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In 2008, Sean P. Finelli left behind his Wall Street career to move to Rome, where he soon became a popular tour guide with the nickname “the Roman guy.” Finelli decided to direct his passion for Rome into a new tour company that would emphasize unique and immersive experiences across Italy. And thus The Roman Guy was born.

brandon shaw and sean finelli


The company is run by Finelli and co-owner Brandon Shaw, who work with their team to offer a variety of city tours and trip planning services. We reached out to Finelli and Shaw to discover what advice they’d give first-time Italy travelers, which regions of the country don’t get enough love and which Italian foods visitors must try on their next trip.

IndependentTraveler.com: What are some of the most unique tours The Roman Guy offers in Italy?
Sean:
The most unique tour must be our Colosseum Underground tour, which we’ve titled Colosseum Dungeons Tour. You get access to areas that nobody else has access to. Think about the 30,000 visitors that enter the building in the summer. Only about 300 get to visit the dungeons. That’s pretty unique, and people love it.

Brandon: Our E-bike Rome Tour is a strong second. Imagine beating the heat and covering three times as much of the city as a walking tour and not even breaking a sweat. We are super-passionate about green travel and have now created a way to not only see the whole city in three hours but also add zero carbon emission in doing it.

IT: Which region in Italy deserves a little more love? Why?
Sean:
Most people would pick areas like Puglia or Sicily, but I’ll go with Lazio. Yes, Lazio. Everyone goes to Rome, the capital of the region, but after that people are gone. There are amazing nearby towns like Frascati, Marino, Castel Gandolfo and Tivoli, plus beaches like Sperlonga. You can enjoy sunset beach parties in Fregene or a relaxing and luxurious holiday in Ponza. Outside of Rome, Lazio is a locals’ paradise that outside visitors could really give a little bit more love.

Brandon: My pick would be Umbria, a region in central Italy. People rarely visit Umbria on their first trip to Italy. Umbria is usually discovered when people come back on their second or third trip and are looking for something new. I say come to Umbria during your first trip to Italy — you will not regret it. Within Umbria, you have some beautiful historic cities to explore like Orvieto, “dying cities” like Civita di Bagnoregio (which only has 17 official residents) and an amazing waterfall that makes you feel like you are in a South American rain forest. And all of this is within a two-hour drive of Rome!

5 Less Visited Churches in Rome

IT: What advice would you give someone planning his or her first trip to Italy?
Sean:
Be clear about what you want to get out of the trip. Remember that the more you “see” the less you’ll actually “see.” What I mean is that you need to stop and smell the Italian sunflowers. Don’t cram so much in just to cross it off the bucket list. Make time for sitting down, relaxing and chatting with the locals. Make time for three-hour lunches. I went to Puglia for 10 days with no itinerary and it was amazing. We stopped to jump off cliffs into the water, had amazing lunches and stopped in cool-looking towns. Italy has so much that you will alway find something else to do.

Brandon: Doing a good amount of research before your trip will go a long way in making your trip more memorable. Nobody wants to waste precious time waiting in lines, so purchase your tickets ahead of time and skip the lines. Buy your train tickets in advance so you don’t have the stress of trying to find a spot on a train last minute. Look into some restaurants that you might want to visit, so you don’t end up in the typical tourist traps. Or just use The Roman Guy and we’ll do all the heavy lifting for you!

dolomites italy


IT: Are there places in Italy that you haven’t visited yet but would like to explore?
Sean:
The Dolomites. Like most travelers, I am always intrigued by photography and the Dolomites appear to offer some great adventure tourism: this massive jagged mountain range popping up from the rolling hills. What’s not to love?

Brandon: Val d’Aosta. It’s the area on the border with France. I haven’t been there but have heard that the views are amazing, as you are so close to the French Alps. I am also an avid wine enthusiast, and Val d’Aosta is renowned for their excellent, crisp white wines that suit the northern climate perfectly.

