Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer.
For those of you who have been following my recent European adventure on Facebook and replied with an “I WANNA GO,” this post is for you because I want you to go, too! Italy on a budget is TOTALLY possible, all you need is a game plan…and maybe a little luck, too.
If there is ONE thing to take away from this post, it’s this: A European vacation doesn’t have to cost thousands upon thousands of dollars! My 2-week excursion only cost me $2200 which included:
Before I share the breakdown of my journey through Italy on a budget, however, let me first share this disclaimer:
WHO THIS POST IS FOR: Travelers who are on a budget, have a flexible schedule, are okay with a little unpredictability, are willing to share a bathroom and have a sense of humor.
WHO THIS POST IS NOT FOR: Travelers who prefer luxury, privacy and predicability. No judgement here if you do. You’ll just pay a premium for these things, and Mrs. Smith hates premiums! 🙂
WHEN TO GO
First of all, if you plan to visit Italy in the summer, plan to suffer. It’s sweltering, air-conditioning in vehicles and buildings is not a guarantee and the crowds are horrendous. PLUS, airline prices are twice as high.
NOT. WORTH. IT.
Fall is my favorite time to travel because the price is right, the crowds are lessened and the weather is beautiful.
NOTE: October 31st is the last day of the traveling season for many Italian seaside towns. So if you plan to visit the Amalfi Coast in November, plan to visit a ghost town.
Got a big suitcase? Leave it at home. I’m a huge proponent of packing light and always pack just one carry-on suitcase. Here’s why you shouldn’t bring that big suitcase with you to Europe:
- No baggage fee!
- If you miss a connection, no worries. You’ve got your luggage with you.
- Some shuttle services (like Go-Opti) charge extra for bags larger than a carry-on size.
- Maneuvering large suitcases on trains and metros is HELL! Plus, there is limited to no room for large bags on trains.
- Maneuvering large suitcases up and down stairs is HELL! Once you leave the airport, elevators and escalators go bye-bye. Even if your hotel has an elevator, the journey to the hotel may be full of bridges and stairs. (Especially if you’re going to Venice or the Amalfi coast!)
More tips on packing later this week!
Believe it or not, my round-trip flight from Houston to Venice cost just $650 via United Airlines. WOOOOT!!!! (Since I traveled with my sis-in-law who lives in Houston, it made sense to fly out together from there.) We were lucky to have a non-packed flight coming and going and were able to snag rows all to ourselves. This is not the norm but boy was it a sweet surprise! For the best price and seats:
- Book tickets as early as possible. (I purchased mine in early June for our late September trip.)
- Download your airline’s app so that you can see the seating map and pick better seats closer to flight time. (The best time to change seats is 24 hours before your flight.)
BUSSES & SHUTTLES
Chances are, once you land you will need to find transportation from the airport to your place of lodging. Taxis can be expensive and finding an honest driver can be tricky which makes shuttle busses the best option. Here are the bus options that applied to our trip:
ATVO Bus: €8 from Marco Polo Airport (VCE) to Piazelle Roma, a central station close to our Airbnb. You can purchase ATVO bus tickets quickly and easily at the ATVO booth in the airport.
Naples Alibus: €4 from the Piazza Garibali to Naples International Airport. Sadly, our 4am flight was too early (busses begin running at 6:30am) but it’s still useful info. You can purchase tickets from most tabacchi shops. Drivers will not accept money so don’t plan to purchase tickets on the bus!
SITA bus: €1.80 from Positano to Sorrento. You can purchase tickets and receive updated bus schedules from most tabacchi shops like this this friendly tabacchi shop in Positano! We wound up not using our tickets because of a major windfall which you will read below. SITA busses can be slow, behind or ahead of schedule and crowded. Plus, the schedule changes often. (Cheap travel, but a pain in the ass as you can see!)
Positano Shuttle Bus: €36 from Napoli Centrale train station to the drop-off location at Hotel Le Agavi. Purchase tickets online at least 2 weeks before your trip…and trust the process. I say this because once you’ve paid, you will receive an itinerary stating where your driver will meet you. Trust that Vincenzo/Carmine/Luigi will be there waiting for you. Also know that this is a shared shuttle which means other passengers may be picked up and dropped off turning the 1-hour journey into a 2+hour journey.
GoOpti Shuttle Bus: If you plan to travel from Italy into Slovenia (which we did) GoOpti is the best option.
