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Posts tagged ‘Planning’

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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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.

Worry then breathe

Quotation-Martin-Luther-world-change-Meetville-Quotes-88625I worry.  I’m a worrier by nature.  By design.  I come from a very long line of worriers.  I have learned that I must spend time every day focused on gratitude to help plant my feet in the present and keep me from anxiously looking too far into the future.

Worry isn’t always a bad thing.  As a travel planner it helps me anticipate potential issues before they ever become problems.   I map out not only Plan A but B and C.  My worry channeled appropriately and effectively becomes a powerful toll of intuitiveness.  Worry keeps me sharp and prepared.

Worry sometimes gets the upper hand though and begins to spill into my every thought, filling the corners of my mind and wreaking havoc in my dreams.  Writing helps to control and contain.  I once read, “If you want to change the world, pick up a pen and write.”  I’m happy to just change the climate of my thinking with my words.  So here I sit.

I worry about Ebola.  Just like everyone else in recent days.  Although around for decades, it has made a dramatic debut here and we are now painfully aware of how truly under prepared we are.

I worry about travel.  I selfishly worry that my plans for Italy next fall will be effected; that my business will suffer.  I worry that this will change us, isolate us.  Make us more distant and less trusting.

And I worry for nurses.  I am a nurse.  I’ve been in the ER and ICU for over 17 years.  I’ve worked from the barrios of Phoenix and the best trauma center in Seattle to small town Montana.

I can promise you that I’ve seen it all.

I have stories that ban me from dinner tables and ones that still leave me in tears.  I have worked under pressure so intense to this day I have no idea how I fought through.  I’ve held hands and whispered in ears that it’s OK to let go more times than I can count.  I’ve carried a tiny baby to the morgue.  I’ve been spit at, peed on, kicked and nearly choked during my pregnancies.  I’ve been called every name in the book.  And then some.  I actually know what brain matter looks like and I’ve watched two students pass out because of it.  I’ve fought for my patient’s rights and dignity, sometimes defending them from doctors.  Sometimes their own families.  I shared a hug with a man no one ever thought would survive.  I even borrowed a smoke from a bum on ER curbside.

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I worry most because I am a nurse.  I know exactly what a critically ill dying patient looks like.  Nurses maintaining the ventilators for breathing while titrating a myriad of IV medications along with watching labs, giving blood, pushing fluids and keeping things clean.  Constantly cleaning.  Blood, vomit, sputum, drainage, pee and stool.  Endless amounts of stool.  Care of this kind of patient is tremendous, let alone if improperly supplied.  Are we expected to roll up our sleeves and do the best we can with what we have available?  Make due like we all have done so many times before.  Like those nurses in Texas?

I worry about fear.  Fear can be as great a danger as the danger itself.  Tweets, posts, rants and blogs all with more undertones of fear than fact.  How can one safely tip toe around the edges without falling in.

I worry about balance.  Finding a way to prepare for anything without letting my efforts become a obsession that destroys the one true thing I do have at this moment.  Now.  This day. The present to be with what is mine.  They sometimes wake me up at all hours in the night and hand me boogers but they are beautiful and full and my treasures.

I breathe now.  In and out.  Often.  I hold on to faith and hope while always keeping one eye on my Plan A.  And B.  And C.

 

Copyright 2014, Once in a Lifetime Travel

Dreaming of Italy?  Follow me.

Driving Tips for Your Italy Trip

Don’t let the Italians intimidate you.  It doesn’t matter how fast or slow you are going, someone is going to be riding your butt.  I get braver as the trip goes on, but I never go faster than I feel comfortable.  Sometimes I pull over if they are making me nervous, but usually they have found a way to pass me before that happens.   I have only seen one accident in my travels.  Italians seem crazy, but they are great drivers and despite what I am doing they always manage to avoid me.

