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17 day Best of Italy Tour 2020

Several questions

Do I need to buy any rail, train transportation passes. If I do where do I buy these tickets?. Any other essentials besides what is in the RS guide that you suggest I buy before I leave?

Pictures - Do you use your cell phone for taking pictures?

Local plays, concerts or any other forms of night life for the older set.

Do I need to buy a small amount of Euros before my trip? If I am taking a shuttle do I need to tip? How much Euros?

Hotels - Do they clean rooms? If they do - do you allow your room to be cleaned? Can you leave your clothes in the room, of course not your valuables.

Luggage - I like to bring one suitcase and a travel case which fits over my luggage. Of course, I will use a money belt and a small handbag over my shoulder. No backpack not good for my back.

Night - Does it get cool?
Nervous and concerned first time traveler to Italy.
Thank you for your comments.

Posted by
7762 posts

I'm assuming you are taking the Rick Steves Best of Italy tour. editing to add: OK, I read your other post and am so happy you are doing this tour!

  • You do not need to buy any transportation passes ahead of your tour. You'll need to buy a train ticket to get from your arrival airport to the start of the tour which is in Varenna but you can do that at the time. Are you arriving in Milan?

  • I use my cell phone for pictures but I'm not a big photographer. There are always people on a tour with a big camera and lenses as well as those of us who just use a cell phone. For me it's one less thing to keep track of.

  • I enjoyed a Vivaldi concert in Venice when I was there on another Rick Steves tour but you don't need to get your tickets ahead of time.

  • I like to have about 200E to start with although many others just get money at the ATM at the airport. I don't like to go to the ATM when I'm jet-lagged but I travel solo so don't have anyone to help figure things out.

  • Yes, they clean the hotel rooms on the tours. I allow housekeeping. I don't travel with much in the way of valuables but have my extra money, credit cards and debit cards in "deep storage" in my money belt which I always wear. I have my phone and an iPad Mini that I carry with me. One guide told me that he'd never had a person on his tours have anything taken from a hotel room and he could guarantee if there was a problem with theft the hotel would be dropped immediately. He felt the hotels were extremely careful with security because they like the RS tour business.

  • Your luggage combo sounds fine. I like to have a smaller bag for a "bus bag" - for transit days when I want my rain jacket, water, snacks, guide book, chargers, etc at my seat. I don't like a backpack either unless it is just for the airplane. I don't use a day pack for regular touring as I want to have it in my sight at all times. You can probably use your "travel case" for your bus bag?

  • Cool nights? When are you traveling? I always take a waterproof rain jacket and yes, I've gotten drenched in Italy, lol. I also always have a long sleeve layer - either a Dri-fit pull over or a cardigan that will layer under the rain jacket.

  • This is a wonderful choice for a first time traveler to Italy! I travel solo most of the time and I love Rick's tours for the interesting tour members, excellent guides and terrific itineraries. Are you flying in to Milan? Will you be arriving a day before your tour start? What can we do to help you alleviate your anxiety?

Posted by
6454 posts

Night - Does it get cool?

What time of year? Night is always cooler, but if you question is 'do I need, or how heavy a sweater/coat' do I need then knowing when is important.

I always left the clothes I was not wearing in the room. Depending on the situation either in my bag or whatever closet was available. Rooms were always clean

Take photos with whatever you use for domestic travel. I use a digital point and shoot. Like that I can take the memory card from the camera and plug it into my TV and see 50 inch photos (not phone screen 5 inch photos)

Found the clothes line one of the best things we packed. ( we do not mind doing sink laundry) Found that having 2 helps solve the challenge some bathrooms present.
If you use a wash cloth, bring one. They are RARE in Italy

Once you are at your tour start point all transportation is provided for all tour activities. If you free time activities are farther than walking distance then you are responsible for that. The guide will be helpful in explaining what is available at each stop.
NO to train passes. To get to Varenna, you just need a one way ticket. No discount for early purchase.

It is a GREAT tour--enjoy ( and relax)

Posted by
16791 posts

Hi, Deb.

You don't need any train tickets in advance to get to the start of your Rick Steves tour. Plan to buy them at the train stations. The tour department will provide detailed instructions about a month ahead for getting to your first hotel, but you can also see this Forum topic from yesterday: https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/transportation/milian-airport-to-varenna.

I would get euros from an ATM at Milan airport. If you want to buy them ahead from your bank (always with some mark-up), then only get 100-200 in case of an emergency, such as ATMs all not working at the airport. See also https://www.ricksteves.com/travel-tips/money.

I have always had quite warm weather in Italy in September and October, even if it might rain. Light, flexible layers are best, including possibly an umbrella or light rain shell. I personally would bring a scarf or cotton sweater versus a warmer fleece or wool sweater. I do tend to run warm, any way. Also a bathing suit for the Cinque Terre.

I do tend to lock my suitcase in my room, but others don't. Our tour hotels do provide daily room cleaning, although I find it unnecessary. Most have usually changed the towels whether your want them to or not, but our tour managers will be working with hotels this year to try to discourage that. Your guide can advise you on the latest developments at the time of your stay.

Posted by
239 posts

While I do not leave valuables in any hotel room, it is not because I have ever had a problem with things being taken. I'm sure that is not unheard of, but I would like to think that it is rare. I recently had an experience when I walked in to our room after check in and had some change in my hand. I heard a coin fall on the hardwood floor. It disappeared under the bed and I decided it wasn't worth crawling under it to retrieve whatever coin I had dropped. When we returned to our room after a day out the next morning I found a dime on the dresser. I was a bit surprised to see it, but was not only pleased to see the honesty of the hotel housekeeping staff, but also was happy to see evidence that the floor had obviously been swept! I may be a bit of a Pollyanna, but would like to think the best of people but I do use common sense along with it.

