April 28, 2011
Welcome to Achey Sneaks Guide to Traveling Northern Italy (on a Budget)!
Step 1: Choose your companions. Groups consisting of four or less are ideal. This allows you to easily sit together on train rides, at restaurants, book one hotel room to share, and keep things running smoothly. Choose a range of personalities. Things will never be boring if everyone is a little different. Choose people with a range of skills. Make sure at least one person has adequate orienteering abilities, one with a sense of adventure and curiosity, one with a knack for making foreign friends, and one who is level-headed and makes reasonable decisions. Of course, it is also wise to choose people you generally enjoy and with whom you have good chemistry.
Step 2: Choose the amount of time you want to spend in Italy. Our group decided to travel during our spring break, and miss a few classes for travel days. Therefore, we spent 11 days traveling total. My suggestion is to go between one and two weeks. Less than one week is too short a time to really enjoy the variety of cities Italy has to offer. But after two weeks, you will be what I like to call “travel sick” and want to return to a stable routine, sleep schedule, and your own bed and shower. And you might need to tend to your feet.
Step 3: Choose your destinations. My group decided to make a big circle, beginning in Milan, continuing to Turin, Genova, Florence, Pisa, Venice, Verona, and back to Milan for the flight. This allows you to see some of the best cities in Northern Italy without having to sit on a train for more than four hours at one time.
Step 4: Choose where you will stay. We tried to stay with friends as much as possible to save money, but hostels were not a bad second choice. Hostels in Milan, however, were the most expensive and the least desirable. Try to find a friend, friend of a friend, or distant relative that you’ve never met with a couch here! If you are the nervous type, I definitely suggest you have everything set up before you leave. This solves two problems:
1) You will be more likely to find better deals the further out you book your room.
2) You will have peace of mind.
However, keep in mind the following things you can encounter in hostels:
1) Coed rooms.
2) Coed bathrooms (to my surprise). Getting out of that shower in the morning was a little… awkward.
3) Sometimes no towels, even for an extra charge. Pack a small, but super-absorbent personal towel.
4) Bed bugs. Thank goodness we did not encounter any of these this trip, but you never know. I’ve heard people like to pack a silk bottom sheet to prevent any critters from passing through.
5) Sometimes no breakfast. Try to find places that say breakfast included!
Of course, there are some great aspects about hostels as well. Almost every one I went to had an internet connection free of charge. Many did have breakfasts, comfortable beds, clean rooms, and hot showers. I guess, when it comes down to it, you get what you pay for.
Step 5: Bring an Italian travel guide book and a fun read. My friend brought his guide book and it turned out to be very useful. We read about the history of each city, what it is known for, and the best places to visit. Things were listed by category, such as museums, monuments, restaurants, etc. It then included a telephone number, website, and prices for each place. Do make sure it is current, though, because some of the prices listed in the book were cheaper than they were at the door. Also bring a fun read. Two out of the four of us brought Eat Pray Love, which has many chapters about Italy. From what I could tell, it seemed like the perfect pleasure read for the train rides as my friends often laughed out loud while reading.
Step 6: Have some structured days and some free days. It is rewarding to check off everything on your to-do list, but it is also relaxing and fun to just wander around the city. On your free days, definitely try to stop in some local art galleries. These give you a great sense of each region’s flavor of art. I would also recommend walking away from the city center on these days to indulge in the local food much more cheaply. Don’t forget, grocery stores are your friend! This is the cheapest option for food by far. Also a good reason to have four companions – you can split the cost four ways. And you can use the money you saved on some infamously delicious (and scarily addicting) Italian gelato.
Step 7: Wear the most comfortable shoes you own! The writer of this guide earned her nickname for a reason!
Rachel M. Cohen, a current senior at William and Mary, is an Anthropology major and Psychology minor. She studied abroad in Granada, Spain in the Spring of 2011. Over the summer, Rachel interned with the Smithsonian Institution’s Folklife Festival. She is a member of the Alpha Chi Omega sorority, College Partnership for Kids, and the Anthropology Club. In her spare time, Rachel likes to explore new cities, create art and music, and keep life imaginative. Read more about Rachel’s study abroad experiences at Rambling Rachel.