Traveling in Italy

We loved Italy.  So much so that we went back four years in a row.

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Everyone has different tastes and every place has a good night or week and a bad one.  I may love a meal  only to return the following week and think it sucks.  The service at a place may be great and the following season the new staff sucks.  I make no guarantees that you'll like what I like.  

What this is and what it isn't:

This isn't a tour guide.  If you're looking for travel advice or historical background, go no further than this page. There are plenty of books and web-pages that'll provide hours of reading and fascinating historical facts.  But if you're interested in reading travel tips that you may not find elsewhere, enjoy!

Now onto the tips....

Before your trip:

  • One Word: E-Ticket!  Don't get paper tickets unless you have to!

  • You used to get the best exchange rate by using your credit card instead of cash.  Not any more!  Many financial institutions have begun the practice of adding a "per transaction fee" on top of the cut they're getting for the foreign exchange, so you could wind up paying $1.00 or more each time you charge something or use your ATM card.  Check with your bank and see if they charge a foreign exchange per transaction fee and how much it is.  Call twice to verify what they tell you.

  • Xerox or scan your passport and give a copy to someone at home.  They'll be able to fax or email it to you if you lose yours.  Take a copy with you and keep it in your suitcase.  You won't find this tip anywhere else! (YWFTTAE!)

  • Make sure your ATM pin is a four digits and know the what the numbers are - not the four letter acronym!  European ATMs only accept four digits and many of them don't have the three letter codes on top of each key. YWFTTAE!

  • Travel light.  One suitcase of clothes should be enough.  Two max!!

  • Bring your own soap and shampoo.  You may not like what the hotel provides.  If you're very sensitive, you may even want to pack a roll of toilet paper.  You can always toss it if you don't need it.  Also note that the mineral content in water differs from city to city, so when you take a shower you may not lather up the way you're used to at home. YWFTTAE!

  • Find out if your medical insurance covers accidents abroad and what you should do if something happens.

  • Read up on food, etc...  Learn what things are called.  Sometimes the menus will only be in Italian.

  • Our favorite guidebook is the Eyewitness Travel Guide to Rome.  The maps alone are worth it.

While there:

  • Dinner reservations are a must!  Make them early in the day!

  • Have wine every night!

  • Don't be cheap!  Enjoy.  Spend.  Pay it off later!

  • Take 100s of pictures.  This is where having a good digital camera and lots of RAM comes into play.  Pictures are man's means of reawakening our memories.

  • Make use of the safe that many hotel rooms provide.  I always do and I've never had an issue.  It beats carrying around tickets and things.  The housekeeping staff does not have a means of opening it but the front desk does.

  • You will have to hand over your passport when you check into the hotel - but you can get it back an hour or two later.  Keep it with you at all times.  It's your guarantee home and it's your only real means of identification.

  • I recommend that you don't walk around with tons of stuff, like three cameras, a camcorder, batteries, an umbrella, guidebooks, etc... You're going to ruin your own trip by having to carry too much stuff everywhere.  Why carry around 10 lbs. of stuff when a 10 oz. digital camera will do?   If you have to carry a lot of equipment, use a  backpack.

  • If you go on a shopping spree - buy extra luggage while there to take it all home.  YWFTTAE!

  • When you order gelato or coffee or whatever, you pay for it first, get a receipt, and then hand that to the server.  YWFTTAE! Well, you might find this tip elsewhere.

  • Always have a bottle of water with you at night in case you get thirsty.   YWFTTAE!

What to take

  • A digital camera
    Buy a lot of RAM - have at least 512Megs!  At 4 mega-pixels, that'll be 300 shots!  At 3 megapixles, you have room for something like 500 pictures! 

    Many of the photos here were taken with a dinky 2 mega-pixel camera and they look great!  14 rolls of film (at 36 prints per roll you get 504 pictures) would cost you more than the price of extra RAM. 

    If you have an iPod, you can get something like the Belkin Digital Camera Link - but make sure you get the right model for your make of iPod. And if your camera uses rechargeable batteries, you may need to take an electrical converter as well.  See "an electrical plug adaptor" below. 

    Dudes - leave the laptop at home.  Learn some patience and wait until you get home to look at your photos.  "But William," you cry.  "I want to review my pictures and decide which ones to delete." My response?  Buy more RAM and Get a life!  If you have to take your laptop with you - you aren't on vacation!  I don't care what silly rational you have. Unless you're savings lives over email, you can wait.  Besides there are a zillion internet cafes all through Italy. If you do bring your laptop, you might as well stay home and watch the travel channel.

    While we're on the subject of photos, ask yourself, "Am I on this trip to take photos or to experience new surroundings?"  Do you want to spend more time looking though a viewfinder or through your eyes?  Look at the sites around you and photograph them for your memories.  Don't spend the trip looking through a viewfinder framing the right shot.  Nuff said.

    Learn how to read your camera.  Once in Italy, your camera should be able to tell you how many photos you've taken and how many more it can hold.  If you happen to be somewhere where you want to take dozens of photos, drop the resolution down by 1 or 2 mega-pixels.   A 256 meg card can hold like 500+ pictures at 2 mega-pixels each!  Don't fret about blow-ups.  How many 8x10s do you actually own?

