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Take a Tour or Travel on our Own to Italy???? Help

Take a Tour or Travel on our Own to Italy???? Help

Sep 6th, 2010, 09:42 AM
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Join Date: Sep 2010
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Take a Tour or Travel on our Own to Italy???? Help

We are planning a trip either late March or Late September 2011 to Italy. We have never been there before? Would you suggest researching and going on our own or taking a tour. We don't speak Italian so would we be able to survive our way around without looking like fumbling tourists? We would like to see Florence,Rome and Venice but also would like to take a day trip to Ferrazanno. Any suggestions?
grandmotheroffour is offline  
Sep 6th, 2010, 09:59 AM
Join Date: Jan 2007
Posts: 251
We are going for the first time next April (early, before Easter) to Rome and I am loving all of the research. We like to go along at our own pace and not be told when it is time to leave site"A" or else we will be late to get to site "B". But that is just how we roll.
jscarbary is offline  
Sep 6th, 2010, 10:09 AM
Join Date: Aug 2007
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Well, grandma, as another grandma I will say on the board everyone will say do it yourself, and in this instance they will be right. Doing The Big Three is easy as pie,doesn't require a car, and any good basic guidebook can tell you what's there to see. Go to the library and browse travel books and see which ones you like best. You will even find books devoted solely to each of those cities.

I haven't looked up Ferrazanno, but it should not be hard to find out how to get there from the nearest city.

You can keep coming back here to ask more specific questions.

You don't say how many of you are going or for how long. I advise the longer the better, especially since it's expensive to get there in the first place so make the most of your time. If you are staying at least three days in a city consider renting an apartment. you get more space, a living room to relax in, and a mini-kitchen. And a washing machine, usually. Get a place in the historic center of town so you have easy access to the sights and can easily go back and rest during the day if it is hot or you are tired. It's well worth the extra cost.

As you will see if you start reading these threads, most people prefer flying into Venice, train to Florence, train to Rome, and flying out of Rome. That's because most flights home from Venice leave very early in the am and it's hard to get to the airport so early.

Don't worry about not speaking Italian. The three cities are very accustomed to English-speaking tourists, and most people you encounter will speak a little English themselves. but go to mydailyphraseitalian.com and download the 100 five-minute podcasts starting with "hello" and building up to more complex phrases. if yup don't have an IPod at least get it onto your computer. you have a year to learn.
charnees is offline  
Sep 6th, 2010, 10:21 AM
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Hello grandmother, I agree with all of charnee's thought except since this will be your first visit to Italy I would stay in hotels that have 24/7 desk help. It is true apartments have their advantages but there will not be anyone to assist you with questions, guidance etc. Anyway, just my thinking. Do have fun researching your trip!
LoveItaly is offline  
Sep 6th, 2010, 10:36 AM
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Italian is not necessary - except perhaps in Ferrazanno - but I would of course be sure you know the basic politenesses.

Organizing the trip yourself will be a substantial amount or work, but will either cost lies or give you more for your money. It will also be sure you see what you want rather than what some tour guide thinks you do. Also, most tours spend only 1 or at most 2 days in each place - barely time to see a couple of sights. When you plan your own trip you spend as many days as you need to see what you want.

I would not do apartments for a first trip - since you will probably want hotel staff to help you organize some things and provide local advice on specifics.
nytraveler is offline  
Sep 6th, 2010, 11:33 AM
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Hi Grandmother. We're doing our first Italian trip this fall, and had the same question about doing it ourselves or taking a tour.

In the end we decided to do it ourselves because we wanted this to be "our" trip. If I wanted to stay in bed one morning, I didn't want to have to get on the bus and talk to someone if I didn't feel like it. I didn't relish being herded around.

Having said that, it has been a ton of work (my kids think I have an internet "boyfriend" as I'm on it so much!)but also a ton of fun and very rewarding. The information here has been invaluable and very generously shared.

Itinerary help, accommodation advice, travel info - it's all been here for the asking.

For example, based on advice given to me, we're flying into Venice, train to Florence, train to Sorrento, train to Rome, and then home. We're in small hotels/B & B's, and we're renting an apartment in Rome. I've done apartments in Paris so I'm comfortable with that, and we've saved a lot of money over going to a hotel.

This is what's working for us, but I've got friends who like the tour route. They go higher end, and like having everything done for them. I think you have to know what kind of traveller you are. People on this forum are very much inclined to do their own trip rather than take tours. I think it's just the nature of this forum.

