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Finally rescheduling trip and need guidance please!

Hi everyone. I had to cancel my trip in 2020 like many others and I'm finally planning it again, but I'm once again feeling overwhelmed by all the planning. I want to go in March since I'm hoping it will not be too cold, but still before the crowds return. I want to stay 12-14 days and I'm focusing on Florence and Rome, with side trips to Siena, Lucca, Pisa and maybe a few other towns outside Florence. I want to get tickets to Accademia and Uffizi in Florence and I'm going to try to reschedule a few tours I'd set up in Rome (Sistine Chapel and a food tour in Trastevere). I'm fairly certain of the things and places I want to see, although if there's anything I shouldn't miss, I'd love to hear about it.

What I don't feel confident about is the logistics of it all. I booked airfare for my last trip through a secondary site and ended up losing a lot of money when the trip had to be cancelled, so I know I should book flights direct this time, but how do I figure out the best price and comfort etc.? I'm flexible about the dates and which airport to use. I live in MD, so there are several airports within a reasonable distance. I would love to do a direct flight because I'm less likely to get confused if I'm super tired when I get there. On the other hand, if I can get a flight with a day or two layover that's much less expensive, I'd consider that. I was planning to fly into Rome, take the train to Florence, then return to Rome and fly out, but now I'm thinking if I fly into Rome, stay a few days, then go to Florence and take some day trips from there before returning to Rome for another few days then fly out, it might be easier. Again, I'm open to suggestions.

A few questions for now are 1) how do I get the best prices for flights, making sure I'll get a refund if they get cancelled. 2) how soon should I book flights since I don't want to look for lodging or tour tickets until I have specific dates. 3) does anyone have lodging recommendations. I don't want to be too far from tourist areas, so I can walk alone at night with relative confidence. Plus, I'd love a view from my room. 4) Are the trains and buses harder to maneuver now because of Covid and what should I know about that. 5) when is the ideal time to get travel insurance and who do you recommend. The plan I had last time obviously didn't cover cancelling due to a pandemic, but is that even an option these days?

I'll probably have lots more questions, but I guess this is a good place to start. You were all so helpful when I was planning this trip for 2020, so I appreciate any advice you can give me once again. Thank you!!!

Posted by
922 posts

My two cents is below - not a comprehensive answer to all your questions, but a start

  1. Best prices for flights, now that you intend to buy directly from an airline: Google Flight alerts is a good place to start, select one or more searches, save the search, and have it alert you via email of price changes. If you choose "Baltimore" and "Rome" it will search all 3 airports near each city instead of a specific airport. This will help you see your flight options and prices. As far as comfort, you can filter the search by cabin class if you want. Also review refund rules for the fare class you pick, and probably expect to not pay the lowest price shown if you want the ticket to be refundable. To see refund rules, you will have to go to the site for the airline you choose, not Google Flights.
  2. How soon to book: for a March 2022 flight, I would have started in September or earlier. You can buy any day now as soon as you find a flight/price combination you like. Maybe watch the alerts for a week or two to see the trends, but I would buy now. You can choose anytime, but I wouldn't suggest waiting past January. Prices are impossible to forecast, but availability will go down and thus prices are more likely to go up (but who knows, depends on their algorithms and the news cycle.)
  3. Lodging: I don't have any particular recommendations, sorry
  4. Trains and buses: not any more difficult than it was before. Spacing restrictions are mostly gone, though a coach bus I was on 3 weeks ago still retained them. Buying tickets has not changed. Availability is impossible to predict, again I would buy in advance. Like many others, I recommend the Man in Seat 61 website for lots of information about how to ride the trains and buy tickets.
  5. Travel insurance: you usually have to buy it within a very short time after buying any travel arrangements if you want them insured (e.g., within 10 days of buying airfare.) Exact dates depend on the insurer. I have been advising my friends/family to focus more on medical evacuation insurance. Medical costs are relatively low in Italy, even for foreigners, but if something really bad happens, it's good to know you have insured a medical trip home (e.g., maybe a business class seat if you broke a leg, right up to private jet with nursing care if you need it.) There are two kinds of medevac coverage: THEY assess your need and tell you where you will be evacuated to, or YOU assess the need and have a right to choose your own destination. Guess which one costs more?

