Everyone has questions before their first trip to Italy. After you finally decide on your itinerary, it’s time to plan for the nitty-gritty of travel. That is, all those seemingly small questions that are oh-so-important for a smooth travel. Read on to find out what to pack, when to come and how to get around.
What should I pack?
Pack just a carry-on! Whether you’re coming for one week or one month, you’ll be fine with just one carry-on. Though it can seem daunting, I promise it’s doable. Here’s a quick rundown:
Summer: 1 swimsuit, 1 pair of nice sandals, 1 pair of walking or running shoes to sight-see in (and maybe run!), 1 pair of pants or jeans for the flight and chilly evenings, a pair of shorts, 3 t-shirts, one nice top, a cover up for the flight and chilly evenings, 1 pair of pyjamas, 1 bra and enough undies for a week! A clear bag of regulation-sized toiletries (see carry-on notes below) and an adapter
Winter: 1 winter coat 1 pair of ankle boots or cold-weather shoes, 1 pair of walking or running shoes to sight-see in (and maybe run!), 1 pair of jeans, 3 undershirts, 2 long-sleeved shirts, one nice top, 1 nice cover up for the nice top and fancy dinners, 1 nice and warm sweatshirt, 1 pair of pyjamas, 1 bra and enough undies for a week! A clear bag of regulation-sized toiletries (see carry-on notes below) and an adapter.
The undershirts are an Italian secret that will save your sightseeing in cold weather – wear them underneath your long sleeves and sweatshirts to add an extra layer without the bulk.
Spring and Autumn are a slight variation of the two above, depending on how early or late in the season you’ll be visiting, just replace your winter coat with a light jacket.
What is a converter and do I need one? What about adapters?
A converter will convert the voltage of your electronics up or down, usually from AC to DC when you come abroad. This is used for things like hair dryers, flatirons, and electric shavers. It’s not meant to be used for long periods of time. That said, in my experience the converter far too often explodes my electronics (RIP cheap straightener). Perhaps I used them incorrectly, but it’s also true that you don’t truly need a converter abroad. Hotels have blow dryers and things like phone and laptop chargers have built-in converters.
You are likely to need an adapter though. A plug adapter, this will change allow you to change the prongs of your plug to fit the correct outlet of the country you’re in. So while you’re good to go with that laptop charger voltage-wise, without an adapter you won’t have anywhere to plug it in.
Should I exchange cash at home or in Italy?
Check out your bank fees to decide. If you request to exchange money at home, your bank will most certainly charge a service fee. If you pull money out at an ATM in Italy, you’ll likely have a foreign ATM fee. I know that JP Morgan Chase charges 5 dollars per withdrawal at an international ATM, no matter what the amount is. Others charge a percentage. Airport exchange booths are notorious for giving you bad rates, but sometimes it’s worth it to exchange just enough to get by before you can get to an ATM, which is my preferred method of cash exchange.
Do I need to know Italian?
Of course not! That said, you could know Italian. If you read the blog you’ll know I’m a big fan of language learning, but I also know how difficult it is to learn a language! English is widely spoken but it’s not a given that everyone in the country knows it. Lucky for you, Italians in big and small cities tend to be super patient with non-Italian speakers and more than warm. Learn a couple words before you go to make friends easier. After all, saying grazie with a big smile will get you a long way.
What’s the weather like in [insert here]?
Italy is a temperate climate in the north and a warm Mediterranean climate in the south. While Sicily enjoys such a mild winter climate that a New Year’s Day dip in the sea is normal, summer temperatures are scorching. And though a hike through the Dolomites in the summer provides pleasant mountain temperatures, in the winter the trails are replaced by ski slopes. So if you’re traveling from north to south, wear layers and shed them as you go. Also, consider the extreme heat of August in Rome or the humid cold in Milan when you make your itineraries.
What are my accommodation options?
