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.

Best Italy travel guide
Order your copy here

How To Learn Italian And Speak It Confidently Before Your Trip!

This post contains affiliate links

If you’ve been following this blog for a while you will already know that I have written 4 best selling books about traveling in Italy. I also lead private tours of Italy every summer. So I have a vested interest in A) learning Italian and B)being comfortable speaking it with Italians while I’m there. I use multiple methods to improve my Italian language skills:

  • I watch Italian movies with subtitles on
  • I read Italian learner books like this one, this one and this one
  • I do an online course that I can keep repeating. I do this one.

Italian With Davide

If you belong to my newsletter you’ll already know that 2 years ago I bought my first Italian With Davide course. I love Davide’s program and have been telling everyone about it!

Davide is young and fun and lives in Milan. He totally gets it that the old-school way of teaching Italian doesn’t really work with the modern traveler’s needs. We really don’t need to learn to say things like “Mr. Smith walks his dog around the block.”

We need to learn things that we can apply while in Italy, that let us participate in local life.

So he developed a language learning program that is perfect for anyone traveling to Italy as well as for professionals going there for work. His courses are all online and are done in your own time, when it works for you. If you have a busy schedule it can be really difficult to get to a class at a set time each week. This makes it easy because you do it at your own pace, when it works for you.

The courses are broken down into small modules so that busy people can do 15 or 20 minutes at a time if that’s all they have time for. Some days I do more, other days I just get one 20 minute module in.

I have spells where I don’t do any, but then pick it back up when I have time again. I love this about the program! Once you’ve bought it, you own it, and can go back and re-do modules as often as you want. I find this incredibly helpful as it really gets you learning on a different level.

You Learn Really Useful Things

Learn More here

With this program I’ve learned all kinds of useful things I never knew I would need. For example, this past summer at the end of my tours I spent 5 days the beach in Abruzzo. It was fabulous!

One of the days I took a boat excursion out to the Tremiti Islands. I was the only English speaker on the boat other than the captain who knew how to say “Absolutely! Yes!!” He learned that when he asked me if I wanted a glass of Prosecco and I said absolutely – yes!!

One the boat trip to the Tremiti Islands. The girls behind me are the bridal party. This was one of the most fun days of my life. I told the whole story in one of my newsletters. If you want to know more just bounce me back a reply from any newsletter and I’ll email you a copy!

There were 2 groups of women on our boat. One was a group of local women who were about my age. The other were a bridal party doing a bachelorette day. I was only able to understand what they were talking about because Davide has a module about weddings in one of his courses!

I know I will have made tons of mistakes throughout that day, but everyone could understand me, and more importantly I could participate in conversations. I wasn’t sitting off to the side by myself, instead was included in the fun. Rather than my brain being full of useless phrases, I was able to apply things Davide taught me and more importantly have the confidence to just jump in and be a part of it all.

Course Registration Is About To Open

Davide only opens course registration a few times per year, and only for about 5 days each time.

The course is really popular, so the open spots sell out fast. You are able to interact with Davide (if you want to) so he keeps the numbers somewhat contained.

Italian With Davide is opening again on Cyber Monday. You can either register then, or get on the email list now, and you’ll be notified when the course opens. I had several of my Glam Italia Tour travelers try to sign up when they got back from their tours this summer, but they missed the registration cut off, so will have to try again this time.

I think he also offers one on one training if you need extra help, but I haven’t used this myself.

Check out the courses here

Italian With Davide comes in three different courses, marked beginner, intermediate and advanced, so there is something for everyone, no matter where you are on your Italian language journey. Several of my newsletter members bought the course for Christmas gifts last year.

If you are planning a trip to Italy in the future you will find it so much more fun being able to say even a handful of things with confidence. I heartily recommend at least checking out Italian With Davide.

If you want to learn how I’m able to get a free flight to Italy every year, and how I have been able to travel every year on a super tight budget for the past 12 years, check out this episode of the Untold Italy Podcast where I explain my favorite travel strategies: Untold Italy: How To Extend Your Italy Travel Budget With These Travel Hacks.

You can join my monthly newsletter (sometimes it comes out twice a month) for more insider tips about Italy travel, and places you may not know about, here.

I also recommend checking out my Italy travel guides, available worldwide in paperback and in digital form on Amazon.

9 Foods You’ll Absolutely Fall In Love With In Venice

If you’ve been following me for a while you’ll already know I absolutely LOVE Venice!

In Burano this summer with one of my Glam Italia Tours

Venice is not only the most spectacularly beautiful city in the world, and the most unique city on earth, it is also an absolute foodie heaven.

Unfortunately most tourists who come here have no clue about the foods of Venice and end up ordering the wrong things at the wrong restaurants. My book Glam Italia! How To Travel Italy: Secrets To Glamorous Travel (On A Not So Glamorous Budget) goes into depth on how to choose a killer restaurant anywhere in Italy, and how to avoid dining at an overpriced, under quality tourist trap.

Today I want to tell you about 7 foods you MUST eat while in Venice.

Pastries

Venice is famous for its pastries. Which is handy when you consider the Italian breakfast is a cappuccino and a pastry. In my Venice book I tell you about specific places to go for a coffee and a pastry, and get into more depth on some of the really famous pastries of Venice. If you see frittelle (pictured below)in a pastry shop window you must try them. These are traditionally available during carnevale, but sometimes you can find them during the year as well.

Frittelle in Venice. Image via VeryEatalian

Venetian/Italian croissants come plain, whole wheat, or filled with jam, Nutella, cream or my favorite, pistachio cream. Most of my days in Venice start in beautiful Campo SS Giovanni e Paolo at Rosa Salva, with a cappuccino and a pistachio croissant.

