First Trip to Italy

Old Feb 24th, 2019, 07:55 PM
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First Trip to Italy

My husband and I are planning a trip to Italy for the fall 2019. We were considering signing up for a 16-day tour with Odyssey Unlimited. Tour is the Portrait of Italy--Amalfi Coast, Rome, Florence, Venice. But, I'm having second thoughts.

We are in our late 60's and chances are this will be our first and last trip to Italy, so we want to see as much as we can and do it right. I prefer a small group, if we're going to do a tour. Setting this trip up on our own seems overwhelming, so I'm looking for suggestions of the best way to do it. Tour, travel agent? Thanks in advance!
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Old Feb 24th, 2019, 09:19 PM
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What is your second thoughts about?
If the seconds thoughts is about the cost, I would say the total cost including the airfare is about 50% more than doing the same on my own. If you can pay someone else to do the planning, the itinerary does not seem dreadful. I would certainly choose more centrally located smaller hotels than the ones the tour chose, but tours need to stick to group capable hotels sometimes way out in the sticks.

Regarding a travel agent, unless you have substantial resources to spend on travel agent to ensure your interests are kept at the highest priority, they would end up prioritizing items with commissions. Such choices are rarely in your favor. I would recommend staying away.

In addition to saving cost, you will get more out if you have done your own planning. You would have to learn about destinations and why you are a choosing them. While you might visit numerically more sites with a tour, you might remember more from your trip. It is much harder to forget your trip if you have spent days looking at the info on sites, where are they located, what are there to see, etc.

A planning would be overwhelming when you don't have goals to focus on. Without goals, there is nothing to help you choose one over others. You will spin your head and get overwhelmed. Reread your post. What are your goals? Going to Italy as a goal does not help you how you organized your trip. More specific items, for example, seeing Bernini sculptures, Botticelli paintings, eating a pizza in Napoli, etc, would help you make sure items meaningful to you are in your itinerary. For example, if you have no interest in seeing anything Renaissance, you might reduce the amount of time you spend in Florence without impacting your goals.
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Old Feb 24th, 2019, 09:26 PM
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Rome,Florence and Venice are likely three of the easiest cities for foreign tourists. Fast trains between them make travel easy. Almost everybody a tourist will come into contact with can handle multiple languages. Likely millions of pages of information between guidebooks and the web.

If you do it yourself you'll see what you want. You'll make the compromises you want. Everybody makes compromises. If you go with a tour you'll see what makes sense from the profit/loss side of the equation. If you're lucky this will mean exactly the trip you wanted but to end up with that sort of tour you'll need to do a fair bit of research (likely no less than doing the trip on your own) to make sure the tour you pick fits you.
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Old Feb 25th, 2019, 01:55 AM
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I would grab a Rick Steves book and read what he has to say. If you feel you would be comfortable planning on your own after reading his comments, then go for it. If a tour on your own still seems overwhelming, then the Odyssey Unlimited tour would probably be work well.
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Old Feb 25th, 2019, 03:52 AM
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Well, I would take the profit that you were going to give a tour company and extend your stay. Probably makes 15 nights into 20! Then, since most of the places you are going will have English speaking people about, get hold of the Rough Guide to Italy (a mere 1000 pages) and start looking. You also need to read seat61.com on how to use the trains (which are way nicer than learning to drive in Italy).

The obvious plans to get a flavour of Italy are Rome, Venice, Florence, (Amalfi is second league in my mind but up to you). If you think you are missing out, spend some of the saved money on a personal guide to the top spots. So maybe a guide to Ancient Rome for a day or half a day are easy to book and you often get very very intelligent people showing you around. Whoever you chose they will be better than the people who chose to go on a tour.

Also, you don't just have to enjoy the sites, you can join in, for example, do some yoga (Italian style) do a cooking course.

Have a look at some of the other threads on this site on things to do in Italy. If you are coming once, then make it a big holiday.
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Old Feb 25th, 2019, 04:39 AM
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A lot of people are nervous/unsure about planning their first trip. But it really is very easy, everything can be done on line and there are forums like this one (and Rick Steves forum is also excellent) where people with more experience can answer your questions - everything from opinions on where to go and how long to stay to specific logistical questions.


Both organized tours and travel agents will cost you considerable money over doing it yourself. Plus, doing it yourself you get to go where you want, not a packaged itinerary designed to make money for the tour organizer and travel agent. All around a much better idea.



