10 Things You Want to do Before Traveling to Italy

February 18, 2015
10 Tips When Traveling to Italy

Getting accepted to a study abroad program in Siena, Italy, was a dream come true. However, there are a lot of preparations necessary before making a big move like this.

Here are ten tips about what you should know before traveling to Italy.

10 Things You Want to do Before Traveling to Italy

1. Learn basic Italian

Especially in a small town like Siena, a lot of people will not be able to speak English. As a result, it’s important to learn the basics of Italian at the very least. The locals will be happy to help with the rest. Most Italians in Siena will be impressed that you even took the time to attempt learning Italian.

I remember getting lost one day and taking the wrong bus further than I needed to. In Italian, I asked the bus driver if this was Route 10, and when he informed me that it wasn’t, I panicked. All I could say was “Dove Belverde? (Where is Belverde)”  The bus driver looked up at me, smiled and said, “Che l’autobus va a Belverde?” which means, “Which bus goes to Belverde?” which was exactly what I was trying to convey. He proceeded to give me  instructions on where to go in Italian, making sure I understood, and even announced when to get off the bus. I was so grateful for his kindness and patience.

2. Figure out the public transportation (when applicable)

Becoming savvy at riding buses and trains is essential to traveling around Italy. However, if you live in a small town such as Siena, you can likely walk everywhere.

3. Get a map

10 Tips When Traveling to Italy
As much as I love getting lost…

As much as I love getting lost, it’s also important to have a map. Mark off all the things you want to see and the places you’d like to visit, keeping it just in case you really get lost.

4. Personal space does not exist

Italians don’t understand this concept. Simply learn to live with it. Italians just don’t know they’re being rude according to American standards.

5. There is never a wrong time for pizza, gelato or wine

10 Tips When Traveling to Italy
It’s always time for pizza!

My favorite part of living in Italy was the endless amounts of world-class pizza, gelato, and wine. I remember Roberto (my host-dad) once telling me that he only drinks one glass of water per day, and wine throughout the rest of the day because, who needs water? “C’e l’acqua in vino,” (There’s water in wine).

6. Learn how to differentiate between real and fake gelato

I learned how to do this while I was in Rome. The huge mountains of colorful, eye-catching gelato is often fake. In order to know whether it’s real, a flavor will be a color that can be made from natural ingredients. For example, mint gelato would be a white or a very light-green color instead of bright, mint-green.

7. Learn how to handle alcohol like an Italian

A major difference between Americans and Italians is in their consumption of alcohol. The drinking age here is only 16 for those buying fermented alcohol such as beer or wine and 18 for those buying distilled alcohol. Italians also tend to drink a lot, but they do not drink to get drunk. Instead, drinking is a social activity and you will never catch an Italian being belligerently drunk.

In Siena, I was always able to differentiate between American students and Italian students because Americans would be walking around with a handle of hard alcohol, while Italians would have a glass of wine, cocktail or a bottle of beer.

8. To tip or not to tip?

10 Tips When Traveling to Italy
Tipping is usually not necessary

Tipping isn’t necessary in Italy because of the use of a cover charge, which most, if not all restaurants have. This charge covers water and bread and is included in your bill. However, it is important to note that some places will leave it off of your bill in order to try and trick you into leaving a tip.

Also, take note on the differences in service you receive at Italian restaurants. Most Americans find it rude that waiters and waitresses won’t constantly ask you how your meal is or hover around to refill your drink. However in Italy, meals are a social time and can often take up to two hours.

9. Learn how to barter

There is a huge market in Siena that takes place every Wednesday. If the workers know you aren’t from Siena, they will most likely hike up prices. This means that it is necessary to learn how to negotiate. This is even more apparent and helpful in bigger cities such as Rome and Florence. My biggest accomplishment took place in Florence when I was on the hunt for the perfect leather jacket. The salesman noticed that my parents and I were American, so he tried to charge us 200€ more than what we ended up paying.

10. Know how to safely carry money around

Lots of people suggest buying a money belt while traveling to Italy. However, I did this and found that it wasn’t entirely necessary. You can use your purse just as long as you don’t leave it hanging open or are oblivious to your surroundings. I also learned that it’s helpful to keep copies of your bank cards and any type of identification, just in case you lose yours. It’s also wise to keep money in different places both on your person as well as at home just in case of emergencies.

10 Things You Want to Do Before Traveling to Italy

Related Reading

Travel Itinerary: A Taste of Italy in 12 Days

Have you traveled to Italy? Do you have tips for women travelers in Italy? Email us at editor@pinkpangea.com for information about sharing your experience and advice with the Pink Pangea community. We can’t wait to hear from you.

10 Things You Want to do Before Traveling to Italy photo credits: Caitlin Basillio.

About Caitlin Basilio

Caitlin Basilio is Pink Pangea’s Italy Corespondent. She is a writer by trade, traveler at heart, eater of all foods and avid wine-drinker by choice. She is a Seattle-based creative slowly making her way around the world.

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