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How to Do Greece on a Budget

By Maya Stanton
January 27, 2022
Coastal town at dusk
Desislava Vasileva/Dreamstime
See the sights without going bust.

Dreaming of lazy afternoons on the Aegean, and mornings spent wandering ancient ruins and quaint cobblestone streets? You’re not alone: Greece is a hugely popular tourist destination, welcoming some 30 million visitors in 2018. But even though demand is high, a Hellenic vacation doesn’t have to break the bank. Here are three tried-and-true tips for stretching those euros as far as they’ll go.

1. Spend Up Front to Save Later

Greece-car-tree.jpg?mtime=20190327084312#asset:105341A good travel agent will worry about the details for you, freeing you up to explore. (Maya Stanton)

We were sipping Aperol spritzes and watching the sunset at an oceanfront café on the island of Naxos when the call came in: The ferries, shut down for the past few days due to high winds and turbulent seas, were up and running again. At this point, we’d already had to rework our itinerary, flying into Naxos instead of taking the boat from Athens and skipping our day in Mykonos, and if we wanted to be on the ferry to Santorini the next morning, we’d need to book it to the nearest ticket office on the double—a chance we would’ve missed without that alert. In most cases, I prefer to DIY my travel, but for this trip, we worked with an agent for just such an occasion: Given the probability of ferry strikes and weather-related cancellations, not to mention a serious lack of communication from the various companies about said cancellations, hiring someone to look out for your interests is a solid investment. Before you plunk down that credit card, though, contact a few places to get quotes (we used Dolphin Hellas; dolphin-hellas.gr), and pay close attention to how quickly they reply, and how thoroughly they address your questions and concerns—you want someone who will move quickly and efficiently on your behalf, and a high level of care and a speedy response time in the planning stages forecasts the consideration you’ll receive on the ground.

2. Travel at the Right Time

Parthenon-Acropolis-Athens-Greece.jpg?mtime=20190327084310#asset:105338Sights like the Parthenon won't be deserted in shoulder season, but they'll be much less crowded than they are in the summer. (Anyaivanova/Dreamstime)

Looking for a great summer getaway? This is not the place for peaceful days at the beach or leisurely strolls through postcard-perfect villages and towns. Greece is at peak capacity from June to August, meaning overflowing crowds, high hotel rates, and packed-to-the brim restaurants and attractions. To bring down your bill—and avoid the mobs—visit during shoulder season, when the streets may be bustling but elbow room is far easier to come by. In spring and fall, the weather’s just as idyllic, and though you’ll still file in with the hordes to see the Parthenon and navigate the narrow footpaths of Oia, on Santorini, it’s much worse in July.

3. Pick Your Priorities

Greece-food-small-plates.jpg?mtime=20190327084311#asset:105340Go cheap on accommodations so you have more to spend on food and drink. (Maya Stanton)

The bad news: You probably won’t be able to find a travel agent who’s willing to book your ferry tickets alone. The good: In addition to taking care of the nitty-gritties, like transfers and hotels, as well as last-minute schedule changes, like putting you on a flight when the ferries are canceled and extending hotel stays when necessary, an effective agent will help allocate your dollars to align with your personal priorities. Can’t get a good night’s sleep without downy pillows and luxe linens? They’ll book you in at five-star hotels (and charge you accordingly). Prefer to spend less on accommodations so there’s more in the budget for dining and activities? No judgement—or flea-trap motels—here. Of course, you can do this on your own as well, but since you’re paying for the service, let them reserve your rooms and buy your museum tickets while you do the important work of restaurant research and souvenir shopping.

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Summer Road Trip Forecast & Tips

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Skincare to Go: 5 DIY Hacks for the Road

