Dangers & Annoyances
Travelling in Mediterranean Europe is pretty safe. The ongoing financial crisis has hit the region hard and austerity measures have been introduced in many countries, provoking strikes and rioting in Greece, Spain, Italy and Portugal. That said, the region is relatively stable and violent crime is rare.
Travellers to remote areas in southeastern Anatolia in Turkey should check on the latest security situation and visitors to BiH should note the presence of unexploded landmines in certain areas of the country.
Petty crime is widespread in the region, so watch out for bag snatchers, pickpockets and scam artists. In cities, take note of any local crime hot spots (a particular neighbourhood, bus route, metro station etc) and areas to avoid after dark.
As always, common sense and a little healthy scepticism are the best defence.
Government Travel Advice
The following government websites offer travel advisories and information on current hot spots:
Australian Department of Foreign Affairs (www.smartraveller.gov.au)
British Foreign & Commonwealth Office (www.fco.gov.uk/en/travel-and-living-abroad)
Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs (www.voyage.gc.ca)
US State Department (http://travel.state.gov)
Mediterranean con artists are good at what they do and you should be on your guard against scams. Typical scenarios:
Bar scam Typically worked on solo male travellers. You're approached by a bloke who claims to be a lone out-of-towner like you but who's heard of a great bar. You go to the bar and enjoy a boozy evening with a crowd of new friends. At the end of the evening you're presented with an outrageous bill.
Druggings These are unlikely but do happen, especially on trains. A new 'friend' slips something into your drink or food and then fleeces you of your valuables as you sleep off the effects.
Flat-tyre ruse While driving you stop to help someone with a flat tyre (or someone stops to help you change your tyre, which they've just punctured). As you change the tyre, an accomplice takes valuables from the interior of your car.
Phoney cops These often appear as the end-play in cons involving money-changers or arguments about money. If approached by someone claiming to be a police officer, offer to go with them to the nearest police station.
Swapping banknotes You pay for a taxi fare or a train ticket with a €20 note. The taxi driver or ticket seller deftly palms the note and produces a €5 note, claiming that you paid with this. In your confusion you're not sure what you did and accept their word.
Touts and unofficial guides Be wary of people directing you to hotels or shops (they'll usually be collecting a commission) and people offering to show you around tourist sites (they'll demand hefty payment afterwards).
Theft is the biggest problem facing travellers in Mediterranean Europe. There's no need for paranoia but be aware that pickpockets and bag snatchers are out there.
- Don't store valuables in train-station lockers or at luggage-storage counters, and be careful if people offer to help you operate a locker.
- Be vigilant if someone offers to carry your luggage: they just might carry it away.
- Carry your own padlock for hostel lockers. Be careful even in hotels; don't leave any valuables lying around in your room.
- When going out, spread your valuables, cash and cards around your body or in different bags. A money belt with your essentials (passport, cash, credit cards, airline tickets) is usually a good idea. However, to avoid delving into it in public, carry a wallet with a day's cash.
- Don't flaunt watches, cameras and other expensive goods.
- Cameras and shoulder bags are an open invitation for snatch thieves, many of whom work from motorcycles or scooters. A small day pack is better, but watch your rear. Also be very careful at cafes and bars – always loop your bag's strap around your leg while seated.
- Pickpockets are particularly active in dense crowds, especially in busy train stations and on public transport. A common ploy is for one person to distract you while another whips through your pockets. Beware of gangs of dishevelled-looking kids waving newspapers and demanding attention. In the blink of an eye, a wallet or camera can go missing. Remember also that some of the best pickpockets are well dressed.
- Parked cars, especially those with foreign number plates or rental-agency stickers, are prime targets for petty criminals. While driving through cities, beware of thieves at traffic lights; keep your doors locked and the windows rolled up.
- A favourite tactic of scooter snatchers is for a first rider to brush past your car, knocking the side mirror out of position; then, as you reach out to re-adjust the mirror, an accomplice on a second scooter will race past, snatching the watch off your wrist as he goes.
- In case of theft or loss, always report the incident to the police and ask for a statement. Without one, your travel insurance company won't pay up.
Many major cities now offer cards that provide discounts on public transport and entry to selected sights. Alternatively, European Cities Marketing (www.europeancitycards.com) sells cards for cities in Croatia, France, Italy, Portugal, Slovenia and Spain.
EU citizens over 65 are often entitled to free or discounted entry to museums and tourist attractions, provided proof of age can be shown. A passport or ID card is usually sufficient.
There are a growing number of tour operators who specialise in senior travel and can provide information about special packages and discounts.
Student & Youth Cards
There are a range of discount cards available to young travellers, students and teachers.
