Arrivederci from Italy! Well, kind of. I’m currently on a train leaving Italy after a two week trip, so that counts, right? What an adventure it’s been. Rather than heading back home, Maddie and I made the spontaneous decision to breifly stop in London, travel through Italy, make our way up through Europe, then eventually travel up towards Ireland. Definitely not a bad way to spend my time before I head back to reality and become an actual working adult—sigh. Actually, I’m pretty excited to get the ball rolling and to not lug around a 65 pound suitcase and spine-breaking backpack (note to self: pack lightly next time). But I’m also not ready to say goodbye to the freedom and privilege I’ve had in being able to pick up and travel across countries.
I haven’t had the chance to sit down and write a post because Maddie and I have been moving so much. The only downtime we’ve had is around 11:00 at night when we get back to our Airbnbs, with sore feet, heavy eyelids, and full bellies. Luckily, we’re heading to Austria right now. And what better time to sit down, ponder my thoughts, and get my fingers typing, than on a seven hour train ride to Vienna?
This past week I’ve had too many sleepless nights wondering how I could possibly write about my experiences so far. How can I possibly mush it all together into a (slightly) informative and cohesive cluster of words? After much internal debate, I figured I’ll make a list. We all like lists, don’t we? I know I do. But enough with the gibberish. This is my attempt to make an Italy travel tip list after my experiences during my short time there. In two weeks I’ve traveled through Rome, Florence, Verona, Milan, and Venice; and I’m going to try my best to use what I’ve learned after moving from place to place. So, shall we?
Airbnbs are money (and life) savers
Let me just say, bless Airbnb. Not only do you get to stay in a comfy place for much less than a hotel (even a hostel), but you get a feel of what life is like living as a local. So far, Maddie and I have shared an apartment with our hosts as well as had an entire apartment to ourselves—both situations were equally great. I felt like I was living among the Italians, walking to markets for meats and cheeses, and, of course, some bottles of wine. It’s an option I would suggest for those who want to connect with locals and feel like one, too, while also saving some dough.
Exchange your currency and always carry cash
This is a big one, guys. I made the mistake of failing to exchange my currency at the airport and ended up getting ripped off at a currency exchange booth in Rome. My advice: get it done at the airport where you’ll get your moneys worth. If you don’t have any currency to exchange, get some out of an ATM (which are everywhere). A lot of places don’t take cards and, quite often, if they do take cards, there will be €20 or more limit. Plus, almost all taxis only take cash. Which brings me to my next point.
Be prepared to spend too much money on taxis
It’s true what they say, taxis are expensive in Italy. And, no, Uber is not really an option. UberX still has yet to be legalized, so when there are Ubers, you’ll be taking Uber Black a.k.a. be spending more than your wallet will enjoy. Luckily, due to my Googling skills, I found an app called “App Taxi” that can satisfy those who enjoy apps like Uber and Lyft. The only downfall is you need WiFi to use it without getting charged for data, and WiFi is hard to come by. But, hey, the nice thing about Italy is you can walk almost anywhere. There’s also public transportation, like buses and the Metro, which I would recommend taking advantage of.
The food will be different from what you may expect
All right, this is only slightly true. The pasta was what I expected—mouth-watering and addictive (pasta is swimming through my veins as we speak). Don’t even get me started on the gelato. Alas, the gelato! My lactose intolerant stomach has not been happy with me, but hey, gotta do what you gotta do, am I right? All right, the pizza was pretty great, too. Ugh! Am I lying to you, then, in saying the food won’t be what you’d expect? I guess the only difference is when you order a green salad, expect to get a bowl of lettuce, nothing else. And when you sit down to eat, don’t expect to get a basket of bread with olive oil and vinegar. Sure, these are little things, but my uncultured-self expected the whole shebang of a mixed salad and bread basket with balsamic vinegar and olive oil, like we get back in the States. I’m embarrassed to admit this, to say the least. But I must say, I was a bit shocked to receive bowls of lettuce and learn that bread is meant to soak up the remaining sauce from your pasta (and not to be dipped in olive oil).
