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Are there options for senior couple to realize dream of Italian vacation?


I have taken so many wonderful trips with the advice and tips from this community that I am hoping someone has a great idea to share: My sister in law and her husband (65 and 66 years old) spent their careers working for a non-profit. Won't be able to retire, at least in the near term.

They have no kids and are of limited means. Their dream is to see Italy. I suggested to my sister in law to research elder hostels, convent stays, off season prices.

I told her we never make a trip without checking in with the Rick Steves community so while my sister in law has her homework, I thought I would just check to see if anyone has a suggestion on the best way for a resource-challenged couple to take a trip to Italy? I do not think they are members of AARP or other groups that may offer lower cost options. Nor are they members of a church (sometimes church groups in our area take a pilgrimage-type tour.)

Perhaps there are programs I am unaware of, that's why I am asking here...

Thank you for any advice!

Posted by
1575 posts

Hi Marie,

If they want to go to Rome, there are many hotels available for an inexpensive price; especially if they are willing or can travel off season.

Sometimes, convents and hostels can be a bit away from the city centre -- meaning time and cost will be needed for traveling either by taxi or by bus. If there are any mobility issues with stairs, not all hotels or hostels have an elevator.

The Beehive Hostel in Rome is owned by an American couple. They seem to get many great reviews. (We're just two blocks, about 5 minutes walk from Rome's central station (Roma Termini), 20 minute walk to the Colosseum or Trevi Fountain, well connected by metro and bus to the entire city.

Some people don't care for the Termini area. I stayed in that area in a hotel on my trips to Rome; never an issue. If they want to be more local within the city, Trastevere and Campo de' Fiori are popular neighborhoods -- keeping in mind the restaurants and bars staying open late -- which will result in some noise from locals and travelers alike.

Also, Piazza Navona is a very lovely area too.

I have not stayed in any of the RS "tour hotels" used but travelers who have seem to like them and be satisfied.

Keep in mind the "city tax" charged per person, per night (through the 10th night) from a hotel or hostel. Price will vary depending on location and maybe amenities too. Some start at about 3,50€ up to maybe 6€ a night.

BIT tickets for the city centre buses are 1,50€ each and active up to 100 minutes of use. I believe you can also use to transfer once within that time frame. Metro is a one-time use. I would like to emphasize this: ticket validation on the bus is a must. Keep the ticket(s) in a handy place.

Transit Inspectors have increased their presence on popular routes -- stopping a bus, a team boarding and checking passengers' passes or tickets. Those found without a valid one can be fined heavily. Exception would be if a machine is invalid (non valido.)

Additional considerations:

Hotel Aberdeen
Hotel Sonya
Hotel Contilia

Posted by
20834 posts

Tell them to sign in to Sometimes the deals are unbelievable but have to move quick. The deals may only last a few hours before being sold out. A couple of years ago we snagged a 10 days Italian trip including air from New York, all lodging, and a rental car for $1700. Stay a week in an agriturismo outside of Florence and three days on the edge of Rome.

They need to get their passport now so that they are ready to go on short notice. Will ten days maybe plan on Florence and Rome with a couple of day trips via public transit. The former Elderhostel program now runs under the Road Scholar name and is an excellent options for active seniors.

Posted by
1575 posts

Also Marie, if you have been to Italy before, namely Rome, you know one can eat relatively good for a decent price. Eating at restaurants that are off the beaten path will get a person a nice meal that won't break the bank.

Or, if they can find a place that has a nice, buffet breakfast, that can help too.

Posted by
1072 posts

Which part of Italy do they want to see? We spent a lot more money in Venice and Rome for a hotel and food vs a very cheap B&B in Calabria. Sometimes getting out of the tourist areas has its own rewards, ie less expensive, less crowded, friendly people. But the logistics/transportation can be a little more challenging if they rely on public transportation. We rented a car in Naples because it was the only way to get to where we wanted to go in the time frame we had.

