It’s been entirely too long since my last post. Between getting my ass kicked during tax season, and taking some time to recover from it, time really got away from me. Since my last post I celebrated by 30th birthday, and if you follow me on social media, you know that I marked the occasion with a trip to Italy with the hubby and some friends. We spent 3 days in Rome, and 4 along the Amalfi Coast. The best part? We didn’t spend a ton of money for the basics (those being flights, lodging, and activities). Before I dish on the trip budget, full disclosure: this was never designed to be a budget trip, and I definitely spent money doing all the things and enjoying all the food. Even still we enjoyed ourselves without breaking the bank. Hopefully this will give you some inspiration and cost-saving tips for your next big trip.
First Off, Why Italy?
Fun fact about me: before I decided to pursue a career in Accounting, I was a Political Science major in undergrad. Being in the liberal arts college meant taking four semesters of a foreign language. While some of my friends were sleeping through Ojibwe, I took the requirement seriously and decided to learn Italian. I loved it so much that I committed to spending a summer there…and then I quickly realized that I had zero funding to do so. Sad and broke, I promised myself that I’d visit Italy on my own terms once I had the money to do so. And the food…duh.
When it comes to planning a big trip, the flight is usually what scares people out of it. I’ve found that there are three key ways to find cheap airfare: 1) be flexible on your location, 2) be flexible on your dates, 3) if neither of these are an option, start planning early enough to stalk flights, and be ready to strike when the deal comes along. With hubby’s school schedule, and me being dead set on the location, we fell into category 3. Thankfully, I roll with a crew of friends who are always ready for a good trip. I gave them a heads up on the location and the dates and they began setting their coins aside immediately.
Tip: Feel like you’re never prepared when you see the right deal? Set up a travel savings account and make small deposits throughout the year. I know you’re probably tired of being told that skipping out on starbucks can get you to that trip in no time, but it’s true. If you spend $5 each weekday on coffee, that’s $1300 a year, more than enough for a flight and possibly lodging too.
About a month after confirming dates, I got an alert from Google Flights that our flights were on sale for $450 round trip. You read that right. $450! I booked my tickets then immediately forwarded the info to the group. If I’m winning, everybody’s winning.
Tip: Google flights, Flight scanner and TheFlightDeal.com are my three favorite sites for finding deals on airfare. Also, if you follow sites like @travelnoire and @secretflying, they post daily deals to their sites and social media.
Once we had tickets, I took to Airbnb to find homes that would accommodate our group. I knew that tourist season in Amalfi Coast could constrain our lodging choices, so I focused on choosing that one first. I also knew I wanted to be located some place where I could access all the cities fairly easily, while being tucked away from the biggest tourist draws. With that in mind I settled on the town of Furore, which is right in the center of the main cities. This place far exceeded our expectations, and the views were impeccable.
The process was pretty easy in Rome. Since it was our first visit, our main goal was to be central to the metro and the main attractions. We found an apartment few blocks away from Rome Termini – the main train station where you can catch the metropolitan trains, buses, and regional trains to other parts of the country.
There are several passes available that include unlimited access to city buses and metro, in addition to area attractions. We purchased the 72 hour Roma Pass for $46 which includes access to buses, metros and two museum or archaeological site passes, and discounts on several others. We found this to be perfect for our group, since we weren’t attempting to see every single site in the city, and would only be there for three days.
Another pass option is the Omnia Pass which comes in at around $140 for 72 hours. We skipped on these because it was considerably cheaper to go the Roma Pass route. Note, the train from Fiumicino airport is not included in either of these passes, so you’d either have to pay for that train separately (approx $17), or arrange an airport transfer. Our host arranged a van for our arrival, and by the time we we were ready to depart, we felt comfortable enough taking the train back to the airport.
Uber is widely used in Rome, so we were able to call drivers if we were running late for a tour, or were just too tired to walk. With the bus and train system, you don’t need private drivers, but it’s nice to know that it’s available in a pinch.