IT: Beyond pizza, pasta and gelato, which dish should every Italy traveler try?
Sean:
Isn’t that all Italy produces? I personally recommend fish. Italy is a peninsula with plenty of seafood. It’s hard to recommend a particular dish, but if you are within a short drive of the sea, eat seafood. People going to Rome often want carbonara and Amatriciana, but Rome is a seafood city. We’re 20 mins from saltwater accessible via the Tiber River. Rome’s speciality is salt-crusted sea bass. They say it dates back to Roman times.

Brandon: This is a tough question since the array of food in Italy is so diverse depending on the region. We’ve actually just recently created an interactive Italy food map to inspire foodies coming to Italy. Instead of eating something other than pasta, travelers should do some research, and they will discover that there are many kinds of pasta dishes that they have never heard of. A great example is my favorite Roman pasta dish: fettuccine in a tomato sauce used to make a delicacy with oxtail. It is so good it will bring tears to your eyes!

IT: Besides Italy, what are your favorite travel destinations?
Sean:
It’s hard to say this out loud since I sell Italy, but Greece is my vacation spot. The problem with Italy for me is my mind is always at work. Italy is my office. Greece offers decent food and great views. I love the shabby roads and how Greece has maintained some authentic charm. I also love how much elevation you’ll find on the small islands. There is so much to do in Greece and so much to see. The Greeks are also extremely proud and eager to share their history.

Brandon: When not discovering new hidden gems in Italy, you will usually find me in the French Alps. The mountain air is invigorating and allows you to reset. We stay in little mountain villages where you get fresh milk from the cows that morning that is still warm, and fresh cheese that was just made as well. Staying in places like these allow you to change the tempo and just savor life more. I also love snowboarding so it’s perfect in the wintertime, because you can access the slopes directly from your log cabin.

Check out more travel interviews!

11 Best Italy Experiences
25 Ways to Save on Europe Travel

— interview conducted by Sarah Schlichter

From amateur shoots by first-time travelers to travel company promos and professionally produced films, 2016 has been a stellar year for capturing the world in video. Below are the four best travel videos of the bunch (plus a bonus video that I simply can’t get out of my mind).

The Inspiring Story of Blind Surfer Derek Rabelo
Many travel company videos are straightforward commercials promoting their products. But Turkish Airlines took a different approach this year with a touching film about blind surfer Derek Rabelo. His perspective on the ocean, for example, forces you to reexamine yours. More than 9 million people have viewed the three-minute video, which is in Turkish with English subtitles.



New York City Drone Film Festival Montage
Drone videos are all the rage among amateur and professional videographers alike, and so many are stunning that it’s hard to pick one as the best of the year. The 2016 New York City Drone Film Festival released a 2.5-minute montage of the best scenes from its 2016 submissions. My favorite snippet was the volcano flyby.



China: A Skier’s Journey
Chad Sayers and Forrest Coots contrast two ski cultures in China — the emerging middle class that is starting to embrace skiing as a leisure sport, and peoples who have skied for thousands of years as a means of survival. The staff at Vimeo selected this 16.5-minute film as the top travel pick of 2016.



This Magic World
Mexican student Mariana Osorio won International Student.com’s annual travel video contest this year with a sweet and sad 4.5-minute video that’s part autobiography, part travelogue. Osorio wrote an original song about how her violin skills gave her the ticket out of her small Mexican village — which is plagued by drug cartel activity — and into New York City.



Bonus Video: Autumn Leaves
Here’s the bonus video. Admittedly, it was first shared in late 2015, but I didn’t have the opportunity to see it until 2016. It’s easily one of my favorite videos of all time. A polite Korean tourist visiting Florence surprised some local street musicians by asking if he could join them. He took up a spot next to the contrabass and led a peppy rendition of “Autumn Leaves.” Though the musicians don’t speak the same language, they communicate beautifully through music, and feed off each other’s energy in this impromptu jam session near the Florence Duomo. The video is pure joy, and captures the essence of what travel is all about.



