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Posts tagged ‘italy travel information’

Finding the best flight | Travel with me to Italy

flights to italyAirline tickets.  Hands down the most agonizing, frustrating and stress inducing piece of planning a trip to Italy.  I wish I could lay out a specific formula that would guarantee the best rates for the perfect dates.  Sadly, nothing like this exists.  Not even close.  What I can offer are my go to sites, some proven and researched facts, how to balance cost versus risk, and my two cents.  This is a long post, stick with it to the end.

First, don’t become obsessed with finding the absolute cheapest fare.  Your goal is to find a balance between a good price and optimal travel dates.  It will do no good waiting endlessly for a fare price reduction as your favorite hotels book up their best and cheapest rooms.  I would rather pay a few hundred dollars more for my plane ticket knowing that I was able to get into my first choice accommodation and build an itinerary that I want.  Time is also money.  The perfect itinerary is priceless.

HOW and WHERE to Search

When I have my approximate dates I start by first doing a general search on a big site.  My favorite is Kayak. This gives me an idea of what is out there and what airlines are players.  Then I go directly to the airlines’ websites to compare prices but even more importantly compare length of flights and layovers.  On my most recent search, I found a great price on my ideal dates….with a 34 hour return flight.  No thanks.  But when I went to the carrier’s direct site I found more options for approximately the same price.  Another reason I like to buy direct from the carrier is the assistance that can be given for any issues that come up with missed flights or travel trouble.  I have experienced the unfortunate frustration of trying to get help from a big search site with zero results.

flight compare

DETAILS to Keep in Mind

Connections.  Those on the East Coast can board their planes with ease and enjoy direct flights to most locations.  I will try to contain my jealousy.  The rest of us have to worry about connections, and if you are like me and live in a rural area connections become a REALLY big deal.  The key here is timing and location.  Don’t be tempted by the siren’s call of a brief layover.  That 45 minutes will cost you an entire travel day if missed.  I make sure I have at least 90 minutes at my layovers.  More if possible when flying into Heathrow in London where you also have to go through customs.  My priority is getting to Europe as soon as I can.  Delays within the States can cost my flight across the ocean because those are more infrequent, whereas a delay in Europe isn’t the end of the world.

flight details

Cookies.  Be conscious of your searches.  Don’t think the industry isn’t above making a little more money on your specific needs.  I have witnessed first hand ‘sudden’ increases in prices on the same flights on repeat searches.  Erase your cookies or use a different source when you are ready to purchase.

WHEN to Book

Most of the experts report that tickets to Europe should be purchased between 5-10 months before departure.  I personally like to book 8-10 months ahead and I have found some decent prices between Thanksgiving and Christmas.  Regardless of HOW far ahead you book, there are certain times of the week you should purchase.  Research shows Tuesday and Wednesday as the best days to buy.  I like Tuesday mornings.  Insiders claim that in addition to this, you should avoid the first few days, the very middle days and the last days of the month.  When looking at WHICK days of travel, try to fly on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.  Be mindful of holidays in both countries.  57658381-blackboard-with-days-of-the-week-schedule-gettyimages

I plan on purchasing tickets this month, I’ve found several flights that are in my goal budget and my ideal dates.  According to the above information, I have to ideal days to purchase them (see image).  December 9-10 and 23-24.  Now, I’m not sure if Christmas will affect the pricing so I will take those dates with a grain of salt.

December-2014-Calendar-Templates-1

REWARD Travel

For anyone trying to use their reward points and miles, good luck.  All airlines have black out dates and limited seats on each flight.  I have heard that booking a year out is the best way to get the dates you want to fly.  I have found a wonderful resource called Book My Award where all they deal with is rewards travel.  They work nothing short of miracles here.

SET UP Travel Alerts

Every website has the ability to sign up for travel alerts.  I have several and I receive email notices when the fare drops or a special is posted.  I find this is a handy way to keep track of any price trends.

price alert

 

Copyright 2014, Once in a Lifetime Travel

Dreaming of Italy?  Follow me.

18 Must Read Books | Travel with me to Italy

italy travel reading book listHere is the list of my very favorite books that get me so excited for Italy I can hardly stand myself.  Some are purely entertaining, a few historical, one just for cooking, and of course my best guides.  Grab one, pour yourself a glass of vino and get dreaming.

Rick Steves’ Italy- A down to earth guide to travel in Italy, limited coverage in the lesser known and southern areas.  I’ve been traveling with his guidance since I was 19 years old and his office consisted of bulletin boards and folding tables.

