There were instances along the way I wish I would have known before traveling to Italy.
I comprised this list to help others in their planning to visit Italy. I hope these tips help you formulate a memorable vacation and avoid pitfalls along the way.
Prepare a Travel Document with Hotel and Transportation Information
When we got lost, having a travel document with all our vital information on it, allowed us to show someone the paper in order to point us in the right direction. Even if you cannot speak Italian, the people are the friendliest, always willing to help.
TIP: Prepare a one page document of all your travel itinerary. This includes the hotel name, address, phone number along with dates of stay.
I did not have the price recorded on this paper and wished I did. Note the total price of the stay and whether you are paying by cash or credit card. This will allow you to see if you have enough cash or need to withdraw more before reaching your destination.
List the mode of transportation and whether paying by credit card or cash. We ended up using cash more than credit cards, as some places only accept cash. For train travel note the train number and departure times. Having this document on one page, beats going through emails trying to locate your information. We used this paper numerous times during our two weeks.
Having the train schedule on our phone allowed us to know when our stop was approaching and also gave us the BIN/Platform numbers that the train would be departing from. It was nice to have the information at our fingertips.
Take a Cellphone
A cellphone with a data plan is important. We wanted to be able to use a cellphone and internet while abroad. After much investigating, we selected Cellular Abroad to purchase a SIM card for an old iphone which we had unlocked. They were great to work with and we were able to use the phone as soon as we landed in Europe. Our package included cell phone minutes and a data plan. We checked our carrier (AT&T) about using our phone, and the cost would have been astronomical. During our trip we ended up buying more minutes for our phone and had no problems. We thought about buying a SIM card once we arrived in Italy, but did not want to deal with giving them our passports and having issues with the language barrier, if we encountered someone who did not speak English. I would use Cellular Abroad again when we travel out of the country.
TIP: Cellular Abroad has offered my readers a $10 coupon code. Please use the discount code CA8369.
Pack as light as possible. When traveling around Europe, you need to be able to pick up your luggage and carry it up steep stairs, onto trains with a couple of steps, be able to lift the luggage on the racks on the trains, walk along cobblestone streets, through train terminals, onto ferries, etc. Does it really matter if you wear the same outfit a couple of times?
Beware of the Extra Charge When Traveling With Wheeled Luggage
We found that when traveling by bus in Capri, if you have a wheeled bag, you have to pay for another ticket for that luggage in order to bring it on the bus.
If you put luggage in the trunk of a taxi, they charge 2 Euros per bag. I had read about this ahead of time and only put our wheeled bag in the trunk of the car, everything else went on our lap or on the floor in the back seat. Before you get into the taxi, ask the price to your destination. In Capri our driver tried to tell me it would cost 25 Euros. I knew the price for a taxi to my destination was 20 Euros and told him.
On our taxi ride from the Marina in Capri to Anacapri, the taxi driver raced to our destination. As we got close to the drop off point, the taxi driver hit the button on the meter, which increased the ride by 5 Euros. I saw him do it and called him on it. He then tried to tell me it was extra for the luggage, since I had two pieces. I told him that it was 2 Euros for the bag in the trunk and 20 Euros for the ride. The duffle bag was on my lap inside the car. He was not happy, that I called him on it, as we were at the bus station in Anacapri and there were others around hearing our conversation. He dropped us off at the bus station as he could not drive us to the place we were staying (which we knew ahead of time) but as a courtesy he could have directed us where the place was. He just wanted to get back to the Marina for another paying passenger. It turned us off from using taxis in Capri. After that experience, we either walked or used the buses.
Pets on Trains
Animals are allowed on the trains. If you have pet allergies, make sure you have medication with you. J is allergic to cats. On our train ride from Milan to Cinque Terre, a woman brought a cat in a carrier and had an assigned seat next to J. We were enclosed in a compartment with six people in this small space for several hours. He took his medication immediately and had no problems. It would have been a miserable train ride if he had an allergic reaction to the cat.
Taking the Train
Arrive at the train station early. This will allow you to find out which BIN/Platform the train will be leaving from. Go to the platform and wait for the train. Walk about halfway down the platform as these trains are very long. Get on the right coach. If you have assigned seats, know which coach number to get on. The coach number is listed on the car. These trains for the most part leave on time. Plan accordingly or you will miss your train.
If you don’t have assigned seats, select seats near the exit and get your things together before the train arrives. Walk to the exit and wait. The doors do not automatically open. Once the car stops, there is a green button to push which will open the door. You do not want to miss your stop. There will be people waiting to get on the train. Sometimes they do not wait for everyone to exit and start entering the train. This is a problem if you have a lot of luggage to get off the train.
