Now that our Italian adventure is at an end, I thought I might share some observations on what I’ve learned that has helped me keep it together while we tromped our way through the land of domani.
Amongst my friends, I seem to have become the resident expert on all things travel – which if you ask Tiffany – is pretty hilarious.
While I enjoy being along for the ride and taking pictures as we go, if not for Tiff’s passion for travel this would be a blog about seclusion and daily puttering. I enjoy writing about our travels, but there are actual bloggers out there who actually write about actual travel. I’m just a poser.
That being said, freakin’ everybody is going to Italy this year, so here’s what I’m telling people in hopes that they’ll have a great experience instead of a lousy one.
Pack Light and Pack Fashionably
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve brought too much stuff with me on trips… oh wait, maybe I can
*counts location tags on the blog*
I’ve been on fifteen overseas trips in the history of funkinaround and fifteen times I’ve brought too much stuff. You need less than you think.
The kicker about Italy is that the locals dress like it’s their civic duty to be beautiful. I felt underdressed and/or frumpy nearly everywhere I went.
Bring versatile clothes, layer, and – especially in Italy – dress like today is the day you’ll meet the love of your life.
Have an idea of what you want to see.
Some Italian cities (Rome and Venice come to mind) have TONS of things to see, and you could easily spend a week in each and not see everything.
Others (Pisa) are one-stop towns, so be absolutely sure you want to blow an entire day or two to see the Leaning Tower.
I would recommend you take this one step further, and if you’re not on a guided tour, plan one major attraction each day. Make sure you see at least that. Whatever else you can fit in is gravy, but sometimes it’s hot or you’re tired and really what your vacation needs is some A/C or a nap.
Also, get an Eyewitness Guide for the places you’re going. Frommer’s and Lonely Planet are information dense to the point of being overwhelming. The Eyewitness Guides have pictures and engaging information, so you might actually use them.
…But Don’t Set Everything in Stone
Sometimes the line at the Colosseum can be unreal. Sometimes, it rains.
Keep your plans as flexible as you can.
If you find a restaurant and they’re giving you terrible service, leave and find another one. If your hotel is disappointing, find another one. If the attraction you want to see is packed, save it for another day.
Use Other Tourists to Your Advantage
I promise you, anyone visiting Italy with a dad will be up and out the door by 7am, and waiting in line for something by 7:30.
Have a cappuccino and a corneto or a raviola.
Go see something once all those tourists are hot and tired and cranky, and you just might be surprised how much easier your trip is.
Use the Locals to Your Advantage
This might be hard to plan ahead of time, but one thing we learned in Sicily is that riposo (the afternoon nap where everything closes and everyone goes home for lunch for four hours) is a great time to reposition yourself. Frequently we would plan on seeing one city in the morning, then drive to another city over riposo and catch the second town once everything had reopened in the evening.
Italians (Like Almost Everyone Else) Are Racist and Sexist
If you look Italian, you’ll be treated almost like family. If you speak Italian well, you’ll be treated almost like family.
If you do neither, it’s possible you’ll run into some subtle issues. You won’t get harassed, you won’t get yelled at, but you might get passed over for a table. If you’re a woman, you’ll probably get whistled at.
Don’t sweat it. The world is a big, crazy, place.
Be a Good Steward of the (American) Brand
You’re not in America. Don’t be a douchebag.
Most people get this. The Italians are an immensely proud people, as they should be!
In many countries the locals are thrilled that an American – who can afford to go anywhere in the world – would choose to come to their country.
Knowing that, give us a good name. Be cordial, smile, remember your per favore and grazie, and most of all be patient. Many things don’t work there like they do in the US, and you’re the alien this time around.
It’s Okay to Spend a Little Money
I always laugh when people refuse to spend $7 for a cocktail on the plane. You wouldn’t expect a bar to give you a free cocktail, would you? If that’s what it’s going to take to raise your happiness level, then just buy it.
Likewise, if you’re far from your hotel and it’s hot and you’re tired and it’s a long walk, please, please just hire a taxi.
Also, please tip the accordion players. They’re not employed by the tourism board, and (if they’re good), they’re a big part of that ambiance that makes you say things like “Ahhh, Venice”.
Italy is not like Epcot.
Some cities – like Naples – have problems with pickpocketing. Keep your valuables closely guarded, and leave your car totally empty. If there’s a “parking man”, give him a euro when you park and he’ll “protect” your car from theft or vandalism.
If a situation ever feels wrong or suspicious, just back out.
Also, ladies, Italian men can be rather persistent, but a firm ‘No’ will translate in Italian just fine.
Italians don’t use Yelp, and neither should you. It’ll lead you to tourist traps. Instead, follow your nose, or ask your concierge where to eat. Try something unusual.
Those cured meats and smoked fish served at breakfast in the hotel buffet? They’re all amazing. That and a cappuccino and you’re already half Italian.
Take up smoking and you’ve mastered the other half.
Don’t be afraid to plan a day trip around renting a car and exploring the hinterland. Driving is pure insanity in Southern Italy, and you’ll never forget it.
When my mom came to visit us back in 2012, she made it a specific goal to drive in Sicily, even if only for a few kilometers. She did just fine, and all her lady friends back home were blown away that she’d done it. She was a local hero.
Most Importantly, Have Fun!
You’re on vacation! In Italy! Take lots of pictures, do all the cliche tourist things (there’s a reason why they’re so popular), and just enjoy the fact that you’re someplace weird and wonderful!