Planning and budgeting for a trip to Italy

Many people asked me how did I plan for the trip to Italy in 2010 and how much it costs. Firstly, for those who know me and those that are familiar with my blog would have probably realised that I fall into the group of independent budget traveler. Therefore I make my own travel arrangement and look for bargains and best value for money where possible.

Planning
Planning for the trip started in 2009, after deciding on Italy as our next vacation destination, I started searching for information and used the internet a lot. Example of websites that I found useful in my initial planning and research are:-
For general overview – http://www.lonelyplanet.com/italy, http://www.frommers.com/destinations/italy, http://www.goitaly.about.com
For getting specific travel information from fellow travelers – Lonely Planet Thorn Tree travel forum, Tripadvisor travel forum, Rick Steve’s Europe Travelers Helpline
For Transportation – Trenitalia Home Page ( http://www.trenitalia.com )

There will be high tendency that during your research you get excited and get overboard with a long list of places you like to visit and things to do. I remembered a much younger me 25 years ago would do a dash across Europe 11 countries in 30 days. But looking back I didn’t really see much of the country i visited because I end up spending so much time moving from one place to another. In recent years, I realised a slower paced itinerary provides a more fullfilling travel experience. So do try to narrow down your wish list. This is how I do it now.
a) I prioritize and rank them as MUST SEE, nice to see and OK not to see.
b) I categorise them into type of attractions such as museum/archaeological sites,arts & galleries, architecture, scenery, culture, food and shopping.
Then I will only pick on the MUST SEE. Strike out one or two if there are too many with similar type of attractions because you don’t want to be doing and seeing similar things over and over again. Based on the shorter list, I try to draft an itinerary.

Mode of transportation
It’s important to identify the mode of transportation into the country and how to move around the country. Transport could be a significant component in your budget. In my case, coming from Malaysia I have no choice but to take the flight to Italy. I prefer a direct flight and when possible avoid flights involving transits. Knowing the airlines which meet my requirement I will go into their website and find out when they offer cheaper fares. In most cases they would have blackout time during peak seasons and have special fares during low seasons. For that reason, I have decided a trip during autumn. To get the cheapest fare I bought the flight ticket 8 months ahead during the airline travel fair.
Italy’s public transportation is very good. Train is the most convenient way to move around from one city to another. Trenitalia has on-line ticket purchasing service but I chose to purchase the ticket just before departing as I would like some flexibility in my itinerary. You could print the schedule and fares to assist you in your planning and budgeting. Depending on how long you are staying in a particular city, I sometimes find passes can be a cheaper option if you plan to travel extensively. During our trip to Italy, we bought the Roma Pass which entitle the holder to free use of public transportation for 3 days and entrance to 2 museum/archeological site. In Venice we bought the Vaporetto Pass and use the ferry a lot to get around Venice including to the island of Murano.

Taking leave from work
I normally applied my leave 3 months ahead so I could finalised my travel itinerary. Once you have your leave approved, it’s time to revisit your draft itinerary. With the additional information on your transportation choice, allow for travelling time in your itinerary. Add queuing time for attractions that is likely to have long queue. You may need to narrow down your list further to fit in the available time for sightseeing. Now you can finalised your itinerary.

Accommodation
I normally stay in independent hostels, guesthouse or pensions. In Italy this could cost between 30 – 40 Euro per person per night. My favourite sites for bookings are http://www.hostelbookers.com and http://www.worldhostel.com.

Meals
Most of the independent hostels, guesthouse or pensions in Italy provide a basic breakfast included in the accommodation price. I only eat out once a day and uses the guest kitchen to cook for other meals. For 15 Euro could get you a descent meal excluding drinks.

Attractions
It’s worthwhile to check the attraction’s website. I would normally find out the opening/closing time and entrance charges. Some would offer discount for tickets purchase online. Some would offer reduced entrance fee on certain day or after certain hour. Posting a question in travel forum for information can be useful as others would share their own experience and give feedback on what’s doable or not. Knowledge is power and can save you time and money.

Shopping
This is quite subjective because it vary from one person to another and how much budget one has for some retail therapy. For the trip I have allowed €800 but didn’t get to finish it :).

In summary, in 12 days we have covered Rome, Pisa, San Gimignano, Florence, Venice and Lake Garda. We spent about €750 for accommodation, €400 for meals, €250 for transportation and €100 for entry to attractions. Excluding flight tickets and shopping money, we spent about €1,500 in total for two person. It’s about €65/day/person. I had used my Air Miles and only paid €186 for the return tickets from Kuala Lumpur to Rome, whilst my travelling partner paid €627. You may like to view my photobook here: Italian Escapade 2010

Please do take note that the above was amount actually spent. For example I have skipped visiting galleries and attending an opera due to time constraint so these activities are not included in the expenses. Hope the above help for your own planning a trip to Italy.

How to beat the queue at Disneyland Paris?

This is how we have done it. So some tips…. 

  1. Plan ahead. Do research and familiarise the attractions at Disneyland Paris.
  2. Shortlist the attractions and rides that you would like to go.
  3. Find out if certain attraction is only available at certain time such as the Parade.
  4. Found out which ride offers “FastPass”.  FastPass (FP) is a reservation system available in Disneyland. When used wisely you can get ahead of other visitors and maximized your time to enjoy the rides instead of queuing for hours. We had devised a plan and only used FP when the queuing time at the attraction is more than 60 minutes.
  5. If you can, avoid going there on Saturday, Sunday and Wednesday. Usually there are bigger crowds during weekend and in France the school closed on Wednesday.
  6. We bought the entrance tickets two days in advance at Disney Store Champs Elysees Boulevard and avoid the queue at the park entrance on visiting day.
  7. We took the early morning train to Disneyland and be at the entrance gate 30 minutes before opening.
  8. We had stick to our plan, no compromise!

Good luck and hope the above tips can help your plan to Disneyland Paris….

Being Thrifty & Frugal Traveler…

The myth is going on a holiday is expensive. Depends on how you approach it, you can make a holiday affordable. I consider myself a thrifty and frugal traveler and this is how I have done it.

  • Plan well ahead. For an overseas trip, I would normally plan 1 year in advance so I could save enough $$$ for the trip.
  • Avoid group tour. Independent travel is the way to go for me. It is more flexible and I can plan my own itinerary according to places and things I want to do.
  • Travel during shoulder season. The airfare and hotels are cheaper. There will be less crowd and queues will be shorter.
  • Stay in hostels/camps/guest house. I don’t need the luxury facilities at a 4-star hotels because most of the time I will be out sightseeing. What I need is a place to rest, a bed to sleep, a shower I can go to freshen up before I am out sightseeing again. I would also look out for hostels with kitchen facilities so I could prepare some meals.
  • Limit eating out. I would normally eat out 1 meal a day and prepare my other meal such as sandwiches and pasta at the hostel.  I could easily buy bread, eggs, milk, pasta, fruits and vegetables at the local groceries shop.
  • Research on attractions. The internet is my best friend and I use them a lot in my research for special offers. I always use the search engine and type “free things to do in …..”. I would also go to the attraction website to find out the entrance fee and if they offer free entrance on certain time or day. The tourism website also provides much information.   
  • Research on transportation options. If I am going to move a lot I will find out and make comparison on the transportation options. Decision and choice would not only depend on costs but also flexibility in my itinerary.
  • Walking.  It is free! This is still the best way to explore and get close to the sights and attractions in the city.