Because we travel to Italy for buying trips on a regular basis, we’ve learned a lot of lessons first-hand that we feel can help you prepare for your own visit. Here are some travel tips that you might find helpful.
This is advice for west coasters: Try to get a flight with a carrier that offers direct flights to Europe. This way you don’t get stuck with weather problems you may experience in the Midwest or on the east coast. If there is a delay or flight cancellation with your flight into Italy you will find more options from Germany or France, than from Kennedy or Dulles.
If you fly into Rome or Milan take the train into the city. It’s easy and it’s cheap. You can easily get a taxi from the central station.
If you take a train, you MUST pack light. Large suitcases just don’t fit in the overhead bins or aisle ways. The airport trains have more space for luggage, but if you plan on doing any more train travel, use a small suitcase. You may have seen me dragging my huge suitcase down the aisle of the Milan/Rome train. It was too wide on the side with the wheels, so I literally had to drag it in search of a seat – one of the worst travel days of my life.
Back to the train… I love traveling by train. You just have to do it right.
Unlike traveling by air, trains take you right to the center of town. You can usually walk to your hotel and other sites from the train station. If you fly, you have to take a taxi to get to the center, and if you drive you have to plan a lot of extra time for getting lost and then you have to find parking.
My only other tips for train travel are pack light and for a long trip, make a reservation. Reservations are very important for long trips. You can usually buy a ticket in any class of the train even if it is full. If you don’t have a reserved seat, you get to stand, sit, squat, whatever… in the aisle and the aisles are narrow. If you are taking a longer trip, book the Eurostar. It is faster and more comfortable than any other trains.
There are definitely advantages to traveling by car. You can visit places off the beaten track and you have control (sort of) over your destination. Even those with the best sense of direction get lost in Italy. Just ask my Mom. From memory she can guide you though any town in Italy, but she still has her stories of driving in circles trying to get to the old center in Perugia.
Here are a few things to remember: drive on the right and pass on the left. It’s a universal rule that is usually ignored in the US. You can get a ticket in Italy for driving on the left. It is a passing lane. When you are driving on the right, expect to be tailgated. The Italians tend to drive right up to your rear and then pass just as you are preparing for an accident. It’s a little nerve wracking, but they seem to have it down. My advice is to get good maps and pad your schedule with some extra time for finding your way.
My Favorite Places
I love Italy. I love the sea, the lakes, the mountains, for such a small country it has amazing diversity.
My father is from Castellana Grotte in Puglia (the heel of the boot). This isn’t an area that is traveled much by Americans and people here tend to speak less English, but it is possible to get around and it is worth it. There are a few places that you shouldn’t miss. Castellana has some impressive caves that can be toured.