Honeymoon in Italy (and a first timer!)

My family and I (about 20 people in all) will be traveling to Italy next Friday, Sept. 13 (yikes!) for two weeks. Through TuscanyNow, we're staying at a villa near Verona, for a week, and then one in San Gemini, in the Umbria region, for another. I am so excited. While my whole family is going, it's still technically my honeymoon, as we only got married on Aug. 24. Anyway, I have some plans for places I absolutely have to see, including Supino, which is where our family is from. I want to see Venice (of course), Pompeii, Naples, Bologna, Florence, Rome, and anywhere else I can find along the way. Capri would be amazing, but maybe the next time we go. A few questions, as I have never been to Europe, and I don't speak Italian. First, where is the best place to buy Euros? My bank will exchange them for me in about 48 hours, but if I need more while I'm in Italy, where should I go for the best price? Should I keep American dollars with me, as well? I've purchased an anti-theft messenger bag as well as a neck/hip stash. Are they even worth it? We're renting a car, but neither of us has evern driven in a foreign country, and I'm a little concerned about the narrow streets and all the people walking around. Should we just expect to take everything slow? Also, I need to find some good walking sandals that can transition from day to night. I am considering Clarks -- what do you suggest? Thanks in advance, everyone! I do realize I sound like an over eager dork, but I don't even care. I'm just so excited to be in this beautiful country.

Posted by Michael
Seattle, WA, USA
5761 posts

Danielle, congratulations on your wedding and this trip. You're going to have a blast. Based on some of your questions ("Where do I buy euros?" for example), I'm concerned that you don't have a decent guidebook. The Rick Steves books are excellent esp. for first-time travelers to Europe. He addresses all the logistics you need to know and answers questions you don't even know you should be asking. Pick up a "Rick Steves Italy 2013" guidebook in a bookstore right now and start reading. Happy travels.

Posted by Frank
Tresana, Highlands Ranch, CO, USA
10882 posts

You don't sound like an over eager dork but you do sound very unprepared. What have you been doing for the last couple of months? Hopefully other members of your family are better prepared. You absolutely need the IDP - IT IS THE LAW. Get a hundred or so Euro from your bank so that you have some money in your pocket when you land. After that, a debit card at a bank owned ATM is the cheapest and most convenient way to obtain local currency. Bring US dollars to exchange is not smart. You should have at least two debit cards tied to two different accounts. All card issuers need to be notified of your travel plans so that your access to credit or debit cards is not denied. With ten days to go, take current shoes that are well broken in to lots of walking. You don't have time to break in new shoes. Get a good GPS to assist is getting around. Avoid driving in the big cities. Let your cell phone at home. Absolutely wear a money belt or neck belt with passport, extra money, credit cards, etc. Keep your luggage to absolutely min. No more than one carryon size bag. And reduce your travel expectations by at least 2/3rds Good luck.

Posted by Danielle
Oak Park, MI, USA
17 posts

Thank you for your kind wishes! I have been doing a ton of research, so although I appear clueless, I have some pretty good information. I'm going to purchase Euros at my bank, and I have alredy contacted them to make sure I can use my card in Italy and to make sure they're notified that I am, indeed, in a foreign country. My husband will do the same (and he'll have way more cash than I will, anyway!). Plus, the family that we're going with has already been to Italy, so they know the ropes much better than I could plan to learn in a week. I'm not terribly worried -- I am a planner, though. Unfortunately, over the past year, I've been a wedding planner much more than I've been a vacation planner, and now that the wedding is over, I have precious little time to focus on this! I think everything will be great, though. I am just so looking forward to sharing some wine under an Italian sky!

Posted by Danielle
Oak Park, MI, USA
17 posts

Oh! And I do have some guidebooks, yes. I have the Rick Steves phrase book (used it in a restaurant for fun and it was pretty helpful) as well as several StreetWise maps. We have a GPS that we will update to include Italian roads, and I'm fairly fluent in Spanish, while my husband is fairly fluent in French, so with a little creative gesturing (I'm Italian anyway, so this is a matter of course for me) we'll get by.