This is a fairly short response to get you started. I'm happy to expand on any of these points (except 3, as I really don't have any recent first-hand knowledge of hotels in Florence and Rome.)

Posted by
896 posts

I'm getting to go back to Europe in July so I know how you feel.

1) I would book directly with your airline and I would do it fairly quickly because there's likely to be a huge rush of tourist heading back to Europe after everyone being in lockdown for the past 18 mo.

2) I would choose April over March because the weather will be nicer and there still won't be the big crowds of summer.

3) I have found the recommendations in the Rick Steves Guide books to be excellent, in the last 10 years we've used his books and can only think of 1 or 2 places that we wouldn't go back to, plus they are always centrally located and within walking distance of most of the sites that you would want to see.

4) The buses and trains are no different than before except you will need to wear a mask and show either your vaccination card or the local health pass card.

5) As far as travel insurance I will let others speak to that since I don't use it very much, but I do have health insurance that covers me in Europe.

Posted by
3165 posts

Oh Hey Hi! I remember you!
Glad you are able to reschedule your trip.

Just going to address the flight questions as I am in same area as you.

I will ditto the advice to use Google Flights to search but ALWAYS book with the airlines.

Please read thru all the advice you were given last spring here:
https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/italy/first-solo-trip-to-florence-in-april-2020
Most of it still applies.

I was going to say your best bet for flights would be United out of Dulles- nonstop RT to Rome but those flights don’t begin til 3/26- so unless you move your trip a bit later you will have a stop/plane change somewhere flying from IAD. March is still a bit off season.

American has RT Rome nonstop-from Philly as early as 3/15- so as discussed in previous thread that would work.
Cost should be around 1100-1200 for Economy. I don’t know about American now but United Economy includes 1 checked bag and seat selection. No change fees, so if you have to change or cancel you will get the flight credit good til xxxdate.

British Air flies from BWI- but all those flights go thru Heathrow,
Since you seem a bit apprehensive about the flight I would avoid that.

No direct from DCA

Stick with a direct nonstop so drive to Philly or change dates a bit and drive to Dulles.
Book as soon as you are set on dates. We have already booked for late April.
I've kept a Google alert for our dates- booked in late Sept and have not seen any price changes.

Posted by
12950 posts

Start with the flights. You have been given excellent advice above, particularly about the airlines and airports to use to get a direct flight. I suggest you focus on a direct flight to Rome from the US, rather than one with a stopover in a different country (especially a long stopover). This will avoid possible issues with changing covid requirements for entry. This will most likely require using a different departure airport than Baltimore, unless you start late in March with the flight ChristineH found.

One feature of Google flights is that you can filter for non-stop flights. Using that feature, I found, in addition to the non-stops ChristineH mentioned, a direct flight to Rome on Delta. The interesting thing about that is that you can book the same flight on KLM, Air France, or Delta, and the price is different for each. For the dates in late March I used, the outbound flight (JFK to FCO) is $759 if booked on KLM or Air France, but $1009 if booked with Delta. Maybe those differences come with different restrictions, refund/change options, or other, so you could ask here about that.

Taking it one step at a time will help keep you from feeling overwhelmed or rushed. Once you have your flights, you have your dates and can start looking at hotels (we are going to Italy in March ourselves, and I am finding lots of availability—and some places are not even taking bookings for 2022 yet).

The next stop after booking flights is the trip insurance; even if you do not have (or believe you do not have) any pre-existing medical conditions, it is best to purchase your trip insurance within 10-14 days of your first payment toward the trip, which would be your airfare in this case. You can use Insuremytrip.com or Squaremouth.com to search for and compare plans. And remember that you only need to insure the non-refundable costs of the trip, not the hotels, etc. which can be canceled. For most people this means insuring the airfare, and any expensive tours you are taking (i.e. an RS tour).