4 Travel Videos That’ll Make You Want to Get Up and Go
5 Recommended TED Talks on Travel

— written by Elissa Leibowitz Poma

Check out what’s worth reading in the travel world from the past week.

woman with phone on plane


The U.S. Government May Allow In-Flight Phone Calls, and People Are Freaking Out
Business Insider reports on a recent proposal from the U.S. Department of Transportation that would require airlines and booking agents to state in advance whether passengers are allowed to make voice calls on flights. Passengers are currently not allowed to make voice calls via their cell phones on certain radio frequencies, but there are no rules against chatting via Wi-Fi using services such as Skype.

50 Reasons to #LovetheWorld
Clicking through this gallery from BBC will spark your wanderlust all over again. The site has reached out to dozens of contributers and travelers for anecdotes from incredible journeys around the world.

Conquering Choquequirao: The Long Walk to Peru’s Lesser-Known ‘Lost City’
Lonely Planet takes us on a hike to the long-hidden Incan citadel of Choquequirao, which currently only gets about a dozen visitors a day but may become more accessible in the near future.

Next Year Is Shaping Up to Be Another Good One for Airlines — and Travelers
How about some good news for your holiday season via NBC News? Among the findings in this report: Fares are falling, traveler satisfaction with airlines in North America has reached a 10-year high and a couple of airlines have brought back free in-flight snacks.

Cuba’s Young Artists Embrace a New World
This National Geographic feature offers fascinating photos and stories from the young people of Cuba, where “individualism is creeping out into the open” after the recent death of Fidel Castro.

‘Basic Economy’ Fares Make Sense: Opposing View
When United recently announced that its new Basic Economy fares would not include overhead bin access, many travelers and news outlets responded with outrage. But this piece on USA Today makes the case for these bargain-basement fares, arguing that while they won’t suit everyone, they fill a niche for price-sensitive travelers who don’t need many amenities.

Rome’s Sad Christmas Tree Gets a Makeover After Residents Complain
When in Rome … you’d better not have a skimpy Christmas tree. Conde Nast Traveler reports on a recent controversy over the tree in the Italian capital, which was dubbed the “Austerity Tree” by disgruntled locals. Its decorations have since been, er, spruced up.

This week’s video offers an intimate look at everyday life in Bali.


How to Get the Best Airplane Seat
11 Things Not to Do on a Plane

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Check out what you might have missed around the travel world this week.

airplane passenger


British Airways Has Patented a ‘Digital Pill’ to Make Flying Easier — But Is It Really Necessary?
The Independent reports on a bizarre new patent filed by British Airways, involving passengers swallowing a small digital chip that will transmit information such as their body temperature and stomach acidity level in order to help the cabin crew better tend to their physical needs. Useful … or creepy?

The 10 Most Beautiful Places in Italy — as Voted by You
Rough Guides is here with your weekly dose of travel porn: droolworthy photos from around the Boot, from Florence to Cinque Terre. Swoon!

Meet Bette Nash: She Might Just Be the World’s Oldest Serving Flight Attendant
We enjoyed this fun profile from CNN of an 80-year-old flight attendant who’s been serving in the skies for nearly 60 years.

Chongqing’s Number One Noodle Obsessive
Caution: You may get hungry reading this essay from Roads & Kingdoms about “Brother Lamp,” a noodle expert in Chongqing, China. The author of the story joins Brother Lamp to try dozens of bowls of xiaomian, breakfast noodles made with various vegetables and meats.

Learn How This Couple Is Traveling the World on $24 a Day
Need a little travel inspiration? Check out this story from the Washington Post about a couple who have trimmed their travel budget down to a mere $12.20 per person, per day, thanks to tactics such as traveling by bus and searching for local guesthouses that don’t advertise online.

Online Booking Is, Like, So ’90s: The Humble Travel Agent Is Making a Comeback
NBC News reports on the resurgence of travelers using agents to book all or part of their trips. “It’s time versus money. A lot of people just don’t have the time or the expertise to plan a trip and do it well,” says one travel agent quoted in the story.