Posted by Danielle
Oak Park, MI, USA
17 posts

Frank, that's not very helpful. "Lower my travel expectations"? No, thanks. As to what I've been doing for the past few months, I believe I answered that by saying I got married on Aug. 24 so I have been planning my wedding, obviously. Kind of high priority for the ladies. My family members traveling with us are much more experienced in Italy than I am, so even if no one on here answered any of my questions and really, I was just looking for tips I could still manage my way through the country. But I'll make sure my luggage is light (already planned to), my shoes are comfortable (kind of goes without saying) and that I don't get my stupid butt robbed (hence the mention of an anti-theft bag and neck stash purchase).

Posted by Ken
Vernon, Canada
17776 posts

Danielle, First of all congratulations to both of you! Now some comments.... I agree with Frank that you don't seem like an "over eager dork", but you do sound a bit unprepared, given the fact that this is your first trip and you're leaving in a week! It would have been prudent to have some of these details sorted several months ago. I also agree with the others in that your list of places to see is far too ambitious for such a short time frame. Whoever told you that you don't need an International Driver's Permit is full of cr@p! Whether you're asked to produce it or not, an IDP is compulsory in Italy, and even the U.S. State Department will tell you that. Note that it's not a license per se, but must be used in conjunction with your home D.L., so you'll need to take that too. You may find it helpful to read this website: www.roninrome.com/%20transportation/the-idp-question I also agree that it would be a good idea to pack along a GPS equipped with European maps, as well as a good Map for backup. Regarding ATM cards, your U.S. card should work fine, however note that your funds must usually be in a chequing account with a four-number PIN. I would highly recommend packing along a "backup" ATM card in case of problems with the primary card (I've had that happen). I'd also suggest packing €100 or so for travel expenses until you get settled. Are you taking any electronic gadgets or appliances with you? There are a few concerns with those too. You will of course need Plug Adaptors. Regarding a "neck/hip stash", YES they are worth it (IMHO). A Money Belt is highly recommended for "deep storage" of cash, credit cards and Passport. DO NOT access in public where others can see! Happy travels!

Posted by Roberto
Fremont, CA, USA
3336 posts

You cannot visit all of the places you want to visit from the locations where you are staying. The distances are too great for day trips. From Verona you can visit Venice and Bologna via train (a little over one hour each way).
From Your location in Umbria you are at least 1.5 hours drive from Rome and about 2.5 hrs from Florence. Naples, Pompeii and Capri are way out of the way for a day trip. If those are your accommodations choices, you should visit the surrounding areas. Verona area is good for the Veneto region, including Venice, and Lake Garda. The Dolomites mountains are also within 1 to 2 hr drive. From your location in Umbria (near San Gemini) you can visit Rome and Umbria region (Orvieto, Perugia, Assisi, Todi, Spoleto, Spello, Gubbio) and also Civita di Bagnoregio (technically in the Latium region, but close to Orvieto). Get euros at ATM's in Italy (your US ATM card will work). Use credit cards when you can. Make sure you alert your bank and credit cards you will be traveling to Europe. At most get 50 euro at the airport if you want to have some when you land. However airport locations give lousy rates. You don't need US dollars, except for when you are back. Get an International Driver Permit at AAA before going. You'll need it along with your US Drivers's license. Driving in Italy is not difficult, but you must know the international road signs in use in Europe: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Road_signs_in_Italy For freeway driving remember (very important) that the left lanes are only for passing. No cruising is permitted on the left lane. You must keep the right and clear the left lane as soon as possible after passing a vehicle. Passing can be done only on the left side of a vehicle. Watch out for ZTL (Limited Traffic Zones) in historical centers.

Posted by Danielle
Oak Park, MI, USA
17 posts

Thank you! We plan to stay the night in the various cities we want to see, because I know how spread out everything is. The villas will pretty much just be a homebase: there if we need it, but not 24/7. And not every night. That said, I think we can hit the sights I want to see, right? Do we absolutely have to get an international driver's license? I was told we don't, but I want to be sure. I will definitely brush up on the road rules, though.