100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should go by Susan Van Allen - I LOVE this guide because it is more of a series of short stories.  She brings alive the essence of what it is to see Italy.  Full of places and ideas that aren’t in your standard guidebook.

La Bella Lingua by Dianne Hales – The book is a tantalizingly juicy read that made me add language school to my bucket list.  Dianne is a terrific storyteller.

Too Much Tuscan Sun by Dario Castagno – A hilarious book about life as a tour guide in Chianti, many characters I can relate to.  A great book to help understand cultural differences while enjoying the descriptions of Tuscany

The Hills of Tuscany by Ferenc Mate – This incredible and entertaining book takes you on the couples real life journey as they make Italy their home.  The author still lives in Tuscany and owns an amazing winery.

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert – A woman search for herself spanning across three different countries. Although Italy is only the first stop, this book is worth reading because of the way she makes Italy come alive and makes your mouth water with every morsel she describes.

Under the Tuscan Sun & Bella Tuscany by Frances Mayes – A story about an American writer making a home in Italy, probably the most recognizable of all books on my list.

Italian Affair by Laura Fraser – A young woman struggling after her divorce finds love and so much more in Italy.  This is the book that inspired me to begin writing.

As the Romans Do by Alan Epstein – Rome through the eyes of an American family as they struggle to set up roots. Very accurate, sometimes funny and sometimes painful, view of Roman culture.

A Thousand Days in Venice by Marlena de Blasi – A story about finding love and a new life in Venice. I found myself absorbed in this book.  Complete with real recipes.

A Thousand Days in Tuscany by Marlena de Blasi - The author takes another leap of faith as she and her new Italian husband move into a renovated house in Tuscany.  After reading this second novel and falling in love all over again, I ran into her and her husband outside a cafe in Orvieto.  I was so starstruck I didn’t even say hello.

La Bella Figura by Beppe Severgnini – The author helps to reveal the essence of being Italian.

The Broker by John Grisham – A fast paced book about a man on the run, set mostly in Bologna. A great peak into the language and food of the area.  Prepare to get hungry.

Playing for Pizza by John Grisham - A cute story about a washed up NFL quarterback who finds himself playing football in Italy.  I found this an easy read that made me want to jump on a plane.

Angels & Demons by Dan Brown – Before the Da Vinci Code, there was this book. Set in Rome and features most of the great sites in the city.  And yes, I was that person in the movie theater saying ‘I’ve been there’ ‘and there’

The Agony and the Ecstasy by Irving Stone – A beautifully and very detailed account of the life and works of Michelangelo. This book will make Florence and Michelangelo’s work come to life.  The story is dry and tedious in a few parts but worth it.  I’ve personally read it three times.

Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling by Ross King – Recounts the amazing four years Michelangelo spent painting the Sistine Chapel.  Yes, I’m a Michelangelo junkie.

Savoring Italy by Michele Scicolone - This is my Italian cook book. I found this in Florence and packed it all the way home, only to find it on sale in Costco.

 

Copyright 2014, Once in a Lifetime Travel

Dreaming of Italy?  Follow me.

Make it real | Travel with me to Italy

travel italyPart 3, Travel with me it Italy series.

You’ve picked your ideal time to travel and have decided how long to go.

Now it is time to make things real.  Time to set up that designated savings account, arrange for the kids to stay with family, get your guidebooks, make your lists and put in for vacation time.  Time to do whatever needs to be done to put your dates on the calendar IN PEN and start setting things in stone.

Once you have transition from dreaming of Italy to I’m going to Italy, everything will begin to look different.  The countdown is now on!

In upcoming posts I will be sharing how I research my destinations, the most ideal flow of your itinerary, negotiating through flights, my favorite travel reads to get you in the mood, best guide books and much, much more!

If you missed early posts in the series, follow the links here.  How much time to spendWhen is the best time to travel.

 

Copyright 2014, Once in a Lifetime Travel

Dreaming of Italy?  Follow me.

How much time should be spent | Travel with me to Italy

time spent italy travel

AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE!

Well, as much as you can.  I recommend a minimum of 10 FULL days in Italy.  Remember, those in North America lose a day flying to Europe so I always count 2 days there and 1 day back as travel days.  I never count these as vacation days.  I will explain why at least 10 days are needed.

1.  Travel effort and expense.  As I mentioned above, an Italian vacation involves a THREE day travel commitment.  Spending 50% of your time getting from here to there is not conductive to a memorable or relaxing vacation.  Taking a full two weeks drops that percentage to 21%.  Let’s face it, airfare to Europe is not cheap no matter what day of the week or what time of year.  Why would you spend a major portion of your vacation expense flying to Italy without spending a good amount of time in Italy.

