It only took about a year, but my Italy Guide for the first time traveler is finally here! I went back and forth on whether or not I should call this a guide or just share the photographs I took while I traveled around the country. Ultimately, I decided that while I am not exactly a world traveler, this post IS a guide. I wanted to share everything Steve and I learned on this trip, in particular what we learned about Italy and more importantly, how we prefer to travel. Soooo, without further delay, this is our guide + Italy travel tips for you, the first time traveler.
Prior to going to Italy, Steve and I had never been on a trip to Europe. We were too busy baby making, trying to run a business and raise a family. So when it came time for creating the most epic 10 year anniversary/honeymoon, we surely did our homework by asking all the advice from well-traveled friends and family. And, I’m so glad we did because it gave us the confidence to actually do the world-traveling thing. However, after actually taking the trip, we realized that we travel different than some of our friends. I think that was a great lesson to learn because it will help us plan future trips for our family. It will also be the main point in this blog post and why we think this blog is more directed to first time travelers.
**I will also provide some tips throughout this post of things we did (or didn’t + wished we had done) to make our trip easier.**
I guess the first way to start this is to talk about our itinerary. A long time ago I heard about the Hopper app. This app monitors flights to your favorite destinations and notifies you when the tickets are at a great rate. One night during a date night, I got a notification that a round trip, non-stop, ticket from Newark Airport into Rome was $465/person with United Airlines. I looked at Steve and said, “We have got to do this!” In my mind I was saving up for $1300 per person so this was a steal! So we purchased right then for the only possible window we had in the calendar to spend 10 days in Italy, sans kids, which was in April. We essentially locked ourselves into going on this trip and I am so glad we did! Steve and I are homebodies by nature so we can talk ourselves out of the best opportunities if it’s at the wrong time or we aren’t feeling it. But these great rates pretty much guaranteed that we were going to go on this trip no matter what. And thank goodness, because this trip changed my world.
When it came time to book the hotels and AirBNBs and narrow down our itinerary, we looked into things such as the ease of traveling and meeting up with another photographer to have our 10 year anniversary pictures. Since we flew into Rome, we essentially locked ourselves into the middle of the country; which meant we had to make a big loop to our “must-sees”and end back in Rome for our return flight home. The first list is where I thought I wanted to go, and the second list is what we actually planned for based on conversations we had with friends and their experiences in Italy.
Where we wanted to go:
- Amalfi Coast
- Tuscany Region
Where we went + our rating:
- Rome (1 day/night) – 3 stars
- Positano/Amalfi Coast (3 days/4nights) – 5 stars
- Venice (2 days/nights) – 4 stars
- Cinque Terre (1 day/night) – 4 stars
- Orvieto (2 day/night) – 5 stars
- Rome (1 day/night) – 3 stars
Now that you know our itinerary, I want to share with you the lessons we learned by giving you some of my personal travel tips. I think these questions are useful to answer before any major trip outside of the country. They are questions I wish I had thoroughly considered prior to our trip because I think our itinerary would have looked different. Here are five questions that should help you plan your trip.
- Are you going for the history, the culture, or both?
Steve and I thought we were going for both, but we quickly discovered that our passion was to be submerged into the culture. We loved meeting locals at each place and developing good conversation with them. We planned to do Rome because we loved the idea of the rich history and because we are religious, we loved the idea of visiting Vatican City, the Coliseum, Trevi Fountain etc. But due to our lack of planning with purchasing tickets ahead of time we were only able to see Vatican City and Trevi Fountain the first day because we spent several hours standing in line at Vatican City. Maybe our experience would have been different if we would have planned better, but despite our lack of planning, we found the crowds (and this was during off season- I hear June through September is the best time to go to Italy) to be way too much for us. For us, it affected how much we actually enjoyed the history part of it. Our favorite part of Rome was the food. We stayed in an AirBNB within walking distance of Vatican City and I wish we had spent the extra money to sleep a little better after a long flight. Which brings me to my next question…
- Do you want luxury or convenience & savings?
Steve and I are not wealthy by any means, but found that our favorite experiences in each place were the times we invested the money for the super nice hotel room. There is something about exploring all day and having the option to stay back in the room if you are tired, ordering from the amazing restaurants, and experiencing Italy from the balcony of an luxury-ish hotel room. We got to experience “luxury” in Positano when we were upgraded for free upon our arrival (maybe it’s because of the off season) and also in Orvieto when we stayed in a gorgeous old Abbey in emerald hills. These two places were our favorites because of the freedom it gave us to experience that part of Italy without being on the go too late into the night, and both places gave us amazing sleeping situations. I know this all sounds so “first world problems,” but I had one bad experience at a 3-star hotel years ago and now I’m a hotel snob. Despite that bad experience, I wanted to keep this trip within our budget so I opted to do some cheaper Air BNB’s and some 3-star hotels in the places where we were staying just one night. I wish I would have just stuck with my gut and continued to book really great hotels because I got horrible sleep at all my AirBnbs – and even one morning in Venice woke up with 26 mosquito bites that made my whole next day almost unbearable. My suggestion, if sleep and comfort are of value to you, do your homework and book nice hotels or AirBnbs well in advanced to going on your trip because those places book fast for a reason.
- Are you a go-go-go traveler or stop to smell the roses and savor the environment type person?
We are sooooooooo the stop-to-smell-the-roses travelers. Except I didn’t know that fact about us until we were half way through our trip. My favorite places to visit were the ones we were staying 2-3 days or longer. We did not like packing up and traveling in some shape or form ever 1-2 days. The rush of it all was very exhausting , and the travel was a waste of our days. Our longest stay was in Positano (maybe that is why we gave it 5 stars) and we really enjoyed taking day trips to see the local favorites. We actually didn’t have time to do some things and I wish we would have planned two more days there. In hindsight I would have picked 2-3 places to stick to and then make day trips to our “must sees”
4. Is this a one and done trip or do you hope to go back? Ugh!! I wish I had known how hard I would fall in love with this country and traveling. In my mind, this was a one and done for me because we didn’t expect to be able to travel a lot after this. After all, it took us 10 years to do it in the first place. But friends, I’m warning you, if you go to Italy you will get bitten by the travel bug. Steve and I developed friendships and connected so much to certain parts of the country that we HAVE to go back. Had we known what our experience would be, I wouldn’t have tried to pack so much in on this trip. I can’t wait to plan another adventure, but this time bring the kids with us and let them experience all the places we fell in love with.
Before this trip to celebrate our 10 years anniversary, traveling wasn’t a priority for us, and now it totally is!!! I’ve been dreaming of the next time we leave on a jet plane and hop over the ocean. But, this time we’ll feel more prepared to scope out other countries because we know exactly how we like to travel. I hope this blog post helped and you enjoy the pictures below.
Positano + Ravello (Amalfi Coast):
Orvieto + Tuscany Region
Italy Travel Tips | Italy Travel Guide
To view the Italy anniversary session I did while in Positano, click here.