Posted by Zoe
Toledo, Ohio, US
2501 posts

It will save you time to have the IDP (you can get it through AAA), since most places expect to see it. Make sure you have your Michigan license as well. Each driver should have the IDP. Most historic centers, where you would encounter narrow streets, are closed to most vehicle traffic (some are pedestrian-only, some are resident-permit-only), so I don't think that will be a problem. Roberto's recommendations are excellent as to places to see, even easier if you don't plan to spend every night at the villas. If you can squeeze out a night in Ravello or Positano on the Amalfi Coast, they are very romantic places and can be combined with a stop in Naples/Pompeii. Footwear: everyone is different; lots of people love Clarks, I can't wear them. Never buy shoes without trying them on unless you've previously bought exactly the same style. It took me several returns of shoes bought online to come up with this maxim. Enjoy Italy!

Posted by Danielle
Oak Park, MI, USA
17 posts

I do plan on getting an IDP (there is an AAA branch near my house with decent hours, and $30 for the both of us is no big deal), but I am confused, still, as ALL the family members I'm traveling with seem to be waving this off. But it doesn't matter, we'll go tomorrow and get them. And I have been planning this since last year, when my family and I decided when/where to go as I originally said, there are 20 of us, not just my husband and I. If I don't have a particular detail worked out, one of the other 18 people will, I've been assured. This is merely for my own knowledge. I will use my neck stash, my Travelon bag and my comfortable-yet-stylish sandals, brandish my IDP and Michigan driver's license, and work my way around the homeland. If I end up missing a place or two, oh well.

Posted by Roberto
Fremont, CA, USA
3336 posts

Regarding driving, I also recommend a good map (TCI or Michelin). A GPS is also helpful, but if you need to get EU map SD microcards loaded you need to get on Amazon now and them overnight.
IDP is mandatory, although the rental car agency won't care, the police will if you get pulled over. My wife and I have organized large family and friends group trips often in the past. After our latest this summer, we have now decided that family group trips are best when the group consists of an even number of members, however 4 is too many.

Posted by Danielle
Oak Park, MI, USA
17 posts

Roberto, you're right -- my family has been planning this since Aug. 2012, and we're still (of course) finding last-minute things to deal with. My husband has a GPS, so once we put the proper chip (or whatever) in, we'll be fine. I have plenty of maps, and we have offline Android maps for our cellphones. I sort of wish it were just the two of us going, but with the rest of my family, it'll still be a lot of fun.

Posted by Terry kathryn
Ann Arbor, Mi
2606 posts

Danielle... Hello neighbor! I drove in Europe for about 10 or 12 years and never heard of an IDP nor had I ever been asked for one. After being on this site, I thought I better run out and get one. Have rented at least 10 times since and have never been asked for one...however, I understand it is the law, I just never knew it and all the places I rented didn't care. As far as the other issue of moneybelts, anti-theft stuff, it is personal preference and all the dozens of other people I have traveled with (who don't participate on this website) had never heard of doing that. I don't wear one because it would be way too uncomfortable, so I have a small cross body purse.
I think with all the family members all the details will be worked out, and the mishaps will all work out just fine. As long as it is part honeymoon and you will have a car try to be sure and take off and have some time for yourselves. After all... it is your trip and your memories that really count. The rest of the group will do fine without you. As far as Clark shoes... if they work for you get some. I needed a new pair of shoes for NYC a few weeks ago and bought Clarks (I usually wear Birkenstocks but they take more breaking in) and walked miles in the city with no problem. Just be sure whatever shoes you take they have good arches. That is the biggest problem that causes aching legs and feet. You still have a bit of time to break them in. You sound prepared enough to me...after all it's Italy... what more do you need????:))

Posted by Danielle
Oak Park, MI, USA
17 posts

Thank you Terry Kathryn! Most encouraging response on here. Yeah, I am not terribly worried about it all. Like you said, it's Italy! Relax! I can taste the wine already.

