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5 Techniques to Kill Travel Expenses in Italy

Just having returned from two weeks in Italy where I spent less than $2,000 including airfare and with no couch-surfing involved, I wanted to share the 5 techniques I used that helped to kill my travel expenses.

Get Free (Well, Almost Free) Airfare

During the flight back from Rome I peeked at the itinerary of another passenger and saw that roundtrip airfare from Chicago cost them about $1,750. The same ticket for us was $167. Most people hear frequent flyer miles and assume that the only way to earn them is by flying which is WRONG. The easiest and most lucrative way to earn miles is to sign up for credit cards that offer huge mile bonuses, meet the spend requirement to get the bonus (e.g. spend $3,000 in three months), and then book FREE travel.

Skip the Hotels

We spent the most time in Rome, and we knew we wanted to stay in the old center with its winding narrow streets filled with tiny restaurants, cafes, shops, and foot traffic. Of course everyone else wants to stay there too so that means paying a premium. The two CHEAPEST hotels that Rick Steves recommends in the old center are €140-€150 a night.

I happened to stumble upon Cross Pollinate which represents apartments in a handful of European cities so I emailed them requesting a sub-€100 apartment in the old center. They recommended a small apartment on the top floor of a building with an ENORMOUS private terrace that had sweeping views of the city. For €95 a night we immediately booked it.

Eat and Drink Well, but Smart

When we weren’t dropping €80 on super-romantic restaurants with black-vested waiters we were eating and drinking well by using these tricks:

A) Aperitivo

Every day from about 6PM until 10PM bars will offer a table full of small dishes and anyone that purchases a drink at an inflated price gets to eat for FREE. During aperitivo at the bar Freni e Frizioni €6 got me a Peroni tap beer and plate after plate of decent food.

B) Coffee

Never have coffee sitting down. Why? Because drinking your coffee at the bar is cheaper than drinking it at one of the cafe’s tables. No matter what cafe you’re in, every city has a regulated price: espresso at the bar in Rome was €0.90.

C) Water

There are public water fountains EVERYWHERE in Italy, in Rome alone there are 2,500. Bring a water bottle with you or buy a bottle of water there and re-use it, filling it up with the cold, safe, great-tasting water from the fountains.

D) Takeaway

Pizza or sandwiches to go is a cheap and reliable way to eat well. In Positano we would grab bottles of Peroni, olives, fresh mozzarella, sun-dried tomatoes, and baguettes and have a delicious meal on our terrace or at the beach.

Self-Guided Tours

One of the reasons I have a man-crush on Rick is for the wonderful self-guided tours he provides in his books. Instead of hiring a guide or paying for an audio guide my girlfriend and I would trade-off being a guide by using his self-guided tours.

We did this for EVERYTHING: Pompeii, the Vatican Museum, the Sistine Chapel, St. Peter’s Basilica, the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, the Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps, the Capitoline Museum, the Borghese Gallery, and St. Ignatius.

Roma Pass

To help save tourists money Rome offers a sightseeing pass called the Roma Pass. It costs €36 and is valid for three days covering admission to two sites, discounts for additional sites, and public transportation.

We used the Roma Pass for free entry at the Borghese Gallery and the Colosseum/Forum and paid the discounted price of €11 at the Capitoline so in total we spent €47. Without the pass we would have paid €36 for the three sites so the wildcard is how much public transportation you use.

Since the bus costs €1.50 a ride if you’ll be riding more than a handful of times get the pass. We only hopped on the bus four times so we paid an extra €5, BUT we got to skip the long Colosseum line which was probably worth that amount.

Posted by
8 posts

Hi George - I do agree with you and that's why we found a balance that worked: instead of spending a hundred dollars on meals every night for the two we chose to have a couple splurge meals that we then really anticipated, which only added to the satisfaction when we ate there. Otherwise, we were perfectly content getting a cheap slice of delicious pizza at the Forno in Campo de' Fiori plus a bottle of wine and have an enjoyable time eating in a piazza or on our apartment's terrace overlooking Rome.

Cheers!

Posted by
1068 posts

Thanks for sharing. I would still like to know how you saved money on airfare as my credit card gives me cold hard cash for charging my purchases. So it seems all you did was take the cash you didn't receive from your credit card and put it towards your airfare. I'm not sure that is really cheaper. We also probably have some differences about what/how we like to travel, but it is nice that you presented options to people who had not thought of them.

