Episode #015: Our Italy travel fails – a cautionary tale

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Listen to “Italy travel fails and bloopers – mistakes we’ve made and lessons learned” on Spreaker.




If you just looked at Instagram or read travel articles you would think all trips to Italy are 100% sunny days, happy snaps and delicious gelato. But let’s get real. Things can and do go wrong when you travel anywhere. Even in Italy. And even to seasoned travelers like us. In our travel fails episode we tell you some stories of the mistakes we made when planning trips to Italy and once we got there.

Show notes
Let’s face it, when you travel, things can and do go wrong. And actually this is all part of the experience. After all you’re often tired, experiencing sensory overload and are sometimes communication is lost in translation. But here’s the thing. Usually, these fails become your favorite travel stories and the stuff of family legend.

In this episode, Josie and I talk you through our best bloopers over many years of travel in Italy. We recorded this episode in mid February 2020 well before the current crisis we are experiencing today. There’s a lot of laughter as we talk through what we have done wrong. We hope it brings some escape as well as knowledge of what not do as you plan your own trips to Italy.

Our travel fails cover a whole range of issues – from packing right to itinerary planning, plus getting around and even not listening to instructions. We’re all human right? We hope this light-hearted look at what can go wrong helps you avoid some of the mistakes we’ve made. But, in the end, you can’t plan for every situation so we also talk about how how you respond to challenging circumstances can end up being a highlight of your trip.

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What you’ll learn in this episode

  1. Our biggest packing mistake
  2. Why it’s important to know what a ZTL is
  3. Why Google maps is not always your friend
  4. Why you should always check opening hours, festival days and free museum days
  5. What to check before you head off on a day trip to the Cinque Terre
  6. Why you need to build in extra time at the airport


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Prefer to read along as you listen? Below is a full transcript of our episode conversation. Unfortunately it does not pick up our lovely Australian accents however!

Intro (00:04):
Ciao and benvenuti to Untold Italy. I’m Josie and I’m Katy and we’re here to help you plan your trip to Italy. Between us, we have many years of travel experience and we want to help you uncover your own as yet untold stories and adventures in Italy. Each episode you’ll hear practical advice, tips and ideas to help you plan your own trips to the magical land of history, stunning landscapes, and a whole lot of pasta. We’ll have interviews from experts and focus on local destinations and frequently asked questions about travel in Italy. Thanks for listening and make sure to subscribe to our show. Now let’s get started on your regular dose of Bella Italia

Katy (00:51):
Ciao everyone. It’s Katy here and this is another episode that we recorded prior to the corona virus crisis that we’re now facing. In this episode, Josie and I talk about all the mistakes and bloopers that we’ve made during our trips and planning our trips to Italy. There’s a lot of laughing and we hope that if you’re needing a bit of a break from staying indoors and reading the news, that you find this helpful and a little bit entertaining. So without further ado, here’s our episode on bloopers in planning our trips to Italy.

Josie (01:24):
Buongiorno! Today we’ve got a fun episode about our travel fails, bloopers and planning mistakes. I like what you’ve called this episode. Mistakes we’ve made, lessons we’ve learned.

Katy (01:35):
Yup. Oh gosh. I really have made so many mistakes, most of which I can laugh about now. How about you, Josie?

Josie (01:41):
Ah, I’ve got a few that I still cry over to be honest, Katy. And we’re going to cover too much luggage, which is usually my one.

Katy (01:48):
not enough research.

Josie (01:51):
My best one – rushing around when we’ve tried to fit in too much and actually then we miss out on the best places.

Katy (01:57):
Oh, not listening to instructions.

Josie (01:59):
Oh yeah. Especially when you’re driving

Katy (02:02):
And relying on Google maps and GPS. But let’s get started. How about that luggage, Josie?

Josie (02:09):
Ah, I always take too much. And I mean, over the last couple of episodes we’ve all heard about Venice and how hard Venice is. We took big luggage and we’re lugging this luggage luggage around. We broke one of the luggage because it was too heavy, so the wheels broke off. And here we are trying to… We’ve got four big suitcases. We didn’t pack well. So listen to our packing episode. And we’ve got a broken suitcase that has then caused me issues for six weeks of travel because my husband kept bringing it up.

Katy (02:40):
Oh my goodness. What a nightmare. Look, I think we’ve all been there. I think my luggage learning moment was in Paris where I was lugging up a very large suitcase up some Metro train station. But it’s really important here. Everyone take note. Please do not take large luggage. I’ve also got an example most recently when it wasn’t my luggage, but we had to help someone who had a large case. We had to put the luggage on the train seats because there wasn’t enough room in the above luggage compartments or at the end of the train to keep the luggage. So the luggage was just sitting there and we’re just lucky that there was space really. Cause I don’t know otherwise, what we would’ve done.