Get a good map before you go.  I always use a Michelin map, purchased at most tour stores (ie AAA, Barnes & Noble…).  GPS is becoming more popular and more readily available, although has its short comings in the smaller more rustic areas.  Even when using GPS, make sure you know where you are headed and don’t follow it blindly.  ViaMichelin is a good site for planning before you go and you can print out routes you create on-line.  See my resources page here.

DIRECTIONS

You have to throw away everything you know about directions when driving in Italy.

Entering the Autostrada. Know which direction you are going and towards which major city.

There are no exit numbers and things are not marked logically (for the typical American).  When traveling, you begin by going in the direction of the largest city.  You will need to navigate by knowing the names of the towns along the road you need to travel on.  Also, look your map and find the three largest cities near or past your destination because many signs post the major city that road is traveling toward and wait to post the smaller cities until you are almost there.  As you travel, keep your eyes open for these towns.  Eventually, as you get closer to your destination your small town will appear.  For example:  when traveling to Baschi from Rome, you will head towards Florence first while looking for the exit to Orvieto.  After taking that exit you will begin to look for signs for Baschi.  You will not see any sign for Baschi until the exit.  You must also know the Italian names for all the cities.

Typical signs found at a round about.

Signs are posted everywhere and when you come to a round about, you may need to go around more than once just to make sure you’ve found what you are looking for.  It can be more than a little overwhelming!  Cities are marked with a blue sign, the arrow is pointing to the road you must take.  B&B’s and agriturismos are usually white, historical sites are marked with brown signs, autostradas and major freeways have a green sign.   Just remember that keeping up with the flow on the round about is key and don’t be intimidated.

ROADS AND TOLLS

Entering the toll booth.

There are several different kinds of roads.  The easier, bigger and fastest are the autostradas which are marked by a green sign and an A.  The most important thing to remember here is to STAY TO THE RIGHT at all times until you are just ready to pass.  While on the autostrada, you will notice small signs in the median marking the distance to major cities and the city of the next exit.  This will help you anticipate when you need to exit.  These are also pay roads and you will be charged by the distance traveled.  Each time before you enter these, you will stop at a booth and take a ticket by pushing a red button or grabbing an existing ticket already waiting for you.  When you exit the autostrada, you will get in a line marked ‘Biglietto’ (ticket) to pay your fee.  Above each lane is a photo depicting the method available, some will have a picture of a credit card as well as money/change.  You can pay with your card in these lanes if you don’t have enough cash.  Anyway you choose, the total owed is displayed on a screen for you.  Just make sure you DO NOT get into the line for the commuters who have prepaid cards.  These are usually the shorter lines and are the blue lanes marked TELEPASS.  I always keep my change handy.  Some lines have a person who will handle the transaction, other lines require you to insert your ticket and then you pay the machine.  The system is similar to the toll bridges in San Francisco.

Push the button, grab our ticket and go.

There are larger but less direct roads that are free and then your typical two lane country roads.  Traveling through Tuscany, these will be what you use the most.  For those with a weak stomach be warned, it is very easy to get car sick wandering around in the country.

PARKING AND OTHER DETAILS

When parking, most lots have a pay machine that gives vouchers for the amount of time you will be there.  Again, I keep lots of change handy.  If you are parking somewhere that doesn’t have the spaces clearly marked, make sure you have a way out no matter how the next person decides to park.  I have seen some very creative arrangements.

Getting gas is similar to the states, just make sure your tank is full before Sunday or any major holiday as the stations do tend to close at these times.  Gas in Italy is expensive; it will make you look forward to coming home and filling up here.  The trade off is that distances are shorter.

Before driving away from the office with your rental car you will want to verify whether the car uses diesel or regular fuel and make sure they show you how to open your gas tank.  Also, have them actually show you how to open the trunk, release the parking brake, start the car and put it into reverse.  You may feel silly at the time, be it’s better than struggling with it while a bar full of men look on.  I learned the hard way that the stick shift often needs to be pushed down  for reverse.  Most  brakes are very touchy, after your first day driving you will know why.  Once on your way, toss  a local Italian paper in the back window and keep all belongings out of site when not in the car.