Posted by
1164 posts

I don't know any low cost options that are programs but a couple thoughts about a thrifty trip to Italy. I don't know if they have their heart set on seeing specific things or just going to Italy. If they are flexible, there are more opportunities to save.

  1. Pay attention to what airport you fly in and out of. They could start tracking pricing to see if there are patterns. I live in Florida and usually Miami airport is cheaper than Ft. Lauderdale for international travel but I always check both. For Italy, Milan seems to be much cheaper from my airport than other destinations. Yesterday I booked direct flights into Milan for late May returning in early June for $575. The same itinerary is $525 going through London. These are on American and partners. I thought these were very good prices without much cost in hassle and wear and tear. The problem with being a bit older is the tactics some use to save money require a lot of energy (think flying to London for $225 one way, touring London, and the same day catching a Ryan Air flight to Bulgaria.

  2. Italy is not equally expensive. We are going to Umbria, Venice, Verona and Lake Como. I managed to find reasonable lodging in all places staying in apartments (Venice still is somewhat more expensive than rest) but I see much more variation in other costs with Venice being the most expensive. Umbria seems to be the cheapest of the places we are going. The most challenging for restaurants seems to be Lake Como-probably because it really caters to an upscale crowd.

  3. I stayed in a convent in Bergamo. They are bare boned but clean so yes, that could be a good option. Apartments also might work if they make food or do take out as a result. We never eat all our meals out and not just to save money. We don't want to have a two hour meal every night and enjoy having the time to do other things in the evening.

  4. I think public transportation is cheaper for two than renting a car. Plus, I think driving in a foreign country is more difficult than taking the trains.

Posted by
801 posts

I'm a few years older than the people you are trying to help. It is possible to spend a marvelous time in Italy without spending a marvelous amount of money. It's all in the research - which can and should be a big part of the fun! Your airfare is going to be a big budget item. Economy is more and more uncomfortable - and comfort is becoming more and more a top priority. Look into Premium Economy. It used to be called 'business class.' I flew Premium Economy on Air Canada last year Philly to Rome (layover in Montreal) for $1140 which was several hundred dollars below regular economy! Very, very nice and comfortable flight. That fare was only up on their website a short time. TripAdvisor is a good place to research hotels. Stay where you want to be! Getting to those places by taxi or bus isn't always easy or cheap. I walk everywhere, be it in Rome, Florence, Siena, Venice, Assisi, Siracusa, Orvieto, Lucca. I mention those places because if you do your homework there are affordable quality places to stay. Don't forget! You can save a bundle on food and hotel by renting an apartment. It also helps if you rent an apartment in a city long enough to get to know it and not just check it off your list. Train tickets can be expensive but if you take the time to plan your schedule, has discounted tickets (with restrictions of course) that can save you a bundle! There are places to eat in just about every city (Venice is challenging) that the locals frequent where you can enjoy a very good meal in a fun place for a reasonable price. It can be done! It does take some homework but that's part of the fun, if you let it be. And remember: you deserve this!

Posted by
605 posts

Yes, tell us more! What do they want to see and do? What is "Italy" to them? How many nights? Are they fit? (My husband and I are 65 and 67 --- he is quite fit except for a bad ankle, I am fine but can't walk for hours any more or carry much more than my purse.) Are they willing to suffer a bit to get cheaper flights (long layovers, inconvenient hours, no choice of seats, off-season, etc)? Any idea what their budget would be? Do they want to travel around or stay in one place?

Posted by
5010 posts

I don't think you need any "programs".

To save money, you just need to make smart choices (in this case, "smart" = minimizing costs). That means research, research, research, and lots and LOTS of planning. Not just on specific places to stay and eat (though that's certainly part of it), but on how to travel on the cheap. And yes, where to go, how to get around, where to sleep, where to eat, what to see and do, and don't forget about when to go.

