This is one of my absolute favorite things to see in Rome.

You can stand outside the door and look at thousands of tourists in the vicinity of the Forum and Colosseum, then walk back inside and only have a small group of you waiting to go on the tour of the Palazzo. This one is on the list of places in Rome that most tourists don’t ever hear about, and don’t even realize is right there in front of them. It’s pretty fantastic. And now you are in the know too…

Why You Need To See Palazzo Valentini In Rome

Palazzo Valentini is a beautiful Renaissance palazzo, with an interesting history. At one point it was owned by an incredibly handsome fellow by the name of Giacomo Boncompagni, Duke of Sora, Aquino, Arce and Arpino. He was a feudal lord and also happened to be the illegitimate son of Pope Gregory XIII. Those Popes were a raunchy bunch – celibate to the world but with mistresses and wives and children. I find it fascinating!

What’s Below Palazzo Valentini?

In 2005 while renovations were being done on the palazzo, the remains of two magnificent Imperial Roman homes and thermal baths were discovered underneath. Archeologists spent years working on it and now the 20,000 square foot space is open for viewing. Let me tell you, it is amazing!

2000 year old mosaics on the floors of the Domus Romane underneath Palazzo Valentini in Rome

2000 year old mosaic floors still in perfect condition, in the Roman houses underneath Palazzo Valentini in Rome

Buried for centuries under the palazzo, the Domus Romane (Roman Houses) are incredibly well preserved. You will see the original ancient staircases, mosaics, frescoes, inlaid marble floors, all dating back to around the 3rd century.

Frescoes lining the wall at Palazzo Valentini in Rome

Ancient frescoes lining the walls at Palazzo valentini in Rome

You walk across a glass floor, with ancient Rome lit up below you, so rather than observing from the sidelines you feel as though you are in it.

Glass floors at the Roman Houses under the Palazzo Valentini in Rome allow you to see the homes from directly above rather than from the sidelines, giving you a more inclusive experience

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The thermal baths give you an idea of how wealthy this family must have been, and the location alone speaks to their importance – right outside the roman forum.

There is a glassed off room full of ancient Roman trash – plates and cups and kitchen gear that had been thrown away.

A multi media installation at the Domus Romane at Palazzo Valentini Rome lets you see how the houses would have looked back in the 2nd century

It keeps getting better too, because this museum has a multi-media element to it. While a taped narration explains what you are seeing (in clear English, over a speaker system so you don’t need to wear headphones), the lights go down and the multi media part lights up, letting you see how it would have been back then, completing rooms and walls and ceilings.

The multi media installation at the Roman Houses at Palazzo Valentini in Rome shows you how the houses would have looked back in the 2nd century A.D.

The multi media experience lets you see how the homes would have looked in the 2nd century

A multi media show in the Domus Romane at Palazzo Valentini shows you how everything would have looked back in the 2nd century A.D. It's fantastic!

Part of the multi media experience at the Roman houses underneath Palazzo Valentini in Rome

One part that I really loved was looking down onto the remains of a Roman road. A laser lights up the stones and shows you how clever they were with their construction and how the shapes of the stones were repeated and not random, making strong roads that lasted for millenia.

An ancient Roman road underneath Palazzo Valentini in Rome. During the tour a laser lights up the ptterns in the stones

The remains of a Roman road run between the two houses. A laser lights up the shapes of the stones and you learn just how clever the Romans were when building their roads. They are a variety of sizes and shapes making up a repetitive pattern. It’s incredible!

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The final part of the tour takes you into a video room where the stories on Trajan’s Column are explained (it’s brilliant). When the video is done they walk you to a private viewing area that looks out at the column, immediately in front of the palazzo.

This is one of Rome’s treasures that I will keep returning to. It is just fascinating and fabulous.

Ancient mosaics on the floors of the Roman house underneath Palazzo Valentini in Rome. These mosaics are 2000 years old!

2000 year old mosaic floors, still intact, in the Roman houses underneath Palazzo Valentini in Rome

You can only go through the Domus Romane with a guide and they have set times for each tour. The tour lasts around 90 minutes and is in English. The Domus Romane are closed on Tuesdays.

RELATED POST: 10 THINGS YOU ABSOLUTELY MUST DO IN ROME

Make sure you book ahead. You can get dates, times and online tickets at the Palazzo Valentini website. You have to arrive 30 minutes before your tour to turn your voucher into a ticket.

Have you read my book yet? Glam Italia! How To Travel Italy: Secrets To Glamorous Travel (On A Not So Glamorous Budget)  has made it to the best seller list in all of its categories on Amazon.com!

