Before I made my first trip to Italy in 2015, I was one of those people that thought it would be too expensive to ever travel there. It was the #1 spot on my Bucket List, and somewhere that I had dreamed about for a very long time. If you’ve followed any of my blog, you’ll read a lot about that. However, once I made the decision to do it, I found out that it is no more expensive than traveling in the US, in fact, it can very well be cheaper!
I normally take 2 – 3, one week vacations a year. My usual haunts are Boston, MA, Montreal, Canada, San Diego, CA and San Francisco, CA. Now, I may be a Hotel Snob by some accounts as I am a tad fussy about where I stay. I by no means am able to afford luxury hotels. I like to have a good view, free WiFi, a balcony is nice and I am very aware of the location of the hotel. Since I travel alone, I don’t want to be in an area that is considered, ‘bad’.
In San Diego I stay at the same hotel every year. It is right on the boardwalk in Pacific Beach, the room has a small balcony, and I book the same Ocean Front room each time. Of the hotels on the boardwalk it is the cheapest. In San Francisco, I stay at the Parc 55 Wyndham in the Union Square area (it has since been bought by Hilton). In Boston, I used to stay at a hotel in the Theatre District, I’ve stayed in the Seaport District and near Faneuil Hall. In Montreal I stay in Old Montreal at the only hotel along the St. Lawrence River. The hotel in Old Montreal is by far, the nicest, despite being the cheapest of any of the places I travel.
So, are these pricey hotels? I try not to pay more than $325.00 per nite, normally it is below $300.00 which for these cities, is not expensive. Each hotel is very clean, decent size, in a good area, close to public transportation and attractions, good amenities, mini fridges, some with microwaves, coffee makers and all have great staffs. You pay for what you get, and since I have come to expect certain things and peace of mind, I am willingly paying for those things.
That being said, in Italy I booked apartments for each of the 3 cities; Rome, Florence and Venice. Each apartment was fully furnished, 2 bathrooms, 2-3 bedrooms, a living area, a full kitchen, a washing machine and free Wifi. The total length of stay was 13 nights. The total cost for those 13 nights was €3275.00 in 2015. With the exchange rate at the time that was $3700.00, my share was of course less, but for comparison, the total cost is what is pertinent. This year, 2016, the total cost for hotel rooms in Boston, MA and New Haven, CT for 9 nights, was $2518.00. The trip I had to cancel in Italy this year, 2 apartments and 1 hotel room for a total of 14 nights, (Venice, Florence, Camogli) was $3277.00. The clear winner here is Italy hands down. Since having rented, I am finding it very hard to consider hotels now. Yes, special rates for a hotels can be found sometimes, but still, it’s a room, nothing more. If I have the choice, I’m going with an apartment, it’s kind of a no brainier for me.
Is it just a place to sleep? Not for me it isn’t. I may have to return to where I am staying several times in a day to rest depending on how my MS is treating me. I like the convenience of being able to come and go as I please and not have to worry about the cleaning staff being in the room. If I want to linger in the morning over coffee and the local newspaper, I can and again, not have to worry about housekeeping wanting to get in. If I choose, I can cook my own meals rather than go to a restaurant thereby saving money. It also makes me feel more like a local.
Other expenses….I did find Rome to be the more expensive of the 3 cities but I didn’t find the prices of anything to be outrageous. I found restaurants to be no more expensive than at home, not to mention, the portions were much larger than what is served here. You will pay for water in Italy, however I think at most, €1.75 for bottled water. And, since tipping is frowned upon? look at the money you save! There are so many options for meals in Italy that you really don’t need to spend a lot. Trattoria’s are a great place for inexpensive food, as are the small markets and ‘hole in the wall’ shops – these are possibly your best bets for some fantastic local food options. €1.50 for a Gelato, €1.50 for Cicchetti, €2.00 for Fociccia, €4.00 for Panino, €5.00 for a (huge) glass of house wine, all bargains if you ask me. If you want the ambiance of sitting outside the Pantheon, or Saint Mark’s Square, you are going to pay a premium, not to mention, most likely the food will be sub-par. The further you get from the tourist areas, the more reasonable, not to mention, authentic food will be!
Museum passes were inexpensive. There are many options for City passes that can be ordered on line making things cheaper than purchasing them ala cart. It seemed that Rome and Venice had more to offer – especially Venice. There were many, many options in Venice that also included transportation. Be sure to purchase any of your museum, Vatican etc passes ahead of time to avoid very long queues. You will however, pay to go inside many of the churches in any of these cities. Most are nominal €3.00 or so, but that could add up if you go into several. Oddly, the Pantheon was free, there were not too many free things in Rome! You also will pay to climb hundreds of stairs which I found odd…. oh and no, often times, this is the only way to get up the top in places such as the Duomo in Florence or Saint Peter’s Basilica. Don’t expect to find elevators in buildings, if you do, take advantage of them.
Train travel? Quite inexpensive; €34.00 from Florence to Venice, €29.00 from Rome to Florence. Both were the fast trains, and with no stops. A train ticket from Boston, MA to New Haven, CT by comparison, was $28.00 on a Regional Train with several stops. In Italy, these were the fast trains and direct. Another tip, book a second class ticket, the seats are quiet comfortable and roomy. No need to splurge on a 1st class ticket. Bus tickets seemed to be €1.50 on average, but again, you can include this in some of the City Passes.
I didn’t buy many souvenirs other than in Venice. I bought a tee shirt and coffee mug. I was shocked at the cost – in a good way. The coffee mug was €2.00. The tee shirt was €10.00, just try to find that in the states.. I know, I always buy tee shirts every where I go and a good price, for a cheap, thin short sleeve shirt is $14.99. Most are almost twice that. Oh, and both of these items were bought in Piazza San Marco where you would expect to pay much more.
In conclusion, in my humble opinion anyway, with the exception of airfare, I found a 2 week stay in Italy to be far less expensive than I would ever have imagined. Certainly, far less expensive than trips I take here in the US. Yes, would be tourists that don’t ever venture away from Saint Mark’s Square, The Vatican, or the Duomo, are going to spend quite a bit of money, and certainly, more money than they need to. But get away from those areas and enjoy the real Italy and save some money in the process. Ciao!