Be flexible but plan ahead
While it may seem thrilling to fly off to Italy without a care in the world, the excitement will quickly disappear when you realize all the good hostels are booked. You don’t want to find yourself in an uncomfortable sleeping situation where you’re so preoccupied with whether or not bugs (or worse) are in your bed that you don’t get a wink of sleep. (Trust me, I’ve been there.)
Know where you want to go and when. Book your hostels and hotels in advance, but don’t buy train tickets. While it’s easy to buy train tickets at the station, they can’t be refunded when you inevitably miss the train. Your plans should include places you want to visit and see with tentative dates and hostel reservations. Of course, for some activities you will need to purchase tickets in advance, like if you want to see an opera in Verona or go paragliding over Lake Garda.
Being flexible is important because if you meet people while traveling you can change plans to hangout with them. If your new friends invite you to go to the beach or to an underground rave, you don’t want to have to say you already bought your tickets for the Uffizi Gallery.
Do not talk to strangers (seriously)
As a young American girl, you will receive a lot of unwanted attention from Italian men of all ages, and I mean all ages. They will be able to spot you from a mile away. Most of this attention will be relatively harmless, but make sure you don’t travel alone in big cities after dark.
More importantly and less intuitively, do not talk to people at the train stations. I repeat: do not talk to people at the train stations. They will try to steal your luggage while you are distracted. They will come up to you while you are clearly confused as to what platform your train is leaving from, ask if you need help, grab your luggage while you are showing them your ticket and then run off with your things. (This is where you say, “Non mi tocca!”) The only people you should talk to at train stations are the employees who wear vests.
Do talk to strangers (seriously)
I know I’m sending you mixed messages, but it’s true. Strike up a conversation with strangers and meet new people. Just be careful with who you are talking to and what information you are giving them. Never tell someone where you are staying or invite them to hangout in your room. Never follow people back to their houses even if they say they are having a party or want you to meet their family or anything like that. (Am I the only person who watched the Amanda Knox documentary?) Just be cautious and aware. That being said, I met a lot of amazing strangers who are now my friends and I keep in contact with to this day.
If I didn’t talk to the locals, I would not have gone to a beautiful waterfall or Lake Bolsena. I would not have spent my nights drinking wine and telling stories with a happy mix of American and new Italian friends. Lastly, my Italian would not have improved nearly as much as it has. I learned things about the Italian culture I otherwise would not have found in a textbook and that, my friends, is invaluable knowledge.
A little Italian goes a long way
It seems a little ridiculous to me that I have to include this tip, but you would not believe the amount of American tourists who do not bother to learn how to properly say “please” and “thank you” in Italian. I was lucky enough to have proficiency in Italian prior to my trip, but when I traveled to Germany and France, you bet I practiced how to say some basic phrases in those languages. It is a simple courtesy that goes a long way when interacting with shopkeepers and waiters who have to endure rude Americans.
Most of the time the Italians wore a huge smile when they realized I was going to speak to them in Italian and would congratulate me on speaking their language unlike the vast majority of American tourists. Some would even bring out free food and drinks or not charge me a cover. (Yes, there is a cover “coperto” charge for just sitting at a table in restaurants.)
Here is my short list of Italian words and phrases to practice before your trip:
Buongiorno: good morning
Buonasera: good afternoon
Grazie: thank you
Come stai?: How are you?
Sto bene: I am well
Sto male: I am bad/not well
Vorrei…(un espresso)?: I would like… (used for ordering food/drinks)
Non mi tocca!: Don’t touch me!
Vai via!: Go away!
Il conto: the check
Don’t party like it’s 1999
Nearly every American college girl goes through her “party girl” phase. I’m all for having a great time, but it is probably not the best idea in Italy. Italians do not drink like Americans do. In general, they will have a couple drinks but rarely, if ever, will Italians get wasted. Italians will expect you to get too drunk and there will be some people who will prey on the American party girls.
Go out and have a great time. Do a couple of limoncello shots (which are highly overrated by the way). Don’t get sloppy drunk, for your own safety, but also because Italians will judge you. There are some situations when you are with a large group of people where it might be more acceptable to drink a lot, but in general, keep your max party level to a seven out of 10.
Do like the Italians do
There is a time and age where you should go to the tourist traps. Hint: 21 and single is not the time. Sure, I did some touristy things and snapped lots of pictures, but I also tried my best to be more like the locals.
Let me break it down for you: you could spend 4 hours of your short trip waiting in line to see the Sistine chapel, or you could roam around Rome while people watching, eating a gelato, exploring quaint shops, and imagining what life would be like living in that bustling ancient city. I went to Rome four times and not once did I go to Vatican City or the Colosseum or the Roman Forum. I did, however, visit Villa Borghese and shop along via Cola di Rienzo, pretending I could afford the designer products in Piazza di Spagna.
This tip is especially important for the city of Venice. Venice was one of the most amazing and fantastic places I have ever visited, and I’m including Walt Disney World in my assessment. While in Venice I spent most of my time exploring the city because there is a plethora of beautiful nooks and crannies to discover in Venice. Even just looking carefully at the sides of buildings you can find a fresco or a name hidden away from view.
Elizabeth is a ‘bad’ feminist who loves The Bachelor, Keeping Up with the Kardashians and America’s Next Top Model. She can be found binge-watching TV or reading fantasy novels in her free time. Elizabeth believes satire is the highest form of comedy and makes inappropriate jokes at inappropriate times. She enjoys finding ways to slowly dismantle capitalism and the oppressive structures. The key to her heart is a puppy and bottle of pinot noir.