Posted by
5533 posts

In addition to (or maybe instead of?) your Trastevere neighborhood food your, consider a food tour in Testaccio https://www.eatingeurope.com/rome/taste-of-testaccio/

We took this tour last month, and it was insightful- history and food and drink! We flew American because our original British Airways flight thru Heathrow was cancelled by BA, but now they’re flying it again.

Previous trip to Rome, we stayed in Trastevere. This last trip, we stayed in Testaccio, and would stay in that neighborhood again for our next trip. Safe for strolling at night. The Piramide stop on the Metro Line B wasn’t very packed, and some people wore masks, some didn’t. We tried to keep our distance (Italy’s standard was just 1 meter, not 6 feet), and keep hand sanitizer handy. Most churches had a sanitizer dispenser just inside the door. Didn’t ride buses or trans this trip.

Have dinner in Testaccio at Felice, which we found out about on the food tour, but it wasn’t part of the tour. We ate there twice!

Posted by
1922 posts

Would you consider open jaw airline tickets- fly into Rome and out of Venice or Milan, perhaps? It saves backtracking, and in my experience, is usually the same price as RT from the same city. When you look at an airline site, just choose "Multi-City" option.

You canset up multiple Google Flight alerts to different cities. Since you want direct flights, you might have to change your return city, but you mentioned you have some flexibility in your area . Google Flights also graphs price changes, so that is helpful. And yes, do book directly with the airlines.

Note the date of Easter. Many things are closed Easter Sunday and Monday , and what's not closed is very crowded on Easter Monday, as local folks are on vacation.

Safe travels!

Posted by
633 posts

Short round trips it is expedient head somewhere directly and stay in that city at the end.

Look up flights on skyscanner.com; book with the airline directly. You will be flying into FCO. Get the Trenitalia app, buy tickets after retrieving your luggage--Fiumicino Aeroporto to Firenze SM Novella. The trip will take 2.5 hours, changing trains downtown; referring to the train number on the departure board to find the correct platform [binario]. For your return trip to Roma Termini [or Tibertina] you can start looking for tickets on Trenitalia in December.

With respect to lodging, we use booking.com exclusively, making cancellable reservations. The give ratings based on guest comments [both positive and negative]; we seek those 8.5 and above.

Lucca and Pisa take trains. These are regional, with no seat assignments or discounts and are never sold out. Buying tickets at a station, window or machine, you need to put them through one of the little validation boxes. Tickets purchased on line [except for Liguria] are good for 4 hours from then selected time on the selected day and are not validated [surely the quickest and easiest means of buying them]. The Siena train station is a little ways out, so you take the bus to the town center..

Posted by
116 posts

You guys are so helpful! I couldn't figure out how to find my old thread, but I'm sure that will help. I'm super excited about finally rescheduling. I'll look at Google Flights, find a flight I think will work and purchase tickets directly from the airline after making sure their refund/reschedule policy suits me, then I'll purchase trip insurance, then I'll start putting together the rest of the trip. I'm sure I'll have more questions as I move forward, but meanwhile, anything else you can suggest is appreciated!

Posted by
12950 posts

If the trip is Rome, Florence, Siena, Pisa and Lucca as stated, there is no reason to fly open jaw (using Milan or Venice for the arrival or departure airport). Rome is only 1.5 hours from Florence by train, Siena is between the two, and Pisa and Lucca are accessed by train from Florence, it not in the direction of Milan or Venice.

There is even a direct train from Florence S.M.N. to Rome airport FCO) that takes a bit over 2 hours. I would not use that for the homeward flight ( I would want to start in Rome to have more options for getting to the airport in case of delays or a strike). But the reverse direction ( FCO to Florence) might be an option for the start of the trip.

Posted by
3165 posts

Doubt you’ll find any direct flights to/from Milan or Venice in March
At least not for your airports, (IAD, BWI, PHL) the flights would most likely go to Newark THEN to Dulles

We have flown in/out of Newark but it’s a good 4 hour drive for you- not sure where you are in Maryland
It’s not too bad for us as it is a pretty nice drive (little bit shorter) thru PA but the parking cost at EWR is astronomical

There is an Amtrak station right at Newark if that works for you and is of interest
The timing of trains just never worked for us and the cost of train isn’t cheap either, plus parking cost!