Josie (03:26):
Katy picture this for two adults, two teenagers who had to bring everything. We get to Catania airport, we’ve booked a car. The car is too small to fit four pieces of luggage. It was honestly the most stressful time because then we had to upgrade, spend more money to get a bigger car to then fit these four big bags of luggage. Silly.

Katy (03:50):
Yeah. Everything’s a little bit smaller like that in Italy. So you really just need to make sure you minimize your luggage and just keep everything as tight as you can in that area because trust us, that is going to hurt. We’ve been there and it wasn’t pretty.

Josie (04:07):
How about not enough research? I don’t know. Katy, I, I feel that you do a lot of research.

Katy (04:12):
Yeah, but I learned that the hard way. So just sort of day to day things when you don’t have the most amazing meal because you’ve not looked up some restaurants that you wanted to try. They’re some of the ones that come up quite a lot. But one really good one was when I went to the Cinque Terre and look, it was just painful. I didn’t check the weather on the day that we went as a day trip. And hopefully you have listened to our Cinque Terre episode with local Amy from there and she doesn’t recommend a day trip. And I have to agree actually. It wasn’t the best decision I ever made. But anyway, we did it and look, the ferries weren’t running that day. So what it meant was that everyone was trying to go on the trains and the train station was packed like 10 to 15 people deep and everyone was squashing on the trains. And I had to get on this train because we had our two small children with us. I think they weren’t even two at the time. My husband had the double stroller, like I’m talking, this is a nightmare. And we ended up having to pass our children onto the train to strangers to get them on the train.

Josie (05:26):
Oh wow.

Katy (05:26):
Yeah. So I mean, I felt like a really terrible parent, but I wasn’t going to stand on that platform any longer and the ferries weren’t running, but this all could’ve been avoided by some simple research. And what that was is that if the seas are rough, the ferries will not be running. And so then the trains are limited. And yes, it was probably one of the most I guess disappointing days that I’ve had. But in the end it worked out okay. Because it, guess what we did?

Josie (05:56):
What did you do?

Katy (05:57):
We ended up at Monterosso on the beach at the beach club and I had a restorative glass of wine. And the kids played in the sea and it ended up being actually a really great day. But look, it could have been avoided with a bit of planning.

Josie (06:11):
Yeah. And I think one of the big things also in Italy that I’ve faced is that in some parts of Italy in Puglia on a Sunday, nothing works. So no buses go there. Or they’re on holiday mode. Or even when you get to Rome, sometimes we got to Rome and all of a sudden there was a lot of people everywhere and realize that the Vatican was having this amazing canonization of people. And you couldn’t get anywhere near the Vatican. You know, the Sistine chapel was closed for special things. And you’re right, it would have just taken a really simple research to understand what is going on. And I think sometimes even costs of hotels are really, really expensive because you haven’t realized things like that. This is not Italy, but we ended up in Paris during the World Cup. And they had one of the matches in Paris and it was just, there was bedlam everywhere. So things like that stop the country – soccer and Holy days and festivals. So there are things that you need to research.

Katy (07:18):
And I would say definitely when you’re going to Rome, the Vatican has definite times when they are doing special events and that’s published. Some of the museums in Italy open for free on the first Sunday of every month. And that may sound like an amazing idea, but let me tell you, it’s packed. You may not have a great experience. You can’t get tours for those days. So if you’re traveling around the, the end of the week and the start of the week, Sunday, Monday. If you’re in Florence and Venice and Rome, just check the, just check the timing because you will find that some things are closed or they open or maybe open on these free days and it might be hard for you to get in.

Josie (08:05):
And some of those not touristy locations, maybe like Puglia and some little towns in Sicily on the weekends or after three, they have siestas, you know. Just check because there’s no point walking around at three o’clock when there’s no one out and about. You might as well have a nice bottle of wine back in your apartment, which we’ve learned. We were walking around, Lecce where there was absolutely no one, so it would have been better to get a bottle of wine, stay back in the hotel and relax.

Katy (08:36):
Oh, see research, you’ve gotta do your research. Now the next one, I think most people are guilty of this. And it’s rushing around and trying to fit too much in.

