Driving In Italy ~ 16 Super Important Things You Need To Know

Are you thinking about renting a car and driving while you are in Italy? Or maybe you are wondering if it is necessary to have a car while you are there?

As someone who rents cars in Italy several times per year, I can tell you there is nothing so freeing and fun as getting behind the wheel of a zippy little Italian car and racing through the hills of Tuscany, the olive lined roadways of Puglia or the lesser traveled parts of Lazio. With Italian music blasting, the wind blowing your hair while you glamorously look at the road ahead through an oversized pair of sunglasses – what could be more fabulous?

Fiat 500 convertible in Capri

I can also tell you the heart pounding stress that comes with your GPS dumping you into the heart of a busy city, backing up a long line of cars because you got in the telepass lane at the toll booth by mistake or finding yourself deep, deep inside the one way street labyrinth of the storico centro in a medieval town that was built for horses not cars – going the wrong way (all of which I have done) can ruin a trip or at least leave you a nervous wreck.

My book Glam Italia! How To Travel Italy: Secrets To Glamorous Travel (On A Not So Glamorous Budget) has an entire chapter on all the ins and outs you seriously need to know before renting a car and driving in Italy. If you are planning on driving there I sincerely recommend you read it before renting a car or getting behind the wheel in Italy.

1. Before You Rent A Car

First things first, let’s look at your trip and see if you even need to drive while you’re in Italy. Start by mapping your trip and seeing if a car is necessary. If your trip is primarily major cities, for example you are going to Rome, Florence and Venice then no you definitely do not need a car. If your trip is going to be spent exploring outside of the cities look to see whether the places you are going are on a train route.

So much of Italy has really fantastic train access that frequently not only do you not need a car, but a car would be slower and more expensive.

If your travel plans include aimlessly roaming the hill towns of Tuscany, or exploring Puglia, Basilicata, Calabria or Sicily, then a car is going to be essential.

RELATED POST: HOW TO GET FROM THE AIRPORT INTO ROME

2. Inside Italy’s Cities

You do not need a car inside the cities. In fact I emphatically recommend you do not get a car if you are inside the cities. Public transport is excellent, and in the big cities taxis are plentiful, so you can get anywhere you want to go quite easily.

Fiat driving tour in Florence
A Fiat driving tour rolled past us while we were lunching in Florence

On the other hand driving inside the cities can be treacherous, incredibly stressful and very expensive.

It is so easy to get lost and your GPS can be more of an enemy than a friend, especially inside old towns where the signal doesn’t always find you.

I was recently walking in Venice with some women who wanted to go to a specific restaurant that was at best a little wiggly to get to. Walking through the narrow calle the GPS would drop and a couple of times I had to take us back into an open campo to let the signal find my phone again. There was much eye-rolling and snorting from the peanut gallery who just didn’t get it that there wasn’t a consistent GPS signal.

This is just a nuisance when you are on foot, but when you are driving it can be really stressful and have you going down the wrong streets and getting into situations you cannot easily get back out of.

3. Parking

Parking inside the cities can be hard to come by. It almost always requires parallel parking super-proficiency, and the ability to not only parallel park in traffic, but with only an inch or two space at either end of the car.

There are parking buildings here and there but they can be very difficult to find and once inside the individual parking spaces are small and tight.

RELATED POST: DO YOU NEED TRAVEL INSURANCE?

4. ZTLs

ZTLs are very expensive traps for unsuspecting tourists. The Zona Traffico Limitato or Limited Traffic Zone is designed so that only cars with a special permit can go inside. These are normally, but not always, in the central heart of a city, as well as in small villages and towns.

Italy ZTL sign zona traffico limitato

Your GPS probably will not recognize a ZTL and will send you straight into the heart of it. With everything else that is going on chances are you won’t even see the warning sign. If you are on a one way street you can be inside the ZTL before you even realize it, or worse still you see it coming but have no way to get back out of it!

