prior to our island trip.
- A good pocket knife: like a Swiss Army knife or the equivalent. Make sure it’s sturdy enough for cutting fruit, cheese, and salami. (And pack this, obviously, in your checked baggage. Not everyone needs one of these; having a few in the group would suffice.)
- Small flashlight (with batteries, of course; some archaeological sites we will be visiting have darkened alcoves, ceilings, or wells). Some of us have used headlamps to good effect.
- Books for the class (whether paper or electronic; see our “Materials” page). Also, for whatever books you pack in your checked luggage, it’s best to spread them out instead of packing them as what will show up to TSA scanners as one large block of “suspicious something.” When I’ve made this mistake, I have usually found the official note inside my suitcase to the effect that the TSA opened it and inspected. It’s not a horrible thing, but I suspect TSA employees have better things to do than to scope out copies of, say, Thucydides.
- Notes for your site reports
- Pens, pencils, and such
- Notebook for any travel journal you would like to keep for yourself (This is not part of the course, but many travelers enjoy keeping a daily log to which to refer in later years; memories can fade as much as the desire for them remains vivid.)
- Notebook for taking notes and for paper for writing and turning in short assignments on site to be handed in, preferably without those ripped shreds at the left-hand margin
- Addresses of friends and relatives for the wish-you-were-here postcards; the clever will bring addresses on pre-printed labels. (And yes, even in–nay, especially in–this this electronic age, a physical postcard makes an impression greater than an occasional e-mail. When’s the last time you ever saw an e-mail print-out on your aunt’s refrigerator?)
- Passport–Enough said.
- Camera and extra batteries or charger. Even a cheap camera is OK. Most people have found it wise to bring lots of excess digital camera card capacity, since we can’t rely on having access to a computer with the software to download the photos.) AA batteries are available for sale in Greece, but it’s convenient to tote a couple of extras. A good idea is to have one camera card to change each week or so, even if it’s not full; that way even if you lose your camera, you won’t lose all your photos. (This happened once.)
- A selfie stick, as long as you don’t mind being the kind of person who has a selfie stick.
- Personal music player and charger, but be sure that the headphones/earbuds are such that someone sitting in the next bus seat will not hear your music when played at volumes you usually play it at. If your headphones fail this test, then leave the entire unit at home and spend the weeks in Greece imagining the music instead. Personal earbuds tend to be of higher quality than what airlines provide, too; and some airlines are charging for theirs; so you might want to not put them in your checked bag.
- An extra bag, folded up tightly, to serve as a carry-on for the return trip, in case you accumulate more things than you leave the U.S. with.
- Cosmetics you know you will need; they are expensive in Greece–but you won’t need much.
contact lens equipment; preferably an extra pair. One of our students once lost one at the beach. Also beware that the saltiness of the sea and the dryness and heat of the air makes most contact wearers go through more eye-drops than they are used to going through.
- The written prescription for any eyeglasses or contacts, in case of loss or damage
- Any medication you need. Good idea to leave them in the original bottle, even though putting them into a smaller container might save space; if you DO put them into an unmarked container, then they might look to security like illegal drugs. Don’t expect them to be persuaded by your earnest protestations “But BELIEVE me…they really ARE just allergy pills!” (Also a good idea to bring a copy of the prescription for anything essential, in case your bag is lost or stolen.)
- Recreational reading (There are English-language books available in various places throughout Greece, but they are expensive and limited in selection; still, it can be its own thrill to be casually reading a copy of, say, the Odyssey you picked up in Greece.)
- Beach items. Space in your luggage permitting, you might consider bringing along items useful at a beach, even though cheap versions of these are available for purchase there: mask & snorkel, Frisbee, a ball, etc.
- Small gifts from your home area to give to new friends made in Greece, to particularly helpful hosts, bus drivers, guides, etc. These could range from something like a refrigerator magnet to things like a CD or a T-shirt.
- Washcloth. Greek hotels provide bath towels, but are not given to providing washcloths; if being without a washcloth would compromise your happiness, then provide your own. (Washcloth, that is.)
- Bottle for water. Summers are very dry, and you will be drinking much water throughout any given day. Many purchase bottled water there (either one-liter size or smaller), and then refill the bottles at various places. Some prefer to carry a bottle on some sort of belt hook or shoulder strap.
- Snacks. To travel is to improvise. This will on occasion extend to eating times. The difference made by a timely granola-type bar can be substantial both to one’s individual comfort and to nipping the stirrings of crabbiness that can magnify into group negativity. You might bring some snacks that won’t spoil, and you might consider not eating them all on the flight over. There will be such snacks available for purchase over there, of course, too.