Busses can take several hours and trains are not predictable due to conflict between these countries. GoOpti is a shared shuttle service meaning you will be sharing the van with other passengers, but you can select a private option for a premium. Depending on the time slot you select, tickets are anywhere from €15-€35 depending on your time flexibility:
If you select, for instance, the cheaper ticket at €25, then expect a longer trip since you will most likely be the first one picked up. If you are on a time crunch, then select the €39 ticket. This way you will be the last picked up and can immediately be on your way.
Note: Exact pick-up times will not emailed to you until 24 hours before the pick-up date.
TRAINS & SUBWAYS
RailEurope: Around €50. Trains are fast, affordable and convenient. Unfortunately, strikes are known to happen. Thankfully, Italian rails announce strikes in advance. For a better price and convenience, purchase tickets online at least 2 weeks in advance and print the tickets at home. However, if you forget to print the tickets, no worries. Simply show the ticket reader your e-ticket confirmation code straight from your phone screen:
If you purchase the tickets from the station machines, then you have to verify the ticket, but I don’t know where you do that, and if you don’t verify then you could be fined like €500, and all this just sounds confusing so just order your train tickets online, m’kay? 🙂
Rome Metro: €12.50 for a 48-hour pass. Venice, Florence and Positano were small enough to walk around. Rome, however, is a sprawling city and the fastest and easiest way to get around is, by far, the Metro! We purchased our tickets from a newsstand right inside the Roma Termini train station, but tickets are also sold at most tabacchi shops. Some reviews online complain about the graffiti on the trains, but I didn’t feel in danger using the Metro at all. HOWEVER, busy hours are around 8-9AM and 4-7PM on weekdays and between 9am-7pm on weekends so be prepared to pack in like sardines during these times. Be alert and mindful of pickpockets, too!
Circumvesuviana Trains: Around €4. Purchase tickets from a tabacchi shop or newsstand. Unfortunately, this train line was in a strike during our visit which meant no visit to Pompeii on our way to Naples. Pompeii is a stop on the Circumvesuviana train and much cheaper than the €80 excursion fee offered by the taxi services. Though this train is notorious for being crowded, dirty and prone to pick-pockets, I felt it was very much worth the savings. Oh, well. Maybe next time…
TAXIS & RENTAL CARS
Limo Car Service Positano: €120 plus extra for excursions (i.e. Pompeii) We decided to wing the trip back to Naples and not to book a round trip ticket with Positano Shuttle. This meant our options for getting back to Naples were: 1.) SITA bus to Sorrento and Sorrento to Naples via Circumvesuviana Train, OR 2.) Private taxi.
Since the train was under a strike, our next option was to cut costs by taking the SITA bus to Sorrento and then a taxi to Naples. And here is where flexibility and luck meet! While sitting on the curb waiting for the next SITA bus to arrive, a taxi pulled up. The driver said he was driving to Naples to pick up passengers and if we wanted a ride he’d only charge us €40 total. “SOLD!” I exclaimed to the driver, whose name was Luigi. Then I gave him a big hug for saving us. An hour later, we were in Naples and had made a new friend. Luigi was a hoot and kept us laughing the whole time. If you visit Positano in the summer/fall months, give Luigi a call!
Rental cars: Since neither my sis-in-law or I could drive our host’s stick-shift while in Slovenia, we rented a car for 24 hours for around €50 each. Keep in mind that automatic cars are rare in Europe; we had to wait 2 hours for the rental company to deliver one.
Lucibello Positano: My sis-in-law and I got to enjoy a real treat one day: a private boat ride from Positano to the Isle of Capri! The cost of this trip was paid for by the bride and groom of the wedding my sis-in-law attended there so I only have the website to share. Total time was 6 hours: 2 hours to Capri, 3 hours in Capri, 1 hour back to Positano. We rode the Lady L through the Faraglioni rocks where we later got to swim. The captain also took us to the Green and White Grotto (the Blue Grotto was closed that day due to choppy waters) and provided light snacks and limoncello. It was an AMAZING experience, though, since the waters were choppy we all felt a bit green after the first leg of the ride. Come prepared with an arsenal of anti-nausea supplies!
TOTAL SPENT ON TRANSPORTATION: €895
During our 4-day excursion to Slovenia, we stayed with my sis-in-law’s dear friend. She was a fabulous host and showed us all the beautiful sights in her city. Staying with friends is a great way to experience a home away from home! If you don’t have friends who live in the area you are traveling to then….
…Airbnb all the way, baby!! Italy on a budget is possible with rooms as cheap as €30 a night, a savings that really adds up for a long trip. I LOVED Airbnb, not only for the value, but because it gave me a better window into the life of a local. I don’t like feeling like a tourist and the less I can live like one while traveling the better. Still, here are some pros and cons to using Airbnb to help you in your lodging decisions:
- You get to live like a local as well as meet locals, i.e. your host.
