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Episode #120: Mistakes to avoid when planning your trip to Italy

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Whether you’re new to travel in Italy, or you’ve not been for a while and your trip planning skills have gotten a little rusty, we’ve put together a list of some common mistakes to avoid when planning your trip to Italy.

Show notes

In this episode, we look at some of the things that can trip you up if not planned well. None of these mistakes can’t be overcome by a positive attitude and a few quick checks (and in fact, you can have sometimes have some fun and memorable times overcoming planning mistakes) but we thought we’d highlight them so that you can be aware and can double-check your itineraries and plans if you’re anxious to make your trip as stress-free as possible. 

Mistakes to avoid when planning your Italy trip

1. Not checking your dates and plans against local holidays and closures is the first mistake to avoid. 

Unfortunately, there are no hard and fast rules for closures and holidays in Italy, especially as we ease out of the pandemic, museums, galleries, and tour companies have different schedules. So what you have to do is check the opening hours and tour departure dates and times well in advance to make sure you know how to structure your itinerary. Some of the more famous closures are in Florence where the Uffizi Gallery and other major museums including the Pitti Palace are closed on Mondays. This is the time to head out on a day trip or visit one of the smaller museums. The Vatican Museums are closed most Sundays and St Peters is closed on Wednesday morning for the Papal Mass. 

You ideally do need to check your plans against local holidays and closures to avoid disappointment. In some cases, you may need to adjust your itinerary or expectations. But that’s ok – there are always lots of fun things to do in Italy. Despite all her travel experience, Untold founder Katy fell foul to this mistake planning her coming trip by booking her time in Rome over a long weekend when not much is happening and some of the people she wanted to meet with are out of town. Double-checking those dates can really help avoid disappointment or needing to re-schedule. 

2. Not checking your timing and logistics thoroughly. 

You know how it is – you do a quick Google maps or Rome2rio check and jot down that it’s 1.5 hours by train from Rome to Florence and then you book your tickets choosing the cheapest fare only to find the cheapest fare was not a fast speed train linking the two cities but the regional stop at every station along the way service taking almost 4 hours.  If you can splash out on the faster train then great, but if not and you’d prefer to spend that money on another part of your trip, or you’d rather take this more leisurely alternative with great views along the way (some of our experts recommend it!), you have lost some expected hours of your trip which might need to be shaved off elsewhere.

Want to travel on a weekend? Don’t assume the same number and type of train services will be operating as during the week. 

The same goes for transit times by car. If doing your research and you’re not in Europe, you should always double-check timings, as when you’re looking it might be 9pm or 2am in the morning in Italy and therefore Google won’t pick up the usual traffic chaos that inevitably slows down your movements. You can adjust the timing in Google maps or add on a buffer but do make sure you consider this! 

You can never plan too much when it comes to logistics – check and check again and add in buffers for parking, transit from the train station to accommodation, and navigating your way around a new environment.

3. Trying to fit too much in 

We do not judge here on Untold Italy – everyone travels their own way, at their own pace, and for different reasons. BUT whichever way you travel, you do need to plan realistically and build in buffer time for checking in and out of hotels/accommodation, getting to and from the train station, and having time to work things out. I usually add at least an hour either side of travel for mishaps, getting lost, finding parking etc 

This is why we are skeptical of online itineraries that do not include timings because when you’ve got a bit of experience it is quite clear that some of them leave you with very little time to explore much at all. If you’re going to copy an itinerary you found online please make sure the person who wrote it has some reasonable experience (ie more than one trip) traveling in Italy and more importantly, travels the way you want to. 

Here’s an example of how an itinerary can stretch out: A one and half hour train trip from Rome to Florence is simply the platform to platform time and does not include getting to and from the station to your hotel, time at the station, and checking into and out of the hotels. This is more like a 3 and a half hour exercise. If you don’t take this into account, your exploring or relaxing time can end up being chewed up by the minute.

4. Not making reservations in advance in the major tourist areas, particularly in peak season. 

We have to break it to you straight –  Italy is going to be busy this year and even busier in 2023. Unless you’re the super free and easy type who is happy to wander around or stand in line for hours waiting for a table at a restaurant or won’t be devastated to miss out on visiting the Colosseum you need to hop to it and get those reservations made as soon as you can. 

Back in November 2019, Untold founder Katy was a bit free and easy with her bookings, thinking it was off-season so not busy and then ended up missing out on some favorite hotels due to my tardiness in booking. Luckily she was on the ball for the restaurant reservations as she would have been weeping had she not been able to dine at her beloved Roscioli in Rome. 

