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First time RS person, taking the Italy and then France tour

I'm taking a RS tour for the first time. I would appreciate some advice from those who've been there.

I'm taking two tours for my first time. Just signed up for the 10 day Italy (Venice-Florence-Rome) tour at the end of Mar then 3 days later the 7 day Paris tour. I expect I'm going to be pretty easy to please since this will all be new to me.

I do apologize for the length below. Feel free to pick and choose anything that interests you. I will be scouring the forums (and reading the FAQs) for advice on these (and other) questions so feel free to point me to answers/resources there.

Q: I've got more diving into Rick's site to go but any advice on airlines? I've heard ~ 90 days in advance was best to book international flights. And should I do one way flights to get me to Venice first and back home from Paris later? Or book everything as part of one trip.

Q: I've seen the advice to get a money belt. Is an (American not English!) Fanny Pack, worn in front, under a loose shirt acceptable?

Q: I have a basic nerd preference for simple dark clothes and comfortable athletic (New Balance) shoes. I've seen Rick's site's advice to wear other clothes and shoes at least sometimes (though athletic shoes might be good sometimes). Anyone want to add to it?

Q: Anyone have any favorite travel clothes (male)? I probably should get some in cotton/non-mix that's easier to rinse and dry overnight. Any favorites?

Q: I have 3 extra days between the tour that ends in Rome and when the next starts in Paris. Rome will be my first tour so I will have minimal travel/language skills by then but I would appreciate advice. Of course I may be collapsed and recuperating from the Italian tour but I have hopes. :)
1. Do I spend the extra 3 days in Rome or Paris (or mix)? (Yes, there are a huge number of other possible places as well and if they are in reach of minimal travel/language skills I will consider them. :)
2. If I'm in Rome/Paris on my own I would appreciate suggestions on possible activities that's not in the RS tours.

Q: What kind of ID do I need to bring? Credit/Debit Cards? Seems like I should pare it down to the minimum with maybe copies of others.

Q: I have prescriptions. I assume just bringing more than enough in the original bottles would be good. Plus maybe backup copies of my prescriptions.

Q: Any suggestions for the free time on the Venice-Florence-Rome or the Paris tours? I'll probably be collapsed with exhaustion in the free times but I'm feeling ambitious. :)

Q: Any unknown unknowns people think are worth throwing out? :)

update: added details in Profile which set my home location/home airport.

Posted by
8083 posts

rhickey, you've got a lot of questions. A good guidebook like the RS Europe through the Back Door, or the more specific country guides (that you'll get with your tour packages) will answer most of your questions. But I'll take a stab at it.

Q airlines - the particular airline is less important than the itinerary (connections), time and fares. You need to say where you'd be flying from to get better advice. Do you know if any of the budget airlines (Norwegian, Icelandair, etc.) fly from your airport? But no, no one would say 90 days out is the best time. That's old old advice from before the internet. Nowadays, fare sales are unpredictable and popup at any time, unannounced. You should look at open jaw (aka multi-city) fares which give you a round-trip fare, but to and from different cities in Europe. All the online websites give you the option of multi-city bookings. You should know what the fares are now.

Q fanny pack. NO. This is the worst option. A fanny pack is just as handy for a thief to access as it is for you. The whole point of having a money belt under your clothes, is so nobody can tell that its there. A fanny pack is a red flag. The money belt is not a substitute for a wallet. It is for keeping secure your most important things (passport, credit cards, large sums of cash), like a portable safe. Its not intended to be accessed routinely while out and about.

Q clothes. Wear whatever is comfortable for you. Take the same kind of clothes you'd take on a similar trip somewhere in the US. No need for specialty travel clothes. But if you think you need to, there are companies that specialize in versatile travel clothes, like Travelsmith and Magellan. Athletic shoes are fine. I think RS recommends more than one pair so that you can change them up (for the sake of your feet), but many people get by with only one pair for the whole trip. Less to pack. Which I am surprised you haven't gotten to the "how to pack light" questions.

