I'm going to be studying abroad this fall in Rome. The last classes of the program are on the afternoon of December 4. The last day I can be in Europe on the 90-day short stay visa is Dec 21. I plan to go to Greece after the program ends and I'm trying to figure out how to make the best use of my time there. If I leave for Athens early on the 5th, and leave the morning of the 21st I'll have 16 days in Greece. I will be traveling solo.
Places I'd like to go:
Athens, 2 or ideally 3 days
Hydra, either a long day trip or overnight
Crete, at least 2 days but 3-4 would be nice
2-3 days on another island. Rhodes seems like an obvious choice simply because it has direct flights from both Crete and Rome.
5+ days in the Peloponnese. Places I'd like to see along the way: Delphi, Olympia, Mani Peninsula, Monemvasia, Nafplio. I will be renting a car.
As for the car rental logistics, I'll be 22 and am currently learning to drive stick shift. If that keeps going well I'll rent manual, otherwise automatic. While on the Peloponnese I want to have one day with no driving if reasonably possible, and I want to keep the average driving to no more than 2-3 hours a day (I'm fine with one or two days with 4ish hours though). I found deals through Europcar for $120 manual or $140 automatic including basic insurance coverage. They won't sell me zero deductible insurance since I am under 26.
I don't have a hard limit on budget, but I want to spend as little as possible. I expect I will be traveling with just a small carryon size suitcase and a backpack, which should keep flights cheap. I'm open to taking the night ferry to Heraklion instead of a flight. For Rhodes if I go there, it seems like flights are the only reasonable option due to the slowness of the ferry.
To save money I plan to stay in basically the cheapest possible accomodations wherever I am. Thankfully the off season looks to result in extremely low rates based on some searching I have done. It seems like this means cheap hostels in Athens ($8/night on expedia), Rhodes ($18/night), and Crete ($13/night), and a mix of more expensive hostels and cheap hotels elsewhere, mostly in the $25-45/night range. I do wonder about the safety of hostels in Greece though, in terms of theft and other petty crime. (I'm male so I'm not worried too much)
My main questions are-
1) what destinations should I cut and what should I keep? Is there anything I haven't mentioned that's especially worth seeing? I'm interested in the ancient historical things, nature/outdoors/the countryside, cultural stuff, etc. Not so interested in partying or nightlife.
2) what's a reasonable budget? I figure with a $50 flight to Athens, ferry to Crete, $70 flights to and from Rhodes, and averaging $20-25/night on lodging, $120-140 for a car and another $100 or $200 for fuel, and $20 a day for food (is that reasonable?), leaving another few hundred for activities I should be able to spend in the $1500-1600 range. Is that reasonable or are there things I am overlooking? Are my estimates unrealistic? My parents are paying for my flights to and from Europe so the flight back home isn't a concern.
Also, are there any special considerations due to traveling in December?