Tuesday, April 29, 2014

6 Tips to Traveling Around Italy

Written by guest author: Mary Kremer

As an undergrad, I visited Italy twice. Once to study there for a semester, and then again over the summer to complete an internship. I loved loved loved my time in Italy, and I’ve spent a lot of time since then trying to figure out how to go back. I even spent most of my undergrad as a recruiter for my university’s study abroad programs in Italy. So, I’m used to fielding a lot of questions about traveling in Italy.

For those of you looking to travel to Italy (or Europe), here are some tips to keep in mind. As a heads up, most of these tips have to deal with money. That seems to be a big concern for every traveler.
Tip #1: Pack Light
Many people don’t believe it when I tell them I lived off a travel-sized suitcase for four months in Italy. But it’s true. I even had enough room in that suitcase to pack an extra bag to fill with souvenirs. Traveling light is the best way to travel. As you’re moving around from city to city, you’ll want to be able to carry everything with no trouble. If you can pack everything you need in a backpack, do it. You’ll love being able to spend time wandering the Italian countryside without having to worry about dragging your suitcase along with you.

Tip #2: Live in Layers
Because Italy is a humid country, it can be nippy in the morning and really hot in the afternoon. That’s why it’s important to pack layers. My travel-sized suitcase consisted of four shirts, two cardigans, two pants, a dress, a pair of sandals and a pair of sneakers, and lots and lots of underwear. Everything I brought could be worn with everything else. With just a few items, I achieved a pretty versatile wardrobe that I could peel off as the day got warmer.

Tip #3: Buy it There
Don’t worry, the Italians have shampoo. In fact, they have many of the same brands we have in the U.S. Pack travel-sized toiletries and worry about finding the rest of your needs in an Italian store. Not only will you be saving on suitcase space, you’ll also have the chance to wander into an Italian grocery store and figure out how it all works.

The same goes for any blow dryers or flat irons you may have. If you seriously doubt you can live without one overseas, then buy one in Italy. Not only are the outlets in Italy shaped differently, but the amount of electricity coming out of them is also different. Even if you use an adapter, your appliances might not last through the trip. So splurge a little, and buy your major appliances once you get there.

Tip #4: Money, Money, Money
Okay, here are all my money-related tips, all at once. Get ready.
  • Before you travel, make sure you let your bank know where you will be and for what length of time. This tip is the most important. If you forget and jet off to Italy, your account will be flagged after your first overseas transaction and you’ll likely have to spend a day or two sorting it out with your bank. Not fun.
  • Have cash on you when you arrive, just in case something goes wrong. You can exchange currency at your bank. I wouldn’t exchange it in the airport, as it will be much more expensive to do it there.
  • Check with you bank beforehand to find out if there will be any extra charges for using your card in another country. Some banks charge a fee every time you use your card, so you may want to withdraw money only once every few weeks you’re there. However, if there is no extra charge, you can use your card at most restaurants and stores in Italy. Just don’t use it in any open markets.
  • When you need to withdraw money, try to pick an ATM that is near a bank entrance or even inside the bank’s lobby. That way, if there are any problems, you can get help right away.
  • To find the current exchange rate between euro and American dollars, you can do a quick internet search. It’s always helpful to travel when the exchange rate is in your favor. As I am writing this article, the current exchange rate between the euro and the USD is 1:73. That means that one American dollar is only worth .73 euros. Not a great time to travel, because your dollar is worth less.
  • One more tip. When you eat at a restaurant in Italy, they will not split the check for you. So, if you’re eating in a group, plan on having one person pay and splitting up the cost later. Also, you will have to pay for water.

Tip #5: Don’t be afraid to ask the locals

Lots of Italians speak English, and even if they don’t, you’ll be surprised at how well you can communicate without spoken word. Ask for advice on places to visit, restaurants to eat at, and any local events that might be going on. You’ll get a truly authentic experience in Italy if you are willing to go out of your comfort zone.

Tip #6: Stay cautious
Especially on the metro. Just keep it simple. If you’re traveling with a backpack or purse, hold it in front of you so no one can reach into it. Don’t use your credit card in open markets, as your information can easily be stolen. Don’t carry all of your money in one place. And when you’re walking through crowds, don’t get sucked into histrionics. If someone is making a scene, just steer clear. A common scam involves one person causing a disturbance so another person can pick the pockets of everyone who is watching. Luckily, most tourist spots in Italy are known for petty thefts, not any kind of violent crime. Just stay cautious, and you’ll stay safe.
Traveling and experiencing other cultures is, without a doubt, one of the most rewarding experiences a person can have in his or her lifetime. Take the time to prepare and, more importantly, be willing to learn, and you will have a life-changing experience.
Mary Kremer loves to travel, learn, and write. She is a fan of the Oxford Comma, and currently writes travel advice for Buy Dinar, a company that sells Dinar and other foreign currencies.