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First time to Italy

My husband and are are planning our first trip to Italy. We would hate having our trip planned out and were considering going it on our own. Neither of us speak Italian but do plan on learning a little before going. Are we crazy? We are planning on visiting Venice, Rome, and Pompeii.

Posted by
20718 posts

These are heavy tourist areas where English is very common. Remember English generally is the second language of all European countries. But it is handy to know a few intro phrase that you can use.

Posted by
9450 posts

Pick up teh Rick Steves' Italy guide book and plan your own trip. You can do it!

Posted by
1846 posts

We have never had a problem with language, in fact some was comical. Waiter spoke no English so we pointed to menu items and he acted out the choices, quack for duck, mouthed a fish and moo for cow. We had a great time. My only big phrase was I think "el bano" for bathroom but not sure but it worked. Have been to Rome and Pompeii and if need advice send me a pm. Enjoy.

Posted by
3541 posts

the only reason you would need to plan it out in adv w/ reservationsa is if you are going peak summer season. Or during Carnavale in Venice. Free lancing a trip is alot of fun. however you still need a ref guide as to where to stay.

Posted by
31055 posts

Connie, It would help to have a bit more information on your trip. For example, what is the time frame, what time of year will you be going, how are you planning to get around and will you be using open-jaw flights? Regarding the language issue, most people working in the tourist industry can function to some extent in English. However, it's a good idea to learn a few of the "polite" words and try to make an effort with those. It's likely that you'll encounter at least a few people that don't speak ANY English. I agree with a previous suggestion to pick up a copy of the Italy 2011 Guidebook, as it's an excellent resource for Itinerary planning sightseeing, transportation and provides good information on reliable hotels and restaurants. Many of the Guidebooks are now available in various E-book formats, so if you have a compatible reader you have a choice of "hard copy" or electronic versions. You can also obtain a well designed and practical Italian Phrasebook from this website (click the "Travel Store" link at the top of the page). As you're travelling to Pompeii, you'll likely be using the Circumvesuvia commuter train, so a Money Belt would be a really good idea! Also, for touring the site at Pompeii, you might consider using a Guide, as you'll learn far more about the history than by wandering around on your own. Gaetano Manfredi is an outstanding Guide, but be sure to book WELL in advance as he's very popular! Happy travels!

Posted by
3313 posts

It's very easy. It helps to read Europe Through the Back Door if you've never traveled on your own before. Learn the basic courtesies in Italian -- hello, thank you, etc. You'll do fine.

Posted by
21 posts

Connie, I agree with everyone to buy your Rick Steves Guidebook, and he will walk you through all the steps in planning the perfect vacation on your own. It is so much fun to see Italy through the back door, and be independent travelers. My sister and I have visited Italy twice and plan to return this fall. We do not speak Italian, and can still communicate with them. It is not that difficult, and as long as they know you are interested and trying they are great. Your itinerary sounds good for a first visit. We did Venice, Rome, and Florence the first trip, and it was fabulous. We even do the Rick Steves walking tours, and self guided museum tours, etc. There is a wealth of information in each book, and this website is so helpful for first time and returning travelers.
Good luck in planning your trip. You will really get into it.

Posted by
791 posts

As everybody said, learn some of the common things you would use and you'll be allright. I would recommend leaning a little heavy in the restaurant area as this is where your most likely to come into a little confusion.

Posted by
244 posts

We took our first trip to Italy 2 years ago and are planning our second. There is a ton of stuff to see in Rome. I might suggest you think of Venice-Florence-Rome, then again I don't know anything about Pompeii other then it was buried. On our two week trip we had a week in Rome, and that was not enough. There is a ton of stuff in Rome. We visited the Pantheon near the end of the trip, and it's stunning. However, there are two churches near the Pantheon that are amazing. The San Luigi de Francesci church is the french national cathedral in Rome. If you think the French do not want to get shown up by the italians, then you'll understand why this cathedral takes your breath away even after you've been to St. Peter's and the sistine chapel. We just stumbled into it, and it was incredible. Then there is the Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, which has a Michelangelo statue. I'm not catholic, protestant actually. I did get tired of every fire hydrant and newspaper stand being named for a pope in Rome. But the churches are magnificent.

