Laura in Los Angeles wants to travel to Italy without breaking the bank. She writes:
“I am dying to travel to Italy and want to hit Rome, Florence/Tuscany, Venice and perhaps a beach destination on our trip (4 spots may be too much). I’ll be going for two weeks, preferably three, in September or October. Affordability is important. Can you help me plan my trip?”
Absolutely! I love getting requests like this. Follow my recommendations to get your trip planning started.
For your first trip to Italy, I recommend hitting the three classic destinations you mentioned – Rome, Florence, and Venice, with a week based in each city. While Italy’s beach destinations are incredible, I’d recommend saving them for a future vacation.
By using the cities as your home bases for each respective week, you’ll get a good overview of what Italy has to offer, as well as the ability to sightsee at your own relaxed pace. Additionally, you’ll also have the opportunity to branch out for day trips, should you want to see the surrounding countryside and nearby towns and villages.
You’ve already made a budget-friendly decision by traveling in autumn, the shoulder season. Airfares will be less expensive compared to peak summer travel, and when I priced out flights from the Los Angeles area, I found the best prices for travel in October. Per-person flights were around $1,000 per person for either a two- or three-week trip.
I looked at multi-city flights, with travel from L.A. to Rome for your departing flight, then Venice to L.A. for your return. I like this option as you won’t need to spend precious vacation time in transit back to your originating airport. The price wasn’t noticeably different from round-trip L.A. to Rome flights, but the time you’ll gain in not having to backtrack is crucial.
Before you book, track fares online for a week or so (no more than two), so you can see the range of prices and their fluctuations. I like checking both Kayak and Vayama for international fares, but you should also check the big three—Expedia, Orbitz, and Travelocity—when doing your research.
Remember that non-stop flights will always be more expensive (and possibly not even an option from the West Coast), and that mid-week flights are usually cheaper than weekend travel. Additionally, airlines tend to announce new sales on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Be sure to check fares on those dates in particular, as matching prices and market competition tend to result in the cheapest fares.
For international flights, it’s a good rule of thumb to book at least two months in advance to get the best prices and availability. Within an eight-week window, seat inventory often gets tighter, and you’ll pay more.
With these tips in mind, book your airfare when you see a price that aligns with your budget.
Once you’re in Italy, plan on taking trains in between cities. It’s the easiest and most cost-effective way to travel in Italy on a budget, and gives you a great flavor for the countryside and easy access to the entire country, cities and small towns alike. The websites for Rail Europe and Eurostar have pre-booking information, so you can budget in advance and determine fare classes, schedules, high-speed vs. local trains, etc. Once you’ve got a sense of what you can expect to spend in-country on trains (both money and time-wise), you can decide whether you want to book in advance or be spontaneous with your itinerary.
Start your hotel search at EuroCheapo, which offers curated hotel listings from an editorial staff that looks for both quality and affordability. At press time, EuroCheapo had B&Bs in Rome from $400 for a six-night stay (or approximately $67/night, double occupancy).
Live like a local (or with the locals!) with a vacation or room rental setting. In Florence, Airbnb has private rooms within local apartments from $60/night, or $91/night to rent an entire apartment.
Get some money back. Tingo has Venice hotels from $65/night, and if the price drops after you book, you’ll automatically get a refund for the price difference. This is a great way to book without having to worry about whether you’ve gotten the best deal.
Additionally, don’t be afraid of hostels. In Europe, you can often find quite nice accommodations (and make new friends) with this lodging type. If you’re not spending a lot of time in your room, it can be a great way to save.
Things to Do
Rick Steves is always fun for both the affordable and authentic. You won’t find any tourist traps with his recommendations.
Start making your must-see list with inspiration from National Geographic’s online photo galleries. My “have to go back and see this” list has gotten longer thanks to the lush visuals on their Italy Guide.
Questions about tipping? Wondering how long the daily siesta lasts? Want to learn some key phrases in Italian? Get answers to the everyday and be in the know about local customs with the Culture Shock! Guide to Italy. These handy pocket guides are indispensable plane reading and can help avoid any etiquette faux pas in-country.
Is there a place you’d love to visit, but are feeling overwhelmed with planning your trip? The Journey Genie would love to help! Send your trip-planning request to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll consider it for a future article.
Main Image: Pietro Ricciardi