Q extra days. Unless you have a particular destination you know you want to see, you can always use those extra days in either Rome or Paris or both. We would have liked one relaxing day at the end of the VFR tour, to just be on our own. And arriving early for the Paris tour is also a good idea. Since the itinerary for the tours tells you exactly what you're doing day-to-day, you can look at the guidebooks to see what might interest you on your own time. Thats why they want you tor bring them. The tour leaders will have suggestions for your free time. You dont need to pre-plan everything, as some things will grab your interest at the time. Just relaxing is OK too.

Q IDs. Your Passport is the only legally recognized ID that you need. Drivers Licenses as official ID are a US - thing, only needed if you're going to be driving over there, but can be used to leave at the entry to a museum, for example, where they give you a audio headset. Student ID might get a discount on some things, but not necessarily. Credit cards/debit cards, yes, you need these. Any big items ( your extra night hotels, e.g.) go on the credit cards. Use the debit cards to get cash out of bankomats (ATMs). Best to read closely all of Rick's tips on this, from the Travel Tips section on the menu on the upper left, this page.

Posted by
4072 posts

With regard to prescriptions, this is what we do save space & weight. Have the pharmacist print out extra labels. Put the pills in a freezer zip lock and put the extra label on it. Take the original data sheet that comes with the RX with you to show that it is for you. We have been to many European countries and have never had a problem. There are some state laws that require prescription meds to be in original containers, but they are rarely enforced and I can only remember reading about one case in the last 20 years. If any of your prescriptions are liquid meds, they do not have to go in the 311 bag.

Posted by
1662 posts


Check airfares now. Book direct & straight through w/airline. A connection less than 2+ hours can be stressful if your flight arrives late. Alitalia is in bankruptcy; avoid.

Airlines sometimes have "flash sales." They will post a sale for a few hours or a day or two. You can save hundreds of dollars. It also depends on what day & what airport you fly from. I favor British Airways. They also have OneWorld Alliance partners.

Check the for 3-1-1, electronics, food, etc. It's good to put all your essentials (aside from the electronics) in your carry on. Less chance to forget something in a bin. Keep it simple. Keep your passport handy. I carry mine when out & about all day. I consider it my lifeline. If there's an alert/emergency, I may not be able to get back to my hotel. Keep secured/hidden copies of your PP & bank info - contacts, etc./any personal info (just in case.) Get a Euro adapter (or two.)

Maybe invest in a copy of "Europe through the Back Door." - Hard or E-book. Even last year's copy can be helpful & a bit cheaper. Outdated things, your guide will advise.

Fannypack? No. Moneybelt. Yes. Worn under shirts & tucked into your clothing - undergarment or pants. Used for storing Passport, extra credit/debit card, tickets, Euro. Don't access it in public. Try to keep enough "day money" in your front pockets. Maybe get an inexpensive "euro" wallet in the States. They are slimmer - keeps your euro/cards compact. Put it sideways in your front pants pocket. When riding a bus, metro or in crowds, keep a casual hand in your pocket. Thieves are good - you may not feel a thing.

Use a day bag for water, energy bar, hat, extra tee, umbrella, sweater, camera. Secure the zippers with a twist tie. You don't want your cam taken. Some guys use a "mail carrier" or "messenger" style bag - even better. They have ones ranging from canvas to leather. Colors range - black, brown or army green.

For debit use in Italy - it's a foreign bank. You may be charged their fee even if your bank does not. You will be charged the conversion - Euro to USD - no way around that. Watch your dollar limits - if you want €300, you won't be charged $300. You will pay more in your own currency from the withdrawal. Always choose EURO, not Dynamic. Alert your banks of your dates/countries of travel.

Credit cards are different - CAP ONE is a good one for no foreign fees - only conversion fees. Italy is mostly a "cash-based" country. It's good to pay for most things in Euro - twenty and under. Get familiar with the currency.

