23
Jan

The Top 10 Ways to Save Money In Italy

Posted By Trav

italy-budget-tips

[bluebox]To read more about traveling cheap in Italy, check out these posts:

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Italy is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, and for good reason.

Amazing sites, incredible history, and tremendous food.

And if you know what you’re doing, Italy can also be pretty cheap.

Unfortunately, if you aren’t prepared, Italy can also lighten your wallet considerably.

Before you go, enlighten yourself with these 10 tips.

You’ll not only enjoy your vacation to Italy but also come home with some extra Euros in your pocket…for next time!

1. Book your train tickets ahead of time

The train network in Italy is extensive, fast, and well maintained, which makes traveling by train the best way to see Italy.

It can also be much cheaper if you book early.

Train tickets can be booked up to 120 days in advance, and if you do book early and grab “saver” tickets, they’ll be up to 70% less than regular tickets.

For example, a ticket from Venice to Rome can be as cheap as $56, whereas if you book the regular ticket, it’ll run you $114.

ItaliaRail and Trenitalia are the two best sites to buy Frecciargento tickets, the original high speed train line in Italy.

There is also a new high speed train competitor, Italotreno, which can be cheaper at times and operates between all the major cities.

For both, you simply purchase your ticket online, get a PNR number, and hop right on the train.

No check in, no ticket, no hassle.  Just tell the train conductor your PNR when they come around and you’re all set.

2. Stand, don’t sit

Sitting down at a bar or cafe can easily cost twice as much, even for a cup of coffee or a slice of pizza.

When entering a new place, always ask if it costs more to sit at a table (“tavolo”).

If so, do like the Italians do and stand at the counter/bar.  You’ll pay half the price for the exact same food or drink.

3. Stay in apartments vs. hotels

Go-with-Oh-apartment-Florence

Our GoWithOh apartment in Florence.

Hotels in Italy, especially ones in the historic center of cities, can be expensive!

Instead, rent an apartment if you’re going to be staying in a place for longer than a day.

Apartments can be half the price, twice as nice, and provide you a chance to stay in really neat neighborhoods downtown.

Plus, each one is quirky and unique, and you are supporting local people and smaller companies.

I highly recommend using GoWithOh, which has 2,800 apartments across 17 European cities, including Milan, Rome, Florence, Venice and Pisa.

4. Use your feet to walk around

The best part of Italian cities is getting lost amidst the alleyways and back streets.

You’ll discover all types of incredible views, restaurants, and see the city for what it really is.

The best part: it won’t cost you a dime!

So lace up those shoes, grab a free map, and get going.

5. Don’t buy water at a restaurant

Buying “acqua” at a restaurant with your meal will usually cost 3-4 euros, about the same as a glass of wine.

Instead, buy a cheap water bottle at a corner store for 0.70€ or at a grocery store for 0.20€.

Even better, bring your own bottle with you and fill it up throughout the day for free at the water fountains located around the cities.

6. Apertivo

bhangra-bar-apertivo

1/3 of the apertivo spread at Bhangra Bar in Milan.

Think of Apertivo as an American Happy Hour, simply better!

Restaurants all over Italy will offer a free buffet if you buy a drink, usually between 6pm-9pm.

And these buffets aren’t just finger foods, but sometimes all out spreads of different pastas, pizzas, salads, dips, and veggies.

For the price of one drink, usually about 6€, you can eat as much as you want.

And stuffing your face isn’t looked down upon, it’s actually encouraged!

A few of my favorite apertivos include Freni e Frizioni in Rome and Bhangra Bar in Milan.

7.  Take local, slow trains

If you’re short on money and long on time, or if you simply enjoy taking the scenic route, take local trains as opposed to the high speed ones.

A good rule of thumb is that local trains will be about half the price of the cheapest high speed train tickets but will take about twice as long.

Unlike the high speed train, which gives better deals if you book early, local train tickets are always the same price.

So if you want to save some money, have more flexibility, and see Italy at a slower pace, the local train is the way to go.

8.  Book your museum and attraction tickets ahead of time

Technically, this won’t save you any money, but it can save you hours and hours of misery.

And time is money, especially when there is so much to see!

Many of the major attractions, such as the Uffizi and Accademia in Florence as well as the Vatican in Rome, allow you to reserve your tickets online ahead of time.

By doing this you can skip the entire line that is waiting to buy tickets, which can be up to 3 hours long at times.