Honestly, you can "do" Italy or anywhere for a fraction of the money most of us spend when traveling, but it requires effort. Buying a tour, buying your way out of doing all the "work" of planning and executing your trip details, is where a lot of our travel money goes. Nothing wrong with that, those are choices we all make (consciously or otherwise). But if your goal is to travel as inexpensively as possible, you will be doing pretty much all that "work" yourself. You can go to pretty much anywhere in the world, including Italy, if you get very well informed and make choices that align with your goal (in this case, spending as little as possible).

Travel planning takes time and effort. More than most folks initially expect. That's why "travel" is such a huge business. But you can do virtually all of that yourself...if you are willing to invest a lot of your time. Some of us actually find the planning process enjoyable (dare I say, sometimes as enjoyable as the trip itself?); others consider travel planning utter drudgery that they're happy to pay someone else to do. In your case, it sounds like necessity dictates these friends make a much larger investment in research and planning than most. It's not that hard (the internet means there are no secrets anymore), it just requires effort.

Posted by
247 posts

THANK YOU ALL, such a great community of "Stevies." Jennifer, they rent so not sure if a homeswap would pass the property rules, but I will ask.

Research seems to be key. My sister in law is taking Italian class at the local university, I told her to ask her classmates for options.

Posted by
111 posts

We stayed in the lovely town of Brixen for one night this past summer on our way to Val Gardena. When I booked our hotel, I did not realize that area lodging offers this pass for free:

The pass gives you free access to a number of museums, lifts and funiculars, and regional transportation. It covers the bus to Val Gardena which has incredible scenery and hikes, though the lifts in Val Gardena are not covered. The information center in Brixen was very helpful and bus schedules and stops were easy to figure out.

The town of Bozen, which is south of Brixen, offers a similar pass for hotel guests.

Research airfare to various cities - it really varies. When I was looking at airfare to northern Italy from Seattle, Milan was the most reasonable city to fly to. It was a convenient location for the places we wanted to visit.

Posted by
715 posts

Really need to know what type of budget they are talking about. I know so many people who don't think they can afford Europe but don't know what it really costs. They may have friends who have taken expensive group tours (even some budget tours are more expensive than doing it on your own) or who feel it 'necessary' to stay in certain 'levels' of accommodation.

Not renting a car, reserving train tickets in advance, limiting the number of intercity trains (so fewer bases), walking everywhere vs taking taxis, not having very many 'sit down' meals, traveling in off season, taking advantage of free things to do (do your own 'walking tour' that you put together from guides books/internet sites). Limiting the amount of 'sites' you pay admission to - for example I think seeing the coliseum in Rome is a must see - paying to go inside it, not really, it's more impressive from the outside. Seeing St Peter's is a must see - paying to tour the Vatican museums - less so. Not that those 'paid entry' sites are not worth doing, but if it's a real strict budget there is more than enough for a first visit without jumping from one paid admission site to the next which is what a lot of people think they have to do. Visit street markets, sit on a bench in a piazza, etc.

Posted by
20834 posts

...Look into Premium Economy. It used to be called 'business class.'...... I would be very careful of that comment. In our experience business class is still business class with lay flat or nearly so seats so you can actually sleep. Premium Econ is just additional leg room for some seats. Nothing near business class.

Posted by
6013 posts

Premium economy is definitely not the same as business class.
In my experience, premium economy is usually economy with a couple more inches of space and maybe slightly better food. Business class has much more space, more comfortable seats/almost beds, and lots of other “extras”. For business class you will pay a lot more than for premium economy or economy.

Posted by
715 posts

If budget is the biggest thing stopping them from seeing Italy why is anyone even talking about Premium Economy or Business Class. Regular economy is what the majority of people do. If they have spent their careers working for non-profits and are short of travel money I doubt they need/want airline tickets that cost 3 or 4 times what they need to.