2. Transportation time within Italy.  On a map, Italy looks very manageable with simple connections and distances between the major cities.  What a map doesn’t tell you is when and where the trains or taxis will strike, how many roundabouts you will take before heading in the right direction, which little old lady will hold the attention of the only open ticket booth and thus the entire line.  Or which petrol stations will be on an extended lunch break, where a local market will have an entire street blocked off, or which 1/3 of the Florence roads will be under construction.  Travel from Point A to Point B from almost anywhere in Italy is an all day deal.  Then there is the check in process, assuming you found your little gem on the first try.  There are passports to check, forms to sign, cheeks to kiss, and bags to lug.  This is one of the major reasons I recommend a minimum of 2 nights at any one location.  Ideally a minimum of 2 full days and 3 nights.

Italian-Map

3. La Dolce Vita.  The sweet life.  Italy is meant to be savored.  Cherished.  Seduced.  You can’t do that on a one week itinerary.  The more time spent, the more you can slow down to see and feel Italy.  The essence of Italy, not the checklists will be what makes you fall in love.  Why would you want to rush that?

I tell everyone, you can’t see and do it all on the first trip.  You will be back.

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Photo courtesy of MarcheBreaks

Copyright 2014, Once in a Lifetime Travel

Dreaming of Italy?  Follow me.

When is the best time to travel | Travel with me to Italy

best time to travel italy

I get asked this all the time.  This is usually the first question my clients have and the first hurdle we tackle together.

So, when is the best time to travel to Italy?

The answer is not so simple and is actually different for every traveler.  The best time to travel depends on several factors which I will break down here.

1.  Budget.  Money usually drives most decisions and your budget can be tweaked quite a bit just by changing the dates of your travel.  High season comes with the most expensive rates and the least chance of negotiating any price breaks.  Shoulder season comes before and after high season and usually has lower pricing, more flexibility but comes with the risk of some poor weather.   High season runs from the end of May through September.  September is NOT shoulder season.  In fact, I find in my business September is one of my busiest months with accommodations booking their best rooms well in advance.  April and October are classic shoulder season months with early October being my personal favorite time to travel with the easiest bookings.

2.  Experiences.  Wanting to spend your time soaking up the hot sun along the coast?  Packing only shorts and bikinis?  Can’t stand the rain? Or planning on hiking in the Dolomites.  Summer.  Hate crowds, long lines and annoying tourists?  Temperatures above 70 degrees make you melt?  March, April or October.  Always dreamed of being a part of the grape harvest?  Or go white truffle hunting?  September.

3.  Time off.  Many travelers only have the summer months available for travel.  For these travelers my biggest tip is to try to avoid traveling in August.  The weather is scorching making cities like Rome nearly unbearable.  Italians also traditionally take this entire month off and head to the coast.  This means many little businesses are shut down and the seaside is jam-packed with vacationing Italians.  Don’t panic if August is the only time you can travel but the earlier in the summer you can leave the more enjoyable the temperatures and certain locations will be.  I will talk more about how long you should go in an upcoming post.

My two cents?  I have traveled to Italy in almost all of the seasons, from March through the end of October.  Each month has something special about it and each month comes with its own draw backs.  Ask yourself what is most important for you, what would be the most disappointing?   Once you have an honest answer, pick the time of year that will make you the happiest.  For me, I love traveling from September through October.  I love fall.  I love the weather, I love watching locals start to let their hair down.  I love watching the harvest of the grapes and olives.  I hate scorching hot weather and long lines.  September and October are my travel soul mates.

 

market

 

My love affair with rome

 

Lucignanello Bandini

italy grape harvest

long lines vatican money laundering

vernazza cinque terre

Copyright 2014, Once in a Lifetime Travel

Dreaming of Italy?  Follow me.

Travel with me to Italy

It’s time to put my money where my mouth is.  Practice what I preach.  Or as we somewhat crudely say in Montana, shit or get off the pot.

 

italy travelI’ve written about the importance of traveling; how to make things happen even when it feels nearly impossible.  I have articles to help budget; ways to pinch pennies and stretch those euros.  I’ve shared my secret places and best times to travel.  Ways to skip lines and save on time.  Where and what to eat.  Even how to flush a toilet.  While all my written information and guides have helped many travelers, nothing beats showing someone.  Actually going through the motions visually.  That is what I intend to do.  I want to take you all with me to Italy.  OK, not in my suitcase but as close to that as possible.  I want to show you how I will prepare and plan through my posts, photos and videos.  I want to create a discussion; an interactive place where ideas are shared.  I want to infect as many people as possible with the travel bug.  And wanderlust.  Fernweh.