Posted by
187 posts

You're not crazy! You're just like my husband and I! We went it alone and had no trouble. It is polite to always ask someone if they speak English before you just launch into it. Learn how to greet people and learn a few things like how to excuse yourself. Get a phrase book. "toilet" will get you to a bathroom. There are wonderful picture books that you can get near the phrase books that might come in handy. Bring along a little notebook to draw pictures in or maps if need be. Go. You'll love it. And go it alone. Italians are very friendly people. If you get confused, just ask someone. Have fun! We loved Venice and Rome. Didn't get to Pompeii, maybe next time. The Cinque Terre was incredible.

Posted by
1525 posts

My husband and I have a trip to Italy planned for September. The research and planning is half the fun. We bought a learn Italian DVD set at Costco for around $27.00 and there will give us enough basics to get by with the right pronunciation. I've learned so much from others brousing the travelers helpline!

Posted by
4356 posts

Absolutely go!!! WE all did!!! Just get a good guidebook (I strongly recommend Rick Steves' guidebooks, esp. for first-timers...he's great with the 'hand-holding', if you want to call it that!), and I also recommend his phrasebooks. Also get his "Europe Through the Back Door"; it's the nuts-and-bolts of how to travel in Europe: trains, hotels, language barrier, buying picnic supplies, etc. And be sure to read them!!! (you'd be surprised how many people never crack the books until the flight over...)

Posted by
9 posts

I've never had a problem going to Italy on my own. Making your hotel reservations on line & bringing a copy of the reservation confirmation eliminates the worry of a desk clerk not speaking English. Also, if traveling by train; print the schedules of the trains you'll be using (from the Trenitalia site). Then you can show it to the ticket seller to prevent confusion when buying tickets. The machines at the train stations are very easy to use, they have an English option.

Posted by
14014 posts

Go on your own. So easy. Not at all crazy. My only advice is to plan an outline of your itinerary BEFORE you book your flights. Open jaw flights work best for most people, especially since Venice is relatively far from Rome and Pompeii. And look carefully at the train schedules. and to book hotels in advance. Even in the short "off-season" it is easier to check out hotels and book them from your home computer. You will have limited time and energy in Italy, wouldn't you rather use it to see the sights than to search for hotels (and quite possibly pay more)? In the unlikely event that you tire of Venice or Rome, there are day trips to fill the gaps. From Venice, there's Verona, Padua, etc. From Rome, even Florence can be a day trip. You will have a great time. Go for it.

Posted by
1846 posts

Go for it. Most Europeans speak English. Just remember that mistakes will happen and that is part of the fun of travel. Enjoy.

Posted by
257 posts

Connie. My wife and I will be traveling to Italy on our own this summer. Three years ago, we went to Spain and I learn some Spanish traveler phrases from BBC and Foder's. Now I am learning Italian. It is fun.
Buona Viaggio

Posted by
7737 posts

Most Italians you encounter who are in the tourist trade (including shopkeepers) will know what I call "transactional English". You'll be able to communicate as much as you need to to make a transaction. But don't assume that this means that they are fluent in English, or even proficient. As Rick says, speak slowly, avoid contractions and avoid slang. When dealing with numbers, you might be best to write it down, or ask them to write it down. (And remember, their 1 looks like our 7, and their 7 has a cross through it.) Buon viaggio indeed. You'll have a wonderful time.

Posted by
4 posts

Thanks to all. We feel much better about going it on our own. Neither of us are group tour types. We much prefer to visit at our own pace and my husband is an amateur photographer. We probably will limit our visit to Rome and Venice since we only have 9 nights max. Our hotels/flights will be booked in advance.

Posted by
117 posts

Yes, still, but for others who may be reading this. Also, I do think it's important to know a few key phrases in the local language where ever you travel. It's simply a matter of respect and politeness. You'd be pretty irked if someone came up to you and just assumed you spoke Italian, French, Japanese, or whatever. 'Do onto others', as they say Not to mention you'll likely find the locals more apt to help you if you at least attempt to speak their language. Personally, I find learing (at least bits of) a new language, and the chance to actually use that newfound skill with a local, one of the more fun parts of travel. In the case of Italian, it sparked what turned out to be a life-long study and passion.

Posted by
4 posts

Yes, we have been and are back. We did learn a little Italian before going. There were a couple of situations where I was happy I had learned a little. I also recommend some general food knowledge before going.