Posted by
3351 posts

Gate 1 seems to offer low budget tours, but if willing to be independent, you can DIY it. I am a budget traveler but above the hostel level. Less expensive lodgings are 2 star local hotels, Airbnb short let apartments, and if open to it, private room in a home. These are cheaper than B&Bs. The last 2 have or may have breakfast or kitchen access to reduce food costs. Most large Italian cities now require registration of these and will charge the city's nightly tourist fee like a hotel. If you consider Monastery Stays website, I now find they no longer have the value I desire. I can get a more comfortable apartment for similar or cheaper.
I eat my largest meal at lunch, which is usually cheaper and cook my other meals in apartment. Or pick up a sandwich or grocery store meal.
My one area I don't scrimp is my admissions to museums and galleries. They can check out free visit days, combo tickets or city cards. There are also free walking tours but tips are expected....but only what they can afford. I find RS free audio walks, and free walks from books to be adequate though I often hire the museum guide. Check whether Rick's suggestion of your own headphones and a splitter still apply.
Cheap flights and off season will make the trips above even easier to manage.

Posted by
31140 posts


As they only have "limited means", they'll have to start saving now and putting aside as much money as possible. As I recall, Rick covers that to some extent in Europe Through The Back Door or one of his other books, and suggests some money saving strategies.

A few thoughts......

  • Airfare - this will perhaps be the largest component of their travel budget. I agree with previous comments that if they're on a limited budget, talking about Premium Economy or Business Class is definitely not relevant. Flight costs vary during the year and there are websites that will notify users when low cost flights become available. They might consider dealing with a reliable travel agent in their area, as h/she can monitor that for them.

  • Lodgings - suggest that they pick up a copy of the latest RS Italy guidebook as there are good listings there for lodgings in various price ranges. If they also want to consider Hostels, they might consider getting an inexpensive membership with HI Hostels as they have properties all over the world. I'm not familiar with "ElderHostel" so can't offer any suggestions on that.

  • Food - it is possible to dine inexpensively in Italy. In many cases, a buffet breakfast will be provided by their hotel (not always the case with some Hostels), so that takes care of one meal. It's easy to buy a Panino or whatever at the local Deli. Supper will be the biggest expense if dining at restaurants, but they can minimize the cost by choosing smaller places instead of the tourist traps that have menus printed on a large plastic billboard in multiple languages, and a guy out front with a "hook" to entice people into the restaurant. The can also minimize costs by their choices when dining. They don't have to choose the "full meal deal" with primi, secondi, dolci, etc., but instead be more "selective".

  • Transportation - there are some potentially expensive caveats with transportation in Italy, so they'll need to familiarize themselves with those to avoid unnecessary expenses during the trip. It may be worthwhile to get some of the transit passes in Rome or elsewhere.

If this is their first trip to Europe, I would highly recommend that they read Europe Through The Back Door prior to their trip. Taht provides a lot of good information on how to travel well in Europe, including money saving tips.

Given their ages, it would probably be a good idea to take this trip sooner rather than later. As one gets older, the potential for trip-disrupting health issues becomes more likely. If this trip is a "bucket list item", perhaps friends and family would be able to make Christmas or birthday gift contributions to help them. Just a thought.....

Posted by
1214 posts

Also: instead of Christmas and birthday gifts, if your family is a close one; perhaps your family members could give cash towards realizing their dream for them?

Apartment rentals are the way to go for them, I think.

Posted by
6401 posts

You can travel more inexpensively the further south you go, including Sicily. It may mean having to sacrifice a place like Venice or much more expensive locations in Northern Italy. I would leverage every single potential tool at their disposal, especially if their work gives them flexibility on when to travel and how many days (most non profits at least have a generous leave policy). Don't travel during peak season and be very aggressive (and flexible) with airfare, itinerary, and lodging. Food will be cheaper and taste better than the US, and you can always eat according to your budget and mix-it up as far as less and more expensive options so it averages out. Start with putting together a reasonable budget, saving for it (although many people cheat by using 0% interest credit cards, although those just defer the inevitable), and going from there.

Posted by
3045 posts

How much travel have they done in Europe previously? Any?
How much do they like to plan?
How much money do they think they will have to spend?

These are all important considerations.

