5 Tips To Know Before Traveling to Italy

Italy will never be a normal country. Because Italy is Italy. If we were a normal country, we wouldn’t have Rome. If we were a normal country, we wouldn’t have Florence. If wee were a normal country, we wouldn’t have the marvel that is Venice.
— Matteo Renzi // Former Prime Minister of Italy
Venice, Italy

Venice, Italy

Everyone has advice when it comes to Italy…

Italy is one of the most-visited countries in the world with over 52.4 million tourists having been there in 2018 alone. That is a lot of people….and with one of the main staples of Italy’s economy being tourism, there is a massive need for travel tips. What to do, where to go, what to see, when to go and how to do it etc. And if you ask anyone who’s ever been to Italy, they will probably talk your ear off for hours about how great it is, where you need to go, who you need to meet. Simply put, everyone has advice on Italy.

With so many fantastic places to go and see in Italy, of course there’s no shortage of incredible experiences to be had, foods to try and people to meet. But, as with any country with a massive influx of tourism, there are some key travel tips you should be aware of before taking off to Italy. Which is why I wanted to compile a short list of need-to-know information before heading off to this amazing country chock full of wanderlust experiences.

Having lived in Italy (and having traveled back many more times since), I have become routinely aware of a few things about this amazing country that I’d like to share with you. Keeping in mind, my family is of Italian descent, coming from the town of Avallino (south of Rome), so I’ve had my fair share of all-things Italian while growing up and share these tips with you as a word to the wise about how to best travel in Italy while leaving a positive impact on the place you go and people you meet. Understand that while these tips are more on the generic side, they can be loosely fitted to almost every city and town in Italy, despite nearly every city and town being just a bit different than the next.

Anyways, let’s get to it!

Rome, Italy

Rome, Italy

  1. Cash is King in Italy….

    In Italy, they use the Euro, as does most of the European Union. But, something you may have not known in Italy is that they prefer to use cash. Italy itself has a lot going on with their politics, taxes and government, which unfortunately has left the country’s tax rates on business to be less than desirable. Meaning, if they can deal with cash and not necessarily have a paper trail behind them, the better. Simply put, cash is king. Many businesses will actually lament having to use their credit card machine. Unless it is a high profile item such as a leather jacket or purse, the business will want to only deal with cash. If you are going to a restaurant, cafe, bar or something similar, plan to have and use cash. Grocery stores, retail shopping and other expensive items can be purchased with a credit or debit card.

If you are wondering how to best go about getting cash while in Italy, use the ATM’s and always avoid transferring money at the airport. From your debit or credit card, take out money from ATM’s within bank branches (avoid the ones on the street if possible) and be sure to let your bank and credit card companies know you will be traveling in Italy. Most CC companies even have reimbursement fees for having to use ATM’s in areas where they do not have a branch.

Milan, Italy

Milan, Italy

2. You ought to dress nicely when in Italy

Italy is known for a lot of things, but in particular, their sense of style. There is no shortage of leather shops, tailor, shoemakers and places to go shopping for various clothing items in Italy. In fact, you will feel sometimes that there are only clothing stores, gelateria’s and restaurants in Italy, but, we know that’s not the case. There is , however, a huge emphasis on how people dress in Italy and it should be known that there is generally an expected level of style. As an American, we often go out in public in our sweatpants, yoga pants, sweatshirts and more. This is generally not the case in Italy and if you do go out in public like this, you will catch a lot of eerie looks. Additionally, sandals are a big no no and Italians will awkwardly glance and point at your feet if they see you out in public like this.

Shorts are also OUT. Even for as hot as Italy can get (in thee excess of 100 degrees Fahrenheit or 40+ Celsius) shorts are typically against the rules unless you are at the beach. Italians, for whatever reason in the city, will always wear pants, shoes, and even jackets when they are out in public. This is crazy to me, but it is the case….perhaps they are acclimated to the climate well, or are simply ok with sweating profusely. I will never understand this, but it is the cultural norm in Italy. Additionally, you may see a few speedo’s at the beach while in Italy. Just prepare for it, as that is also not the norm back home in the states.

What you will see in Italy at all times of the year are well-dressed men and women everywhere. People take pride in the clothes they wear and Italy is widely regarded as one of the best-dressed countries in the world. Europe in general, is also very well-dressed. You should also plan accordingly if you want to fit in and avoid odd stares from local Italians while traveling. It can be overwhelming if you stand out too much.

Cinque Terre, Italy

Cinque Terre, Italy

3. Every city is different than the next….

Italy has a wide array of different places to see. From the Dolomite mountains and lakes in Northern Italy, to the west coast Italy with places like Cinque Terre, and Genova, to the east coast with Venice, to the south with cities like Rome, Naples, the Amalfi Coast and so much more. There really is no shortage of different colors and landscapes to take in and all of them are widely unique. No place is like the next and that is part of the overall charm of Italy. You are always up for a surprise and there is always another place to go and see. From Tuscany to Calabria, you will never be bored with wherever you choose to go in Italy.