The American flight from PHL would be my choice and NO I would not start my flight with American at BWI
If that first leg is delayed you’ll be stuck in Philly til next flight next day
They will only hold flight for so long, I’ve seen it happen

If you do choose PHL just drive up
It’s an easy airport and the long term parking is very reasonable

Lastly- the advice here is always to travel to your furthest destination on arrival when you have a RT Rome as we are talking about.
I give that advice myself because it does make sense and many folks are fine with doing that.
It is perfectly OK to not heed that advice if catching a train to Florence on arrival makes you nervous. Stay 2 nights in Rome on arrival- maybe do that food tour on second morning then head to Florence early next day.

Taking a train on arrival would not work for us either and we are experienced travelers. Our trip in April is RT Rome- we are staying in Rome 1 night (near station- Hotel Sonya- there are a few important churches nearby that we always seem to miss on other Rome trips) before we head to Verona, then still have 3 nights in Rome at end of trip (staying in Trastevere).

We are planning to do similar when we fly RT Madrid next fall.

Once you get your dates and flights set come back and ask for lodging recommendations.
I wouldn't delay too much longer on the flights.

ETA:
On second thought- I would not book that American flight from PHL. American has been canceling so many flights lately, don't know how things will be next March but that would make me nervous.

Go with the United out of Dulles- changing your dates to start 3/25 or later you will have better weather and since Easter is 4/18 you should be there and back before that holiday week.

Posted by
116 posts

I booked my flight tickets. Oh my gosh, that was expensive, but no turning back now, so I'm trying not to worry about it. Next step is travel insurance, right? Then I can slow down and focus on my specific plans so I can book a room. This gets easier the more you travel and book things on your own, right? I'm just not a natural at this...

Posted by
116 posts

Can someone remind me again, which travel insurance companies should I consider? It looks like I used travelex (?) last time. With Covid, are there specific things I should look for in a plan?

Posted by
1922 posts

Regarding travel insurance, we don't have your variables: age, pre-existing conditions, etc. The language in most policies is a challenge to decipher.
If you are Medicare age, you'll need medical coverage as Medicare doesn't cover you internationally. Some policies just consider covid the same as any illness. Some policies are not valid if your country is placed in a CDC level four.
You most likely will need to call with your questions, and ask them to cite the specific areas of the policy that answers your questions. I have been given wrong answers upon occasion, so it's helpful to ask them to cite the exact page and section numbers.
The most important issue is to be asap; you can always add to the policy if your planning includes more non-refundable expenses.
Safe travels!

Posted by
1767 posts

From what I can see on Skyscanner there aren’t any nonstop flights between Baltimore / Washington DC and IT. You’ll have to connect at least once to and from Europe. It would be ideal to fly into Rome and out of Florence (or vice vs.).

Posted by
3165 posts

there aren’t any nonstop flights between Baltimore / Washington DC and
IT.

Yes there are. There may not be any now but there are for OP's travel dates
As posted above United has nonstop to Rome from IAD beginning 3/26. (We are flying nonstop RT Rome on 4/26)
American has nonstop to Rome from PHL as early as 3/15- I didn't search for any dates before that.

Both airports are totally doable from the Balto/DC area.
Dulles is closer but the traffic is a nightmare getting around DC. Last time we landed at Dulles it took us 4 hours to get home- should be less than a 2 hour drive.. We are just over state line in PA.

OP has already purchased her flights but doesn't indicate which airport/airlines she chose.

Posted by
1767 posts

there aren’t any nonstop flights between Baltimore / Washington DC and
IT.

I was using the date Mar 16.

Posted by
20844 posts

I live in DC and always check flights out of BWI as well as Dulles. For all five of my recent trips to Europe (Rome, Madrid twice, Nice, Budapest) Dulles has been less expensive. Ease of traveling to and from the airport would definitely trump a modest price difference; happily for me, Dulles is much easier and cheaper to reach, so I have no tricky decision to make.

Posted by
12950 posts

The flights are all booked. . . Time to move on to other planning questions.

