My husband and I traveled to Italy this past summer to celebrate our 31st wedding anniversary. We visited Rome, Florence, Assisi, Cinque Terre and Venice.
We didn’t go with a tour group instead planned it out by myself. I’ve been planning our family trips in the US for years, how hard can it be to plan an overseas one? It was actually fun! Obviously, I didn’t really know where to start since I have not been to Europe before. This didn’t bother me because I knew there is a lot of information on the web that will help me. So, that’s what I did. In this post I share all the apps / websites that I used to plan our 10-day trip. Even if you are not planning a trip to Italy, you will be able to use this information to plan your trip anywhere in the world. Trip hacks, travel packing, and detailed review of places we visited will be in other posts.
US State Department It goes without saying that the first thing you need to do is to make sure that you have a valid passport for at least 6 months from the date of travel. If you don’t have a passport, you may apply through your local post office or County Clerk of Court. Check out their website for additional information. US Citizens traveling to Italy do not need a visa. The State Department site has information about travel advisories and visa requirements to all countries.
kayak.com – Now that you have your passport. It’s time to plan. The first thing I did was to figure out when Ralph and I could travel. Since we are both teach, we can only travel for an extended period at certain times of the year. Typically, we can go during the summer or Christmas break. If you have some freedom to travel at any time of the year, you may check when the best times are to visit that particular country. Do you want to visit in the winter or at Christmas time? Are you celebrating a special occasion? Would you like to arrive and depart from the same city? If I were to plan another trip to Italy, I would book an open jaw ticket. This means you will fly into one airport and depart from another. For example, you can fly into Rome and fly out from either Milan or Venice. This maximizes your stay and eliminates wasting one day traveling back to the city where you flew in. The open jaw itinerary is especially perfect for travel to Italy because of the shape of the country and locations of favorite cities to visit. You can either go from the south (Rome or Naples) to the north (Milan or Venice) or vice versa. For us, we flew into and out of Rome.
My go to site to check for airline prices is www.kayak.com. Feel free to change outbound and inbound days. Include alternate or nearby airports in your search. Sometimes you will find reduced prices at smaller airports. I cross reference on www.cheapoair.com, expedia.com or orbitz.com. I also check out specific airline sites for the itinerary that I find on my initial search. Don’t forget to check one-way air fares. Sometimes you will find that buying one-way fares from different airlines will save you money. In our case, I found a $546.00 per person round trip ticket from JFK (New York) to FCO (Rome). I found one-way fares from Orlando to New York (and return) for $232 per person for a total of $778 round trip to Italy.
If you have more flexibility in your schedule for travel, check out skyscanner.com. You can compare prices for travel a month at time to find the best deals. I have not used this but plan to do so on our next trip.Cross reference
III. What to do/Places to See
ricksteves.com. Now that you have booked your flight/s, you’re half way done, NOT. The next thing I did was to list all the places Ralph and I wanted to visit. This was the best part of travel planning for me. I had so much fun researching every place we wanted to visit. To help me with this, I purchased Rick Steves‘ 2018 Italy Guide (2019 is now out). I also read blogs, watched vlogs on YouTube and read the guide from front to back, twice! I downloaded and listened to his podcast on Italy and watched all of his Italy videos. I followed The Roman Guy, a local travel guide and Zoey Arielle, a Canadian expat now living in Rome on YouTube. I read several blogs but found the Italian Fix to be the most helpful. I also scoured posts on Instagram and followed those who posted pics of places we wanted to visit. I found the best restaurant in Cinque Terre, Nessun Dorma, from a post on IG.
My husband only requested to visit Assisi to pay tribute to his favorite Saint and to visit The Vatican and St. Peter’s Basilica. Mine was to visit Trastevere and Cinque Terre. I wanted to visit Positano and the Amalfi Coast but we were short on time to see them all.
I also relied heavily on Trip Advisor for places to go, what to do and restaurants to eat at in different places we visited. The only tour we purchased was the one for Tuscany. I booked this Viator tour through Trip Advisor site. To visit the Vatican and St. Peter’s Basilica, we purchased the Omnia Pass. It is a 72 hours pass that will get you in to the Vatican, Colosseum, and two other sites and skip the lines.