Tremezzini

You will find these triangular crustless sandwiches all over Italy, but in most places I avoid them. Typically there are about 1000 other things in any eatery that are more appetizing than tremezzini. In Venice however, all of that changes.

Tremezzini at Rosa Salva in Venice

The food pairings of Venetian tremezzini are out of this world, even when they don’t necessarily sound exciting. The one in the photo above is asparagus and egg, which sounds meh, but is actually fantastic.

I get tremezzini at Rosa Salva all the time. The waiters know which are my favorites but also come over to tell me about something fantastic that’s on the menu that day. They recently had a porchetta and eggplant tremezzini that was to die for.

Breakfast at Rosa Salva, this time the porchetta and melanzane tremezzini.
It doesn’t look like much, but lord it was fabulous!

But trust me on this one – try tremezzini in Venice and you will be hooked! (Just don’t get them elsewhere around Italy.)

Related Post: 5 Ways To escape The Crowds In Venice

Cicchetti

I always recommend you bookend your Italian days with a killer coffee in the morning and an outstanding aperitivo at the end of the afternoon. Venice takes this a step further with their finger food snack culture, the incredible cicchetti.

Cicchetti at a foodie walking tour in Cannaregio

These delicacies are once again food pairings specific to Venice and designed to be enjoyed with an ombra of local wine from the Veneto. An ombra is a shadow of wine – I tell you the full story about it in my Venice book. I take all my Glam Italia Tour groups on a cicchetti walking tour with a foodie guide, so the photos here are from guided walks where we split items on the plate. 

Another cicchetti assortment on a cicchetti walking tour

Normally you would order 2 or 3 pieces of cicchetti (at about €1,50 each) and an ombra of wine for €2 or €3. Cicchetti are available most of the day and all evening, so they can be a very inexpensive snack, late lunch, or sometimes I’ll even have cicchetti for dinner. It’s fabulous!

Sard in Saor

This is a traditional Venetian dish that you may find in cicchetti bars and also on regular menus as a starter.

Sard in Saor on polenta with a balsamic reduction.

There are variations on the recipe, some featuring raisins and pine nuts, some served alone, others of slices of polenta. But at its core local sardines are floored and fried, layered with caramelized onions and pickled in vinegar. It can be an acquired taste and not everyone will love them (I love them!) but you must at least try them once while you’re here.

Octopus and Moeche

Octopus

My favorite dish in Venice is octopus on a bed of whipped potato, at Jonny’s.

Baked Octopus at Jonny’s in Castello

In the U.S. octopus generally resembles chewing on an old bicycle tire, but with less flavor. Not so in Venice! (Or anywhere in Italy) Here octopus is delicious and prepared to perfection. My tour group travelers tend to fall in love with it too – even those who cringe at the though of eating octopus! The texture is sensational, the flavor is amazing, and it’s hard to only order it one time.

Moeche

Moeche in Burano

This one is seasonal but if you’re in Venice when they’re on the menu you must try the local soft-shell crab. It too doesn’t taste like any other soft shell crab you’ve ever tried, no doubt because of the parts of the lagoon they’ve grown in, and the way Venetians prepare them. They tend to be expensive but are so worth it.

Related Post: 10 Fabulous Books Set In Venice

Seafood Pasta

Seafood pasta in Venice

Venice is of course the city on the water, in a lagoon separated from the Adriatic Sea by a series of long, thin barrier islands. That means seafood is king here. Everywhere you go there are amazing fish options on the menu. You can’t come to Venice and not have seafood pasta at least once!

Nero di seppia

One of the most famous pasta (and risotto) dishes in Venice is al Nero di Seppia, made from black squid or cuttlefish ink. It tastes delicious but does color your teeth and lips black while you’re eating it.

Risotto

Unlike much of Italy, pasta is not the main carbohydrate here. It is definitely on every menu but so is rice (risotto) and polenta.

Seafood risotto in Venice

Even if you don’t like risotto at home you must give it a try here in Venice, at a real Venetian eatery, not a tourist joint. Here in Venice risotto is cooked to perfection. Whether you opt for the delicate Go risotto in Burano or a seafood risotto (my favorite) or even a simple mushroom risotto, it just doesn’t get creamier, more perfect, more delicious than in Venice.

Gelato

Fig and Ricotta flavored gelato at La Mela Verde in Castello

You just cannot beat the perfect cup or cone of gelato in Italy. In all of my books I talk about why you should only ever eat artisan gelato. This is gelato made by hand using local, seasonal ingredients instead of mass made chemical laden ice cream found in the tourist shops. Just a heads up: Italians wouldn’t be caught dead eating the color added, chemical added fake stuff.

Related Post: How To Find The Best Gelato In Italy

Real, artisan gelato is out of this world, and Venice has multiple artisan gelato shops spread out all over the city. Typically they will only offer a handful of flavors each day, based on what is in season. When you buy a gelato at one of these shops you not only support the owner and the staff who made the gelato by hand, but also the local fruit growers and the local milk producers in the Veneto.

The gelato in the picture above was fig and ricotta

Everything You Need To Know About Venice

My newest book Glam Italia! 101 Fabulous Things To Do In Venice gives you an insider’s perspective on amazing things to see, do and eat in Venice. I take you away from the tourist crowds and into the Venice you’ve been dreaming of. I also point out loads of details you won’t find in any regular tourist guide book, details that will make you fall in love with this spectacular city. This book is available worldwide on Amazon.

Do you belong to the newsletter? Each month I send out insider info on secret places in Italy, places you may not have heard about before but will definitely want to know about and/or visit! You can join the newsletter here