I have been packing for Greece for 47 years. Let that sink in for a moment. For 47 years, I have been shuttling back and forth between the US and Greece, suitcases in hand. You’d think I’d have bought one house here, one house there, and been done with this nonsense, but no, I’ve “been bi-national” the hard way, and have the bi-national biceps to prove it.
In all these transatlantic peregrinations, I have ferried some pretty wild chattels to and from. One year, I took most of my library, and no clothes, to Greece in a whole slew of huge bags, paying a fortune in overweight; another year, I took my fine bone china and Gorham silver along in my carry-on luggage. After a while, I wised up, and sent heavy, silly things home to myself, wherever I was, via sea mail. (One year, however, my then-still-fiancé, Dean, fell in love with a vintage gramophone in Monastiraki, and schlepped it home, on the plane, in his arms, changing London. Amazingly, British Air let him do this, and the gramophone arrived intact, and plays, mirabile dictu.)
But enough of this palaver. You need to know what to take, and what not to take, and my 47-Years-Time-Tested-Packing-List is now yours for the asking.
Assuming you’ve opted for a warm-weather stay, sometime between May and October, the following list will hold. I love Greece in all weathers, but most visitors want to see the Parthenon in warm sunshine, and Mykonian beaches in full season, so I’m going to cater to the majority.
Let’s begin at the bottom, with shoes, then.
• Shoes: Shoes are heavy, so you want to keep them to a minimum. You’ll need sturdy, wellbroken- in, crepe-soled walking sandals, and nothing but, about 90 percent of your time in Greece. (I prefer Teva and Timberland, and have bought these two brands year after year. Their washable leather models are most practical, as you’ll surely be doing some walking near and/or in the sea.) If you’re planning a long sojourn in Greece, and some strenuous walking in the islands or the mountains, I advise taking one pair of closed-toed shoes, either sturdy walking or running shoes, or even walking boots, depending on how serious you are about descending gorges and ascending heights. I myself settle for a pair of solid black Adidas or New Balance walking shoes. (Take along two or three pairs of synthetic or synthetic-blend socks as well—not cotton, which will chafe your feet and never dry in the islands’ marine climate.) For women: Athens, and certain island nightspots, are dressy, and dusty walking sandals look tres tourist with eveningwear. Men can get away with their black Timberland sandals, but I tuck in a light pair of dressy, heel-less sandals for more formal evening wear. For the beach, shoes to swim in are also a necessity, and weigh practically nothing. They’re available in most athletic gear stores, and will protect your feet against sea urchins and a few other unfriendly little denizens of the Aegean. I wrap my shoes, individually, in plastic bags brought home free from the supermarket. They can be tucked in individually, on the peripheries of your suitcases, and thus take up less room.
• Skirts and dresses: I generally pack two longish, opaque skirts, one of which doubles as a beach cove-rup; the other decidedly dressy. I also take one sleeveless, washable dress along (in a cotton/lyrcra blend), with a matching cotton sweater. I try to keep all my clothing in the same color palette so the various items coordinate. Europeans dress in much less flamboyant colors, and fabrics, than do Americans, so beige, black and navy are better choices than, say, the Night of Hawaii look. Leave your polyester tracksuits and T-shirts emblazoned with local club names behind as well. Try to stick to light cottons and the new, perspiration-wicking cotton-micro-fiber blends. Remember: you may have to wash out everything by hand, so anything dry clean only must be left at home.
• Trousers, shorts and coordinating shirts: For the most part, I live in cotton-plus-some-lycra trousers and micro-fiber shorts, two or three pairs of each. My husband takes along about three pairs of long, synthetic-blend trousers and four or five pairs synthetic walking shorts, a couple of which double as bathing suits. All our trousers are black, khaki and olive green, and our tops mix and match. Our shirts are synthetic blends, however. Cotton T’s are hard to wash out and dry in Greece. Take as many tops, sleeveless and short-sleeved, as you can. You’ll need them.
• Long-sleeved shirts: Please, please also take along at least one big long-sleeved white shirt to protect arms and shoulders from the merciless Mediterranean sun.
• Purses and wallets: Pick one serviceable, very light bag to use with everything you’re going to wear, and find light, synthetic wallets, usually available at sports and athletic stores. Leave the heavy leather at home.
• Bathing suits: Take two, so you have a dry one at all times.