AirBnB now offers Experiences as well so check it out as you are searching for lodging so check this out.
airbnb.com. Once we settled on our itinerary, it was time to find lodging. We decided to stay at AirBnB‘s not only to save money but also get a feel for what it is like to live as a local. We stayed at least 2 nights in one place to avoid losing time checking in and out from one place. We did this except in Assisi and our last night in Rome. Prices ranged in prices from $60 a night in Assisi to $125 a night in Venice.
I chose the places not solely on the price but on location and amenities. Since we were traveling in the middle of the summer, I made sure that it had air conditioning. Ralph is picky on sharing bathrooms with strangers so I chose lodging that only had private bathrooms. We also considered distance from train or metro stations especially that we were backpacking. I made a boo-boo on this one with our first house in Rome, though. I thought that it was a private bathroom but turned out we shared it with other guests. It was not too bad though because we didn’t really see each other. On our last day, we finally met them and they turned out to be young lady tourists from Japan. We ended up having breakfast together.
Be sure to read the reviews for each place. Pay attention to sizes of bedrooms, bathrooms, distance from public transportation, or cleanliness of the area. You can find this out from the description of the house/apartment/condo by the host and reviews from prior guests. I tend to go for places that have been rented a lot. However, somebody’s good review could still mean not the perfect place they say it is. Be sure to communicate with the host and ask questions prior to booking it.
Unlike hotels, you will pay for your stay up front. There are some places that will hold it with a deposit. It is also important to check additional fees including cleaning fees. This can be a pretty penny. If you cancel, some of these may not be refundable. In some cities, including Rome, you will be charged an additional $2-$4 per person per day “tourist” tax. This is payable only in cash at time of check in.
Speaking of checking in, be sure to communicate with the host your ETA. Most of the places we stayed at were very accommodating and allowed us to check in before their normal check in time. The only place where they were not accommodating was in Florence. Some places will include breakfast as well as free luggage storage.
Another place that I used to reserve lodging is hotels.com. In fact, I cross reference the prices on AirBnB with this site. I read the reviews from past guests if they are applicable. Just like in choosing airline ticket, you can use hotels.com to give a general search of prices. You can then go directly to the hotel’s website and check if they have better deals. In Italy, prices posted prices are in dollars. It will be charged to your credit or bank account in its Euro equivalent.
V. Trains and Automobiles
goeuro.com Flights, check. Lodging, check. What to do/what to see, check. It is time to plan your local transportation. Ralph and I were not brave enough to drive in Italy, so renting a car was not a consideration. If you are brave enough, I suggest you take the train to a smaller city and rent a car there to avoid the madness of Italian drivers. I should be used to this as Italians drive as crazily as Filipinos. We would have rented a car to visit places in Tuscany but we opted for a guided tour instead.
Italy has a great rail system, from what we observed. They were clean and comfortable. You can choose to ride a fast or slow train, or a regional train. We heard that strikes are a commonplace in Italy. Thankfully there were none when we were there. For the most part, all of our trips were on time. We only missed a connection in Pisa en route to Florence from Cinque Terre. I used GoEuro to book all our train travel. You can buy train tickets in advance or just prior to your trip. Using the app is very user friendly. You may also purchase tickets on the day you travel at the train station itself. It is very easy to do since there is an English option. Another site you can use is RailEurope. This one charged a higher service fee so I used GoEuro instead.
Other helpful sites
- Google Maps – you can download offline maps so you can find where to go even without the internet
- Google Translate – try to learn some simple phrases in the language that you are visiting. However, if you can’t, this app helps. I carried out a conversation with our host in Assisi using this app! Actually, both of us were using the app!
- Google Flights – a new way to find airline tickets to anywhere in the world. If you have the gift of time, just enter your origin then type in Everywhere in the destination and it will show lowest prices for flights anywhere in the world on a certain month.
- Instagram – you will find information from people who have visited the places you want to visit.
- Vayable – similar to AirBnB Experiences. You can book local experiences offered by local insiders
- Your local bank or credit union.
I hope this helps you plan your next vacation. Check back for posts about travel tips and tricks as well as what to pack.
Where is your next vacation? Do you have favorite apps to help you plan for your travels? Please share with a comment below.