Note also that membership of Hostelling International (www.hihostels.com) guarantees discounts and benefits as does possession of the Camping Card International (www.campingcardinternational.com).
Issued by the International Student Identity Card Association, the ISIC (www.isic.org) offers worldwide discounts on transport, museum entry, youth hostels and even some restaurants, as well as access to a 24-hour emergency telephone help line. It's available to full-time students and gappers who have a confirmed place at uni or college. The price varies from country to country but in the UK it costs UK£9, in Australia A$25 and in the USA US$25.
If not eligible for the ISIC, teachers and professors can apply for the International Teacher Identity Card (ITIC), and nonstudents aged less than 26 for the International Youth Travel Card (IYTC). Both offer the same benefits as the ISIC.
See the ISIC website for details of worldwide issuing offices.
Sometimes still known as the Euro<26 card, the European Youth Card (www.euro26.org) is available to people aged under 30 (26 in some countries), and offers a wide selection of benefits and discounts. It costs €5 to €19 depending on the country of purchase.
The International Student Exchange Card (www.isecards.com) is available to full-time students, teachers and under-26s, it costs US$25. Benefits include discounts, US medical insurance, 24-hour emergency assistance, and a global phone card.
Voltages & Cycles
Most of Europe runs on 230V/50Hz AC (as opposed to, say, North America, where the electricity is 120V/60Hz AC). Chargers for phones, iPads, laptops and tablets can usually handle any type of electricity. If in doubt, read the fine print.
Plugs & Sockets
Countries in Mediterranean Europe use the 'europlug' (two round pins).
Embassies & Consulates
As a traveller, it's important to realise what your embassy can and can't do for you. Remember, you're bound by the laws of the country you're in. If you end up in jail after committing a crime locally (even if such actions are legal in your own country), your embassy will not be sympathetic. Also remember if the trouble you're in is even remotely your own fault, they generally won't be much help.
In genuine emergencies you might get some assistance, but only if other channels have been exhausted. Most importantly, your consulate can issue an emergency passport, help get a message to friends or family, and offer advice on money transfers.
Nations such as Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK and the US have embassies and consulates across the region in capitals and major cities. To locate them consult the following websites:
New Zealand www.mfat.govt.nz
Emergency & Important Numbers
The EU-wide general emergency number is 112. This can be dialled, toll-free, for emergencies in BiH, Croatia, France, Greece, Italy (for the carabinieri who can forward you to the other emergency services), Montenegro, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain and Turkey (for ambulances only).
See the individual country directories for country-specific emergency numbers.
Entry & Exit Formalities
There are no special entry requirements for EU citizens and nationals of Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the USA. For most places a valid passport is all you need for a stay of up to three months. Some nationalities, including South Africans, require visas for Schengen countries.
Travelling within the EU
Travelling from one EU country to another you're allowed to carry:
- 800 cigarettes
- 200 cigars or 1kg of loose tobacco
- 10L of spirits (anything more than 22% alcohol by volume)
- 20L of fortified wine or aperitif
- 90L of wine
Entering or Leaving the EU
On leaving the EU, non-EU residents can reclaim value-added tax (VAT) on expensive purchases. You can carry the following duty-free:
- 200 cigarettes or 50 cigars or 250g of tobacco
- 1L of spirits or 2L of fortified wine, sparkling wine or any alcoholic drink under 22% volume
- 4L of still wine
- 16L of beer
- Goods, including perfume and electronic devices, up to a value of €430 for air and sea travellers, and €300 for land travellers
Non-EU countries each have their own regulations, although most forbid the exportation of antiquities and cultural treasures.
Exact passport requirements vary from country to country, even within the EU, but as a rule non-EU nationals require a passport valid for three to six months after their period of stay. EU citizens travelling to Albania, Bosnia and Hercegovina (BiH) and Turkey are also subject to minimum passport validity requirements.
As of June 2012, all children are required to have their own passport.
Check details on these government travel websites:
Australian Department of Foreign Affairs (www.smartraveller.gov.au)
British Foreign & Commonwealth Office (www.fco.gov.uk/en/travel-and-living-abroad)
Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs (www.voyage.gc.ca)
US State Department (http://travel.state.gov)
Citizens of Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the UK and the US do not need a visa to enter most Mediterranean Europe countries and stay for up to three months (90 days).
France, Greece, Italy, Portugal, Slovenia and Spain have all signed the Schengen Agreement, which abolishes customs checks between signatory states.
For the purposes of visa requirements, the Schengen area should be considered a single unit, as all member states operate the same entry requirements. These include the following:
- Legal residents of one Schengen country do not need a visa for another Schengen country.
