5 Important Things You Need To Know About Renting Cars In Italy

Are you contemplating renting a car in Italy? I do this all the time and have driven the length and breadth of the country, both the mainland and Sicily. Having a car gives you incredible freedom and opportunity to get to many towns and villages that don’t have train access. And it’s super fun!

Fiat 500 Italy

However, it’s not quite the same as renting cars in the U.S, so here are 5 important tips when renting cars in Italy:

1. Get A Really Small Car

If you live in much of the U.S, especially in the south and southwest, you will be used to really huge cars, trucks and SUVs. I live in Phoenix and most cars on the road here are really big. So it can feel really odd to rent a teeny tiny car when you’re in Italy. But trust me – it is crucial!

Parking in Rome. Note how tiny the spaces are.

Almost all the towns and villages you’ll visit have very narrow and frequently steep roads. Often your tiny car will take up much of the road. Parking spaces in Italy are ultra tiny, both for street parking and for parking lot spaces. Even a medium size car can be murder to park there. Also, they tend to park their cars with 6 inches clearance at each end – good luck trying that with a medium or large vehicle!

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2. Pick Up/Drop Off At The Airport

No matter where I am in Italy I always pick up and drop off my rental cars at airports, even when there are rental car offices closer to me or in the heart of town. I have a few reasons for this:

  • Just because there is an office in town doesn’t mean they’ll have your car there, or that they’ll have the car you ordered. The airport always has cars and at least have something close to the car you ordered.
  • Just because you have a timed reservation at the in-town office, it doesn’t mean they’ll actually be there. I’ve arrived to the in-town office before and found them closed for the day. This could be particularly difficult if you are returning your car to the in-town office and could have you missing your train/plane/whatever you had scheduled.
  • The in-town office is likely to be on a busy street and you may not be able to find parking. (Been there, done that, got the t-shirt.) This can be super stressful when returning the car.
  • Airport rental car places tend to be very close to the motorway. This means you can get in and out quickly and easily and with no stress.
  • There are always gas stations as you exit the motorway to go back to the airport, which is convenient when you need to fill the tank.
  • Collecting and dropping off your car at the airport means you avoid the ZTLs and nerve racking one way systems.

3. Get The Super Cover Insurance

Rental cars in Italy come with high insurance deductibles. I’ve seen them at €3000 and even €5000. The chances of your car getting dinged are quite high, even if you are a great driver, so it makes more sense to get the full insurance and have no deductible.

Roads are narrow, frequently cobblestoned, and parking can be challenging. Trust me – get the super cover insurance!

In my books Glam Italia! How To Travel Italy I tell the story of when my friend and I were on the Amalfi Coast Road and a tourist came flying around the bend too fast and too wide and hit our car. He came and had a look then got back in his car and took off. Had we not had the full super cover insurance we would have been on the hook for the €5000 deductible.

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4. Watch Out For ZTLs and Speed Traps

While driving in Italy you need to be aware of these two very expensive items. Expensive because of the fines that come with them.

The first are the speed traps on the motorways and some of the rural roads. Keep an eye out for signs saying Autovelox. These are camera monitored speed traps and come in many different shapes and sizes. Fines always catch up with you and can be steep.

ZTLs are limited traffic zones normally found inside the historic center of towns and cities. Only taxis, delivery vans and local residents with special passes can drive inside the camera monitored ZTLs. Your GPS is likely to send you straight into a ZTL, and the complex one way systems inside the historic centers can make it tricky to make a last minute change, or to get back out of them.

This can get really expensive as the camera catches you each time you cross in and out of the ZTL, which can easily be multiple times in a single drive or a single day. The size of the fine varies, according to Google from roughly €80 to €335. My ZTL fine was €276.

Inside a ZTL in Tuscany

A few months after the speeding or ZTL infraction you receive a letter with an inconvenience fine from the rental car company. The inconvenience being them having to track down who had the car that day. Then at some point after that – either weeks or months – you get the fine from the local municipality. It can get very expensive very quickly. My best advice is watch your speed and don’t drive inside the towns and cities.

