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Travel agency or just wing it?

I have a lot -- and I mean a lot -- of time free next April and May. I want to do a great deal of island hopping, and I've gone through my old copy of Poffley's Island Hopping (2012 ed) and been to Matt Barrett's site plenty of times through the years. But I see conflicting information at points about whether to use a travel agency for a long, extended trip or whether to just go with the flow.

I know which islands I want to see and have no problem being "stranded" for a while if the ferry connections aren't just right, or detouring to another island off my radar for a day or two before heading to my destination. My travel plans include the likes of Rhodes, Crete, Santorini, Paros, Naxos, Corfu and Lesvos, so I plan on hitting different island groups. So my question really comes down to: Is it easy to find hotels as a fresh-off-the-boat guest in those places and at that time of year, or is it better to go with an agency?

Posted by
2320 posts

I'm a little confused - you present your choices as agency or find rooms as you get off the boat. There's a better option - book the rooms ahead, online, yourself. Ahead can mean anything from months early from home or do it the day before you arrive on a given island from your phone or a computer on the island you are leaving.

You sound like you want flexibility - stay on island x longer or shorter depending on your enjoyment and on ferry schedules. An agency won't be great for that - thats so dependent on you that it's best to do it yourself.

I'm always wary of showing up somewhere without an idea of where to stay. I book well ahead but a day before will at least let you know if there's a festival so you won't find anything in this town, and will save you time when you get off the boat - just go to the hotel you booked yesterday instead of running around (literally or figuratively) trying to find something.

Posted by
755 posts

The first time we went to Greece we used a Greek Travel Agent (Aegean Thesaurus) They were great! We booked our flight but they made all arrangements for transfers, hotels, ferry tickets, etc.

However, since then we book everything ourselves. It's relatively easy with the internet. Always deal directly with an accommodation rather than a third party. Do your research on transfer options, bus, taxi, Metro, plane, ferry.

April & May will be off season so there'll be less competition for rooms but also not everything open just yet. Still you should have no problem finding accommodations.

I also like knowing where I'm going to stay for accommodations and book ahead. At least you can find out more about the accommodations ahead of time rather than trusting someone. For the most part Greeks will be honest, but you never know.

I see you have a lot of islands to visit. Some of them can be reached from one another, but others will mean having to get back to Piraeus for a ferry, like Corfu which is way over on the other side of Greece, compared to the ones in the Aegean.

More research on your part will narrow down which islands to visit and combine without major back-tracking.

I think doing your own research is more satisfying, enjoyable and you'll learn a lot more not only about accommodations but each island and Greece in general . . . and it's really not that difficult.

Posted by
16782 posts

I've had no problems at all to buy ferry tickets and find rooms as I go in the off-season in Greece. It's common practice there and I do recommend it for your situation. If you find accommodations online or in a guide book and want to book them a few days ahead, you can also do that from the road. I can't think of any reason to use a travel agency, other than those that sell ferry tickets when you're in a Greek town.

Posted by
972 posts

I'm going to give you my current experience with our travel agent. Do it yourself!

Our tour arrangements are becoming a nightmare. There's a long list of problems, including lack of communication about hotel confirmations, misspelled last name, and the list goes on. We leave August 25. I don't like last minute details and lack of communication. We just hope everything goes as planned when we get there. I tend to look at the negative side of things, but they have not given me much to be positive about. But, hey, it's Europe and we have ATM cards and Visa, and a good lawyer. If we would have known how flaky the travel agent and tour is, we would have never signed up or paid this much money (at least to us).
Sorry to vent, but we're a little frustrated right now.

Posted by
747 posts

Based on your description of what you want to do and your willingness to essentially go with the flow I would suggest a travel agent will just frustrate you. We have done trips where we just do walk up at hotels and that works well. That early in the season most hotels will be offering discount rates to get business going.

These days I know where I want to be and I know the hotels I want to stay at as they have become favourites so I book ahead often a year in advance. For the most part I book directly with the hotels but I also use Booking dot com to do research get reviews and so I can see where the hotels are on the map. Often what the hotel literature says and what the map show are two different things.

Sounds like you are going to have a wonderful time.

Posted by
31036 posts

Lee,

Since I was working with a definite time frame for island hopping, I decided to try one of the travel agencies listed on Matt Barrett's website (Fantasy Travel) and I was very pleased with the service. They provided a list of hotel choices and once I had decided which hotels to use, they arranged those as well as Ferries and transfers. Their rep. came down to Piraeus docks at 07:00 on a Sunday morning to provide my folder with Vouchers for my trip. I was very impressed with their service!

Using the travel agency provided a very efficient schedule as I didn't waste any time waiting for boats or anything else, so that allowed more time for enjoying the places I visited.