In general the less you spend the longer trip you can afford. Everyone has different requirements but there are so many choices - you can spend under 100 a night for clean, well located accommodations to well over two or three times that. You can pre book trains or take regional trains to save money, or go with last minute fast trains if that works out better for your purposes. Food choices are even more varied depending on if you like good local but not fancy (picnics from local markets, small family run cafes) or if you want wait service with linen table cloths every meal. booking.com is a good site to start with for accommodations (everything from small B&Bs to apartments to hotels from 1 to 5 star).


Tell us how many days you have for the trip, approximately how much you can spend, when you plan to go, and a little about the kind of things you want to do. You'll get tons of help.
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Old Feb 25th, 2019, 07:36 AM
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Realize that this forum attracts mostly independent travelers, so you will get a lot of suggestions to do it on your own (based on their preference to do it that way).

Being in your late 60's, going for the first time, and being intimidated by all the decisions, I think going with a tour group is the right choice for you.

I'd suggest extending your trip by a few days at the end of the tour to allow you to experience independent travel as well (but after you've learned a few things from being in Italy with your group).
Lots of good options that vary by length, luxury, activity level, and group size/age.

You'll love it no matter what option you choose!
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Old Feb 25th, 2019, 07:45 AM
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Yes you can easily book your own trains and hotels and just have to show up but maybe you want a group to interact with - for lots on Italian trins check www.seat61.com; BETS-European Rail Experts and www.ricksteves.com.
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Old Feb 25th, 2019, 08:04 AM
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We started out with tours, "graduated" to DIY, then returned to local tours as we got older and tired of ticket schlepping and standing in long lines! Please report back.
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Old Feb 25th, 2019, 08:11 AM
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You are in your late 60s, not your late 80s. Unless you have some physical/mental condition I can think of no reason to go on a tour.

Everyone you meet will speak a Romance language, so the structure is close to English, and so many Italians in those places speak American. The food will be, well Italian, so that should be familiar. Yes using trains is different from using cars and that is a real change for people.

On a tour, you have to have your bags out of the room by a certain time, you have to take the coach (you will laugh when you see them trying to get through roads designed for ox-carts) as you will when you see just how Italians drive their cars. The hotels you stay in will be so much Marriot international c++p and may be in a place comfortable for the coach that may not be the best for you.

The fall is a long way away, I'd book it for yourselves or drag other friends along.

This is by far the safest step out of your comfort zone holiday available, the only easier one would be to come to the UK
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Old Feb 25th, 2019, 09:31 AM
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In my experience, traveling on your own in most of Italy is as easy as traveling on your own in the US, and traveling in cities in Italy is much, much easier than traveling in many cities in the US. Public transportation from city center to city center, and many cities that are easy for walking makes Italy a visitor's dream for diy travel. Train travel is great there. Air travel is pretty much the same as here.
Unless you are ill, I bet once you go, it will not be your last trip to Italy. Therefore, I recommend you each pick one or two sights or places you have always dreamed of seeing. Don't try for too many. Plan plenty of time in those places. If you get tired of a city, it is easy to day trip to a smaller, nearby place.
Pick your places for base stays (Three, max of four, 3 to 5 nights each place)
Connect them on the map.
Buy "multi-city" tickets, into one city and home from the last city.
Book any long distance connecting trains or planes, but for Italy, there is really no need.
Book hotels. Hotels are good for first trips. They can help with directions, restaurants, day trips, etc.
Reserve tickets and guides for major sites. Get REC's for hotels and guides here on Fodors.
Plan day trips, but do not book them. They can all be done last minute, once you are there, if you decide you want to do any.
Honestly, you could probably easily do all of this in a day.
enjoy the trip.
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Old Feb 25th, 2019, 09:39 AM
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For a small group tour, this one is somewhat reasonably priced. But there is a wide range between 12 and 24 persons. And, for some, that may be the only practical way to go.

The itinerary is a good guide to where someone might want to do a first time trip to Italy. But, you sound open to a DIY trip. So, why not just use their itinerary as a basis for creating your own? You will probably save $2-3,000 And you can then do things on YOUR schedule.

Amalfi coast, 3 nights. Instead of a fixed itinerary, watch the weather and go to Capri, for example, on a nice day. I note that the tour doesn’t even go to Capri, which is normally a must see for people going to the Amalfi coast. You can stay in Maiori as scheduled, or better use the free services of this forum to get advice on staying in Amalfi, Positano or even Sorrento that might be convenient and more price sensitive. Easy to go to Ravello and Pompeii on your own with bus and/or rail. Although we have been to Montecassino and recommend it to those who are driving, I think you could drop that.

Rome 3 nights: Easy to take a train from Sorrento/Naples/Rome. There are plenty of itineraries for Rome that you can easily google and select for you.

