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How to Plan a Budget-Friendly Trip to Italy This Summer
Organize a wallet-friendly getaway with these money-saving tips.
If you're traveling on a budget, consider venturing to lesser-known locales, using a travel agent and staying in a vacation rental to trim costs.(Getty Stock)
Every year, hundreds of thousands of travelers flock to Italy's cobblestoned streets, rolling vineyards and bustling cities to explore iconic sites, admire world-renowned art and architecture and sample mouthwatering cuisine. For this reason, Rome, the Amalfi Coast, Florence and Venice's increasing popularity have caused hotel room, restaurant and tour prices to skyrocket. But there's good news: you can still plan a dream trip on a tight budget. To make the most of your vacation to one of the world's most beautiful and historically significant countries without depleting your savings, follow these tips.
Visit Lesser-Known Villages and Cities
If you've never been to Italy, you shouldn't skip checking out must-see destinations, such as Rome, Venice, Florence, Tuscany, Milan and the Amalfi Coast. However, this doesn't mean you can't still visit the lesser-visited treasures throughout country. During your visit to Tuscany, spend a few extra days exploring Umbria, the neighboring region that's home to idyllic, rolling vineyards and fresh food that's plucked and served right from lush gardens. On your way to Milan, make a pit stop to Emilia-Romagna, a region that boasts some of the best food in the country. Take a tour of Bologna and get lost in the porticos; enjoy the sunset of Cesenatico, a stunning portside town speckled with sail boats, or sample the country's best Parmigiano Reggiano in Parma.
And if you're planning a trip to Rome, escape the crowds and head to Fiumicino, a coastal town just slightly south of the Eternal City. Here you'll enjoy authentic local experiences as you stretch out along soft sandy beaches and delight in traditional cannolis. And along the Amalfi Coast, consider skipping Positano in favor of Atrani, a smaller Amalfi village that's flanked by breathtaking mountains, cobalt blue waters and stacked medieval buildings.
Visit in September
Late April through August is Italy's peak season, so you can expect steeper airfare costs and higher hotel rates at this time of year. So, if you want to skip the lines, the swarms of tourists and inflated costs, plan a visit in September or October. The weather is perfect, with crisper air and plenty of sunshine. And not only will you enjoy cheaper airfare and discounted rates, your tours will also be enjoyed at a more comfortable pace, without the heavy crowds of the peak summer months.
[See: 9 Ways to Travel Better.]
Think Outside the Hotel Box
Instead of spending all of your hard-earned money on a pricey hotel, opt for an affordable vacation rental and spend extra cash on memorable Italian meals and tours. Vacation rental sites such as Airbnb and HomeAway give you the chance to travel like a local by renting a local home or apartment in and around the cities or countrysides. You'll get a more authentic experience and you'll have the added bonus of staying in a home, such as a refrigerator and Wi-Fi access. Alternatively, if you're on a shoestring budget, another great way to save is couch surfing. That way, you'll stay on different residents' couches, which is great if you're traveling alone or with just a friend. And while may it sound out of the ordinary, couch surfing is a great way to absorb the local culture and meet some friends along the way.
Use a Travel Agent
Travel agents are making a big comeback, and for good reason. A recent study from the American Society of Travel Agents found that the average consumer saves more than $450 per trip when booking through a travel agent. To ensure you're getting the best accommodation and transportation rates, choose a reputable agent who specializes in Italian vacations. Not only can an agent save you money, he or she can also ensure you get the most from your visit by booking you in a local apartment, direct you to less-trodden and charming villages and guide you to the best under-the-radar restaurants.
Eat Like a Local
Italy is home to some of the world's most incredible cuisine, much of which is relatively inexpensive to enjoy. Skip the tourist restaurants with the prix-fixe menus and opt for a visit to one of the country's cornucopia of bakeries, fresh food markets, small bistros, cafes and mom-and-pop restaurants for a traditional and cheap bite. Visit local farmers markets (think: Rialto Fish Market in Venice; Mercato Central in Bologna; Santo Spirito Market in Florence; and the famed Testaccio Market in Rome) and stock up on food to enjoy on the go. And if you're staying in a vacation rental, these markets will give you everything you need to enjoy an al-fresco meal at home. The best part? Local wine is one of the cheapest drinks in Italy, so you can sip top-notch glasses at every meal without worrying about busting your budget. And if you are eating in a restaurant or bistro, there's one key rule of thumb to follow: eat at the bar alone or with a small group rather than a table to optimize savings.
Book Your Tours Ahead of Time
If you're visiting during the high season, it's imperative to book your tours well in advance, especially if you want to check out iconic attractions. If you can, book tours during off-peak times to both save money and avoid the crowds. The Colosseum, for example, offers tours at night which often come with far less crowds. Plus, you get the once-in-a-lifetime chance to see the site illuminated by thousands of lights, giving it an almost eerie glow. It's also wise to schedule tours on weekday mornings or evenings and skipping weekend tours to dodge heavy crowds. You should also book museum tickets, concert tickets and the like ahead of time to avoid lengthy lines at site entrances (especially at the statue of the David in Florence). An increasing number of Italian cities offer city passes as well, which grant admission and VIP access to the hottest attractions, and most can be purchased online or at the tourist office. What's more, sites like In Italy Online provide tours, excursions and more for a great package price if booked ahead of time.
About En Route
Practical advice on the art of traveling smarter with tips, tricks and intel from En Route's panel of experts.
Contributors have experience in areas ranging from family travel, adventure travel, experiential travel and budget travel to hotels, cruises and travel rewards and include Amy Whitley, Claire Volkman, Holly Johnson, Marsha Dubrow, Lyn Mettler, Sery Kim, Kyle McCarthy, Erica Lamberg, Jess Moss, Sheryl Nance-Nash, Sherry Laskin, Katie Jackson, Erin Gifford, Roger Sands, Steve Larese, Gwen Pratesi, Erin Block, Dave Parfitt, Kacey Mya, Kimberly Wilson, Susan Portnoy, Donna Tabbert Long and Kitty Bean Yancey.
Edited by Liz Weiss.
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