It was our first trip to Italy together for our Honeymoon, and we couldn’t wait. However, being new to the whole foreign traveling thing, we certainly learned the hard way…
In no particular order… here are five mistakes we made.
1. Using a tour-booking company
I know travel companies can be a real lure, and I’m sure there is a place for them. However, they overcharge for their services and have their own connections (with hotels, for example) that may actually not be in your favor.
We went with Virgin Vacations at the recommendation of a friend. They had great experience with them, seeing as how it was their first trip as well. And the problem is, when you know nothing, you’re completely dependent on others to help you. However, there are so many ways to do it yourself, that now I would never overpay a company to book something I can do myself.
The hotels that were chosen for us were not good locations. They were hotels that the travel company got a good deal on, but we weren’t near anything. In Rome, we were a 30 minute shuttle ride to the main part of town. We couldn’t wander out and see the splendor of Rome. Secondly, they weren’t highly rated on TripAdvisor or Booking.com or any of the other major review sites. They were mediocre. They were pretty basic with no frills.
There were things that the company paid for that we weren’t aware of, such as the ride from the airport. Because we weren’t aware that we had already paid that in our vacation package, we ended up paying for it twice. So we were out $100 and didn’t even realize it until we got home.
There might be a place for tour-booking companies, but since we’ve had multiple times to do it all again, I would never go with it today.
2. Getting seduced by “We speak English” tours and restaurants
Boy, did we learn our lesson on this one. When we first got to the Vatican, we had people running up to us saying “Do you speak English?” Obviously by the blank stares on our face and complete and utter shock we were in.. it was no surprise that we had signs on our foreheads that read “Yes, we speak English. Yes, we are American.”
We went ahead and paid $80 per person for an English tour of the Vatican. Now, at the risk of sounding snobbish, I will say that I was an Art History Minor and had been studying these art pieces for months and couldn’t wait to see them. The information he was sharing was something you could have noticed on your own without any schooling. Such as “this statue is of a Greek God in the ocean.” What gave you that idea? His mermaid tail or the carved rock in the shape of waves?
There are so many guidebooks and free audio downloads that weren’t available when we went, but are plenteous now. There is no reason to pay for a tour unless you know absolutely nothing and are afraid you can’t find the bathroom. Otherwise, get a free audio download and save yourself $160.
After that mediocre tour we were lured down an alleyway by an English-speaking man who lead us to a “We speak English” restaurant. Here, we were brought bread, and sparkling water and other items that we thought were free, but ended up getting charged on our bill. The food was not that great and the restaurant was set up in the typical “Italian” that most American tourists would expect. Nothing about it was authentic… it was completely set up as a tourist trap. That’s how the “We speak English” restaurants get you.
Instead, go to a restaurant crowded with Italians, where no one speaks English, bring a phrase book to decode the menu.. point and smile. You’ll get the real deal that way.
3. Packing too much
Basically, I packed everything but the kitchen sink. I brought full-size hair products, multiple pairs of pants, shoes and sweaters… half of which I didn’t even wear. And no one told me that I would be lugging that through tiny cobbled streets and up and down multiple subway station stairs. I didn’t know I’d be lugging that on a tiny boat that brought me to the Venice airport. No one told me anything so I showed up with a lot of things I didn’t need and had to carry it by myself with no help. I will never pack heavy again.
4. Not bringing the right shoes
I had no idea how much I’d be walking and consequently brought shoes that were unsuitable for walking long distances for long periods of time. I also brought a brand new pair of shoes that were not broken in. These things combined made for some very painful experiences.
Believe it or not, I chose to wear moccasins (also known as fancy house slippers) on a sightseeing day in Rome. We walked all over the city from sun up to sun down. Needless to say, my feet were bleeding from blisters and sore from lack of support. Yes, I did cry at the end of the day. As embarrassing as that story is, I am telling it to you so you don’t make the same mistake I did.
Isn’t this cute? …Minus the matching house slippers we wore to walk around the city. Have a good laugh at our expense… we deserve it.
5. Not having the right guidebooks
I can not stress to you enough how important it is to get the right information and the right guidebooks. The books we had did not provide us with necessary information. We spent lots of time wandering around arguing because we were lost. We wasted time not knowing which restaurants to go to because none of the ones in the guidebook were near us, in our price range or available without a reservation. You need to do research ahead of time, but you need a good guide with you to give you information. If you are trying to get to a sight, you need your guide to tell you which metro stop to get off at. You need it to tell you how much tickets cost and where to buy them. You need information. Without it, you will spend time wandering around aimlessly like we did and eating at McDonalds multiple times because you’re starving and can’t figure out where to eat.
My husband asking for directions. Some men aren’t too proud to ask. He couldn’t understand anything they said… but at least he tried.