Train Tips and Manners for Your Trip to Italy

Train travel is a very easy and low stress way to get around Italy but can initially be overwhelming.  Once you get the system down you can relax and enjoy the scenery passing by without worrying about where you are going.  Trains are what most Italians use for transportation, so you get a real feeling of being with the people.  Connections are usually frequent and to all the large cities.  These tips should help you ease into train life and after a few connections you will feel like an old pro.

READING THE SCHEDULE

Intermediate stops are shown on this typical posted schedule in the middle column

This is probably the most intimidating of all.  The train schedule is posted at every station, usually on the wall.  Just like in the airport, there is an arriving and departing schedule.  You are looking for the yellow one that says ‘Partenze.’  When looking for your connection, you must know which major city the train is heading to.  For example:  if your destination is Orvieto, you must first find Firenze (Florence).  Under that main connection, each stop that train makes is listed including Orvieto.  It’s hard to believe that a worn piece of paper posted on the wall is actually telling the truth, but it is.  Many times I’ve chickened out and double checked at the ticket booth, only to receive the same information.  Train schedules are listed in military time, so a train leaving at 5pm would say 1700.  You will also need to know the Italian names for the cities you will be traveling to.

Each station will have several platforms or ‘binario.’  The posted schedule will have a binario assigned in the last column but this can change.  At every station there will be either a TV monitor or electronic sign stating which train is about to depart from which binario.  Also, in front (or at the side) of each individual track there will be a sign with the destination posted for that particular train.  When in doubt, ask a railway official (they will be in green suits) or the closest Italian.  Keep an eye on the reader board as I have missed trains because the track (binario) was changed at the last minute.  Announcements will be made prior to the trains arrival and most of the time it is repeated in English.

FINDING A SEAT

Once you find the correct binario or track and your train, you will need to make sure that you get on the right car.  Cars are divided by first and second class.  The first few cars will have a big number 1 by the door which designates them as first class, followed by cars marked with a 2 for second class.  I always travel 2nd class because there is little difference between the two except the price.  Each car will also have a number and the seats inside that car will be numbered.  This only matters when you have purchased a ticket that requires a reservation, similar to an airplane.  Connections between Florence and Venice for example are reserved seating.  Just look at your ticket.  If you have a car number ‘carozza’ and seat number listed then that is where you must sit.  Otherwise it is first come first serve and can get a little crazy.  If you hit rush hour, you may have a hard time finding a seat.  My trick…walk to the end of the train, hop on and move forward to find a seat.  Many times the first few cars will be packed while the last few are wide open because everyone has tried to get on the train at the front of the station.  Don’t panic if you can’t find a seat or find ones together.  Places will open up as people get off at their stops, just keep your eyes open.

Ladies, the choice is yours. Photo courtesy of PhotoBomb.com

Ladies:  You can’t pick who is in your family, but you can choose who you sit by.  If you are traveling alone, find a seat next to a nun or cute old lady, otherwise you may find yourself sharing a seat with a dirty old man.  NEVER pick an empty compartment or row of seats.  It is always better to choose your seat mates than have them choose you.

If you are getting nervous that the train will leave without you, you can always hop on and move through the cars from inside.  The train can’t physically leave while a car door is open, so you won’t have to worry about leaving a travel companion on the platform.  Rarely a smaller train will require a ‘reservation’ that wasn’t listed.  Don’t worry, they won’t kick you off.  Just smile and play dumb, they will just ask you to pay the difference on the spot and can even take credit cards.  Large luggage will not always fit above or under your seat and must be stored near the front of the car (storage space and racks are normally provided).  I have never had a problem with theft, but I do make sure I keep my eye on the suitcase at all stops and keep any valuables with me in my day pack.  If you are traveling in Southern Italy or on a night train keep your bags with you at all times and when you are ready to sleep attach a strap from your luggage to the rack.  Italian thieves do not want to work too hard and this is just enough to encourage them to move on.

