5.02.2018

Everything You Need To Know Before Traveling to Italy


Hi everyone! I recently did an Instagram poll (follow me if you don't already @adash_ofclass - I post all my travel stuff here first!) and the question that got by far the most attention was all about Italy! A lot of you were planning trips, or wanted to plan trips and were curious about what to do, what to wear, or even where to go. I'm planning a ton of posts all about Italy, especially Florence (where I studied abroad for a semester) and I will get more specific in those posts, but since everyone has a different itinerary I thought I would start with a general guide to traveling to Italy as well as getting around once you're here. I'm also touching on the basics of where to go, what to wear, and what to eat, as well as some of the big differences you'll encounter when you get there.

If you have any questions, comment below or DM me on Instagram, I'll get back to you as soon as possible and try to update this post as well!


Getting to Italy
Flying to Italy can get expensive - usually the cheapest options are flying into Rome or Milan, but of course checking out multiple cities can never hurt as prices usually change often. There are multiple airports in both cities, so make sure you check out the distance from the airport to the city centre, or the train station - wherever you plan on going after you land. Taxis can get expensive, and they will upcharge Americans, so if you can help it try to fly into the airport closest to your destination. When you exit the airport there are usually buses that will take you to a train station or city centre that are somewhere between 5 and 10 euro (whereas a cab can charge you as much as 100 with luggage... Avoid cabs at all costs) that leave every 10-20 minutes. These are great options and so helpful! Take advantage of them!
Even if your destination is not Rome or Milan, you can fly into an airport here and take a train to another city easily. Rome Fiumicino airport has a train station inside of it which makes for an extremely easy transition if you're looking to do something of that sort.

Getting Around Italy
My personal ranking of transportation in Italy goes like this: Train > Bus > Taxi. I absolutely love train rides in Italy. Every single one is absolutely breathtaking, and lets be honest, riding on a train totally makes you feel like you're in a movie and its pretty awesome. It's also usually the most reliable option with the greatest bang for your buck. There are so many time options, its fairly easy to navigate, and the ride is never too long. When booking trains I use goeuro.com, but trainline is another good website I've also used before. I like goeuro because you can compare the price and time of a bus and a flight which is super helpful and gives you lots of options. 
At first, I included flights in my ranking of transportations, but I took it out because I have simply never flown in country. With trains and buses you just don't need to. Buses are usually longer, but if you're looking to save a lot of money they can sometimes be worth it. Bus rides are also very pretty and usually you can store you luggage in the bus which is very nice considering it doesn't always fit in the overhead area on the train.

***IMPORTANT: Always validate bus and train tickets. On a train in Cinque Terre, I watched a couple get fined 50 euro per unvalidated ticket. They had purchased the tickets just 10 minutes ago, but without the validation they were subject to the fine. Keep this in mind when purchasing and using tickets, and don't try to sneak on for free, because that fine is even more!***


Staying in Italy
Alright, I'm going to rank my favorite forms of lodging the same way I did transportation. For me personally (a student, on a budget, wanting to stay in a good location): Hostels > Airbnbs > Hotels. Hostels get a bad rep - I have stayed in hostels that are just as nice as some hotels! And since I am usually traveling with a large group, we can buy a whole room for ourselves which essentially just becomes one big sleepover. I ranked hostels over airbnbs because I like to have my own bed, and my own space. In airbnbs often some people will be sleeping on the couch or sharing a bed, which was never a huge problem, but we all agreed that we were better rested for the next day when we each had our own bed and space. Airbnbs are perfect for couples, or smaller groups traveling in my opinion, and sometimes can be more expensive than hostels. I've had great experiences with airbnbs though, and definitely always check both airbnbs and hostels to find the best deal when searching for a place to stay. Hotels are great as well, but tend to be more expensive and not significantly nicer than an airbnb or hostel! I never stayed in a hotel while traveling, but once again, that was me on a budget and my personal preference.
When looking for lodging you will consider lots of things, but I think the most important is location. If you aren't staying in a good location you simply won't see as much as you want to see and you will spend more money trying to get around. Stay somewhere that is walkable to all the big sites and you will be able to soak up all of the culture that Italy has to offer.


Dressing Like a Local
Italians wear a few colors: black, grey, and other neutrals. Pops of color here and there aren't abnormal, but people in Italy aren't known for their use of color in their wardrobe. Even light wash jeans aren't very common, or prints of any sort. Wearing all black, any kind of leather, or a neutral palette is a safe bet. Italians are trendy with their clothing, and being from the midwest and going to college at a school whose go to outfit seemed to be nike shorts and an oversized tee - I wasn't used to this! Even a quick grocery run warrants a put together outfit. Of course, wear what you like and are comfortable in, this section is just information if you feel like channeling your inner Italian fashion guru. Buying clothes before you go is fine, but the shopping in Italy is great, so save your money and buy some clothes when you get there too!