*** One of my private drivers told me that if you accidentally get yourself inside a ZTL, drive straight to a public parking building. If your car gets registered as coming in to park it can get you out of the fine.

5. Shorter Off-Ramps and Fewer Exits

A simple mistake on the motorway can take you a very long way out of your way. The motorways have very many fewer exits than ours do, so you can find yourself 10 miles along the road before you can turn off and head back.

Also, the exit ramps are much shorter than those in the U.S, so you need to move into the exit lane quickly. This also applies when a motorway splits into several motorways. You get only a short warning and most of the time you’ll be in traffic trying to merge across multiple lanes. I recommend having someone sensible riding shot gun and working the GPS directions for you. If your spouse or significant other is an idiot, put them in the backseat and get someone quick, efficient, and not easily distracted up front with you.

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Want More Tips For Planning Your Trip To Italy?

If you want more tips to help you plan your trip to Italy, check out my best-selling Glam Italia book series. Glam Italia! How To Travel Italy helps you put together your dream trip on your perfect budget. It is full of insider info you need to know. The other books in the series (at the time of publishing this blog post) are Glam Italia! 101 Fabulous Things To Do In Rome, Glam Italia! 101 Fabulous Things To Do in Florence, and Glam Italia! 101 Fabulous Things To Do In Venice.

You can also join the thousands of people around the world who belong to my monthly Glam Italia newsletter here.

Speak Italian with Ease: 5 Powerful Techniques to Improve Your Language Skills

Are you trying to learn to speak Italian? Or any other language for that matter. Maybe you’re taking classes or doing an online course, perhaps like I did in the beginning you’re teaching yourself. Whichever method you are using, in this week’s 5 Things Friday we are going to look at 5 things you can do to super-charge your learning process.

Over the years I have used multiple methods to learn to speak Italian. In the beginning I bought some text books from Amazon and started teaching myself. At some point I got Rosetta Stone (which I loved) but at the time as a single mom I could only afford the first DVD, so that one didn’t get me too far. Then I had a spell of taking a weekly lesson on Skype with a teacher in Italy, which was definitely more economical than trying to take classes here in the U.S. Then I ran out of money again and had to go back to trying to teach myself, and eventually I bought a good online course and worked with that.

Along the way I have learned that you need more than just one learning system to get you speaking another language confidently and well. Every method has its strengths and one way or another they all work. So along with whichever method you are using to learn to speak Italian (or any other language) try adding these 5 tricks and watch how quickly your Italian improves!

1. Watch Italian TV Shows

One of the best ways to enhance your learning and your speaking skills is to watch lots of Italian TV with English subtitles turned on. Find episodic TV shows – there are tons of them on Amazon and Netflix. As you follow a TV series you will learn the characters, their behavior and the cadence of their speech. This largely parallels conversation that happens in real life, so you’re not just hearing spoken Italian – your brain is picking up on the rhythm of the language, the inflections of the words, idioms and slang, and how it all flows.

When you find a good TV show – one that you enjoy – somewhere along the way you forget you’re reading subtitles. Instead you just get caught up in the story while your subconscious mind soaks it all in. I have enjoyed Don Matteo, Inspector Manara, and more recently Luna Park.

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2. Listen To Italian Language Podcasts

This is another method I have found super helpful and very easy to take advantage of. There are literally tons of learn-to-speak-Italian podcasts out there. (Same with other languages.) Coffee Break Italian has been my go to language pod, and I know they teach loads of other languages too. The trick is to find a podcast where the host’s voice resonates with you, so you are happy to keep clicking in and following along. My brain responds to the timbre of the host Mark’s voice, and the format of the podcast works well for me.

Listen to a few different learn to speak Italian podcasts, find the one that works for you, and then become a regular listener. This is a great tool to add to your learning arsenal.

