Recommendations for First Time Travelers to Italy

Colosseum – Rome, Italy

I’ve been traveling to Italy since 2011 to see the beautiful country and spend time with my friends.  Each trip is unique and each offers another lesson on traveling like a pro. And while my situation is a bit lucky, considering I have loads of friends there,  I’m still learning and taking notes.  So, I will share some tips I’ve collected along the way that have made my expierence easier and more beautiful.

  1. Choosing and Airline to Take You to the Land of Vino and Pasta

The first stages of planning can be very stressful. Finding the right air carrier is curtail since the journey across the ocean is long and a bit grueling. I’ve flown American, Delta, and United and without fail United wins my vote.  They have the best departure and connection times and unless you’re flying directly out of New York, Washington D.C., or Chicago, you will likely be making at least one connection.  I’ve experienced things like major delays and lost luggage through other carriers, but United has been solid.  Also, the flight crew is the best and friendliest.  I’ve never encountered an attendant who wasn’t more than willing to help me solve a problem and advise me on how to may my trip more comfortable.  United also seems to have the best prices; sometimes shockingly lower than other airlines.  I will always choose United for my international flights as I have always had a pleasant journey with them. And since I travel quite a bit, I have enrolled in the Milage Plus program and have benefited some serious discounts.  You’ll want to explore the various flyer miles programs no matter which airline you choose, especially since you are flying over seas and will rack up some serious miles.

If you’re daydreaming already, go ahead and check out United’s flights and prices TODAY.

2. Go to Rome

Yes, this sounds simple and you are likely to fly in to the capital city, however, you should consider spending some quality time there.  Rome is a major city and full of people from all over the world.  You are likely to run into several Americans and other English speaking Italians who are happy to help you get around and make suggestions from places to eat to little nooks to explore.  Some of my best times were on days when I was alone and forced to get around by taking public transportation and following the suggestions of those I met at coffee shops and other stores.  It is truly a magical city and impossible to see and expierence in one day.  It is a place to let yourself get lost and discover an ancient city with modern charm.  From fashion to architecture, Rome offers something for everyone, of every interest.  I spend a lot of time in the city and each time I visit, I choose one piece of architecture or one quaint little cafe to earmark for another time.  This keeps my heart planted in a city that I love.  A city that I cannot shake off.  Why would I want to?  When in Rome…

3. Don’t Be Afraid to Be an American

Despite what we hear about the world’s negative opinions about Americans, I have never met an Italian who was disgusted that I was from the US.  In fact, most of the time they  either recount their trips to the states or explain how they want to visit.  They ask a lot of questions and, of course, stereotypes will be brought up.  Nevertheless, most Italians are friendly and want you to enjoy their country to its fullest.  And if you attempt to try to speak the language, even butchering simple words,  they are the most grateful people in the world.  They will cheer you on, clap and give you a giant “BRAVO” for your effort.  We can’t deny our origins so why try?  Be and American.  Be a friendly, respectful American.

4. Wear the Right Shoes

I know that shopping for vacation is fun and sometimes we want to wear those special heels and make a statement, but trust me, it isn’t worth it.  All cities in Italy are walking cities and they are paved in decades old stones.  Comfort will take priority over and kind of fashion after only a few short hours of walking.  Don’t let the wrong shoes kill your holiday!

5. Learn the Tube (subway), Train, and Bus System

Every city in Italy has public transpiration.  Even small villages have connections via train or bus, with a few exceptions in very remote areas.  Im still no expert on the bus schedule, but you can preplan by knowing which cities you will be visiting and then researching their maps and schedules.  Rome’s tube system is ridiculously easy to learn and if you know the general area you’re wanting to explore, the Metro can get you around quite easily. You can purchase tickets and passes for up to 7 days, giving you peace of mind and help you budget your travel. All maps and routes can be found on their website along with any updates on closures.  For traveling outside of Rome, Italylogue provides loads of useful information, schedules, and recommendations.  Just remember, you’re in Italy and the signs are in Italian.  Most announcements at the train stations are given in Italian and English, but generally, you will need to orient yourself with which trains, bus, etc. you want to take before purchasing your tickets.

6. Take Plenty of Photos, but…

We live in the age of the selfie and of course we want to capture ourselves in front of the Trevi Fountain or standing in the center of Vatican City.  However, don’t forget to be in the moment, hearing the sounds, taking in the aroma, feeling the air on your skin and the sensation of being somewhere so far from your own reality.  Remember, you wanted to come here and planned for weeks, months, years even.  So be here.  You don’t even want to forget this moment.

7. Make Friends 

As I said before, Italians are very friendly and they enjoy the company of friends.  You are likely to see large groups of people seated in a piazza or at a table for several hours.  Most of them time, they are more than eager to include you in the conversation and fun.  If you don’t speak Italian and they don’t speak English, it will be a major challenge.  However, just say “yes” and accept the invitation to make new friends.  This will not only improve your chances to expierence something way off of the tourist path, it may also turn into a long friendship, bringing you back year after year.  Take it from me.

8. See a Live Performance 

Italy is the land of poetry and art and many times Americans go to see paintings and statues.  But, try to find a live performance in theatre, dance, or opera.  See how the Italians take the stage and how they participate as patrons.  There are opera houses and nearly every city where something is bound to be taking place.  It will be unforgettable.

9. Eat the Entire Pizza

I know, I know.  You’re an American and typically eating the whole pizza is frowned upon but, when in Rome!  You can relax because this is how they eat a pizza.  You don’t just simply order one and split it.  No, you order your very own, personal pizza and enjoy each delicious, soft yet crispy, dripping in sauce and real mozzarella cheese, sent from heaven pizza.  If you don’t know which pizzeria to visit, ask the locals and they will be more than ready to give up their recommendation for a culinary crack experience.

Pizza Margherita
Pizza Margherita

10. And Finally, Take a Walk and Get Lost

Yes.  Get lost. Tuck a map in the back of your pocket or bag and start to wander the city you are visiting.  Look up, look down, look side to side and see this place with a pair of eyes which have no schedule and no agenda.  Each scene you come upon, take note of the sounds and faces, hear the forks hitting the plates and the laughter from friends and lovers.  Just let it take your breath away.  And don’t worry, you will find your way back.



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