I intend to inspire not just others but myself.

Dreaming of Italy?  Follow me.

Copyright 2014   Andi Brown,  Once in a Lifetime Travel

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Living Locally | Relax and Enjoy

I have talked about four of the five steps to my Living Locally philosophy so far:   putting yourself in their shoes , making the first attempt at communication , blending in and keeping an open mind.  Now for the final and most important!

STEP FIVE:  Relax and enjoy

You will have already created the time to experience encounters that you have been dreaming of because of good preparation and smart traveling choices.  This will not be the perfect trip because traveling (especially in Italy) is never completely predictable, but this will be the absolutely most amazing adventure.  Remember to roll with the punches and always be on the look out for an opportunity to get to know Italy personally.  A rainy day may mean a missed bike ride but instead a glorious little cafe otherwise overlooked.  Travel, like life, is full of ups and downs.  The trick is to be prepared for the worst while enjoying whatever is thrown your way.  Traveling is fun, but Living Locally is pure joy.

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Copyright 2012   Andi Brown,  Once in a Lifetime Travel

Living Locally | Keep an open mind

I am continuing on with step four of my Living Locally philosophy.   I have covered three of my five steps to more meaningful travel so that you can have more than just a great trip this year.  This is Living Locally.   The first three steps were about putting yourself in their shoes , making the first attempt at communication and blending in.

STEP FOUR:  Forget what you’ve known to be true and keep an open mind

It’s a big world out there, and nobody does it exactly like we do.  While I’m not asking you to pretend you aren’t American and aren’t a tourist, I’m simply suggesting that you leave your expectations behind and don’t compare things to how we would have done it back home.  I have learned that there is always more than one way to get something done.   You never know, you might actually discover something you like better.  I have learned that pasta anyway other than al dente is a crime and the last time I used Ranch dressing on my salad is a very distant memory.

I’m obsessed with feedback, let me know what you think.

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Copyright 2012   Andi Brown,  Once in a Lifetime Travel

Living Locally | Try To Blend In

For those of you who missed my previous posts, I am taking some time to explain each of my five steps to more meaningful travel so that you can have more than just a great trip this year.  I call this Living Locally.   The first two steps were about putting yourself in their shoes and making the first attempt at communication.

STEP THREE:  Try to Blend In

Osteria dell'AquachetteWatch the locals and by all means copy them!  See a crowd hanging out somewhere?  Go check it out.  Sometimes I feel like a private investigator as I try to figure out where they hang out, where and what they eat or why they do what they do.  Forget trying to explain “double-tall-non-fat-sugar-free-half-caf-vanilla-latte” and belly up to the bar for whatever they are having.  I learned how to appreciate my caffe by studying those around me.  Never go to a restaurant full of tourists with billboards in English screaming ‘we take credit cards.’  Instead, walk around and explore the narrow streets until you find a place packed with locals.  Handwritten menus tacked to the door are the best but be prepared to pay in cash.  Ask your host or the lady at the market where they ate last NOT where they think you should go.  When all else fails, follow your nose.

I’m obsessed with feedback, let me know what you think.

Love it??  Pass it on!

Copyright 2012   Andi Brown,  Once in a Lifetime Travel

Living Locally | Make the first attempt at communication

Over the years, I have had the opportunity to watch other travelers as they interacted with locals and responded to their new environment.  I have witnessed some wonderful encounters but I have also had the unfortunate chance to see some horrific examples of “ugly Americanism.”

For those of you who missed my first post, I am taking some time to explain each of my five steps to more meaning travel so that you can have more than just a great trip this year.  I call this Living Locally.

STEP TWO:  Make the first attempt at communication.

tuscany

No translation needed.

I do not speak any other languages fluently, but I learn to say a few simple and polite phrases in the language of any country I visit.  Always ask the person if they speak English…in their language.  Nothing screams “I don’t care about you” like a tourist rattling on in English on the assumption that the listener understands.  While most foreigners do have at least some understanding of English, everyone appreciates even a simple effort on your part.  You will also find that people are more likely to go out of their way to help if you have tried to communicate on their terms first.  I have witnessed someone pretending they didn’t understand what was being said, only to later speak effortlessly with me.

I’m obsessed with feedback, let me know what you think.

Love it??  Pass it on!

Copyright 2012   Andi Brown,  Once in a Lifetime Travel

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