- Nationals of Australia, Canada, Israel, Japan, New Zealand and the USA do not need a visa for tourist or business visits of up to 90 days.
- The UK and Ireland are not part of the Schengen area but their citizens can stay indefinitely in other EU countries, and only need to fill in paperwork if they want to work long term or take up residency.
Of the non-Schengen countries, only Turkey requires visas from Australian, Canadian, British and US nationals. These can be bought at any point of entry into the country.
Visa requirements change, and you should always check with the embassy of your destination country or a reputable travel agent before travelling.
If you do require a Schengen visa for a tourist visit, you'll need the category C short-stay visa. There are two versions of this:
A single-entry visa This allows for an uninterrupted stay of up to 90 days within a six-month period (180 days).
A multiple-entry visa This allows you to enter and leave the Schengen area as long as your combined stay in the area does not exceed 90 days in any 180-day period.
In both cases, the clock starts ticking from the moment you enter the Schengen area. You cannot exit the Schengen area for a short period and start the clock on your return.
- It's obligatory to apply for a Schengen visa in your country of residence at the embassy of your main destination country or, if you have no principal destination, of the first Schengen country you'll be entering.
- A visa issued by one Schengen country is generally valid for travel in other Schengen countries, but individual countries may impose restrictions on certain nationalities.
- You can only apply for two Schengen visas in any 12-month period.
- You cannot work in a Schengen country without a specific work permit.
- Always check which documents you'll need. You'll almost certainly require a passport valid for three months beyond the end of your proposed visit; a return air or train ticket; proof of a hotel reservation or similar accommodation arrangement; proof of your ability to support yourself financially; and medical insurance.
- Most EU citizens can work in any other EU country without a visa or specific permit. Paperwork, which can be complicated, only really becomes necessary for long-term employment or if you want to apply for residency.
- Non-EU nationals require work permits. There is no universal Schengen work visa or permit – each individual member state issues its own. These can be difficult to arrange and usually require you to have a job lined up and an employer ready to do the paperwork for you.
- If one of your parents or a grandparent was born in an EU country, you may have certain rights you never knew about. Get in touch with that country's embassy and ask about dual citizenship and work permits – if you go for citizenship, ask about any obligations, such as military service and residency. Also be aware that your home country may not recognise dual citizenship.
- For details of individual country regulations check with the embassy of the country you want to work in.
- For temporary vacation work in France and Italy, the Working Holiday Visa Program is open to Australian, Canadian and New Zealand citizens aged between 18 and 35. To apply for the visa, which is valid for a year and allows work within certain restrictions, contact the Italian or French embassy in your country of residence.
- Students enrolled in a recognised study program should apply to their destination country's embassy for a student visa. Proof of enrolment as well as health insurance and documents attesting to your financial means will generally be required.
- No visas are required for most people for stays of up to 90 days in Schengen countries, plus Albania, BiH, Croatia, and Montenegro.
- Citizens of Australia, the US, Canada and New Zealand need a visa for stays of longer than 90 days in the Schengen area.
- Australian, Canadian, UK and US citizens need a visa for Turkey – buy it on arrival.
Gay & Lesbian Travellers
Discretion is the key. Although homosexuality is acknowledged and in the large part tacitly accepted in Mediterranean Europe, attitudes remain conservative and overt displays of affection could elicit hostility, especially outside of main cities and in some eastern countries.
- Antidiscrimination legislation is in place everywhere except Turkey.
- Same-sex relationships are recognised in Croatia, Slovenia, France, Spain and Portugal and same-sex marriages are legal in Spain and Portugal.
- Paris, Madrid, Barcelona, Lisbon and Athens all have thriving gay scenes and the Greek islands of Mykonos and Lesvos are popular beach destinations for gay travellers.
- Further information is listed in individual country directories. Useful resources include:
Damron (www.damron.com) Publishes various guides and apps for gay travellers.
Gay Journey (www.gayjourney.com) Travel services (package deals, accommodation, insurance etc), gay-friendly listings and loads of links.
Spartacus World.com (www.spartacusworld.com) Extensive listings and sells the Spartacus International Gay Guide (€25.95, US$32.99, UK£19.99), a male-only directory of worldwide gay venues, as well as a guide to gay-friendly hotels, restaurants and saunas. Apps are also available.
Travel insurance to cover theft, loss and medical problems is highly recommended. It may also cover you for cancellation of and delays in your travel arrangements.
- There is a whole range of policies available so make sure you get one that's tailored to your needs – while one policy may be suitable if you're going skiing, you'll need another if you're planning a beach holiday. And always check the small print.