It’s happened to the best of us: You arrive at your destination only to realize that you left your moisturizer at home. You’re in a foreign country, and you can’t get a replacement. Who knows what effect a different brand might have on your skin? With or without your favorite product, however, breakouts and dryness could happen—that’s just one way your body might react to the various stressors brought on by travel. But there are ways to get your body back in alignment that don’t have to involve a visit to the drugstore. To get the details on tried-and-true do-it-yourself remedies, we turned to Violet Mkhitaryan, an aesthetician and spa owner who’s carrying the torch for time-tested skincare regimens—no designer products or fancy labels required. A trained biochemist in her native Armenia, Violet long ago realized her preference for the recipes and healthy practices learned at her grandmother's knee, and today, she incorporates those tips and tricks into the additive- and preservative-free products she makes by hand to use and sell at her spa, Violet Skin Boutique (violeltskinboutique.com), in Brookline, Massachusetts. She showed us how to bring some of her long-practiced tactics to modern life, especially when travel calls for you to reboot your bod. 1. Exfoliate to Clean and Refresh Anything abrasive gives your skin a deep clean and helps remove dirt and oil. There are plenty of natural ingredients that’ll do the trick, and chances are you already have them at your fingertips. Violet recommends mixing used coffee grounds with a teaspoon of sour cream, massaging the blend into your skin, and leaving it on for 10 to 15 minutes. The grounds act as an exfoliant, and the cream moisturizes. 2. Renew Your Natural Glow To help close pores, nourish skin, and rejuvenate your look, Violet turns to a dense, soothing slather: a tablespoon of oatmeal blended with a dollop or two of heavy cream. Apply to your face and leave for 10 to 15 minutes, then rinse off. 3. Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate Fruits and vegetables have a higher moisture content than any other food. Take two strawberries, three grapes, and a third of a banana. Mash them together in a bowl with the back of a spoon, add a dollop of sour cream, apply the mixture to your face, and leave it on for 10 to 15 minutes. Rinse and feel refreshed and hydrated. 4. Tone It Up Regardless of whether or not you’re traveling, your skin needs a regular boost. Think of a toner as the skincare equivalent of yoga: It simply gives skin a chance to open up and breath. Violet turns to cucumber or watermelon juice. Use a cotton ball to apply, then lay a tissue over your face as a sheet mask. Let it sit for five minutes, then rinse off. 5. A Simple Cure for Puffiness Nothing can mess with your skin’s moisture levels more than a plane’s recirculated air. At high altitudes, you’re dry. Back on the ground, things can change drastically, especially if you arrive somewhere humid or rainy. The consequences aren't pretty: puffiness, especially around the eyes. According to Violet, though, there’s an easy solution. Massaging your face with ice for a few minutes should help recalibrate everything.

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9 Ways to Plan an Affordable (and Amazing) Honeymoon

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Indeed, CheapAir.com recommends booking within a window of 21 to 105 days ahead, depending on the season, with a domestic-flight sweet spot of 54 days before departure. Supporting that is a 2018 report from Expedia and the Airlines Reporting Corporation (ARC), which examined billions of data points to identify travel patterns and found that bargain-minded economy travelers should book 30-plus days in advance. 2. Avoid Paying Foreign Transaction Fees Planning to honeymoon abroad? Some credit cards charge up to a 3% fee on foreign transactions. Though that may seem small, it can effectively negate whatever rewards points, dollars, or miles you’d earn using the card. That’s why Bill Hardekopf, a credit expert at LowCards.com, recommends international travelers always bring a credit card with no foreign transaction fees such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred card or the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard. 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Redeem Discounts for Premium Memberships Many hotels, rental car companies, and attractions offer reduced rates for members of frequent flier programs, credit card holders, and organizations like AAA and AARP. However, you may need to do a little digging to find these discounts, or inquire about them when booking reservations. 9. Need a Bigger Budget? Set Up a Honeymoon Registry Nowadays many couples are creating a honeymoon registry to supplement their travel expenses. Having this registry will make it easy for your family and friends to donate cash for your honeymoon. Most wedding registry websites, including WeddingWire and The Knot, let you set up a honeymoon registry alongside your gift registry.

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Hotel Concierges Tell All: The Good, the Bad, and the Wacky

