I recently came back from a nearly two-month solo trip in Italy. While I certainly had a great time (as you can see from my previous posts), I learned a lot about traveling as well. Perhaps the biggest lesson was that you can prepare all you like, but you won’t really learn until you get there and see everything with your own eyes. Regardless, a bit of light research doesn’t hurt, and it can certainly go a long way. What helped me out the most, I’ve condensed into five bullets below; five tips for extended travel in Italy.
1. Get to know aspects of everyday life before leaving
I thought I had read quite a bit on grocery shopping in Italy before heading out, only to find myself at a register without a price tag on my bag of apples. A mistake like this is easily forgiven; others can come with hefty fees. Getting caught on the bus without a validated ticket could land you a fine if you’re unlucky. (Remember to validate at the machines, and play the “ignorant, innocent tourist” if you forget and get caught.)
Familiarize yourself with the public transit system before leaving. Check out the official websites and other travel blogs for an explanation of how things work. You’d be surprised how some places have a completely different process in doing things. While you might not get it completely down until you get to your destination, knowing a bit takes a huge load off the mind during the first few days. For example, monthly bus passes are only sold (in some cities like Rome) during the first few days of the month. If you want one and arrive during these days, snatch one up soon!
2. Account for laundry
We often forget about this little annoying task, especially if most of our trips are relatively short. But if you’re traveling for an extended period of time, you’ll have to do several loads whether you like it or not. (No one likes a smelly traveler.) Choosing a place to stay with laundry service or cleaners (not too common) nearby can make things a lot easier. This is why I love Airbnb. You can find a place with both laundry and wireless Internet for a reasonable price.
3. Bring an unlocked phone for a local SIM card
Unless you’re ridiculously wealthy, you probably won’t want to use an international phone plan while traveling as they can rack up huge costs. Bringing an old mobile phone and purchasing a local pay-as-you-go SIM card is a much more cost-effective option. Many countries offer great local rates and special promotions like complimentary Internet access for a given time. TIM gave me free Internet service for one month. It was only 2,5€ per week after. Not bad. I kept it.
4. Learn some Italian words and phrases
While it’s unrealistic to find fluency in a foreign language prior to leaving, it’s still a great idea to get some basics down. “Thank you” (grazie) and “please” (per favore) are always great starting points. Learn to ask for the restroom, how to tell a cab driver where you live, etc. If you should ever find yourself in a non-English speaking area, this could help you out immensely. Learn to smile if you can’t.
5. Give yourself some time to do “nothing”
It’s easy to get into that I-must-do-it-all-now mentality while traveling. The benefit of extended travel, however, is that you can take it all in slowly. Admire the roofs of buildings, sit at a cafe longer than you normally would and spend some time watching people as they go by. Fare un giro – “to go around”; by far my favorite activity during my month in Rome. Get lost in the magic. Take in the superstitions and play along. I tossed a few coins into the Fontana di Trevi like the woman in the photo above; I stayed the hell away from the Bocca della Verità. ;)
If you’re planning on traveling longer than a few months, check out the recap of the most recent Gogobot Travel Salon. The subject was long-term and sabbatical travel (including tips on working abroad) with a panel of experienced travel experts and writers. Invaluable knowledge.
Got any tips of your own? Please leave them in the comments below!