- Don't forget to keep all paperwork. If you have to claim for medical expenses you'll need all the relevant documentation. Similarly, to claim for a theft, you'll require a statement from the local police.
- The policies handled by STA Travel (www.statravel.com) and other student travel agencies are usually good value.
- Price comparison website Money Supermarket (www.moneysupermarket.com) compares 450 policies and comes up with the best for your needs. It also has a useful FAQ section and some good general information.
- Worldwide travel insurance is available at www.lonelyplanet.com/bookings. You can buy, extend and claim online anytime – even if you're already on the road.
Things to consider when choosing a policy:
- Are 'dangerous activities' (scuba diving, motorcycling and, for some policies, trekking) covered? Some policies might not cover you if you're riding a motorbike with a locally acquired motorcycle licence.
- Does the policy cover every country you're planning to visit? Some policies don't cover certain countries, such as Montenegro or BiH.
- Does it cover ambulance service or an emergency flight home?
Checking insurance quotes...
- Wi-fi is widely available across the region. Hostels, B&Bs and midrange hotels often offer free wi-fi, while top-end places generally charge a fee.
- Wi-fi is often available in public parks, at cafes and restaurants, in railway stations and at airports.
- Many hotels and hostels provide computer terminals for guests' use, either free or for a small fee.
- The diffusion of wi-fi means that there are not as many internet cafes as there once were. They still exist, though, and you'll find them across the region. You might also be able to log on at department stores, post offices, libraries, tourist offices, phone centres, and universities. Costs range from about €1.50 to €5 per hour.
- If you're using your own kit, note that that you might need a power transformer (to convert from 110V to 230V if your computer isn't set up for dual voltage) and a plug adaptor.
Driving Drink-driving laws apply and road checks are common in some areas. When driving make sure you have the correct documents at hand.
Drugs Drugs are widespread. Legislation and local attitudes vary, but if you're caught with a small quantity of cannabis you might get away with a warning and/or a fine. Possession of hard drugs or quantities of cannabis deemed 'dealable' could lead to imprisonment. Note that prescription drugs that are legal in your home country might not be legal abroad – check before travelling.
Proof of Identity You are required by law to prove your identity if asked by police, so always carry your passport, or ID card if you're an EU citizen.
Theft If you have something stolen and you want to claim it on insurance, you must make a statement to the police, as insurance companies won't pay up without official proof of a crime.
- Proper road maps are essential if you're driving or cycling. Quality European map publishers include Michelin (www.michelin.com), Freytag & Berndt (www.freytagberndt.com) and Kümmerly+Frey (www.kuemmerly-frey.ch).
- As a rule, maps published by automobile associations (for example ACI in Italy or ELPA in Greece) are excellent, and are sometimes free if membership of your local association gives you reciprocal rights.
- Tourist offices are a good source of free, basic maps.
- Good maps are easy to find in bookshops throughout the region.
English-language newspapers and magazines are available in many of the region's big cities and popular resorts.
Keep up to date with world news on BBC World Service which is broadcast on a range of platforms: online, via satellite or cable, on digital and internet radio, on shortwave radio, and on FM or AM frequencies.
Satellite TV is common across the area and in many hotels you'll be able to pick up BBC World and CNN International.
France, Greece, Italy, Montenegro, Portugal, Slovenia and Spain use the euro.
The euro is also widely accepted in Albania, BiH and Croatia.
There are seven euro notes (€5, €10, €20, €50, €100, €200 and €500) and eight euro coins (€1 and €2, then 1, 2, 5, 10, 20 and 50 cents); one euro is equivalent to 100 cents.
While travelling in the region, the best way to carry your money is to bring an ATM card, credit card and cash. Internet-banking accounts are useful for tracking your spending – if you don't have one, set one up before you leave home.
Tax Free Shopping
Tax free shopping is available across the region – look for signs in shop windows – and while it won't save you a fortune, it won't cost you anything extra.
Value added tax (VAT) is a sales tax imposed on most goods and services sold in Europe; it varies from country to country but is typically between 6% and 23%. In most countries, non-EU residents who spend more than a certain amount – ranging from €50 to €175 depending on the country – can claim VAT back on their purchases when they leave the EU. EU residents, however, are not entitled to a refund on goods bought in another EU country.
The procedure is straightforward. When you make your purchase ask the shop assistant for a tax-refund voucher (sometimes called a tax-free shopping cheque), which is filled in with the date of your purchase and its value. When you leave the EU, get this voucher stamped at customs – the customs agent might want to check the item so try to ensure you have it at hand – and take it to the nearest tax-refund counter. Here you can get an immediate refund, either in cash or onto your credit card. If there's no refund counter at the airport or you're travelling by sea or overland, you'll need to get the voucher stamped at the port or border crossing and mail it back for your refund.
