You don’t need to know Italian to travel in Italy, but since New Year’s resolutions are all about bettering ourselves and our lives, why not better your travel to Italy with a few words of the local language? Make your trip to Italy in 2015 the trip that you finally go equipped with a few words. Start with the basics (buongiorno, arrivederci, grazie, bagno, quanto costa, uno due tre…you get the idea) or, if you have the basics down, move on. The more you know, the smoother and more inclusive your trip to Italy will be. The mega-busy or gaming lovers can try Duolingo for fun grammar and basic vocabulary words. Or download Pimsleur podcasts to listen to and practice during your commute, workout or any other down time available. There are dozens of resources out there. Make some time in 2015 to put them to use!
Try middle Italy
So you’ve already been to Italy. You’ve seen the major cities, been throughout Tuscany and navigated the high-speed train system. Now it’s time to head inland and see the rest that Italy has to offer. Though less advertised than the north of Italy, central Italy is a green oasis filled with small medieval towns, great food and kind people. In 2014 I finally made it back to Umbria to see more of the spectacular region. We sneaked through tiny Spello, ate our way through Assisi, followed history in Gubbio and fought chocolate hoards for a brief moment in Perugia. The trip only solidified my goals to make it back to central Italy.
I still have Orvieto, Spoleto, Narni and many other towns in Umbria to see, not to mention the beautiful coastline of Le Marche and the hills of Abruzzo. A foodie heaven, the pace and tranquillity of the region will welcome even the most road-worn Italy traveler.
Take your time
Make 2015 the year that you finally give yourself enough time to adequately explore a place. I know we don’t have a lot of vacation days, that the flight is expensive and that each day longer is more money spent. On the other hand, it’s hardly worth the time and money spent if you leave Italy unclear of the country and culture or more tired than before. If you’re unsure what to choose, see “I have two weeks in Italy, what should I see?”
This year, give up some sight-seeing to finally have time to see the sights.
The best travel isn’t about seeing, but about experiencing. Experiencing wholeheartedly the life of another; seeing through their eyes, thinking from their point of view, filtering information through their cultural lens.
Maya Angelou once wrote, “Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.”
While there is a Manifesto to “sign” to make your visit to Italy smoother (no flip flops, no cappuccino after noon, no feeding the pigeons!) the real way to travel consciously is to nurture our sense of empathy, at home and abroad.
One of the best parts of Italy is the food. So come armed with a bit of Italian food knowledge. If you know what you should be eating, you’ll know how to avoid the tourist traps. Trust the house wine, eat the right food in the right location (pesto in Liguria, risotto in Lombardia, papardelle in Tuscany…) and remember that ragù alla bolognese is always eaten with tagliatelle, never spaghetti. Italy has taught me so much about food, cooking, eating and how all those, done right, can add up to a healthy and happy life.
Take Italian food home
After you taste your way through Italy, educating yourself on its food and food culture bite-by-bite, be sure to take that knowledge home with you. Store each new ingredient, new dish or new preparation you learn to reproduce it at home. Better yet, try a cooking class while you’re in Italy to be sure to take your Italian food home. Once you learn the techniques, you can make your favorite meal a mainstay at home.
Don’t go to Costa Rica for that “relaxing” seven-day non-stop yoga retreat to start your fitness routine with the new year. Look to Italy instead. They say that Italians simply no how to live. While some of us go through the motions, Italians are enjoying each step instead. Italians know how to balance their work, love, family and hobbies, often by combining all of the above. Italy isn’t just about eating or museums or churches. Add some action to your vacation and not only will you see a new perspective of the food-loving country, you’ll be able to stay in-line with the classic New Year’s fitness resolution. Try hiking in the mountains between cabins and monasteries or along the coastline, like the stunning hike from Portofino to San Fruttuoso. Go swimming in the summer or skiing in the winter. Italians are typically active year-round, so do like the locals do and get moving.
Maybe the top resolution of 2015 is actually for 2016. The list of places to see in Italy will only grow as you get to know the country more and more. Travelers to Italy will learn that the country isn’t one to just be marked off a list. Rather, it seems to seep in, invading a person’s travel calendar for years to come. You’ve thrown your wish into the Trevi Fountain, so be sure to follow through with your last resolution of the year: to always come back to the Bel Paese.