• Underwear: It all needs to be made of the new microfiber fabrics or nylon/spandex blends
• Pajamas: I take along two, extremely light cotton nightgowns; for men, I advise sleeping in very light cotton boxer shorts.
• Rain gear: No matter when I’ve been in Greece during the last five years, it’s rained. Last year, in August, I had to buy an umbrella. I take a long, extremely light rain slicker that breathes, and a travel umbrella. You may need neither, I admit, but the slicker also comes in handy on board island ferries in the evenings.
• Sweater: Buy one on Mykonos.
• Hats and scarves: I always take along a big straw hat, with grosgrain chin straps sewn on, as well as micro-fiber baseball caps. I also pack several large, soft, colorful cotton scarves. The sun is something to be reckoned with in Greece, and I’ve had several vacations spoiled due to bad burns resulting from my own stupidity.
• Other ridiculous but necessary things I manage to pack: several very lightweight travel coat hangers; about 25 feet of nylon clothes line and indestructible metal clothes pins I once bought at a Coleman camping store; a lightweight 5X magnifying mirror; a child’s pillow and pillow case—pillows are one thing the Greeks don’t do well; ditto, washcloths: I take an abrasive washcloth and a Buf Puf; lightweight, super-powerful binoculars; business cards; lots of Ziploc bags, without their box; a small transformer and the appropriate converter plug for Greece so I can charge my digital camera’s battery; high SPF lotion for the beach; beach towels (I leave them with friends every year); a tiny address book tailored for my trip, with all my friends’ and family’s e-mail addresses; one wonderful travel guide or book on Greece to read on the plane (one year, I took Mary Beard’s “The Parthenon,” as well as Tim Salmon’s “The Unwritten Places,” the latter available from Lycabettus Press); in my packed luggage, Xeroxed copies of my driver’s license, all my Rxes (including eyeglass prescriptions), my passport, my birth certificate, and any other essential documents I plan to take on board with me; also in my packed luggage, all sharp things such as scissors, mini-sewing kit, tweezers, nail clippers, diving knife, disposable razors, etc.
• Toiletries, etc.: Of course, you’ll need adequate supplies of your prescription drugs, as well as duplicate prescriptions. Also necessary: high SPF sun lotion; large Band-Aids (sans box) and triple antibiotic ointment (primarily for foot blisters); shampoo and conditioner (and don’t duplicate toiletries if you’re traveling as a couple, for heaven’s sake: find brands you can both live with for a month); toothpaste; toothbrush; floss; moisturizer; shaving cream; the bare minimum supply of make-up; an over-the-counter lotion for jellyfish stings or mosquito bites; antihistamines; Imodium capsules; eye moisture drops; Tums (Greek Tums taste like chalk)—and any other over-the-counter remedies you usually use at home, removed from their bulky boxes and tucked into shoes in a suitcase.
• Optional: A musical instrument (well, we always take a trumpet); iPods; small, thoughtful gifts for new friends; small Greek phrasebook or dictionary; digital camera with zoom, and sufficient cards and batteries; collapsible bag to take paraphernalia to the beach (we use a giant, mesh Macy’s bag).
• Online shopping: I do almost all my pre-trip shopping online. I get my luggage and casual clothes from Lands’ End, my dresses, much of the time, from Nordstrom and Coldwater Creek, and other things from L.L. Bean Traveler, Orvis, TravelSmith and Title Nine Sports. Go online and check out all these suppliers:
The latter two sites, Athleta and Title Nine Sports, have wonderful athletic and travel clothing for women. L.L. Bean Traveler is worth ordering in catalog form: call 1-800-221-4221. For the TravelSmith catalog, call 1-800-950-1600. (There’s also a wide variety of sun and UV protective clothing available out there on the web, but I cannot recommend specific vendors. Key in “sun
or UV protective clothing” on your favorite search engine, and you should come up with a dozen or so purveyors. If you are at risk for skin cancers or melanoma, I recommend purchasing some of this gear, from hats and shirts to bathing suits.)
• The batty accessory—satellite phones: If you’re absolutely loaded, and cannot leave home without one, there are some satellite phone providers who can help you stay in touch, even in Greece—at a price:
Personally, I enjoy getting away from it all when in Greece.
• The one essential: Money. You’ll need both a MasterCard and Visa card, and I’d budget about $500.-$1,000. per week in travelers’ checks for expenses beyond lodging. There are terrific fees levied by Greek banks for cash advances on your credit cards, so take the travelers’ checks: you can bring home what you don’t use.