Skip to content

Family travel to troubled places

We recently got back from a trip to Greece, where we traveled around the country with our children. Back home, people asked, “Are you sure you want to go there with all the trouble that’s happening?” Well, yes, we were sure. And yes, we had a fabulous time.

The news out of Greece these days seems to be all bad. Forests being chopped down because the government levied a high tax on heating oil. Crime up in Athens. The government threatening to leave the Euro Zone. Immigrants floating in from North Africa every day because no matter how bad things are in Greece, they look pretty good from across the Mediterranean.

Sunset dinner in Santorini.

Sunset dinner in Santorini.

I know that there are many miserable people in Greece right now, and we saw plenty of indications – mostly empty storefronts and half-built buildings – that not all is peachy-keen. But the main industry of Greece is tourism, and they are serious about it. And to us, it seemed like a fine time to go to Greece. With tourism down, prices are depressed, hotels are more available, and everyone we met was all the happier to have our support (and our dollars).

Greece occupies a strange place in the Western imagination. It is at once the birthplace of democracy and in recent times under the control of a military communist regime. It is the cradle of European civilization at the same time that its Mediterranean climate and laid-back culture link it to the warmer regions of the south. It is a place visited both for history and intellectual enlightenment and for the nude beaches and nightclubs.

A family traveling in Greece, of course, takes part only in those aspects of Greece that fit their needs. We didn’t go to the poor and immigrant neighborhoods where we would have seen the effects of the economy in a more dramatic way. We didn’t have any interest in the nude beaches and nightclubs so we couldn’t know if their popularity has declined as Northern Europeans and Britons are deciding to stay home rather than take their annual pilgrimage to the lovely Aegean climate.

What we did see, however, was a nation ready and willing to share the history and beauty of their nation with others. I have traveled everywhere from the Baltics to Central America, and I have never been to a place where the people were so kind, so accepting of foreigners who can’t speak their language, and so interested in making sure that we left with an appreciation for everything their country has to offer. In all of Greece, one person spoke shortly and dismissively to me—but I only remember her because she was the only one. Can you imagine spending three weeks in the US, starting and ending in New York City, without having dealt with annoyed Americans who expected you to speak English and were too busy to show you the way when you were lost? More than once, a Greek shop-owner left his building and walked me to a corner to point the direction I needed to go. We were never lost for more than a few seconds, and only one person who helped us tried to convince us to go to his cousin’s fabulous restaurant.

But here we are back in the States, and again, the news from Greece is all bad. A rabies outbreak, austerity measures imposed by the EU, and new taxes levied on doctors are all in the news. But nowhere is the news that travelers in Greece are still welcomed with open arms, fed wholesome, delicious food, and educated about the world’s oldest democracy and breeding ground of many of our greatest academic and artistic achievements.

What we see from the outside is never a full picture of a place. What we experience inside as tourists is never a full picture of life there. But I think it’s always worth remembering that even in difficult times, life goes on. We spent as little money as possible on our trip, but we were happy to spend what we did in a country so welcoming of travelers and so important to understanding the history of the modern world.

So here is my small addition to the cacophony of voices: Should we travel to Greece even though it’s having all these economic troubles? Oh, yes, you should. Ignore the naysayers and enjoy the beaches and nightclubs, if that’s what you’re going for, or the history and intellectual tradition. In any case, make sure to eat well and appreciate the way Greeks open their home with an invitation to the world. It’s a wonderful place to travel, whether you have to change your dollars to euros or drachmas!

Posted in Parenting.

One Response

Stay in touch with the conversation, subscribe to the RSS feed for comments on this post.

  1. Deme S says

    Very well written! I completely agree! We just returned from Greece. We took our family of 5 and experienced the trip of a lifetime! The people were gracious, the food incredible, the hotels outstanding and of course the historic sites so very impressive! I am Greek – so I wanted to share my heritage with our teenage children for the first time. It was the best decision I could have made. Greece is the perfect mix of fabulous weather, beautiful beaches, and endless historical sites. Our hotel, on the island of Crete was completely sold out and projections for the summer are to be the best in several years. Greece is on the comeback! I would recommend you travel there before everyone else finds this out too!

Some HTML is OK

or, reply to this post via trackback.