Posted by Sasha
Bainbridge Island
1590 posts

Danielle, just a word of caution to a newbie. Since this is a public forum, and can be viewed by anyone on the internet, I suggest you edit your post to remove the actual names of the two villas where you will be staying. Just change it to a "villa near Verona" and one in Umbria. And congratulations on your marriage! May you be happy together for a long time.

Posted by Christina
New York, NY, 10025
365 posts

Planning a wedding is hard work, and I think it's fair to say you had plenty of others working on your trip. Congrats, by the way! I agree the side trips listed may be ambitious, though, especially if you are tired after wedding planning in a high gear for months. I made the mistake of overly ambitious itineraries in the past and almost ruined trips that way. Google the Via Michelin website and estimate your driving times before you settle on anything. Also, if traveling into cities like Florence, look into where to park. You can't always drive into European city centers, and where you can, you often don't want to due to traffic!

Posted by Nigel
East Midlands, England
8755 posts

Danielle, That sounds quite ambitious, and I'm sure that whatever happens you will have a lovely time, and a memorable one. Twenty people, eh? Please remember that when you head out on your field trips that every driver needs that IDP and their home DL. Don't get tempted by things called something like International Driving License on the Internet. They are frauds and will not be accepted by the police in Italy and will be worthless in the event of an accident. You want the ID Permit which is only provided in the US at the AAA. The other piece of advice, particularly as you are doing a lot of the trip as field trips, is to remember that the entire group moves at the speed of the slowest. Every time somebody needs a bathroom or has trouble with stairs or is a bit slow taking their last picture - everybody waits.nnIn among your group I'm sure that you have a few leaders who will take the weight off your shoulders so that you can relax and enjoy your honeymoon.

Posted by Maryam
Washington, DC
562 posts

Congrats on the upcoming nuptials. Someone mentioned that you grab a couple of guidebooks, and what you listed did not sound like guidebooks to me. Please go out and get a copy of Rick Steves' Italy guidebook. At this point, it will probably be the best $20 you will spend. Do try to read it, especially the first few chapters, as it will answer most questions you have asked above. As for shoes, I love Puma's line of flats. They are essentially running shoes that look like fashionable flats with lots of great colors. You will fit right in, be comfortable, and easily go from day to night. Google "Puma Ballerinas". Money: Do exchange from your bank maybe a couple of hundred euro at the offset if you really want some cash on you when you arrive, otherwise, simply withdraw cash at ATMs with your debit card and four-digit pin. As others stated, let your bank know that you will be doing transactions in Italy. Driving in a foreign country will be easy enough. Do be aware of the Zona Traffico Limitato when driving there. Again, if you Google it, you will get info on what to look for, what it is, and why you want to absolutely avoid it. I think your best plan would be to have a family "planning" meeting every night and kind of plan out what is going to happen the next day. A few may go this way, a few that way, some may want to try grocery shopping, etc.
Please do not be offended and attempt to defend yourself when folks state that you seem unprepared. Based on the questions above and how quickly your trip is coming up, you do have some things to figure out. Just keep asking the questions and take the feedback as it comes. Have fun!

Posted by Danielle
Oak Park, MI, USA
17 posts

Thanks for all the help, everyone! I should have mentioned that my husband and I are not spending the entire time with the rest of our party. We have no obligation to anyone, and other than waking up some mornings at the villa, we won't see them at all. There are 5 or so couples, and then a smattering of cousins, aunts and uncles, and everyone is responsible for their own transportation. So will a guide book really be all that vital? I have a phrase book and maps, so what is the difference? If I want to create my own experience, shouldn't I stay away from guide books?

Posted by Christina
New York, NY, 10025
365 posts

Guidebooks will also give practical advice on the places you want to go, like where parking is. Finding parking can be very difficult in some places, and you will waste precious time winging it. You can ignore the books' advice about which sites to see if you want and just wander once you get to a place. That is my husband's preferred method of travel but even he will take a guidebook!