Validate train tickets before you get on the train. Every train we rode, except the train to the airport in Rome, there was a conductor on board checking tickets. If you do not have a validated ticket, or are on the wrong train, you will be fined. If you purchased your ticket on line, bring a copy of this ticket, you will not need to validate. There is a bar code on the ticket the conductor scans. Keep tickets out until after the conductor comes through and checks your ticket.
Buy Regional train tickets several months out. The price increases the closer to your date of travel. If the ticket price is the same for first class and coach, purchase the first class ticket. Otherwise just purchase the coach ticket. We rode both trains and did not see any value in first class ticket. Save your money.
Traveling by Ferry
Have a backup plan for the ferry. Ferry travel is dependent on the weather. If it rains, or there are rough seas, the ferries do not run. We encountered this one day in Cinque Terre, it was sunny out, but the sea was too rough for the boats, so we could not take the ferry up the coast that day. We ended up taking the train. Another day it rained and the ferry did not run, we took the train and then a bus to our destination. Know alternative routes.
Purchasing the Bus Ticket for the Local Bus
In the different towns we visited, you can purchase bus tickets from the Tabacchi Store, as not all buses sell tickets on the bus. You can buy bus tickets in advance as they are not valid until you validate them on the bus. The Tabacchi stores only accept cash.
As soon as you get on the bus, stamp your ticket in the machine to validate.
Send Confirmation Emails a Couple of Days Before You Arrive
Set up draft confirmation emails to all your hotels, confirming your arrival and departure dates. We would send an email a day or two in advance of our arrival. Most of our hotels were booked nine months in advance. This assured us that we had a place to stay and let the hotel know an approximate arrival time.
Discount When Paying With Cash
Some hotels offer a discount if you pay by cash. Know how much the savings would be to determine if it is worth getting more money out of the ATM.
Items to Pack
Not all places provided hair dryers, soap, or shampoo. None of the hotels in Italy provide wash cloths. I always carry soap and shampoo, and just let my hair dry naturally. If I came during cold weather, I might have to carry a hair dryer or wash my hair at night and let it dry.
Take clothes that dry fast. For the most part, we washed clothes in the sink every couple of days. Some of the places provided clothesline and clothes pins. Others had a line in the shower, and two of the places, I used my clothes line I bought from Amazon. The clothes were dry by morning, allowing me to pack less clothes. Pack shirts that are light weight and dry quickly. The clothes that wick sweat away from the body will dry fast. You can find all types of travel clothes on-line. I just ordered quick drying sock for our next trip. I found the cotton socks did not dry overnight. I was glad we packed 3 pairs.
Pack water bottles, or buy a bottle of water and reuse the bottle. They have watering spigets throughout Italy to refill your bottle. These fountains provide cold and refreshing water to fill up our water bottles as we were walking around exploring each new place.
TIP: Bring crystal light drink packs to add to your water for a change. This really hit the spot when you get tired of drinking water.
Purchase Local Fruit
Buy fresh produce from the truck selling produce along the road. This was the best fruit that we purchased on our trip. It was so fresh and cheap. When I purchased two bunches of grapes, he threw in an extra bunch all for only 2 Euros.
Go To the Grocery Store
Go to the local grocery store to stock up on supplies. We purchased our breakfast supplies, wine and snacks from the local grocery store.
It was really nice to start our day by eating on the balcony and enjoying the view. The grocery stores also make wonderful homemade sandwiches and pasta. In Positano we went back several times for these tomato and cheese sandwiches during our stay. They were only 3.50 Euros per sandwich. They were very tasty. Those tomatoes were so fresh, and the mozzarella cheese was delicious. I have never eaten a cheese and tomato sandwich before, but now I will have to recreate this.
Carry snacks in a back pack. I brought peanuts and granola bars from home, and picked up other supplies at the grocery store. This hit the spot when we were hiking or on long train rides.
Have change with you as there is a charge to use public restrooms in Italy. The public toilets do not have seats on them. Carry hand sanitizer and tissues as the bathrooms do not always have dryers that work, hand towels or toilet paper.
Plan to Walk
Finally be prepared to do lots of walking. We averaged ten miles per day during this trip. I wear a fit bit and tracked my daily steps. You really don’t realize how much you are walking. The only way to see Italy is to walk. Get out and enjoy this gorgeous country.
I hope the Lessons Learned On Our 2 Week Trip Italy will help others in their travels.