For a few of these, there will be a minimal surcharge ($3-4) but others will be free.

Even if you do pay a few extra dollars, it will most likely be the best money you spend in Italy.

9.  Go to Italy in the off-season

florence-duomo

The majority of people who come to Italy are coming to do two things:

  • See incredible monuments like the Colosseum, Vatican,  and Michaelangelo’s David.
  • Eat and drink their heart’s content.

For both of these, you don’t need warm weather, which is why I highly suggest heading to Italy during the off-season, which runs from about October through March.

You’ll save a bunch of money.

Hotels and apartments will be less than half the price.

There will be many more saver tickets for trains.

And plane tickets, if you’re still paying for them, will be much cheaper to and from Italy.

Also, there will be literally 10x less tourists, meaning you won’t feel like a herd of cattle when visiting all the things you want to see.

To me, that’s just as important as saving the money…but if I can do both, then I’m even happier!

10.  Buy a pre-paid SIM card when you arrive in Italy

One of the most common mistakes people make when traveling is racking up a huge bill by using their cellphone abroad.

If you’ve got a smartphone, this is very easy to avoid.

Simply unlock your phone, and when you arrive in Italy, head to an electronics or phone store and purchase a pre-paid SIM card.

For 15 euros, you can get a Vodafone SIM card with 200 minutes, 200 texts, and 2 gigs of data, which is more than enough for 2 weeks in Italy.

And since it’s pre-paid, there will be no surprises.  Once you hit your limit, your phone will stop, and you can buy another SIM card.

Final Word(s)

Italy is an amazing country to visit, but just because it’s amazing doesn’t mean it should cost you a fortune.

Use these tips to save yourself some money…and use that money for some extra gelato!

What are your favorite tips for saving money while traveling in Italy?  Share in the comments below!

50 comments

  1. Grant says:

    Great advice Travis, is it pretty busy right now in Italy, do I need to prepurchase tickets for certain museums and sights?

    1. Trav says:

      @Grant- Italy is DEAD! You can walk right in to any museum or attraction with no wait. One of the joys of off-season. It’s crazy. I mean, we stood completely alone in some of the rooms of the Vatican (not the Sistine Chapel, which always has people in it) and in the Colosseum, there were very few people around. Really cool to have some of these sites basically to yourself.

      1. Grant says:

        Awesome, in Rome now. I’ll report back on how many people I saw in the museum :)

        1. Trav says:

          @Grant- Have fun and enjoy the lack of crowds!

  2. Becky says:

    Love your tips and I’ve found many of them to be true all over Europe and some of them even worldwide. There are only two I do differently, and that’s based on personal preferences and travel styles:
    – I forego the SIM card and go wi-fi only as a chance to semi-disconnect.
    – I don’t particularly like apartment rentals for short stays, simply because I’ve found that many rentals require you to check-in at certain hours (e.g. 3-6pm). I hate to structure my schedule to ensure I’m there at a certain time compared to a hotel where you can show up anytime, whether that’s early morning to drop off bags or after the sun goes down and you’re ready to stop exploring.

    1. Trav says:

      @Becky- Two good points. The wifi thing does allow you to disconnect, which is nice. I should try that more! The one thing we used the SIM for the most was the map function, so that was a help, but again, you can get a regular old map and make your way around as well.

      As far as the apartment rentals, we were really happy with GoWithOh and their hosts because we actually were able to check in whenever we wanted. This may not always be the case, of course, but we told them a few days ahead of time what time we thought we were coming by, and they were always fine with it. Again, this may change depending on the host and their availability, but I was pleasantly surprised with that.

  3. Michael says:

    What’s the best meal you had in Milan? (On a budget or ‘off’ the budget) Tell us what we’re missing here in the US…

    1. Trav says:

      @Michael- Unfortunately, I only spent 1 night in Milan, but we did go and have a great apertivo. I just googled “best apertivo in Milan” and everyone raved about the Bhangra Bar, so we went there. And it was HUGE (it’s the picture in the post up there). 10 euros got you one drink and all you can eat food. I’m sure there are other good places in Milan, I just didn’t have time to try them out.

      I do have some great recommendations for Florence and Rome though, where we spent most of our time. Those will be mentioned in upcoming posts!

  4. Kara says:

    Thanks Travis!! This is super helpful as I am booking ahead of time for most of our tours and train tickets before the big trip in May!!