Anywhere in Greece you can buy cheap hats (for the sun), post cards, medication in emergencies (bring prescriptions with you), batteries, laundry and hand soap. Do not waste suitcase space bringing, for example, a large box or bottle of laundry detergent.
REMEMBER that the current in Greece is 220V. Virtually all chargers these days for cell phones, e-readers, tablets, cameras, etc. are dual voltage. Look at the tiny print on the outlet end of the charger for your device; if you see something like 110/240 or 100/220, it’s what’s called “dual voltage” and all you’ll need is a plug adapter (do a search for something like “plug adapter Greece”), as opposed to also needing a voltage converter (aka a voltage transformer). Then you plug your U.S. plug into the adapter, and plug the adapter into the wall. (We’ve never had anyone who’s needed a converter/transformer.)
You’ll probably have to purchase a SET of plug adapters–usually a set of six or so, covering virtually all the regions of the world. Do a search for something like “travel adapters,” and you’ll find such sets in the $10-15 range. You need bring only the one that’s labeled something like “southern Europe,” though you may also want one for use in our connecting airport.
If it turns out that you’ll be bringing a device that DOES need a converter/transformer (whichever you want to call it), such an item can be purchased WITH a set of adapters. Just keep in mind that even with a converter/transformer, you’d STILL need an adapter.
Medicines: If you are currently taking any medication for any reason, carry all that you will need with you AND a copy of the prescription with you. It is wise to carry also some over-the-counter medicine for stomach upsets, headaches, and sunburn, especially if you are given to these conditions. Likewise for those susceptible to motion sickness on airplanes, on ferries, or on buses on winding roads.Sleeping aids: In order to minimize disruptions to one’s sleep caused by the time change on the flights, some travelers have been known to take an over-the-counter sleep aid (like even a half dose–one pill–of a Dramamine-like medication, even if motion sickness isn’t an issue, since some such medications suppress motion sickness largely just by inducing sleep). Check with a pharmacist.Customs: Note that it is illegal for travelers under 21 to bring alcohol into the U.S., even if it’s a gift for parents. And the duty-free limit for those 21 and older is 1 liter of alcohol. (A typical bottle of wine is 3/4 of a liter. U.S. Customs could charge you a duty on a second bottle, though we’ve never had this happen. Here’s their site: US Customs Further Information
Laptops, tablets, and e-readers: The advantages of bringing one are the convenience for keeping in touch with home, and for some people, the ability to put books for the course (as well as recreational reading) on an electronic device (as long as it’s a device that allows you to move efficiently from page to page during our seminar discussions). The disadvantage of bringing one of these on international travels is that you have to be very careful about it “walking away.” (Be sure to back up your files prior to departure, just in case yours gets lost or stolen.) We’ve never had one lost or stolen yet, but it’s only a matter of time before that record is broken. It’s your call. Wifi is available virtually everywhere and accessible by smart phones, which some find to be less bothersome than laptops or tablets. Speaking of phones….
The study tour leaders will each have a cell phone that can call internationally, and each traveler should keep these phone numbers on her or him at all times, as well as the phone number of the hotels. (These numbers will be provided to each traveler at the airport, in the form of a pocket-sized card, so that you can carry them with you.) Phones are becoming smarter, and you can bring your own. But do use it smartly; that is, beware of mistakes like this one.
Pay phones in Greece do not accept currency, but only telephone cards, which have to be purchased at the ubiquitous kiosks. The smallest unit telephone card is €4. You will need to use this even to activate a payphone in order to use any international calling card system you may have.
There are four strategies for international calling, in decreasing order of economy and convenience:
- Bring one’s own cell phone from the U.S., and use it only on WiFi hotspots (at most hotels and tavernas) to access Skype (or similar). Most have found U.S. phones convenient and reliable, but expensive for making calls on, as opposed to receiving calls on. If you are interested in this, then check the details with your service provider. (And don’t forget the need for an adapter for recharging your phone; you won’t need a transformer.)
- Purchase an international calling card, available at street-side kiosks all over Greece. A €5 card provides about two hours of calling time to the U.S., whether from a pay phone or from one’s U.S. phone, provided the latter accepts a SIM card, and you purchase a local SIM card. (Check with your phone store.) (A Greek SIM card can also allow you to purchase a simple plan, for approximately €10-20, for internet access that can be used even in the absence of wifi.)
- Use the local, domestic (that is, Greek) telephone card at a pay phone. A €4 card will buy you about 7 minutes of international phone time. Not the most cost-effective method, but the simplest for a quick check-in.