Posted by
1549 posts

Also, where they will be flying from is an important question in order for us to give advice.

I'd also like to mention that while Road Scholar offers great tours, they're still quite a bit more expensive than doing it yourself.

One of the more inexpensive tour companies that I look at offers lodging in Italy for $800-900/week PER PERSON. Doing my own research gets us a place for A COUPLE at $600-700 per week.

Posted by
1575 posts

Marie, other thoughts....

Check out British Airways for their flash sales. (I think a lot of airlines have them now and again.) I got great, great RT fares (two years in a row) from BOS to FCO (layover in Heathrow.)

Of course, I don't know how much it is for them to fly from their home state. I prefer to book direct with the airline after I have done some checking around on other booking sites.

When you or they have narrowed down some hotel or hostel possibilities, ask if there is a discount if bill is paid in Euro at the end. Some may give a 10- to 15% discount. Also, have them ask in restaurants for the same. Sometimes, the waiter will offer a small discount if paid in (cash) Euro of course; especially the smaller, cozy-style (sit down) restaurants. "Check the bill and get a receipt if possible."

If they don't want to eat the table bread, have them tell the waiter not to cut and bring any to the table.

I prefer Pinot Grigio instead of House Wine. House wine is okay and not expensive; can be shared -- staff brings a carafe and glasses or, that was my experience when I had dinner with a friend in Rome. Every little Euro adds up or can be saved, lol.

There was one night, on my first trip, that I wanted a Panino. I went to the market, got one with Prosciutto and Cheese, a salad, dessert, and drank my bottled water. I walked to Piazza Navona. It was dark by then. I sat on one of the benches in the Piazza watching the World go by, enjoying my Panino and fixings, just getting lost in watching the Fountain I was near...

I also got a side treat...up a bit, In the distance, I heard the street musicians (I had stumbled upon one day at The Pantheon) playing their instruments, harmonizing with haunting vocals from the lead singer. It was wonderful and relaxing. I forgot about the time, lol.

Oh, and the "ride from the airport" to their hotel/hostel. An official White, Roma cab will cost 48€ (during regular day hours) I don't think they charge for luggage. I believe it is included. Best to check on that. So, for two peeps (when you break it down), it will be 24€ a piece -- private.

I use a shared shuttle. I didn't mind. I usually got dropped off first since my hotel was near Termini.

Drivers were great and professional both times I used them; so far. For me, the first RT fare (FCO to Rome's Termini and vice versa) was about 50€ (so, 25€ coming and going) -- second time was less - the manager gave me a 5€ discount, lol. "Repeat customer." He remembered me from the year before!! Or so he said, LOL! Jokes aside, if I was traveling with another, I would take a taxi for two or three peeps.

Posted by
3388 posts

Please encourage them to thoroughly explore this Rick Steves website for all kinds of information to plan their trip. Even frequent travelers sometimes don't know what they don't know and doing this can provide many "Wow, I never thought of that" moments.

Once they get a little research done, they will be better prepared to take advantage of the forums to ask for specific advice.

The Travel Tips cover all kinds of European travel topics, including but not limited to Trip Planning, Money, Transportation and Packing.

The Explore Europe section is country-specific with links to cities and what to see in them. The link for Italy is particularly detailed.

Obviously there's this Forum for Italy, but there are other useful ones for topics about the nuts and bolts of traveling, like Packing, Walking Shoes and even Money-Saving Strategies. Access to the list is down the Travel Forum page from the country list and is labeled Tips & Trip Reports.

As this appears to be their first trip to Europe, their learning curve will be steep at first, but the more they learn, the more it will flatten out.

Posted by
1776 posts

Oh yeah, what all have said above. Problem is...that to really do an inexpensive or thrifty trip to Italy, one almost has to experience it first. Our initial journey to Italy (and it was our first trip abroad at all), we spent whatever, whenever and were happy to come home in one piece, because it was going to be our 'trip of a lifetime'. Hah--then we went back. Second trip we were a little better spending-wise, but visited different parts of the country.