    Also buy a second battery for your digital camera!  This way during the day you can leave one at the hotel charging, and have a fresh one for nighttime flash pictures.  Always start each day with a fully charged battery!

    Another nice thing about a good digital camera is that you can change the ISO/ASA without having to load a new roll of film!  You won't find this tip anywhere else! 

Here's the latest model of the camera I used to take all the photos you find on this webpage.  It's perfect!

 Canon Powershot SD450 5MP Digital Elph

You might also want to look at the one I have, an earlier model: the S410 4MP or the next model up, the SD500 7MP

What I like about these cameras are that they comes with a fantastic rechargeable battery that's very small and that doesn't require a power converter to recharge it!  All you have to do is plug the charger into a prong adaptor and you're set!  Buy yourself a spare!

  • A pocket compass
    Why?  Ever look at a map and try to figure out which way is what? 

    "Which way do we go? Left or Right?  The map says it's north of here..."

    Pull out your compass, get your bearing, and you're on your way!  In Ireland where we would need to walk 1/2 a mile to figure out if we made the wrong turn, it was super-useful!  I wish we had one in Mykanos!|  Get a tiny one and throw it in your bag.   YWFTTAE!

  • Just one guide book
    You already have enough to pack!  I know you've probably bought 16 travel books and read a zillion internet pages.  Do yourself a favor and only take a single book.  You're probably only interested in 20 pages in each guide, so Xerox them.  Once you're done visiting a particular place, you can toss out the copy and have less to carry.   YWFTTAE!

  • An electrical plug adaptor
    An adaptor will convert your U.S. plug | | into an Italian one  --0 but will not convert the currency from 220 to 110.  Do you need a converter?  Depends on what your taking with you.  My digital camera (Cannon - see above) and camcorder (Sony) both come with electrical adaptors that support 110 and 220 volts. (my iPod does as well).  All I've needed to take with me is a plug adaptor and not a power converter.

  • Batteries
    Only if you need them.  You can always buy more in Italy.

  • A watch
    My sister had gotten me one that shows two time zones.  It's neat since you often wind up wondering what time it is back home.

  • Euros 
    Take at least $200 worth of Euros in as small denominations as possible -YWFTTAE!  Think of how difficult it would be to buy stuff here in the U.S. if all you had were $100 bills.  Once in Italy you can use the ATMs to get more Euros - but make sure you make large withdrawals so that you don't get constantly hit with ATM withdrawal fees.  By the way -your PIN has to be four digits in length.  Also if you use a word as a PIN, memorize what the corresponding numbers are.

  • U.S. Dollars - the universal currency.  
    Plus when you get back to the U.S., you'll need money for a taxi.

  • A journal
    Document what you've done and seen before going to bed, while having breakfast, or while traveling. Even if it's a few lines like "Tuesday - went to Vatican,  Had dinner at La Italian Restaurant (3 Via Veneto).  Ordered penne and house red - the best wine in Rome!"  YWFTTAE!  Years from now you'll be glad you kept a journal.  "What was that name of the restaurant... hold on, let me get my Italy journal..." You can also use it to write down check-lists, names of people you want to buy gifts for, good and bad places you've eaten, address...

    Here's a sample page from our journal

  • An address listing of people you want to send postcards to
    Don't take your address book or Palm.  Print out or write the addresses in your journal (see above).   YWFTTAE!  Once you've mailed your postcard, you can cross off their name or toss the sheet.  One less thing to carry.

  • Visa, Master Card, Amex - One of each (if you have them) and that's it.  Don't overload your wallet with too many credit cards that you may lose!  Three are enough!  Also before you go, check your credit limit and make sure you can charge up a storm!

  • A backpack.  You'll use it to keep your camera, etc..   Believe me, it beats carrying a bag.  What are you afraid of?  That you'll look like a tourist?  Dude - I have news for you - You're speaking English, taking photos, and looking at everything.  You're not fooling anyone.  I often carry a backpack in New York and take tons of photos of stuff - and I live here!

  • The international phone numbers of your credit card company.  Keep the numbers in your suitcase or in your journal.  This way if you lose your card(s) you'll be able to cancel them.  Some of the better companies, such as American Express, will even issue you a new card at their local office in Rome!  And CitiBank once FexEx'ed me a card to the Greek Islands (now that's service!) while Chase Bank left me without a card!  Now's the time to call your credit card company and ask them what international provisions they have in case you lose your card.  YWFTTAE! 

  • Your ATM Card

  • Your Passport (duh!)

  • A small umbrella or raincoat.  But you can always buy one there

  • Driver's license - I don't have one :-) but it would be a good thing to have to rent a moped or car.

  • Your toothbrush and toothpaste.

  • Comfortable shoes or sneakers!

  • Bubble wrap!
    This needs some explaining.  Each time we've traveled, we've often bought fragile items or paintings, etc... that we either have had to carry on-board or wrap in clothes.  On our last trip, we took a small carry-on suitcase stuffed with bubble wrap.  As we bought wine, frames, clocks, etc.. we wrapped them securely with bubble wrap and placed them in the suitcase.  We had a bit left over at the end of our trip, which we tossed before we left.  YWFTTAE!


Where we've stayed:



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