Rome was dirty. Venice was crowded. Florence was hot. I couldn’t get my coffee to go. As a self-diagnosed Italo-phile I have irrationally frustrated reactions to such sentiments. It’s not that they’re wrong – parts of Rome are certainly dirty, St. Mark’s square is always crowded, Florence in August is a death wish, and no – you can’t get your coffee to go. But Rome’s cultural traditions have roots thousands of years deep, Venice’s quiet canals are breathtaking, Florence is a veritable treasure trove of the arts, and coffee culture in Italy embodies the long-lost art of savoring a moment. So how does this happen? How do we allow ourselves to return from our long-anticipated adventure to Italy feeling underwhelmed or dare I say, disappointed? The travel landscape is dotted with landmines, keeping you from the authentic experience you sought. However, there are some standard tips you can follow to ensure that you don’t accidentally hate your next trip to Italy.
Adapt to the culture, don’t expect it to adapt to you
Sure, we travel for a good gram, but we also travel to learn how others live – eat their food, appreciate their architecture, stride at their pace. If you visit Italy seeking out the comforts of your culture, you’ll likely miss the very magic that attracted you to this country in the first place. Here are a few simple places to start…
- Give Italian a try! No, you won’t learn the language in the weeks preceding your trip, and yes, likely all the Italians you encounter speak English. But starting a conversation in Italian demonstrates a much-appreciated respect for their culture in cities that are often overrun with tourists. An open door means an opportunity to connect with the very best part of the country – the people.
- Drink your coffee at the bar. Please. Nothing breaks my heart more than finding one of my favorite cafes has caved to the to go demands of Americans insisting on consuming their espresso in tiny paper cups. Instead – do yourself a favor and take two minutes to consume your cappuccino al bar. And for those two minutes appreciate your beautiful, steamy, foamy creation. The moment will energize you much more than the caffeine itself.
- Accept the disorder. Italy is a casino (casino: (n) disordered mess). Lines are laughable, spontaneous transportation strikes are frequent, and shouts are unsolicited. But no one has ever accused Italy of losing its liveliness and its passion is likely one of the qualities you were attracted to in the first place. So, roll with the punches, and think about a little unexpected disruption as an opportunity for a new adventure.
I’ve been to Rome countless times – I’ve even lived there for a stint. I still have a list a mile long of things I want to do and see and eat in Rome. This isn’t just Rome – it’s the whole of the country. You will be tempted to try and do it all – but you simply can’t. And trying to do it all will likely prevent you from having the authentic Italian experiences you are seeking. Rather, consider selecting a city or two as your home base. You’ll spend less time on trains or orienting to a new map, and more time enjoying la dolce vita. Additionally (and this is a rule I personally struggle to follow), pad your itinerary with some unplanned time and thin out the structure. Trust me, the only thing worse than missing that Michelangelo is standing in front of your third Michelangelo and being too tired to care.
Do your homework
It’s a dirty word and one that is actually quite counterintuitive to the idea of a vacation. But the reality is that a little research on a few topics will help you not only have a deeper appreciation for the history and culture of Italy, but avoid some easy mistakes that can really derail your day. Did you know most museums are closed on Mondays? That there are peak hours to avoid at the Vatican? And that the fine for a train ticket that hasn’t been validated will kill your dinner budget that night?
Ask a Local
Internet forums, travel books, and blogs are great resources for your upcoming trips. But nothing quite measures up to the insight of a local who lives and breathes the city every day. That friend of a friend you have abroad can tell you truly the best place locals go for a good ragu, events happening while you’re in town, or which markets are open on weekdays. When you don’t happen to have a friend of a friend living in your next travel destination, consider Well Traveled. Our local consultants are passionate about their cities and can help you maximize your time. And don’t worry – our consultants are absolutely never provided with kickbacks for the recommendations they provide. Nothing makes them happier than when you too have fallen in love with Italy.
Something hooked you on Italy – maybe it was a Fellini movie, maybe it was your college art history class, or maybe it was Selena Gomez’s braless brigade around Florence on Instagram last summer. Whatever the reason, Italy is likely everything you dreamed of and more. The country is a beautiful, wild ride, and we guarantee (so long as you take a few steps to not accidentally hate it) that you will absolutely love it.