The third time...we finally got it right. Spent a week in Rome at a cheap but fully-functional 2nd-floor apartment for under $80/night. Shopped freely at the open-air market just below our window at Campo de' Fiori and the small grocery down the street, and for a few Euro a day we had magnificent breakfasts and lunches at our apartment, or we'd pack sandwiches to go to eat al fresco, and didn't feel like we were missing a thing. Yes, we'd 'splurge' for nightly dinner at wonderful trattorias within walking distance, but even then for the two of us we'd spend less than 50 Euro for 1 appetizer, 2 pastas, 1 entree, 1 dessert and a half-carafe of house wine. A beautiful thing.

To get around, we each bought a weekly bus/Metro pass at 24 Euro, and we got our money's worth. So many attractions in Rome are cheap or flat-out free. I truly believe that Rome--or to a lesser degree Florence--provide much more variety to the budget traveler than even a small town in southern Italy. Competition for the tourist dollar in urban areas is fierce, and great value is available for those who do the research to find it.

I could spend more, but my wife and I kinda like being cheap-***es over there, and there's the added reason that on my bucket list we want to spend an entire winter in Rome, as friends we've met have done, and don't want to break the bank. 'Snowbirding' in Florida & Arizona aren't for us. If we can get a reasonable price on airfare--and for travel that time of year it can be done, as low as $600-$700 apiece round trip, without have a 30-hour layover in Istanbul--the daily living cost can be done for well under $100/day per person. For 10 or 11 weeks at a stretch, we'll need to spend our Euro wisely!

In short, I admire your sister-in-law and husband for their non-profit career, but unless a benefactor provides them the wherewithal for travel, this is the next best thing--on the cheap but smartly. Good luck to them!

Posted by
1575 posts

Ah, there's Jay of Chicago! I was hoping you'd see this thread and reply with your down-home insight.

Alan of Folsom had one or two suggestions for reasonable hotel stays. I'll have to look for the bookmarked thread where both of you comment.

Posted by
1575 posts

Okay Marie,

Here are some other suggestions from Jay of Chicago and Alan of Folsom was recommended by Jay of Chicago
He has stayed there at the hotel and at a small studio apartment. ( Boutique hotel very near to Trevi Fountain) -- recommendation from Alan Folsom. Also, is one of RS' tour hotels. I believe most people were satisfied with their stay.

Posted by
1776 posts

Girasole, my 'Beantown' brotha'--

I'm sure they exist, but I cannot imagine a better-situated area to almost everything in Rome than Campo de' Fiori. The farthest walk is 5 minutes to the main drag to catch the bus, but with no time schedule we'd usually get sidetracked on the way, checking out other interesting things. The piazza is like the hub of the wheel with spokes fanning out in every direction, with treasures no matter which way you walk: Trastevere, the Tiber, Forno bakery, Largo di Torre Argentina...all on different 'spokes'.

As I've said before, I could exist quite inexpensively & nicely around there for a while, a good long while!

Posted by
1575 posts

Girasole, my 'Beantown' brotha'--

LOL! "high five"

The piazza is like the hub of the wheel with spokes fanning out in every direction, with treasures no matter which way you walk: Trastevere, the Tiber, Forno bakery, Largo di Torre Argentina...all on different 'spokes'.

Nice analogy! The times I visited Campo, I agree. It is lively and very convenient to many things as you pointed out.

You never know....One day, you may stumble upon a super deal to "buy" a little apartment. Then you will have your own Flower haven :) and the benefit of the traveling musicians.

but with no time schedule we'd usually get sidetracked on the way, checking out other interesting things.

Love those kind of days.

Posted by
1072 posts

We're all looking at how to travel cheaper but only SJ thought about their financials. Besides the cash gifts she suggested, they should look at other ways to raise the money for their trip. Why don't they each get a parttime job one day a week and set that money aside for their trip. At $15/hour, each would have take home pay of about $100 per week, which would give them about $15000 by fall 2021 ($100 x 2 x 75 weeks). If they earn more, they travel sooner. If they earn less, the time frame is the same, just less money for travel expenses.

