Here are some of my helpful tips for traveling to Italy.
Last week, we returned from a trip of a lifetime to Italy. Jimmy and I celebrated our 15 year anniversary back in February and decided a big trip was in order. He also turned 40 in January so we thought it was fitting that we finally took a big vacation sans the kids. The trip was an unforgettable one especially since we went with 2 other close married couples. I really wanted to document the trip so that I could look back on the memories but I also wanted to share some fun and helpful tips with you in case you are thinking of traveling to Italy. This will be a 3 part series covering the 3 cities we visited which were Rome, Florence and Venice. First up, ROME!
We wanted to go somewhere for our 10 year anniversary but I got pregnant with Emmy that year and so we had to forgo a big trip. Now that our kids are a bit older, we finally feel the freedom to travel and feel incredibly blessed because we also have family nearby that can care for our kids while we are away. I was a bit anxious leaving the kids but we’re so glad we did it. I took my friend Jennifer’s great idea and left a treasure hunt for the kids so that they could find gifts that we had left in hidden places inside the home.
Tip 1: Use a good travel agency
My friend, Jennifer is awesome when it comes to organizing and anything admin related. Me? Not so much. Like I’m the total opposite. She already had a travel agent and so we booked our travel through her and used a company called Monograms. This isn’t sponsored but I would highly recommend them. When you’re vacationing in places like Europe, you don’t want to spend time doing logistical things there like figuring out train tickets and how to get to the hotels from the airport. To me vacationing is better because all of those important details are taken care of by someone else.
Holy cow. I can not say more about this company because they literally organized every single detail for this trip including all the connections from the airport and train station. You can tailor it to how many tours you want to do, extra excursions and how many stars you want your hotel to have. I literally thought of nothing before my trip except what to pack. One of my favorite parts is that they handled all of our baggage so that we didn’t have to lug it around. They would just show up in our hotel rooms after we arrived in each city.
Tip 2: Pack tennis shoes
Yeah, we all wanna look cute when we’re in Europe. You know what’s not cute? Blisters, bunions and other painful foot ailments from wearing the wrong shoes. I packed two pairs of tennis shoes and I basically wore them every day. We walked anywhere from 15,000-20,000 steps a day so our feet were super tired by the end of the day. Maybe we’re not so laid back because we basically did a boot camp of Italy. HA! I think we all wanted to see and taste as much of Italy as possible. I wore my favorite black Nike tennis shoes and they pack well since they are flexible.
Tip 3: Pack Melatonin
We caught a red eye flight to Rome so when we arrived at 9:30AM, we came off the airplane tired from very little sleep but on an adrenaline high. Somehow, we had to stay awake all day so we could sleep at the appropriate time at night. Melatonin helped me a few nights when I couldn’t get tired quick enough and it really helped with the jet lag. Also, drink the Italian coffee. Sooo good and you’ll need that jolt of caffeine!
Tip 4: Find the best local digs
Eat all the pasta! Jimmy was Mr Google on the trip so he found great little restaurants with awesome reviews and was always navigating us through all the streets and allies. If it’s super busy and the locals eat there, that’s a really good sign.
If you end up trying this pasta place, there is a pizza place on the right of this restaurant and OMG, it’s delizioso!
I can’t remember the name and honestly it didn’t even look tasty. BUT it was one of the best pizzas I’ve ever had. It had a crispy crunchy crust and a soft, cheesy center. OMG, I’M NOT DROOLING, YOU’RE DROOLING!
The pizza place is right behind us!
Tip 5: When in doubt, eat gelato again
Normally when we are home, we eat pretty healthy and don’t indulge in a lot of carbs. BUT when you’re on vacation, you MUST eat all the things. We ate gelato every single day and had no regrets about it. I recommend trying a new flavor each time. Some gelato places don’t let you sample but no worries, you’ll be fine. Just get two scoops if you’re worried! Ha!
Tip 6: Go with your friends!
I love traveling with Jimmy but we really had the best time with our friends on this trip. Another couple had their 15th anniversary and so we had a lot to celebrate. Along the lines of this tip if you do travel with friends, make sure you’ve traveled with them before. Just because you are good friends does not mean you should travel together! Thankfully, we all have the same vacation styles and are super laid back so we had the best time.
Tip 7: Get lost in the city
Just walk and walk without an agenda. These are the times you’ll likely run into a great little shop, cafe or something unexpected!
Tip 8: Wear a fanny pack
Yah, I know. So dorky! But guess who’s a bigger dork? One who gets pick pocketed! JK. Tourists get pick pocketed all the time in Europe so it’s no joke. It’s always better to be safe and take caution especially where there are crowds of people. Jimmy wore a flat fanny pack and we kept our passports in our hotel room safe.
Tip 9: Learn about the history and ancient buildings
The Pantheon was a former Roman temple that’s now a church. This building is over 2000 years old and it’s still one of the best preserved ancient Roman buildings. It’s one thing to learn about and see these buildings in books and on tv but to actually witness it in person is just phenomenal. I can not remember how many times my mind was just in awe of what I saw. Humans are truly incredible in what they can do.
