How To Travel Italy On A Super Tight Budget

AZ Midday

I was just on NBC talking about travel in Italy. One of the points I mentioned but didn’t have time to get into depth on is how to travel Italy on a really tight budget.

I was a single mom and we never had money to spare, yet not only were we able able to go to Italy each year, we were able to have amazing vacations on a budget so tight it squeaked when we walked. (I also did trips on my own, kiddo free.) All it took was some planning and some strategy, both of which I am going to share with you.

Planning

1. Know When To Go

The first plan was not to travel during high season. My normal time frame to travel was late May/early June, when school had let out but the season wasn’t yet in full swing. Over the years I also traveled in December, February, March and October, depending on when I had time to go.

Mid June to mid September are high season and are a more expensive time to travel.

2. Plan Well Ahead

I always start planning my next trip to Italy on the way to the airport coming home! Long range plans give you something to look forward to but also give you more opportunity to be ready for killer deals on everything from flights to accommodation to train tickets.

Related Post: 7 Great Tips For Traveling On A Budget

3. Spend More Time In Fewer Places

Rather than planning a trip that takes you from one end of the country to the other, focus on spending more time in fewer places. Each time you move to another town or city you lose vacation time checking out, traveling and then checking in to your new accommodation. If you do vacation rentals (I do) you pay a cleaning fee each time you leave. If you think of this as €50 per move it can really add up quickly.

We would base in one place – for example San Gimignano, and spend a week or so driving all over Tuscany exploring new towns and villages. Then we would move to Rome for 4 days. One time we stayed in Sicily for 10 days and then Rome for 3. We always had an amazing time, got a feel for the town we were staying in, made friends there, and were able to explore at leisure.

Hanging out in Florence, 2021

Strategy

When you apply a little strategy you can save enormous amounts of money and even travel for free.

1. Stay Outside The Hot Zones

The more touristed cities are obviously more expensive to stay in. The closer you are to the big tourist attractions, like the Colosseum, the more expensive everything is. Not only accommodation, but coffee, a glass of wine, lunch etc.

Go a neighborhood back from there and the prices go down significantly.

Piazza Grande in Arezzo

You can also save loads of money by staying in a town close by. You’ll never tear me away from Rome, but instead of staying in Florence you can cut the cost in half by staying in another Tuscan town a brief train ride away. My giant fresco apartment in Arezzo costs half the price of a shoebox in Florence. A Cappuccino and a croissant in Arezzo costs €3, which is around half the cost of central Florence. I adore Arezzo but can also whip into Florence on the train for about €5, and spend as much time as I want there strolling the museums and soaking up the magic.

Related Post: 21 Travel Books To Inspire Your Wanderlust

2. Play The Mileage Game

This is the most important trick of them all. It’s how I have gamed a free flight to Italy every year, and now it has become even easier to earn extra miles super quickly. There are two parts to the mileage game:

Part One: Earn Credit Card Miles

This is the fastest way to earn free flights and/or cancel out other travel expenses such as hotels/airbnbs, train tickets, rental car costs and much more.

The first thing to do is get a non-airline travel credit card. There are plenty out there but in the U.S the two best ones are the Chase Sapphire card and my favorite, the Capital One Venture card. Both these cards offer no international fees when you travel, and both let you earn 2 miles for every dollar spent.

The Chase points need to be used on Chase linked airlines but still is a great program.

The Capital One Venture card lets you use miles to buy flights on any airline, any flight you choose. For several years I used American Express miles to get free flights – they also have an excellent mileage program.

A regular airline credit card only lets you use miles on that airline, and has endless blackout dates. They also don’t let you use miles to buy your ideal flight plan, so you can find yourself stuck with awful flight plans and crazy layovers. When you use an airline credit card the airline has all the power in the relationship. When you build up miles on a non-airline travel credit card you choose the flights you want – you’re not sitting in the back row on some janky plane, instead you fly the airline of your choice (and build up more miles with them while you’re at it!)

Whichever travel credit card you get, you now want to run your entire life through that card. Other than mortgage/rent and car payments you can run almost all of your life expenses through your card. From groceries to gas in your car to insurance payments, paying utilities, cell phone bills – everything! Even buying a coffee or paying for parking. You’re not buying anything extra, just turning your cost of living into frequent flier miles. You will be amazed at how quickly the miles add up. You just need to be disciplined and pay the card each day/week so you don’t run up a balance.

