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Is planning your own tour of Italy realistic?

Middleton...
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294 posts
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Is planning your own tour of Italy realistic?

We recently started a thread on this site about the difficulties in selecting an escorted tour/custom vacations tour company for a proposed trip to Italy after hearing horror stories from friends about their experiences with various companies. Would it be realistic to plan such a trip on our own? We have planned our own trips to national parks in the US and Canada, but have been reluctant to do so for one to a country in Europe. Any suggestions, recommendations, ideas, or thoughts? We would be especially interested in hearing from folks who have planned such a trip on their own and their experiences - good or bad - that we could profit from should we decide to take this route.

43 replies to this topic
Buffalo, New York
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1. Re: Is planning your own tour of Italy realistic?

My husband and I,( mid 60's), planned our own trip to Italy in September 2014. We had previously travelled to Europe twice on tours and enjoyed them. However, our third trip was cancelled, and having already purchased air fare, we decided to go on our own. We have never looked back!

We concentrated on Florence and Rome for our Italy trip. Once we had our flights and time frame set, we were able to prioritize what WE wanted to see. We also spent 5 days in a Tuscan villa, meeting up with a group of our friends.

On our own, we arranged side trips to Siena, Tivoli, and Ostia Antica, using both rail and bus transportation.

Tickets to the Academia in Florence and to the Vatican Museum, as well as hotel arrangements were all completed online.

We found traveling independently is a wonderful thing! There are no schedules to keep to. So, if we needed more time in a museum or a tiny restaurant looked promising, we could be flexible.

We also enjoyed closer interactions with people. Our taxi driver to the villa was a marvel, stopping three times to get directions and talking to us non- stop in Italian, but we arrived safely and with a great story to tell.

With a lot of planning, independent travel can be very rewarding. I should say that neither my husband nor I speak Italian, but still managed quite nicely.

I can't emphasize enough the value of planning, which takes a good bit of time, and flexibility.

Good luck!

England, United...
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111 reviews
155 helpful votes
2. Re: Is planning your own tour of Italy realistic?

Perfectly easy. The buses and trains run to the most likely places you will want to visit as well as the outskirts/villages which are lovely to look around.

I don't speak Italian but many in the tourist centres and the outskirts speak English, where they didn't ordering food or coffee is easy enough with pointing etc. I found a great welcome in the villages and lovely to watch real life. People were helpful and patient in the towns. They are used to it I guess with so many nations visiting.

I actually booked flights and hotel with a company but it wouldn't be necessary. I had read up on here about how to buy the transport tickets and bus drivers were helpful even when we had to gesticulate and mime. Laughing and smiling at getting the wrong end of the stick was

There are buses from the airports to deposit tourists at their destination.

All the hotel reviews are on here, I picked cafes and restaurants from them too but ended up just walking around and choosing what suited me. It was easier and more fun. The food is great but there are also choices for tourists too. You will never be short of somewhere to eat in Italy.

Remember that school stops at lunch time and the streets and buses can be crowded for a short while.

If you are looking at the full TA site on a computer there is plenty of information on the Top Questions on the right of the page for the area you are visiting. People on the forums were really helpful with information I needed and web links.

Edited: 7:58 pm, February 20, 2017
Ottawa, Canada
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142 reviews
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3. Re: Is planning your own tour of Italy realistic?

Italy is one of the easiest countries to travel to. Just take it one step at a time.

1-get a good travel guide book (even 2 to compare) and highlite what it is you want to see and do

2-decide on number of days and book your flights. Best to book open jaw which means landing at one and and out of the other such as Rome and Venice or the reverse just to save on back tracking.

3- decide on what you want to do in each of your prefered locations then the number of days you need and then number of nights for hotels.

4-pre-book anything that you can such as museums and trains

It will all fall into place

Ottawa, Canada
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158 reviews
170 helpful votes
4. Re: Is planning your own tour of Italy realistic?

It is very realistic to plan your own Italy travel. Many do it....at all ages. With so many resources available, it can be done. If you plan your other vacations, Europe is no different.