People, those are granite columns! The Romans truly knew architecture, art and design. Hmm, how can I get a set of those for my house but in a smaller scale…
There are a TON of tourists in Italy.
Tip 10: Margherita pizza is really just cheese pizza.
I was super excited to try some really good Margherita pizza only to find out it was just plain cheese pizza. Booo
Tip 11: Dine al fresco
We experienced really wonderful weather in Italy so we dined outside whenever possible. One of the things I don’t miss is all the second hand smoke. It feels like everyone and their mom smokes. You just have to deal with the smoke everywhere you go. I remember this from studying abroad 20 years ago and it’s still the same now.
Tip 12: Get a temporary international plan on your phone
If you have T-Mobile, you will have international access when it comes to internet, face time and text messages. If you don’t have T-mobile, you can buy temporary international access. This came in handy so we could keep in contact with our kids and caregivers. I also had to do a little bit of work so it came in handy.
Tip 13: Eat a good breakfast
We decided to upgrade our hotels while in Italy and it was totally worth it. Our hotel in Rome had the most amazing breakfast with all sorts of yummy croissants. I wish I took a photo of the epic buffet. Instead, I was busy stuffing my face. You want to eat a hefty breakfast with all the walking that’s done throughout the day.
In Rome, we stayed in the NH Collection Giustiniano hotel and we loved it.
Tip 14: Take a tour of the Vatican and the Colosseum
The great thing about our travel itinerary was that we scheduled a group tour for one morning in each city. The rest of the time was just free for us to do whatever we chose. I thought this was a great mix because we were able to experience and learn about some of these ancient buildings and still have enough time to see the city on our own.
You can’t take photos inside the Sistene Chapel so I took photos of photos inside the Vatican museum.
This was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. Pictures do no justice. The size and magnitude and the intricate detail to this art is something that is just unmatched.
Inside the Vatican museum and look at all this gold! Okay, I’m convinced humans used to have wings because how on earth is this even possible?
St Peter’s Basilica is in the Vatican City and the largest church in the world.
Since we didn’t have time for Pisa, I had to improvise with a souvenir. 😀
Time for a cappuccino break!
Inside the colosseum where there used to be wooden floor. Now, you can see where they used to keep prisoners and wild animals. All of a sudden, I want to watch Gladiator again. This is the largest amphitheater ever built.
Isn’t that just incredible?
Tip 15: Eat the seafood
This was one of my favorite pastas in Italy. When you’re in Italy, you MUST have pasta, pizza, seafood, gelato and coffee. Just don’t order Margherita pizza.
Tip 16: You can omit the pan but definitely order the house wine.
Most restaurants in Italy have a coperto (service) and pan (bread) charge. The bread is always on the table but you can tell them you don’t want it. We didn’t figure this out till later and usually my husband would eat it so…. I rarely drink because I don’t like the taste of alcohol but we always ordered the house wine and it was actually pretty good! We would order a bottle and share it during our dinner as we sat al fresco. You also have to order bottles of water since they don’t serve tap.
We went back to get that pizza again from the first day in Rome. I think this was either second lunch or first dinner.
And of course, gelato. It drizzled only one day while we were in Italy so this lightweight jacket came in handy.
Tip 17: Bring a carry on and pack another bag in your suitcase.
We all decided to just bring a backpack and carry on so we wouldn’t have to deal with the chance of losing our luggage. Since we had a short connection, we didn’t want to risk our suitcase not making it. I do recommend packing an extra duffle bag so you can check in a bag. You will definitely be coming back with a bunch of goodies and gifts. I bought this one and it worked great.
Tip 18: Wear comfortable clothes and pack layers.
I used these packing cubes and they are great for separating and organizing. I rolled each item and placed them into these cubes.
Tip 19: Just get your Euros in the airport when you land
Instead of trying to get Euros in the US, we decided to just get them in the Rome airport. Each couple got about 400-500 Euros and that was enough for the whole trip. Many places accept Visa so we used our credit card. If you have any remaining Euros, just use them in the airport to buy last minute gifts in the duty free stores.
Tip 20: Get your VAT tax!
All countries in the European Union have what is called a VAT tax. If you’re not European, you are eligible to receive the tax back after certain purchases. The standard VAT tax rate is 22%. If you make a minimum purchase in a store of 154.95 EUR then you are qualified to get the tax returned. It’s a bit of a hassle but it’s definitely worth it in my opinion. You will usually receive a receipt at the store and they will need your passport or a photo of your passport from your phone.
You take that receipt to the tax office and you should be able to receive the money back immediately. You can also do this in the airport. It’s pretty easy and painless so if you purchase anything above that amount, just remember to get your money back in the airport when you leave the country.
OKAY that was a lot more info or tips than I originally planned on sharing! It sure made me happy looking through these photos though. If you are thinking about going to Italy, I highly recommend it! It is a beautiful country rich with history, culture, art, cuisine and so much more. I’ll be back next week with part 2: Florence!
Let all that you do be done in Love. 1 Corinthians 16:14
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