Traveling to a foreign country can be challenging, sometimes.
And if you are traveling overseas, visiting a place which is completely new to you, it could be even more stressful. Not to mention the fact that probably you are visiting a country you have been dreaming of for ages and maybe it is your only chance to go there and you want to do everything right, without missing anything.
Sometimes you leave with so many expectations and so many dreams, that the reality of the place you have been fantasizing on for years turns into sheer disappointment. Or you may make some mistakes in your planning and end up not enjoying it the way you thought you would.
If I think of Italy, my country, I am really sad when I hear people say that they didn’t enjoy it because it was too crowded, or maybe too hot or too cold, or that they couldn’t appreciate a monument or museum because it was incredibly full of tourists, or – even worse – that they were disappointed by the horrible food they had.
Well, negative experiences can be part of every tourist experience, we have to accept it.
But sometimes bad things can happen because you haven’t planned your holiday carefully or maybe because you over planned it (like me, when I went to Paris in my 20s with the only purpose of checking off my list all the things I wanted to see, bringing home only one memory: me dead tired at night with no willingness to do anything but sleep).
There is so much beauty in my country, so many precious things that can be enjoyed, so many experiences you can have here only, that when I hear of people returning home disappointed by Italy, I truly feel a sting in my chest and I am sad for such an incredible missed opportunity,
This is why I decided to write this post and give you some simple tips to make the most of your time in Italy. When I got the idea, I simply thought about what I would suggest to a friend coming to Italy for the first time and what the most important recommendations I would give him or her are. So you can take this post as an advice from an old friend of yours!
But let me now tell you what you should do to experience the most perfect trip to Italy ever.
Stay away from the big three: Florence, Venice, and Rome.
Ok, this is a bit exaggerated, I know. I got a bit carried away, let me tell you. You can’t come to Italy – maybe only once in your life – and not see Rome or Florence or Venice, I would be a pity. But maybe you can do it wisely. Maybe you can’t let them be the only places you visit in Italy and maybe you can avoid spending too much time there.
Florence and Venice, unless they are really the focus of your trip, can be seen in one day: why not choosing a nearby town for your stay and visiting them on a day trip? This would give you the opportunity of enjoying the quietness of a small Italian town without missing the beauty of these two important Italian cities.
Padova, for example, is a perfect place where you can spend a couple of days and it is just 30 minutes away from Venice by train. The same can be said of Lucca, my favorite Tuscan town, where you can enjoy the genuine Italian way of life and get to Florence in about one hour.
Make sure to spend some time in a small town.
If you have been reading this blog for a while now, you may be fed up with me always saying the same thing: the real beauty of Italy lies in its lesser-known places. But I strongly believe in this and I’ll never get tired of repeating it over and over again.
Only if you spend a few days in a little town, away from the bustling tourist destinations, you’ll know how real Italy is. You’ll enjoy having your breakfast at a bar and watching people while sipping your cappuccino, you’ll buy groceries at the local market, you’ll relax with your Spritz at the aperitivo, after a long day of taking things slowly.
Padova and Lucca, the cities I mentioned above, are perfect for this kind of experience. Parma, another city I wrote about in a post of mine last year, is another great place to get the feeling of how provincial life in Italy is.
Avoid peak season – if you can.
I know that sometimes we can’t choose to have your holidays when we’d like but we have to come to compromise with our work or family or daily life, basically. But if you can, it would be great if you could come some other time than peak season.
When is peak season? Well, most of Italians take their holidays in August, which means that all tourist destinations – especially those by the sea – are packed, literally packed at that time of the year. This means not being able to find a spot by the sea, if you want to spend your time at a popular beach – it happened to me, so believe me.
For other places – like Venice or Florence or Cinque Terre – peak season is almost all year round so you have to be prepared but if you visit them in the winter (December excluded), you’ll definitely be able to see them in a better, quieter way. And nothing is more special than Cinque Terre in a mild, winter day, trust me.
Do some research (and don’t be scared).
You are visiting a foreign country, maybe a place where you have never been before, so make sure you prepare yourself a little bit before leaving. After deciding your itinerary, do some research about the places you’ll visit, make sure to know what the local foods are – every single region, if not town, has its own typical food – and if there is something special to taste at the time of the year you are visiting, for example.
Read blogs about Italy and see if there is some off-the-beaten-track location you can visit while there. Make sure to know how trains and public service works, just to be safe and know your way around. A while ago, I have written a post about things to know before visiting Italy but you can find many other posts of this kind that can be helpful to get some practical tips.
While doing this research and reading the tons of stuff you can find on the internet, you’ll surely come across some articles that will scare you. Well, don’t be scared! Yes, there are pickpockets. Yes, some areas can be dangerous. But if you act wisely and pay attention to what you do and where you go – exactly as you would everywhere else in the world – nothing will happen to you.
Learn some Italian.
You can come to Italy without knowing a single word of Italian and still be fine, don’t misunderstand me. We Italians are used to foreigners not knowing our language, so no worries about it. But, since foreigners that speak Italian are so rare, we just love when people do!
You don’t have to learn much, but knowing a bunch of words – like greetings or other polite words, for example – will put every Italian in a good mood. I am sure you’ll end up getting extra kindness and loads of smiles at the restaurant or at a local shop, if you say something in our language.
Moreover, if you plan on spending some time in a less popular location – like my beloved provincial towns, for example – be prepared to the fact that some Italians, older ones especially, don’t know a word of English. So maybe knowing just a few words in Italian can be a matter of surviving! 🙂
Now you: how was your first experience in Italy? What you wish you knew and you didn’t? Let me know!
If you are planning your holiday in Italy and need a customized travel guide, I’d suggest you check Italy Your Own Way, a travel guide completely tailored to your needs and likes.
If you are an independent traveler and do not like organized tours, but feel the need of visiting Italy with the help and guide of a local, Italy Your Own Way is perfect for you. You just need to fill in a questionnaire with your interests and likes and I’ll create your own travel guide, especially for you.