Your accommodation options in Italy are the same elsewhere: anything from camping to five-star hotels. There are a couple of things to keep in mind when booking though. For example, in major cities, hotels can add a star if they’re within a certain distance of a major landmark. So that three star hotel in Piazza del Duomo? It’s actually a two-star structure, with an added star for location. Also, Italy has a tasso di soggiorno or a sleeping tax. Though it varies from city to city, it’s usually anywhere from one euro to 3 euro’s per person per night, on top of your hotel bill.
Of course Italy has thousands of hotels, but it also has incredible B&B’s and, most notable, agriturismi. An agriturismo is a combination of the words agricoltura (agriculture) and turismo (tourism). Known as a farm-stay, these are essentially farms that are equipped to received guests. A true agriturismo must offer food or wine only produced on site, giving them a high reputation for food. In fact, you don’t need to stay here to visit – even a stop for lunch or dinner is well worth it! Here you’re usually a bit off-the-beaten-path, but there’s no better way to enjoy the local food, get to know Italians and relax in the Italian countryside. Find one with a pool and you’ll never have to leave!
What’s the best way to get around?
The best way to get around completely depends on personal preference and you’re itinerary. If you’re only traveling to major cities or you’re short on time, train travel is the best for you. Parking is nearly impossible to find in Italy’s big cities and expensive when you do find it. If you’d like to explore the countryside or take an Italian road trip, you’ll definitely want to rent a car. Just keep in mind that there are fewer automatic cars available at car rental places and they’ll likely cost more. Also, be prepared for the toll roads!
What do I need to know about driving in Italy?
If you do decide to drive, there are few things to know beforehand. Most of the signs in Italy are quite self explanatory. Arrows mean that way, red X’s mean no, and so on. Other signs are impossible to understand unless you’re Italian, speak Italian or have studied the Italian road laws.
One of the most difficult aspects of driving in Italy is parking in Italy. It can be difficult to find and when you do, it’s often pay parking. If you park within blue lines, it means you have to pay. A sign with two hammers criss-crossing means only on work days do you have to pay, otherwise you’ll have to even on weekends. White lines are free and yellow lines are reserved for residents only, so don’t park there or else you might be towed!
Speaking of paying, Italian autostrade or highways, are all toll roads. Be prepared on your trip with coins and bills so you can pay the toll as you go. You can calculate the cost for different routes here.
Can I use my phone there?
These are your immediate calling options:
2. You unlock your phone and buy an Italian SIM card once in Italy.3. You purchase some sort of plan with your American carrier before you leave that allows international calling. Italy’s country area code is 039. The United State’s country area code is 001.
Be careful though, some companies like Verizon don’t even allow your phone to make calls while abroad unless you unlock the option ahead of time!
Most use their smartphone abroad only when they have wifi. Italy hasn’t really gotten on that whole “free wifi everywhere” thing yet, but it’s growing. Until then, hotels are your best bet. When you have wifi you can text or call people via WhatsApp or another international messaging service.
Otherwise, you can easily buy a SIM cards at any of the major Italian carriers once here in Italy. For example, TIM has a specific offer for tourists: for 20 euro you’ll get 100 minutes within Italy and abroad and 4GB data for 30 days. Be sure to bring a charger and an adaptor though!
Can you explain the customs and immigration?
Customs and Immigration is a little bit different in every country. In Italy it’s a breeze. When you get off the plane in Milan (or Rome, Venice or wherever) you’ll follow the crowds to the Immigration checkpoint. You’ll stand in line until it’s your turn, then they’ll call you up and look at you and your passport, stamp it and let you through. After you get your bags you’ll walk through the doors where there are signs of “something to declare” and “nothing to declare”. Most often you won’t have anything to declare and you can walk on through the doors and out into the city to explore!
And finally, a note about carry-ons through security:
Prep your carry on before you get to the airport to be efficient and have a much less stressful security experience.
This is how it works: You need all your liquids in a clear ziplock bag. Each item must be 4 ounces (100ml) or less. Gels like toothpaste or deodorant count as liquids. When you go up to security, pull that shit out ahead of time so you’re ready. If you only pack a carry-on when you travel your whole life will be simpler except that you’re restricted on these things (for example, you can’t bring a razor or huge face-wash bottles etc.)