    1. Trav says:

      @Kara- Yeah, definitely get your train tickets ahead of time if you have your schedule sorted out. This was our biggest mistake, as it ended up costing us a decent amount for train tickets. Of course, we didn’t have our schedule sorted out until a few days before anyway, but if you do, book the tickets now and save some major money!

  5. Andy says:

    Excellent post Travis, very useful information and thought provoking too. There’s a lot of obvious, uninformative or regurgitated stuff from some of your fellow bloggers IMO. Keep it up, and thanks.

    1. Trav says:

      @Andy- Thanks, really appreciate it. I try to practice what I preach, and there is no substitute for writing about your own experiences. Glad you enjoyed it!

  6. Shannon says:

    I would. I went in November with prepurchased tickets for the Uffizi Gallery and Accademia, and it was worth it. Others spent hours in line. If you go to Accademia, get there early when it first opens, then you aren’t crawling over people and tours to see the David.

    1. Trav says:

      @Shannon- Hmmm…November may be more packed than January, because we had no problems at all. We did go to the Accademia later (they close at 6, we went at 4), and there were not many people there. I definitely would recommend avoiding the Accademia during the middle of the day though, because there isn’t really too much to see, other than David, and so you can see it in an hour or so.

  7. Ken says:

    We’d love to travel in the off-season, but my wife is a teacher and she cannot take any days off during the school year so we have to do all our traveling during the summer or spring break when everything is crowded and expensive.

    1. Grant says:

      Does travelling to places that have different school schedules help? Like a year round schooling country where there are no peak travel times. At least you know exactly when to book travel for, that should make life a little easier.

      1. Ken says:

        Yeah it would help, but I thought only the US did year round school. From what I’ve found all of EU takes Holiday in the summer so we’re stuck with the crowds. And SE Asia will be a sweltering mess; I had my fill of that growing up in FL.

        1. Trav says:

          @Ken- A lot of Europe does some sort of year round school, especially in the UK. They do have a longer break in the summer (4-6 weeks maybe) but they also have 1 week breaks throughout the year as well. Japan also has year round school to some extent. A month off in August and a month off in March are the two biggest breaks for them.

          1. Ken says:

            We get back from Ireland around July 9th, and I’d ideally like 2 weeks between big trips so that brings us to late July/early August. We have tons of points, where do you recommend? BTW, we moved to CO to escape the hot, humid FL summers so please keep that in mind.

          2. Trav says:

            @Ken- Well if you want something not as hot, you could definitely consider either doing Canada during the summer, which I did last summer and it was amazing, or heading to South America, where it will be “winter”. World Cup will have just ended, so I’m guessing that there won’t be many travelers headed down that way at that point.

    2. Trav says:

      @Ken- Yep, that was the same as me back when I was a teacher. Gotta convince her to become a blogger!

      1. Ken says:

        I don’t think she’d make enough money blogging to quit her day job. I just don’t see it being profitable unless you’ve got lots of CC signups.

        1. Trav says:

          @Ken- Unless she creates her own products and/or can come up with something unique that she can charge for membership and stuff. It’s definitely a long, slow process though.

  8. Andy says:

    Very timely advice. I’m going in 3 weeks. Thanks!

    1. Trav says:

      @Andy- Great, enjoy it and let us know how it goes. And if you are 3 weeks out, you can probably score some semi-cheap train tickets still.

  9. Samantha says:

    “Simply unlock your phone”…ha, good one

    1. Trav says:

      @Samantha- It’s actually really easy now, which is one of the biggest misconceptions about using phones abroad (and one that I had). All you have to do is call up your cellphone provider and ask them to unlock it for you. Usually, it takes 24 hours and you may have to re-synch it by plugging it in or something, but it is a really easy process.

      I actually am planning on putting together a post about how to do it, since I used to think it was hard and now I realize how easy they’ve made it. 3 years ago, this wasn’t the case.

  10. Amber says:

    Thanks for these tips. We are considering an escape from Southeast Asia later this year, fleeing for the wine and food of Italy and Spain. We are on more of a budget now than during our last few trips so this is helpful. And, I almost forgot about Aperitivo….

    1. Trav says:

      @Amber- Where are you in SE Asia now? We’ll actually be looking to escape TO SE Asia, probably in September/October. And apertivo…something after my own heart. A good deal, a drink, and great food. What could be better?