50 Reasons to Love the World
Get inspired as you click through this gorgeous gallery from BBC, in which various travelers share their photos and travel memories.

This week’s video takes us to Havana and beyond in a voyage around Cuba.


Can Americans Travel to Cuba? Yes — and Here’s How
10 Ways to Survive a Long-Haul Flight

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Catch up with the stories you may have missed over the past seven days.

dubai at night


Top 20 Post-Election Travel Destinations
USA Today reports that TripAdvisor experienced a surge of booking activity from midnight on Election Day to 1 p.m. the day after. The site released the 10 most-booked countries and 10 most-booked cities during that time period. You might find some of them surprising. (The most-booked city? Dubai.)

The Roof of America
Your travel eye candy for the week is this photo essay from Maptia, offering stunning shots of trekking in the mountains of Peru.

Italy’s New ‘Scattered Hotel’ Trend May Save Its Historic Towns
Conde Nast Traveler reports on a fascinating trend in Italy called the albergo diffuso, or “scattered hotel.” This involves turning abandoned historic villages into a resort of sorts, with guestrooms and apartments surrounding a central lobby.

Kris Tompkins: ‘Fighter by Trade,’ Wild at Heart
CNN profiles a woman who has spent more than two decades preserving the Patagonian wilderness in Chile and Argentina by purchasing land and turning it into national parks.

Europe’s Mosquito-Free Island Paradise: Iceland
There are few places on Earth where you won’t be bitten by mosquitoes, but Iceland is one of them, reports the New York Times. This may be thanks to its climate, but global warming could change that in the future.

The Modern Rebirth of the ‘Golden Rule’
BBC explores the state of Penang, Malaysia, where the locals are coping with their multicultural identity with an emphasis on mutual tolerance of different religions and cultures.

Antitrust Suit Against Airlines Can Move Ahead, Judge Says
A lawsuit accusing major U.S. airlines of colluding to set high airfares has been given the go-ahead by a federal judge, who rejected a motion to dismiss it, reports the Los Angeles Times.

This week’s video features a sweet in-flight proposal aboard a Qantas flight from Sydney, Australia to Santiago, Chile.


The 9 Best Places to Travel Alone
10 Ways to Survive a Long-Haul Flight

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Editor’s Note: IndependentTraveler.com is published by The Independent Traveler, Inc., a subsidiary of TripAdvisor, Inc.

Check out what you may have missed this week from around the travel world.

brownstones in greenwich village new york


Airbnb Sues Over New Law Regulating New York Rentals
Airbnb continues to face challenges in New York after Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a bill imposing major fines to hosts who illegally rent out their homes or apartments, reports the New York Times. Proponents of the law are trying to protect affordable housing by preventing people from renting out places to short-term tourists. Airbnb has filed a lawsuit to challenge the new law.

I’ve Been Taking Business Trips for More Than a Decade — Here Are 8 of My Best Travel Tips
A longtime business traveler shares her smartest tips with Business Insider, including using airport restaurants for free Wi-Fi and snagging free bottled water from hotel gyms.

The Secret Behind Italy’s Rarest Pasta
BBC travels to the island of Sardinia to see how su filindeu — the world’s rarest pasta — is made. Only three women on the planet know the time-intensive process.

Poverty as a Tourism Attraction: Can Travel to a Developing Country Really Make a Difference?
Australian travel website Traveller delves into the experience of “poverty tourism,” in which wealthy tourists come to town for a few hours and “want to ‘fix’ disadvantage with a few giveaway pencils and a photo with the kids.” The author is uncomfortable with the concept but finds that this type of tourism isn’t entirely without merit.

Here Comes a Wave of Change for Cuba
A National Geographic writer hops aboard the first U.S. cruise ship to visit Cuba in nearly 40 years and asks the locals how they feel about the incoming wave of American tourists.