Josie (08:48):
Yeah. And I think sometimes we forget, we live so far away, we get a bit of jet lag. So I’ve planned to do things on the first day. I get there and you’re back to back to back. And then realize that I’ve just taken it too far. You know, we haven’t seen enough from rushing. We’ll do Rome in a day. Well Rome was not built in a day, nor should it be seen in a day.

Katy (09:11):
That is so true. But I think it’s just so easy to do cause you get really excited. And I used to be a really crazy traveler trying to do everything and thinking I was going to miss out. I have that gene in me. It’s there definitely. And I had to really take a step back. We’re planning a trip that will be on when this episode goes to air and I just was trying to do too much. So I had to tell my husband, “Oh, I just need to cut the Dolomites. It’s just not going to happen” and he said, “I thought that might happen.” Oh, but this is really important. You need to build in time to just regroup and relax. And especially if you’re traveling with children, make sure there’s plenty of time to sit and run around in the piazza and have a gelato and just enjoy this experience of actually just being there.

Josie (10:07):
Yeah, I agree. I think sometimes we think that we have to do all of the amazing sites. But be particular, be present, really research. Because we’ve made some mistakes and I think when you were telling me about your tour and where you were going to go, I kept thinking in my head, “I don’t know how she’s going to do all of that.” So I was really glad when you changed it. She was literally up and down all over Italy. So, I think you’re right. You do need to slow down because you are with your families or you’re with your partner or you’re doing something fun. You want to enjoy it and you want to have those beautiful, amazing memories. I’ve had a few driving bloopers actually. So I’ve got a fine coming. So we were in Puglia in June and I didn’t realize about the ZTL historic zones. There are signs – it’s a white sign, red circle with a cross through it. You cannot drive in ancient areas or old towns. Well I did not know that. So the problem with that is, people are looking at you, you’ve got yourself in this stret, you can’t get yourself out. You actually just end up being committed thinking, “Oh my gosh, I have to finish this.” I’ve now waiting for a fine, which takes 12 months to come. So, this is from June last year.I still haven’t got the fine,

Katy (11:33):
Oh, the ZTL, they’ll get you every time. Well, we’ve actually got one that went a bit one step too far from there.

Josie (11:42):
This story’s actually a really good one.

Katy (11:43):
So we were in Sicily and we were having a great time when we arrived. Now these are a couple of things that went wrong here. First of all, we didn’t read or listen to the instructions that came from the hotel. They gave specific directions on how to get there. So we’re driving around the old town of Agrigento. Now you could actually drive in that there wasn’t a ZTL, but they do have extremely narrow streets. So if we had a read the hotel instructions properly, we would have not followed Google maps, which I’ll get to that in a minute. We wouldn’t have gone down this very narrow street where we were just like, “Oh it says it’s okay, off we go”. And we’re driving and the roads are getting narrower and narrower and narrower and looking scary, right? Because we can see walls on either side of the car and there wasn’t much space. And in the end I think we said to each other, “I don’t think this is going to work.” And I got out and went to find the hotel people to help us and they really were just shouting at us. Probably thinking “Oh no, these crazy tourists. What were they doing?” And in the end the hotel manager got the car out, but there were scrapes on either side of the car. My husband was worried about it for the whole trip and it wasn’t great. But lesson there was, do not rely on Google maps or your GPS because they’re not up to date, especially in the more remote areas like Sicily. And Puglia, I imagine and do listen to the instructions from your hotel cause they probably know what they’re talking about.

Josie (13:21):
So that goes back to research and making sure you listen. Look, I agree with you. We’ve all done it. And you know, there’s been times that we haven’t allowed enough time to get to the airport. That’s the other thing. Oh no, we’ll do that and we’ve got to take into account traffic and getting through different airports. So my other blooper is that when you’re in Italy, you can also do tax free. So everywhere you go, tax free, tax free, tax free. So we got to Rome airport and I went to the special area. I’ve checked in, did everything, then went to the tax free area with all my envelopes that are collected on my six weeks away. I’m going to get tax free. Cause that’s what you do. You get there and there’s three different types of booths that you have to go to. So it takes a good hour. So you wait an hour, you get through to one and they go, so where are the goods?” “What do you mean? Where are the goods?” The goods are in the suitcase, which we didn’t know the goods have to be with you as you go through. So these are some of the bloopers in the end. It takes a long time to get the duty free, so be prepared. We ended up getting no tax free back because we didn’t have the goods with us.