Tell the Bank
Before leaving home, always let your bank or credit-card company know of your travel plans. If you don't, you risk having your card blocked, as banks often block cards as a standard security measure when they notice out-of-the-ordinary transactions.
Get the bill in local currency
Something to look out for when making payments with a credit card is what's known as dynamic currency conversion. This is used when a vendor offers to convert your bill into your home currency rather than charging you in the local currency. The catch here is that the exchange rate used to convert your bill will usually be highly disadvantageous to you, and the vendor might well add his or her own commission fee. Always ask to be billed in the local currency.
ATMs are widely available in the region and easy to use (many have instructions in English). It's always prudent, though, to have a backup option in case something goes wrong with your card or you can't find a working ATM – in remote villages and islands they can be scarce.
- There are four types of card you can use in an ATM:
ATM Cards Use to withdraw money from your home bank account. They can be used in ATMs linked to international networks such as Cirrus and Maestro.
Debit Cards Like ATM cards but can also be used to make purchases over the counter.
Credit Cards Can be used in ATMs displaying the appropriate logos.
Prepaid Cards Like credit/debit cards, they can be used in ATMs displaying the appropriate logos.
- Note that you'll need a four-digit PIN (in numbers rather than letters) for most European ATMs.
- As a security measure, be wary of people who offer to help you use an ATM or, at ports or stations, people who claim that there are no ATMs at your destination.
- Note that ATMs impose a limit on daily withdrawals, typically around €250.
When you withdraw money from an ATM, the amounts are converted and dispensed in local currency. However, there are hidden costs. Typically, you'll be charged a transaction fee (usually 1% to 3% with a minimum of €3 or more), as well as a 1% to 3% conversion charge. You might also be charged by the owner of the ATM, and, if you're using a credit card, you'll be hit by interest on the cash withdrawn.
Fees vary from company to company so it's worth doing some research before you travel – check out the British website Money Supermarket (www.moneysupermarket.com) or the US site Card Ratings (www.cardratings.com). Two companies which apply reduced fees are the British Halifax, whose Clarity Card charges no fees for cash withdrawals and foreign exchanges, and the US bank Capital One, which charges no fees for foreign-currency transactions.
Despite all the hidden charges, having the right card is still generally cheaper than exchanging money directly. To minimise costs try making fewer but larger withdrawals. It's also worth checking whether your bank has reciprocal arrangements with foreign banks allowing you to use their ATMs free of charge.
Black-market money exchange is relatively rare in Mediterranean Europe, although it's not totally absent. If you do encounter it, stay well clear. The rates rarely outweigh the risk of being caught, and by dealing with unofficial moneychangers you greatly increase your chances of being conned – many people offering illegal exchanges are professional thieves.
Nothing beats cash for convenience, or risk. If you lose it, it's gone forever and very few travel insurers will come to your rescue. Those that will insure you limit the amount to somewhere around US$300. As a general rule of thumb, carry no more than 10% to 15% of your total trip money in cash.
It's still a good idea, though, to bring some local currency in cash, if only to tide you over until you find an ATM.
Credit cards are good for major purchases such as airline tickets or car hire, as well as for providing emergency cover. They also make life a lot easier if you need to book hotels while on the road – many places request a credit-card number when you reserve a room.
- Credit cards are widely accepted in most countries, although don't rely on them in small restaurants, shops or private accommodation in Albania, Croatia and Montenegro. As a general rule, Visa and MasterCard are more widely accepted in the region than American Express and Diners Club.
- Many European countries use a 'chip and PIN' system for credit and debit cards. If your card isn't enabled for this, as many US cards are not, or you don't know your card's PIN, you can often still sign a printed receipt in the usual way. However, you might find your card is refused in automatic payment machines at railway stations, petrol stations etc.
- Using your credit card in ATMs is costly. On every transaction there's a fee as well as interest per withdrawal. Check the charges with your issuer before leaving home. As a rule debit cards cost less for withdrawing money from an ATM.
- Make sure you can always see your card when making transactions – it'll lessen the risk of fraud.
If you need money sent to you, international bank transfers are good for secure, one-off movements of large amounts of money, but they might take three to five days and there will be a fee. Be sure to specify the name of the bank, plus the IBAN (International Bank Account Number) and the address of the branch where you'd like to pick up your money.
It's quicker and easier (although more expensive) to have money wired via Western Union (www.westernunion.com) or MoneyGram (www.moneygram.com).
A cheaper option is Skrill (www.skrill.com), a British money-transfer website that allows you to send and receive money via email.