Orvieto 3 nights. A beautiful city and a good choice. Easy rail service there. You can take day trips by rail to Assisi and Siena. Since we usually have a car in Umbria and Tuscany, others may recommend a more suitable base.

Florence 3 nights. same as above including day trips by rail. Extremely easy to DIY.

Venice 2 nights. Also, extremely easy to DIY.

If this is YOUR trip, obviously you can alter the number of nights. You get to pick your own hotels. You get to pick your own restaurants. And, among other things, you can eat when you want and with a romantic table for 2 for every meal.
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Old Feb 25th, 2019, 10:21 AM
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If you decide to do it yourself you can have your hotel setup private tours. When we visited the Amalfi Coast we hired a private tour for one day along the coast. In Rome our hotel set up tours of the Vatican and Coliseum. Pack light as you will need to lift your suitcase onto the train. What ever you decide have fun!
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Old Feb 25th, 2019, 10:52 AM
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Orvieto is indeed a very attractive town. If traveling by train, it's also an easy stopover between Rome and Florence. There are direct trains between Orvieto and both cities. The train station is in the valley, and you have to take a funicular railway up to the town, but that's part of the fun, I think. You should spend at least one night in Orvieto if you do this. because otherwise you'd have little time to see the town.

Orvieto has a beautiful Italian Gothic cathedral, and you can take an interesting tour of its underground man-made grottoes, carved out of the soft tufa rock on which the city stands, over the centuries and for various purposes. I also found the Well of St. Patrick (Pozzo di San Patrizio) fascinating. The well is at the bottom of an attractive double helix staircase, on which mules hauled the water up and down without being distracted by passing each other.

Assisi is another easy stop en route by train from Rome to Florence; again you should spend at least one night there. Other than its religious associations with St. Francis of Assisi, it has some of the world's most beautiful late medieval art in the Basilica di San Francesco, which is covered with frescoes by Giotto and other artists. A series of earthquakes in 1998-99 destroyed the frescoes in the cupola, which ended up on the floor of the basilica in thousands of pieces. The pieces were elaborately reassembled like a gigantic jigsaw puzzle, and you can once again see the art in its splendor.

In both cases, make sure to get a direct train to avoid having to change trains with your luggage. The station you would want to use in Rome is Roma Termini, and the station in Florence is Santa Maria Novella. All of these tickets are less than €20 per person, so there's no point in reserving them in advance to save money.
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Old Feb 25th, 2019, 11:18 AM
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I agree that, as described, the Odessy Portrait of Italy is not a bad tour itinerary, although the price is much more than I would pay. As far as the itinerary, I question visiting Pompeii from the Amalfi Coast. That will be a lot of time on the bus, on curvy roads. I would probably get carsick. It would make more sense to me to visit Pompeii on the way to Rome, although you really wouldn't have time for both Pompeii and Montecassino.

If you were to do this on your own, I would suggest the following.

Get a flight into Naples; you'd have to change planes somewhere, maybe in Milan or Rome.

With the money you save by planning it yourself, hire a private driver to take you to your hotel on the Amalfi Coast or Sorrento. If you want to visit Pompeii while you're there, Sorrento is more convenient, but you could also hire a driver to take you there. If you like, you could do it when you're leaving the area, because you can leave your luggage in lockers at the entrance of Pompeii.

The next stop would be Rome. Again, get a driver to Naples, and then take a high-speed train to Rome.

After Rome, head to Florence, perhaps with a night along the way in either Orvieto or Assisi.

While in Florence, take a wine or gastronomic day tour to the countryside.

After Florence take a high-speed train to Venice.

Fly home from Venice.

You could reverse the order of this itinerary.

The amount of time to spend in each place depends on your interests. A package tour almost always visits the "must-see" spots. The beauty of doing it yourself is that you don't have to visit a famous art museum if you're not much into art. However, based on my own interests, I would probably break it down like this:

Three or four nights in Sorrento, with one day devoted to a boat trip along the Amalfi coast, or to Capri. I myself would prefer the Amalfi coast. Another full day could be devoted to Pompeii or another boat trip. I don't know how late in the fall you're planning to travel. In the late fall, the weather may not be ideal for boat trips, and many of them stop running that late in the year. In fact, I wouldn't even visit this area in November, unless you just want to laze around and maybe visit Pompeii.

Four or five nights in Rome, which has innumerable things to see and do, for all tastes. I could help with that if I knew your interests. There are various day trips you can take from Rome, either on your own or with a tour.

One night in either Orvieto or Assisi.

Three or four nights in Florence, with one day devoted to a wine or gastronomic tour.

