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

Want more Italy travel tips? Join the thousands of members of my monthly newsletter for updates and information on all things travel and Italy travel. Join here.

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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Italy Travel Tip: How To Learn To Speak Italian Confidently

This is Silvio. I met him in Sovana walking down the street with zucchini flowers he had just picked from his garden.

Whether you have a trip to Italy coming up and want to learn a few things to say, or whether you are moving there for work and need to dial up your Italian skills, or maybe you just want to learn the language for fun, today I want to tell you about some of the ways I learn and improve my language skills, and also the online course I use to learn and practice Italian at home.

This post contains affiliate links

Why Learn Italian?

I have a slightly different approach to most people. I’m not trying to be perfect at the language, and don’t stop to think how to conjugate a particular verb, or what is the grammatically correct way to say something. Although I have been learning both along the way, and definitely am 1000x better than I was before. My entire goal with learning Italian is to be able to participate.

I want to be able to join the conversation, chat back and forth with anyone and everyone, and understand what’s going on. This to me is where the fun lies in a new language and in traveling to a country that uses that language. And I have to say, I have no end of fun practicing my language skills on anyone who will let me!

Italians are really fun loving, gregarious people, so when they see you making an effort they are more than happy to help you out.

In the picture above I was talking to a lovely gentleman, Silvio. He talked to me about his zucchini flowers, his garden at the end of the street, and then over coffee he told me all about growing up in this little town in the Maremma (southern Tuscany). He told me about his brother walking home from the war after being a prisoner in Russia, arriving home barefoot and just skin and bone. And he told me about his wife who died 32 years ago.

Part of the reason I could talk to him about so many diverse subjects was the online course I use to learn Italian. It’s called Italian With Davide.

Speaking The Language Adds To The Fun

In another little town nearby, the lady in the cheese shop was great fun and loved that I was at least trying to speak in Italian. She taught me a bunch of cheese related words, then put me behind the counter to prank some of the locals. (My friend Anna video’d it)

My 3 minute job in the cheese shop!

Anyone who speaks Italian will pick up on the mistakes I made, but it’s a great example of the fun you can have even just speaking a small amount. In this case all the other shop owners along the street could hear us all shrieking and laughing and came in to join the fun. I ended up making loads of friends, which was handy because I was staying there on my own for several days.

You may not want to be pretending to be working in a cheese shop, but you can see how using the language adds to the experience!

What Else Do I Do?

Taking a course isn’t the only thing I do to learn Italian. I watch Italian movies and TV shows with subtitles on (Prime, Netflix, You Tube). I also do Italian Reader books like this one and this one and this one. (I have them on Kindle/the Kindle App, so can read a little bit or do some comprehension questions while out and about/on a lunch break/while I’m getting an oil change etc.)

But those things only work if you have something more structured going on as well, which is why Italian With Davide course work so well for me.

The Courses

Italian With Davide has three courses based on your level and ability. The courses are Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced.

Each course is broken up into lots of small modules. You do them at your own pace, and you can reach out for help when/if needed. There are even chat rooms where you can practice with other learners around the world who are doing the same course as you!

I normally only have time to do a couple of modules at a time, but I do them most days. When I get to the end of a course I often start back over, and keep repeating modules. For me and for the way I learn, this is super helpful. Once you’ve bought a course, you own it and can do it as many times as you want.

Lots of course members do it on their phone while they commute to work. I prefer to do the course at home, but you have all kinds of options.

Some of What You Learn

What I have found super helpful is that you learn real world things that you can actually apply to real life when you’re there.

One example for me was on a boat excursion in Abruzzo this past summer. (If you belong to my newsletter you will already know this story)

On the boat in the Tremiti Islands, the bridal part behind me. It was a super fun day!

I was the only English speaker on the boat. Apart from the captain and the first mate there was a group of 4 women about my age, and then another group of girls doing a bachelorette party day. In one of Davide’s modules you learn about weddings, and the vocabulary of weddings. I had never thought I would actually use those words, but then here I was, on a boat with a bridal party, able to participate in a conversation about the dress, the bridesmaid, the ring, the flowers, the cake – you get it.

What’s In The Courses

You learn all kinds of things that you actually use in real life, and each lesson is broken down so that you learn to pronounce things properly, learn the vocabulary, grammar and expressions. It’s wonderful!

How To Get The Course

Italian With Davide opens for registration several times each year, for about 5 days at a time. If you are reading this before Black Friday 2022, there is a HUGE sale coming up. The biggest discount Davide has ever given. (I, of course, bought all of mine full price a couple of years ago.)