As mentioned, start with a travel guide book. I get mine initially from the library. DK Eyewitness are great for having the most pictures so helping decide what you want to see; but they are heavy to 'use in the field' so to speak. Rick Steves books empowered Americans to go it on their own in Europe. I highly recommend you read a copy. I find his itineraries rushed, but he gives good details about practical things, planning, good walking tours and he has free audio tours of numerous sites/museums that might be better than some of the dry ones provided on site. Also review his on line YouTube videos of his shows. Trying a few brands of books from the library (even if out of date) give you an idea of which brand (if any) you want to have as your take with you guide book. I use them for research and information on sites. I rarely use them for eating out (but then I don't eat out much-see below) and check out but rarely book their hotel choices. I will check reviews or recommendations on TripAdvisor and Booking.com as well.

Seat61 is THE website to figure out train travel, but Rick S has a section of his website about train travel as well (and references Seat61).

When I travel, I prefer short let apartments or time share exchanges so I heartily recommend trying these but perhaps further into your itinerary. Last Italy trip I arranged simple pensions with breakfast, hotels, time share exchange in Venice ( 2 blocks from St. Marc's square and sadly no longer a time share) and a short let apartment in Tuscany. Some hotels were not prebooked but we travelled in April when things were slow.

Part way through you are going to be travel weary. If you have an apartment, you can plan a 'no' (schedule) day where you can practice some comforts of home. Lounge in pjs for a morning with coffee and an American newspaper (yes, they are sold in Italy), make a PB&J sandwich, listen to your favourite music. Do laundry. When I travel, my accommodation budget is $100 Cdn ($77 US) and I find comfortable and safe apartments at this price. I may have to up it for Venice, but even that can be done for $100 - 150 US. You have to plan far in advance, however.

There are some caveats about apartment renting. Some also apply to hotels. AC is not a given. Buildings are old and until recently a lot of cities were not as hot as global warming has now made them. Electricity is very expensive, so an apartment may charge you usage over and above what they deem 'average' and this can add up fast. (our 'cheap' apartment in Tuscany in April needed heat in the evening and energy cost us the same as the rent despite us being out all day). Also, for any accommodation, they may not turn on heat or AC until certain days of the year despite temperatures. This is dictated by law because of limited energy resources.

The plus side is having a space to make 'home' for a few days, living moreso like a local, saving $$ on food and lodging costs Many have washers (few have dryers). Euro washers are different than US so ensure you learn how to use one - but it saves on how much you need to pack or trying to find one of the few launderettes in Venice (sigh. been there, done that).

Some tips.....one of the benefits of a tour is that they get you from the airport and lead you through 'foreign territory' which gives you peace of mind. The money you save by NOT taking a tour can be used for similar. Hire a private driver, or have your first hotel arrange a driver from the first airport to the first hotel. The second tip is to consider a private guide for the first day in the first or any new town. They give you the lay of the land and help you get grounded in a new place. Now, some may be okay with being part of a day tour, on the hop on, hop off bus and some cities participate in the Global Greeter program which may give you 2-3 hours with a local - FREE. Check out their website for participating cities. There are resources to help you make that transition to a new place, so use them.

Italy is a wonderful place to explore. Don't rush it and don't try to do it all - it can't be done on one person's life time.

Ottawa, Canada
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5. Re: Is planning your own tour of Italy realistic?

I just read your update on your National Parks thread. Are you going to Italy engroup as well, or just the 2 of you? Makes a difference on some of what we can recommend.

Middleton...
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6. Re: Is planning your own tour of Italy realistic?

Quiltingmamma,

At present, this is a trip we are contemplating for the two of us, as its been a long-time dream to visit Italy. The small group trips that we take with two other couples who are former teaching colleagues have been limited to visiting national parks in the US and, for the first time in 2017, to Canada. The trip to Italy is something we are planning in 2018 or 2019 at the latest and, at this point, "just the two" of us.

BTW. Do you have any suggestion as to which month would be the best to travel with regard to weather and crowds (or lack of crowds?

Ottawa, Canada
Level Contributor
12,460 posts
158 reviews
170 helpful votes
7. Re: Is planning your own tour of Italy realistic?