Katy (14:35):
Wow. Well, I actually did something similar just recently and I got to the airport and the line was just so long. And I knew that line was going to take, I was estimating at least an hour and a half. So I just said, “That’s it. The tax is gone.” I’ve just had to forfeit that refund. So we’ve all been there and done that and it really is a bit of a shock to the system. So planning.. You know, a lot of people say you can plan too much. And that’s true. You do need to like relax and leave some time, but I think planning is going to stand you in good stead. You don’t need to be obsessive about it. The other thing I would say about planning is Italy is very busy. Even if you have been like maybe 10 years ago or even five years ago, you cannot underestimate how much busier it is these days. You’ve got 35,000 people going through the Vatican Museums every day. You’ve got 35,000 people going through the Coliseum every day. It’s super busy and it’s busy year round. So if you’re the type of person that likes to, you know, float on the breeze and just go where it takes you. If you’re going to the big city and the major tourist areas, unfortunately you are going to need to book in advance. You’re going to need to book accommodation and you’re going to need to book tours and activities because if you try and just turn up on the day, especially in the busy periods, it won’t work for you.

Josie (15:59):
You’re going to miss really great places that you want to see. So I agree with you, Katy. I’ll tell you one other one where made a mistake. I booked a Walks of Italy tour. And I missed the date. You know how sometimes you rush things and I just didn’t have time to check this time. And so we got to the point and I said to my husband, “I’ve booked the wrong date.” But the really good thing was that they were really great. I explained to the tour guide, I’d booked the wrong date. Of course I’ve had to pay extra, you know, whatever it was to get on that tour and they fitted me in. So again, you can do it. You can miss the ins and out dates. So I have a big spreadsheet and I have all of the information. But you’re right, even then make sure that you recheck your thinking, recheck your dates in and dates out. Because there’s been times, and I mean I’m a hotelier and I show up at the hotel on either a day before, or a day later. So there’s those sort of things that you have to take into consideration too, right? So double check all of that. Do your planning and it just goes smoother.

Katy (17:09):
It really does. But you know what? I think things are going to go wrong. Something will always go wrong. So on my last trip I was trying to do something a little bit tricky. Which was to go from Rome to Orvieto where we were going to explore for half a day. Leave out luggage at the station; which is a really good idea actually. And then go on to a forward journey onto Florence. Now I just assumed that the train was going to stop at Santa Maria Novella station, which is the main station in Florence. But noooo this train stopped at Rifredi station. And when we got there, it’s not really a good taxi area. So we were just standing there with our luggage. There was no taxis. There’s no Uber in Florence. So we’re frantically googling Florence taxi apps, which we managed to get and, don’t worry, I’ll share that freely with everyone now. But even that wasn’t working. So we were so fortunate that a lovely local (and shout out to Alice who was just standing there feeling sorry for us) who called a cab for us and got us to our Airbnb on time. Because we were going to get a penalty if we were late for that meeting as well. So look, it happens to everyone. But I also think these problems are going to happen, but it’s how you bounce back from it that’s going to make your trip. So like I mentioned in my story about the Cinque Terre, it was a pretty traumatic day at first glance. But in the end we made it work for us and we can laugh about it now to some degree.

Josie (18:48):
But don’t you think some of the bloopers and some of the things that we do, are some of the best days? And I think you know, sometimes you might feel that, you know, you’ve been ripped off by a taxi driver or something hasn’t gone your way that day, but you know what, it doesn’t matter. Enjoy it. You know, sit back, have a drink, have an aperitivo and really enjoy it because you know, it’ll be fine. Some amazing thing will happen to you during that moment. Clarity will come and it’ll be all fine.

Katy (19:17):
It’ll be the kindness of a stranger like Alice in Florence or the American backpackers, the girls that were helping us on the train in the Cinque Terre. I mean there’s always people there that are going to help and it’s just a little blip. Don’t let it ruin your holiday and just get on with having a great time in Italy.

Josie (19:35):
I agree. There are some amazing people you meet on your travels. And sometimes it takes those difficult moments to look around and really experience it. So I agree. Locals are amazing. Ask a question if you’re having problems. We’ve all had them whether you’re driving, training you know, luggage all sorts of things. People will help. So I think just enjoy, cause it’s an amazing place to go.

Katy (20:02):
So we hope you’ve learnt something from our mistakes. And at the very least know that even if things don’t go to plan there’s usually a way to fix it. And then you might even have an adventure.

Josie (20:12):
I agree, Katy. I think there’s some amazing things that can happen. So thank you for listening. We’d be so grateful if you left a rating or a review if you found this episode useful. And don’t forget to subscribe to our podcast for all the best and latest episodes here.

Katy (20:30):
Thanks for listening everyone. See you next time.

Josie (20:33):
See you next time.

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