15 Tips for Traveling in Italy

Umbertide along the Tevere

Umbertide along the Tevere

Even for the experienced traveler, foreign travel can range from ecstatically fun to frustrating to really upsetting. Here are my tips for traveling in Italy that I hope will help you to have a really great time.

Documents

Check your passport today to make sure it is valid at least 6 months beyond your travel date–or you might not be allowed to travel. To prepare for the chance of loss or theft, scan your passport, driver’s license, and credit cards and make photocopies or bring a digital copy.  Leave a copy with someone in the US. Give a copy to your travel mate and bring a paper copy off of your passport so you can loan this copy to hotels instead of giving them original. Hotels often put passports in open boxes at the front desk–easy for anyone to grab. Make sure you have all the phone numbers or website addresses (and passwords) of your credit card companies so you can cancel easily if they are stolen.

Health Abroad

For good information about health insurance while traveling and getting medical help, visit this website. This “Travelers Checklist,” also from the US Department of State, has good information about traveling abroad.

Money

It’s nice to have EUROs before you get to Italy—order them from your bank. Why? I’ve sometimes had to try several ATMs (Bancomat) before finding one that worked. If you have Euros, you won’t get stuck somewhere without cash. About a week before departure, call your credit card companies and banks to tell them where you will be traveling.  There’s lots of discussion right now that US magnetic strip credit cards might not work in Europe—they’re ahead of us, using chip and pin credit cards instead. This year (2014), I got an offer from Wells Fargo to replace my Visa with a chip and pin card–I immediately went for that.  I have read that cash passport cards  (see http://www.travelex.com/US/Products/Cash-Passport/) work every where.  In Italy, many places don’t accept credit cards, so always have cash on hand. Want to look Italian? leave your credit cards in your purse, and pay cash. Bank fees are usually less if you take out larger sums of money at a time, rather than a bunch of small amounts. American Express is no accepted everywhere; Visa is more common.

Attire

In the cities, Italians can be quite dressy, so it’s nice to dress up a bit when visiting a city. Small towns are much more casual, although women frequently wear skirts and dresses.  My advice: bring casual, but nice outfits for touring, and one nice/dressy outfit for the fancy dinner or two out.  Jeans/casual for hanging out. Swimming suit and sun hat. Bring layers, wraps, and light sweaters. Bring an umbrella and raincoat (it may rain a lot or not at all). In September, the weather can vary from cool (60s) to warm (upper 70s/80). Bring walking shoes or sandals. For cooking classes, closed, comfortable shoes are preferred over open toed shoes. An iron is available at the villa where we stay on tours, but they are usually not available in hotels—bring a small spray bottle to dampen clothes before hanging them up—that really gets the wrinkles out.

Valuables

Italy has a (well-deserved) reputation for petty crime—and tourists are often the target. I know—my wallet was stolen on a crowded train and one of my purses was slashed 8 times with a knife while I was touring alone in Rome.  Pacsafe unslashable purses looking temping. . It’s a good idea to keep valuables in a money pouch/belt when in crowded places. Have at least two places where you keep credit cards and cash so that if you get robbed, you’re still okay. Often people work together—someone will distract you (bump into you, ask you questions), while someone picks your pockets.  Don’t exchange money on the street with someone who offers. Do not wear or bring expensive jewelry. The less notice you attract, the better. When you’re not carrying your bag, put it on your lap or wrap it around your legs—it’s easy to grab an unsecured bag left at your feet!

Be On Time

Bring an alarm clock (with new batteries) so you won’t miss a thing. When we travel by mini-bus, we leave on time.

Texting & Calling Home for Free!

Download the Viber app (or something similar, like whatsapp) on your phone BEFORE leaving home. Then when you’re in Italy you can text and call family and friends anywhere in the world for FREE! Be careful about using your US smartphone in Italy–you might come home to a huge bill. If you have an old unlocked smartphone, you can buy and Italian SIM card with an Italian phone number. Two great things about doing that–1). you can call me on my cell phone when you arrive or during the tour, if you need me; 2). all incoming calls are free.

Airline Check-in

In the flurry and rush at the airport, it’s easy to get flustered and forgetful. Remember to carefully inspect the luggage tags the airline attendant gives to you when they take your luggage. Do they have your name on them and the correct destination. Put the tags in a safe place–one that you will remember upon landing. You will probably have two flights to make it to Rome–most airlines will check your luggage through to the final destination.