TICKETS

You can find fast ticket machines throughout the stations.

You can buy your tickets several ways.  Tickets can be purchased at the station at any time; you do not have to wait until the day you are ready to travel.  At the large stations, the lines can be irritatingly long so plan ahead.  A time saver would be to buy all your tickets at one stop from a local travel agent or to purchase them at a smaller station or during less busy times.  Write down the connections and dates that you need on a piece of paper to hand to the person; this makes the process much easier.  Most stations also have automated ticket machines, which work like an ATM.  You scroll through a long list until you find your destination.  This is a simple, easy and quick way to get your tickets yet they stand alone almost unused by most Italians.  Don’t be afraid, they work well but Italians just don’t trust them because they are electronic.  When asked ‘Fidelity Card?’ you must say no.

Don’t forget to validate your tickets before boarding,

Your ticket must be validated before you board.  There are yellow boxes posted all around the station, simply put your ticket in all the way to receive the time and date stamp.  If you forget, you run the risk of high penalties from the train conductors who are not always the happiest people on earth.

Each ticket will include the following: Treno (train #) Carrozza (car #) Posti (seat #)

TRAIN TRICKS AND MANNERS

Trains in Italy are not as timely as in other areas of Europe.  I find that the later in the day you get, the later the train.  If you want to be somewhere, try to get the earliest train that you can handle.  Strikes are also very common throughout Italy; the only nice thing about them is that they are planned ahead of time so you can too.  Strikes only last one day at a time and not over holidays or in August.

Opening the train door may sound simple but not always easy to do.  Most trains have a button on the side which will open the doors, similar to an elevator button.  This is the same when walking inside the train between the cars.  Older trains tend to have handles or levers.  Try rocking the handle clockwise (or counter clockwise if that didn’t work) or rotating it up and down.

The toilets empty out on the tracks and it is considered impolite to use the restroom while at a station or stop.  I know because I was an offender.

Most trains have a snack car where you can purchase over priced sodas, beer/wine or snacks.  I prefer to pack a lunch from the local market and eat that on the train.  This is very acceptable and a fun way to get to know the people you are traveling with.

NOT MISSING YOUR STOP

Each stop has several signs with the name marked in white on a large blue background and you are given enough time to grab your things and exit.  Watch for towns along the way that are before your stop so that you are ready to go just in case.  The schedule at the station will have the approximate arrival time at each stop which gives you an idea of when to be ready.

If you are getting off in a major city like Rome or Florence, make sure you don’t leave the train too early.  Most of the major hubs have stations that are dead ends and hard to miss.  If for some reason you exited too soon just grab the next train coming through.

How to prepare for your trip to Italy | Money, Insurance and Communication

There are many steps you can take prior to leaving that will make your trip more enjoyable and successful.  I have talked about getting in shape and the importance of good shoes here, as well as keeping safe and important documents here.  Now for more tips and advice.

MONEY

The world is a smaller place these days and I no longer use Travelers’ Checks or go directly to the banks.  There are ATM’s in every town and on every corner in the big cities which you can use to get cash.  While you will incur a charge, it is comparable to the best rate at any bank and a steal compared to the corner exchange windows.  Not to mention the time you save and the ease of use.  Most banks have a daily limit of around 200-300 euro.  You will need to verify this limit with your bank and make sure that you can use your card internationally.  I always bring a back up card just in case.  That way if for some reason one card is denied or eaten by the machine you have immediate access to cash.

You will need to call your bank and your credit card company before departure to let them know of your travel plans.  Due to increased security some companies will stop your card until they are able to contact you to verify its use.  You must notify the company AND then have them transfer you to the fraud department and do it all over again.  This is redundant, but it is better than getting stuck trying to fix problems while in Italy.