Eating Like a Local
My best tips for finding the most authentic places to eat are as follows. Don't eat by the big tourist attractions. Of course, there are a few exceptions. My all time favorite panini place in Florence is right next to the Duomo... Which leads me to my second tip, do your research! There are so many tools out there to help you find good places to eat. I am of course a huge advocate for reading blogs from experienced travelers, or asking locals (your cab driver, the host of your airbnb, etc.). Simply walking the streets and stopping in a restaurant can't hurt either - all Italian food is delicious, but theres definitely a difference between the authentic locally made cuisine and the touristy food.
Doing research can also help you to find places to eat that aren't crazy overpriced. The best pizza I had in Florence was only 6-8 euro! Just to put things into perspective. Italian restaurants also usually have the menu outside of the restaurant with prices next to them. This is helpful if you're looking for specific prices or a specific dish - although most place serve the traditional meals that tourists are looking for.
In Italy, tipping is simply not what they do. There are often cover charges associated with restaurants, especially fancier ones. Sometimes, even if you sit down and have a coffee it comes with a cover. As for mealtimes, plan to eat late. I'm talking the average dinner beginning around 8 or 9 pm. There is also a period from 1-4 where many local shops may close. Prepare for this, but know you can still find places that are open to eat if you're hungry! Last but not least, Italian cuisine is delicious, but it is not American-Italian. The only dressing they offer for salads is olive oil, and their pizzas are just a little bit off from anything that can be delivered to you back home. If you embrace it and do it right, you can experience the best most authentic food, in the best environment - all for a great price.

Drinking Like a Local
Coffee in Italy comes in two main forms, the first being espresso and the second being a cappuccino. Espresso is Italians favorite, its quick and easy and very strong. Cappuccino's in Italy are also absolutely delicious and definitely worth trying. DO NOT pay more than 2 euro for a cappuccino. If you do, you're being ripped off bottom line. Also, it should be noted that coffee in Italy is not what it is in America. It comes in smaller sizes, and the very popular iced coffee or latte is not normally available. You can still find it, of course! But you won't be tasting your usual Starbucks order. My advice on this is just embrace it. If you really need that large latte, head to Arnold Coffee and pick it up there, its the closest thing to American coffee in Italy, in fact their tagline is 'The American Coffee Experience'. The 'coffee shop culture' we have come to know and love is not as prevalent in Italy. This isn't a bad thing, just something to note if you're looking to go coffee shop hunting like I usually do while on vacations!
As for wine, drink as much as you can. It is delicious (especially the red wine) and it is very normal for it to be ordered with lunch and dinner. I personally wouldn't spend more than 10-20 euro a bottle at a restaurant, and if you're eating in you can get a bottle at the grocery store (Conad) for as low as 2 euro. As for the other part of the drinking scene - bars, clubs, etc. I'm going to write a post on that as well! But just to touch on the basics, Europeans overall go out a lot later. And because they go out later... They also stay out later. If you go to clubs, be ready for loud music and a late night experience. You can just as easily head to a local bar and listen to live music late into the night - whatever you prefer, make sure you order a glass of wine & get a late night pizza afterwards. :)


Other Tips
One of the big things you should know before traveling to Italy is that a lot of places only take cash. Make sure you get out euros before you leave (this usually only takes a few days at your local bank), or have a card that won't up charge you for taking out cash. Bank of America has a sister bank in Italy called BNL, which won't charge you extra if you use your Bank of America card to take out cash. Avoid ATMs in airports (they will charge you more) or ATMs on the street that aren't associated with a bank. This is just to be safe, you don't want to have no card or cash while traveling!
The water in Italy is safe to drink! Save money (and our environment) and bring a reusable water bottle! I know so many people do this nowadays, but I thought I would mention it in case anyone was on the fence. Water also costs money at restaurants, unlike in America.
My very last tip is to GET LOST! All the time. Walk and walk and stumble upon things you didn't even know existed. Italy is exciting, and has something new around every corner. There are historical sculptures, beautiful old homes, local pizza shops, and quaint stores. You may not remember everything you see, but you will remember the feeling of losing yourself in the streets of this beautiful & historical goldmine. Soak it all in. There is nothing out there like Italy.

I hope this post was helpful! I have lived in Florence, Italy for the past four months, and have traveled all over Europe on the weekends. If there are any questions you have about study abroad, living abroad, traveling on a budget, or just Europe in general - let me know! I want to make helpful travel posts that will help you all see the quintessential parts of Europe as well as all of the hidden gems.

Thanks For Reading!
xx, Adrienne

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