The ol’ country is an amazing place to visit, but there’s a lot to see and do. So we wanted to provide these easy Italian travel tips for you. While this is not an extensive list by any means, it will give you some basics to help save you time and money when traveling to Italy, and maybe avoid some headaches as well.
Topics we cover:
- First, our new sponsor Audible.com. Sign up and get a free book AND a free 30 day trial membership. Just go to audiletrial.com/cappelli
- How our last podcast really touched a nerve on the Internet. Listen to that here: http://www.livingvillacappelli.com/032-traditional-italian-food-what-not-to-do-when-it-comes-to-cooking-eating-italy/
Now, the all important travel tips for Italy
1. Come in the “off-season”
Obviously this tip is harder to follow if you’re traveling with kids, who are traditionally off in the summer months, but if you can make it during April, May, September, and October, Italy can be a little easier to navigate for a few reasons.
- It’s a lot cooler. July and August can be brutal in Italy. So if you can make it during the late spring or early fall, you’re more likely to find much nicer weather.
- Tons of great fresh fruits and vegetables. Fall is almost like a second spring in Puglia, and a lot of amazing produce comes back into season after a hot summer.
- You’ll avoid the crowds of the high season. If you’re traveling to any of the major destinations like Rome or Venice, the crowds can be overwhelming at times. But during the off-season, the city takes on a whole new life. My first time in Venice was in January, and I thought it was amazing. Mainly because Paul and I were about the only tourist on the street. So it felt like we had the city all to ourselves.
2. Plan to come more than once — or for an extended period of time
There is sooo much to see in Italy. And if you are coming for the first time, you’ll want to hit the major hot spots first.
A lot people have a very specific idea of what Italy is like based on what they’ve seen in movies or on television. And a lot of that based on Rome or Tuscany or Venice.
So you might want to plan on hitting at least one of two of these areas so you won’t be disappointed in Italy not living up to what you have in mind. And we definitely recommend visiting those places, as they are iconic for a reason.
But after that, whether it’s after your first week or your first trip, try and visit places like Puglia, Calabria, and Sicily.
You’ll get a bit more the feeling of what it’s like to really live in Italy. A more “authentic” and “old world” tour if you will. Plus, since you’re “off the beaten path,” i.e. not the major, major tourist sites, you can avoid the crowds.
3. Skip the big bus tour packages
While these kinds of tours have their place, they probably aren’t in Italy. Italy is meant to be savored like a fine wine.
These trips try to cram as much into each day as possible, starting with having your luggage outside your hotel door by 5:30 AM.
So don’t be afraid to “go it alone.” Italians love tourists and are always willing to help you, even if it’s only through sign language because you don’t speak the same language.
If still want a guide, so for something smaller. We work with an agency called HETravel who puts together some nice small tours usually of no more than 15-20 people. Here the culinary tour that do with us as an example: http://hetravel.com/tour/gay-travel-italy-puglia-villa-culinary-experience/
We’ve also worked with tons of travelers to design personal tours for them while staying at the villa. If interested, you can click the tab above that says Stay at the Villa.
Full disclosure: I have not experienced one of these trips myself in Italy, but I have heard nothing but bad accounts from others who have done them here. If you know differently, just let us know in the comments.
4. Travel with friends and family and use sites like VRBO, Homeaway and Flipkey
If you are not familiar with these sites, these are sites that allow you to rent homes, like our villa, directly from the owner. VRBO stands for Vacation Rental By Owner.
One of Homeaway’s newest ad campaign says, “Whole House. Whole Family. Whole Vacation.” Which pretty much sums up the idea. While you all still get the privacy of your own room, your family gets the privacy of an entire home. You don’t have to share your vacation with anyone!
And the savings can be phenomenal. This Homeaway info graphic does an amazing job describing the advantage.
5. Don’t eat at restaurants that have pictures of the food on the menu
While you might be afraid of getting something wrong ordering in a language you aren’t familiar with, these restaurants usually cater to the masses and are just pumping out food…just food, not necessarily good food.
