This past September, Matthew and I got the chance to go to Italy for a week.
And it was awesome.
Yeah, it may have not been the cheapest thing we’ve ever done, but every dollar spent was completely worth the experience.
And, we honestly got a great deal, thanks to my parents.
It all started around April 2016 with a simple question from my mom: “Hey we have an extra room at the place we are staying at in Italy – Would you and Matthew want to come?”
And escalated with my quick reply: “YES PLEASE.”
Ever since my first trip abroad at the end of my freshman year of college, I’ve been wanting to travel the world, so I was immediately on board, and since Matthew has also been wanting to travel more, he was too. So, we paid the $1,000 for our round-trip flight and waited patiently for September to come.
The night before we left, we made a last minute decision to exchange our U.S. dollars for euros ($500 for about $470 euros – exchange rate = 1 US Dollar = 0.94 Euro) so that we wouldn’t have to deal with it when we got to Italy and so we wouldn’t lose any more money in service fees, etc. during the process. We honestly weren’t sure how much to take out, but $470 euros turned out to be just a little over what we actually spent, so I think we did a pretty good job.
On September 16, we took off for our Italy adventure. Although I had traveled out of the country before, this was Matthew’s first time, so the 9-hour flight was definitely the first exciting part of our trip. We lived it up, enjoying [kinda..] our airline food, alcohol, and being crammed on the plane with a bunch of other random people who were traveling to the same destination for completely different reasons.
After a layover in Toronto, where we were able to ride the train into the city to explore a bit, we were on our way to Italy, where our real adventures began.
Usually, when people travel abroad, they opt for public transportation (or at least, that’s how I’ve always done it). However, one of my dad’s co-workers had convinced him that renting a car to drive around from destination to destination in Italy was the way to go. Unfortunately, we had 6 people (my mom, dad, me, Matthew & 2 of my parent’s friends), which meant that we needed a big car, and if you’ve ever been to Italy, you’ll understand why this was such a problem.
The city streets in Italy are narrow. Really narrow. And for this reason, all the locals drive the smallest cars you’ll ever see. So imagine a humongous black van driving through the tiny city streets of Florence. Yeah, it was definitely a struggle.
Oh, and parking isn’t easy in Italy either. At least, not in Florence. When we first drove into Florence with our rental car we got from the airport, we drove around for hours trying to figure out where was acceptable to park, before we finally gave into the expensive garage that charged $3 per hour with no maximum charge.
Frugal tip: When traveling abroad, public transportation is probably the easiest and the cheapest way to go [unless you are confident enough with your knowledge of the laws, street norms and parking restrictions of the city].
So, the van was probably the biggest downside of the trip, but the good thing is, there were way more upsides. From traveling to Florence to admire all of the architecture and beauty of the city, and then, enjoying the delicious wine and breathtaking views while relaxing in Tuscany, to stopping by Pisa to see the Leaning Tower as we made our way to Rome, where we explored the Vatican City, saw the Sistine Chapel, the Colosseum, and so much more, this trip was certainly the best vacation I’ve ever experienced.
Since there was so much to cram in one week (which certainly wasn’t enough time for our trip to Italy), I feel that pictures will describe the experience much better than words can…
& with that, I’ll leave you with a few frugal (and random) takeaways from our Italy adventure –
1. If your parents ask you to join them on a trip to Italy, say yes.
2. Exchange your money for the correct currency before the trip, so you don’t have to pay any extra service fees for exchanging your money at an airport in another country.
3. When traveling abroad, public transportation is the way to go [unless you’re 100% confident with driving the streets of another country]
4. Italian gelato is not only delicious, but also very reasonably priced (at most places) – If you’re in Rome, I strongly recommend Old Bridge Gelateria. Best gelato I had during the entire trip
5. If you’re a sauce person, expect to be disappointed with the lack of sauces that Italians offer with their meals. Hint: you won’t be getting any ranch or hot sauce with your pizza in Italy (Being sauce lovers, Matthew and I were deeply disappointed with this)
6. Coffee culture is different in Italy than it is in the U.S., meaning there’s a certain time and place to drink certain types of coffee and your usual order in America will likely taste rather different than what you end up with in Italy. Hint: Ordering a caffè in Italy means you’re wanting a pick-me-up shot of espresso (not just a plain cup of coffee as Matthew & I ignorantly assumed at first)
7. Wine is cheap in Italy. Drink up & enjoy.
8. Must-sees: Cinque Terre! Probably my favorite part of the trip, along with Tuscany.
9. If you ever decide to travel to Italy, go for more than a week. There’s no way you’ll be able to take in and truly appreciate all of the architecture, art, and history in such a short amount of time.
Now, after looking back on all of those pictures from September, I realize how much I miss Italy. Honestly, if you ever get the chance, take it, despite the cost (although you should always be looking for those flight deals!).
Even being as frugal as I am, the experience definitely overruled the $1,500 (give or take a little) I spent on the trip!
forever frugal & free,