Simple or business casual clothing is good. Monochromatic/neutral tones are good - Black, brown, olive green, navy, gray, maroon. Athletic shoes are acceptable. Many Italians/locals wear them. I think RS tours are casual - no fancy clothes. No need to invest in travel clothes. Dark jeans, dockers, cargo pants are acceptable. Some guys wear a tee with a V-neck sweater. I've seen guys wear a tee with a button-down shirt - some buttons left open for an easy look.

If possible, bring a few extra of each of your script meds. If you want to go less bulkier, ask your pharmacist for a "label" of the scripts. You can decant the meds into pill baggies & stick the label on it. Pill baggies can be found at Wal*Mart pharmacies.

Have fun!

Posted by
4072 posts

With regard to your money belt question this is a method that has worked well for us in the past.

Before you get to the airport (when you leave home or hotel) place the money belt in a LOCKED compartment of your main carry on bag. At security let it go down the conveyer belt as usual. TAfter you clear the TSA security area, find the nearest rest room and put it back on. That way if your carry on has to be gate checked (and it sometimes happens regardless of size) you still have your money belt on you. Easy peasy peace of mind. Lord forbid your carry on is gate checked and then lost with the money belt inside.

While going to and through the airport, have everything in the belt except day money, one credit card, maybe (or maybe not) one ATM card, and travel documents you will need in route such as your boarding pass & passport. Carry those in a secure zippered shirt pocket if you have one. If not, use your / "man bag" / personal bag. When going through the TSA check point you can put those things, plus cell phone, watch, and misc. in a zip lock baggie in / "man bag" / personal bag. Remember, your money belt will be TEMPORARILY in your carry on so your goodies will be in two different places.

While in Europe, carry the passport and travel documents (such as train / plane tickets for later use) in the money belt also, and only carry day money and one credit card in an easy to access but a secure zippered shirt / blouse pocket. But you could use a "man bag".

The way to "hide" a money belt WHEN WEARING IT WHILE OUT AND ABOUT in Europe is this: (1) Put everything that goes in the money belt in a double zip lock freezer bag to protect against moisture from perspiration. (2) Wear it on the small of the back. (3) Tuck the bottom half or two thirds into the top of the undies. No one can get to it without your knowledge. If you need to retrieve something from it (highly unlikely) just step into a rest room and do so.

Posted by
1662 posts

Some added suggestions from my post: Watch your phone if you're taking one. Never put it down on a table where it can be swiped very fast. Do not hang your day bag or whatever on the back of a chair.

It's okay to take your time when purchasing something. Don't worry about who is next to you or behind you. I separate my Euro bills and coins accordingly. The one and two Euro coin look similar at a quick glance. The smallest Euro dollar is a five. In my post above, I gave you a link to get familiar with the currency.

If you take a taxi on your own time, use an official city taxi - rates are posted on the doors. But, Rome is a walking city, so if you're able to sustain, then that's the best way. The buildings and facades are museums themselves. Just wander around, maybe stop for an espresso if that's your thing. You can take a bus all around the city centre and to the outskirts - €1.50 for a 100-minute ride. Tickets can be purchased at gift shops or Tabacchi shops. Once you board the bus, validate it in the machine - up front by the driver. If you don't use the ticket at all, it will not expire. You can keep it for another day. A "bus/metro pass" is good only IF you will definitely make use of it within the time frame. Most of the time, that's not a good deal.

If you ride the bus/metro, keep your bag in front of you and one hand on or in your front pocket. People may look innocent...and that is the point....

Although many Italians and locals appreciate the courtesy of travelers communicating in some Italian words/phrases, don't fret if you don't know full Italian. A lot, especially those in the tourist industry, speak English (and other languages.) If perplexed, ask, "Do you speak English, please? -- "Parli inglese, per favore?"

Learn some basic words, phrases, greetings. Maybe get a pocket-sized phrase book or download a translator app on your phone. It won't be great for "in depth" conversations or correct grammar (at times,) but it's useful for the general.

When walking Rome, distance yourself from street sellers - many are not licensed - you could be fined if you bought something. Also, kids running up to you with clip boards or whatever - walk away.

If they persist, put up your hand and say, "no Grazie" - no grah - zee - eh. < no thank you.

