Some of the greatest moments in travel come from an unexpected surprise: you discover a fantastic restaurant by wandering down a strange alley, or you meet a new friend at the cheese shop who invites you on a hike with some of the best views you’ve ever seen.
Some of the more unpleasant moments during travel can also come from an unexpected surprise: you arrive in Venice, but everything’s closed due to a local religious festival; or you’ve gone for a beach holiday but didn’t realize how chilly the Amalfi Coast is this time of year.
A little bit of preparation can do a long way, not only to prevent unpleasant surprises but also help you discover the remarkable ones. These five things to do before your trip will help you make the most of your Italian vacation.
1. Master some basic Italian phrases
No matter where you go, a bit of effort to learn the local language is always appreciated. It will also help smooth your way when it comes to day to day activities — from ordering a coffee to finding the nearest washroom.
You will likely want to take a phrase book, but let’s cover some of the basics when it comes to being polite and finding your way.
Buon giorno Good morning
Buona sera Good evening
Ciao Hi/Hello & Goodbye
Grazie Thank you
Molte grazie Many thanks
Prego You’re welcome
Prego has a few different uses in Italian. You may here a clerk ask “Prego?” which is another way of saying “How can I help you?” If someone is speaking too quickly for you, you can state “Prego.” This would mean something along the lines of “Sorry?” or “I beg your pardon” in English.
Scusa Excuse me (informal)
Non parlo italiano I don’t speak Italian.
Parla Inglese? Do you speak English?
Non capisco: I don’t understand.
Mi chiamo, ___. My name is _____.
Dov’è il bagno? Where’s the bathroom?
And last but not least:
Quanto costa? How much?
2. Research your niche
Everyone goes to Italy for a different reason or a combination of reasons. Maybe you’re there for the beaches, the ancient culture, the food, the car culture, or all of the above. We recommend a little advance preparation so you can zero in on the experiences that will make your vacation extra special.
Going for a beach holiday on the Amalfi Coast? Research some of the less crowded beaches the locals frequent. A sumptuous food romp in the Tuscan hills? Find out when some of the local food festivals are happening so that you can attend. Ancient ruins? Look into skip the line tours and out-of-the-way spots to maximize your time in Italy.
If you’re visiting Italy as a couple, with friends or family, divide your responsibilities. Assign the restaurant research to your friend who’s really into food. Your spouse is really into history? Let them choose the historical places to visit. That way everyone can be engaged and energized about the trip.
3. Learn the terrain
Did you know that Italy has five major geographic areas, 20 different provinces, and is surrounded by four different seas?
While you don’t have to memorize the map before you go, knowing the lay of the land will give you a better sense of where you are and where you want to go. It will also prepare you well for spontaneous adventures. For example, knowing that you’re in the Centro area in Rome will help you discover new places to eat, wander and discover, instead of sending you back to more familiar and popular locales.
4. Get Geared Up
Italy is a country with a wide variety of climates, landscapes, and seasons. The gear that you’ll need for a ski vacation in the Alps will be very different from what you’d require for exploring Sicilian vineyards.
If you’re going to be travelling different parts of the country or in colder times of the year, make sure that your suitcase is filled with the appropriate items. You don’t want to be hunting for a rain jacket when you discover that Florence is colder than you expected it to be in January.
Italian culture is also a bit more dressed up than what you may be accustomed to. Bringing some stylish, formal clothes will help you feel more acclimated to Italian life.
5. Get up to date on local customs
Did you know it’s a faux-pas in Italy to order coffee drinks with milk in them after breakfast time? Or that you need to validate your bus and train tickets before you get on your seat for every trip? It’s helpful to take the time to learn how basic things are done in Italy — you’ll feel more comfortable, and you’ll avoid ruffling any local feathers.
Plan ahead to make the most of your adventure in Italy
All it takes is a little homework and preparation — the fun kind — to learn some essentials that will make your Italian journey easier, smoother, and a lot more memorable. ItaliaRail can help with our Italy travel tips, written expressly for Americans visiting Italy for the first time. Buon viaggio!