Getting to and around Italy can easily be the most frustrating part of a wonderful vacation. These tips from our years of traveling back and forth between Italy and the USA should save you some time and grief.
There are a lot of little factors that can impact how and why you choose a certain route or airline for international travel. For years, I was loyal to Delta and racked up quite a few miles between actual flying and a Delta credit card. This meant I was always flying through Atlanta. Then I became friends with an airline employee so if I wanted to use her perks, I was at the beck and call of routes and seat availability. (My 4 nights stuck in Rome is a story of its own.)
Personally, I like my long-haul to begin stateside and go directly into Italy, which is usually Rome (FCO). In low and shoulder season, there are fewer direct flights to Milan (MXP) and Venice (VCE), but they can be found if your travel dates are flexible.
On one of my first trips to Italy, I was on quite a budget. I was told about RyanAir and booked USA to London, and then a second flight into Italy with RyanAir. Well, it was not clear to the person who told me about RyanAir that I was coming to Italy for 3 months and had 3 months worth of luggage. I didn’t understand about booking luggage on RyanAir. I almost missed my flight and surely paid as much in last-minute charges than any airfare directly into Italy. So pay close attention to the baggage regulations of smaller, European airlines!
If it doesn’t matter where you connect, then you can get to a variety of the smaller airports by connecting through Amsterdam (AMS) or Frankfurt (FRA). We will cover the little airports month-by-month.
I seem to be one of the few people that say pre-booking individual train tickets on Rail Europe is a BAD idea for Italy. The main reason is flexibility. I have never heard of anyone having success changing a ticket day or time once they have arrived in Italy. Going to a ticket agent window with a Rail Europe ticket is a complete waste of time. If you are 100% sure you want to stick to your schedule and make no changes, then Rail Europe may work out OK. (Multi country rail passes are another story.)
There were a lot of credit card problems in the early days of online booking with TrenItalia but these seem to have been resolved. With the introduction of the Italo private train company, TrenItalia has even begun offering lower fares with advanced booking. Yes, I said no advance booking with Rail Europe, but many times I’ve gotten great deals with as little as 48 hours lead time, it just depends on the route and whether or not a big event may be selling out seats. So be sure to check on the TrenItalia
For both TrenItalia and Italo, booking online, you’ll need to know the names of your city pairs in Italian. (Rome, Roma. Naples, Napoli for example) I have not noticed this on an in-station kiosk. (I will check and update this post!)
Yes, that was the view from the front of a bus. Personally, I can’t stand busses and avoid them as much as I can. More than just getting ill, using them across the country is so inconsistent that I don’t want to bother with it. In some cities you can buy on board, in others you can’t at all even for a higher fare. Traveling inter-regionally on a bus is really hard to figure out. When I lived in Siena for a summer, I wanted to go to Assisi. I finally went to the information office in Piazza Grande for advice. Now, Rome2Rio is a great site to figure out busses but it’s not perfect.
My biggest frustration is city busses. The “map” on the pole will just have stop names, not an actual route. I end up relying 100% on Google Maps, which can be fruitless. After I’ve decided what route and stop I’m going to need, I tell the driver where I’m going on hope he stops and yells and when it’s time to get off. So it’s always an adventure on the bus! If you’re up for it, it can be handy and even entertaining.
I’m wary of any travel agent or rental service that promises to get you an automatic transmission vehicle. Find someone with a manual transmission and practice before you go if you know you’re renting a car. My first car was a stick, so I’ve not had this conundrum. I did, however, have to help a woman at the Naples port who was yelling at the rental agent that she couldn’t drive it….after she killed the engine multiple times on the Lungomare.
GPS is also iffy in the most rural parts, as some wineries can be. All coordinates listed on this site have been verified by us or by the winery and should be used instead of street addresses. I will never forget turning down a road the GPS said was correct, only to have locals staring at me wondering where I was going and finding a dead-end with gate and a lovely horse who was wondering if I was there to feed him. As I turned around, I waved at everyone as I went by for the second time. Turns out there was a parallel street so close together that the GPS didn’t pick it up.
Have any general questions about getting to or around Italy? Let us know in the comments or drop us a line. Have some fantastic Italy travel tips of your own? Or even just a fun adventure? Share them with us here or post it using the hashtag #VAtravel. We can’t wait to hear from you!