ZTLs are monitored with cameras that catch you the moment you cross into one. It will take months to arrive but suddenly you find yourself with a steep fine that nearly doubles if not paid within 60 days. You also get an “admin fee” from the rental car company, charged to your credit card.

In all likelihood it won’t just happen once – if you are not on top of it you can find yourself going in and out of ZTLs without realizing and find yourself with multiple fines. On an Italy travel forum that I was reading a traveler was fined over 2400 euros, a year after his Italy trip. He hadn’t known where all the ZTLs were and just drove in and out of them, somewhere near 24 times!

zona traffico limitato in Italy ZTL
You wouldn’t necessarily pick up on this sign if you were in Italian traffic with cars honking their horns at you as you try to figure your way with your GPS…

So even if your parallel parking skills are on point and you don’t get stressed easily, I sincerely recommend not driving inside the cities.

5. Discover New Towns And Villages

Having a rental car and driving around the countryside, discovering random little towns the tour buses don’t go to is one of my absolute favorite things to do in Italy.

The trick to it is to keep an open mind, decide ahead of time you won’t allow yourself to get stressed out, and then go have fun!

On my most recent trip to Italy I flew into Bari, picked up a rental car and then drove by myself across Puglia and Basilicata to get to La Rabatana

It was a beautiful and easy drive, except for one roundabout that had 5 exits, and that the GPS couldn’t decode. At various points I was going the wrong way, heading back to the airport, even driving through an olive grove! The only reason I made it to the correct exit from the roundabout was that the other 4 were wrong!

It was such a lovely drive though that I forgot to get stressed out. My feeling about driving around the countryside in Italy is so what if you get lost or go through some roundabout shenanigans – it’s all part of the fun. Getting lost just means discovering some incredible little town, and is actually how I have discovered most of my favorite secret places!

RELATED POST: HOW TO USE THE TRAINS IN ITALY

6. Map It Before You Go

Another good idea is to print out maps of your route before you drive off. You can’t rely on GPS alone, and having a backup little map showing you how to get from point A to point B at least will give you a concept of where you’re heading.

Also, should you lose cell service/have no data/lose Wi-Fi/run out of battery you will be glad you had a back up plan!

7. Look For City Names, Not Route Numbers

This comes back to the way they sign things in Italy. You’re not looking for the A1 when you leave Florence airport, you are looking for the A1 Roma or the A1 Bologna. Once you get on that highway it may give you a variety of different route numbers such as the E185, SS125 etc that can get really confusing, so think directionally and keep looking for the name of the town you are going to.

From Florence I take the A1 Roma to whichever roads are taking me to San Gimignano – I don’t get too involved with the route numbers, I just keep looking for the San Gimi signs, which is a much easier way to do it.

If your little town isn’t likely to have much signage, at least know which big towns are in that direction.

8. Roundabouts

Italian roundabout

If you don’t live somewhere that uses roundabouts they can be confusing. I grew up with them, so they are second nature to me, but if they are new or unfamiliar to you, here’s the deal:

Always yield (or give way) to the left. You merge into the traffic when there is a space.

There are no lanes in roundabouts, so stay in the space you entered.

Your GPS will tell you which exit to take, such as take the 3rd exit on the right. Sometimes this is a guessing game as the 2nd exit could be a dirt track or maybe just the suggestion of an exit. There will be vertically stacked signs for all the places off each exit, which makes having a passenger navigating for you so much easier!

If you can’t figure it out just stay on the roundabout, making loops until you see your sign. One time with my then 12 year old riding shotgun we looped around the roundabout about 20 times before we found our exit, which was one of about 40 signs all stacked up, and wasn’t easy to find the first 19 times! Really it’s all just part of the fun.

RELATED POST: HOW TO ORDER COFFEE IN ITALY

9. Stay To The Right

Most of the motorways are going to be two lanes in each direction. The left lane is for passing, so stay in the right lane unless you are passing someone.