Luggage & Carry-on

Pack any really important and expensive items, such as prescription medicine and jewelry, in your carry-on.  It’s also a good idea to have toothbrush, etc., one set of clean underwear—just in case your luggage gets lost (mine didn’t make it three times in a row). Your luggage will usually catch up with quickly, but one time mine arrived in Italy three weeks after I returned home! Check your airline for international baggage restrictions–things keep changing. Make sure your carry-on is the correct size and weight (some airlines make you check it if is too heavy). Look at your ID tags every time you travel to make sure they are secure and have the correct information. If you’re shopping for a new suitcase, you might look for one that has a space on the outside for an ID card to be slipped in. Put another ID card inside a pocket of the suitcase along with your itinerary. Don’t lock your suitcase–airport security might pry it open to inspect, and if your luggage is lost on an international flight, it cannot pass through customs and get sent to your destination. Lastly, make it easy to find your suitcase–and make it unique so someone else doesn’t grab it. Tie a ribbon on the handle or buy a colorful strap that is designed to go around a suitcase. If your luggage doesn’t arrive, immediately report it–there is a chance the baggage clerk might have it. If you’re lucky, you luggage will be sent directly to your hotel that day or the next.

From the Airport

Once you arrive at Fiumicino “Leonardo da Vinci” Airport (Rome), you’ll need to get to Perugia, where we will pick you up for the tour.  I recommend taking the SULGA bus. As you come out of customs at  International Terminal T3, head outside, and then turn right. It’s a short walk to the buses. You’ll see a variety of buses, so if you don’t see SULGA, ask for it.  The bus should arrive a few minutes before scheduled.  You buy tickets on the bus. The price is 22 Euros for a one way ticket. A round-trip that is valid for 30 days costs 36 Euros (prices might change). Tell the driver that you want to get off at Piazza Partigiani.

Here are the translations for the bus schedule:

Orari: hours

Feriale da lunedi’ a sabato compresso: Weekdays from Monday, including Saturday

Domenica e festivi: Sunday and holidays

Here’s the schedule from Fiumincino airport in Rome; and the return from Perugia to the airport.

Travel by Train

Before getting on the train, look around for a wall-mounted machine to stamp your ticket. You could have trouble on-board if you don’t stamp it before boarding. For train information, click here.

Driving in Italy

You won’t need a car on our tours because once you arrive, we take you touring, out to restaurants, and where ever we go or you might need to go (locally). But should you drive some other time, road signs and parking signs can be confusing to American drivers in Italy. Wikipedia has a pretty good round-up of signs here. The US Embassy has some good information on driving in Italy on their website. When I picked up a rental car recently in Italy, I gave them my California driver’s license which they gladly accepted, but on the rental information I had gotten ahead they said I needed an international license. So, just in case, I would get one (I will get one). Here’s some great info and links on getting the license. Here’s an interesting article on fines that rental car drivers are racking up. When I arrived in Umbertide after driving from the airport in Rome, I realized how it was that I had seen dozens of signs warning me to watch my speed, yet I didn’t see a speed limit sign until I got to Umbria! I just kept hoping that I wasn’t speeding.

Shopping in Italy

Here again, cash is ideal. Some shopkeepers will offer you a discount (uno sconto) for paying in cash, rather than with a credit card. And some don’t take credit cards. If you buy something heavy such as ceramics, the shop will probably offer shipping.  Don’t be tempted to bring back any cured meats—prosciutto, salami, etc—if you’re caught, it will be confiscated and you might be fined.

Store hours are very different from ours. For example, most stores are closed on Sunday (although more and more big stores are open Sundays). Often stores are closed Monday morning and one afternoon during the week. Stores usually open around 9:30 or 10 am and close around 12:30 or 1 pm, then reopen from 3:30 or 4:00 to 7:30 or 8:00.

You might enjoy my blog post about shopping for matches in Umbria.

Tipping

The price of the meal usually includes service (indicated by servizio incluso or servizio compreso on the menu), which in theory means you don’t need to leave una mancia (tip).  Yet many waiters expect you to leave whatever change is left after paying the bill.  If you spent ninety-five Euros and you pay with a hundred Euro bill, you’d leave the five on the table.  The fancier the place, the more likely the wait staff will expect a tip.  La mancia is not obligatory, but a small tip—a few Euros—is always welcome. A quarter of a euro is acceptable for a bar tip.

Enjoy the Moment

You’re in Italy, so get with it. Italian time is different than US time. When someone says it will be five minutes, they might really mean 45 minutes, or more. Relax—don’t let things upset you.  Delays and the unexpected are all part of travel.  When you’re stuck somewhere, people watch or talk to people.  Meditate, take deep breaths. Make it a fun part of the journey.

Capture the Moment

It’s fun to keep a travel log, or at least write down all the places and things you really loved.  Write your name and email or phone, just in case you lose it, you might get it back. You think you’ll remember, but over time the names and details slip away. And remember that it is likely that your phone or digital camera also captures videos–they can be really fun. If you want to come home with some glorious photos of the trip, sign up for To Umbria’s Photos, Food, & Wine Tour.

Buon viaggio! Have a good trip!

Suzanne