If you have special or specific requirements then making these reservations is doubly important. For instance, if traveling as a family with younger children, many of the family rooms that are suitable are pretty scarce at the best of times. Often a family room has a double bed plus a sofa bed which might not work for you. You can spend a lot of time scouring places in looking for something that meets your specific brief – perhaps somewhere in a specific area with a pool, air conditioning on a specific budget – you can often find there are not too many options, so the earlier you start your search the better. 

Another example is car rental. Can you drive manual or stick shift? This is the standard transmission in Italy and in general, you need to book well in advance in the major tourist areas to secure an automatic vehicle.

If you’re traveling between May and October, Italy’s busiest times and you’re visiting the major tourist areas – Rome, Venice, Florence, and parts of Tuscany close to Florence, Venice, Amalfi Coast, the Italian lakes, and the Cinque Terre – make sure you do your bookings early if you dont want to make some serious compromises.

Extra tip: make a good note of what’s included in the price, any cancelation clauses/timing you need to be aware of, and addresses and meeting points. 

5. Choosing your accommodation based mainly on budget or room price, or not paying close attention to the location of your accommodation

Avoid picking a poor location for your stay or it can make for an awkward if not miserable stay. Low prices generally come with big compromises. It’s true that you can find budget accommodation in the outer suburbs or satellite area/towns and very close to train stations but you will be making concessions.

In the case of the outer suburbs, and especially if it’s your first visit, you’re simply going to pay more for local transportation – not to mention the time it will suck up, especially as local transportation can be slow. Plus the added hassle of navigation to contend with. Plus you won’t be part of the atmosphere that you’ve no doubt traveled all that way to be a part of. 

The areas around train stations in any major city around the world, usually aren’t the most charming. It is tempting to stay there for budget or logistics reasons but for those who have done this, it’s often a regrettable decision. 

Instead, if you’re looking for budget accommodation choose a district just out of the main central historic zone and hit the sweet spot of budget and location. Usually, it’s a short but scenic walk to the heart of the action.

6. Not brushing up on local customs and culture

Italy is a modern western country just like your own but it’s fair to say that they have their own quirks and curiosities, just as we have in our own countries. It’s always surprising, the different ways of doing things between English-speaking countries like Australia, the US, Canada and the UK but here we’re adding language to the mix and it’s bound to get interesting. If you don’t take some time to learn a little of the language and culture not only can you come off as being a little rude but more importantly you won’t be enjoying one of the greatest things about travel which is learning and enjoying different ways of doing things.

Rule numero uno is to always greet people when you encounter them in a shop, restaurant, or other service situation. The correct way to do this is by saying “Buon Giorno” or “Buona Sera”. Do this as soon as you enter a shop or cafe. It’s the polite thing to do. 

Moving beyond the polite into the area of respect, please make sure you are suitably attired to enter a church in Italy. That means covering your shoulders and knees for everyone. We should always respect the rules, traditions, and customs of places where we are guests.

One of the more surprising examples of local culture is at local markets in Italy. Here you should never touch the produce you want to buy. Instead, you ask the vendor to choose for you otherwise they can get quite cross which actually happened to Stanley Tucci in his series Searching for Italy – so best to learn from others’ mistakes!

There are a lot of cultural faux pas to learn about Italy, way too many for this podcast so we’ll probably do another one just for that in fact, but do some research and reading before you go so you can best be prepared to be your best, respectful self. 

7. Not reading up on driving and road rules and costs

You absolutely must be aware of are driving rules in Italy. In theory, it would be nice to think that we could just turn up at the airport car rental, pick up our car, plug in the GPS and speed away to our destination but please, do pay attention to some Italian rules you really do need to know.

Firstly, if you are not from the EU/UK do make sure you have your full driver’s license plus your International Drivers Permit with you. This is a legal requirement that your car rental company may not check but if you are in an accident or are pulled over by police and don’t have this documentation, hefty fines apply – up to around €300. You can easily pick up your IDP from your local automobile association for $40 to $50 

More on potential fines, if you’re caught driving through a ZTL or historic zone, you’ll also be liable for fines that can appear up to 18 months later via the car rental agency. Please take some time to understand what a ZTL is, how to check for and avoid them and you’ll avoid nasty financial surprises you weren’t expecting.  

Did you find a great car rental deal? Another mistake people make is thinking driving in Italy is cheap. It really isn’t when you take into account the cost of fuel, tolls, and parking which can be astronomical in the major cities – just like our own. 

Definitely do yourself a favor and study up on the details of driving in Italy if you plan to rent a car.

