How I Toured Italy on a Budget

Two friends and myself traveled to Venice, Florence, Rome, and Santorini on a spring break that lasted 18 days. With lots of spreadsheets and budgeting skills we managed to have the time of our lives without breaking the bank.

FOOD

Like many people, food is one of my favorite things about traveling. There is no better way to embrace a culture by trying the same food that the locals do. However, most of the time the food can be the biggest thing draining your pocketbook. On our trip, my friends and I went to the grocery store and bought things for dinners and breakfasts. We picked up lunch meats, breads, and LOTS of apples. We made a lot of our meals in the apartments we were renting and splurged on one or two really special meals every few days. Sure, we had about three cones of gelato a day and enjoyed the BEST pizza of our lives (GUSTA PIZZA in Florence) but when you are walking all day and seeing new things, you don’t really think about food until you’re starving. If you do decide to go to a sit down restaurant in Italy, make sure to ask about a cover charge. Most restaurants charge a fee for sitting down and even extra for using the silverware. Unless you are dying to go to this restaurant, I wouldn’t advise paying more than 2 euro just for sitting down. Save that money and get yourself a nice scoop of gelato.

Getting from Place to Place

Figuring out the best ways to get around takes practice. In my opinion, it is more convenient and faster to take trains from city to city. Taking a bus is an option, but with so many places to see in a couple weeks, we didn’t want to waste six hours in a stinky bus. Many railway companies have member cards you can buy for a small price and then use to buy 50% off tickets. Sometimes, you will even get discounts on tickets just because you are a student. Never be afraid to ask!

Taking a night train is a great option when you are going a far distance from one city to another. They are often much cheaper than daytime tickets and you can just sleep the whole time. My favorite train company in Italy is Italo. The prices are very reasonable and the trains are very well kept and fast. They have representatives at every major rail station to help you with anything you need.

Once you arrive to your destination, one of the first things you should do is find out about their public transportation. Every city is different on their vehicle of choice. In Venice, you travel everywhere by water taxi. In Rome, we used the tram and bus systems. In Santorini, we enjoyed traveling everywhere by four-wheelers that you can rent for 15 euro a day.  When it comes to taxis and trams, look into group tickets and joint day passes. You will spend more paying for a ticket every time you get on the tram rather than buying a three day pass. You can hop on and off as much as you want and will save lots of money.

Besides the conventional forms of transportation, the way we used the most was our own feet. I have never walked as much in my life as I did on that trip. Pack a good pair of walking shoes before you leave! You’ll use them.

Finding a Place to Lay Your Head

Before leaving on our trip, we spent a few weeks comparing prices for places to stay in every city. In Venice, the Generator Hostel was the best option. Hostels in Florence and Rome were much more pricey for us because it was during the Easter holiday. We chose to use the online home rental website called AirBNB. That was one of the best decisions we made the whole trip! It was a much cheaper option and each place had its own kitchen we could use. Santorini was the only place where we booked a room in a hotel, but even then it only cost us eleven euro a night. Just always make sure to compare all your options and only choose places where you know you will be safe.

The Most Beautiful Sights are Free

Personally, my favorite things we saw during the whole trip didn’t cost us a dime. We got lost in the streets of Venice, people watched in Florence, had a picnic in front of the Coliseum, and witnessed the most spectacular sunset in Santorini. Florence was the most expensive of all the cities when it came to popular tourist sites. I didn’t pay 24 euro and wait in a three-hour line to see the David but I saw the replica outside and it was pretty cool. It all depends on your personal preferences.

Put Down the Keychain

I used to be one of those kids that needed a souvenir from every place I visited. They little knickknacks always ended up sitting on a shelf in my room collecting dust though. So instead of collecting useless things, I started collecting pendants from every place I went. They all cost me under 10 euro and each one has sentimental value. We have also started collecting cool small things we randomly find. For example, I found a blue spray painted key in Santorini and a volcano rock from our hike. These small items will always bring back a special memory. They are way better than any keychain or a magnet I could find at every store on the street.

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