Explore the Possibilities with Your Kids

Greece: Travel Tips, Tales & More…

Greece: Travel Tips, Tales & More…

Greece: Travel Tips, Tales & More…
  • If you’re planning a trip to Greece or anywhere in the Mediterranean, late April to early June, or September to late October, are ideal.  If you have kids in school, getting away is hard to do – so if your kids are not yet of school age, what are you waiting for?   But try to avoid August at all costs! It’s very hot and crowded and you’re more likely to see your next-door neighbor than a local.
  • Don’t wait until you get on the plane to read about where you’re going with your kids.  A little pre-reading will make the trip more interesting and less intimidating for new travelers.  Show your children photographs of things that will resonate with them , or get them excited.  If you’re staying in a unique hotel (a tent in a tiger preserve, a bamboo house in Bali, or a little private series of houses on stilts over the water) show them!  Get them involved! I’ll never forget getting to Egypt and arriving at our lovely suite at a expensive boutique hotel in Luxor only to have Yao Yao say, “I don’t like this place, I can’t sleep here.  I ‘m ready to go home.”  Yao Yao has strong opinions on hotels, and though she doesn’t always get her pick, it’s a lot of fun to go through photos and options prior to getting on a plane.
  • Start introducing your children to the local food prior to leaving on holiday.  Food is less scary if they have had something similar before getting to a different country.   If you have picky eaters, assure them they will not go hungry and will be able to get familiar food.  When Yao Yao was little I used to bring fruit, Annie’s Cheddar Bunnies or instant noodles on the plane –  although she was willing to try exotic foods abroad, she hates airplane food.  I am empathetic.  She can’t “fast” for 26 hours of flying, so I have learned to pack alternatives.
  • Allergies or special needs? Have a written note in the language of the country you’re visiting. Make sure you have access to your doctor when you’re abroad and that you know the location of a good hospital in the area. This is very easy research to do ahead of time.  If you have a child with a serious condition, buy medical evacuation insurance.  It’s not expensive.  We’ve never had to use it, but we buy travel insurance when we go to places with a less developed infrastructure.
  • Bathrooms in Greece, especially on the islands have not all been “upgraded.”  You still see signs telling you to put toilet paper in the wastepaper basket, not down the toilet!   The plumbing system is not geared to deal with wads of paper in some of the old towns.  This was a non-issue in all the hotels we stayed in.  However, you can seriously embarrass yourself if the toilet in the café you are sitting overflows because you threw toilet paper in there, just once!
  • Carry toilet paper or Kleenex–seriously!  Toilet paper in the public restrooms is not Cottonelle! The Greeks have upgraded many of the bathrooms, but there are still squat toilets in airports and restaurants and often no toilet paper.
  • ATMs are available everywhere in Greece with the exception of remote villages.  You will be charged a fee, but many stores will charge you a fee for using your credit card. You should also be aware many credit card companies charge you a fee for every international charge unless you are a Platinum Level American Express cardholder.  Just the credit card international fees and the individual stores can add an additional 5% to 6% to each purchase.  But remember if you pay cash and have an issue with your hotel, with your car rental agency, or some other significant purchase, you will have no recourse.  But you’ll often be offered a discount if you pay cash! We tend to pay for hotels, rental cars, and major purchases with credit cars and then pay cash for meals and minor expenses.
  • It’s always smart to call your credit card company prior to leaving the country and to let them know your plans.  This alerts your credit card company if they start getting charges from Maine or Thailand when you’re in Greece. It prevents your card from being denied while they confirm you are indeed abroad.  I have traveled for both work and pleasure for years and it took my card being denied while I was buying a beautiful pair of boots in Rome for me to begin this practice. (I still dream about those boots!)
  • Call your bank as well.  Many of the online checking sites let you input your travel information.  You do not want your ATM card denied when you are down to your last euros!
  • Sea shoes for kids and adults with delicate feet (me) are a good idea. Many of the Greek beaches are pebbles and they can be dicey when walking into the water.   I cut my foot on razor clams in Africa on the most beautiful beach I have ever seen.  Carry sea shoes! You don’t need expensive ones, but your kids should have either the slip-on sea shoes or sandals that velcro fasteners.
  • Sunscreen is a must and I recommend the dreaded hat for kids.  It’s hot and a good sunburn will ruin  your vacation.
  • Greeks eat late so if you want to eat with the locals, adjust your schedule, either napping in the late afternoon or just letting your kids sleep in the next day. There is nothing worse than eating in an empty restaurant.   Get your kids on local time.  It’s worth it in the long run.
  • Kids love to count things. We always pick something that is emblematic of where we are and count them! For example, cats in Greece, lion statues in Venice, berets in Paris, and so on.  I am quite competitive so I am very enthusiastic about this.  Yao Yao loves it and she typically picks the item we collect, count, and photograph.
  • First night or day in a new culture I always over-order food. This gives Yao Yao a chance to taste all sorts of new things without feeling any pressure to like them.  She always finds something (usually it’s what I ordered for myself) she likes and wants as her meal.   Who knew she would love dahl  in India or taramosalata in Greece?  Greece is a great place to try little plates, or mezes.  One of her favorite meals in Athens was at a little local taverna where we ordered all sorts of different cheese, meat, and spinach pies.  She didn’t like all of them but the journey was really fun.