Ask locals, like a cop or garbage man, yes, the workers, and they’ll send you to the local places that will give you great food at a great price.
If language is an issue, but sure to check out a site like TripAdvisor before you leave.
Be aware, most hotel concierge people are going to send you to a restaurant that has cut a deal with the hotel to send them customers.
Paul recommends going somewhere where you don’t have to order off a menu. While this sounds strange, just sit down, ask the waiter what they are making that day or what is good that day. This will usually ensure you are getting fresh, amazing food that is a specialty of the chef.
6. Try to fly as close to your final destination as possible, forgetting the train or car
Unless you are a large family, this will save you a lot of time, energy and headaches.
So what do we mean? Say you are flying from in from the states and you are landing in Italy in Rome or Milan, but your final destination is Puglia. Book a flight that takes you to Bari. Don’t get off at Rome, then attempt to drive or train the final leg of the trip.
When driving, you have to figure in the cost of the rental, the cost of gas (NOT cheap in Italy) and the cost of tolls (also not cheap). So at the end of the day, it won’t save you much money at all and take you easily twice as long if not longer.
The train isn’t much better. You have to deal with getting your bags in Rome, lugging them to the train, and paying for a ticket, which is usually the same amount as a plane ticket. Plus, again, it takes a lot longer.
When you fly from the major hubs into the smaller airports, customs is almost non-existent, so you’ll fly right through and there’s a lot less waiting time for your bags as well.
7. When taking a flight inside of Italy, use the company’s .it site
This goes mainly for Alitalia.it: https://www.alitalia.com/it_it/
You can easily save a hundred Euro or more booking a ticket through this site. Use Google translate if you’re nervous about booking anything in the foreign language, but it’s all pretty basic at the end of the day.
NOTE: This is for INTERNAL flights while your staying in Italy. So if landed in Rome, spent a few days in Rome,and now want to fly to Venice. This in what this is for.
You do not want to use this if you are flying into Rome and want to then fly to Venice that same day (your final destination). You want to book your flight all they way through to final destination then (see tip above), otherwise you might get a airline attendant who refuses to book your luggage all the way through to your final destination, saying you bought to separate tickets so it’s impossible. This is not true, but it just depends on who you get.
This would mean you’d have to get you bags in Rome and then recheck in, go through security again, and spend a lot of time waiting in lines, which you don’t want to do. So use this only if you are flying around within Italy after being here awhile.
Also, don’t forget Alitalia is not the only airline to choose from. Look at Ryan Air or EasyJet as well.
8. Bring a portable luggage scale
Airlines are getting more and more strict about luggage weight. So if you plan on picking up some souvenirs while in Italy, be sure you’re not overweight and spending a lot of extra money just to get them home.
This especially true if you are traveling via one of the discount airlines I mentioned above like RyanAir or EasyJet. They don’t charge you much for a ticket, so they are trying to make money anyway they can and can be very strict when it comes to weight.
Here’s a link to one on Amazon: http://geni.us/1OcJ
9. Watch your bags & do NOT trust a stranger to watch your bags
This goes for whether you’re taking a car, bus, train or plane. Crime is not rampant here by any means, but it happens.
You get off a train and start looking at your map or guidebook. The thief easy grabs your back and jumps on the train. And before you know, it the doors have closed and the thief and your bag are off to the next destination.
We actually had a friend who stay with us recently who asked the bus driver to watch his bag while he went inside. When he came back out, the bus and his bag were gone.
Listen to the podcast for the full story on that one.
10. Get going early
Yes, you are on vacation. Yes, you’d love to sleep in. But, I can’t recommend the mornings enough in Italy.
1. You’ll avoid a lot of the tourist crowds. Especially if you are in the major cities like Rome or Venice, this can be especially magical as you really do see the city in a whole new way.