With flights, rooms, and local transportation booked, all we had left were activities. When it comes to figuring out where to eat and what to see, I usually consult my well traveled friends, and any locals or blogs that’s I can find. I stumbled upon a blog called The Roman Foodie, which gave us some pretty solid suggestions for nice, low key restaurants while in Rome. When it comes to vacation, food falls in my top 3 in terms of important items.
Tip: One practice I always follow is eat where the locals eat. I try not to eat too close to tourists attractions because the food is typically sub-par, and more expensive. When you can find the mom-and-pop restaurants, you’ll usually find the best eats, and most memorable experiences.
On our first day, we got settled in then had our first foray into Italian food. We tried a restaurant called Eataly , which was ok, but nothing to rave about. Afterwards, we took a big bus tour of the city to
sleep get acquainted with the city. In between nodding off, it was a good way to get a feel for the city and where the major attractions were situated. Had I known we would use a hop on, hop off bus, I would have considered a different pass that included access to these buses. To round out the night we hit the Spanish Steps (free) before heading home to stay up until 2 am playing Uno get some rest.
Day 2 consisted of a visit to the Colosseum, Roman Forum and Palatine Hill (which are considered one attraction). Our Roma Pass granted us skip the line entrance to these sites, and they were a quick metro ride away from our apartment.
We had dinner at Trattoria Luzi which is a 5-10 minute walk from the Colosseum. Remember how I said you have to eat where the locals eat? This is a prime example. This was the BEST meal we had in Rome, and the prices were in the 6-12 euro range per course. if you head in pretty much either direction, you’ll also stumble upon some good gelato. Later on we saw the Trevi fountain (free) and walked around the surrounding neighborhood before heading in for the night.
Day 3 – Vatican City. When it came to visiting Vatican City, I could have used Roma Pass, but I wanted to be able to avoid the crowds, so I opted for a tour. We sprung for an early morning tour by The Roman Guy that got us in a little earlier than the general public. I highly recommend it because we got additional time to take in The Sistine Chapel without a herd of tourists; so worth it. I was initially dead set on climbing to the top of St. Peter’s dome, but after hearing how many stairs were involved (and staying up until 5am the night before), I gracefully bowed out of that one.
Tip: After your tour, head to the Vatican post office and send your loved ones (or yourself) a post card. It’ll take about 2 weeks to arrive, but it’s a pretty cool souvenir to have.
From there we grabbed an Uber over to lunch at Arlu, another family restaurant that I found on the The Roman Foodie. The food was great, although it didn’t top our experience the day before, and was a bit more expensive (12-18 euro per course). Given it’s proximity to the Vatican, there were some pretty aggressive beggars in this area. Don’t be surprised if they come up to your table and just stand there for a while waiting on you to say something. After dinner we took a walk through the neighborhood and found some really cool shops offering the softest leather goods I’ve seen…and more gelato.
The hobby seamstress in me was determined not to leave Italy without scoring some fabric. I dragged the crew across town on the bus to Bassetti Corso Vittorio fabric store, aka fabric heaven. The hubs and I have a *slight* suit obsession, and we both fell in love with the selection. Needless to say I dropped over 300 euro on fabric, but I have not an ounce of regret. #matchingsuitscomingsoon
For dinner we went to Il Chianti Vinieria, which is in the neighborhood of Trevi Fountain. While we were there we got another look at the Trevi Fountain while it was lit up at night. In my opinion it’s cool, but a little over-hyped.
Off to Amalfi Coast
Day 4 was our departure to Furore. Being blocks away from the train station, what could go wrong? Our train was delayed 3 hours and when it finally came, we missed it. I’ll say this: be at the tracks early, and don’t rely on station employees to be all that helpful. Even with speaking a little of the language, I found train station employees to be rude and unwilling to help. When we finally arrived in Naples, our driver, Rosario, gave us a pseudo tour of the coast as he made the 45 minute drive up to our villa in Furore. If you need transportation in Amalfi Coast, I highly recommend Rent Point car service. (+39 333 451 1880) For the rest of the evening, we pretty much chilled, then had dinner at a nearby restaurant at the Hotel Fico d’India (translated The Prickly Pear). This place had some of the freshest seafood I’d ever tasted, and these colossal king prawns. This would end up being one of our favorite restaurants in Amalfi Coast.