10. Watch For Speed Traps

There are camera speed traps along all the motorways/highways. Just as with ZTLs you won’t know you’ve got a speeding fine for months, and these fines are hefty.

camera speed trap on italian road.

I have learned the hard way that if my name and credit card are the ones on the rental car booking, no one else is driving. A year or so after a trip driving through Puglia I found that my friend who kept wanting to drive had been blowing through speed traps like a race car driver. Each fine was for 270 euros, each also came with an administrative fee from Hertz, and each fine was set to double if not paid in 60 days.

camera speed trap sign on italian road

Luckily each fine indicated exactly where the speeding had happened, so I was able to show her that it was all her, but it took some wrangling to get the money wired to Puglia and off my card.

11. There Will Be Tolls

Be prepared for toll roads and toll booths. Just because they mostly take credit cards doesn’t mean the credit card machine will be working, so have coins ready.

toll booth on italian highway
Don’t go in the yellow line…

Also as you are exiting the motorway into the toll area look for the yellow telepass sign and then make sure you don’t go in those lanes. My first time driving alone in Italy I got into the telepass lane, backed traffic up all the way to the motorway, couldn’t get out of the line, and was somewhere between a heart attack and bursting into tears when a nice fellow on a motorbike figured out what was up and came and rescued me.

I haven’t made that mistake twice!

You can’t guarantee that there will be a human working the toll booth, so have a variety of coins with you.

12. Don’t Trust The GPS

Well not entirely anyway. One time I had the people at Hertz program the rental car’s built in GPS system for me. Initially it was shouting at me in Russian, but once I got it to English it started giving me crazy directions. I was on my way to San Gimignano, a route I have driven a thousand times, so I knew it was giving me crazy-wrong directions.

On your phone the Google Maps GPS is the worst and will try to drive you off cliffs. Waze is good but will always take you on circuitous routes that may save you minutes but will have you arriving with a full head of grey hair, as it routes you through alleyways and side streets and hair raising turns. Apple Maps is perhaps the best, but Siri still doesn’t always get it right.

If you miss a highway exit it can be 30 minutes before you get to the next one to turn back. With that in mind, mapping the drive beforehand can be a really good idea, just so you have a general idea of where you’re going.

13. You May Get A Stick Shift

In Italy I actually prefer driving a stick shift, especially when driving through the hills. I spend a considerable amount of driving time in Tuscany, which in turn means a lot of time driving through the hills! A stick shift gives you so much more control as you are buzzing around the countryside and is much more fun to drive.

Fiat 500 XL Interior

This past summer Hertz put me in an automatic station wagon, which apart from having zero coolness whatsoever, also was a pain to drive in the hills as it couldn’t down shift quickly enough.

volvo station wagon tuscany
The mom wagon in Tuscany. Sensible but not a great drive in the hills.

But be advised that most of the rental cars in Europe are stick shifts. If you require an automatic you need to specify that when you book your car, but it doesn’t mean you’ll get one. If none have come back in when you are picking your car up you will be given a manual transmission.

14. Rent A Diesel

In my experience renting endless cars in Italy, diesels get much better gas mileage and diesel is much less expensive than petrol/gasoline.

Expect to pay between $7 and $9 per gallon on gasoline.

Whenever possible, book a diesel! They run quietly and efficiently and leave you with more money for shopping.

RELATED POST: WHAT TO DO IF YOU GET SICK IN ITALY

15. Get Super Cover

You will have several insurance options with your rental car. Choose the Super Cover option. This comes with zero deductible, so if anything happens to your car you can walk away.

Most rental car companies have a 3000 euro deductible and will have you paying through the nose for the smallest scratch.

A cursory glance at cars in Italy will tell you that most of them are covered in dings and scratches.

The chances of someone bumping your parked car or opening their door into it are huge, so it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Super Cover is expensive and can add an extra 45 euros per day to your 20 euro per day rental, but can be worth every penny if you get so much as one scratch on your car.