3. Get Italian Reader Books

I love these. Learning a language well involves not only being able to speak it, but also being able to read it and have some reading comprehension. Remember doing reading comprehension in grade school? You would read a passage and then answer questions about it, to make sure you were understanding it properly. Amazon has lots of different Italian reader series (you can see some of them here.) What I like about these is they are all short stories. They take up about 3 or 4 chapters, so you’re not buried in the weeds with some giant novel.

The short stories are in multiple genres, so one might be a murder mystery and the next might be a lifestyle story. You read a chapter or a section, then do a comprehension quiz to see how much you understood. Then you go back through it again doing various exercises and keep doing that small section until you get it. I have used this one and this one and this one. All of them have multiple books and I personally think that all three of these are great. You can make them a very inexpensive but effective addition to your Italian learning program.

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4. Listen To Italian Music

This is another really effective way to boost your language skills and comprehension. Back in the beginning I used to play Radio Italia when I was working at my computer or doing work around the house. It was broad enough and general enough to give me a sense of artists whose music I enjoyed. When I found songs I liked I would use Lyrics Translate to learn the song and try to understand what was going on. If you think about songs in English, they don’t always make sense. Sometimes they’re just strings of words that would be hard for someone learning English to make head or tail of. It’s the same with Italian.

In the early days I found that artists like Eros Ramazzotti and Laura Pausini wrote lyrics that made sense to someone learning the language, and were in the rock/pop genres that I enjoyed anyway.

Listening to music that you enjoy, in the language you are learning is a great tool to add to your learning methods. When you find songs you really like, don’t just listen to them over and over, but also do the Lyrics Translate thing. This way you can follow along with the song as you listen to it, but also with Italian and English side by side you can understand what the story of the song is.

5. Join An Italian Conversation Group Online.

I haven’t done this for a while, but over the years I have joined online language groups where either everyone is learning Italian like I am, and you have a chance to practice on each other, or, Italians who want to improve their English will trade out with you. You take turns conversing in Italian and in English, so everyone benefits.

When you join an online conversation group it takes away the nervousness you get when trying to speak another language. Once you break through the fear/embarrassment stage of trying to speak a foreign language and are comfortable to just go for it, make mistakes and move on, speaking a foreign language becomes super fun.

Personally, my goal with learning Italian is not to speak flawlessly – most of us don’t even speak our own language flawlessly. I just want to be able to participate. I want to understand what’s going on around me, understand conversations and jokes, join in and be a part of it all. When I took the fluency pressure off myself and just made it all about fun, my Italian language skills took off.

One of my favorite things is practicing on taxi drivers in Rome. There is invariably traffic, so they’re stuck with me for a while. They always teach me new words and phrases that then surprise people when I drop them into conversation. For example, one day I was telling the driver I liked the “little wind” coming in the window, but I didn’t know how to say it in Italian. He told me the word for breeze is venticello. It’s kind of a gorgeous word really.

Employing all the things we’ve talked about here today has helped me improve my Italian so much. I hope they will help you to improve your Italian language skills too and act as a booster help you to supercharge whichever learning program you are doing!

Do you belong to my newsletter? Join the thousands of members from all over the world who get my monthly and sometimes twice-monthly newsletters about travel in Italy. You can join the newsletter here.

Winter In Italy – 5 Essential Items You Need To Pack

Packing for winter travel to Europe (or anywhere) can be tricky. In todays 5 Things Friday we are going to look at 5 items I always pack for winter travel to Italy, or anywhere in Europe. I don’t ski, so don’t go to the alps or anywhere super snowy, so you need to adapt your packing if going to anywhere intensely cold.

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My goal is to both stay warm, and also to be able to pack light. I’m not a carry-on only traveler, but still I don’t want to be dragging around a heavy suitcase full of bulky items. So what I pack for winter travel is based around a core capsule wardrobe with well chosen pieces that can mix and match, that keep me warm, and that don’t require constant laundering.

