I am back! It all went so incredibly fast and it seems like somewhat of a blur, but it was SUCH a great trip. It was an unforgettable experience with my mom and grandma and I am so so grateful. I am hopefully going to get to some recap posts, but I want to include pictures and I haven’t downloaded them yet, so for now here is an overview of some general thoughts and information.
I knew that I absolutely could not overpack so I needed to be strategic. I started pulling clothes into our guestroom that I thought I might take a month in advance. I started to actually pack my suitcase about a week in advance. I was determined that I would not let my suitcase be over 40 lbs (leaving 10 lbs for anything I might buy). That didn’t exactly happen (47lbs at weigh in) but I did use most of what I brought.
Things that were a must:
A rain-proof jacket/shell and travel sized umbrella- Thankfully we only got rained on once, but it was a downpour and there was very little warning (it was sunshine 5 minutes prior). There was rain in the forecast every day we were there, but we quickly learned that the forecast was never accurate. I bought a nice Northface rain jacket for $99, and it folded into its own pocket so it was fairly small. I was very grateful to have it, as people who brought jackets that were not rainproof were soaked. A poncho is also an option and even smaller/lighter to carry around (and cheaper).
Travel sized Kleenex/wipes for your purse- In public restrooms toilet paper is NEVER a guarantee. Come prepared.
At least two pair of comfortable shoes- Preferably that will dry quickly. I brought two pair of Toms and they were perfect.
Modest Clothing- In order to enter some of the churches (such as the Vatican) you must have your knees and shoulders covered. This is not negotiable. They will not let you in or ask you to leave.
Layers- I actually thought the weather was quite similar to California. The mornings and nights were cool and the midday could be quite warm. The weather also changed sometimes quickly. Dressing in easy layers allowed for me to add/subtract as needed. I brought 2 light sweaters in black and white so that one would go with every outfit I brought.
A cross body purse with a zipper- areas with lots of people, especially tourist area also crawling with pick pockets. They are often young girls even. Always wear your purse in the front and keep one hand on it, especially in crowded areas or public transportation.
A power converter/adaptor- I only used this to charge my phone, my portable phone charger, and my camera battery, but it was a MUST.
Clothes that do not easily wrinkle- There were a few shirts that I brought that I would have liked to have worn but even though they were rolled tight they were a wrinkly mess!
Things that were nice to have-
My pillow- I am very particular about pillows and using the wrong one will leave me with a migraine so I almost always travel with my pillow. I roll it up and rubberband it so I doesn’t take up much space actually. The pillows in the hotels would have left me with a headache every day, so I was very thankful I decided to bring it. Obviously this is important to me, and it may not be to you.
A sun hat- This was sort of a last minute purchase before the trip at Target, but I ended up wearing it quite a bit the first few days of the trip. It was also easy to travel with as it could be rolled.
A small back pack- I used this to carry around an umbrella and my raincoat as well as any layers I had taken off. I also kept a bottle of water or two in it. It was also handy to have for any purchases I made while out and about. Do not use this to carry anything valuable such as money/passport/ect.
A cell phone with a data plan- Google Translator was a life saver in a few situations. I also used the map feature to navigate my way through Rome by foot. I tried to use it only when essential and rely on the hotel’s free WIFI for uploading pictures ect.
Portable charger- My phone drained pretty quickly some days and having the portable charger was really convenient, mostly so I could keep taking pictures. The charger I have will charge my phone about twice from a dead battery.
Scarves- I brought a few scarves because they could dress up and outfit or at least make it seem a little different, especially since I wore a few things more than once.
Things I packed but did not use or did not pack and did not miss-
A Bathing suit- It was just too cold and we didn’t have a lot of time. Later in the summer it would have been nice to swim at Capri. The water was SUPER clear.
A laptop- I did not bring a laptop, but I did have an iPad and I really only even used my iPad on the plane for entertainment. It was nice to be relatively unplugged for the time I was there. I did post on FB/Instagram a few times a day, but since I tried to only do that using WIFI my exposure was limited even with that.
A travel journal- I would have loved to have written things down, but there was no time. Sleep was way more important since I was only getting 6-7 hours a night.
My Italy Info book- I bought a guide book when I found out I was going on the trip, and didn’t have much time to read it, so I brought it. BAD idea. I still had no time to read it and it was heavy! Since we were on a tour I got way more info from our director than I ever could have gotten out of the book.