Because the registration is only open for 5 days normally and 3 days over Black Friday 2022, if you are interested or want more information, you should get on Davide’s email list, so that you get notified. For most of the year I don’t pay attention to when the course opens – I already have mine. So being on his email list is the best way to stay informed.

If you want more information about travel in Italy, places the tourists don’t know about, what to eat in Italy, and endless Italy travel tips, join the thousands of people worldwide who get my monthly newsletter. It’s free and it’s really cool! Get the newsletter here.

What To Pack For Italy – Must Have Items And Top Packing Tips

I just got back from Italy. I was on a two week long work trip, and was one of the lucky ones to fly in a week after the country opened to travelers after the covid tourism shut down. Italy was as incredible as ever, possibly even more so than usual because there were almost no tourists there.

Enjoying a very empty Venice

The day after I got home I was super lucky to be a guest on my favorite Untold Italy podcast, this time to talk about what to pack for your trip to Italy. It is a really comprehensive episode and we really get into the weeds and address all the questions Katy gets daily on the Italy Travel Planning Facebook page. I get DMs with these same questions on my Corinna Cooke Author facebook page and we also hear the same concerns in the Untold Italy Insiders private members group. So I think it’s fair to say most people have the same concerns when it comes to choosing what to bring to Italy and how to pack! The episode is fantastic and I am sure you will find it really helpful. You can listen to the episode here.

Rather than rehash everything I talk about on the podcast I wanted to give you some links to the game changing products I talk about. Some of these are affiliate links, others aren’t. All the products that are available on Amazon are also linked on my Amazon page: Amazon.com/Shop/CorinnaTravels. I update the Amazon shop page as I discover new travel items and also when things I like become available on Amazon. I don’t know about you but I prefer to be able to get everything in one place.

Luggage

These are the Away Luggage bags I talk about in the episode. Apologies for the blurry photo!

In the episode I talk about the luggage I have been using for years now. I have the Away Medium suitcase, in Sand. My case is really beaten up now because it has been used so much. In my normal pre-pandemic life I was spending several months each year in Europe, bouncing home to New Zealand whenever I could get down there (nowhere near often enough) and flying back and forth across the U.S multiple times per year on makeup jobs. That poor suitcase has been really overworked, yet still other than the cosmetic scrapes I’ve not gotten around to cleaning, is in excellent condition. It has four 360 degree wheels (essential) and is ergonomically designed so that it puts the least amount of stress on your back. It is incredibly sturdy yet is also lightweight.

The Everywhere Bag from Away.

I also talk about the new carry-on bag I bought from Away prior to ths last trip. In the episode I couldn’t remember its name, but it is called The Everywhere Bag. When it first arrived I wasn’t particularly impressed and thought about returning it, but I am so glad I didn’t! This bag is an MVP. It’s small but you can fit so much into it! My carry-on always has 3 changes of clothes (in case my suitcase doesn’t arrive when I do) as well as all my electronics, my camera, phone chargers, adaptors and all the other nonsense I like to have with me on the plane.

Jam packed but still not heavy. It also fits under the seat in front if needed.

I bought the nylon version of the Everywhere bag in the matching sand color to my regular suitcase. I had signed up for Away’s emails so was notified when they had a sale. This bag is normally $165 but I bought it on sale for $115. It has lots of convenient internal and external pockets, has a sleeve that slips over your suitcase handle and also has a hidden compartment underneath where you an stash a travel umbrella.

Using the Everywhere Bag as a camera bag in Bassano del Grappa. I’m wearing the Eddie Bauer Departure Pants and these Adidas sneakers. Both were indispensible travel companions.

I ended up also using this as a camera bag when we went on day trips too, because it’s really strong and sturdy but also very lightweight, much lighter than my normal tote bag.

There is another bag I forgot to mention on the podcast and that is the Paravel Fold Up Duffel. This bag zips into itself and packs down to the size on an iPad. It is great to throw in your suitcase in case you need an extra bag to bring your shopping home. I have it in navy, which I couldn’t photograph well, so am using this Google image. Had it been available in red when I bought mine, I would have chosen that! But that second image with the bag? That’s how small it zips down to! You could either bring it onboard as a carry on, or if you were going to check it as a second bag, I would only put clothing in it, as it is nylon, so breakables will break. This makes a fantastic Christmas present for any travelers. in your life!

How cool is this?? I just wish I had the red one.

Laundry

In the episode Katy told me about travel laundry detergent sheets. I can’t believe I didn’t already know about these?? Anyway I got right on Amazon and ordered these Travelon Laundry Detergent sheets. I chose Travelon from all the brands available because I’ve bought tons of Travelon travel gadgets over the years and have always been happy with them. Also these come in a small package, ideal for travel.

