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Pinching My Pennies in ItalyAuthor: carolyn becker
Date of Trip: February 2009
There are some painless steps that will help buffer the high cost of traveling to, and in, beautiful Italy for you, as they have for me. To begin with, of course, off-season Italy promises the biggest cuts in airfare, the beauty of popping up at small hotels (more discounted rates) without needing a reservation confirmed 3 months in advance, enjoying the wonderful absence of lines at the museums, and finding the local people less harried and more accommodating.
High season on most airlines' routes to Italy usually stretches from June to the end of September plus Christmas/New Year's week. This is the most expensive and most crowded time to travel. Shoulder season is from the Easter season (usually late Mar or Apr) to May, late September to October, and December 15 to December 24. Low season is generally January 6 to mid-March, November 1 to December 14, and December 25 to March 31.
I always try to shop for the best airfare deals on the internet for myself. When calling the airlines directly, always ask for the lowest possible fare. Be flexible in your schedule -- flying on weekdays versus weekends, or even at a different time of day, can make a substantial difference. Find out the exact dates of the seasonal rates; these differ from airline to airline even though the destination stays the same. Some flights into or out of Rome versus Milan may differ in price. Don't forget to ask about discounts for seniors, students, or children.
Check your newspaper for consolidators or wholesalers, frequently known as "bucket shops." These companies operate by alleviating blocks of unsold tickets from the major international airlines. It's still not a bad idea to check them out first with the Better Business Bureau, but most operate firmly aboveboard and offer substantial savings, particularly off season.
Once you are in Italy, domestic or one-way flights can be killers. The most distant flights within Italy (Venice to Palermo, for example) might be contenders for air travel, but opt for the train at a fraction of the cost, breaking up your travel times with overnight stops planned along the way. There is never a shortage of sights between any two points. Train travel in Italy has improved immeasurably since the 1970s and 1980s. The newer Intercity trains are clean and efficient enough to make second-class travel a near first-class experience.
Map out your strategy before you leave to see if a rail pass will save you or cost you money (you can find a list of the various Italian ones offered, as well as purchase them, at www.raileurope.com). On long international stretches of train travel, the former is usually true. Within Italy, buying second-class point-to-point tickets as you go may save you money. Most rail passes are cheapest when purchased at home before you leave. Also before you leave, because airport parking is expensive and a real hassle, go to stay123.com to set up a park and fly package ( stay the night at an airport hotel and get free parking for the length of your vacation , and a ride to the terminal, as well as back on your return trip.) The cost of the whole package was half of what airport parking alone used to cost me, so that's a big saver.
In Italy, use public transportation in cities rather than taxis. It offers a peek into the daily lifestyles of the local residents. Most concentrated historical districts make sightseeing most enjoyable when done on foot; in the large cities like Rome or Milan, consider daily or weekly passes for unlimited travel on buses or subways.
For general information in your home country, try your local branch of the Italian Government Tourist Board (ENIT) or the ENIT-sponsored website www.enit.it. Each city and town lists its own websites for visitor information, and you can find plenty of other official links at the Italian Government Tourist Board's site, www.italiantourism.com.
Here's my favorite tip:
To get the most out of always-increasing museum admissions, see if you can buy tickets in advance to eliminate waiting in line. Always ask about senior and student discounts. Extended hours for summer months are often confirmed at the last minute (and, therefore, are not reflected in guidebooks) and are not widely publicized: If you're in the know, you might have Florence's Uffizi Galleries to yourself at 10 in the evening --( put a price on that!) Speaking of which, many museums are often open for free 1 day a month (it'll be crowded but, well, free). You can find this info and more like it at www.europeforfree.com.
So, how much do you love me?
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