The Italians will strike at the drop of a cannoli. We were warned when we worked Pompeii into our trip, that they might just close the scavi. But not to worry, the Italians will tell you what time the strike will be over. Sure enough on one of the Fridays we were there, they put a note up, “We are striking from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. Come back at 11.” If you are on a tight schedule and plan to visit Pompeii or any other major site, just keep this in mind and leave a little extra time in case this happens.
For one portion of our trip from Sorrento to Matera we decided to rent a car. So I applied through AAA for an international driving permit. It was easy. I just went to the AAA office and brought a photo and copy of my license I paid the fee ($20) and you are in. Allow 4-6 weeks for the permit to arrive in the mail. The international driving permit is good for one year. You tell them when to start the clock ticking. The permit gives you legal driving privileges in 150 countries, including Switzerland and France if you plan a visit to Northern Italy and want to take a side trip over the Alps to visit other European countries.
Now as far as arrangements for car rental, if you ONLY drive an automatic, rent in advance. Most car rental places in Italy only have ONE automatic car and the rest are stick shifts. Since I don’t drive a stick, I needed to make sure they had the car I needed put aside in advance.
Once you get your car and your map you could just head on your merry way. But I suggest either downloading directions to your own GPS for that country or renting their GPS system called the NEVERLOST for a few euros a day. In my case I also printed out Google map directions in advance, and Lisa printed out a visual of the roads. (This is in case our GPS or Neverlost had a nervous breakdown.)
We also made ourselves familiar with the road signs.
Lastly, I love my Italian pisans, but they have no regard for the rules of the road. Double yellow lines mean nothing to them, and going 100 mph is the grandma speed. So be prepared on the road to be considered the sloth. Also keep change with you as there are toll roads just like in the U.S. And remember, their streets are a lot smaller than those in the U.S. so naturally their cars are a lot smaller, so pack light because there is NOT a lot of room for luggage.
Hair band, hat, sunscreen. It gets hot in the day, so in your bag always carry a hair band (I carry mine on my wrist) a hat, sunscreen and a refillable water bottle.
These are the local trains in the major cities. They are much cheaper than taxis and the system is easy to use. If you have trouble figuring out where to go, look for a fellow passenger who is 25 or younger. Chances are they speak English and will be happy to guide you.
While I personally was not robbed in Italy, many people warned us that the tourist centers like Verona, Lake Como, Bologna and especially Naples are havens for pick pockets. I carried a knapsack and made sure the opening was toward me. Many just carried their knapsack in the front. Many travel agents won’t even go to Naples because it is so well known in that circle that pickpocketing is very high. Many suggested not to wear jewelry.
Hotels tend to offer the worst exchange rate. Airports are a close second. Order your money in advance from your home bank. You can bring American Express Travelers checks but a lot of places don’t take them. If you are planning on using your ATM card, check with your bank to find out your maximum daily allowance and the exchange rate your bank charges. Lots of small businesses in Europe do not take credit cards. Cash is king there, so bring plenty or figure out how to get more once you arrive.
If you plan to use your credit cards abroad, tell your credit card company in advance. But more importantly ask if your credit card has a fee. Usually credit cards charge at 3% fee for international transaction. Whenever possible, bring only credit cards that do not charge exchange rates. In addition, be sure to alert your bank and credit card company in advance that you are traveling and the days you plan to be there, otherwise the company could put a hold on your card while they confirm the purchases are really yours.
Lisa and I checked bought travel insurance for our trip. The chances are slight you may ever use it and better safe than sorry. We almost had to use it, however, since the French Airport was on strike 5 days before we left and no planes were allowed in their air space. Of course our connecting flight was in Paris, so we had a panic there for a few minutes, but luckily if the strike had not ended we would have been covered.
While the last thing you want to do is get sick while away on vacation, it happens. So if you have medicines you use or homeopathic things you like, bring them.
Prior to the trip, I had sprained my ankle. So I traveled with arnica, tiger balm, Traumeel, ankle brace, and some other herbal medicine. I also brought a back brace, aloe, ace bandage, vitamin C, and aspirin. Over the course of the 17 days, I wound up using all of them. A friend pulled her back, I started to get a sore throat and nipped it in the bud with vitamin C. Granted our room smelled like a pharmacy but I was able to climb and walk all over the place.
Before you travel, call your cell phone provider and ask them for their best deal on phone calls and texts in the country you plan to visit. If that is too much, consider buying a calling card once you arrive at your destination. Generally, you’ll save money if you keep your cellular data turned off and only use wifi services like Skype or Facetime to connect with the folks back home. One lady I met accidentally ran up her phone bill to $2400 without realizing the cost. Each text message was 50 cents outgoing and 15 cents incoming. Sending photos and videos are expensive if you don’t know how to use your phone when you’re away.
If you enjoyed these tips let me know. Have a safe trip, and enjoy every ounce of it. Remember you only live once, at least that you know, so live life to the fullest and be in the “Here” and “Now” when you do.