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My very long trip report - Part 3 What I learned

What I learned, from an inexperienced traveler’s point of view
1) Do your homework. Read all that you can about where you’re going and what there is to do. Listen to Rick Steves’ Audio Europe, both about where you’re visiting and general information. However, there is a saturation point where you can’t remember what you read. At that point, be flexible and go with the flow.

2) The people on this forum are kind and helpful. But it helps everyone if you do your homework first. I asked a lot of dumb, uninformed questions over the past two years. Someone always took the time to answer and help me.

3) Don’t overschedule yourself. You need time to absorb the sights, sounds and smells, to wander on your own and time to relax and enjoy. We tried to limit ourselves when on our own to one tour per day (the DaVinci exhibit was a last minute add on).

4) Be organized. Know where your tickets are, your reservation receipts, all pertinent paperwork and have ready access to them. If you use a paper file, clip like receipts/reservations together in chronological order. Set up email files. Bookmark websites by city or subject. You don’t want to be hunting for your train ticket when it’s time to board the train.

5) Try to learn a few words of the local language. I have no ear for languages. I must have listened to the RS Italian language video 15 times and other You Tube beginner Italian videos. I’m not kidding that I picked up 15 words. Important words like “hello”, “please”, “thank you”, “how much does it cost?”, “check please”, “where’s the bathroom?” I felt that my feeble attempt at Italian was appreciated especially in Calabria, or they were just humoring the tourist.

6) Be diligent, be assertive, be aware of your surroundings. We had no problems with pick pockets and street vendors left us alone. I used a neck wallet. Sister-in-law used a money belt. Purses and/or backpacks were locked. It was a little inconvenient getting to money and phones but worth the inconvenience for safety and peace of mind.

7) Packing light is a useful goal. But make it work for you. You need to be able to lift your carryon into the plane’s overhead bin so size and weight matter. Take enough clothes that you don’t do laundry every day. As cool as it was this May, clothes didn’t want to dry quickly and outdoor clotheslines weren’t an option in the rain. You don’t need a hair dryer which all of our hotels provided; saves a pound. The big RS Italy guide book weighs over a pound. Tear out useful city pages, bind or staple together to save space and ¾ pound. Pack light outbound so your luggage stays with you. But don’t feel bad if you pack heavy and check luggage on the way home. Buy as many souvenirs as you want but you may need to ship glass Christmas ornaments home like SIL did. I wouldn’t change much of my packing list for next trip except adding another pair of socks, a couple more camisoles so I hand wash less often. One more sweater would have been handy so I could have washed the one I wore daily. I used almost everything I took including the three pairs of shoes to keep my feet happy, albeit my sandals were worn once but chock that up to the weather. Bug wipes weren’t used because the mosquitos weren’t out yet.

8) As important as what you pack is how you pack. Everything needs its own place in your suitcase, in your tote, in your backpack, in your purse. This goes back to #4, be organized. No left behind items except maybe a plug adapter. And everything is easily found when it’s packed the same way all the time.

9) Driving on Italian highways was not as scary as I thought it would be. But I would never attempt to drive in cities with ZTLs and crazy drivers.

Posted by
539 posts

Dear Horsewoofie,

I thought this is one of the best trip reports I have ever read!

First of all you broke it into 3 parts. Secondly, you wrote (bless you) in paragraphs. Third, and most important, you included the bad with the good. What went wrong. How to cope. How to break through the communication barriers. I thought it was all great.

Thank you.

Posted by
985 posts

Woofie - interesting reports! I'm happy you got some extra time before and after the RS tour for further exploration on your own and I was really glad to read that you had taken some WOI tours. I always find those type of tours so worthwhile. The passport loss worked out okay in the end, so thankful for that. Pooh on the head cold and I hope the ill effects were short lasting. It reads like you went right ahead with your plans despite it.
The RS tour itself sounds like a gem with such a variety of sights. The southern Italy tour has been on our radar along with some eastern European tours.
You are so right about not cramming too much into your day and just enjoying your surroundings. I'm glad your trip went so well (despite the rains) and it sounds like you both really had a good time and got to see things that were important to you.

Thanks for sharing your adventures with us.

Posted by
610 posts

I enjoyed your reports so much! Thank you for taking the time to share! The Southern Italy tour sounds wonderful. I am so glad that after all your difficulties you finally got to go!

Posted by
7549 posts

The reports were a special joy to read knowing the heart-breaking experience you had with the scam tour operator prevously. Not only were they good reports, but I was especially happy to know that you were taking your trip at last!!!

Posted by
346 posts

Thank you so much for taking the time to write such interesting and well organized trip reports. I really liked the "what I learned" section. After I travel, I try to write a small summary of what I packed and what I would do differently next time and it has helped me to try and find my travel "best practices".

I'm glad that you and your SIL had such a good time!

Posted by
1180 posts

horsewoofie, what a wonderful series of trip reports, with so much useful detail and information. I really appreciate the time and care that you took to craft these reports, and will use some of your information in an upcoming trip of my own. Thank you!

Posted by
8067 posts

Yes hw, thanks. So glad you finally made it there.

Posted by
3973 posts

Very helpful report. I hadn't thought about packing two sweaters so you can wash one-will definitely add that to my packing list for our fall trip.