When you purchase airline tickets or any travel related expenses your Capital One Venture card tracks them. When you want to pay the bill you hit Redeem Miles and all your travel expenses will populate, with the number of miles you need to use to cancel out each one. You can now zero out the cost of your flight, or maybe the cost of your airbnb, your train tickets – whichever travel expenses you want to cancel out. It’s brilliant! And even better, you didn’t spend extra money to get these miles, this is just rerouting your cost of living.

Related Post: How To Plan An Amazing Trip To Italy

Part Two: Get More Miles Using Shopping Portals

This is a newer way to add even more miles for doing what you were already doing anyway. The main U.S based airlines now have their own online shopping portals. (Capital One has their own portal too.)

I mostly fly with American Airlines, so use their portal the most. All you do is sign in and create an account using your airline frequent flier account number. Then every time you want to buy something online you go into the portal and type that business into the search bar. You can see the American Airlines portal here. It’s just one extra step to take you to where you were shopping anyway, but you get extra frequent flier miles in the process. It takes a while for these miles to add up, but it’s worth it when you get a free flight!

I talked about this on the Untold Italy podcast. I explained how I wanted to buy two J Crew white t-shirts. I went into the American Airlines shopping portal, typed in J Crew and it took me to the J Crew website. From there anything I bought earned me twice the dollar value in American Airlines miles. Often there are bonus days where you earn more than 2 miles per dollar. Recently I bought products from Sephora online and earned 5x miles per dollar spent. Again all you are doing is adding one more step to your online shopping process, but you are earning frequent flier miles in the process!

Double Dip For Miles

The last thing I want to tell you is to double dip for miles. In the last example where we talked about using airline shopping portals to earn airline frequent flier miles, we are now going to double our miles by using our non-airline travel credit card to make the purchase. When I bought those J Crew t-shirts I earned 2x miles with the American Airlines by using their portal, but I also earned another 2x miles with capital One by using my travel credit card. I do this for every online purchase. It doesn’t seem like much but the miles add up like crazy and before you know it you are taking yourself on free trips or trips that cost you next to nothing. You can hear more about it in the untold Italy podcast #116 (linked below). I go into depth with lots of examples and explain more about how to travel to Italy (or anywhere else you want to go) on a shoestring budget, and have an absolutely amazing trip!

Check out the Untold Italy Podcast episode where I explain more about traveling on a budget here

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For more tips on how to plan a trip to Italy, plus information on everything from how to use the trains to which foods and wines to order where, check out my best selling book Glam Italia! How To Travel Italy: Secrets To Glamorous Travel (On A Not So Glamorous Budget). Available worldwide in paperback and eBook versions, on Amazon.

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How To Travel Italy On A Really Tight Budget

Do you want to travel to Italy (or pretty much anywhere) but think it’s out of your budget? There is no better time than now to travel. None of us know what is right around the corner, from unexpected illnesses to international turmoil, to the price of oil going up astronomically making air travel unaffordable.

I have been traveling all my life, sometimes with money, often without. As a single mom for several years my only way to travel was on a really tight budget. But I would always rather travel at a lower cost than miss out.

And let’s face it, the monuments, ancient buildings an incredible views stay the same whether you are doing a 5 star trip or a budget adventure.

Venice canals and rios away from the crowds
Venice, away from the crowds

If you want to travel to Italy but can’t see how to afford it, these tips make a huge difference!

It Starts With The Best Flight Deals

I go into this in depth in my book Glam Italia! How To Travel Italy, and I recommend reading that section of the book before even starting to look for flights so that you don’t get airlines and consolidators tracking you and pushing the prices up.

Get Creative

There are some creative ways to being the cost of flight way down. For example flying from Phoenix to Rome normally prices around $1300-$1500 round trip. But if I fly out of Los Angeles instead, the price drops closer to $800. A one way flight to Los Angeles is around $80, so I still save hundred on my ticket.

One time a friend and I got a rental car in Phoenix and drove it to the airport in L.A. It cost $20 in car rental plus a tank of gas. We had loads of fun on the road trip and saved money while we were at it!

Seek Out Cheaper Airports

Internal flights in Europe are not expensive. Sometimes you can save hundreds more dollars by going to a different airport then catching an internal European flight. For example, I have found flights on Air New Zealand (one of the top 5 international carriers) from Los Angeles to London Heathrow for around $450 round trip. Heathrow – Rome round trip can be done for under $200, so in this case for a total of $650 you can fly to Italy. There are always deals to be found if you spend the time clicking around.

Oh Canada!

You can find killer deals to Italy out of Canada. One of my Glam Italia Tour travelers flew out of Windsor airport which is only 8km from Detroit. Using Air Canada she got an incredible round trip deal, again in the $600s.

