My wife and I just traveled an incredible journey to Italy. We visited Rome, Naples, Sorrento, Amalfi Coast (including Positano), Capri and Florence. We did this all in an astounding 9 nights and I documented everything we did, that ended up saving us quite a bit of money (Euro, US $, you can insert your currency here). As a frugal individual and one that loves to travel and experience the world in a reasonable approach, we learned quite a bit on how to save money and stretch either your travel or living abroad budget further, while still taking in the history and culture.
Top 10 ways to save money while visiting Italy
1.) Pre-plan your tours. Yes, this shouldn’t surprise anyone. We went on the Colosseum/Roman Forum/Palatine Hill and the Vatican City Tour. For the tour of the Colosseum, etc.., we actually did not book a guided tour, as there are travel apps (such as Rick Steve’s Europe app) that are helpful in walking through the exhibits and explaining the history and significance of what you are viewing. This saved us quite a few Euro (for two people) and this also saved us a TON of time pre-purchasing our tickets.
Time is essentially money. We traveled so far to get here and who wants to do that waiting in line. The ticket-line was over a half mile long, easily, for the Colosseum (for example) and instead, we went right in and had our own tour guide in our ear that didn’t cost any extra. We saved 2-3 hours, as well as money from paying a tour guide.
2.) We packed granola bars and brought a water bottle (that had a filter – like this one). We went to Target, used the shop-kick app to earn a $2 gift card while there. Then, we purchased 2 boxes of granola bars (16 total) for $0.09, after the gift card and cartwheel coupon. In addition, we had our filtered bottle and Rome has over 2,500 water spouts to fill your bottle. Therefore, we never had to pay for water while traveling all over Rome. Water usually is 1.50 to 3.00 euro at a restaurant. To note, water is far cheaper to purchase at a grocery store, if interested. The water in Sorrento/Florence/Naples was fine and having the filter on our water bottle helped. Further, the granola bars helped while on tours, as you can’t really stop the tour, grab a panini or pizza and hop back in!
3.) Bathroom breaks. We were smart about when we used the bathroom. There is a 0.50 to 2 euro charge to use a restroom, since there aren’t many public restrooms (if any) in Italy. This is definitely different than the US. What we did to not put ourselves in a situation was use the bathroom before leaving our Airbnb (of course). In addition, whenever we went in to have lunch or dinner, we made sure to use the restroom there – as you of course are a paying guest and are allowed to use their restrooms.
Further, you can always (well, for the most part) use the restrooms while you are on your tours, as (similarly), you have paid a fee to enter and the bathrooms are fairly decent. This included our high speed train rides, as you could have paid 1-2 euro at the termini station to use, or wait until you are cleared through your gate and use the bathroom on the train, which is allowed since you paid for your fare.
4.) Avoiding the touristy lunch places spread throughout the cities. Moreso in Rome & Florence, since there are many more historical monuments, tours and places at each and every corner, the restaurants right there are, of course, much more expensive than going down a side street or two and grabbing your lunch/dinner there. To provide a frame of reference, we paid 14.50 euro for 2 beers and 2 panini (two sandwiches). Similarly, one afternoon we paid 6 euro for a wonderful panino (sandwich) and a flatbread/foccacia/pizza type of meal. Further, the food is usually more genuine/traditional going down side streets, are filling and packed full of flavor.
5.) Drink espresso standing up at the bar! Funny, but true. The Italian way is to pay for your espresso and then the waiter puts the espresso in front of you at the bar. Stand, drink and done! If you want to sit down and enjoy your treat and caffe, then you will pay a little more to do so, typically 1.00 to 2.00 euro per person more, known as coperto or another form of service charge. Therefore, be one of the locals, drink your espresso at the bar and continue on your sight-seeing adventures.
6.) Vino Della Casa. When we go out for dinner or aperitvo, we would order their wine on the house. It is true what they say, that wine can be cheaper than water. We would share a 0.50 liter of house-wine for 2.50-6 euro, enjoying it for a few hours. We noticed you could buy bottles or have glasses of wine. However, any wine here is better than most wines back in the US! Therefore, house wine all of the way for us.