I will say I was overwhelmed at first, not knowing where to start, and we don't speak Italian either, but I started by coming here regularly, asking questions, searching the boards.

Good luck, and don't be a stranger!
markland is offline  
Sep 6th, 2010, 11:37 AM
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I've been to Italy twice, traveling solo, and don't know five words of Italian. I've still had a great time traveling without an organized tour - no major issues. Plus, I find getting around Italy extremely easy by train; you can even buy train tickets from self-service bending machines at the train stations, with instructions IN ENGLISH, simply using a credit card. And the trains go almost everywhere; buses get you almost everywhere else.

Many people in Italy seem to speak at least a little English or can find someone who does. And if they can't...people in Italy seem to be very friendly on average, and even if it can be frustrating, if you are patient you can still figure out how to communicate. Last visit, I needed to buy an Italian SIM card for my cell phone, at the equivalent of a T-Mobile retail store. I was in Parma which doesn't get the mobs of American tourists like Rome, Florence, and Venice do. The employees at the store mostly didn't speak English to be able to answer my questions; only one woman spoke any and then, barely. Still, I was able to make my purchase and get the information that I needed. You get by. Just be patient, try not to get frustrated, smile. Be appreciative of Italians trying to speak in your language and not expecting you to speak theirs.

I don't think organizing a trip between Rome, Florence, and Venice is going to be all that difficult myself. There are numerous high speed trains connecting the three cities. Venice might be the most challenging because there are no cars or buses to get around - you either have to walk or take the vaporetto (water buses) around the canals. (But it's worth it - Venice is great especially if you stay over night there and see it in the morning/in the evening!) There are many lodging options in all of those cities. Find some recommendations that fit your budget. And find an open-jaw flight that arrives in Venice/returns back from Rome (less desirable: arriving in Rome, returning from Venice, due to early morning Venice departures most of the time). The actual attractions in all of the cities are covered in great detail in numerous tour books - I'm a big fan of Rick Steves myself. Of course, there are tons of past posts here on Fodor's (use the search function) about Italy, probably more than about any other country.
Andrew is online now  
Sep 6th, 2010, 12:30 PM
Join Date: Jul 2007
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In 2000 (I know, can't believe ten years have gone by) a friend and I were celebrating our divorces with two weeks in Italy on a modest budget. I had done lots of research beforehand so knew that I wanted to see as much of the country as could be fitted into the two weeks.

We had a great travel agent who organized air tix, pick up and drop off at airports in Milan/Rome, train travel and hotels after we had sketched out an itinerary.

The plan was to fly into Milan for a night, take a late afternoon train the next day to Como for two nights, which included a day trip on the ferry to Bellagio. We then boarded the train for Venice for two nights, with a tour of the Duomo. Then on to Florence (reserved tix for Uffizi ahead) for three nights. Finally, to Rome for five nights. While in Florence we took a full day bus tour to see San Gimigiano, Sienna and Sorrento. While in Rome we toured the Vatican one day and on another did a day bus trip to Pompeii via Naples. It was a fabulous two weeks.

The first class train travel was wonderful, nothing like Amtrac! Having free time to do what we wanted when we wanted, around the organized tours, was the beauty of this trip. My feeling is that one doesn't really need to join a tour group to Italy as long as you can fashion out an itinerary that fits your interests and budget. It would be worthwhile to employ a good travel agent as we did and have the best of both worlds, free time within a structure of your own making.

In 2004, when my daughter and I went to Rome for a week, my previous experience came in handy, as I was acclimated immediately upon arrival. We spent most of the time in Rome walking, eating, exploring but hired a driver for a day trip to the Amalfi coast. Our driver also took us on a half day drive to the outlet mall just outside the city where we scored big at the Ferragamo store.

Happy Travels!
travelchat is offline  
Sep 6th, 2010, 01:39 PM
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Our first time was on a alumni assoc tour. We had a couple of days at leisure, where we navigated Florence/Rome on our own and had very little problem. The Italians are very eager to help if you have questions, and most know the English basics (and appreciate it if you try their language basics).

My second time, not with DH this time, was on another tour. But this time we became familiar with Termini, took the train to Pompeii and to Florence. Wow, what I have been missing! Even I could now navigate between major cities in Italy!

What would remain a challenge would be the city busses.

