For a lot of us, traveling to new countries can be daunting. Fresh from my trip to Italy, I thought I would put together Italy travel tips for those of you planning a vacation there.
1. If you are staying in airbnbs, most homes will have a washer but won’t have a dryer.
It’s very common to see clothes hung out the window. In our first airbnb in Naples, they actually washed and hung our clothes for us. Don’t expect that kind of service normally. There is usually a towel warmer in the bathrooms which we used to dry the heavier clothes.
2. If you carry a water bottle around with you, it will be easy to refill it.
Most of their fountains are potable and they have random water faucets for people to fill up their water bottle or doggie bowl. If the water isn’t drinkable, there will be a sign to let you know.
3. Not all train doors open automatically.
Unfortunately, we found this out the hard way on our way to Cinque Terre from Sienna. We had to take 3 different trains and a bus to get there. We got up to exit the train and waited for the door to open. It didn’t. There was no one else at our exit. We looked around and couldn’t see any kind of button to push so we rushed to the other end of the train to exit the door we saw others leave from. A family had come on and we had to navigate thru them so by the time we got to the other door, the train had left the platform. We learned the hard way, that the big red handle, that looked like it was an emergency handle, needed to be pulled in order to open the door. Keep in mind that some doors open automatically, some don’t. Some have handles you pull, some have buttons you push and as always, mind the gap when disembarking. Luckily it was a quick trip to the next stop and since our connecting train was late, we didn’t miss it.
4. If you get your food to go, it will be cheaper.
When you sit down in a restaurant, you pay a cover charge “Il coperto”. It’s averages about 3 euro per person. I always like to sit when eating but since tipping is nowhere near as high as it is in the states, it balances out. For tipping, rounding up a euro or two is common, you can always tip more for awesome service. We went to dinner at a place where the bottle of wine the girls ordered was so bad, they didn’t drink it and ordered a different bottle. They didn’t clear the old wine glasses off of our table so we put it on an empty table next to us. When Su went down to the cashier to pay the bill she wanted the bottle of wine removed from our bill. The waiter said the girls drank the wine and came to where we were sitting and grabbed the almost empty bottle of wine. Next thing you know, Su shows up and grabs the full glasses of wine. At the time we had no idea what was going on so imagine our confusion watching Su grab 4 glasses of wine. We didn’t pay for that bottle of wine and the waiters should have cleared the table. He didn’t get a tip.
5. Know how much your taxi costs before you get in.
Always check online (tripadvisor is a great resource) to find out how much you should be paying for your cab ride from the airport to your hotel or airbnb. In Naples, there is a set fee to different areas of the city but if you don’t request it before they turn their meters on, you won’t receive that set fee. I would not have known if I hadn’t looked up the information. When I asked the guy who was working the taxi stand about it, he played dumb as did the taxi driver (even tho he had the zone rates posted in his cab). I called him on it and he charged me correctly. Then he had a lot of problems finding my airbnb and actually had to pull over and go inside and ask directions. I got nervous that I would get the boot but he took me where I needed to go and I gave him a 2 euro tip, we were both happy. I don’t mind tipping, I do mind getting ripped off. We also did this when we were in Vietnam and it saved us a lot of money. Even old posts will at least give you an idea on what you should expect to pay.
6. If you don’t ask for your bill after your meal, they don’t bring it to you.
They leave people to socialize with each other. We literally waited an hour once for our bill. There is no such thing as rushing you out the door. Ask for the bill when you’re ready, or you will be there for a long time.
7. Putting ice in your drink it not the norm.
Some places will have ice, some will not. This is hard for me because I love my drinks ice cold. I’ve gone to restaurants and asked 3 or 4 times for ice. It’s ok if they don’t have it, but sucks when they do and just never bring it to me. Even the McDonald’s we stopped in to use the bathroom didn’t put ice in their soda. I had to ask them to. So don’t expect ice cold drinks often.
8.Don’t expect olive oil with your bread.
Surprisingly, olive oil and balsamic vinegar isn’t served with your bread very often. Only if the restaurant caters towards Americans. When there was olive oil, it was usually pretty amazing.
9. Buy your train ticket at a ticket window whenever possible.
A ticketer will help find the best option for you and answer any questions that you have (same with metro, I always ask what stop I need). Also keep in mind, there might be more than one train line at the station. Check the various lines (there are monitors), there’s usually a price and time difference. Know your options. Don’t forget to get your train ticket validated after you purchase it! If they check your ticket on the train and it’s not validated, you have 2 options. Get off the train and get your ticket validated at the station and catch the next train or pay a fine. Nancy learned this the hard way.
10. Be leery of people offering to help.
They always expect a tip. There were men who offered to take our bags up the staircase at the train station. Next thing you know instead of one man helping us with our bags (there were 2 of us), there were 5 and each one wanted a tip. Since I had 2 bags I gave 2 euro, one per bag. I was happy paying to have them carry my bags but I didn’t like the fact that they wanted to argue for more money. In Venice, people will offer you sunflower seeds so the birds eat out of your hands, it’s not for free. One guy tried to help us buy our train ticket. We didn’t want or need help and had to make him leave us alone. He wanted a tip. So if anyone comes up offering help, just know, it’s not for free. If you have questions, there are people who work at the train station who can answer your questions.
11. Spain isn’t the only country with a siesta.
Technically, it’s not a siesta in Italy but forget about getting any good food between the hours of 2pm and 5 or 6pm. Most restaurants shut down. This really hurt us on travel days. Having not eaten all day, when we arrived in Cinque Terre we asked our hostess where we could go eat. It was around 3pm. She said McDonald’s or the kebab place down the street. We couldn’t find the kebab place so ended up eating gelato and watermelon. In my world, anytime is a good time for gelato but I would have liked a steak as well.
12. Pick a few cities to visit to make the most of your trip.
I went to Naples, Rome, the Tuscan region, Cinque Terre, Milan and Venice and there are still so many places I didn’t see. Don’t try and see it all in one trip. You could spend a year in Italy and still not experience all it has to offer. Choose what is most important to you and see that.
I felt like traveling so much in such a short amount of time kept me from fulling enjoying some of the stops. It would be better with fewer stops, to better enjoy each one. Go when it’s not peak season. We went in August, one of the busiest times of the year. I would have enjoyed it more in Sept when there are less tourists and it’s not quite as hot. Try to balance out the popular tourist destinations with the hidden gems and most importantly, have an amazing time! More posts to come about our time in Italy! With lots more photos! Do you have any other Italy travel tips to add? Would love to hear them!
*A Bonus Tip
Traveling to Italy is also healthy for you! Here is a fantastic article by Positive Health Wellness with 8 reasons why.