The pointers are not meant to scare you; only to make you aware. I traveled to Italy with no problems. Just keep street smarts.

eta: Also, the famous "found (lost) ring scam." - If you get approached in Italy or most likely Paris by a person claiming to have found a gold ring and asks if its yours...just walk away. Don't engage. I've not had that happen to me in Italy. I've not been to France.

Posted by
548 posts

I agree with the above recomendation to read/study Europe Through the Back Door. It is a really good introduction to and preparation for any travel to/in Europe.
And study the posts above; they have important helpful information. And don't hesitate to ask more questions. The folks here are super helpful. :)

You'll have a great time!

Posted by
2021 posts

I have not taken an RS tour, but from everything I know, I suggest you relax and enjoy the experience. I can understand you concerns however.

I suggest you try not to plan too much on your free time until you get there. I'm assuming that the three days between tours will include time to get from Rome to Paris. Essentially that gives you one free day in each city. I suggest one day in Rome, one day getting from Rome to Paris and one day in Paris. You could use the Rome day to take care of something you didn't see on the tour that you'd like to take in. I suggest the free day in Paris just relaxing and wandering around. You could learn the Metro system (it's easy). From any point in Paris to another is quick and easy on the Metro. Download the app before you leave. Take the Metro to Isle de la Citie and wander around there. From there you could even ride the Metro to Montmartre.

Take a chipped credit card. Know the PIN for it, you'll need it. We also took a debit card to withdraw cash.

Since we're older, we like to dress fairly plainly and conservatively. Take a money belt. We had no problem with pickpockets or scams, but it's not a bad idea to study up. There's a section that lists them. I was approached once in Rome and once in Paris by a cute young "survey taker". A firm "No!" is enough. The first thing I did after being approached was to look for her accomplices. Situational awareness helps. If you need to get your bearings, don't stand in the middle of the sidewalk with a "deer in headlights" look. Find a quiet place where you can watch your surroundings when getting oriented.

Don't worry about your language skills. You'll not have any problems, but learning a few phrases will show you are at least trying. They will appreciate the effort.

Finally, we love Rome, Venice, Florence and Paris. Italians are more outgoing in general while Parisians can be more reserved. However, a cheery Bonjour! and a genuine smile works wonders.

Posted by
914 posts

Please, please read this section of Rick's website:
and someone can correct me if the company no longer does it, but in your tour packet(s), you'll receive a pamphlet/booklet that contains a lot of good "know before you go" information. That pamphlet is another must read. Europe Through the Back Door is also a good read, and you want to start arming yourself with all this information sooner rather than later. I'm saying all this because you're asking some very good but also very basic questions. Well-armed with information you receive here and read on your own, I think you'll have a wonderful time!

Posted by
211 posts

Thank you for the replies. I have read lots of pages of Rick's site. Just asking here for personal experiences. Like the reply (can't see name now) that said they were going to be "shouted down" about don't bother with money belts. He/she lives there and asks "would I wear one walking around a US city"? I have been in places like New York City (and others) and no, I wouldn't have thought I needed a money belt there. Wearing one in front, as my question, stops most access wo your knowledge. And yes, if you are in any "bodies jammed together" like a bus then all bets are off.

Posted by
1662 posts

Hi again,

It's good to have a level of awareness, but yeah, don't overthink anything. If you're familiar with big cities - Boston, NYC, etc, then just apply those street smarts to Europe - Rome, Paris.

Try the money belt at home first. See how it fits under your clothing - shirt or sweater/pants. Some like it, some don't. I tried a money belt (use it sometimes) but really prefer my Hedgren small cross body that holds my PP, extra money/card, tickets, etc. It's secure with a locking zipper, discreet and small enough to go under my coat/jacket. I never take it off when out and about. It's black and unisex, so a guy could use it too. I use a medium cross body purse/tote (with a little Kipling wallet I attach to the key fob inside) for everything else I may carry or for small purchases.