I've worked a second job for years, albeit it was to support my horses. Now that I'm retired and pushing 69, I work two days a week which supports my special needs horse and give me money to set aside for my next trip.

They can also give themselves a "travel allowance" from their pay checks, something like $50 each per pay check. Have a garage sale. Cut out Starbucks and eating lunch out. If they get an income tax refund, it goes into the travel fund. All the money (cash) goes into an envelope not to be touched for any thing except their Italy trip which they will be planning as they watch their savings increase. If they are used to spending everything they earn, this will take will-power but it is doable if Italy is important to them.

EDIT: The cash envelope idea does not work for everyone. Another idea is to open a checking account with a debit card only. Weekly deposit their travel savings into it, no excuses allowed to prevent the deposits if Europe is truly important to them. An old financial planning trick is to fill a milk carton with water, put the debit/credit card inside, then keep the carton in the freezer. Voila! No immediate access to the debit card to spend the trip money because the card is frozen in the water and needs time to thaw for access.

Posted by
1 posts

As one nonprofit work to another, I understand their issue. I live in Colorado and often use the website for our pets when we travel. I was surprised to see how many options there were in Italy. is like VRBO but the payment is dog sitting. You have to love animals and I suggest doing a few locally before trying to get a house sit gig abroad. I have had about 15 house sitters using this sit and have loved 90% of them. Good luck!

Posted by
1575 posts

We may be driving Marie 'dizzy' with suggestions, lol.

Here's another:

Perhaps your SIL can browse this RS itinerary and model it to their own. --

First time to Rome, people usually want to visit the major highlights of course. Careful planning of area is key. Sometimes newer visitors may make the mistake of backtracking.

Using the metro (bus and train) can be helpful and very inexpensive in getting them around the city and outskirts if you will. It is best to consider the differences of buying BIT individually at 1,50€ or getting a 24-, 48-, or 72-hour pass. You would have to use the transit systems a lot to make it worthwhile. A BIT is good for 100 minutes and a transfer, I believe. The metro is one-time use.

Yes, your Sister-in-law has her research cut out for her.

I think Rome is easy -- walkable to and within many sites, Churches, eateries, and other fun neighborhoods. It truly is an outside walking museum. It can be inexpensive to eat and eat pretty well. A lot of freebies to wander into and around the city.

If they like history, maybe they can visit --

Largo di Torre Argentina --

Click on the "Discover Rome" tab and suggestions pop up.

Of course, most, if not all Churches are free to enter.

Posted by
11852 posts

Hi Marie -
LOL, if there were "programs" to get us to Italy on the cheap I think a lot of us would be signing on! :O)

Backing up here, you already know that a lot of planning involves these 4 w's:

Who is going? What sorts of challenges/special considerations might they have, and what sort of general travel experience do they have under their belt? How able/willing are they to do their own research, and how confident are they that they can travel independently? Independent travel is almost always less expensive than organized tours - we can go longer for less $$ - but it does involve a lot of research. Also, organized tours can vary greatly in quality: the insane itineraries I've seen for some of them would have us exhausted and cranky halfway through the trip, and some cut corners on hotels that are far from the attractions

Where one wants to go in Italy? What locations would best suit interests? What images/dreams inspired this trip?

What one wants to see/do in Italy? This is where one should avoid being pennywise but pound foolish: budget for the fun or interesting things that have inspired the trip in the first place!