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On the On the secret Rome list this is an absolute must see! Two roman houses from the 2nd century, underneath Palazzo Valentini

Ma’am, your suitcase is too heavy. You have to take out 4 pounds” And there I was, in line at the international check in with a long line of angry people behind me, waiting impatiently to check their own bags in. This was my travel nightmare, opening my suitcase in front of the world, trying to figure out what I could pull out and somehow fit into my bulging carry on bag. I could feel my face burning red, I wanted to cry and I was close to panicking.

This was ten years ago, and I have learned a lot about packing like a pro since that horrible day.

Whether you are traveling across the country for the holidays or across the world for a vacation you can make your trip much easier by packing like a pro.

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how to pack a suitcase like a pro. Best travel tips for planning and packing a suitcase

How To Pack A Suitcase Like A Pro

1. It Starts With The Right Suitcase.

You many need to replace your old, worn suitcase with a new, modern one. Modern suitcases are built light so you’re not wasting unnecessary weight on the suitcase itself. They tend to have compartments divided off, compression straps and 360 degree wheels. Look for one with 360 degree wheels that are slightly inline – if they stick out too far they are more likely to break off.

Size Matters

I used to travel with a 29 inch suitcase (why???) but now have the Away Medium which is approximately 25 inches, 26 if you include the wheels. The bigger the suitcase the more likely you are to overfill it. My travel rule is if it doesn’t fit in a 25 inch case it’s not coming. The End.

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2. Use Packing Cubes

These have proven to be a lifesaver for me! I have been using the Eagle Creek Packing Cubes for the past few years and like them better than any others. Their sizing is perfect, they are well constructed and their fabrics don’t hold and trap smells. You won’t want to pack clean clothes into packing cubes that hold the smell of well worn socks and dirty laundry!

I find them invaluable because I always know where everything is. I use one for sleepwear and undergarments, another for tops, another for bottoms etc. I even have a narrow one for all my electronic attachments – computer chargers, phone chargers, adaptors, spare cords. This means I never lose anything and never have to tear my suitcase apart looking for anything.

If I have a special event and have separate clothes for it, they stay in their own cube. If I have to pack for different climates I use separate cubes for each.

The great thing is they fit together seamlessly inside my suitcase. It is incredibly efficient.

On international trips I always pack clothes for 3 days into my carry on. Inside one packing cube I can roll everything I need and slip it into my bag, nice and easy!

I bought the blue Eagle Creek Packing Cubes at The Container Store. I started with the 3 piece set and have since added more pieces.  I also found the starter set on Amazon: Eagle Creek Pack It Cube Set at Amazon.com

3. Mix And Match

Planning your travel wardrobe is essential. Ideally pack 4 or 5 tops for each set of bottoms, and have them all (or almost all) mix and match. Sticking to a simple color palette with interchangeable pieces makes everything really easy. I like to plan my outfit for each day so that I’m not caught out with nothing to wear. I also find this helps eliminate excess items.

Keep heavy and bulky items to a minimum. Jeans, sweaters, coats take up lots of room and can weigh a lot. Good planning will cancel out “just in case” items. You don’t need them!

4. Two Pairs Of Shoes

It took me ages to get on board with this one, but once I started planning my outfit for each day away it became quite easy.

Of course you have to have the right shoes for specific events, such as hiking/beaching/going to a ball, but most of the time we only need two pairs.

I don’t count flip flops as one of my pairs, but I do plan on one pair of shoes that I can walk in all day and one pair of sandals in the summer or boots in the winter, and I make sure they work with everything I’m bringing. This folds in nicely with that streamlined color palette!

RELATED POST: THE BEST SHOES FOR EUROPE THIS WINTER

5. Choose Travel Friendly Fabrics

This is so important! You need to pack fabrics that breathe, don’t require dry-cleaning and aren’t high maintenance. Nothing that requires lots of ironing, nothing that makes you sweat, nothing that holds smells. In summer look for cottons and linens (although linen crushes quickly). Also look for modal, an “artificial silk” that breathes, is luxurious but hard wearing. You can wash modal over and over and it doesn’t pill up, fade or shrink. It is the perfect travel fabric.

Warmth Doesn’t Have To Mean Bulk

You don’t need bulky clothes to stay warm. You can find very fine merino wool pieces that keep you super warm but are still lightweight. Last winter I traveled in Europe with the Ibex Shae Dress in black. It is only slightly thicker than a t-shirt fabric, but was super warm.


I discovered Ibex dresses via Travel Fashion Girl. They make dresses for all seasons, and they even have merino dresses for summer!

Ridge Merino makes really fine merino base layers that keep you warm without adding bulk.

Merino is fantastic for travel. It is antimicrobial, odor resistant, quick drying and temperature regulating. It is also soft, doesn’t itch and rolls down beautifully so it needs very little space.