Posted by
5221 posts

Re travel insurance, the website others suggested (and I'd agree) is insuremytrip.com. And I'd point out that you don't need to buy insurance within any particular time if you don't feel a need to cover possible pre-existing health conditions. I bought insurance for a recent trip just a couple of weeks before departure, mainly in case I got sick over there (mainly concerned about Covid), and also in case I broke a leg or something just before my non-refundable flight from home. So don't feel like you need to get the insurance right away -- unless you have a condition you'd worry about overseas.

Posted by
116 posts

Insure my trip was the site I used last time. Thank you for the reminder. I looked at their site. I haven’t booked lodging or tours yet, and probably won’t for at least a few weeks until I’ve planned out what I want to do when. Is it okay to just estimate my total amount?

Posted by
3165 posts

If your hotels and tours are cancellable (as they always should be) then you only need to insure your airfare and whatever other non-refundable costs you have incurred

And it is fine to round up/estimate

Posted by
12950 posts

The problem with waiting to purchase the trip insurance is that you never know what the insurance company will consider a “pre-existing condition”. If you have consulted a doctor for anything within the “look back” period (usually 6 months but it can be a year, depending on the policy), they can deny cancellation coverage if a related condition ( meaning one they deem related, no matter how remote) pops up before your trip and causes you to cancel.

As explained above, you only need to cover the non-refundable expenses you have already paid. Rather than guess or estimate, you can insure the actual amount you have spent on plane tickets now. Then, if you do book some non-refundable tours, train tickets, etc. later, you can call the insurance company later on and add the total outlay for those additional items to the trip cost, and there will be a small additional payment due.

Posted by
922 posts

Are you clear in your mind as to what losses you are trying to insure with "trip insurance"? It is very confusing, but I like to break it down into insurance components and decide what type of loss I'm really trying to insure for. That helps you parse through the plans and buy what matters to you. For example, travel insurance often covers:

  • travel costs/trip cancellation, e.g., air ticket, hotels, pre-purchased trains etc.
  • travel delays, e.g., overnight stays after missed connections
  • luggage, e.g., buying new clothes and toiletries if your luggage is lost
  • travel medical, e.g, emergency medical services during travel
  • medical evacuation (previously discussed)

Different policies have different amounts of coverage and conditions to qualify for coverage (e.g., buying with ten days of ticket purchase or not). It helps to know what is important to you so you can avoid overpaying for something you don't care about.

I haven't used insure my trip, but I've heard both it and squaremouth are good comparison sites. After exhaustively reading several different policies a few years ago, I decided World Nomads was a good fit for me and I've purchased from them a few times. Good luck with the fine print!

Posted by
116 posts

I appreciate the guidance. I’m still narrowing down insurance options, but feel confident I can get it arranged within the next few days. Now onto planning… I’ve booked a room for Florence. I’ll be there 7 nights, so I’ll book transportation to Lucca and Pisa (I’ll need guidance on that too). I’m thinking of taking a bus or hiking up to Fiesole one day as well. What I’m not sure about is Siena. I was going to do a day trip, but now I’m thinking about going there overnight between leaving Florence and getting to Rome. It sounds like it might be worth an overnight and that will still give me 5 nights in Rome. Thoughts?

Posted by
3165 posts

Lucca and Pisa are easy regional trains
No need to purchase in advance

That way you can adjust your day trips if weather isn’t cooperating

Night time in Siena is lovely
Take the bus to Siena-it drops you in town vs train which is further outside
Check your travel options to Rome
I don’t think there are many trains that don’t mean a transfer in Florence

Another overnight to consider is Orvieto
Might actually be an easier stopover than Siena

Posted by
116 posts

After giving it some thought, it would probably be easiest to go straight from Florence to Rome rather squeezing in an extra place to stay. My concern, however, is that Rome seems much more city like than I’m used to. I want to see as much as possible, but I also need plenty of green spaces in my days (I’m a country girl). I was thinking about trying to find lodging near Trevi Fountain so I could safely go there at night, but now I’m wondering if I should choose a part of the city that’s smaller and more intimate, so it’s not so overwhelming. What do you think?