No matter what you choose, you can't have a bad time in Italy. NExt time, we will be on our own.
rncheryl is offline  
Sep 6th, 2010, 02:21 PM
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Go on your own.I have been to Italy several times haven't had to much trouble ,I would learn the gretting and how to ask directions..

I would do it on my own that way you arent on anyones time table.

Do your research and get a map.
Venezia123 is offline  
Sep 6th, 2010, 09:43 PM
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Grandmother: Let me be the first to totally disagree with the others. The places you will want to see in Italy are quite easy to navigate - once you know where you're going! I always advise friends to go on a semi-independent or all escorted tour your first time there. Sure this takes out the spontaneity but the advantage is that it gives you the assurance that you'll get just where you want to go in a timely manner and that you'll bypass all the lines of visitors at the entrances. They will build in all the time you need for breakfast and lunches and then you'll generally have some free time on your own to venture out. Taking a guided tour with someone from the area also gives you the advantage of hearing about the history of the places you will see. In my humble opinion for a first-timer, the guided tour takes all of the hassle out of your trip and gives you the peace of mind of knowing everything is taken care of. I've used/recommended Gate 1 Travel - they have many Italy options for the areas you'll want to see and I've found their prices quite reasonable (although I prefer to book my own flights to get the best airfare). There are other agencies, this is just one that I have experience with and they are extremely reliable.

When you are there, make notes of the places that you want to revisit the next time around, but I think you'll be pleased, relieved and relaxed having a guide that first time out.
CYESQ is offline  
Sep 6th, 2010, 10:41 PM
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If you like doing research, you can certainly do Italy on your own. Few Americans speak Italian and they are able to navigate just fine as evidenced by the comments above.

I have traveled both independently and with tours, and there are advantages and drawbacks to both. Planning an overseas tour can be overwhelming, particularly for a new or inexperienced traveler. Some people enjoy the research; others find it quite daunting.

When I first started traveling to Europe I usually took escorted tours,and spent time before and after the trip traveling on my own. For me this was a good compromise. Also, I found that I saw and did more on tours than I would ever have seen and done on my own as a first-time visitor.

I also think it is important to pick the right escorted tour. If you go on a tour, I recommend one that spends little time on the bus, and that has free time built in for you to spend at leisure. You also want to avoid tours that have a lot of one-nighters. Packing and unpacking every night can get real old real fast.

A compromise between an escorted tour and doing it solely on your own is a hotel/tour package. Check out this package at go-today.com for Rome, Venice , and Florence that also includes rail travel between cities:


Globus offers a tour of Venice, Rome, and Florence which you can get at a 10% discount at affordabletours.com:


I enjoyed my trip to Italy, and whether you do it independently, semi-independently, or with an escorted tour, I think you will have a wonderful time. Good luck!
walkabout is offline  
Sep 7th, 2010, 10:49 AM
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The first time we went to Italy, I went to a travel agent who made the plane, hotel, and train reservations for us, but we were on our own when we got there. We would not want to take a bus tour in Italy. Agree with Markland's comments above.

The next time we went I made all the reservations based on reading the travel forums and guide books.

Walkabout also makes some good comments regarding both.
Sue878 is offline  
Sep 7th, 2010, 02:25 PM
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A compromise between an escorted tour and doing it solely on your own is a hotel/tour package.

I meant to say that a compromise ...is an air/hotel package, not a hotel/tour package.

If you click on the link for go-today, you will see that the itinerary includes round-trip airfare; 3 nights each in Rome, Venice, and Florence; and rail passes between cities. The package helps to simplify the logistics, much as the travel agent did for Sue878, above. If you choose a package, you are on your own while in country--no tour guides or tour groups.

If you decide to do all the planning on your own, price it out to see if you can save money by doing a package. I have saved money (and hassle) with packages to Australia, Jamaica, Malta, and England. In fact, my air/hotel packages to Australia and Malta were cheaper than airfare alone. Doesn't make logical sense, but it's true. I don't think that will happen in Italy, but you may be able to save a few dollars with a combo.