Posted by Danielle
Oak Park, MI, USA
17 posts

Thank you Christina! I have been reading about parking, gas stations and public transportation all morning now, and I think you're absolutely right. I just ordered the Rick Steves Italy 2013 book (from Amazon; much cheaper, and Prime!) so I'll toss that into my backpack along with the others. I also picked up that Marling Menu Master, which I was told is compact and helpful, so that will be fun to use as well.

Posted by Harold
New York, NY, USA
2848 posts

Danielle, as I was composing my message, I see that you ordered a guidebook. This single purchase will be the best advice you got on this Helpline. Imagine someone visiting Michigan with no guidebook whatsoever, just "winging it." They end up going to things when they're closed or crowded, end up missing things they learn about after the trip, waste time in things that don't interest them (they would have known this if they had read about them first), and waste time by not grouping attractions in a logical order. They also waste money by not learning about passes and discounts (sights don't always volunteer this information). One further problem in Italy is that some things require advance reservations to avoid wasting a lot of time (sometimes hours) in line, and you may not even get in at all. If you want to see the Uffizi or Accademia in Florence, the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua, or the Borghese Gallery in Rome, you'll want to make reservations now. Rick's book has all the details; a phrase book or map does not. As said above, once one makes plans, one can always discard the plans if something better comes along. But just driving around hoping to get the best out of Italy won't make for a good trip.

Posted by Danielle
Oak Park, MI, USA
17 posts

Harold, thank you! I totally agree about people visiting MI and not finding the best stuff. You probably have the same issue with people coming to NY! I tried to teach myself Italian starting last fall, but with all the wedding planning and other life stuff I had to do, it just didn't take. Not to mention my brain isn't quite as spongy as it was in high school and college. I also thought the five years of Spanish would help, and man was I ever wrong. I agree that some aspects of the Italian language are similar to Spanish, but frankly, it sounds and appears much more like French to me. Ah, well. I know how to speak with my hands!

Posted by Maryam
Washington, DC
562 posts

I too am glad that you got that guidebook. However, I really encourage you to read it ahead of time, prior to getting on that airplane. A guidebook is very different than a map or phrase book, and it will be a great resource to you as you try and make the best of your trip. I'm all for being a bit spontaneous, but you need a bit more background knowledge and information given all the places you want to go. You really need good information to avoid wasting unnecessary time, money, and fun!
For example, are you planning to drive to Rome? Where will you be prior to that? Is taking the train an option you have looked into? Given some of the places you have listed, it may make sense to ditch that car.

Posted by Danielle
Oak Park, MI, USA
17 posts

From our villa near Verona, we (my husband and I) are going to take several days to visit various cities between there and Rome, and then spend our second week in San Gemini. From there, we will visit Pompeii and Naples, as well as Rome (obviously) and Supino. So for a few of the days we'll be in Italy, we will not need our car. But as you can see, we'll need it for most of the time. I should receive the guide book by Sept. 10, so I will have some time to read up, and I will definitely have time on the plane.

Posted by Zoe
Toledo, Ohio, US
2501 posts

Danielle, I think you've got a great attitude about this. For my money, anyone who can plan a wedding can plan a vacation for 20 people. The only thing that worries me a little is that you mention the others in your group don't want to get the international drivers permit - which means that you and your husband could end up being the main drivers, and with a group that large, you would be better off renting several cars than trying to drive a couple of vans around. I think you can book train tickets as a group (might be limited to groups of five or ten, not sure).

Posted by Danielle
Oak Park, MI, USA
17 posts

Oh, everyone is renting a car, not just us. We will not be responsible for anyone else, unless my brother or someone needs a quick ride somewhere, but he's getting his own, too, so that might not even happen. Like I said, we're not even going to be there several days out of each week so we're not going to see everyone all that much.

Posted by Andrea
Sacramento, CA
4871 posts

If anyone else in the family is fined for driving without an IDP it certainly shouldn't be Danielle or her husband's problem.