Posted by
3487 posts

Hi Deb,

This tour was our first experience in Italy back in 2006, and we loved all of the locations so much that we have been to almost all of them on subsequent independent trips. Also, to put your mind at ease, I did a solo 3-week trip to Italy when I retired two years ago, using many of the things your RS experience will help you learn, too. No need to be nervous at all.

“Any other essentials besides what is in the RS guide that you suggest I buy before I leave?” I do like to bring a few protein bars or similar - just because the first few days, I may be hungry from the time zone changes when it’s inconvenient to buy something.

“Pictures - Do you use your cell phone for taking pictures?” I have wonderful photo books created on-line which are one of my favorite souvenirs. I just use my iPhone. Learn all of the capabilities of your phone for great photos.

“Local plays, concerts or any other forms of night life for the older set.” Your RS guide will share options while you’re there. Sometimes 4-5 people from the tour will go together. And be sure to participate in the gondola option at Venice!

“Do I need to buy a small amount of Euros before my trip?” We always buy some Euros from our bank in the US. I don’t like making any ATM transaction decisions when I’m jet lagged. Be sure to notify your ATM & credit card company that you will be traveling out of country, so nothing is blocked.

“Hotels - Do they clean rooms? If they do - do you allow your room to be cleaned? Can you leave your clothes in the room, of course not your valuables.” Do exactly the same as you would in a US hotel. Some of the hotels might have a large wood piece or similar connected to your room key. If so, you leave the key at the front desk when you leave the hotel. And some might have the key cards that look like credit cards. Sometimes those need to be placed into a slot on the wall of your room as you enter to engage the power/lights in your room. I should mention, I do like to bring a small flashlight with me for emergencies and also to sometimes find that slot....or see where I’m walking at night.

“Night - Does it get cool?” The daytime is usually very nice, I bring a warm scarf or cardigan for the evenings while we’re eating outdoors. In the Dolomites, it will be cooler. I brought a lightweight sweater, or you could have a lightweight jacket.

I would highly recommend going to Italy two days before your tour begins. Then you will be finished with the jet lag before your tour begins. If your flights were delayed, etc. you still have time to meet the group the first day. For this tour, we flew to Milan and took the train to Verona for our first three days and then took the train to Varenna on Lake Como to begin the tour. Others can suggest other options.

I would happily take that same tour again. Have a fantastic time!

Posted by
189 posts

As other people have said all of your transportation once the tour starts will be taken care of. If you can plan arrive in Italy 2 days before your tour starts. That will give you a little time to adjust to the jet lag and if there’s a travel delay you won’t panic about missing the group (if you are delayed they will figure out how to get you to the group don’t worry)

One essential that Ive used on every trip is a pocket sized note book - I write down my hotel or restaurant name and address to show to cab drivers, I use it when I’m asking the price of something, highly recommend

I have used my cell phone to take pictures on every trip and I have great photos hanging on my wall and photo books that I made using the Shutterfly app.

We’ve never done any plays or concerts but other folks on the tours have. If you research what’s going on in the cities you’ll be visiting you might see something fun to do. Do it!

I usually land with about 300 euro, I work at a bank and I have fielded calls for my clients who are in a town with no ATM. Or they lost their card. Or the ATM ate their card. So I always want to have some cash and I have no desire to stand in line at the airport ATM when I land. I get €200 in small bills 5,10,20 and 100 in 20’s Your credit card is accepted everywhere but it’s good to have some cash in hand. The service charge your bank might charge you is negligible, once you are on your tour your guide will point out ATMs to use. No need to tip the shuttle driver.

Let your room be cleaned if you want or don’t it’s up to you.

Sounds like your luggage situation is perfect. You are going to be carrying everything on your own so packing light is the key.

Pack a pashmina type wrap and or some light cardigans. Definitely a swim suit for Cinque Terre

Read some books that take place in the cities where you’ll be going I love the Inspector Brunetti mysteries in Venice. watch some movies — Roman Holiday is a great one. I bought a Berlitz Italian for travelers CD and practiced while driving. I wasn’t fluent but I could ask for a glass of wine and the bathroom.

Have a great time !

Posted by
991 posts

Hi Deb. I'm sorry for your loss. But glad you are going on RS tour. I went on my first one, South of Italy, with my sister-in-law in May. A lot of things had changed in the 27 years since I'd been to Europe. I won't duplicate what the more experienced travelers above have said but I will add:
*I did take €600 with me but that was bought from a neighbor; I'd take a minimum of €200 next time because I don't want to deal with ATMs at the airport when tired and stressed about finding transport to the hotel.
*Folding hangers worked great for drying laundry. I only used the clothes line once. Bring a flat sink stopper. Powdered Forever New soap was easy to pack and use.
*Packing cubes help keep you organized.
*Layer clothes. Pack coordinating clothes so you have multiple outfits without packing a lot. When in doubt, leave it out.
*Test pack several times before you depart. Keep the suitcase size and weight down so you can lift it into overheads. I used the RS Rolling Carry-On which weighed 22 lbs packed and a PacSafe tote as a bus bag.
*I took a point and shoot camera plus used my phone, taking about 1000 pictures total, and I seldom take pictures at home.
*edited to add: take a Mophie or other auxiliary battery. If you are using you phone for pictures your battery life is short.

I think the part 3 of my trip report will help you https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/trip-reports/my-very-long-trip-report-part-3-what-i-learned

Enjoy your trip. You will have so much fun. Really. RS tours are full of helpful, nice, inclusive people. Keep posting questions to the forum. They are very nice and helpful people.