While I had an amazing time during my recent trip to Rome and the Amalfi Coast and regret nothing about our journey, there are a few things I wish I would have known before arriving in Italy. While I’m an obsessive planner and scoured Pinterest for tips, there were a few things, cultural and logistical, that caught me off guard and slipped through the cracks. I’ve included a list of these tidbits and tips below, so you can learn from my experience and mistakes and make your hopefully upcoming trip to Italy all the more prepared and easier. You’ll be able to focus less on dealing with hassle and more on fully immersing in la dolce vita.
1. Bring more cash than you think you’ll need. While most major restaurants and attractions take credit cards, cash is still king and you will run out of euros quicker than you think. You cannot tip waiters or guides on credit cards, most taxi drivers prefer cash, and some stores and restaurants will still push you to fork over the euros. Simply put, you will become quicker friends with the Italians if you are able to pay them in cash. Save up and withdraw plenty before you leave the States, so you don’t get stuck using an exchange with tons of fees once you are abroad.
2. There are public restrooms in major piazzas and train stations, but you will typically need to pay a euro or two to use them (see tip above!). They are usually well maintained and clean, but we Americans are spoiled and not prone to being charged for public restrooms. I definitely was caught off guard, fumbled with my cash and ended up walking into the men’s toilet at Termini train station – yolo!
3. Selfie sticks are everywhere! If you are in a tourist heavy area, you WILL be accosted by an endless barrage of aggressive dudes trying to sell you a selfie stick. A firm no will get them away, but be prepared for the constant onslaught as you walk near the Trevi Fountain, the Colosseum, Pantheon, or really any major attraction. You will never want to see another selfie stick in your life (also, isn’t your arm essentially a selfie stick?) If you absolutely HAVE to have one, buy one before you go. Most of the sellers are part of syndicates that are usually tied to the mob and human trafficking, and the actual poor immigrant sellers see little of the profits.
4. Italy is a very Catholic country, it is the home of the pope after all, so most restaurants or stores are closed on Sundays and religious holidays. Double check hours and openings online or with your concierge before setting out for the day or be prepared for more casual dining options.
5. Bring hair conditioner! In order to save space in my suitcase, I typically rely on the hotel’s shampoo and conditioner, but the majority of Italian hotels only provide a single shampoo/conditioner combo. If you have thick or tangly hair and need a standalone conditioner, you will end up buying conditioner at a farmacia or spending 10 euro at Sephora like I did.
6. Also pack bug spray! I was eaten alive by mosquitos on the Amalfi Coast (humblebrag) and few stores sell insect repellent. Plan ahead.
7. There is abundant FREE clean drinking water. Most streets have public fountains with great, fresh drinking water straight from the aqueducts. Save some money and produce less plastic waste by forgoing constantly buying water bottles and pack a bottle to fill as you go (this foldable bottle would be a great space saver!) Even inside the Vatican and smaller coastal towns like Capri and Positano had abundant fountains to refill. You will need it after climbing the Colosseum or hiking through Ravello.