6. Roll It!

The very best way to pack your clothes is to roll them. It gives you much more space and for the most part stops wrinkling. My mom who has been an avid traveler her whole life taught me how to roll clothes when packing. I always marveled at how she had so many outfits in one medium sized suitcase, and nothing came out wrinkled! Endlessly chic, she is also incredibly glamorous and has never sacrificed her sense of style or panache when traveling.

My rolling skills are pretty basic but still really efficient. I don’t do the little tuck over they do at the end of this video, but it will give you an idea of how to roll your clothes when you’re packing.

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7. Go Digital

I never travel with hard copy books or magazines anymore. Everything is digital.

I have found that one travel guide is never enough – no two have identical information, so I would normally take 2 or 3 with me. I love to read, especially on planes, so any trip needed a handful of novels too.

Years ago I got the Kindle App (I don’t own a kindle) and now read everything on my iPad. The app syncs with my phone, so my travel guides are at my finger tips when I’m out exploring. If I stop for a coffee I can pick up where I left off on any book I’m reading, although I’m not much for reading novels on my phone.

When I wrote my book, Glam Italia! How To Travel Italy: Secrets To Glamorous Travel (On A Not So Glamorous Budget)  I planned for it to only be available on the Kindle App so that travelers had me there to help them, right on their phone. (It is actually available as a paperback too)

A bonus to anyone reading their books on the Kindle App is that Kindle eBooks cost much less than their paperback counterparts, and there is no waiting for a book to arrive, it is instantly there in your Kindle App. If you read a lot you can get a subscription service called Kindle Unlimited that lets you download as many books as you want for (I think) $9.95 per month. They have some different plans available:  Kindle Unlimited Membership Plans

I don’t have Kindle Unlimited because right now I only order a couple of books per month, and with Kindle books being so inexpensive I seldom spend more than $10 in a month anyway.

I have a couple of other Amazon links that are great for travelers. The first is for the Amazon Unlimited Music free trial : Try Amazon Music Unlimited Free Trial

The second is for Audible. This is a subscription for monthly downloads of audio books. You can get 2 free books with a thirty day trial. They also have a variety of plans available depending on how many books you like to listen to each month. Here’s the link:  Try Audible and Get Two Free Audiobooks

So how did that airport scene with the open suitcase end up? I took out my travel books, a pair of jeans and a pair of shoes. The airline attendant working the check in let me get away with a couple of pounds overweight, and I vowed this would never, ever happen to me again.


Are you traveling to another country anytime soon? Are you familiar with working with foreign exchange? I probably get asked about this more than any other travel related subject. This week someone posted a terrible money exchange story on a Facebook travel group that I belong to. When they arrived in Rome the airport money exchange place told them they only had a €500 note. Take it or leave it. Unfortunately she took it. This comes with a world of trouble, so I am writing this post in the hope that I can prevent something like this happening to you.

How to manage your money while traveling overseas. Tips on working with foreign currencies, how to manage cash, debit cards and credit cards when traveling internationally. How to avoid pickpockets

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Travel With Currency

I will come back to that story in a minute, but first I want to emphatically stress that you must always travel with some of the local currency. You cannot rely on the exchange place at the airport being open/having cash/or even that there is one at the terminal you are arriving in.

How to manage your money while traveling overseas. Tips on workign with foreign currencies, how to manage cash, debit cards and credit cards. How to avoid pickpockets

Euros in small denominations

The same goes with relying on an airport ATM machine. They might be out of cash. Chances are they are not part of a bank but instead are part of Travelex, a business that makes money on exchange rates and fees.

It can be incredibly annoying if the person you are traveling with doesn’t bring cash with them and is mooching off you until they get some – don’t be that person. Bring around $100 worth of the local currency with you at a minimum, and get your currency in small denominations, not large bills.

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Use Your Coins

Outside of America most currencies use coins for low denominations. You won’t find the equivalent to $1 bills in most places, some don’t even have $5 paper money.

Use up these larger coins prior to leaving as you normally can’t exchange them back to your own currency. You don’t want to arrive home with lots of €1 and €2 coins that you can’t exchange.

Have A Conversion App On Your Phone

Download a conversion app before leaving home, and make sure you are aware of where the exchange rate is trending. Nowhere will give you the official exchange rate, but at least you will know if you are close to it or if you are about to get ripped off.

How to manage your money while traveling overseas. Tips on working with foreign currencies, how to manage cash, debit cards and credit cards when traveling internationally. How to avoid pickpockets

Pounds Sterling, British currency.

Use Your Debit Card – Wisely

On my Glam Italia Tours I advise everyone to use their debit cards in Italy to get cash. I use my debit card all over the world and have found it to be the most cost efficient and overall efficient way to get money.

