Planning a Trip to Italy
Planning your trip to Italy can be fun! Many of us at the Center have experienced the thrill of visiting Italy, whether it be a tour of the big cities or a visit to our family’s comune. Thorough planning beforehand can make your trip more enjoyable. We have a vast array of brochures, maps, travel guides and “tips”, everything from “when to go” to “how to get around”. Let us help you.
You needn’t be afraid of traveling independently in Italy. Tourists are welcome everywhere and most people will go out of their way to help you. With a little research beforehand, you can be sure of a much more interesting experience than with a package tour. We have contacts in Italy if you’re in the need for a day tour. Need someone to pick you up at the airport, drive you to your comune and translate for you? Chances are, we know someone who can do just that!
Air – You will probably land at either Rome or Milan. Both of these airports offer car rental, rail and connecting flights to smaller local airports, all of which can be reserved in advance. These airports are very easy to navigate and once you get off the plane, just follow the crowd to the baggage pick-up area. Tip: You will find that all the agents speak English, so getting help is no problem.
Car – Italy has an excellent network of roads and highways, comprising nearly 4000mi of express highways and 180,000mi of secondary roads. The country’s famous ‘autostrada’ runs the length and breadth of the peninsula. These toll roads are supported by an excellent network of secondary roads, classified into different categories of national highways (‘strade statali’), provincial roads (‘strade provinciali’) and municipal roads (‘strade communali’). You will encounter tremendous traffic congestion in some of the northern areas and in large cities. But in southern parts of the country the roads are less crowded and easy to navigate. Tip: Although it is fairly easy to get to your destination without any help, renting a GPS can make life a lot easier. Tip – Car rental is cheaper if reservations are made from the US rather than in Italy. We have several rental agencies we can recommend. To rent a car, you must be at least 18 years old and have held your license for 1 year. A US Drivers License is valid, however it must be accompanied by an International Driving Permit, which you can get through AAA for about $15.00. Tip: Gas stations are open from 7am to 12:30pm and from 3:30pm to 7pm and closed on Sundays.
Rail – The Italian national railroad network is called Trenitalia. It is unnecessary to book seats or purchase tickets more than a day or two before your journey. It is extremely important to remember to “validate” your rail ticket before boarding. Machines for date-stamping your ticket are located on station platforms and are usually yellow in color. Tip: Point-to-point tickets can be validated on the station platforms, however, rail passes must be validated at the ticket counter before they are used for the 1st time. Several options are available for purchasing tickets and with a little research, we can help you choose your most cost-efficient option. Tip – Often, we found that several “point-to-point” tickets are cheaper than a “rail pass”. We can offer you some of our tips to make your night-train trip a wonderful experience. Tip: Plan your rail travel around mealtime. Purchase some wine, cheese and meats from a local deli and enjoy while viewing the countryside.
Bus – The major Italian bus company that operates throughout the country is called SITA. Tickets can be purchased at the tobacco shops. Tip – Remember to “validate” your ticket upon entering the bus.
Taxi – They’re everywhere! Tip – Get a price before you get in and ask if it is a “per-person” price. Also ask if there is an additional charge for luggage.
Telephones – Public telephones are available throughout Italy. Local and international calls require the use of a phone card. Tip: It is MUCH cheaper to use an Italian phone card, which may be purchased at any newsstand or tobacco shop.
Email – Internet Cafes are popping up all over. Tip: set up web-access mail for your trip (like the mail offered by Yahoo!, Hotmail, etc.). It is the easiest to use abroad since the only software and configuration you need are built right into the browser.
Post Offices – are open from 8:30 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. On Saturdays they close at 12:00. Stamps may be purchased only at tobacco shops and at the Post Office. Tip: Always check at the counter for the exact fare to the country of destination.
General Delivery Mail – Incoming mail can be addressed c/o Post Office by adding “FERMO POSTA” after the name of the town. The addressee can claim mail at the Central Post Office upon identification by passport.
Language – It seems like everyone in the larger cities speak English, however, in the smaller communes, can be challenging. Tip: All kids are taught English in school & they love to be translators.
Sleeping, Shopping & Money…
Accommodations – All hotel accommodations in Italy include a buffet breakfast. We have a list of several hotels we’ve stayed at, along with a list of websites we’ve used. Upon check-in, you will be asked to leave your passport with the desk. Tip: Make several copies of your passport, leave one at home and take the rest with you. If possible, try to give your hotel a copy instead of the original.The electrical current in Italy is AC – the cycle is 50Hz 220 V. A tourist carrying electrical appliances to Italy should have a transformer. Tip: Nearly all the hotels offer a hairdryer for use. Venere is a fantastic website to find hotels.
Restaurants – Delis, pastry shops, sidewalk cafes, pizza shops …… they’re everywhere! And the food is absolutely wonderful! Tip: If you are grabbing “to-go” food from a cafe, you pay for the items 1st and then go get them.
Shopping – Although normally shops are open from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 3:30/4 p.m. to 7:30/ 8 p.m., in large cities and tourist areas there is a tendency to stay open from 9.30 a.m. to 7.30 p.m. Each U.S. tourist may bring back to the U.S. duty-free $400 worth of goods purchased abroad. The goods must accompany the traveler. A flat rate of 10% is assessed on the next $1,000 worth of goods purchased. Parcels containing gifts may be sent from abroad to the U.S. duty-free, providing the total value of such parcels received by one person, one day does not exceed $50. Tip: Take along an empty duffle bag and bubble-wrap to pack souvenirs in. There are UPS shipping locations everywhere and most stores in major cities will pack and ship for you. Most reputable establishments will accept major credit cards. Those establishments accepting credit cards will post the logos in their front windows, just as they do in the USA. Tip: Quite often you will get a better price by paying in cash.
Currency – ATM machines offer the best exchange rates and they can be found practically everywhere. Tip: Take two different cards with you, as not all machines accept all cards.
USA Gifts – Practically anything from the US is appreciated, but some of the more popular items are picture books of our country, photo frames, Indian jewelry, and flower/vegetable seeds. Tip:Carry some treat-sized chocolates and gum to pass out to the kids.
Pack very little!! We can’t stress this enough! Cars are small, elevators are small, train aisles are small, so make your baggage small! Make sure your luggage has wheels. As far as clothes go, the same is true – pack light. No one will know if you wear the same outfit more than once. Tip – Your most important article of clothing will be your shoes. Invest in a good pair of walking shoes.