- US dollars, British pounds and the euro are the easiest currencies to exchange in Europe. You might have trouble exchanging Canadian, Australian and New Zealand dollars.
- Most airports, central train stations, big hotels and many border posts have exchange facilities. Post offices are another option, although while they'll always exchange cash, they might not change travellers cheques unless they're in the local currency.
- The best exchange rates are generally offered by banks. Bureaux de changes usually, but not always, offer worse rates or charge higher commissions. Hotels are almost always the worst places to change money.
In recent years prepaid cards – also called travel money cards, prepaid currency cards or cash passport cards – have become a popular way of carrying money.
These enable you to load a card with as much foreign currency as you want to spend. You then use it to withdraw cash at ATMs – the money comes off the card and not out of your account – or to make direct purchases. You can reload it via telephone or online.
Many prepaid cards are linked to Visa or Mastercard.
Advantages of a prepaid card:
- you avoid foreign-exchange fees as the money you put on your card is converted into foreign currency at the moment you load it;
- you can control your outlay by only loading as much as you want to spend;
- security - if it's stolen your losses are limited to the balance on the card – it's not directly linked to your bank account;
- lower ATM withdrawal fees;
- many have a chip enabling you to use them in automatic payment machines - especially good for US travellers whose regular cards probably won't have a chip.
Against this you'll need to weigh the costs:
- fees are charged for buying the card and then every time you load it;
- ATM withdrawal fees apply;
- you might be charged a fee if you don't use the card for a certain period of time or if you need to redeem any unused currency;
- if the card has an expiry date, you'll forfeit any money loaded onto the card after that date.
There are no hard-and-fast rules about tipping.
- Many restaurants add service charges, making a tip discretionary. In such cases, it's common practice, and often expected of visitors, to round bills up. If the service was particularly good and you want to leave a tip, 5% to 10% is fine.
- At bars or cafes it's not necessary but you might leave your change or a few small coins.
- In some places, such as Croatia, tour guides expect to be tipped.
Although outmoded by cards and ATMs, travellers cheques are safer than cash and are a useful emergency backup, especially as you can claim a refund if they're stolen. Keep a separate record of their numbers and all original purchase receipts.
- American Express, Visa and Travelex cheques are the most widely accepted, particularly in US dollars, British pounds or euros.
- It's becoming increasingly hard to find places to cash travellers cheques, especially outside of the main centres.
- When changing, ask about fees and commissions, as well as the exchange rate. There may be a service fee charged per cheque, a flat transaction fee, or a fee that's a percentage of the total amount.
The euro is used in France, Greece, Italy, Montenegro, Portugal, Slovenia and Spain.
- Albania Lekë, euros.
- BiH Convertible mark, euros.
- Croatia Kuna, euros.
- Turkey Turkish lira, euros or US dollars.
Although there are no hard and fast rules respected by all countries (or even by all the businesses in any one country), most Mediterranean nations share some habits.
Banks Generally open early and either close for the day at around 1.30pm or reopen for a brief two-hour window in the early afternoon, say from 2.30pm to 4.30pm.
Museums Many are closed on Mondays.
Offices Usually operate from Monday to Friday and possibly Saturday morning. Sunday opening is not unheard of, but it's not widespread.
Shops It's common, especially outside the main cities, for small shops to close for a long lunch. Typically a shop might open from 8am or 9am until 1.30pm, and then from about 4pm to 8pm. Larger department stores tend to stay open all day.
Winter & Summer Hours
Opening hours sometimes change between summer and winter. In general summer hours are longer with later closing times. In coastal areas, many seasonal businesses (hotels, souvenir shops, bars etc) close over winter, generally from November to March.
As a rule, there are very few photographic restrictions in Mediterranean Europe. However remember the following:
- Many museums, art galleries and churches ban flash photography.
- Avoid taking pictures of military sites, airfields, police stations etc.
- Always ask permission before photographing people.
- For further tips, check out Lonely Planet's Travel Photography, a comprehensive guide to all aspects of the art.
- From major European centres, airmail typically takes about five days to reach North America and a week to Australasian destinations. It might be slower from countries such as Albania and BiH, which has three parallel postal services.
- Postage costs vary from country to country, as does post-office efficiency.
- Courier services such as DHL (www.dhl.com) are best for essential deliveries.
- Most holidays in the southern European countries are based on the Christian calendar.
- In Turkey, the month-long holiday of Ramazan (Ramadan) is celebrated. Its exact timing depends on lunar events.
- August is the peak holiday period for Mediterranean dwellers.
- The major school holidays run from July to September, and many businesses simply shut up shop for much of August. Schools also pause for breaks over Easter and Christmas.