Be aware that all banks and all credit cards will charge an international fee.  It is maddening but it is just a fact of life.  The fees have typically been 1-3%, but with the recent changes going on I would not be surprised to see that increase.  When taking out money in the ATM, I always take out the max to make better use of my machine fee.

Make sure you bring some euros with you, usually 100-200 is enough to get you to the first ATM.  Having this cash immediately available can come in handy in those ‘just in case’ situations.  You can purchase these through the larger branches of most banks.  If you are flying through another city in Europe (besides the UK) and have a long layover, it is possible to use your debit card at one of the airport’s ATM’s.

The exchange rate!  Oh it hasn’t been on our side since the Euro was first introduced.  At this time the rate seems to at least be staying under 1.4, so assume you are spending 1 1/2 the price and that way you wil not under estimate the price.  See my resources page for current rates.

TRAVEL INSURANCE

Trip insurance is always a nice thing to have and there are many different companies to choose from.  I admit I haven’t always use it religiously, but if you are in any way concerned about losing money due to circumstances out of your control this is definitely a must.  It is always better to be safe than sorry and now that I have more at stake I want to protect myself.  I would suggest using a big name company like Access America, Travelex or Travel Guard.   Insuremytrip.com is a good site for comparing the different options.

COMMUNICATION

Now this is an area that has completely changed in the 20 years that I have been traveling.  Everything is so much easier and faster with technology; gone are the days of postcards and written letters!

The easiest way to keep in touch with those back home is the Internet.  In big cities you will find Internet access everywhere, from exchange booths and in the back of mom and pop stores to your own hotel and chain Internet stores.  Even small towns will have at least one spot where on can get on-line.  Places will either charge you by the minute (you will pay when you are done) or you will buy a pre-paid time card.  Either way you will be asked to show your passport.  Don’t Panic!  This is standard security procedure and a requirement by the European Union.

Phone calls are possible in several different ways.  You can call home at any pay phone or the phone at your accommodation by purchasing  an international calling card, found at any Tabacchi shop (see below).   Ask for ‘una carta telefonica prepagata internazionale.’  I always buy either a 5 or 10 euro card because you can get a dud occasionally and these aren’t refundable.  There are two numbers on the card, the first takes you to an operator (or recorded voice) that will ask you to enter the code…which is the second number.  If you have ever used a calling card in the states, these work the exact same way.  You will then be able to dial your number.  From Italy to the US, you will dial 00 then 1 then your number with area code.  For example, to call my phone from Italy I would dial 00 1 208 419 8957.

Words of warning regarding pay phones.  With cell phones so prevalent now, I’m finding that as the pay phones break they aren’t being repaired (at least not in a hurry).  If you find one that seems to be working but you are having trouble, it is most likely the phone.  Treat it like you would your 89 year old grandmother, get your point across but with tenderness.  Push each button distinctly and don’t give up.  You may have to try several times.  Also, pay phones use up more minutes than the phone in your accommodation. They require a different phone number (listed on the back of the card).

The ever reliable Italian postal system.

Cell phones are all over and I’ve been traveling with mine the last few years.  You will want to check with your phone company to verify if it will work in Italy.  If so, be prepared to pay as much as 1-2 $ a minute.  Prepaid phones can be purchased once in Italy but tend to come with quite a few restrictions and I never feel like taking the time to get one once I’m there.  I’m sure with each year this will continue to improve.  My suggestion would be to ‘un-plug’ while on vacation, or just have your phone for emergencies.  I keep in touch with my daughter using prepaid phone cards as they are truly the cheapest and easiest, but keep my phone with me just in case.

Italy’s time zone is ahead of us by 6-9 hours depending on where you live.

And then there is mail.  What can I say.? It’s Italy and some things never change; you will beat your postcards home!

TABACCHI SHOPS

Typical shop found on every corner.