Posted by
2081 posts

@ chris,

i think its great you were able to do the trip in 2k. to me, everyone will have their own version of how to do it and do it in an inexpensive way. I agree that travel should be affordable to all that want to go too. As far as "everyone" not sure about that.

the way i see things is that going on the cheap is good, but also, i like to splurge on myself every so often. If not, why go? i don't care for staying in 500 USD/nt rooms or things like that unless that was what i was going for. but that room had better have a really hot french maid along with some other indulgences too. I see planes, trains and lodging as just a evil means to an end. its the destinations for me. sometimes it the journey. but most is the destination.

i like using RS books as guides and a lot of the information is great. but i also use others references and the web for my ideas. as far as his walking tours, i havet done one. Don't know if i will since i like exploring and getting lost on my own. Getting lost is easy with a broken internal compass.

happy trails.

Posted by
187 posts

Thanks for sharing -- I have over 100,000 points on Bristish Airways from my BA card and am having a heck of a time using them. How far in advance did you book your flights?

And just an FYI too much of that sending random amounts to people then redepositing the same amount in your own account could get your checking account flagged for check kiting or money laundering. I know you aren't doing either of those things but that is exactly the type of activity that the bank algorhythms look for so don't freak out if you get a call from your bank asking about the transactions.

Posted by
8 posts

@Ray #1 - I specifically apply for credit cards with sign-up bonuses that give me points that I can convert to miles (e.g. Chase Sapphire that earns Ultimate Rewards) or credit cards that earn me straight-up miles (e.g. Chase United Explorer card). All the miles that I used to get a $167 roundtrip ticket to Europe came from sign-up bonuses. There's all different kinds of credit cards out there that offer different rewards, some are cash-back like you have. Cheers!

Posted by
8 posts

@ Ray #2 - I agree with you that the destination is the point, which is why I fly coach :). What other references do you like to use? I usually cross-check RS with TripAdvisor for accommodations and Yelp for meals. But I also like to discover places through word of mouth and the locals too. Cheers!

Posted by
48 posts

@Gretchen - I, too, use BA freq. flyer miles and have to book almost a year in advance (this is for travel in 2015). Last year I used BA FF miles and booked way earlier. They have changed their website for using the FF miles I feel. BA is making it tougher and tougher to use them for anything other using miles for economy class tickets.

Posted by
329 posts

Chris, can you repost the information about your five techniques somewhere and tell us where it is because the website master has removed your link from your original post, above.. I would very much like to read your suggestions.

Posted by
8 posts

@Gretchen - I booked my flights about 6 months prior to departure. Most airlines start to release a batch of award tickets when their schedules open up, which typically is 330 days prior to travel.

You can use BA Avios to book American Airlines flights if the “Economy MileSAAver” award is available on the AA site, have you tried that?

Posted by
8 posts

@ SuzieeQQ - Done. I was able to fit most of the information into the original post.

Posted by
1068 posts

Chris, good point about the credit cards. Mine give me double or triple the points (used for cash) on some purchases, which really adds up fast. I'm pretty sure I could have purchased a round trip ticket to Europe (well several) for what my cards sent me this year. But as your point is that is pays to shop around and know the added bennies your card gives, that is true. Obviously, my choice was for the flexibility of cash. As an aside, I find it more helpful to decide when and where to use self-guided tours versus a local guide or guided tour. Some guided tours give you an excellent overview of a place with all you want to see of certain sights. In other places the self-guided walk-about is fun and charming. As I travel mostly for the experience and don't worry quite as much as some about cost, I weight out the pros and cons of each in specific situations. Happy traveling.

Posted by
1402 posts

I found my best deals (40,000 RT Denver - Frankfurt, Dec. 2011) by going online 330 days before the flight.

To see how to get credit cards with sign up bonuses and using them for travel, see www.frugaltravelguy.com

Posted by
449 posts

I didn't get the impression that there was any nit picking about what to eat or drink. Seems like a legit bit of advice about how to keep your cost down.

Sure beats the others who posted about cooking ramen noodles in hotel room and tossing old clothes out while travelling.

Good for you! As long as you both had fun, that's the important thing. This is definitely not the worst I've read about when it comes to dining out.