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First time in Italy with 2 inexperienced adult travelers

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My boyfriend and I are looking to visit our friends who live about an hour outside Milano this June. I will admit that this is an advantage having friends in a foreign country. However, both my boyfriend and I have basically no experience with planning trips or traveling. He has done little traveling outside the US. I have done some, but only as a child, when I didn't have to worry about planning a vacation.

We are looking to go the last 10 days or so (we are flexible, but that is when our friends would be available for travel and a visit) of June 2013. So far, I have connected with KAYAK, and have it set up to inform me of any flights from Washington DC to MILAN that are under $900. My American friend who lives there with her Italian husband has flown back and forth several times, and she told me she has scored tickets just under $700. I am aware airfare is currently high, so I set the bar a little higher for now.

I am confident I can purchase plane tickets, but I'm most overwhelmed with what we should do and where we should stay (once we head away from our friends' home) from there. So far, the plan is to meet our friends about an hour outside Milano where they live. We plan to fly in, and be picked up by them. LIN airport is the closest for them. If we can't find tickets to LIN, then I've been informed that we may have to take a bus from another airport.

They have invited us to stay the entire trip. However, my friend informed me we won't need more than a day or two to see Milano. She suggested heading up to Lake Como. From what I hear, it is beautiful and sounds like my cup of tea. I would really like to focus more on beauty, nature, and adventure/experience on this trip, and less on shopping and crowds. A day involving some shopping would be ok, but should not be the focus.

Another interest is the beaches. I would also be interested in visiting Venice since it is up North. I've heard the Adriatic Sea is a great place to visit. So perhaps some time in Milano, Lake Como, and Venice...possible in this amount of time?

As for budget, we decided on $6000 for the two of us, including airfare. I ran this by my friend and she said that we could do it for less. We want to be comfortable wherever we stay, but we obviously don't have the funds to stay anywhere very fancy.

As I mentioned, this is our first big trip. We don't want to make it overly complicated. My friends are willing the help, but at the same time, they aren't responsible for planning the trip (same goes for all you out there). So any suggestions from anyone who has been in a similar situation would be fantastic. Thanks!

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