- Use a calling card from a U.S. provider (like Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, etc.), on the condition that you have arranged with the company beforehand for you to get an international rate. (Allow time for them to mail to you the necessary card and PIN. And without the international rate, you’re in for a surprise when you look at the bill you receive after your return to the States.) With such a card, you can use a pay phone in Greece.
There are several ways to access cash in Greece. These all have advantages and disadvantages.
- Euros in cash. You should always have some of this, and one usually gets a slightly better rate at a U.S. bank than at a change kiosk in a foreign country, or even at a bank in a foreign country. You can order euros at some banks, though they usually require several business days for the euros to arrive. You could also get some at the currency desk at our departure airport in the U.S. while we’re waiting; or at an ATM in our connecting airport in Europe, time permitting; or at an ATM in the Athens airport once we go through baggage claim and customs there, while we’re waiting for the rest of our group to gather.
- ATM card. This is the most convenient way to access funds that you don’t want to have to carry around with you. You can use your bank card to get euros from ATMs in various locations, sometimes without paying outrageous transaction fees. Check with your bank; one bank I used levied a $10 charge for each international withdrawal, so I switched to using a card from another bank. (You can also check with the bank issuing your card about whether there’s a charge each time you use your card, like at a restaurant.) Using an ATM allows new funds to be deposited by your family or employer and then extracted by you in Greece.
- Because there is only one ATM in the village of Ancient Corinth, and because it may be several days before we make it into the city of New Corinth, it is advisable to bring to Ancient Corinth enough euros to carry you for a week (around €100), just on the off-chance that the single ATM in the village is on the fritz.
- Credit cards. These work well, especially Visa, in gift shops, hotels, and nice restaurants. They also can be used in some ATMs. An American Express card is also well received in some shops and it has the additional advantage of allowing you to get cash abroad as well in certain AMEX offices. This used to be a great help but it is less distinctive now that ATMs are available.
- Traveler’s checks and personal checks. The least convenient and least acceptable methods, respectively. (Cashing traveler’s checks usually requires going to a bank, and we’re usually busy with scheduled activities during bank hours. Still, people have been known to stash a traveler’s check or two as a reserve.)
For ATM and credit cards: Be sure to call the customer service number on the back of each card you plan to bring, to tell the issuing bank which countries you’ll be in for which dates. Otherwise you’ll find that your card is denied, since the computers figure it’s been stolen and is being used elsewhere. Don’t forget to include the country of any connecting airport; e.g., if our flight has a stop in Paris, tell the bank that you’ll be in Greece and France.
Then, just in case your card IS lost or stolen while we’re over there, what number are you going to call in order to cancel the card? The customer service phone number is printed on the back of your card, but some thief has your card now. What are you going to do?
Answer: Somewhere separate from where you keep your card(s)–so not in your purse or wallet–print out the name of each card, the final four digits of its number, and the customer service phone number. (Most cards have a toll-free number [800 or 888], but these usually don’t work from outside North America. Often there’s a second phone number on the back of the card to use from abroad. If there isn’t, you can call the toll-free number now and find out what number to call from abroad.)
How Much Money Will You Need?
In order to give students some degree of control over the management of the cost of the trip, and in order to allow groups of student to explore eateries in smaller groups, students are on their own to arrange some meals:
- 13 lunches (estimate $8-15/meal)
- 12 dinners (estimate $12-25/meal)
This adds up to between about $300 and $500 for meals; one can manage a bit more cheaply by persistently having dinners at the same street-side stands at which one can get lunches, but this might prove taxing in other ways.
In addition, one needs money for snacks; fruit, coffee, baked goods, and ice cream are widespread in Greece, and most students grab at least one of these on a daily basis. (In fact, I can think of many students who got at least one item from each of these food groups just about daily.)
Greece is a land in which moderate gratuities are the norm, except on those few occasions in which service is rendered in a surly manner. On the whole, Greeks take as a serious national virtue philoxenia, which roughly translates as “hospitality” (and which literally means “guest-loving”). The Greeks trace this virtue back to the norms of the guest-friend that can be seen as far back as Homer’s Odyssey. At restaurants, a fee for service is usually included on the bill, but an extra 5-10% is usually left on the table. Hotel staff can be left with €1-2 per room per night (not per guest per night). Many of you have worked in the service industry, and recall your own reaction at being stiffed. And hotel chambermaids, for example, are less financially favored than you are (or than you will be a few years from now). The leaders of the study tour will handle gratuities to guides and bus drivers.
It is advisable to have access to around $500 beyond these costs, although one does not need all of this to be accessible at the start of the study tour. (So some of you might have a paycheck deposited to your U.S. bank account while we are in Greece, so that you can access the money with an ATM card.) You will fall in love with some souvenirs and this is a wonderful opportunity to do some interesting shopping.