I'm an overplanner and overlearner, but I think everyone should be OCD about learning as much as possible before your trip. For example, we will be in Florence for 2 days in Oct and it would not have occurred to me that at least half the restaurants recommended in the RS guidebook are closed on Sundays.

Posted by
10085 posts

Excellent tips especially about packing light. I can’t emphasize that enough.
And the autostradas are like the interstates in the US, no problems for us either. We’ve driven all over Italy on them.
And being organized is very important. The old adage “ a place for everything and everything in it’s place” is so true.
Where are you off to next?

Posted by
9096 posts

All excellent tips and good reminders even for an experienced traveler. Thank you for taking the time!

Posted by
12607 posts

Excellent tips!

I'll add that even though you thought you might be asking "dumb, uninformed questions" the difference is that you took advice on board and it was obvious thru your planning journey that you were reading and learning. I think that makes forum members want to help more when you are demonstrating you are doing some leg work.

So very happy things worked out for you!

And others I want to know where you are headed next!

Posted by
2676 posts

Hey Woofie, thanks for a great report and the “honorable mention” in Part 1. Debbie, Debby and I sure enjoyed meeting you and the SIL and doing that food tour. That was the beginning of a sizable weight gain for me, despite all the walking in Rome and then Sicily. South Italy sounds like a fun tour and is on our short list!

Posted by
3961 posts

Woofie, What an incredible journey! So detailed and helpful tips. Brings back fond memories of our favorite places in Southern Italy. Thanks so much for sharing all your experiences. Like you, I like to learn some of the local language wherever we travel. Last evening we took the Czech language class for Traveler's at Rick Steves Travel Center. We are now set for our upcoming Prague visit.

Moc dekuji

Posted by
6164 posts

Thank you so much for posting your tour reports, what you did during your own itinerary days, and I loved this portion, too! I am so happy that you had a wonderful time to replace the memories of the scam tour issue you had to deal with previously!

Posted by
103 posts

Thank you so much for a great trip report! I appreciated your observations about what worked, what you'd do next time, and how you coped with the unexpected. We'll be on this tour in early September and your details and observations will help us make some decisions about activities for our down time. I especially liked your dramamine comments in Part 2. I had not considered needing any, but sure will pack it now!

Posted by
794 posts

Great summary. The only thing I would ad about driving in Italy is, I found the people on motorcycles and Vespas to be really scary. I think there is something about Italian crash helmets that disables every working brain cell when they wear it.

Posted by
2323 posts

Thank you all for your kind words. I had fun writing my trip report. I only journaled the first four days of the trip so it made me relive most of the trip and put my thoughts and memories in order. Now if I can just get my 1200 photos in order...

As I mentioned in Part 1, I'm already thinking about my next trip in 2021. Where I go will depend on who goes with me and their interests. Lippizaner tour on our own? Very doable if the person is a horse person, otherwise too focused and boring for a non-horse person. France? A couple of the Rick Steves tours look very interesting. Regardless of which we choose, I really want to go back to Venice. With the problems and lack of time, I didn't see half of the sights.

Posted by
2704 posts

Darn! It's over!
I wanted to read more about your adventures!
So happy that your trip was all you had hoped it would be!
Thanks for sharing it with us.

Posted by
1278 posts

Thank you so much for writing such great and readable reports.
I followed your previous saga of the heartbreak of the scammer and was rooting for you this time to have a really great experience. And you did!
If you are thinking about France check out Corey Frye (a French Fry in Paris) on Facebook or youtube for free online tours of Paris (and maybe hire him when you are there) and Vero (French Girl in Seattle takes France), a wonderful experienced blogger and new Rick Steves guide for Paris and French tours.
And ask us lots of questions!!!
Happy trails!

Posted by
227 posts

Amen SharYn, we are going to Paris and other parts of France in September and I have been devouring Corey's walks, cafe chats as well as listening to The Earful Tower podcasts and Join us in France podcasts. And horsewoofie, all of the things you talked about are exactly what I did to prepare for our trip to Europe in 2017 and I am now doing in prep for France. We bought the Briggs and Riley carry on size bag as well as packing cubes before our last trip. We checked those and I had a Vera Bradley carryon for under the seat and my husband had a back pack for under his seat. Other than that, I took a Travelon RFD bag with a locking mechanism for every compartment and it worked fantastic for my cross body day bag. I have used my same bags for every trip I have taken in the states since then and I have become so adept at the packing process after that trip! And the initial investment in all of the mentioned items was well worth it. I am amazed that I can take everything I need in all seasons with those two bags and the hanging compartment section in the Briggs and Riley works wonderfully for me since I have a lot of lightweight tops that I can fit in there with wire hangers and sometimes I even double up on a pair of pants or two on the same hangers. Thanks posters, I don't know what we would do without all the advice we get from this forum!

Posted by
2323 posts

Paul and dpalmier: I'm a huge fan of packing cubes. Two small and one large fit perfectly in my RS Rolling Carryon. I use a PacSafe tote as a personal item but added (sewed) on a trolley strap.. I also took a Derek Alexander wide-strapped cross body purse and a packable backpack and switched between the two depending on what we were doing and how my aches and pains were feeling (my neck tends to cramp). I was very happy with the combinations.

Purse and backpack links:

Posted by
2323 posts

Thanks SharYn and Pam. You know I'll ask lots of questions as soon as I decide where I'm headed next. I appreciate everyone's help!