Air Horse One: This Airline Is Strictly for the Animals
Every wondered how racehorses travel to the Kentucky Derby and other major events? USA Today takes us inside Air Horse One, a plane designed specifically to carry animals. Fun fact: The plane ascends and descends more gently than regular commercial flights to avoid startling or jostling the horses.

Airbus Offers a Peek at Its Flying Taxi
Anyone who’s ever sat in a traffic jam has wished they could simply fly their car over the mess — and CNN reports that Airbus is working on technology that could someday let us do just that. The “pilotless passenger aircraft” would take off and land vertically, with no need for a runway.

This week’s video offers a look at one of France’s most incredible tourist sites: Mont St-Michel.

A Medieval Abbey Trapped by Tides and Time from Great Big Story on Vimeo.


Voluntourism: Does It Really Help?
Photos: A Walking Tour of Old Havana

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Check out the week’s most interesting stories from around the travel world.

airplane food


“Nightmarish School-Dinner Fare”: Airline Food Taste Test
The Guardian puts airline food to the test with deliciously scathing results. Of one EasyJet sandwich, the author writes, “It is a bready Alcatraz incarcerating one slim slice of cheddar that has briefly been dabbed with ‘seasoned mayo’ (presumably seasoned with air, for all the flavour it adds) and a ‘mixed-leaf salad’ whose sparse scattering of shrivelled leaves looks more like some foliage has blown in through the window during prep than a deliberate garnish.”

Is This the Future of Hands-Free Luggage?
CNN profiles a bizarre new travel accessory: My Hitch, a gadget that allows you to hook your suitcase to your waistband so it will follow you wherever you go. Because every traveler needs a luggage tail!

Travel 3,000 Miles Through China’s Wondrous Wild West
A National Geographic photographer describes the experience of riding a train for 52 hours across China with his family. (Don’t forget to click through the gallery at the top of the story to see his powerful images.)

The Entire Continent of Australia Has Moved Five Feet in 22 Years
Thanks to its position atop an active tectonic plate, Australia has moved about five feet to the north over the last couple of decades. Though that may not sound like much, Conde Nast Traveler notes that such shifts can have a meaningful effect on devices that use GPS technology.

Tourists Blame Google Maps for Sending Them Into Venice in a Car
Speaking of GPS, Travel + Leisure reports on a couple of tourists in a rental car who blundered into a pedestrian-only section of Venice, nearly hitting a bystander along the Grand Canal. Their excuse? They were following Google Maps.

A Cheese Made from … Donkey Milk?
A BBC reporter journeys to Serbia to taste the world’s most expensive cheese, made from the milk of local donkeys. It’s said to slow the aging process and boost immunity and virility.

This week’s video is a tearjerker, featuring an Iowa choir singing “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” on a plane in honor of a WWII soldier, whose remains were being escorted on the flight from Germany to Atlanta.



Lost in Venice: One Wrong Turn and You May Never Leave
11 Things Not to Do on a Plane

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Check out this week’s most compelling reads from around the travel world.

rome woman with view


Want to Retire in Your 30s and Travel The World? This Woman Did
We can’t all be wealthy lawyers raking in a six-figure salary, but this Forbes piece on a woman who retired in her 30s to wander the world is still inspiring. Thanks to a thrifty lifestyle and aggressive saving, she put away huge chunks of her salary and is now able to travel on just the dividends from her investments.

From Skyrises to Traffic Jams: Our Densely Populated Planet — in Pictures
This photo gallery from the Guardian offers an incredible view of the Earth’s people, animals and cityscapes.

Delta Flier Gets Entire 160-Seat Jet to Himself
Thanks to a delay and subsequent rebookings by other passengers, Steve Schneider found himself the only person on a Delta flight from New Orleans to Atlanta, reports USA Today. The flight took off despite its emptiness because the airline needed the plane in Atlanta for a departure the next day. All of this leaves us wondering: Why doesn’t this ever happen to us?

