A Beginner's Guide to Italy (Part 2)

You’ve bought your tickets, your bags are packed, and booked your trains. But now you’ve got to figure out the ins and outs of your trip around Italy. Here are some things to keep in mind.

LODGING

Thankfully for me, the main reason I was able to take this amazing trip was due in part to two of my friends studying abroad. Both had their own apartments which they shared with three other girls and were gracious enough to let me stay there during my time in Rome and Florence. My biggest piece of advice, which I was passed down by some of my friends who were seniors last year, is to go visit your friends while they study abroad. Not only was it amazing to have free places to stay, but to be able to travel with friends and have them show me around their temporary homes was better than anything I could’ve done on my own.

If you don’t have friends in foreign countries, don’t fret! Thanks to modern technology, there’s plenty of ways to still find places to stay for super cheap. The best one of these that I have found is Airbnb. Just remember that certain listings are only for a private bedroom and not an entire apartment. If you are traveling in a large enough group, another great option is to stay in hostels. In this type of lodging, you rent a bed and share a room with others. While this can make your wallet happy, I wouldn’t recommend this option if you are traveling with a lot of stuff because you will be sharing the space with strangers and storage is limited.

Either way, I would research the areas of town that lodging is located in before making a decision on where you want to stay.

GENERAL TIPS

Wi-Fi and Data Usage

If you’re visiting for a short amount of time, there are several options as far as data and phone plans go. My phone company in America has a special travel plan where you can pay $10 for 24 hours of data usage abroad. While this can be helpful if you are unsure of where you are going and often need directions, it can get to be a hefty price for any kind of travel longer than 5-6 days. For this reason, and the fact that most smartphones are almost fully capable while on Wi-Fi, I decided to only use data on the days where I would be taking trains or traveling. Other than that, I used Wi-Fi wherever I could find it – which was fairly easy – and used Whatsapp for any kind of texting or phone calls that I needed to make (although Snapchat and iMessage are other options which work over Wi-Fi).

Pickpocketing

Prior to arriving in Italy, I was lectured by everyone and their brother—including the ones who had never even been outside of America—about how bad the pickpocketing is in Italy. Now, don’t get me wrong, it is something to be aware of during your time abroad, but oftentimes a lot of precautions that tourists take actually make them more susceptible to pickpocketing. Of course, there are the basics: don’t leave things in your back pocket especially your phone, carry a copy of your passport everywhere but leave your actual passport in a safe where you are staying, and don’t use any type of bags that are easily accessible or clear when you are carrying valuables. While I packed a small backpack as well as a cross-body purse, I never used my small backpack. This was for several reasons. First of all, I knew that I would be walking a lot of miles every day that I was there and didn’t want to be carrying lots of items. Secondly, I did not want to have to feel like I needed to carry my backpack on the front of my body: yes, this makes you look like a dumb tourist and yes, people will want to pickpocket you even more for doing this. Finally, the general Italian public dresses in a very elevated manner, and the second you make yourself stand out by wearing a non-fashionable backpack or athletic tennis shoes, you make yourself a target. My best advice is to just be aware. Be aware of when you are in crowded areas and tourist traps, be aware of when people bump into you or get too close to you, and be aware of all the items you are carrying at a given time.

Cameras

Of the 10 days that I was in Italy, I only took my DSLR camera out 3 of those days. I felt that this was more than enough and would recommend taking your nice camera only on the days when you will be exploring a lot of destinations. Other than this, I felt that my phone camera (iPhone XS) was better to have in a lot of situations. Personally, I find it easier to access photos on my camera roll later on rather than having to download them onto my computer, and I also had several problems with memory cards while traveling. It’s also smaller to carry, and I did not have to worry about my camera lens being stolen on the days where I only carried my phone. If you are thinking about taking a DSLR camera, be sure you are really going to use it or else you may regret the added responsibility and packing that comes with taking one.

Language

I personally did not find the language to be a barrier in the slightest. Most people speak at least a little English, except for cab drivers so be aware. Naturally, there are certain phrases that you will pick up on while you’re there – just make sure your pronunciation is good or people will make fun of you. Here are a couple of helpful ones:

            Ciao – hello/goodbye (informal)

            Buonasera – good afternoon/good evening

            Grazie – thank you (pronounce gra-zi-ay)

            Prego – you’re welcome (informal, roll your r’s)

            Si - yes

            No - no

            Scusi/scusa – excuse me (formal/informal)

GOING SOLO

Yes, you can do it! But get ready to plan. Up until about 3 days before my vacation, I was extremely excited for my trip. Then, I was terrified. Let’s be honest, as a 21-year-old girl traveling to a non-English speaking country on the opposite side of the globe, I imagined the absolute worst situations that could have happened. I’m talking a full-on Taken sequel playing through my head. But, in all honesty, I felt safer around most Italian individuals than I do most times walking around in America. The whole process of planning and getting from place to place can be nerve-wracking. But if you carry yourself with confidence while you travel and are aware of your surroundings, it is more than manageable. Also, you get the hang of it pretty quickly. As I mentioned in my first article, I travel around the country pretty often, so if you are unfamiliar with flying and trains, going solo might not be the move for you. If you ever get the chance to visit friends abroad, I would recommend it in a heartbeat.

This trip was one that was once in a lifetime for me, and I am extremely glad that I had saved up enough and decided to take the leap and just go. No matter how much planning, prep, and packing is done, there is nothing that compares to that first sight you see in a place that you’ve been dreaming about going to your whole life.

 

Image source: personal photos