Check with your bank to find out what fees they attach to each transaction. Some don’t charge any, (I have been told Schwab doesn’t, but haven’t verified it personally), some charge $3 per transaction, others charge a transaction fee of $3 to $5 and then charge a percentage of the total transaction on top of that. My Credit Union has a $3 fee but my Chase debit card has the $3 plus 2% of the total withdrawn. These fees add up fast, so do your research ahead of time, and if necessary open an account just for traveling with a new financial institution.

RELATED POST: CREDIT CARD TIPS FOR INTERNATIONAL TRAVEL

More Debit Card Tips

  • Only use your debit card to withdraw cash. Don’t use it to purchase items, as those fees add up fast.
  • Withdraw the maximum. Rather than withdrawing $100 per day with a $3 fee per transaction pull $300 and only pay the transaction fee once.
  • Call the number on the back of your cards and register them for going overseas. The bank will ask for the dates you will be gone and which countries you will be in. Failing to register them for international travel can result in your card being shut down the first time you use it.
  • Only ever withdraw cash from a bank ATM. Ideally only when the bank is open, and an ATM machine inside the bank. You are more vulnerable to thieves and cloning devices when you use the ATM outside the bank. Also, should the ATM machine eat your card the bank can open it and retrieve it for you if it is during bank hours.
  • Non bank ATM’s are not secure and can pretty much be guaranteed to have the worst exchange rates and additional fees.
  • Ideally use a debit card that is not attached to a bank account that your bills pull out of. Should your card get hacked or cloned while you are traveling you don’t want to have them drain out your mortgage/rent payment and all your ACH’s. This can be a costly headache if your payees attach fees to missed payments.

RELATED POST: 10 FANTASTIC AIRPORT HACKS

What To Know About Credit Cards When You Travel

Your best bet is to travel with Visa or Mastercard. Although there are places that will take American Express and Discover Card they are fewer and further between.

Sign up for a travel-friendly card. Capital One Venture Card, Chase Sapphire, and many of the Barclay Group cards all have zero transaction fees for international travel. Do your research on the best credit cards for international travel and sign up for a new card that is designed for international travel. Not only will you not have transaction fees but you will also get better exchange rates.

Only ever complete transactions in the local currency. Many places with a high tourist footprint will offer you to make the charge in their currency or your home currency. You will always get a bad exchange rate if you opt for your own currency.

Money Belts

Depending on where you are traveling a money belt can be a really good idea. These are flat pouches that hold passport, credit cards and cash and are worn underneath your clothes.

Eagle Creek money belt sits under your waistband and holds passport, cash and credit cards

Eagle Creek money belts are available at The Container Store

  • Think of your money belt as a safe, not a wallet.
  • Take out what you need for the day and keep everything else inside your money belt. The idea is that no one knows you have one on, so don’t get it out during the day to get more cash or cards.
  • Think about what you are wearing – if you have a money belt with a tight T-shirt over top then everyone can see you are wearing a money belt, so you have just alerted the thieves exactly where your valuables are.
  • Think you can stop them getting your money belt if they can see it? Think again. They are pros at separating tourists from their valuables and will be off with your passport, cash and cards before you know it.
  • Separate your cash and cards. Never have everything all in one place. A small stash of cash and a card hidden in a separate place can be your saving grace if a pickpocket gets the better of you.

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Travel Insurance

You should buy a travel insurance policy for every overseas trip. Get coverage for lost or missed flight connections, lost luggage, failure to make or complete the trip due to medical issues, and super, super important get coverage for a major medical incident. We don’t plan on anything major going wrong when we travel, but we need to be prepared in case heaven forbid we wind up in a car accident, have a heart attack, get appendicitis etc.

Find the best choice for the travel insurance benefits you need with Allianz Travel’s OneTrip Suite of plans. Get Your Free Quote Today!
Look for a policy that covers a flight home for you with a nurse should it be necessary.

I have used Allianz Travel for all my travel insurance for years. Should you get sick while away you can call Allianz and they will find you an English speaking doctor nearby.


AllianzTravelInsurance.com

So the lady who got conned into taking a €500 note at the airport in Rome? She got very stuck. No one will cash a €500 bill. Apart from the fact that it could be counterfeit, most places don’t carry that kind of surplus cash. Even banks may not want to help you out.

Bonus Content

The lead up to an international trip can be really stressful – there are so many things to remember and to take care of before you go! I have a pre-travel checklist that I use myself and also give to all my Glam Italia Tour travelers. It is in PDF form so you can download it and print it as often as you want.

If you would like this stress-busting checklist just CLICK HERE