Posted by
3165 posts

I think you are overthinking this ;)
The historical center of Rome is very compact and very walkable, it does not feel like a big city at all. Most of the area is completely pedestrianized so you won't be dodging cars and motorcycles.
Go to Google Maps - pinpoint the Pantheon then "walk" to all of the locations you want to visit. The Pantheon is basically dead center of the historical center and it's not much more than 10 min walk to anywhere from there. Your longest walks will be to Colosseum and to St Peter's Square (20-25 min or so)- all perfectly safe.

We like to stay near the Pantheon for that reason and it's just a great area as well. Anywhere between Pantheon, P Navonna, Campo de' Fiori works well.
Some like to stay in Trastevere which is across the river and more "neighborhood-ish" lovely area as well but longer walks to most every sight.
If you WANT to stay near Trevi and have found a place that suits your needs then stay there but don't think you have to stay nearby just to visit at night. (The Trevi area is quite congested with tourists and always feels really tight and noisy to me)
The historical area is safe and I know you will be cognizant of your surroundings at all times, right? Probably safer there than in DC!

There is not a lot of green space in Rome- the beautiful piazzas serve that purpose and are perfectly safe day or night.
If you need to smell the grass and wander in the trees head up to Villa Borghese Gardens- a very nice park.

Posted by
116 posts

" I think you are overthinking this ;)"

You are not the first to say this to me about all kinds of things! That was just what I needed to hear (read).

I've got my room in Florence rented, my travel insurance purchased and the kennel for my dog reserved, so next I'll work on finding lodging in Rome. I'll reach out to the hotel where I was going to stay in 2020, which was near Trevi Fountain and recommended here, but I'm open to other ideas. I want to be sure I understand how to get to and from the airport and train station, but otherwise I'm open to suggestions about where to stay. I'd love a terrace with a view. Once I've got that booked, I can start thinking about day trips and tours I want to take.

Thanks!

Posted by
116 posts

Okay, now that the booster issue is resolved, my trip is definitely a go! So now it's time for me to get organized and figure out all the details to my trip. Here's my plan so far, please feel free to make recommendations. I'll do a rapid PCR test Sunday March 27. I fly out of Dulles on March 28 in the evening. I'm not good with technology etc., so other than my passport, vaccine card and tickets, I need to have my PCR results. Do I download them from the results? Do I carry a copy in hand? I've got several KN95 and N95 masks set aside (I work in healthcare). I land in Rome (FCO) around 8am on the 28th. From there, I'll take the trenitalia to Florence. I can buy tickets when I get there, right? I don't want to get the ticket in advance in case my flight is delayed or it takes me longer than planned to navigate the airport. That will be okay, right? Once I get to Florence, I'll get settled in for my 7 day stay. I'm planning to see Uffizi and Academia, the Duomo and other spots. Should I get tickets for the museums in advance? From what I'm reading lately, there aren't really lines, but I'll keep an eye on that as it gets closer. I want to do a day trip to Siena, Lucca, maybe a short stop at Pisa and I want to see Fiesole. I think I can get bus and train tickets the day of though. On April 5, I'll take trenitalia back to Rome where I settle in until I leave on the 11th. I want to see the colosseum, Sistine Chapel and the other typical sites and I plan to do a day trip to Orvieto. I'll have to get a Covid test on the 10th at a pharmacy. That's my plan so far. What are your thoughts? What am I missing? What should I consider changing? Thanks for being so great about helping me. :)

Posted by
3165 posts

KRS

Why don’t you just start a new thread and tell us exactly what you need help with now?

This old thread is so long I think you’ll not get many lookers at this point

Posted by
78 posts

When at the Vatican, in addition to the museum and Sistine chapel, the Basilica is a must. If you don't mind the climb and aren't claustrophobic, I'd recommend the climb to the top of the dome. We had a real sense of accomplishment making it to the top and the views are stunning. The Pantheon is also something not to be missed. If you enjoy art, the Borghese Gallery is an absolute must. While walking around, don't hesitate to just pop into random churches, it's free and the architecture and art work are wonderful.