Visiting Italy for the first time can be such an exciting venture- but it can also be a bit overwhelming. There is so much planning that goes into a trip like this and the little things are easily forgotten! Another aspect of traveling to Europe is that tourists are treated differently than locals. So, if there is any way that you can adopt the local customs and try to blend in, you are most likely to have a more authentic experience. Below are some tips that I gathered on my travels overseas that I wish I had known beforehand!
How to Tip
Knowing how to tip properly is important for those traveling on a budget (most of us do!). Depending on where you eat, there is a difference in how you tip. However, it is never going to be the %15 or %20 percent that most Americans put on a check. Most of the time, when you are at a sit-down restaurant, you will either give the waiter one euro or you will just round-up to the nearest whole amount. If you are only grabbing a quick sandwich or coffee, tipping is not required. Last but not least: always tip with cash or coin!
Stopping at a small cafe before 11 AM to grab a quick cappuccino is one of the customs of Italian life, but it has to be done right! Sitting at a table to enjoy your coffee is a big no-no in terms of saving cash. I learned this the hard way- – so I am going to share the correct way to order and drink coffee for all the newbies out there.
- Pay the cashier
- Give your order to the barista ( ‘un caffè per favore’)
- Drink standing at the bar (and maybe even enjoy ‘un cornetto’ as well!)
Don’t Waste Money on Water
One of the great aspects about Italy is that drinking water is cold, clean, and available in almost every public area by ‘fontanella’. Unless you find a sign saying ‘acqua non potabile’, most fountains will provide an incessant stream of fresh water to people in the street. So, you can easily avoid paying for expensive bottled water by bringing a refillable bottle. It is also important to know that in restaurants, you should specify if you want tap water by asking for a glass of ‘acqua di rubinetto’.
Dress Like a Local
Dressing like an Italian can be pretty vital in regards to not looking like a tourist. Italians dress well, so don’t be shy about packing your nicer summer dress or your most fashionable pair of comfy shoes(high heels are a death wish on those cobblestone streets!). Trust me when I say you won’t see anyone walking around in sweatpants or flip-flops. Rule of thumb when packing for a trip to Italy: trendy walking shoes and dark or neutral- colored clothing. If you need more help, click here for my two-week packing list!
Know the Public Transit System
I highly suggest buying a travel pass if you are planning on staying in one city for a few days. This saves you a lot of money and will help with all the walking you will be doing. Most public transportation will be able to take you to any major site or popular area of town. When you first arrive in a city, buy a map of the public transit and spend some of your down-time studying it. That way you aren’t pulling the map out every five minutes on the street!
Never Eat Near the Tourist Sites
If you are looking for cheaper yet more authentic food, I highly recommend walking a few streets up from any major tourist site before choosing a spot to eat at. Another options is to cook in! If you have an Airbnb or are staying in someone’s home, it is a great time to prepare your own meal. Italy is full of markets where you can buy delicious food products like hand-made pasta and fresh produce.
Learn Some Common Phrases
You can easily get by on speaking English for your whole trip. However, knowing some Italian phrases and words can be extremely helpful (and fun!). There are hundreds of printable phrasebooks online or you can buy a guidebook (see below). I promise that knowing these sayings can go a long way when dining at a restaurant or trying to ask for directions. Most experienced travelers know to learn a small bit of the language native to the country they are visiting.
Skip the Lines
Italy is home to many iconic sites, which means lines can be really long-especially during the summer season! The best way to avoid this is to buy ‘skip-the-line’ tickets. This can be done online, and you even have the option to book a guided tour. I have learned that having a guide can expose you to a lot more history and information. It is important to make the most out of your time in the country and you don’t want to spend that waiting in a crowded line!