- For details of the school calendar, check out http://eacea.ec.europa.eu/education/eurydice, which lists holiday dates for many European countries.
Smoking bans exist in all the countries listed in this book. The exact rules vary from place to place, so always check before lighting up.
Domestic and international calls can be made from public payphones using prepaid phonecards, and from hotels, post offices, internet cafes (via Skype) and private call centres.
Phoning from a post office or a public payphone is almost always cheaper than calling from a hotel. Private call centres often have good long-distance rates but always check before calling.
To call abroad simply dial the international access code (IAC) of the country you're calling from (most commonly 00), the country code (CC) of the country you're calling to, the local area code (usually, but not always dropping the leading zero if there is one) and then the number.
To have someone else pay for your call, you can often dial directly to your home-country operator and make a reverse-charge (collect) call. Alternatively, you can use the Country Direct system (such as AT&T's USADirect), which lets you phone home by billing the long-distance carrier you use at home. Home Direct numbers, which can often be dialled from public phones without even inserting a phonecard, vary from country to country.
- Most European mobile phones operate on the GSM 900/1800 system, which also covers Australia and New Zealand, but is not compatible with the North American GSM 1900 system. Some American GSM 1900/900 phones do work in Europe, although high roaming charges make it an expensive option.
- If you have a GSM tri- or quad-band phone that you can unlock (check with your service provider), the easiest way of using it is to buy a prepaid SIM card in each country you visit.
- You can often buy European SIM cards in your home country but you'll generally pay less in Europe.
- Note that most SIMs expire if not used within a certain time and that most country-specific SIMs can only be used in the country of origin.
Toll-free numbers in Mediterranean Europe often have an 0800 or 800 prefix (also 900 in Spain).
- Phonecards for public payphones are available from post offices, telephone centres, news stands and retail outlets.
- There's a wide range of local and international phonecards. Most international cards come with a toll-free number and a PIN code, which gives access to your prepaid credit. However, for local calls you're usually better off with a local phonecard.
- Cards sold at airports and train stations are rarely good value for money.
- Note that many cards have an expiry date.
- Both the International Student Identity Card and Hostelling International offer a range of phonecards and SIM cards – see www.isiconnect.ekit.com or www.hi.ekit.com for details.
- If you don't have a phonecard, you can often telephone from a booth inside a post office or telephone centre and settle your bill at the counter.
For making calls and sending text messages, smartphones are just like any other mobile phone, so if you can unlock yours, the best bet is to get a local SIM card. But be careful when accessing the internet: high data-roaming charges quickly add up and even checking your email can become a costly business. A way around this is to turn off data roaming and only use the internet when you have access to free wi-fi. Once online, you can then use Skype or Google Voice to make cheap (sometimes free) calls.
Most Mediterranean Europe countries are on Central European Time (GMT/UTC plus one hour) except for Portugal, which runs on Western European Time (GMT/UTC), and Greece and Turkey, which are on Eastern European Time (GMT/UTC plus two hours).
In most European countries, clocks are put forward one hour for daylight-saving time on the last Sunday in March and turned back again on the last Sunday in October. Thus, during daylight-saving time, Western European Time is GMT/UTC plus one hour, Central European Time GMT/UTC plus two hours and Eastern European Time GMT/UTC plus three hours.
- Public toilets are pretty thin on the ground in much of the region. The best advice if you're caught short is to nip into a train station, fast-food outlet, bar or cafe and use their facilities.
- A small fee (typically €0.20 to €1) is often charged in public toilets, so try to keep some small change handy.
- Most toilets in the region are of the sit-down Western variety, but don't be surprised to find the occasional squat toilet. And don't ever assume that public toilets will have paper – they almost certainly won't.
- Tourist information is widely available throughout the region. Most towns, big or small, have a tourist office of some description, which at the very least will be able to provide a rudimentary map and give information on accommodation. Some even provide a hotel-reservation service, which might or might not be free.
- In the absence of a tourist office, useful sources of information include travel agencies and hotel receptionists.
- Tourist-office staff will often speak some English in the main centres, but don't bank on it away from the tourist hot spots.
Travellers With Disabilities
With the notable exception of Croatia – and to a lesser extent BiH – which has improved wheelchair access due to the large number of wounded war veterans, the region does not cater well to travellers with disabilities. Steep cobbled streets, ancient lifts and anarchic traffic all make life difficult for wheelchair-using visitors. Wheelchair access is often limited to the more expensive hotels and major airports; public transport is usually woefully ill-equipped, and tourist sites rarely cater well to those with disabilities.