Posted by
4 posts

Thanks again to all of your encouragement. We went a couple of weeks ago. We loved it. I cannot image this trip with the restrictions of guided tours. Venice is a beautiful, slow paced city. I think I could live here. We visited a few of the islands and used the water taxi frequently. I purchased a water taxi pass online before we went. This worked great for us. We did discover this pass did not include the trip from the airport to Venice. Rome is a fast paced city. The taxi ride from the train station to our hotel was, to say the least, eye opening. Driving in Rome is different from driving in the United States. If they can squeeze between cars they do. Constantly jockeying for position. Then add the scooters zipping in and out. It is crazy. It was also an adventure trying to cross the street. I am so glad I had the opportunity to experience this. We used the bus system here which was pretty easy to figure out. I did read Rick Steves Italy book before going and took it with us. The tips in this book were very helpful. I purchased several passes before going; water taxi pass for Venice, Roma Pass for Rome, train tickets. We also bought toilet passes for Venice but did not use them. We had a wonderful time and want to go back. Connie

Posted by
29 posts

Connie, We went to Italy last summer. My husband, myself and our two children(ages 22 & 18). I planned the whole trip myselfand none of us speak Italian either! It was incredibleand we cant wait to go back. Just be sure to research when you determine what you want to see. Little things, like ordering your admission tickets to the Vatican before you go, can save so much time. Who wants to spend hours waiting in line if you dont have to. We went to Rome and Florencedid a private tour to Pompeii out of Rome. While in Rome, we took a cooking class. It was so much fun, we all loved it. The website is www.cookingclassesinrome.comone of the best meals we had in Rome.
Good luck!

Posted by
288 posts

We did the same thing 5 years ago, and it was the best vacation we've ever had. It literally changed our lives. That vacation showed us there was more to life than just laying on a beach. It was an adventure! We were challenged, inspired, and educated. We've made several trips since, using public transportation. I look at the tour groups and have to chuckle now. You certainly can do it. Everyone in the areas you mentioned speak at least a little bit of English. You'd be surprised. But by all means do as Rick recommends and memorize about 40 essential Italian words or phrases. It'll make things easier and much more fun. Planning ahead is a must. Do your homework on transportation, lodging, and eating. But dont over-plan, leave yourself open for the spontaneous. Those are the moments we remember the most fondly. Also...buy Rick's guidebook...for the major sites it is very detailed and a good tool to have with you.

Posted by
4 posts

My favorite times on our Rick Steves Tour of Italy were when no one spoke any English. That was in Volterra and Lucca. I found that they were very anxious to communicate, and they loved learning English from us. My most useful phrases were "How much is..., Thank you, please, yes, no, good morning, good afternoon, good evening." To find a cost, you just ask "How much" and point to the item. I never found a hotel that didn't have a front desk that didn't speak English. You also need to know a Binario is the "Track" number for trains. And watch out, the Binario changes very often as the train arrives. That's why the Italians stand back by the digital screens waiting to see the new track number. We had quite a run to catch our first train! :) Also, remember you must always validate your train tickets before you get on a train.

Posted by
134 posts

Not even close to crazy. You are in for so much fun and awe.

Posted by
244 posts

My most useful phrase, which starts each conversation, is: Excuse me. I don't speak very good Italian. I'm an american, California. (ask question here) Like this: Scusi. Non parle bene l'iltaliano. Sono Americano, California. I always learn this phrase in the language of whatever country I'm visiting.

Posted by
117 posts

Actually Ted, that would be: "Non parlo l'italiano bene." (Parlo, not parle) And here you're actually saying "I don't speak Italian well". So if you don't speak Italian at all, you'd say "Non parlo l'italiano" - leave off the "bene". And if Connie, or any woman, wants to tell someone she's an american, she'd say "Sono americana", not "americano".

Posted by
11683 posts

Connie è già di ritorna dall'italia. (Connie is already back from Italy).

Posted by
11683 posts

I totally agree about studying the language. My husband and I studied Italian together before last summer's trip, and now we are back to it, studying 45 minutes a day in the car (with Pimsleur) plus college text exercises on weekends. It's lots of fun. He already speaks French and I speak German, so Italian (and Spanish) are our "mutual" languages. I only posted that comment for people who are still giving Connie advice about planning her trip. She's back, and hopefully will give a short trip repport.