The Am-Pm of Italy, these can be found on just about every corner and in every village and town.  Look for a black sign with a big white T (although I have seen some green ones around).  In here you can buy just about anything, including phone cards and bus tickets.  If you find yourself lost these are great for a point in the right direction.

I love feedback, so leave me comments!

copyright 2014  Andi Brown, Once in a Lifetime Travel

How to prepare for your trip to Italy | Jet Lag Advice, Passports and Keeping Safe

There are many steps you can take prior to leaving that will make your trip more enjoyable and successful.  I talked about getting into shape and making sure your feet are taken care of yesterday here.  Today I expand on a few more topics.

JET LAG

Although jet lag is just a fact of life with travel, there are many things you can do to minimize the effects.

Courtesy of FunnyCoolStuff.com

  • Adjust your schedule a few days before departure by trying to go to bed an hour earlier or more (I know, this never works for me either but can be helpful if traveling with younger children).
  • Start thinking on local time as soon as you board that plane, set your watch to Italy time as you wait for take off.
  • Keep hydrated on the flight and after arrival, this is crucial and you will be surprised at how much better you will feel.
  • Avoid alcohol and caffeine.  I know that sounds just down right mean considering where you are going.  I settle for a compromise and avoid both prior to leaving and during the flight (just remember the wine you are about to enjoy is one hundred times better than anything they serve in a bottle, even if it is free!).  My first night I take it easy with my wine at dinner but there is no way I would miss my morning cappuccino.
  • Eat lots of fresh fruits and veggies both before and after arriving.  This should be easy to do once in Italy, just head to the morning market and take your pick.
  • Try to exercise and get outside the day before you leave.  Once in Italy do your best to stay awake (only nap if you arrive in the morning and never ever fall asleep in the afternoon).  Walking around town and getting as much fresh air as possible will help; sunshine is the ultimate antidote to jet lag.

PASSPORTS AND IMPORTANT DOCUMENTS

You will need only your passport to enter Italy.  A few important things to keep in mind:  Your passport must be valid for six months AFTER you return home and you should  give yourself two months minimum if you are applying for the first time.

If you plan on driving in Italy you will need an International Drivers License.  These are easily obtained at any AAA office, the required waiting period is just long enough to let the photo dry.  While this is not required in Italy, I never travel without one.  You want a document that the police can read in Italian should you get into any trouble.  Depending on the person, you could wind up with a ticket simply out of his frustration with your English license.  You will need to bring your American driver’s license and will not be able to rent your car without it.

You will need to make three copies of all your important documents (passport, both driver’s licenses, any insurance cards or important medical information like prescriptions) and the international phone numbers for your bank/credit cards.  Keep one copy at home with family, another copy hidden in your luggage and the last in your money belt.  I know this may sound a bit much, but nothing will ruin your vacation faster than losing one of these and not knowing the important information needed to fix the problem.

SAFETY

By Kerry at Passive-Aggressive Notes. Maybe they would be happier if they had money belts.

Italy can often get a bad rap when it comes to the topic of safety.  We’ve all heard stories about the gypsies, pickpockets and amorous men.  While all of this does exist, you can protect yourself from anything happening to you.  I have been traveling to Italy since I was 19 years old and have never had a problem.  I firmly believe this is because of the way I travel.  The single most important thing you can do is use a money belt.  These are discreet pouches that actually tuck into your clothing.  If someone wants to rip you off they basically have to remove your pants, and my guess is you are going to notice that.  Thieves are looking for easy targets and there are plenty of them around.  They are not going to take the time or the risk trying to steal from you.  Instead they will target the distracted tourist with a camera bag on one shoulder and a big fanny pack around their waist.