8. Not having a plan to manage your money and not knowing how to avoid large transaction and exchange fees

While cash is still very much king in Italy in certain scenarios, it is not your friend for most things. We suggest carrying minimal cash to use for parking, local transportation, bathrooms, and small cafes. It is handy to have around €100 in cash in small notes on you in small notes (less than €50 bills) for these situations.

For other transactions, use your travel-appropriate Visa or Mastercard debit or credit card that does not charge transaction fees and accesses the best exchange rates. We use Wise and Revolut for this purpose. They are international cards where you can transfer, hold and access funds in Euro and other currencies. They have excellent exchange rates but if you’re not comfortable with those options, do some research on the best travel cards in your country. As an aside, American Express and Diners Club cards are not widely accepted and usually incur an additional fee. 

Take a backup card in case you lose one and for emergencies that can be best to be a credit card, especially if driving because debit cards often don’t work with the toll machines on the roads (we aren’t sure why). 

No one wants to be stuck abroad cashless. Have a plan for your money so you know how to access funds if you need to and make sure you don’t pay above the odds for your purchases by choosing the right card. 

9. Not purchasing travel insurance

Insurance of any kind is a contentious topic but we would never travel without it and it’s not for the reasons you might think. In these post-pandemic days, booking and cancelation clauses are quite flexible, and so you can choose them so you don’t need to buy travel insurance to cover a specific part of your travel or to cover loss or theft of items. BUT we believe and always buy travel insurance to cover hospitalization and repatriation in case we fall ill or are involved in an accident. This was the case prior to covid and will continue to be the case. Italy has an excellent hospital system and will offer some free care in certain places, however, if you fall seriously ill or are incapacitated in a major way then you’ll need to halt your trip, get treatment and get home. If you need a nurse to assist you or in the very worst case you (or your body) need to be repatriated it starts to become crushingly expensive. 

This can happen due to a simple trip on a cobblestone or a nasty bout of flu that turns into pneumonia.  It can get very expensive – to the tens of thousands of dollars and beyond. As can quarantine arrangements if you test positive for covid in Italy. That’s at your own cost so do yourself a favor, get the travel insurance and let them handle it if something like that was to occur. Read what to look for in a travel insurance policy for Italy here.

10. Following other’s plans and not traveling the way you want to

Traveling is a joy and it should tap into your sense of adventure and fun. Planning can get a bit overwhelming, especially as Italy offers so many incredible options for every kind of interest but if you’re feeling that way –  stop, take a minute, and tap back into why you want to go to Italy. What’s driving the passion and drive to get on that plane? Is it the landscapes? the people? the food? the culture? Maybe it’s all of the above. At that point, it’s time to take stock and wonder what it is that will make your trip truly memorable or amazing. 

For example, if you want to do a cooking class – is there a dish you want to learn to make that means something special to you? Because you can learn a basic pasta dish with ragu pretty much anywhere you go in Italy but if you’d like to learn carbonara or cacio e pepe – best to do that in Rome and the surrounds where they have the perfect ingredients. If you want to learn some amazing vegetarian dishes to add to your repertoire, our friends Holly and Gianluca in Capri teach you the best. 

If you want to go wine tasting. Well, what type of wine do you like? Italy has so many varieties and most people just head to Chianti which while fabulous may not be your favorite. If you love sparkling wine then you’ll want to head to Prosecco country in the north or for something very special Franciacorta on the banks of Lake Garda.

Do you want to go hiking along the Amalfi Coast? The Path of the Gods is crowded and not your only option. 

Look to your heart, follow your own path and travel the way you want to. Yes, listen and be open to new ideas and suggestions but one person’s incredible travel plan may not be your own. Travel your way and find the people that like to travel your way because they will have the best suggestions. 

Travel the Untold Italy way

Traveling the Untold Italy way is soaking up every last minute, exploring the many different regions and subcultures of Italy. When you’re in the big cities it’s looking for those unique curiosities you can only find there or chasing after a unique experience that speaks to your passions – whether that be history, food, or creating art.

Our style of travel includes getting to grips with a myriad of pasta shapes and unique tastes that draw on seasonal local ingredients because pasta in Italy is not just Pasta al Pomodoro. We’re about meeting local artisans and discovering the passion and dedication behind their creations. But above all, we believe in having time to explore and time to relax. And to enjoy long leisurely aperitivo and meals with great wine and even better company.

Untold Italy Tours

If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to experience Italy beyond the obvious but were not sure how to organize your trip, let Untold Italy Tours take care of it for you and help you discover your authentic Italy. Come journey with us to untold regions and discover the Italian places, faces, stories, and tastes whose memories linger for years to come.

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