Merino

Winter travel is all about layers and for me the most important layer is a merino base layer. If you’re not familiar with merino, this is a very fine, non-itchy wool that not only keeps you nice and warm, but also heat regulates. So you can wear it from freezing cold out in the street into the warmth of a cozy restaurant and then out into a drafty museum, and not have to take it on or off. Merino keeps warmth next to your skin but wicks away moisture (sweat) and has naturally occurring anti-smell properties. You can wear it multiple days without needing to wash it, which is a huge bonus when traveling. Also, unlike bulky sweaters merino takes up no space in your suitcase. A base layer is thinner than a t-shirt.

I have merino base layers from Icebreaker like this one, but you can also find less expensive ones on Amazon. I also have some merino sweaters like these.

Many brands make merino sweaters. I have several from J Crew, in a variety of colors. One thing I love about wearing merino sweaters is they are thin (yet very warm) so they layer well with coats and jackets.

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Ponte Pants

I swear by a good fitting pair of black pants in a fabric called ponte. Ponte is a double knit fabric with some stretch in it. Pants made from Ponte are super comfortable, the double layer makes them nice and warm, and they are a low wrinkle fabric, which makes them ideal for travel. The fabric gives wonderful structure and really holds its shape – you won’t get saggy, baggy butts and knees in ponte pants. You can wear them multiple days without washing, which makes them great for travel, especially in Italy where you almost never find clothes dryers, so laundering winter-weight pants while traveling can be a nightmare.

As a rule ponte pants are very slimming too. I love wearing them on international flights, they look good for day to day wear, but also look chic to wear out at night.

Loads of brands make ponte pants. I recommend reading lots of reviews – you want a well structured pant for travel, and although most ponte pants are great, there are some cheapie brands that don’t deliver the quality.

Ponte pants come in plenty of different shapes and cuts. Find the cut that works best on your shape. I have two pairs from Saint and Sofia (pictured above)that work well on my difficult to dress shape, but you can find more expensive ponte pants from brands like Spanx and less expensive ones from J Crew.

A Good Coat

Of course you need a good coat as well. Depending on where you’re going the type of coat will change. I spent ages trying to find the right coat to wear in Arezzo last February. I knew I needed something longer than a hip length puffer jacket, but my longer puffer although super warm, also felt a bit like a sleeping bag. I wanted something a little more chic. I went back and forth between bringing a woolen coat or a trench coat, and ended up bringing this one from London Fog. In the photo above I am wearing it with a black merino sweater.

Although not expensive, this coat has been a really good buy. It is beautifully made, fully lined, has a hood, and was surprisingly warm.

I also have this puffer jacket which is super warm but perhaps a little bulky, and this wool coat from Calvin Klein. The wool coat looks really chic and is very warm, but of the three the trench coat seems to be the one I travel with most. This winter (2023/2024) I’ve seen people layering a thinner Uniqlo puffer below a trench or woolen coat.

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A Warm Scarf

Scarves can make an outfit, as well as keeping you warm. Years of traveling in Italy have led me to learn multiple chic ways to tie/wrap a scarf, so now I enjoy them even more.

This chunky scarf is from Amazon

I have a pashmina that I’ve had for 30 years that still looks fabulous. I love pashminas because the real ones are like merino – very fine, not bulky, and very warm. I also have cheapie ones like the one pictured above bought in the San Lorenzo market in Florence, and big warm, chunky scarves like this one from Uniqlo.

A Travel Umbrella

I don’t really worry about bringing an umbrella in the shoulder season – late spring and early autumn showers in Italy tend to be mild and pass somewhat quickly. But from mid autumn until mid spring I bring a proper travel umbrella. This one from Amazon is sturdy, doesn’t blow inside out (or mine hasn’t anyway) and is incredible value for money. Mine has been through some stormy winters in Italy and is still in great shape. I originally bought it in yellow, which seemed fun at the time but actually felt a little bit too extra, even for me, so I bought another one in simple black and use it to death.

For for more travel wardrobe items as well as travel gadgets, electronics, and much more, check out my Amazon page at Amazon.com/shop/CorinnaTravels.