My favorite moneybelt can be ordered from Rick Steves

I do carry a day pack but it contains nothing of value and when I have my camera out I make sure that I am aware of it at all times and never put it casually around my shoulder.  If I must stop to look at a map while carrying a pack, I make sure I am in a spot where a can back up against a wall and never out in the open.  I watch the crowds.  Pickpockets can be the typical out of place looking gypsy with a baby and kids, but they can also be a well dressed middle aged man.  Use your money belt (even though it can get sweaty in the summer), keep your valuables at home, wear your day back securely on both shoulders and keep a sense of your surroundings.  I leave my wedding ring at home and travel with a band.

While I did have my fair share of bottom pinching that first trip, I have not had any problems with the men since.  Hopefully that is a reflection on my presence and not my appearance!  Italian men will look; it is how they are raised and it is in their blood.  I choose not to be offended at that and instead use it as a little ego boost.  What I do not allow is unwanted forwardness.  To avoid that I will speak directly, simply and loudly if I have to.  If you beat around the bush, hesitate or even offer the faintest of a smile you will have an admirer.  But honestly, that type of negative interaction is rare.  I do enjoy my conversations with men and have met many interesting people, but because I am firm and direct I never feel uncomfortable.  I have also noticed that the younger generations seem to be more respectful in general to females.

I have had people tell me that the big cities in Italy were dirty, noisy, pushy and overwhelming.  I can understand this view if not approached with the right frame of mind.  It is dirty compared to other cities and graffiti is everywhere, but it is mostly harmless soccer trash talk and not the negative gang related stuff we are used to.  It is noisy and overwhelming; the people are loud and boisterous.  These people wear their hearts on the sleeves and this is what makes Italy so unique and so passionate.  Just be ready for it and learn to enjoy the organized chaos of it all!

Remember:  Use a money belt, be aware of your surroundings (especially in the major tourist areas and train stations) and keep the important things at home.

How to prepare for your trip to Italy | Foot Care Advice and Getting into Shape

There are many steps you can take prior to leaving that will make your trip more enjoyable and successful.  Some things can be as simple as watching a few Italian theme movies or reading up on the areas you will be visiting.  Over the next few days I will be talking about my must do’s prior to departure.

ACTIVITY

You will be walking a lot in Italy, up and down hilly villages and over cobble stone roads.  Walking is the primary mode of transportation and you will see people of all ages out and about.  With everything so central and easy it really makes sense.  I tell everyone to start a walking program at least one or two months prior to leaving.  Believe me, you don’t want to be that tourist getting passed by an 80 year old woman carrying her bags home from the market!  Taking 30-45 minutes several times a week to walk at a brisk pace will help prepare your legs for Italy, a steep area is even better.  I walk daily after dinner and still feel it in my legs after arrival.  Streets are uneven, there are hills everywhere and stairs are in abundance.  Elevators are rare and those that exist can be scary.  If you do one thing to prepare, this is the one.  I have never met anyone who came back saying that they were in too good of shape for their trip.  DO NOT UNDERESTIMATE HOW MUCH YOU WILL BE WALKING AND HOW HARD THAT WILL BE.

FOOT CARE

This was only the first flight.

This goes hand in hand with walking.  The most important thing to do months before you go is find a good pair of walking shoes and break them in.  You should be wearing these shoes for at least a month if you consistently work out in them or more if you are only wearing them casually.  The last thing you want to do is limp around with blisters or aching arches.  I look for shoes that have good arch support, a sturdy sole and are comfortable.  Stay away from flip flops, tevas and crocs.  While these are easy and initially comfortable, your feet will be aching after a day’s walk across cobblestones.  I do bring a pair of flip flops but never wear them all day long.  I made that mistake long ago in Venice and ended up struggling with the pain for over a year.  Don’t feel like you have to wear Nike’s either; there are plenty of great shoes that won’t make you look like a tourist.  But expect to pay a little bit.  If you have a Walking Company near you, this is a great place to start.  I swear by Josef Seibel.  Again, even the best shoe is going to cause you pain if not properly broken in.  So put on those shoes and get walking!

I love feedback, so leave me comments!

copyright 2014  Andi Brown, Once in a Lifetime Travel

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