Posted by Marsha
Roseville, CA, USA
3 posts

Danielle. How exciting to be visiting Italy for the first time! You will have no trouble driving in the countryside but "city rules" are a bit tricky. I agree with Maryam/Washington, D.C. that you might want to check out train travel, especially to Florence. We have driven there several times and we find the most efficient solution for us is to park at the airport (outside town) and take a taxi to the Centro Storico. The ZTL zones, in all cities/towns, are marked with specific hours, but not well. Don't forget that you will be dodging pedestrians, double parked cars, and trying to figure out where to go and where to park. You will find that street names may change every block! My husband and I have been traveling/driving in Italy for 30 years and we just got another ticket for driving in the ZTL Zone in Lucca, twice, and we didn't even know it (we were photographed). I recently read that Italy needs the cash so these ZTL zones are popping up everywhere. You will get a ticket from the city of your violation AND from your car rental agency. As an FYI, be sure to have Euro change for the tollroads. Many of the booths are unmanned. We have found taking a train, especially to specific large cities, is more fun and less stressful. No matter what you do, relax and enjoy. Italy is a beautiful, exciting country but also a sweet state of mind.

Posted by Danielle
Oak Park, MI, USA
17 posts

Marsha, thank you! I think the train is going to be our best bet, too. It's fairly cheap, right? Does anyone suggest that I buy tickets now, or should I wait? For what it's worth, we are not 100% sure which days we'll be doing what, yet. The hubs and I are making that itinerary tomorrow night.

Posted by Marsha
Roseville, CA, USA
3 posts

Danielle: Yes, train travel is inexpensive vs the cost of petrol, tolls, parking and possible fines! You will find excellent information on fares and schedules on www.raileurope.com. We usually buy our tickets online but if you don't know when you want to travel, you can always buy a ticket at the ticket window or machine. The website will, at least, help you plan. You will not want to waste time figuring out what to see and where to go. Everything in Italy takes longer than you could imagine; but, sometimes that is a good experience, especially while enjoying a great meal. One last thing, after you buy your ticket be sure to "stamp" it in the yellow machine at the end of each track. If it not stamped and the conductor decides to fine you, you must pay the fine on the spot. Sometimes they check and sometimes they don't, but by stamping, you will be a saavy traveler!

Posted by Ken
Vernon, Canada
17776 posts

Danielle, You can save money buying tickets for the "premium" trains such as the Freccia high speed, but with slower Regionale trains there's no savings so just buy tickets when you're there. There are some important things to know when travelling by train in Italy. Here's a summary.... When using Regionale trains which don't require reservations, it's IMPORTANT to validate (time & date stamp) the tickets prior to boarding the train on the day of travel. This includes the Leonardo Express from the airport to Roma Termini. The validation machine will either be bright yellow or blue & gray, with a small digital display on the front. If the machine is out of order, writing the time & date on the ticket may be acceptable (ask the Conductor as soon as possible). Those caught with unvalidated tickets may be fined on the spot! The fines start at €50 per person and if not paid on the spot, they DOUBLE and increase from there! The same fines apply to those travelling via Bus in Rome and other places (in that case, validation machines are often located ON the Bus). Those travelling on the "premium" trains such as the Freccia high speed trains MUST have a valid reservation or again may be fined on the spot! These fines also start at €50 per person, in addition to the cost of the reservation, which is currently ~€10 PP. Reservations on these trains are compulsory and are specific to a particular train, date and departure time. It's NOT POSSIBLE to simply buy a ticket with reservations and then board any train. The ticket or reservation will specify the train number (ie: ES 9718), so it's important to verify that before boarding. Cheers!

Posted by Nigel
East Midlands, England
8755 posts

Regarding saving money on the high speed trains - - it may not be worth the effort since you are leaving so soon. The cheap tickets sell out quickly, and have now been on sale for 3 months. Also, the cheapest tickets are non changeable and restricted, like flights, to a specific seat on a specific train on a specific date. They are only good for bookmarks if not used on that train. As your plans are so fluid I suggest to buy on the day. Just get to the station early enough to use the machines and avoid the queues for the windows.