  11. magda says:

    Hi, I’m also in the teacher boat. Both my husband and I work in schools, and we have 2 kids…not even blogging could save us. Lol.. well at least we have lots of time off during summers to do all our traveling. I just started looking at Italy for our summer 2016 vacation. I know its along time away, but I am an obsessive planner, and we also have to budget for 4people in peak season for about a month.. for people like us that are tied to the school vacation schedule, I would recommend looking into June, most EU countries/schools have their break in August and July, I’m finding prices for some acommodations are still in the “regular” vs.” peak” rates.
    I love all the ideas you menioned. We did unlock our phones, which was very easy, just call up and they email you the code to unlock the phone. One thing i should mention is that if you get a new phone they may make you wait a month before you can request to get it unlocked(tmobil did that this past summer, but i loved being able to use my phonein france and germany, especially when arriving in a new place, or when we needed to get picked up from somewhere. We also stay in apartments, which is super convienient with a family. we usually go thru homeaway, but i will definitely check out the site you recommended for our future trips. Thank you for a wonderful and informative post. The only thing I would add is that you could also take advantage of the budget airlines like easyjet or ryanair (pack lite though, because baggage fees can be more than price of ticket sometimes).thanks again.

    1. Trav says:

      @Magda- I think that’s a good point. The earlier you can go in June, the better.

      I know people who have used homeaway as well. Seems like a good service. I do like that GoWithOh seems a little more hands-on. They actually own some of the apartments in some of the cities themselves.

      And yes, budget airlines…a major key to traveling Europe cheap. That should be it’s own post!

  12. GowithOh says:

    Travis these tips are awesome! Very helpful and will certainly help out a lot of travellers! Thanks for recommending us as a good way to save money!
    We love these tips and will be sure to pass them along!

    1. Trav says:

      @GoWithOh- Of course, I had an amazing experience!

  13. Great list!

    I searched high and low for reasonably priced accommodations for an upcoming stay in Rome – with the usual suspects like Airbnb, TripAdvisor, and your suggestion GoWithOh – before I stumbled upon http://www.cross-pollinate.com, which has listings across eight European cities.

    I booked a fantastic (albeit tiny, like really tiny) apartment that has a huge private rooftop terrace that’s a minute from Campo de’ Fiori. Couldn’t be happier!

    Will definitely check out your favorite apertivos stop, Freni e Frizioni.

    1. Trav says:

      @Mr Everyday Dollar- Cross Pollinate…looks cool. I’ve never heard about it. Will definitely have to check that out!

      And yeah, stuff yourself silly at Freni e Frizioni. Great stuff!

  14. Jesus Brito says:

    If OK with curfews and early check-out times, Convent stay are viable budget option. http://www.santasusanna.org/comingToRome/convents.html has extensive list of Convent stay options.

    1. Trav says:

      @Jesus Brito- Ah, very interesting. Never knew of that. Any clue what prices normally run?

      1. Jesus Brito says:

        Most, there are a few very expensive exceptions in Rome, are priced in the Pension category. Category of accommodation, access to public transit, level of service, ease of reservation booking process, amenities,i.e. shared or private bathroom, elevators, television, mattresses etc. vary widely. Convents in Rome have earliest curfew (9PM) where as villages and even Florence have later curfews as late as 11PM. European Convent Curfew demystified: you’re homeless for the night or grudgingly let in yet no longer welcomed and checking-out next morning, if returning after curfew.

  15. Aric says:

    Trav,
    Good post. Thanks. On Trenitalia (Venice to Rome), is there any benefit of 1st Class over 2nd Class. The web site is not too helpful describing the amenities, if any.

    1. Trav says:

      @Aric- I’m actually not sure. I took the 2nd class train, and it was really nice. I guess 1st class would be nicer, but 2nd class was totally fine…actually, really nice.

      I’d bet that if you checked out Seat61.com, you’d be able to see a picture of the 2nd class and 1st class seats.

  16. aileen says:

    Hi, I travel a lot as I live in SE Asia for 4 months in Winter and I drive m VW California camper to one European country for 5 months yearly and try to learn their language.
    I notice that in many of the really beautiful camp sites I stay in (half price with a card from ACSI except July and Aug) there are very nice bungalows, tents and caravans to rent and people there can use all of the amenities of the campsite. Works out cheaper than hotels and apartments plus many times camp sites are right on the beach and very often the bus in to the city is outside the gate.

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