7.) Using the United Explorer Card. We used this wonderful card every single time that Visa was accepted. We have no foreign transaction fees and literally no commission on the exchange. Therefore, when we were in Italy, the exchange rate was ~ $1.11 to every Euro. We would instantly see that charge on our card every night after use. Yes, I am a nerd and re-calculated each one. This saved us from ATM surcharge fees (if your card charges), as well as foreign transaction fees, which usually is 3%.
Also – see The Ultimate Travel Hack for Airbnb.
We did exchange and have approximately 165 Euro with us over our 9 night trip. This amount ended up being more than needed, as we were trying to use it all toward the end. Some places only take cash (the occasional cafe, lunch spot, bus station, etc.). Therefore, plan accordingly!
8.) Don’t hesitate to buying local. Since we were gone quite a few days, there was a day when we did not want to go to a restaurant or pick up “street food”. Therefore, we went to a grocery store, picked up fruit, bread, a few deli meats, tomatoes, olives, nuts, cheese, wine, etc.. and made 3 meals for 2 people for less than 24 euro. First, it was much more healthy and always nice having fresh fruit, but we also had a chance to eat exactly what we want and enjoy it when we wanted.
This saved us quite a bit of money on our trip and I would highly recommend doing so. Try this out when your legs are begging you to stop walking and (somehow) your stomach can’t handle any more cheese, pizza, pasta, etc…
9.) Using Airbnb and the Ultimate Travel Hack. Of course we used our Ultimate Travel Hack for Airbnb! We first were able to save, due to having hers and my account, $80 on our stays, which was amazing. In addition, you can really hone in on great locations, that meet your price point. This allowed us to stay in smart locations, near the termini/terminal stations for train rides to/from cities and to go to the airport. In addition, it’s nice knowing we are helping other locals bring in money. A great example was in Florence, we stayed in a few hundred year old convent that had these beautiful balcony windows, overlooking the area. This room was easily 1/4 to 1/5 of the price per night in a hotel.
10.) Planning Transportation & Walking. You guessed it. We first planned our high-speed train rides ahead of time, as this was a way to reduce cost and even used a coupon code to save more. Our trips were booked through Italo. For traveling from Rome to Naples, Naples to Florence and Florence back to Rome, the high speed trains cost $108.55 total for 2 people! Keep in mind and perform the research, as they offer different classes of seats, we used the Smart Coach seats (lowest price, still offered Wi-Fi, assigned seating, plenty of space, etc..). Then, we never took public buses or ubers/taxis/cab rides when we we were at our destinations. We simply wanted to walk everywhere and explore it all, not missing anything. This may be easier without children or elderly parents/grand parents, so we lucked out here.
Further, the longest we walked straight to a monument may have been 30 minutes maximum. However, it’s not a point A to point B walk. That’s what made this fun. You are constantly discovering new, historic areas on your route and you eventually reach what you were going to see. We would stop and grab a sandwich or espresso on the way to/from our destination, as a way to bridge the time as well. This saved us immensely from hopping on/off the bus or flagging down an uber/taxi/cab. We somehow weathered the uphill walk to Rome Termini, but did stop a few times to see the views of below and for lunch.
Those are the top 10 ways we saved on our trip to Italy! Now, I know some may not work for everyone, nor does this encompass each way to save. We never were bored or felt like we were missing out. The worst part is when it down poured two times and the walking around in the rain was not enjoyable, to say the least. In addition, we were able to see SO much and definitely had a full taste; and that is without going to as many museums and attractions that would cost additional funds; as we had only paid to tour The Vatican/St. Peters Basilica, Colosseum, Academia Gallery. There is SO much to see that is free and in the open, so keep that in mind or balance it out with other trips.
Now, I know we are not the only people that have visited Italy. The BIG question I have is what are YOUR recommendations and what comments you may have for how we were able to save money. Further, if you are planning your trip and need tips/advice/suggestions, please DO NOT hesitate to let us know, as my wife and I would be glad/love to help you!
Grazie per essere venuto! Arrivederci!