- You gain more insight on the culture of an area.
- Most places have kitchens which allows you to prepare your own meals.
- Most hosts provide valuable information such as the REAL good places to eat and the best sites to visit.
- The price, the price, the price!
- If your room is closer to the city center, expect noisy neighborhoods (this means at night, too).
- If you select a quieter neighborhood, the location may not be very close to all the attractions.
- You may have to share a bathroom with other people.
- Hot water is limited as most places have only small water heaters.
TIPS for selecting a quality Airbnb:
- Only select places with several reviews and at least 4 stars.
- Read the reviews! You will gain valuable insight.
- Only select hosts that have excellent communication. (Our host in Naples barely spoke English which proved difficult once we arrived.)
- Study the maps of location and all the amenities the place offers so there are no surprises.
TOTAL SPENT ON LODGING: €375
Good news! Certain museums and parks in Italy are free to the public on either the first Sunday or last Sunday of the month. Bad news? Certain museums and sights are closed Mondays. We got to experience the Boboli Gardens in Florence for free…but sadly we missed the Uffizi Gallery. Such is life when you travel.
Here are other sights and excursions we paid for and all were worth it:
Bordon Winery Tasting: €15. This covered a private tour of the grounds, a meat and cheese platter complete with olives and bread and 6 samples of their fabulous wines including a taste of their olive oil. This was hands-down one of my favorite experiences. Not only did I get to learn and eat, but the family who owns this Slovenian winery is so dear and treated us well. More on this tasting in a separate post!
Slap Savica Falls: €3. These amazing water falls in Bohijn, Slovenia are just a long staircase away.
Duomo in Florence: €15 to climb the 463 stairs to the tip-top of the Dome. Tours are extra, but for us it was enough to climb and enjoy the breathtaking view. Get there first thing in the morning. A line will already be forming but at least you won’t have to make the climb in the heat of the day. If you’re claustrophobic, take care. The staircase is narrow, steep and usually full of people.
Vatican Museums and Basilica: €16. PURCHASE ONLINE! This ticket is the fast-pass that will allow you to walk past the thousands of folks who didn’t plan ahead and have been waiting in line for 3 hours. The Vatican is one big zoo and can make you hate people by the time you leave. Not matter what time of year or day you visit, the place is packed and you will feel like cattle as you are herded from room to room before finally arriving inside the Sistine Chapel. As for the Basilica, we simply didn’t have the energy to wait in another long line and shuffle along with another mob of people. It didn’t help that we had arrived in the afternoon after a busy morning of train travel.
Note: No talking or photography is allowed inside the Sistine Chapel so don’t bring your big, fancy camera hoping for a fabulous shot. If you’re sneaky though, you can snap a pic on selfie mode with your cell phone hidden inside your purse. 😉 THAT CHAPEL, THOUGH! The paintings jump out at you and despise the heat and crowds, the air is cool and refreshing. It is a true wonder.
Colosseum and Roman Forum: €12. We found that the website wasn’t working for us while in Italy which meant we had to purchase tickets in person. The best way to do this to avoid lines? Purchase tickets from the Palantine Hill office the day before your visit. There was absolutely no line at 3pm. A few more important notes about visiting the Colosseum:
- GO EARLY!! Open time is 8:30am and there was already a line when we arrived at 8:15.
- Arriving early also means cooler temps and more dramatic photos.
- You must go through a security check which means you have to dump your water. Totally lame considering you will be walking around in the sun while you tour the place.
- Audio and other tours are extra which, if time permits, is worth it since very little is labeled (this is true for all of Italy). You can pass an amazing statue/ruin and there won’t be a single word describing it.
Yanira Fabbro Roman Food Tour: €70. WORTH. EVERY. PENNY. This tour offered 10 stops where we sampled everything from red pizza, to fresh fruit, to pastries. Not only that, but we were able to explore areas not bombarded with tourists; the areas where true Romans hang out. Our guide, Yanira, was so warm, personal and informative. More on this tour in a separate post!
TOTAL SPENT ON SIGHTS: €131
For our 2-week journey through Slovenia and Italy, I spent a total of €1400 or roughly $1540 on transportation, lodging and sight-seeing. I also brought along €600 for food and souvenirs bringing the grand total to €2000 or roughly $2200. That’s $6 put away each day for a year! Not bad for a trip of a lifetime. In fact, at that price, I could afford to go on many trips of a lifetime.
Happy journeys to many of you! I hope this post encourages you and gives practical steps towards making your travel dreams come true. In the words of Eugene Fodor:
You don’t have to be rich to travel well.
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