How to… Prepare for a Trip to Italy

As I began writing my recap on Italy, I realized that there’s a lot to think about before you leave your home country. Do you have your plane tickets booked? Hotels reserved? How do we get Euros? But there were less obvious lessons we learned on this trip that will save you tremendous grief and headaches.

Pack the right gear.

  • For the absolute essentials, see my “My Everyday Carry for Trips” post. You’ll also want to check the weather to see if you need rain boots or a rain jacket vs. shorts and sunscreen.

Buy your train tickets in country.

  • On several of my past trips, I have agonized over this as I hate the idea of leaving my transportation to chance. But in Italy (and across Europe), I have found that the frequency of trains means you don’t need to buy your tickets before you leave home. I also appreciated the idea that you don’t need to be locked into one date/time – if you buy your ticket in advance and for whatever reason miss your train, you’re SOL! (that stands for “shit out of luck,” in case that wasn’t clear)
  • Thus my advice is know the timetables in advance and plan to take a certain train, but no need to reserve the tickets in advance.

Find out what your credit card PIN is.

  • When we landed in Rome, I attempted to buy our train tickets using my Citi Mastercard and was annoyed to find that the train station automated kiosks require a PIN. My American Express thankfully did not require a PIN but do check with your credit card provider to ensure you can use the card of your choosing. Also make sure your credit card does not have any foreign transaction fees. Those can add up in a hurry!

Once you have purchased your train tickets, make sure to validate them.

  • Each train ticket you purchase in Italy should have a small marking that says “Convalida” with arrows. With this side facing up and the arrows facing forward, insert the ticket into the machine as shown in the video below:

Prepare yourself for people who will try to sell you a lot of crap.

  • When you’re sitting down at a restaurant: You will get hit up by vendors trying to sell you flowers, or musicians playing a song and asking if you’re interested in donating.
  • When you’re walking: These guys (and they’re all men, oddly) will try to sell you selfie sticks, small clear blocks that feature famous Roman buildings, battery chargers, water, and these odd blobs which squeal when thrown against a flat surface.
  • The point of this is to make you aware that you’ll likely get irritated by their repeated advances. Just remember that they’re trying to make a living and be polite but firm (or buy their goods and help them feed their families!)

Understand what the Roma pass is and purchase it when you arrive.

  • The Roma Pass is likely to be your best purchase in Rome. There are two versions (a 48-hour and 72-hour) of this card and both will allow you admission to two venues (including but not limited to the Colosseum, National Museum, Capitoline Museum, Borghese Museum, etc.), discounts on any other visits beyond the first two, and unlimited use of the public transportation system for either 48 or 72 hours. Besides covering the admission costs of two locations, the real value is that the Roma Pass allows you to jump the line at the Colosseum, which could save you two or more hours of waiting in line. The 72-hour pass costs €38 and the 48-hour version is €28.50.

I wrote these bullets with all of Italy in mind, but if you’re headed to Rome, read the following:

Rome is a beautiful city but it’s very clearly a tourist mecca. Groups, couples, and single travelers all wander the streets of this capital in search of food, history, art, and general adventure. Prepare yourself for the onslaught of people and then enjoy yourself! It’s called The Eternal City for a reason! And when you’re ready, click here to read about our adventure in La Spezia/Cinque Terre and Rome!

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