One of the things I love most about living in Italy is getting visitors and showing them around my new (temporary) home. Our 4th round of visitors just left and our 5th will be on the way soon (with a possible extension and more visiting slots open 😉).
I’ve been to Rome so many times it’s starting to feel like a second home. With these past couple visits, I’ve been trying to envision how coming to Italy would be if it was your first time. Even when I came to Italy, I had to already lived in and visited Europe multiple times, so I often can take what I do as a traveler for granted. Plus, I’m always finding new apps and tips to make trips more accessible and fun.
I decided to write this post for future visitors or just travelers to Europe with some of my top tips I’ve given my family before coming over.
WHAT TO PACK
This is everyone’s first question.
I have a separate post with my basic packing list, so click here to see the complete list. But once you’ve got your essentials like clothes, toothbrush, and deodorant, there are a few other things I’d recommend.
Eye mask + ear plugs
I usually just take an eye mask, but if you are a light sleeper, these both will come in handy — especially if you are staying in a hostel, riding an overnight train, or just in a noisy neighborhood for the night.
This is a big one. If you are a student, DO NOT FORGET YOUR ID! It can save you tons of money. In Europe, many sights offer discounts up to 1/2 price for those with valid students IDs. Even if they don’t specify, it never hurts to ask.
Weekend outfit + necessities
This one is for the over-packers who check a bag and don’t just take a carry on. Always have enough in your carry-on to get you through the next couple days in case your checked bags get lost. It’s happens often enough to be prepared in case your bag gets sent to Australia instead of Austria.
Weather can change drastically from day to night or even from day to day. Layers make it easier to adjust to the ever changing or unpredictable weather.
A good book
If you are moving around from city to city, have a good book (or whatever your non-reader equivalent is) to keep you occupied on long train rides. No need to stare blankly at your seat mate for 5 hours.
Never know when those dang hunger pains will strike. Say no to hangry 🙅🏻
WHAT APPS TO DOWNLOAD
It’s important to limit your phone time so you can enjoy your trip fully. But that doesn’t mean travelers can’t use technology to their advantage. Here’s my phone prep ritual before traveling to a new city:
Google Maps (download offline maps)
I have a limited Italian data plan, so I try not to use it unless I have to. With Google Maps, however, you can have maps downloaded to your phone that you can use even without your internet connection. Simply pull up the area you want to save (I do the whole city and a decent amount of outskirts), open the menu (three lines in the top left), click offline maps, choose custom map, highlight the area you want, and download.
If you are an English speaker, you probably can get by in Europe with no major language problems. But I still use the translate app and download the language of my destination to use offline to help translate signs, directions, or other documents I can’t decipher. And locals tend to be friendlier if you make an effort to speak a little of their language.
These can be great to keep you entertained if you aren’t a reader, have a lot of standing around to do, or just want to change it up. Download podcasts at home and you’ll be good to go on the road. Bonus points if they are about your destination!
Rick Steves Audio
If you like to do things on your own and not pay for tours or audio guides, this is a great app to use in Europe’s big cities. It has some informative audio guides to walk you through world famous sights like the Colosseum, the Sistine Chapel, Venice’s Grand Canal, and Florence’s Uffizi Gallery. They give you the highlights, helpful tips, and are entertaining.
THINGS TO KNOW
There are lots of cultural differences in Italy that can be nice to have a heads up about. Here are the biggest ones for me:
You have to pay for bathrooms. It can be anywhere from 20 cents to a euro fifty.
Free walking tours can be a cheap, fun way to see a city. Most all the big cities have them. You just tip at the end!
Most likely you’ll have to pay for water when you eat out. And make sure you ask for “naturale” unless you want fizzy water.
Bring a lock. If I travel with my laptop or I am just staying in a hostel, a lock is always handy to have. If you have a bigger suitcase and are traveling by train, a lock can make sure no one is going to grab anything out of your bag.
Always have some local currency. Especially if your flight is arriving late and you need to get a taxi, it is always smart to at least of some cash when you first arrive (even if you use credit card for most of the rest of the time).
And there are many, many other tips I could give but I’ll save them for another post (see it here)😉. I hope this is helpful to anyone who is planning a trip to Europe! Let me know if there is anything you would add to the list!