I also talked about bringing a travel sized wrinkle release product. I normally use Downy, mostly because I like the smell, but there are lots of really good brands. These are a life saver, especially if there isn’t an iron where you’re staying. I just spritz the clothing item, shake it out and let it hang, ideally overnight if there is time. Over the years I’ve done plenty of high speed de-wrinkling though too.

Clothing

For most of us this is the hardest thing to figure out. My three most important tips here are to choose travel friendly fabrics, pack separates to mix and match and plan on wearing each item at least twice. I try to wear each at least 3 times, but I tend to be away longer than most people. My next trip has me away for 2 full months, so everything needs to be really well thought out and will get worn over and over.

Icebreaker Merino wool base layer. Perfect for year round travel.

I talk about merino wool in the podcast. If you are like me wool itches against your skin. Merino doesn’t – it is the absolute magic travel fabric! It is as lightweight as a longsleeve t-shirt and might even take up less space in your suitcase because of the way it packs. I get the 175 weight, which temperature regulates from about -20 degrees F to +75 degrees F. It is perfect for flying as it keeps you warm but doesn’t overheat. It is also great to have in your suitcase if the weather suddenly turns cold. You don’t have to have a heavy chunky sweater to stay warm. Merino also wicks away moisture if you perspire and it has an anti-stinky property that stops it getting smelly if you wear it several days running. In the winter I travel with a merino dress, a merino tshirt and a merino cami. It really does become indispensible. You can see more merino products here.

Another great find is the Eddie Bauer Departure pants. I have them in black and in olive. They’re made from a man made travel fabric that is lightweight, doesn’t crease, and packs dpwn tp nothing. In a pinch you can wash them in the bathroom sink, hany them out and thy’ll be dry and wrinkle free in the morning. These are great staples for any traveler’s wardrobe. Athleta makes a line of pants from a similar fabric too.

I also talk about compression socks and hose. These stop fluids from pooling in your feet and ankles when you fly and have been shown to be instrumental in preventing DVT (Deep Vein Thrombosis). They apply graduating pressure from your feet working upward, which keeps blood and fluids moving. You can read more about Deep Vein Thrombosis and flying here.

Shoes

On the podcast I talk about having a good, lower back supporting sneaker that can still look chic. This past trip I worse this sneaker by Adidas. Not only was it a super comfortable shoe but it also held its shape and looked good with skirts, dresses and pants. I like this two toned shoe by Reebok as well, especially with the olive departure pant. I also talk about sandal I’ve been wering for a few years now called the Mirabella by Sofft. I keep track of the number of steps I do each day and have calculated that I walk 315 miles in each pair of Mirabellas before I replace them! They have great support and the leather is super soft so doesn’t really require breaking in. I swear by them.

Beach Towel

You can’t guarantee your hotel or vacation rental will have beach towels for you, and who wants to travel with something as bulky and heavy as a towel? I normally pack one of these Turkish beach towels when I travel. They’re lightweight and dry you quickly. You can double them up as a scarf or a sarong or any one of a bunch of things, so they are really handy to have with you. Also if you wind up staying somewhere where they only give you one towel (trust me it happens) you’ll be glad you had it with you.

Tech Stuff and Electronics

I always travel with an external phone battery like this one from Mophie. Lots of companies make them and they com at a variety of price points. Make sure you buy one with at least 10,000 mAh so you can fully charge a phone and a tablet from completely dead. Should you get stranded somewhere you’ll be glad you did.

You also need an international power adaptor like this one. It’s not enough to just have an Italian plug fitting, you need to convert their voltage so you don’t fry your hair dryer or curling iron the minute you plug it in. Most of them have several USB ports too, so you can charge phones and tablets while also charging your mophie.

Nano Titanium Travel Hairdryer. This is the best travel dryer I have ever had.

Another MVP for travel is this tiny travel hair dryer. It is at full professional strength, so even someone with as much hair as I have can blow it out effectively and quickly. PLus it has the whole Nano ionic titanium technology that helps blow your hair out smooth. It’s genius.

You can see how tiny the hairdryer is here.

On my Amazon page (Amazon.com/shop/CorinnaTravels) you can fin everything else I talked about on the podcast, plus more bits and pieces I swear by for trips to Italy. The page is broken up by category to make it easy to find everything you’re looking for.

If you want more insider information about planning your trip to Italy and secret places most travelers don’t even know about (even inside the big cities!) be sure to join my newsletter. Twice each month you’ll get the secrets in your inbox. You can also check out my website here: CorinnaCooke.com

Don’t forget to listen to the Untold Italy Packing For Italy podcast episode here.