Whether by sea or by land, Steve and I definitely enjoy the thrill of exciting places, new friends, and different cultures. For nearly three years, we had been dreaming/mulling around/seriously contemplating/and finally planning a trip to Italy as my graduation present for completing my PhD. By mid-2016, it was determined that my dissertation defense would indeed happen by the end of 2016 (the exact date was unknown until mid-October but definitely do-able by December) and so a May 2017 graduation date was being anticipated. With a graduation date on the calendar, it was now time to seriously get down to the business of planning the route and determining where exactly we would go in Italy, how long we would stay and what we would do while we were there. What about the funds to pay for the trip you may be wondering…Where does that fit into this equation? Well…with all of my travel miles for work, plus credit cards that offer free travel, and not to mention our hefty travel fund that we had been adding to since we got married in 2011- money was frankly not too much of a consideration.
For those considering a trip to Italy, I would like to share a few tips about the planning process itself and then share pictures and details of each site we visited in subsequent posts. Here are the anwers to the frequently asked questions about our trip:
Did you take a guided tour or did you plan it yourselves?
No, we did not take a pre-planned guided tour of Italy for the entire 4 weeks that we were there. I (Kimberly) planned how we would travel, when we would go, how long we would stay in each city, and what we would do while we were there. BUT, I did utilize the services of Viator to book individual tours of specific sites in each city. I choose to be my own travel guide because 1. I would be able to use points for airfare and hotels which I would not be able to do if we booked a pre-planned tour, and 2. I wanted the flexibility (AKA control) to decide how long we stayed and what we did while we were in each city.
How long was the total trip and did you just stay in Italy?
The entire trip was 4 weeks long (May 10 to June 7) and we spent the entire time in Italy. I chose 5 citites to visit- Rome, Naples, Perugia, Florence and Venice, and then we took day trips from those locations. This enabled us to base ourselves out of one hotel in each city so we would not be schlepping our sh** around Italy too much.
Speaking of schlepping, you must have had a lot of luggage for a month, right?
NOPE! I went into this trip with the strong conviction that we would be backpacking it. To accomplish this task, I performed quite a bit of research for the perfect backpack. My research resulted in the purchase of a 50 liter lightweight backpack, which for $39.99 has paid for itself many times over and I LOVE it! I packed 10 shirts, 4 pairs of shorts, 2 pairs of pants, 2 sweaters, a rainjacket, and undergarments. And still had room for my light blanket and plane pillow to be attached on the outside straps. This wonderfully inexpensive and lightweight backpack used again for my weeklong mission trip to Haiti (See other posts for details of that trip) and now is used weekly for grocery shopping and holds nearly two paper sacks worth of provisions.
So how did you do laundry?
Very easily! We asked, “Dove e il lavanderia?” (Where is the laundromat?) and for less than 10 euro a week, we took a few hours together to stuff our dirty clothes into a bag and come back with fresh clothes for the next week.
How did you get from one city to the next? Did you rent a car?
We did not rent a car at all and exclusively used mass transit. We flew from Reagan National Airport in Washington, DC (DCA) to Rome, Italy (FCO). In February, I spent a day researching the train stations and used the Loco2 online booking service to book all of our train tickets and it was easy and inexpensive. Our tickets from Rome to Naples, Naples to Perugia, Perugia to Florence, Florence to Venice and then Venice back to Rome for the two of us totaled 214.15 Euro (less than $260.00). That was probably the best deal on the whole trip! Once we arrived at the train station in each city, we already planned whether we would walk, catch a taxi, or ride the metro to our hotel. It was really a breeze and definitely our recommended way to travel in these cities to avoid the hassle of parking and learning how to drive in the chaos.
Did you have any language barriers?
Not really. English was well spoken in almost all the places we traveled to. It also helped that I took 6 years of French (which is very similar to Italian) and I studied Italian for a few months using Rosetta Stone. The only city where we marginally struggled was in Naples where there were few English-speaking store clerks so pointing at items in menus became our usual method of communication there. (And I would not go back to Naples again- but you will read about that in another post!)
Was your trip too long or too short?
Being in my 50s has taught me that we are where we are meant to be at that moment in time, so with that philosophy in mind, the trip was exactly the right length of time. With that being said, I started getting antsy in Naples and was ready to leave when our time there was up, so 5 days seemed to be a bit long in Napoli. When planning for 6 days in Venice, friends had said that we would get bored with 6 days there and recommended that 3 days was more than enough time in Venice and that we should spend our time elsewhere, but there were several considerations to keep in mind. 1. We live on our boat and love the water so we could have stayed in Venice for a month and enjoyed every day of it. 2. Venice was at the tail end of our trip and we were ready for some downtime so having extra time in Venice with nothing scheduled was perfect for us. 3. I found Venice to be extremely fascinating since it is a sinking city, no cars allowed in the city, the people were extremely gracious and hospitable, and the history of the city including its ownership by Napoleon grabbed my attention and left me wanting to know more about this gentle city.
Was there anything you would do differently during the planning stages?
Yes! I would have gotten street maps of the cities online prior to our trip to see where our hotels were located in comparison to the major attractions that we wanted to see. While our hotels were close to train stations, other than in Perugia (which was the perfect hotel in the perfect place), the other hotels were a bit off the beaten path. Now, with that being said, we ended up staying exactly where we were meant to stay and enjoyed so much about each of the places we stayed (Except maybe Venice) and worked around the location challenges very quickly and easily. Thank goodness for Steve’s easygoingness and ability to go with the flow. He made it easy for me to find joy in every aspect of this monthlong journey through the highlights of Italy.
Would you go back to Italy, and if so, is there a place you would visit again?
YES, I would definitely go back (While I do not want to speak for Steve, I think he would enjoy returning as well). As I mentioned, I would definitely go back to Venice for more interactions with the people and a deeper look at their history. I would also go back to Perugia – which is the capitol of the province of Umbria. It was a great spot to call homebase in order to visit more of the hilltowns of that province. We went there specifically to hop a 30 minute local train to the town of Assisi so that we could learn more about St. Francis. There is so much more to learn and I would love to base out of Perugia again to take in more of these lovely little villages that have so much charm and natural beauty without the hustle and bustle of the bigger cities like Rome.
How much did the trip cost?
Well that is a bit hard to say since our airfare was paid for with points and 12 of our hotel nights were paid with points. I can tell you that our total out of pocket expenses in dollars was $8940.00. This included 15 hotel nights, our train tickets, $2480 for tours booked through primarily Viator, an average of 100 euro per day for food, taxis and incidentals, and taking into account the exchange rate of $1.15 per euro. Considering what was paid for with points, this was about a $13,000 vacation. (Not bad for a month in Italy).
If you have other questions about our month in Italy, please drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll be happy to share more of the details. Be sure to look at the other posts dedicated to each city during our trip. Ciao!