Posted by
89 posts

Venice-Florence-Rome was the first RS tour I took (also as a solo) and you will totally love it. March is a good time to be going because things won't be too crowded, and not hot either. Two suggestions about booking your airfare: first, as other have said, start looking now, and jump on a good far when you find one (to me, any fare under $1000 is good.) . Nov-Dec often sees a lot of good fare offerings from the major airlines. Second, seriously consider flying into Venice a day early. I didn't do that, and my plane (Philadelphia-Venice on American) got cancelled at the very last minute due to aircraft technical problems, and I missed the whole first day of the tour. Bummer!! I'd also arrange to arrive in Paris a day early, for the same reason.
As far as suggestions for free time, read the guidebook to see what your options are, but no need to decide until you're actually there. Here are some things I enjoyed: Venice: Doge's Palace, evening concert, and just walking around this fantastic city. Florence: climb the cathedral dome; Galileo museum; and excellent street shopping for scarves and leather items (gloves, leather glasses case, jackets etc). Rome: baths of Caracalla, Roman museum, catacombs tour. Have a wonderful trip!

Posted by
211 posts

@Girasoli: Thank you. That kind of personal perspective is what I was asking for.

@Mary: Yes, I have (slowly) been working my way through the scrapbooks. Particularly good ones would be appreciated.

@Kathy: Thank you for your words of caution as well as the suggestions for free time.

Posted by
211 posts

And thanks for the several replies about booking a "multi-city" or "open jaw"(?) flight. Am jumping on the sources mentioned to get a feel for what normal prices are.

Posted by
1662 posts

Hi rhickey,

You're welcome.

I like to suggest to people to watch some of these webcams. < France does not have as much as Italy.

Enjoy. Of course, the time difference is key, but, you'll get an idea and a level of pre-trip excitement.

Ha! Maybe you can let loose in Rome?

Just kidding...

Posted by
12719 posts

I'll just add a few things that haven't been mentioned.

  • With your sign up for your RS tours you'll get a link in a month or so that gives you the ability to get the "Tour Kit". This year that includes the pertinent guide books for your tour plus a money belt or neck wallet. Since you've got 2 tours you can get both a money belt AND a neck wallet and decide which one works best for you. I am a solo traveler and have had my purse pickpocketed in Paris on the Metro. Never felt anyone near me but fortunately they didn't get anything important. On an RS tour to Rome, the first night a tour member found someone else's hand in their pocket on the Rome metro which we were taking as a group. Same thing happened on the Paris Metro. Both men had on money belts so nothing was taken. Here's a thread I did last year after my pickpocket adventure.

  • I'd go to Paris 2 nights before your tour begins. Last year there were a number of strikes in France affecting transportation. Who knows what might happen next spring....but I would give yourself some flex time so if there is a transportation hiccup you've got some time built in to compensate. There is plenty to do in Paris for extra days!!

  • Giving yourself extra time in Paris also gives you time to have a very laid back day to recover from your first busy tour. Often the tour hotel is the Londres Eiffel so you can walk a couple of blocks to the Eiffel Tower area (with money and cards in your money belt because this is an area where there may be scammers working) and sit on a bench and read or people watch. It's very safe, just have to be wary of the "petition girls" who will ask you if you speak English. Don't make eye contact, don't respond. You can also head to any of the many sidewalk cafes in the area if the weather is nice and sit with coffee or a glass of wine and people-watch.

  • These are wonderful introductions to Europe! Altho I've not done V,F,R I've been to all 3 cities on various RS tours. I HAVE done the Best of Paris and I'll warn makes Paris very addictive. I've been back every year (one year twice) since I took this tour, hahaha!!

  • I'd start walking now and adding in stairs. Rome is hilly and on one of my tour days there we did 10-12 miles. You won't be going as fast as we did on the 21 day Best of Europe but you'll still have some high mileage days! The better physical shape you are in the more fun you will have.

Posted by
7575 posts

You have the same question posted on two different threads. That is why you see a response and then it seems to be gone. There are two completely different threads on this same subject.

Posted by
211 posts

Yes. I posted in "General Europe" and in each of the countries I was taking a tour in. It never showed up in the Italy one. I've since learned that's not a good idea.

