A First Timer’s Guide To Italy

May 7, 2016 by  
Filed under Family Travel

A first timer’s guide to Italy.  10 things we did right – or not!

Last week we returned from a fabulous 10 day trip to Italy.  Actually, fabulous is pretty tame.  But unless you had experienced it with us, you wouldn’t understand anyway.  So, I’ll just list some of the things we did right on this first time to the land of Pizza, Pasta, Vespas, and wonderfulness.

  1. We went for more than a week.  In hindsight we should have even stayed longer, but I’m so glad we went with plan b and stayed 10 days instead of 7.  Unless you’re planning to spend the entire time in one town, 7 days just isn’t enough.  Ideally at least one week per area/town is what you need. My husband kept saying “you could spend at least two weeks just here and not see it all”.  He’s right.  
  2. We tried to “live” like Italians while we were there.  I intentionally booked through places like Home Away and Air B&B for Rome and then looked up specific areas of Tuscany and Venice where we’d be experiencing life as a local lives it. This totally made the trip memorable, fun and educational.
  3. We listened to our hosts’ recommendations for eating out.  At each place, our host or apartment owner either left suggestions for places to eat or told us specifically where to find good restaurants.  This is part of living like a local, but particularly in Rome, they’re so tourist centered and try to pull you into all the really touristy restaurants.The people who live there know the best places to eat – trust them.  Not that you’d get a bad meal anywhere.  The couple of places that we went before getting a local list was really good, albeit maybe more expensive.
  4. We participated in what our hosts personally offered.  At our villa in Tuscany (did I mention we stayed in a villa in Tuscany?!) the hosts offered private tours, dinner made by a local chef and cooking lessons.  While a bit pricey, it was worth every penny and more and made the experience so much more rich. Not only did we get some great memories, we feel like we’ve made some new friends with these folks in just 4 days.  We met their children, drank wine with them and walked around their property as friends, not just paying guests.  It was truly a key to our enjoyment of this trip.  Granted, we were prepared to spend the extra money for this bonus, but it was money well spent.
  5. We traveled back home before the weekend.  I purposefully timed our flights so we’d have a full weekend at home before diving back into our normal routine.  We got home late Thursday evening. I did laundry and we did all our unpacking on Friday and still had Saturday to relax and get back to normal, and Sunday with our church family to kick off the new week.  Seriously, I can’t stress this enough.  Travel in a way that you’re not getting home less than 12 hours before you have to be at work the next day.  You’ll be glad you did.
  6. We traveled light.  All four of us had a goal of only bringing carry on luggage for this trip. This meant some creative planning and packing but it worked and it worked really well.  Not only does this save  you the worry of losing things or missing connections with checked luggage, it makes the train travel from town to town go much easier.  And honestly, in Venice, dragging around a huge suitcase would have been terrible.  There are so many little bridges and super narrow and crowded streets to walk through. It would have been exhausting getting back to the train station with a large bag.  Go light!
  7. We napped when we landed.  Um… no, we didn’t do this right at all.  We were so exhausted by the time we got to Rome that all four of us unintentionally napped right when we got to the first apartment. Big mistake.  Not only did we further mess up our body clock, we ended up sleeping way too long the next morning so we had less time for sightseeing.  Do not make our mistake here. Start moving right away when you land in Rome.  Drop your bags, take a quick shower and then head right back out to see some sights and get some food.  Try to make it until 8pm local time at the least (I’m assuming a North American readership here – ignore this if you’re reading from somewhere else!).  Then set an alarm for an early morning and keep moving as much as possible on day two also.
  8. We had middle seats for the return trip.  Yuck. Another fail.  Do anything you can to get an aisle seat for your return trip.  Again, assuming an American readership here, you’ll probably be flying back from Italy and landing back in the states later the same day.  You want to be able to get up easily and move about the cabin on your flight home to stay awake and alert to start your body back to your home time zone.
  9. We parked in long term parking at the airport.  This one can go either way.  If possible, arrange for a personal pick up when you land so you can walk out of customs and into a car to go home.  It’s really hard knowing that you have to still deal with getting your car out of “storage” before you can actually make your way home.  The convenience was nice but it added an additional hour of time to getting home. That’s not so great when you’ve already been up for the last 20 hours or so.
  10. We made memories.  I’m going to type this knowing that probably most people will shake their heads in amazement and ignore me…. like my family did. Don’t feel like you have to take and post pictures on facebook of everything you see as you walk and drive around. Yes, it’s great for the folks back home to see a little of what you’re doing but you know that pictures, especially cell phone shots, can never capture the beauty of what you’re seeing anyway. Soak in the beauty yourself.  Take one picture or two to remind you how beautiful it was but really, try going without a camera once or twice or just keep it in your pocket or purse.  Appreciate the beauty just for what it is and then come home from your trip, plan a great Italian dinner for some close friends and tell them all about it with words.

I could go on and on with my thoughts on Italy in general and our way of doing it that worked, and didn’t work so well.  The best tip?  Just go. Plan a trip to Italy.  It is one of the most beautiful places in the world. The people are friendly, it’s rich in history, the food is fabulous and you will love it.

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