Two or three nights in Venice.

You can personalize this by adding and subtracting days. Again, I could help if I knew your interests.
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Old Feb 25th, 2019, 03:49 PM
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My feedback on the tour you have chosen:

Odyssey Unlimited Portrait of Italy tour covers some the major sights and does offer a lot of afternoons free to choose your own interests.

I checked all the hotels and while not necessarily in the best of the best locations, the locations are still pretty good--right in the center city. For example, the hotel in Venice is actually on the main island of Venice (not on the mainland as would be the case for many tours) not far from the train station. The hotel in Tuscany is in the countryside and dinner will be provided at the resort every night--which might be great, unless you wanted to be able to walk into town on your own. About half of the evenings, you will have the opportunity (and additional cost) to dine on your own.

For me, the big issue would be "Just 12-24 guests." 24 is very different from 12. The more people, the more time it takes to move them from place to place.
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Old Feb 26th, 2019, 06:42 AM
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THANK YOU ALL for the wonderful advice--I'm in awe of all you know. And, I'm so very grateful to those of you who looked up the Odyssey Unlimited tour and made comments on it specifically. Your itinerary recommendations are so very helpful and made me realize I CAN do this and put together my own trip, which will cost less and give my husband and I more flexibility.

I took a wonderful tour of Ireland with my daughter (a graduation gift) and it was very "efficient" for seeing the country, pre-purchased tickets, meals planned, etc., but it was also a blur in many ways. There were places I wanted to explore, but it was time to board that bus! For a mother and daughter trip it worked just fine and we met a few very lovely people. But, for my husband and I, I'm thinking dinners for two might be just what we need at this age/stage and the opportunity to wander without the pressure of a schedule. I talked it over with him last night and he agrees. So, no tour and no travel agent.

My "second thoughts" on the Odyssey Unlimited tour relates to the bus transportation. This might be TMI for this forum, but it explains my hesitation. My husband and I are both healthy, but a year ago, I suffered a pulmonary embolism (due to extended bed rest for the flu) and the thought of being immobilized on a bus for hours, made me nervous, especially after a long haul flight. I'm on a blood thinner, but even so, the flight also has me concerned, because the meds are not 100%. With the money we'll save from the tour/travel agent, I'm thinking it might be wise to upgrade to business class with a flat lying chair. And, once on the ground, a high speed train sounds like a better plan than a bus on a winding road. So, there's that.

I will do more research--thank you for the suggestions there, too. I'm still thinking through what we want to do and see and will know more, as I factor in my husband's preferences. On my basics list are the must-sees at the Amalfi Coast, and in Venice, Rome, Florence, Tuscany. Last night, we watched David Lean's 1955 "Summertime" film, a love letter to Venice, for inspiration. We are excited about planning the trip!!

As for length of time, are 16 days enough time to cover the territory? I'm thinking about adding another few days.

Again, thank you. I'll keep coming back to ask questions, if that's ok. Your opinions and recommendations are priceless.

Last edited by GraceCO; Feb 26th, 2019 at 06:47 AM. Reason: grammar
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Old Feb 26th, 2019, 08:27 AM
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Yes, I'd add a few days, I'd also keep my luggage levels down. This sets up a quandary, how to take enough clothes and how to take fewer? The solution is to have a half day of washing clothes. Some hotels charge an arm and a leg, but some apartments have washing machines "bingo", so in your planning try and have a few days in an apartment with a washing machine somewhere nice. Really it sounds so simple but it makes lugging heavy luggage around a thing of the past.

Have fun reading and come back for more thoughts, use this thread so we can keep in touch rather than starting a new one.
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Old Feb 26th, 2019, 08:54 AM
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Bilbo's recommendation for traveling light cannot be emphasized enough. At home, I am used to fresh ironed clothes every day. We use rolled compression bags for travel. One cary-on each (smaller than some roller bags in US for lower European discount carrier requirements). And, sometimes even after 6 weeks in Europe, there are things we never wear. We try to make sure we have a washing machine every so often. Wash your socks and underwear in your hotel sink or shower. You can easily find apartments on such sites as airbnb or booking.com. It is also nice to have an iron at most places we stay.

A little more time is a great idea if you have the ability. 16 days goes by quickly, especially when you are going to multiple places. Be safe, drink plenty of water on your flight, stay away from airplane alcohol, get up often and enjoy your time together.
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Old Feb 26th, 2019, 09:07 AM
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Not to sold on Amalfi. Did Sorrento and Positano and decided to retrieve back. +1 with someone who suggested earlier. Rest all seems in good place
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