16. Stop At An Autogrille

At least once while you are driving on the highways in Italy, stop at an Autogrille. These are something like our truck stops in the U.S. but oh so different!

Yes you can gas up the car there, but they also have a full espresso bar, a full bar, and really fantastic food.

autogrille truck stop foos in iatly is incredible!
Can you even believe this is a truckstop???

Unlike the guaranteed gastric turmoil of the smelly rolling sausages and dubious foods at truck stops here in the states, the food at the truck stops across Italy is tremendous. From fresh panini to crisp salads and much more, a country whose culture is so deeply bound into their cuisine doesn’t tolerate bad food for hungry travelers!

fresh salads at autogrille in Italy
fresh salads at Autogrille

Even after all these years of travel in Italy I still get a huge kick out of stopping at Autogrilles. Often we will buy breads and cheeses and fresh sliced prosciutto at a local village market to bring home for dinner then stop at an Autogrille on the way home and pick up salad to have with it. You will love it!

For more tips on traveling in Italy pick up my best selling book Glam Italia! How To Travel Italy: Secrets To Glamorous Travel (On A Not So Glamorous Budget)    Available worldwide on Amazon. Join my Private Members Newsletter HERE for twice monthly newsletters giving you more tips and ideas to take your Italy trip from great to completely fantastic!

See you in the piazza…

101 Fabulous Things To Do in Rome ~ Now In Paperback!

I’m super excited to tell you that my new book Glam Italia! 101 Fabulous Things to Do in Rome is now available worldwide in paperback!

Best Rome Travel Guide Book Glam Italia 101 Fabulous Things To Do In Rome
Glam Italia! 101 Fabulous Things To Do In Rome, now available in paperback

Wherever you are in the world you can order it on your local Amazon and it will ship directly to you. (Amazon has exclusive rights to my books)

So far Glam Italia! 101 Fabulous Things to Do in Rome has been doing really well. It is the Number 1 New Release in Rome Travel Guides, Vatican Travel Guides, Italy Travel Guides, Malta (because of the Caravaggio stories in the book), has been a Best Seller in Rome Travel Guides – there have been days where it has outsold Rick Steves! Amazon called me to tell me that it had been charting high every day and was outperforming expectations. So I am pretty excited!

RELATED POST: WHY THIS IS THE BEST ROME TRAVEL GUIDE!

Paperback or Digital?

The book is available both in paperback and on Kindle/Kindle App. If you are not sure which is the right version for you, this may help you decide:

DIGITAL:

The digital version of the book is available on Kindle and the Kindle App. I don’t own a Kindle, so I use the app instead. It is on my phone and my iPad (so any smartphone and tablet, and I think laptops too). This is actually how I read books now, everything goes to the app and I read them on my iPad, even library books! It is fantastic for travel and has just become really convenient at home too.

Personally I don’t read books on my phone, I prefer a bigger screen. But it does come in handy when you are out sightseeing and want to pull up information quickly, especially if you don’t have Wi-Fi or only have limited or slow Wi-Fi. This is super useful when you want to order food or wine, are trying to remember where I recommended for Instagram pics or sunsets in Rome, or are at some historic site and want to get the scoop on it.

PAPERBACK:

The only exception to my reading digital is when I buy travel books. I like to highlight things, dog ear pages, put post it notes in there and I tend to write in the margins too. So if that’s you then a print copy might be your best choice.

RELATED POST: GLAM ITALIA! HOWTO TRAVEL ITALY
the best travel guide for Rome, Glam Italia! 101 Fabulous Things To Do In Rome

What Is Matchbook?

Amazon lets me set the book to Matchbook, so that you can get a digital copy for cheap if you order a print copy.

They set the digital to $2.99 if you already have the print version. (The digital is $8.95 at the moment and will go up next month to $9.95)

When you are out sightseeing all day it can be a nuisance carrying a book with you. That’s where matchbook comes in handy. You can download the Kindle App and get the book on your smartphone, for cheap. You’ve already done your research and know which places you want to visit, so now instead of carrying the book with you, you can just pull it up on your phone on the app and go directly to the chapter you need or the place you are standing in front of.