Depends which areas you are considering. The typical Rome, Florence, Venice may be nicer in May. We went in early April and it was polar fleece mornings and t-shirt afternoons with a bit of rain in Venice....however the Tuscany house was cold then. Other places were no cold. When I was looking again, I was thinking late April/early May. Know that prices start increasing in April, but still affordable. I also looked at October. Pricing in Venice hasn't dropped there yet and you still have to consider mosquitoes. For some reason, no screens on the houses. The Fall in Venice may have appeal as they run a Biennale in Venice. One year for arts (including dance) and the other is Architecture. 2016 was Architecture. I think it runs May to November, but not sure the exact dates.Later in the season, means less crowds at these events. Venice seems to be much busier then when we were there in 2002 but worth the efforts.

Others like the appeal of real off season when little to no crowds, lower prices (hotels will have allotted heat), and they just where long johns, sweaters and rain or down coats. You are close enough to the coast you most likely know those raw cold days. Know that things close earlier or are not open at all.

London, United...
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8. Re: Is planning your own tour of Italy realistic?

The Lonely Planet Guides are not just for 20 something backpackers. I find they have information about a wide range of options and I find the history and cultural information in the LP guides gives a bit more depth to my trips.

Those of us who live in places that Rick Steves writes about are generally very unenthusiastic about his travel books but I know some beginning American travellers like them.

Please ignore the idea of "must sees". Go to places and sights that call to you. That is the gift of independent travel.

If you go to the tourist information offices at your destinations, there may be day trips you can join. At the very least there will be maps and information about places you had not thought of.

When you have narrowed down your choices, go to the Trip Advisor forums for those destinations. Use a computer and you will find, on the right hand side, frequently asked questions and trip reports.

Italy is a good place to pack light as some of the best places to stay do not have elevators.

Bring comfortable shoes as you will do a lot of walking.

My first Italian trip was in mid October and involved flying into and out of Rome, which was a mistake, I should have bought got an open jaw ticket but I bought the ticket before I figured out where I wanted to go.

I spent a few days in Rome, then took the train to Florence (1 1/2 hrs) spent a few days there and then took the train to Sorrento via Naples for Pompeii. (Naples is 1 1/2 hours by train south of Rome). The weather was perfect.

For the next trip, I took my husband to Florence for his April birthday. The air was crisp, and Florence was lovely.

The trip after that was Pisa. Florence, Assisi and Venice in late October with my daughter, There was a bit more rain than on earlier trips but temperatures were very comfortable.

I went back to Italy in early September 2016, for a week just for Florence and Padua.

Florence was hotter than ideal, but what spoiled Florence (although nothing can entirely spoil Florence for me) was that it was heaving with fellow tourists. Just getting through the streets was a hassle.

Padua was a bit less crowded and I loved the Giotto frescoes and the botanical garden.

I don't think I would go to Italy after the middle/end of May or before the middle of October.

I planned all the trips myself using Booking.com and TA reviews to find places to stay and The Man in Seat 61 for transport although sometimes I booked directly with the hotels.

http://www.seat61.com/Italy.htm

Two of my trips were solo and I almost never felt uncomfortable as a woman on her own, day or night.

My Italian is very limited (please, thank you, good morning, good night) and that wasn't a problem.

Italy is one of the easiest places to visit and there is so much to see. It is also easy to plan and organise a trip there yourself. IMHO, there is too much to see to take an escorted group tour.

Middleton...
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294 posts
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9. Re: Is planning your own tour of Italy realistic?

Leagle, like some of the earlier posts, yours contained a wealth of information. As we did with the others, we will take the liberty of printing your response and adding it to our growing Italy travel notebook and check out the links you provided.

Has anyone had experience with vacation rentals? Would you consider them a viable option for lodging in Italy?

England, United...
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111 reviews
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10. Re: Is planning your own tour of Italy realistic?

I've used Venere to find the places and read the details. I find it very good for that. But I wouldn't book through them as these sites let out to other sites etc and so much agrivation when something doesn't go quite right.

Then follow up with reading the reviews.

Sounds like work but it does help to find the sort of places that really suit you with location and access to public transport.

I then keep a list (copy and past bits of reviews and info) and check the price for booking direct. I also then have a list to take to the high street travel agent, see which ones they do and at what price. That's someone, a real person, who can sort stuff out for you.

I use that list if I want to return as sometimes certain accommodations aren't available.

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