2. Italy is just so gorgeous in the morning. The light and the silence seem to transport you right into the old world.
3. You’ll get a lot of sight seeing in, then you can just relax, have a long lunch and live like an Italian. Plus, you might find a lot of places closed in the afternoon, so you can’t do a lot anyway. And, come summer, you might not want to be walking around the Italian sun during those hours anyway!
11. Sleep on the flight over
Take a sleeping pill or a couple big glasses of wine, whatever it takes!
Even if you just get 5 hours or so on that flight, you’ll wake up and be in Italy and can enjoy a full day in Italy rather than taking a whole day (or two or three) to recover in your hotel room.
In other words, you hit the ground running and get a lot more into your vacation starting from day one!
11B. NOTE: You can NOT open and drink your own alcohol on a plane.
On the podcast we mention that you can buy some alcohol in Duty Free and have a night cap to help you sleep. We did this and the person checking us out at Duty Free actually asked if we would be drinking it on the plane, so we assumed it was OK. However, this is NOT allowed.
FAA guidelines clearly state that aircraft operators (that would be the airline, its employees and crew) cannot allow a person to consume their own alcohol onboard unless that alcohol has been served by a member of the crew.
12. Use an ATM to get your cash
Do NOT exchange your money at the currency exchange booth at the airport! You will be spending WAY more money than necessary. Plus, then what do you do with all that cash? Carry it around with you? Leave it in the hotel?
You’re also going to get the best exchange rate this way as well. Hands down.
13. Be prepared to pay in cash
Some places will not take credit cards. They may say their phone line is down or the credit card machine is not working, but really, they just want you to pay in cash.
See #12 above on tips about getting this cash.
Also, many will not take American Express or Discover. Bring your Visa or Mastercard.
14. Use Skype and WhatsApp to communicate back home
Think about when you will be using your phone to call home. Mostly back at your hotel or rental home. Which usually have WiFi nowdays.
Both of these applications work over the Internet. Skype is more for calling, WhatsApp is for texting. Both are free to download to your phone. Here are the links:
Have whoever you want to call in the states download Skype to their phone or computer, set up an account, and you can call them for FREE. If that’s too much work, you can also add $10 to your Skype account, and make international calls for pennies.
WhatsApp is the same principal, except its mostly for texts. Just have whoever you are wanting to text download WhatsApp to their phone.
15. Let your bank or credit card company know you are leaving the country
Your bank or credit card company is always trying to protect you from identity theft. So if they see a charge from Italy and they don’t know you are traveling there, they could easy freeze your account.
16. When renting a car, use the local Italian sites just like the airlines
Paul threw this tip on the podcast. He says put you are a resident of Italy, but you can still put in your American information.
Basically, tell them you are coming from Italy, and you’ll get a much better rate.
17. Be aware of everything closing between 1PM and 4PM
We’ve talked about this before, unless you are in major cities, a lot of times you’ll find shop owners go home from lunch. So they go home, eat their pasta, and then take a nap.
Now they will stay open later, until 8 or 9 PM, but if you are traveling in and around smaller towns, be aware you could be stuck not even finding a restaurant open.
So plan accordingly.
18. You have to call a taxi — if there’s even one around
At places like Rome or Milan, you will find them at the airports or at a taxi stand. But they are not so common otherwise.
If you need one, be sure to ask your hotel, rental home owner or restaurant to call one for you.
19. If you order a martini, you will not get an American martini
Normally, if you just say you want a martini, they will serve a drink called Martini Bianco. A sweet drink served over ice.
Even if you use terms like James Bond to get them to understand what you want, be careful in that a lot of people want to make you a mixed drink. So they will put two parts vodka to one part vermouth, and they’ll use a sweet vermouth instead of dry vermouth.
It’s just all wrong. Try and head off this problem and explain what you really want if you can. Or stick to vodka on the rocks or wine!
So that’s it for our Italian travel tips. Did we miss something? Let us know in the comments below. And be sure to sign up for our newsletter below to get tips, trick, recipes and more every Thursday.