  • Most hotels, even the cheap ones, do laundry — and in the nicer hotels it can add up fast. If you’re staying in one place for a few days, find a local laundry. At most of them you can drop your laundry off in the morning and pick it up in the evening, folded and pressed for a song.  I’ve never lost any article of clothing when I have done this. We typically allow ourselves a “buffer” day in the event the laundry doesn’t get done on time for that early morning flight! We’ve never had this happen, but old habits die hard. I would stick to the hotel laundry in Athens, but on the islands with kids and various outfits per child, per day, why not?
  • If you have kids that haven’t had exposure to monuments or museums, take them to a few prior to heading to a place like Athens, Rome, or Paris.  We started my daughter off in museums as a baby and her tolerance and true interest has grown over the years.  Short visits are best at first, and you can take turns, with one parent in the gallery and the other walking the kids around. There are great books and resources for kids at every age.  Let me know if you need book titles or websites to wade through.
  • If you or your children are big readers then make sure you have 99% of the books you want prior to leaving for your trip.  Put them on an e-reader if you have a weight issue. (Not you, the books!)  Yao Yao ran out of reading material in Malaysia, and we spent two days trying to find an English bookstore.  Not a great use of time.  Greece has a lot of English books but they will often only carry best sellers, guidebooks, or romance novels, and you will pay dearly for them.
  • When you are in any big city there are pickpockets.  I have been to Greece many times and have never had an issue.   However, the metro is a easy place for pickpockets to take advantage of your scattered attention.  Even though my daughter is 12 we always have the One Hand Rule.  (One of us physically has our hands on her at all times.)  Treat your kids the same way you would if you were in a subway in New York.   Do all the smart things you would do in your own city.  Have your change readily available, know where you are going, and don’t do the “I thought you were going to check the map” discussion in the metro.  When you are distracted or fumbling, you or your children are great targets.  I am not suggesting you walk around in those ridiculous travel clothes with a million zippers and sneakers that scream, “I am a tourist!” But there’s no need to wear clothes that scream, “I am a tourist with a ton of money!” either.
  • Expensive cameras and electronics are very attractive to thieves all over the world.  If your child leaves his Kindle or iPad on the table, chances are you’re not going to see it again.  I don’t like to carry a lot of stuff when we’re out and about, and like many mothers, I seem to end up being the coat rack and bag carrier.  Now I make sure we spread it out.  I carry the camera, Jim is stuck with reading material, including leisure reading.  Yao Yao is responsible for her journal, pens, and her mini camera, which all fit snugly into a little shoulder bag.  Her jacket can now be tied around her waist, leaving my hands free!  (OK, I still fold under duress and end up holding her sweater or jacket.)  The more stuff you drag around during the day, the better the chance you have of leaving something behind.  Have a system for the things your kids carry with them.  Losing a beloved stuffed animal is a trip disaster.  It just has to happen once. (Trust me, it is eight years later and I’m still looking for Mr Polar Bear.)
  • Everyone should know the name of your hotel. If you have an infant, then make sure the name of the hotel is tucked into his or her pocket, or pinned on an article of clothing. I will never forget getting in the fabric market in Jodhpur, and to my tremendous embarrassment, I couldn’t remember the name of my hotel. So I did what any normal person would do, I continued to look at fabric. In any case, I figured I would take a taxi back to the hotel and it would be something we could all laugh about later that evening. But to actually get back to the hotel, I would have to know its name. (I know it was Taj something, but for those of you who have not been to India, that’s like saying to a taxi driver in Paris, “Could you take me to the hotel that’s in the old building?”) A while later, a local walked up and asked if I were looking for a man in a checkered shirt with a little girl. Indeed I was! He took me through this warren of fabric to a slightly amused husband, hanging on to Yao Yao! Trust me, now I always know the name of my hotel now, and if it’s in a difficult local language, I’ll take a card or have the hotel write the name and address out for me.
  • Whenever you travel to a different country, learn at least a few works.  “Please,” “thank you,” “good morning,” “how much” (especially “how much”!) go a long way to connecting with local people and not being seen as the typical tourist.  Yao Yao and my husband have an ear for language (I do not) and always learn some basic expressions.  Yao Yao is quite proud when she can thank to someone or ask where something is.   When I lived in Greece years ago, I mixed up the words squid and good morning.  In all fairness, kalimera (good morning) and calamari (squid) are very similar.  Unfortunately I walked around for a few days saying “squid,” to everyone who smiled at me.
  • Remember your child changes and so to some extent you need to morph along with them.  Yao Yao was frightened by the shadow puppets we saw in Indonesia the first time.  She now thinks it’s cool, and I expect down the road she will be bored by it.
  • Have fun!  Enjoy the planning with your kids and they will feel “invested” in the trip.  If you’re nervous and anxious, they will be, too.  We recap at the end of each day and take turns saying what was the big hit or the big miss.  I am often surprised at what was “awesome” or “boring” for Yao Yao and it allows us to course correct early in the trip.

Most importantly, remember, this is as good as it gets, traveling the globe with the people you love most in the world.   Enjoy the ride!

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