However, it should be noted that there are generally, two different mentalities of Italy. The north and the south….much like the U.S. there are somewhat of two differing ideologies between the two. The North of Italy is widely regarded as being more of the political, shopping and financial aspects of the country, while the south typically has more personality, culture and emphasis on food and homemade goods. While Italy doesn’t have as much of a dichotomy as the U.S. may have, there is a noticeable difference in pace of daily life. Just keep that in mind when traveling to these different areas of the country.

Pro tip: Be sure to always ask the locals of what they think of another area of Italy. Football (soccer) is huge in Italy and this often affects what one area of the country can think of another area…..just ask Fiorentina and Juventus what they think or Turin and Florence.

The Dolomites in Northern Italy

The Dolomites in Northern Italy

4. Don’t be in a rush…slow down

One of the main things you’ll notice as you travel throughout Italy is that no one ever seems to be in a complete rush. Things tend to move very slowly (other than cars), so don’t ever expect anyone to be in a rush. It’s one of the more beautiful things about Italy, too. It allows for more time to explore and really take in the sights around you. Expect people on the street to walk at a leisurely pace, and you will really see that no one is in a rush. Just be aware that people don’t always just walk on the right side, and also that everyone is talking while they walk, which is a nice change of pace from everyone being head down in their smartphones.

Actually, very few people are on their phones, and it is a very welcome scene. You will be able to identify the tourists because they will be the ones with their phones out. People in Italy generally love and enjoy the conversations with others and there’s a true feeling of engagement when walking out in the city or the wilderness.

That said, it can be somewhat cumbersome to the prototypical American who likes to walk fast. As an east coast guy myself, I tend to walk very fast and have become frustrated in the more populated areas of Italy where they are hundreds of people crowding the streets and alleyways. Italians are lovely, and so are other tourists, but don’t expect a clear walking path anywhere and you will experience (at one time or another) someone just completely stopping in front of you to take a photo of some obscure renaissance building…..sigh…

This mentality of not being in a rush really permeates everywhere throughout Italy, even in the North where they are usually more about the ‘hustle and bustle’ of daily life. Just know and understand it is a cultural difference and you will have to be able to go with the flow. Do not fight it! You will not change the pace of life there and it is always more wise to swim with the stream instead of going against it.

Take your time, slow down, eat, relax and stop and smell the flowers when traveling in Italy….

Pro tip: One of my favorite things in Italy is to put my hands behind my back and hold one wrist with the opposite arm. I call it, ‘The old man stroll.’ I find it an easier way to walk through crowds and also helps me to walk slower and enjoy the pace of life in Italy. You will see others doing this, too.

Venice, Italy

Venice, Italy

5. treat people as you wish to be treated when in Italy…

One of my favorite things about Italy is that you truly are treated based on how you treat others. Restaurant owners, shopkeepers, bus drivers, tour operators, everyone has a penchant for pride in Italy. It’s one of the best things about the country and the golden rule exists here. How you treat others will directly affect how you are treated. Italians know that not everyone else speaks their language, they wish you did, but they appreciate you trying and will even aid you as you attempt to properly pronounce things on the menu. A smile is greeted with a smile, a door held open is appreciated and a seat given up on a bus to an elderly person always ends with a thank you.

With so many awesome places to go, see, and experience, Italians also appreciate patience. The loud and proud American will be mocked, and Italians know they don’t owe you anything. They’re not doing that to be rude, but I’ve personally seen more than 1 or 2 American tourists try to get their way with being demanding and having a puffed up chest. This will not work in Italy and you must act with kindness, thoughtfulness and appreciation while traveling through Italy. Italians are great at debating, arguing and can be notoriously stubborn (especially my family, ha!) but at the end of the day, they want to help, they want to be kind and will always come to the aid of someone when they need it. You just have to play the game of politics here and there, make great eye contact and be grateful for their help.

You know the Italian saying, ‘When you’re here, your family!’ It’s not just an Olive Garden quote, it’s the truth. Just never forget that you are also a guest of their country and a diplomat of yours, so it’s best to treat people with kindness, dignity and respect. Italians have A LOT to be proud of and they want to share their culture, food, and diverse experiences with as many people as possible, so the general saying there goes….‘Leave only footprints, take only memories…’

Although I prefer the more Italian saying of, ‘Leave only footprints. Take memories, and also don’t forget to eat as much as possible and buy a lot of gifts, clothes and souvenirs.’

Till the next time, folks! Drop me a line or question via email below. Don’t forget to check out the VRX Trip Calendar here.

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