Again, best of luck to you.
walkabout is offline  
Sep 7th, 2010, 02:28 PM
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You don't need to speak Italian to plan your own trip, and go to Venice, Florence, and Rome. It's easy.
suze is offline  
Sep 12th, 2010, 03:11 PM
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Wow, lots of advice for first timers to Italy. I too plan on traveling to Italy & Venice Sept 2011 for my big 50th, with 3 other ladies within same age range. We would like to have our own time, but want to see the "must sees". I've found a few travel agencies that accept payment plans, seeing this is an expensive trip for most of us. Just from reading some of the comments, I've gotten some very useful info. Good to know that flying out of Rome is a better choice due to early AM departures from Venice. I had plan on purchasing an electronic talking interpreter, which apparently won't be needed, and I've found air/hotel packages are a little cheaper than booking separately. We would be leaving from Los Angeles, CA sometime in early Sept, but after reading some of these forums, late Sept maybe a better choice. I love the research, but any advice or suggestions would be greatly appreciated. The group of ladies I'm traveling with always expect me to have all details and itineraries taken care of and this is one trip we can't just drive North/South back to our destination.
andersondayday is offline  
Sep 12th, 2010, 03:27 PM
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One suggestion I will throw out, andersondayday, is that before paying for an air/hotel package do check out where the hotels are located. Friends about five years ago purchased an air/hotel package and their trip was not all that great sadly. The hotel in Venice was not in Venice proper but in Mestre, the mainland west of Venice proper. The hotel in Florence was not in the historical center but somewhere out on one of the main roads. And their hotel in Rome was quite some distance from the historical center of Rome. I felt so bad for them. As they said in that they are good sports "you get what you pay for!".
LoveItaly is offline  
Sep 12th, 2010, 07:29 PM
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I wholeheartedly agree that you CAN plan your own trip. I'm in the group that thinks this is a much more satisfying trip. Planning is half the fun.

I also believe there is more than enough information here, alone, to help you avoid the pitfalls of ending up at a bad hotel/apartment.

Andersondayday-I also suggest late September, better yet-October. And for 3 or 4 women, I highly suggest apartment stays. Cost split 3 or 4 ways works out really well.

But there are things that are important for us to know in order to be of better use to you grandmother-

How many travelers in your group? Gender? Age? Health? These all play into most travel plans.

I've been twice now with my adult daughter (we are 54/32) and we planned both trips ourselves. We stuck to our budget and had wonderful vacations. I think the planning is some of the most fun before the trip.

By the way, 2nd class train tickets are perfectly fine. Lovely, roomy, clean train travel!
sarge56 is offline  
Sep 14th, 2010, 05:38 PM
Join Date: Sep 2010
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LoveItaly, thank you for the words of wisdom and sorry your friends hotel experience wasn't what they expected. I use several different websites to check out locations and opinions regarding ANY hotel, even local ones. Since we have a year, I will make sure our hotels are within our needs (train, city center, sights, etc). Again Thank you so much and your replies are appreciated.

Sarge56, I agree there is more than enough info not only here, but all over the WWW.

I really wanted to spend my ACTUAL birthday in Italy, but it won't hurt to go later if I can get more bang for the buck! Considering apartment stay, but would like to have access to all sort of amenities (directions, restaurants, local info, etc.), not to mention NONE of us want to cook!

I am enjoying the research and planning, but it would be nice for someone else to do the work too, especially since they're being paid.

Boy, the train information really puts me at ease. Most agencies want to sell you 1st class. I've ridden Amtrak trains(USA) in coach for much longer trips.

If you don't mind me asking, since your've been twice, what cities did you visit and where did you stay?
andersondayday is offline  
Sep 14th, 2010, 06:13 PM
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andersondayday- Both trips, we visited Venice, Florence and Rome. This last trip, we also through in a private tour of Tuscany (Pienze, Chiusi, etc). I have never felt more at home in any place in the world than Italy. All the cities are different, but fabulous.

You don't have to cook even if you have an apartment. And you don't have to worry about directions, etc. There IS google. (Although it is not very accurate in Venice, I will tell you.) I even made my own Google map of Rome restaurants. It was great, because my daughter had an Iphone and we just pulled up our Google restaurant map when we got hungry. Found the closest recommended restaurant to where we were at.

You can build your own Google maps too. It's free. Just create a free account and follow the directions.

Also, with a great guidebook (I love the DK Eyewitness Travel Guides), you have excellent maps and even 3D images of the city streets and squares.

Additionally, our apartment owner in Venice left us a wonderful little binder full of information on local restaurants, grocers, shopping, etc. Included how to use the washing machine, and microwave, etc.

We also got the same from our apt owner in Rome. So many people speak English, it is not difficult to get around.

Good luck!
sarge56 is offline  

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