On day 5, we decided to visit Pompeii. If you didn’t get enough of the ruins in Rome, Pompeii is definitely a must see. It’s a short ride from Naples and most of the Amalfi Coast towns, and only cost around 15 euro. One word of caution, the main line can get pretty long, but you can bypass this line by purchasing your entry tickets up the hill in the opposite direction of the main line. Also, while you’re here, this is a great spot to try some Neapolitan pizza. The salami and mozzarella were the freshest we tasted in the area.
After returning from Pompeii, we had our driver stop by a wine bar near our villa, Bianca Zita to inquire about wine tasting. They were gracious enough to set up a tasting with food with only 2 hours notice. At 55 Euro, this was admittedly pricier than we may have paid with a little more advance planning. If you like wine, I highly suggest doing a tasting or vineyard tour during your trip to Italy. In the regions we visited, the wines were on the dryer side. I particularly enjoyed the reds that we had.
Day 6 was for Capri and Positano. You can access Capri from nearly any Amalfi Coast town. I chose to stop in Positano first because I wanted to see the popular beach and blush houses that you see in every Instagram post. We got dropped off in the center of Positano, and had to walk down to the beach, which was a little confusing at first. When we finally found our dock, we took the ferry over to island where we had a scheduled boat tour package that included lunch and free time to explore. The water was so choppy that we weren’t able to go inside the blue grotto, but from everything I saw, it’s a cool experience if you can go. Capri has plenty of cool activities including a chair life that allows you to see the whole island, and tons of good shopping. The tour cost 57 euro each, plus an additional 23 for the ferry.
We wrapped up our trip with a photo shoot in Ravello, which is hands down the most beautiful town that we visited. Ravello is known for it’s chic, boutique hotels that are tucked away from the craziness of the other Amalfi Coast areas. We had a light breakfast at the Hotel Belmond Caruso, which has views so gorgeous it’ll make you forget about the 8 euro orange juice. From there, we met up with our photographer Andrea Gallucci, who showed us some of the best spots in the city. I found him via flytographer (he was also listed on localgrapher). These services are nice, and I love that they allowed me to connect with such a dope artist, but in the future, I would leverage social media a little more when looking for a travel photographer. It likely would have been cheaper. Nonetheless, we came away with some pretty awesome photos to commemorate our trip.
Tip: Search instagram hashtags and facebook pages for photographers in the areas your plan to visit.
After our shoot wrapped up, we asked Andrea where we could grab some lunch, and he invited us to his family’s restaurant Bella Vista sul Mare inside Hotel Bonadies. He and his twin ended up being our waiters, and made sure we had a fun send off (and the food was delicious). When we return, I’ll likely stay at one of the area hotels in Ravello, just to get a different experience. All in all, this was an amazing trip, and I think these cities are a must-see for anyone who enjoys travel. Some sites that we didn’t make it to that I wished I could have squeezed in were the Furore Fiord and Cinque Terre.
After we departed, some of our group continued on to Florence and Venice. They noted that a trip to the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and gondola ride were their favorite activities. This region is also know for it’s Tuscan cuisine and wine (which runs pretty dry). If you’re a lover of great wine, this is definitely the place to fit in a tasting at one of the many vineyards. While in Florence be sure to check out San Lorenzo Market and Mercato Nuovo for genuine Italian leather goods, jewelry and other items.
As I said above, this was not designed to be a low budget trip. Even still, we didn’t break the bank here. As you can see, it would be pretty easy to scale down the costs by swapping out some activities, sticking to less expensive restaurant, and maximizing use of our Roma Passes (we only used it for one attraction). All said, our total costs for flights, lodging, local transportation, activities (in USD) are as follows:
Rome Apartment 240
Amalfi Coast Villa 170
Train Rome to Naples & return 80
Food (estimated) 350
Total Essentials 1,290
Big Bus Tour – Rome 30
Vatican Tour 107
Car Naples to Furore & return 60
Car to Pompeii 30
Wine Tasting 66
Car to Positano 30
Capri Tour & Ferry 119
Car to Ravello 30
Photo Shoot 40
Total Activities 558