Italy is one of the most beautiful and most popular tourist destinations in the world, and each time I have been there I have felt at home. If you are a first-time traveler to Italia, here are some tips to help you feel at home as well.
1. Before you go, take some time to learn some of the basic words in Italian, so you can say hello, good morning, thank you, please, I’m sorry and excuse me. If you attempt to speak a few phrases in the Italian language, the Italian people will respect and appreciate you. You are a guest in their country where the national language is Italian.
2. Realize that Italians eat much later than Americans and many of the restaurants do not even open for dinner until 7:30pm. At that hour you may be the first or only one inside, and they do not get busy until 9pm, the typical dinner hour for Italians.
3. If you are traveling on trains, make sure you stamp your ticket at one of the yellow boxes inside the station or on the platform. If the train personnel check your ticket onboard and find it not stamped, they will charge you a fine, which you will be expected to pay on the spot. If you have a ticket with a reserved seat, or an e-ticket from an online purchase, you do not have to stamp this type of ticket.
4. Most hotels do not furnish washcloths, and this may be an unwelcome surprise for a first-time traveler, so bring your own or a loofah. Towels also are frequently not of the thick terry cloth style Americans usually prefer, unless you are staying in a 4 or 5 star hotel.
5. Tap water is not an option at restaurants, but instead bottled water is served. It comes in two choices, with gas or without, or sparkling or still. The price is the same and it is simply a matter of taste. Most Americans opt for the still or no gas option, for a taste similar to tap water.
6. Most hotels include breakfast and it can be as simple as coffee and dolci, or sweet rolls, or as elaborate as a full buffet with meats, cheeses, fish, cereals, nuts, yogurts, juices and cakes. When deciding on hotels, check on what is included as you can sometimes skip lunch afterwards.
7. Take advantage of the Italian aperitivo, which is similar to a happy hour, although the drinks are not discounted. Between the hours of 6 and 9 or thereabouts, many cafès, outdoor trattorias and enotecas will offer wine or a drink and include food at no additional charge. Sometimes it is chips, olives and nuts and sometimes it may include bruschettas, pizza slices, salads and dolci. As one college student told me on my last visit there, the aperitivo is great for anyone on a budget. For 5 euros or so, he could have a drink and eat enough that he doesn’t need to have dinner later.
8. Expect to leave your key to your hotel room at the desk when you exit the hotel. This is common practice in Italy and the hotel personnel know who is inside and who is not for security reasons. You also never have to worry about losing your key this way.
9. Always carry extra tissue for visits to the toilet as some places do not place a priority on this need. Also you may have to pay to use the facilities, and correct change is a must in some cases like the Milan train station.
10. Expect to see wine glasses on every table as this is standard fare in Italy and the waiter may act surprised if you do not want to order wine. Even children drink wine in Italy once they reach the age of 12.
After your first trip to Bella Italia, you will probably have some tips of your own to pass on to others. Buon viaggio!