It can be quite handy. Also, the Matchbook option stays there, so you don’t have to buy both versions at once, instead you can just download the digital version later if it looks like it will be beneficial.

Take A Photo!

If you have the paperback version of either (or both!) of my books and are taking them with you when you travel, please snap a photo of yourself with the book and post it on social media (tag me) or email it to me. I get a huge kick out of seeing my readers with the books. Many of you have emailed me or messaged me on social media to tell me you are doing something from one of the books, and I can’t tell you how much it totally makes my day!

RELATED POST: THE BEST SANDALS TO WEAR IN ITALY THIS SUMMER

Socials

You can find me on Instagram @CorinnaTravels and @HowToTravelItaly

My Pinterest is @Corinnamakeup. You can find all my Italy boards there, broken up by region. I find it easier to spot the content I want to read for my trips when I can look at visuals (pins) rather than reading through text lists.

On Facebook you can find me @Corinna Cooke Author

BONUS: Want some help planning your trip? Download my FREE RESOURCES to help you plot out your trip, and PRE TRAVEL CHECKLISTS to get you to the airport stress free. DOWNLOAD HERE

How To Get The Best Deals On International Flights

Are you planning an international trip in the next year or two? Would you like to save hundreds of dollars on your international flights while still using your favorite airlines?

If you are thinking about traveling internationally in the year ahead then you need to read this post before you do anything else!

How To Get The Best Deals On INternational Flights! Learn how to save hundreds of dollars on your airline tickets while still flying the best airlines in the world

My secret talent in life is finding incredible flight deals and saving a fortune on international travel. I have an entire section in my book Glam Italia! How To Travel Italy: Secrets To Glamorous Travel (On A Not So Glamorous Budget) on how to get the best flights possible for the least amount of money. Every hundred dollars you save on airfare is a hundred more dollars you can spend on shopping!

Some of my Glam Italia Tour travelers this past summer saved as much as $800 on their round trip flights using the tips in my book. By this I mean they were able to get the exact same flight on the exact same plane for $800 below price. If the book saves you even $100 on your flights then it was worth spending the $15 to get it! You can get a copy of my book here on Amazon.com

RELATED POST: HOW TO PACK LIKE A PRO (7 Stealth Steps To Perfect Packing)

I am a Sagittarian and I am a Kiwi, so it stands to reason that I have a heavy dose of wanderlust running through my veins. I am never happier than when I’m on my way to the airport about to embark on a new adventure.

The only problem is that I am also a single mom which gives me a different set of budgetary realities to deal with. People are always questioning how I can pull of all the travel I do on such a tight budget. Since 2010 I have flown to Australia round trip twice for free and to Europe five times for free, all using my frequent flier miles. This past weekend I booked a $1700 round trip trans world flight for free, using the ultimate travel hack. I have written about that in a separate post here: How To Fly Anywhere In The World For Free

Grand Canal venice in the late afternoon. If you could fly anywhere in the world where would you go?

The Grand Canal in Venice. If you could fly anywhere in the world, where would you go?

For those of you who are subscribed to my newsletter you will be getting the very specific details on how I do it in your inbox on Friday. If you are not already subscribed to my newsletter you can do so here.

Today I want to look at flight pricing and how to get the very best price on a great flight. There are important steps to follow and they work every time.

How To Get The Best Deals On International Flights

Step One: Go Incognito

Always and only ever look at flights on an incognito window. (Google how to open an incognito window on your computer).

Have you noticed that if you click on an ad or google almost any product these days your social media suddenly gets swamped with ads for that product? You open your computer and everything you try to read or look at gets riddled with ads for that product you only clicked on once???

It’s so annoying! Not only do companies drop cookies into your computer, they also drop Facebook pixels (and no doubt lots of other pixels too) that track you, collect data on what you look at online and change your marketing profile.