When to go? Some folks are restricted by the school year; others hate cold weather, etc. Going offseason can definitely be a cost saver as long as popular holidays are avoided but may not be the best time of year for certain activities - like beach time - in all locations

You've given us a wee bit about your friends to go on but more info on some of the w's might be helpful. Another note along the lines of pound foolish? Staying far from the things they want to see/do just to try and save a buck. One can end up wasting a lot of time on transport every day, and those transport costs could equal a little more expensive room closer in as well. Public transport in Italy, however, is often very inexpensive, and we've had trips where we haven't used it all within certain cities; all that walking was great for the waistline, and it's more fun than being bunched up on a metro car or bus anyway. :O)

There are lots of free things to see in Italy but without knowing what they want to see/do and where they think they might like to go, I'll hold off on those. There are also some combo tickets as well that can be useful and provide most of a day's worth of activity for a very reasonable price; the Florence duomo combo ticket is one of these. Again, though, this is not the time to scrimp on the important stuff. Self-touring, when possible, can save a lot of $ if willing to do so.

Accommodations: You've been given lots of ideas here and I'll throw in one more: couch surfing. This is, admittedly, on the extreme end of pinching pennies but we do have RS posters who have done it and who host guests themselves. Here's one thread on the subject:

One more thing they should plan for? Travel medical insurance. Best not to pass on this extra cost as an accident or illness issue requiring special transport back to the states could cause them financial trouble for many, many years.

Posted by
11852 posts

Why don't they each get a parttime job one day a week and set that
money aside for their trip.

Along this line? While we were driving to an appt. this morning, there was a discussion on NPR around the pressing need for 2020 census takers. Doing it as a part-time job was mentioned, and hourly pay is really pretty good depending on where one lives. For instance, Marie, in Cook Co. Illinois (where you live?) pay rates will be $18.00 - $22.50 an hour. I don't know where your relatives live but, well, it could be an interesting option for banking some extra $$$?

Posted by
5457 posts

Excellent point about medical insurance -- they should check whatever insurance they have from work and see whether/what out-of-country expenses will be covered, then supplement as needed, including medical evacuation. Note carefully the timing of buying of any travel insurance since pre-existing conditions may not be covered if the insurance is not purchased within x days of making the first payment for the trip.

Check credit cards for travel insurance coverage as well, and use the one with best insurance for the common-carrier (airfare) purchase.

Posted by
247 posts

Thanks to each and every one of you who took the time to post, so appreciated! Lots of great ideas here...we will let you know how it goes!

Posted by
31 posts

Hi Marie, we are a tad older than your folks and go to Europe most summers. After airfare we spend no more than staying in the US. This is especially the situation in southern Europe (not so much in Scandanavia). We typically rent our car through the AARP website and stay in airbnbs. They should search air websites thoroughly, considering some lesser known European carriers. Europe doesn't have to be expensive! And it is certainly wonderful.

Posted by
616 posts

Depending on the time and number of persons you are, a good solution might be to rent a studio or an apartment so that you have a kitchen or kitchenette to prepare at least one small meal a day such as s pasta, tea, or anything else.
I live part of the year in Florence and when I go to the restaurant, I pay between 8-25 euros depending what I choose. I go to nice little local restaurants.
I would also select to stay in a maximum of two different regions, so as to minimize on transportation costs. Some regions such as Abruzzo, Umbria and Southern Tuscany are also a little less expensive than big cities and also interesting and nice. Venice is more expensive than Florence. As said before off season prices are interesting everywhere in Italy. For Florence, off season is November, early December, January and February, however it might be rainy.

Posted by
11847 posts

We feel the big money-saver is to rent apartments and cook for ourselves. Shopping for groceries at the local outdoor markets and even the supermarkets is part of the cultural experience.

Other ideas:

Go in the off-season (spring or fall). Look at Air + hotel packages from the airlines (British Airways offers these) to get a few nights in a hotel in the city they fly into at the beginning of the trip. Learn how to buy discount train tickets 2+ months in advance.

Posted by
2562 posts

And this will be heresy, but you can always get a cheap meal at McDonald's especially on Sunday when local bakeries might be closed. Recently, in Florence, we found out late Sat night that our hotel's bfast was 26 euros per person. I knew local bakeries might be closed on Sun morning, so I looked up McDonald's and sure enough, there was one close by and our bfast was 5 euros per person. Useful as a fall-back plan.