However, it's not impossible to travel the region, even independently. If you're going it alone, pre-trip research and planning is essential:
- find out about facilities on public transport;
- work out how to get to your hotel or hostel;
- check if there are care agencies available and how much they cost;
- give your wheelchair a thorough service before departing and prepare a basic tool kit, as punctures can be a problem;
- national support organisations can help; they often have libraries devoted to travel, and can put you in touch with travel agents who specialise in tours for those with disabilities.
Other useful resources include:
Flying with Disability (www.flying-with-disability.org) Comprehensive and easy-to-use site covering all aspects of air travel – pre-trip planning, navigating the airport, boarding the flight, on the plane etc.
Global Access (www.globalaccessnews.com) A worldwide network for wheelchair users with a monthly e-zine and tons of reader-generated articles.
Lonely Planet (www.lonelyplanet.com) Check out the Travellers with Disabilities branch on the Thorn Tree travel forum.
Society for Accessible Travel and Hospitality (www.sath.org) Has loads of useful information, including a need-to-know section and travel tips.
Travel with Children
Despite a dearth of child-friendly sights and activities, the Mediterranean is a great place to travel with children. Kids are universally adored and are welcome just about everywhere.
- You should have no problems finding baby food, formulas or disposable nappies.
- Remember that shop opening hours might be different from those at home, so if you run out of nappies on Saturday afternoon you could be in for a messy weekend.
- Most car-rental firms have safety seats for hire at a nominal cost, but it's essential you book them in advance. The same goes for high chairs and cots – they're available in most restaurants and hotels, but numbers will be limited.
- Don't overdo it on the beach – the Mediterranean sun is strong and sunburn is a risk, particularly in the first couple of days.
- For more information, see Lonely Planet's Travel with Children, or check out TravelWithYourKids (www.travelwithyourkids.com) or Family Travel Network (www.familytravelnetwork.com).
If you can afford it, a volunteer work placement is a great way to gain an insight into local culture. Typical volunteer jobs include working on conservation projects, participating in research programs, or helping out at animal-welfare centres. In some cases volunteers are paid a living allowance; sometimes they work for their keep; and sometimes volunteers are required to pay for the experience, typically from about US$300 per week.
Lonely Planet's The Big Trip provides advice and practical information on volunteering and working abroad.
World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (www.wwoof.org) International organisation that puts volunteers in contact with organic farms across the world. In exchange for your labour, you'll receive free lodging and food.
Go Abroad (www.goabroad.com) Huge site with information on hundreds of jobs and volunteer opportunities.
Weights & Measures
The metric system is in use throughout Mediterranean Europe, so expect litres not gallons and kilometres rather than miles. In some countries, decimal points are represented by commas (eg 0,5) and to separate thousands a full point is used (eg 1.000.000 for one million).
It's sad to report, but machismo is alive and well in Mediterranean Europe, a region in which gender roles are still largely based on age-old social norms. But even if attitudes are not always very enlightened, a deep sense of hospitality runs through many Mediterranean societies, and travellers (of both sexes) are usually welcomed with warmth and genuine kindness. That said, women travellers continue to face more challenging situations than men do, most often in the form of unwanted harassment. Other things to bear in mind:
- Staring is much more overt in Mediterranean countries than in the more reticent northern parts of Europe, and although it is almost always harmless, it can become annoying.
- If you find yourself being pestered by local men and ignoring them isn't working, tell them you're waiting for your husband (marriage is highly respected in the area) and walk away. If they continue, call the police.
- Gropers, particularly on crowded public transport, can also be a problem. If you do feel someone start to touch you inappropriately, make a fuss – molesters are no more accepted in Mediterranean Europe than they are anywhere else.
- In Muslim countries, where women's roles are clearly defined and unmarried men have little contact with women outside of their family unit, women travelling alone or with other women will attract attention. This is rarely dangerous, but you'll need to exercise common sense. Dress conservatively, avoid eye contact and, if possible, don't walk alone at night.
- Security for solo travellers is mainly a matter of common sense – watch your possessions, don't go wandering down dark alleys at night and be wary of overly friendly people you've just met.
Sources of information and inspiration include:
Wanderlust & Lipstick (www.wanderlustandlipstick.com) Comprehensive site with loads of useful info. Also sells The Essential Guide for Women Travelling Solo, a good guide for nervous first-timers.
Journeywoman (www.journeywoman.com) An online women's travel magazine full of tips, anecdotes and recommendations.
Lonely Planet (www.lonelyplanet.com) Exchange thoughts and ideas on the Women Travellers branch of the Thorn Tree travel forum.
Women Travel Tips (www.womentraveltips.com) US travel expert Marybeth Bond shares her experiences and provides plenty of on-the-road tips.