Most of the time it’s just annoying, but when it comes to searching for flights it can cost you hundreds of dollars. Now that they know what you’re up to they will keep upping the price of the flights you are researching. Then they start trying to make you panic by flashing “only 3 seats left at this price!” signs at you.

When you only look at flights with an incognito window, each time is the first time and you will see major differences in the price.

RELATED POST: Foreign Exchange – How To Work Your Money When You Travel

Step Two: Check the airline website.

If you have a favorite airline or an airline you specifically want to use, you need to know what their price point is. My main airline is American Airlines, because that’s where most of my frequent flier miles are, so I check them first.

The airline website will normally show you the most expensive pricing you will find! But you need to know what the top dollar on this flight will cost. It doesn’t hurt to click around on their website and see if they are offering any specials, sales or big discounts somewhere else on the site.

Step Three: Check the consolidators

Travelocity, Expedia, Orbitz etc will typically have the same flights for cheaper. The various consolidators have different airlines, so look across several of them.

Green Fiat 500 in Capri. Learn how to get the best deals on airline tickets. If you could fly anywhere in the world, where would you go?

Step Four: Separate off the junk.

You will find some amazing pricing with the consolidators, but know that there will be some junk routing you need to avoid.

Watch out for crappy airlines and crazy routing. When I was looking for my flights this past week and weekend there were some great prices but they had horrible routing. Instead of a 24 hour door to door some of them were as much as 41 hours! Sending me all over the place and giving me 13 hour layovers in places I didn’t want to be.

On top of that many of the airlines they were showing me were airlines I wouldn’t want to fly. Taking a long haul flight on a substandard airline is (in my opinion) not a great idea. There are plenty of great airlines out there, so if you are not familiar with a particular airline, check the reviews on it before you discard that flight option. If you see bad reviews, dig deeper – you may have a disgruntled customer who isn’t familiar with overseas travel, but if you keep seeing the same types of negative reviews run a mile!

RELATED POST: Chic, Comfortable Boots and Shoes To Wear In Europe This Winter

Step Five: Look beyond your home airport.

I live in Phoenix, which is an expensive airport to route in and out of, sometimes hundreds of dollars more than other airports. So although I do check pricing from Phoenix I also look at other airports not far from here. Tucson, Las Vegas, Denver and Los Angeles all tend to have much better pricing. Tucson is  only a 2 hour drive, and the other three I can get round trip flights to for $150 or less. I constantly save as much as $700 on a round trip flight by booking it from Los Angeles.

Step Six: Stick with it.

If you persevere invariably you can find something fantastic. Most airlines had my flight starting at $1700 and heading upward in price from there to more than $2400 for the round trip! Others were as low as $800 but the routes were just awful and on airlines with horrible revues.

After clicking around across a couple of days I found the perfect flight. It is direct, so door to door 24 hours (other side of the world), and is with one of the best airlines in the world. And it cost $958 round trip. I didn’t pay so much as a penny for my flights though – I used a frequent flier mileage trick that meant I didn’t even pay airport taxes. Normally if flying on frequent flier miles you still have an out of pocket cash cost on taxes. I am walking away from this with not one cent out of pocket. I have detailed it in this post.

Airline choice is a huge factor, especially on long haul flights. Little details such as seat pitch, food quality  and service are super important, and can mean the difference between arriving feeling sick and exhausted and arriving feeling great.

My book Glam Italia! How To Travel Italy: Secrets To Glamorous Travel (On A Not So Glamorous Budget) goes into depth on how I get all these flights, how I make sure my flights are fantastic, get upgraded much of the time, and avoid jet lag. Regardless of where in the world you are traveling you will find this information both helpful and cost saving. It makes a great gift for anyone you know who is planning travel to anywhere in the world, (not just to Italy). You can get it here on Amazon.com

Want more details on how I get the best flights for free? Subscribe to my newsletter here.

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