Posted by
1662 posts


But, I saw the Italy thread because I replied, lol. Then it got deleted. Anyway, yes, it's a good idea to try to keep your inquiry in one possible thread/title. No worries though.

Posted by
25 posts

You are in for a treat. We did the R.S. Venice Florence Rome March 2014- if possible try to spend a day or two in Venice before the tour. Wear a money belt. We had a tour member pickpocketed in Rome on the subway. I would head to Paris early and take in sights not covered on the next R.S tour.

My feet were in pain after walking Florence.....we walked and walked some more on our free time. Try to get into shape and have great shoes. Have fun!

Posted by
61 posts

Looks like you are going to have a great time! Did the Heart of Italy Tour, I would try hard to get tickets to the Borghese Gallery and stay an extra day in Rome. Truly one of the best Museums ever.
When in Florence at the Uffuzi, ask the guide to lead you to the basement, the tour is abbreviated , so if you are a museum geek, ask.
Same with the Vatican, ask to see the Raphael rooms.
Have the Steak in Florence, Look for the Michaelanglo Graffitti in the main square in Florence
Look for the altered street signs as you walk around Florence.
Book your flights last after you have FINALIZED your plans. Most fares are non refundable and carry hefty change fees. Book directly with airline after searching on Expedia, travago, etc .
Your tour guide is a valuable resource, tell him/her what you want, they want you to have a wonderful time.
And if you don't get to all, it will give you a reason to go back, and I think you would love to!
Have fun!

Posted by
4020 posts

Please forgive me if you've already explored this completely, but you can find other things to see and do in the RS guidebooks you'll receive, by Googling and by checking the Explore Europe section of this website.

Here are a couple of links to help with that.

Italy. Choose your cities from the list.

France: Paris. This goes directly to Paris.

I'm taking back-to-back tours this year, too, Heart of Portugal in 12 Days and Best of Spain in 14 Days. I've been comparing the RS tour itineraries with the many other options online here and in the guide books. That's for the extra time I'll have in Lisbon and Barcelona before the tours start and for the free time on the tours themselves.

As so many have said, definitely wear a money belt inside your clothes. The reasons for wearing a money belt are in the Travel Tips here.

Having tried and worn the basic waist and neck wallets, I chose the hidden pocket for my trips this year. I wear no pants with a belt. Based on the responses I received to a question I asked on the Forum, I tried pinning the hidden pocket to the inside of my pants. It was empty, so it wasn't a very accurate test, but I must say, I totally forgot it was there. It remains to be seen whether I use it or not.

A few years ago I got a runner's style money belt like this. It's sized for both men and women. Of course you wear it under your clothes, not like it's shown in the pictures. You step into it and pull it up to your waist. It's the most secure money belt option I've ever worn.

The whole money management issue is well discussed in the Travel Tips here.

Posted by
3991 posts

I'm a fan of Rohan quick drying jeans. Take along a microfiber towel that you can use to wring out the water. My new go-to detergent for sink washing is packets of Tide Sport that I got from Amazon. The powder they sell at Macy's doesn't do a great job of removing smell-although packing fabric softener sheets would also help or a small bottle of Febreeze.

Posted by
211 posts

Thanks cala for the jeans/laundry suggestions.

Thanks for your reply (and links!) Lo.

terpgeekholtz - Thank you for your suggestions. I have since finalized my plans and plan to take my free days at the end of my tours. In Rome at the end of the 10 day Italy tour. And staying a few extra days at the end of the "Best of Paris" tour. I'm thinking I'll get more out of each city if I get orientated by the guide in each tour. Though I am planning on getting to Venice a couple days early because I expect to be wiped out.

"Have fun!"
Remember, I'm a first time person, I'm almost guaranteed (barring disasters :) to have a good time no matter what I do. :)

Thanks Karen. I'm planning on newish ugly tennis type shoes. :) I figure there's nothing I can do to avoid a "bruta figura" (or something like that :) anyway. Might as well be comfortable. :)