Being a pretty big travel addict, I often get asked what my top bucket list destinations are. The first one out of my mouth was always, always, always Italy up until our #tvobtakesitaly adventures—I held off going for so long because quite frankly, I was intimidated and overwhelmed by planning a trip there compared to all the other destinations I’ve been to. What part do you go to first? Can you do the whole country in one go? How do I plan out my whole itinerary? I can’t stress enough that I’m usually a jump-and-the-net-will-appear kind of person but something about Italy made me feel like I had to clear out 3 months just to see it at all sufficiently. I’m happy to report that after our three week adventure there, not only did it more than live up to all of my dreams (and surpass them!) but my expectations of it being hard to take on and to navigate were completely wrong. Having said that, there are definitely some general tips to go over before I start sharing everything (and I mean everything, from our itinerary to city guides to packing lists and so much more!).
WHEN TO GO
So let’s just start by saying that while there is a bit of an off season come the winter, really, in Italy you’re not ever going to get much of a lull. We went away to Greece at basically the exact same time last year and were expecting it to be similarly slower. While we definitely got less tourists than the country gets in the summer, it was still very much high season even into late October! I’d suggest aiming for September-October, which is still high season but the business will taper off and you’ll still get to enjoy the country in its warmer state (we started getting some chilliness and weren’t able to really beach it by the time we got to our beachier destinations mid-October—not the end of the world but something to keep in mind!).
HOW TO PLAN OUT YOUR TRIP
Okay so I’m going to have our entire three-week itinerary for you guys because quite frankly, I really struggled to find itinerary examples for Italy for some reason and really wish I’d had a model to go off of! But your best strategy is to do what Bianca of the incredible Gigi Guides suggested I do and group your modes of transport together. If you’re hoping to drive through some of the countryside, figure out a way to do all the driving components of your trip together and then the train (or ferry, flying, etc) components together, so on and so forth. You don’t want to be worrying about picking up an dropping off a car more than once and you also don’t want to not have a good train strategy in place and sink a whole day transferring between trains. Spend time looking at train times and which parts could be sped up or made more convenient by driving them and create an easier flow that way!
As for how long to spend in each place, well we’ll have more details about each of our cities visited and how many nights I’d suggest devoting to each. The easy way to determine it for yourself though is to plan out what you’d ideally like to do in each so that you’re not just arbitrarily throwing dates down. For instance, we weren’t planning on spending as much time in Rome as we did, but after planning out the Vatican City tour, a day spent seeing x or x and then a little wiggle room (since Rome is so massive!) we ended up realizing we needed the most time there. It was good that we planned it that way in the end because Rome was our favourite—I could honestly spend months there.
WHAT TO BRING
I’ll have a full packing list for you but know this: if you’re going to be covering quite a bit of the country, you’re going to have to pack for all climates! It was freezing in the north but in Rome, I was totally happy in just a light dress. Light layers are so key, as are accessories (hats, scarves, etc) that will give you much-needed warmth when the temperatures unexpectedly drop!
You’ll also of course need an adapter if you’re travelling from outside of Europe—would really suggest not just having the “European” adapter but one of the clunkier adapters that has several European options because some of the plugs didn’t take our larger “European” adapter (first time ever experiencing this in all my Europe travels!).
And while I’ll touch on some really good options later in my packing list post, can’t stress enough the value of a good cross-body bag. I travel with one no matter where I go because they’re honestly just the easiest to travel with, but while we had very minimal issues with pickpocketers and the like in our vicinity, definitely noticed a lot of tourists getting targeted. About on par with what you’d experience in Paris though oddly enough, in Florence (which was one of our absolute favourites) we experienced more aggressive staking out. Nothing to really worry about obviously as long as you’re smart and aware, but again, a cross-body bag that I could keep secure and close to me really made me feel more confident!
Finally, while you should always have comfy footwear no matter where you go, other than Greece I’ve never experienced so much stair climbing, incline mounting, hill scaling, etc. Bring some cute sneakers! You’ll need them! We were averaging about 30-40K steps every day so do your feetsies a favour.
THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND
I love Italians. They’re fun, friendly, passionate, incredible. One thing I noticed during our travels though is that some (obviously not making a mass-generalization) really don’t suffer fools lightly. The concept of “every customer leaves happy” that got drilled in my head when I worked at Cactus Club et al in uni (PS I was the worst server that ever existed) is not a thing there. We saw a foreign family make a stink about their steak being too rare in a true Florentine steak institution and the cook, servers, etc were not only having any of it, but they got pissed and came out to reprimand the table (it was awesome). Then there was this annoying lady that kept ordering the wrong thing in Rome then complaining about her coffee when it (understandably) wasn’t what she thought she was ordering—she basically got a serious talking to and it was once again super awesome to see from the sidelines.
Where I’m going with this is that we routinely experienced incredible friendliness, warmth and kindness but we also tried our absolute hardest (speaking the little Italian we knew first rather than just barking orders in English or whatever native tongue we have, which we saw happen sadly very frequently), respecting the fact that we were tourists (albeit polite and excited tourists but tourists nonetheless) visiting someone else’s home. We always make the effort everywhere we go but never before have I noticed such a stark difference between the reception respectful tourists got compared to rude tourists.
So really try. Spend time researching what’s culturally appropriate (from what to wear to a church to how to order food properly), know some basic Italian phrases, etc. I’m going to be giving you guys tips across the board for all of this in the ensuing posts but really want to stress that I strongly believe we had such a great time and felt like we got some “ins” throughout the country that we wouldn’t have if we hadn’t especially busted our asses. Because at the end of the day, if there’s one thing Italians are it’s passionate, and they’re incredibly proud and filled with passion about their region, traditions, culture and country. Showing a real effort respects that pride, and ensures you don’t get treated like a dumb tourist too!
On more practical notes, tipping is not a thing but of course, feel free to drop a couple Euros if you loved the service. We did so and it often paid off on a return visit with extra food, treats or drinks sneaked into our meals. Also, a major one that Bianca from Gigi Guides again alerted me to: don’t touch the produce or wares! Always ask if you can touch or pick up something as it’s considered rude to just manhandle a vendor’s pieces.
As for payment, we found ATM’s available all around, even in small towns. I’d suggest bringing a good chunk of money to kick off the trip with but to not ever travel with too, too much and to take some out incrementally throughout your trip. Quite frankly though, I was able to pay for a lot with credit which is always the easier way for me!
Lastly, the customs might vary depending on your city but your best bet for getting around is to either walk (which is basically all we did) or to order a cab. Depending on the city you’re in, you can look up the major cab companies and order it via their app on your phone. Easy, safe and efficient. We got transfers from and to the airports (flew into Rome, out of Venice) and saved a bit of money doing so, so more on both when we get to the city guides!
Okay I think that’s a good start to kick off literally the most info rich, epic travel series I’ve done yet! I can’t wait to share my #tvobtakesitaly adventures with you over the coming months—stay tuned! And as always, if you have specific requests just mention it in the comments below or shoot me an email!