Hotel guests can be very particular, and nobody knows that better than a concierge. They are a cornerstone of any hotel's daily operation. If the check-in desk and administrative departments are the brain, keeping logistics and operations functioning, then concierges are the heart, minding the rhythm and energy of the lobby and, perhaps more importantly, infusing the property with the soul that comes from hands-on, face-to-face attention and care. Over the course of their career, a concierge can meet tens of thousands of individuals, if not more. Requests can range from eyebrow-raising (a concierge in North Carolina who asked to remain anonymous reported receiving a delivery of a 50-inch television screen for a guest who wanted to play the video game Fortnite during his one-night stay) to the all-out astonishing (a concierge at a luxury property in South Beach, who also asked to remain anonymous, spoke of a guest who checked in with a small dog and requested inordinate amounts of raw meat be sent to her room.) We checked in with a few seasoned veterans about their more memorable encounters, some of which might even make a superhero blanch. Concierge to the Rescue in Winston-Salem It was around 7:00 a.m. on a crisp spring morning last year. Things were normal enough as Mary Beth Wilhelm prepared for her shift at the Kimpton Cardinal Hotel in Winston-Salem. She greeted a regular guest, a business traveler, who was coming in from his habitual jog. But normalcy was upended when he approached her, clutching his chest. “My first reaction was to laugh because that’s how I feel after I take a jog,” she recalls, but within an instant it was clear that he wasn’t kidding and she immediately slipped into crisis-management mode. She called 911 and sat with him until the paramedics arrived and rushed him to Wake Forest Baptist Medical, a few minutes away. In that time, he had the wherewithal to give her his wife’s cell phone number. As he underwent bypass surgery, Mary Beth corresponded with his wife, who was making her way to North Carolina from the West Coast. The surgery was a success, and the couple stays with them regularly now. “He tells me, ‘You saved my life,’” Mary Beth says. “I just did what anyone else would do.” Going to Extremes in New Orleans As anyone who’s spent the bulk of his career at a hotel on Bourbon Street, Wayne Adams will be the first to tell you that alcohol does funny things to people. With 30 years in the New Orleans hotel industry under his belt, suffice it to say he's seen some things. Presently the guest services manager at the Royal Sonesta who regularly works the concierge desk, Wayne has borne witness to pretty much everything, including a career ice skater taking a 3:00 a.m. tumble into the hotel’s fountain while attempting to show off some new moves, a meeting organizer doing an impromptu late-night burlesque dance for the many, many meeting attendees, and the escapades of the attendees of a convention for swingers. Yes, swingers. (“Bourbon Street is pretty risqué. They’re really risqué,” he says.) With bars that hardly ever close, a large history and culture of voodoo practitioners, and laws that allow drinking in public, New Orleans errs on the side of eccentric and attracts many travelers who relish the vibe. One of Wayne’s more memorable requests was from a guest who asked him to make a Sunday brunch reservation for her and her guests at one of the city’s more formal restaurants. She wanted Champagne and all the fancy fixings, he recalls. Her guests? Her four cats. He’s lent a hand to more than a few guests who wanted elaborate setups to propose to their girlfriends, going so far as to round up clowns and track down a unicyclist for one couple. “I’ve seen people meet in the morning and marry in the evening,” he said. More than once. The extremes of his job swing both ways. During 9/11, there was a convention in the hotel with many people from New York. They had a command center set up in a music club, with many locals trying to reach the guests’ relatives and friends who worked in and around the towers. During Hurricane Katrina, they didn’t close. They played host to first-responders, cable news teams, and FEMA staff including Michael Brown, the Undersecretary of Emergency Preparedness and Response who famously became known as "Brownie." A Lifelong Career with a James Bond-Caliber Thrill At a point in every concierge’s career, an extreme request will arrive—a request that will involve duties far beyond the everyday. In Gaby Delgado’s case, there was a James Bond quality to it. Gaby is presently the senior concierge at a Fairmont Washington D.C., Georgetown, but years ago while working at a luxury property in Hawaii, a guest wanted to propose to his girlfriend, so he bought her a diamond ring and had it specially made and cut. Just one sticky wicket: the diamond was on another island. Gaby was called upon to get on a private plane—accompanied by a security guard, of course—to obtain it. (“I’ve never been around so many diamonds,” she says, still sounding mystified.) With prize in hand, she made it back to the hotel in time for dinner, an extravagant affair involving roses, a violinist, and a harpist. The woman said yes. Whether they lived happily ever after, however, remains a mystery. Service Goes to the Dogs in Boston In the 14 years that he's worked as concierge at the landmark Fairmont Copley Plaza, located on Boston's bustling Copley Square, Joe Fallon has taken care of countless guests, from Hollywood luminaries to some of the world’s most illustrious performers—even if he doesn't always recognize them. (He's still a little sheepish about not recognizing a woman he later learned was the biggest opera star in Italy.) But arguably, his biggest responsibility over the years has been Catie Copley, the black lab that was, until she passed in 2017, as much of a fixture in the glitzy lobby as the crystal chandeliers and Italian marble columns. To hear him tell it, he’s just the personal assistant to a famous dog: "I know my place,” he says, only half-kidding. As such, he was responsible for taking care at Catie after-hours at his home, accompanying her to schools, libraries, and hospitals, and keeping her calendar clear for an annual appearance with the mayor for the tree-lighting ceremony. Catie, he says, was as big of a star as much more familiar household names. Joe has photos of her with Leonard Cohen as well as an Elvis Costello shot that she photo-bombed. But perhaps her biggest fan was Paul Newman, a regular who celebrated his 82nd birthday at the hotel and, Joe says, "one of the nicest gentlemen I’ve ever met." He was such a Catie fan that the hotel presented him with a framed photo of her, imprinted with her “pawgraph.” (That’s dog-speak for autograph.) He was very open and conversational, and, Joe recalls, he eventually came clean: “He didn’t want to be actor, he wanted to be a race car driver." Apparently some concierges field confessions along with the regular influx of requests.

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