Posted by
1804 posts

At that time of year, lodging is not the issue. The real challenge for you will be the logistics of getting from one island to another.

I suggest you sit down with your island hopping guide and see if you can work out a logical path for this trip. Ferry schedules in your book may not be totally up to date but they will give you an idea it's possible to link all of those places without lots of flights to and from Athens.

Also check out the Blue Star Ferry schedules. They have several weekly runs that are very reliable, and you could build a trip around them. For instance there's one that starts in spectacular Kastellorizo, goes to Rhodes and through the Dodecanese, then to the Cyclades (Naxos and Paros), where you could jump off and go to Santorini and Crete. We did this once ... would spend a few days on one island, then hop on the ferry and go to the next. This would take you to some relatively unknown islands (including Kastellorizo and Nisyros) that were unexpected delights.

I'm not sure how you could connect Lesvos to the Blue Star schedule, but it's worth the effort. It's a wonderful island, well worth an extended stay (we've done up to three weeks).

Have fun planning!

Posted by
10 posts

Hi Charlene, I figured that time of year, that ferries might be the challenge. Despite all my research, I had not heard of the weekly runs. That could be part of the solution for me. Thanks for the help. With Poffley's book, I have an idea about the routes I would take.

And Ken, coincidentally, was the agency I was considering. Thanks for letting me know they are reliable. I guess the item that alarmed me was looking at one of their packages and seeing that, as a single traveler, I would take a severe hit on some of their plans.

Thanks, tommyk5, like you and Mira, I plan. When I said wing it, I should have mentioned that I would come ashore with a list of potential lodgings (definitely researched; research is never an issue with me). Thanks to Poffley's book, I know where and when -- for the most part -- I'll be able to make one island or another, but I realize offseason ferry times can be drastically reduced.

Hi Mira, I think being a planner, that's the reason, I guess, I sort of considering playing it loose for a change. The thing about planning ahead of time seems to be the chances of a strike, ferry "repair", etc. forcing me off schedule and costing a night at a hotel. One thing I keep reading is that Greece is a place where you should be prepared not to make your destinations at times. I think, if it was just two or even three islands I was considering, then I would book ahead of time. But one one-day strike, or a low-capacity ferry that does not make a run, could roll my plans.

Posted by
14007 posts

Tourism is up, way up, in Greece. From talks with my guide this spring, it's partly the low cost, partly the terrorist incidents in western European countries, but mainly the huge drop in tourism in Turkey and Egypt so people see Greece as a "close" (both geographically and culturally/historically) alternative. So while April may have been off-season 2-3 years ago, expect more tourists even in spring. . . . which is why I wouldn't try to "wing it" in places that are very popular.

How fussy are you about accommodations? If you are okay with anything, it's easier than if you have to have a private toilet and shower, or if you won't stay a kilometer or two out of the center or up the hill. How flexible is your budget? Planning ahead means getting the best rooms at the best prices.

Are you traveling light? With a 15 lb. backpack, it's okay to wander around town looking for a bed, but if you've got a lot of gear, it could be tough. Will you have phone and internet access while you're there? That way, at least you can find places at your next destination while at your current one. That's how most "wingers" seem do it.

Do you have a travel agency that specializes in the Greek islands? Or do you have a recommendation for an agency in Greece? To rely on an agency, you have to be sure that they are knowledgeable and up-to-date about your destinations.
You've got plenty of time, I recommend you do the research and make plans on your own. My advice would be to plot a route, nail down a few points with firm reservations . . . at least starting and ending points, preferably 2-3 midpoints (with reservations that can be cancelled). Then put together a list of lodgings at places you want to visit, so you don't have to do a lot of research on the go.

Posted by
10 posts

Hi Chani,

I would be traveling pretty light. Nothing too heavy to haul, and I am a little fussy about where I stay but not overly. I would hope to have Internet access. That's the plan at least. The agency that was referenced at the top specializes in Greece and has an outstanding rep.

Probably, especially after seeing what some of the other responses have been, I will do what you mention in your last lines. I will likely make a few hard reservations and keep some open and then reserve a day or two ahead of time.

Posted by
2416 posts

That's the best idea for someone who's on his/her own... and who wants flexibility yet some certainty. If you have a "wish list" of lodgings in each island, with a good idea of the locations they are in, with cell-phones you can call a day or 2 ahead. That has shown to work well in April & May. Research is the secret -- not just on these forums, but on booking.com, and trip advisor, and GOOD guidebooks. It pays off

Posted by
14007 posts

In that case, it could be a good idea to work with the travel agent. Do some research, get suggestions/advice from the agent, bounce ideas off them, do some more research. A good agent will be flexible, not insist on booking your whole trip for you, and may be able to get you some bargain prices that "make up" for their fees.