Choose wandering over having a set plan
For those of you who need agendas and plans, I get it, you do you, no one is stopping you from having some organization. But wandering can be just as fun–maybe better. Italy is a place you’ll want to get lost in. I think my favorite part about visiting each place has been roaming through the streets and weaving through alleyways until we couldn’t find our way back. No two streets are the same and there’s nothing better than stumbling upon a quirky store or hole-in-the-wall café that sells the best gelato you’ll ever taste in your life. This isn’t to say you shouldn’t plan to visit popular sites, you most definitely should. I’m just saying, bring comfy shoes because you’ll be walking through nooks and crannies for hours on end.
Visit the main sites, but consider visiting some in the evening
Like all of Italy, the popular sites and monuments will have you feeling like you’ve been transported back in time. Italy is a country seeped in history, so you have to visit all the frequented historical locations. For places like the Vatican and the Colosseum, visiting them in the evening may not be possible (visit them regardless because they’re breathtaking), but if you have the chance to visit other sites towards the end of the day, do it. During the day, these sites will be so packed you can barely move and getting a picture without a large crowd or someone’s selfie stick in it proves challenging, so shoot for returning in the evening or not going during peak hours. Maddie and I did this with the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps. They were lit up at night in all their glory, without other people nudging each other to get a decent view.
Sometimes the best restaurants aren’t the top choices on Trip Advisor
And sometimes they are, but some of the best restaurants and cafés were the ones we randomly stumbled upon as we walked around with rumbling stomachs. I will say, listen to reviews, but it’s fun to be a little daring and try a place with a menu that’s handwritten and only in Italian.
Drink wine and coffee
It’s perfectly acceptable to drink wine and coffee at breakfast, lunch, and dinner in Italy. And no where else can you get a €3 class of wine, rosé, or prosecco and have it taste delicious. Italian coffee isn’t too bad either. Plus, some of the coffee shops are so unique you’ll want to spend hours sitting in them. Italy doesn’t have any open container laws, so feel free to walk around with your wine, as long as it’s in a plastic cup. I can’t tell you how fancy Maddie and I felt drinking our cheap bottle of Rosé as we sat in a park, watching the sunset over the Florence skyline.
Learn the language and make friends
As in any country, learning the language will help you speak with the locals, make friends, and get you from point A to point B. Even learning the basic commands or greetings will help you gain a bit more respect. So learn a few things, it definitely helps.
You don’t have to tip
I felt guilty about this at first, but, really, you don’t have to tip. Instead, you’ll quite often pay service fees (“coperto”) like simply paying to sit at a restaurant, use their utensils, etc. But, be warned, no tips means waiters won’t be giving you top-notch service. I still had friendly waiters, but do be patient and expect to wait around and not be checked-up on. And if you don’t ask for the bill yourself, you’ll most likely sit at your table for hours. But, on the bright-side, this does give you the chance to have dinner like the Italians—long and filled with loud laughter and hours of conversation.
If you’re traveling from city to city, take a train. They’re cheap, fast, and riding them gives you a chance to see some of the country side. Do your best not to pack a suitcase that’s heavy, though. I learned that the hard way. Having come from India and needing to buy new clothes for the cold weather, it’s safe to say my suitcase is extremely packed and much more heavy. My arms currently feel like noodles after lugging around my luggage in and out of trains, up and down train station steps. The less you bring, the better. But still, take the trains. You won’t regret it.
You will get lost and frustrated (and that’s okay)
I’ve learned this having been in India and I’m learning this again after journeying through Italy. Traveling isn’t always going to be a breeze. You’re going to get lost and misunderstood. And you’re going to get frustrated. There have been multiple times when Maddie and I were taken to the wrong place, arrived somewhere too late, lost our bags on airplanes, missed our trains (even our flights). Things are bound to go wrong at some point–and that’s perfectly fine. I think that’s the beauty of traveling. It isn’t going to be endless days of perfect photo-ops and endless smiles. As fun as traveling is, it’s also a learning experience. And learning doesn’t come without hitting a few bumps in the road.
Visit again and again
Like I said, Italy is a place where you’ll want to continuously wander. There are so many places I didn’t get a chance to see and so many hidden gems I didn’t have the time to find. So visit Italy, then visit again and again. There’s so much to be seen and it all can’t be done in one trip.