Inside the Fight to Save One of the World’s Most Dangerous Parks
This in-depth essay from National Geographic offers a sobering look at the struggle of conservationists to preserve Virunga National Park in war-torn Congo, home to more than half of the world’s remaining gorillas. It’s a dangerous job; 152 park rangers have been killed over the past two decades.

How ‘Brexit’ Will Affect Travel to Europe
The New York Times investigates the ramifications of the recent Brexit vote for American travelers, from cheaper airfares to potential impact on the U.S. travel industry.

What I Learned in Italy About Loving My Body
This thoughtful essay from AFAR details a woman’s journey from worrying about her weight every time she considers dessert to appreciating Italy’s culture and history by fully experiencing its cuisine.

U.S. Border Authority Seeks Travellers’ Social Media Details
Do you want the U.S. government reading your tweets? BBC reports that Customs and Border Protection (part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security) has proposed an update to visa waiver application forms that would ask applicants for their social media handles. The question would be optional.

This week’s video is a dreamy look at India’s people, places and food.


10 Best India Experiences
16 Signs You’re Addicted to Travel

— written by Sarah Schlichter

There’s a marine biologist in Sicily named Emilio who is as fond of studying sea creatures as he is of cooking them. His house is in a seaside village called Torretta Granitola, and when he’s not crunching numbers in the lab, he’s in the kitchen, whipping up dishes with the fish he catches and with ingredients from local farms.

pasta italy


Wild asparagus omelets. Fava beans and artichokes cooked in a clay pot. Fresh sheep cheese and croutons made of locally made rye bread.

Dinner at Emilio’s sounds like a dream.

Now, thanks to a new website called My Italian Friends, you can pull up a chair at Emilio’s patio dining table and spend three hours savoring one of his home-cooked meals. Or you can book a spot in a home restaurant in a different Italian city — Rome, Milan and Perugia among them.

My Italian Friends is the perfect solution for travelers who get weary of dining in restaurants for every meal. The website allows you to reserve a meal in a local Italian home, viewing the menu, location and background of the home cook before you book. The website also lists cooking classes, if you prefer to learn to hand-roll your own pasta rather than have it served to you, and foodie tours, such as an escorted visit to Florence’s main market.

Photos: 11 Best Italy Experiences

The site only recently launched, yet already has dozen of listings. They are widely distributed throughout Italy, and the hosts seem welcoming and intent on providing good food and good conversation. They list sample menus, but you can make requests (and note allergies or dietary restrictions) when you book.
Some hosts provide additional services, such as rides to and from public transport and walking tours of the area.

The website offers a range of experiences and range of prices. We spotted a pasta dinner in Rome for 18 euros (about $20.50 USD), and a truffle-hunting expedition in the medieval town of Gubbio with an expert guide named Danilo and his trusty dog for 172 euros ($196 — includes lunch and a guided tour). The four-course meal at Emilio’s house, including wine, is 29 euros per person ($33). Some home cooks provide discounts on select dates.

To learn about other websites offering meals in local homes, see Beyond Restaurants: Eight Ways to Savor a Local Food Scene.

Like This Story? Get More Travel Tips in Our Newsletter!

— written by Elissa Leibowitz Poma

We’re celebrating the start of spring by daydreaming about … what else? … travel. Feast your eyes along with us on these incredible spots to see spring flowers around the world.

netherlands tulips windmill


Tulip fields bloom each spring across the Netherlands.


flowering trees nami island south korea


Flowering trees line a path on Nami Island, South Korea.


poppies california coast


Poppies add a dash of color to the California coast.


lupines lake tekapo new zealand


Lupines create a vibrant carpet beside Lake Tekapo, New Zealand.


tuscany italy spring flowers


Tuscany’s rolling hills are blanketed with spring flowers.


jefferson memorial cherry blossoms washington dc


Cherry blossoms wreath the Jefferson Memorial in Washington D.C.


Where should you travel this spring? Take our new quiz!

— written by Sarah Schlichter