Laundry soap/drying cord- There was just no time to ever wash anything. Thankfully these items were very light and took up little space.
Other packing tips-
Make-up- I am not a big wearer of make-up but I did actually wear it most days I was there. I brought a very small basic assortment of make-up and actually ended up using less than I even brought.
Dry shampoo- There were many days that I ended up showering twice, once at night and once in the morning, and then some days I didn’t have time to shower at all. Dry shampoo was a life saver to keep my hair under control.
Carry on- I packed an extra outfit in my carry on back just in case my luggage didn’t arrive and even though that wasn’t an issue by the time I got to the hotel I only had a few moments to change out of my stinky travel clothes for dinner and my suitcase had not been delivered by the porter. Having the extra set was a blessing!
The money situation-
The cheapest way to go is using an ATM to get cash. I brought two cards, my ATM/Debit Card and 1 credit card that had a low international transaction fee. You do need to have Euros in cash as not everywhere accepts cards. I ended up going to the ATM twice on the trip and used a card for bigger purchases. I actually didn’t spend much money because so much was already included in our tour and we were really given little time to shop.
Since my plane ticket was purchased on relative short notice, and I live near a small market airport my travel was not ideal. I had two stops before reaching my destination both on the way there and back, which made for some seriously long travel days. Both trips took over 36 hours door to door and it was pretty tough but very worth it. I REALLY tried to sleep on the flight from Chicago to Rome but I could not get comfortable. Since I left Venice in the morning (Italy time) I ended up being awake the entire flight and then I didn’t get to Dallas (where I stayed overnight) for 26 hours after I left. So yea, I was awake for 26 hours straight. I don’t think I fully realized how hard it would be to get there and back from the West Coast. With that said, I downloaded a season of a TV show I had been wanting to catch up on (Hart of Dixie) which made the time go much faster. I also downloaded a book but never really felt like reading. On the way home I forgot to take my headphones out of my luggage which was a huge mistake. I got a pair from the airline for free, but they were the kind that go in your ear and those really hurt me. I did watch a few episodes of Big Bang Theory and 2 movies from the free entertainment on the plane.
I also tried my best to drink lots of water, instead of things like soda and coffee. I do think it helped me fight the jet lag. I also tend to get ridiculously dehydrated even on short flights so I think this was an important move for me. My other trick was to use peppermint oil on my stomach. I tend to feel very bloated and have tummy aches when flying and this really helped! I put it on before each flight.
For the trip we went on an organized tour, which was the best situation with my grandma. Our tour group at 36 people, mostly American and Australian. There were 3 people in the group under the age of 40 myself in included. The average age was probably 55-60. Mostly everyone was very nice and it was nice to get to know people through the course of the trip. Our tour director was Italian. She was awesome. There are many advantages of going on a tour. First, you don’t stand in line for anything. We always had priority entrances to every attraction so we would show up right at our time and go right in. It was also nice to not to worry about shelling out money here and there because the entrance fee was included in the package price. It was also nice not to worry about getting around. In a country that doesn’t speak English having someone drive for you or tell you exactly what bus, train, or boat to get on was HUGE. Even optional excursions were very affordable because of the number of people. Our group also had a guarantee of 4-5 star hotels. Some were better than others but they were all good and clean. They were also in great locations, especially in Venice. Our group was also a good size as I saw many cruise ship excursion groups that had at least 100 people in them. Traveling with 36 is pretty easy. Everyone in our group was also always on-time.
When you are on a tour you are on a very strict schedule. There was some downtime, but being on time was very important to make everything work. Almost every morning started off quite early. You are also only given a limited amount of time to explore on your own. Breakfast everyday was included so it was nice to just come downstairs and have a large spread waiting for you. The included dinners were good, but not excellent. We also did two excursions that included meals and those were VERY good. Also there were a few lunch stops during travel days that were literally at Autogrills on the side of the freeway….so basically the Italian version of fast food. Since I am a bit of a foodie I would prefer to seek out the best food possible when on a trip like that, but with my grandma’s limited mobility we weren’t able to really explore too much even on our meals on our own.
I am sort of split on if I would do a tour if I went to Europe with my husband. We will have to cross that bridge when we get there I guess.
Hopefully over the next few days I can blog more about each specific location/day!