There are great prices on flights out of Toronto too. Sometimes you can get a really good deal flying into Toronto and from there winging your way to Italy.

Avoid Peak Season

For the most part the busiest travel season doesn’t offer the greatest deals, although I often find fantastic round trip flights in June and September. It takes some patience, but spending time researching can pay off. The shoulder season normally has better deals though.

Use Miles

I wrote about how to score free flights using frequent flier miles in this post.

You can do something as simple as running your life through a credit card that has a strong mileage program, like Capital One Venture card, and get more free flights than you would think. In the last 10 years I have done 5 round trips to Europe on frequent flier miles, 1 round trip to Australia and this past year 1 round trip to New Zealand. Suffice to say that a good mileage program is a game changer.

I never, ever waste miles on domestic flights, choosing instead to save them for international flights. If you can pay as many of your bills as possible with a good travel card, and do all your groceries, gas/trains – everything possible on that card you will be amazed at how fast you can accumulate enough points for a flight.

2. Don’t Stay In Hotels

In general hotels are the most expensive way to go. Vacation rentals, Bed and Breakfasts and home stays can save you a small fortune when you travel.

Splitting the cost of an apartment with a couple of friends not only saves you money on the overnight costs but also lets you prepare some meals at home.

A cozy bed and breakfast can be much less expensive than a hotel, and frequently is much nicer anyway.

I have a friend who travels to Italy for a month at a time with her husband and is able to do it because they do home stays. Basically the rent a room in someone’s house. Not only has this method meant they can travel more often and for longer, but also they have made some fantastic friends along the way!

3. Don’t Stay In The City Center

Normally the most expensive accommodation is in the heart of town or if near the ocean, the places with a view. Most tourism is focused right in the center of town so staying one neighborhood back can save you a significant amount on your nightly expense, while still being in walking distance to everywhere you want to go.

side street in Rome's Trastevere district
Trastevere, Rome

Just be careful not to make your trip more expensive by staying too far out and incurring large transport costs!

4. Choose A Less Expensive City

The most touristed cities have the highest costs. You can often save a huge amount on accommodation by staying somewhere less touristed.

scooter in Arezzo, Tuscany
Arezzo, Tuscany is just 40 minutes by local train from Florence

For example in the Amalfi Coast area staying in Salerno, a gorgeous medieval town on the water, will cost about 1/3 of the cost of staying in Positano or Sorrento.

If Florence is pricing too high look at Bologna, another absolutely beautiful city that is also on a main train line. Italy has so many unbelievably beautiful towns and cities to choose from, so don’t just look at the most well known.

5. Travel By Train

Italy has a really fantastic train system that lets you go almost anywhere, for a comparatively low price.

RELATED POST: HOW TO USE THE TRAINS IN ITALY

When I am traveling on a super tight budget I save lots of money by staying only in towns and cities that are easily accessible by train, and then getting around by train. This saves an enormous amount of money on rental cars, super cover insurance, toll roads and gasoline.

I have also used Flix Bus in Italy, although only once. The trip from Genoa to Florence cost 20 euros, the bus was modern and well equipped (it was super nice!) and we even got a coffee break midway through the trip.

6. Eat Where The Locals Eat

In Glam Italia! How To Travel Italy I have a chapter on how to choose a restaurant in Italy. (Well worth reading) Restaurants and eateries that are geared towards tourists are guaranteed to separate you from your money quickly, and normally with substandard food.

trattoria in Trastevere Rome
Trattoria in Trastevere, Rome

Italians take food seriously and wouldn’t be caught dead in a tourist restaurant. Save your money and go eat where the locals eat. The food will be fantastic and the price will be reasonable. For example, one of my favorite trattorias in Rome is always packed to bursting, but a pizza costs 4 euros and a half liter of wine costs 4 euros. So for under 10 euros you can have a full belly and be happy as a clam! (I tell you the name of the restaurant in my book Glam Italia! 101 Fabulous Things To Do In Rome)

7. Book Online Before You Leave

Most of the places you need to buy tickets for really aren’t expensive at all. If you make a list of what you are interested in seeing and then book tickets online ahead of time you can not only save money but also budget more easily. Most of the tickets cost between 10 and 20 euros. Picking and choosing a few things ahead of time and purchasing them online can free up money while you’re away. Most of us can squeeze out an extra $10 here and there for an entry ticket without noticing it, rather than having to budget another $100 all at once.

Colosseum, Rome
outside the Colosseum in Rome

Be advised that many tickets in Italy now have to be purchased online ahead of time, including the Colosseum.

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