Tips for Traveling in Italy, Like You Live There

Published in the Providence Business News.

Imagine this! You are gearing up for your upcoming trip to Italy. You can not wait. Excitement envelops you. It always does for me no matter how many times I have been! You start to check off your list – everyday shoes, chic shoes, umbrella, laxatives, Benadryl, passport, international driver’s permit. Wait – you do not have the permit? Well, unless you want a potential fine there, or back in your home country, you might want to get one. Here are my tips for traveling in Italy, so you can journey about more easily!

~ Driving In Italy – Whether your plan is to meander about the country, in a tiny Fiat or luxury Alfa Romeo, obtain an international driver’s permit before leaving. It will assist you should something happen. (Visit AAA to learn more.) Also, when you rent a car, look at the description. Many European vehicles are manual (aka, stick shift), not automatic. The “M” or “A” on the car options indicates this. Unless manual cars are in your skillset, choose an automatic. It will help you navigate rural steep hills, one-lane roads and rotaries.

Driving in Piedmont, Italy
Driving on the highway from Italy’s Barolo to Turin. Most cars there are manuals.

~ Learn Italian phrases – Learn some key Italian phrases and words that will assist you in ordering a caffè or wine, speaking to locals at the bar or seeking some fun. When I first began learning the language, I memorized key sentences so I could show I was putting forth the initiative. (The main ones were knowing how to ask for an espresso AND a glass of wine.) In conclusion, your efforts will go a long way with the locals, and who knows, it might open a new opportunity for you! Life is short – just try it.

~ Caffè = espresso – Italians refer to espresso as caffè. Therefore, if you saunter up to the bar’s counter and order a caffè, the lovely person will give you an espresso. If you want something akin to U.S. coffee, then ask for a caffè Americano, but, this is not the same as the coffee that Americans are accustomed to in the U.S. Just saying! And, Italians only drink cappuccino in the morning at breakfast. The locals may give you the look of “what is wrong with you,” if you order a cappuccino in the afternoon! A smiling look, nonetheless.

Best Cappuccino in Tuscany Italy at Il Borro Relais & Chateaux
Cappuccino at Il Borro Relais & Chateaux, Tuscany

~ The Italian bar – Yes, an Italian bar serves alcoholic beverages, like American bars. Yet, often Italians go to “the bar” in the morning for a caffè or cappuccino. Some of them might also enjoy a caffè corretto, a correct coffee, which is when the barista puts an alcoholic beverage, like grappa, into the caffè to “correct” it. (Grappa is a unique Italian distilled spirit.) However, they often enjoy this later in the day, not the morning.

~ Starbucks – Starbucks is not prevalent on Italian street corners, and I would suggest that you do not ask if there is a Starbucks in the local village. Italians are known for making some of THE best caffè. So, enjoy the authenticity of what you find there – the local cafés with espresso, cappuccino, culture, bread and local conversation, even if you don’t understand it. Take it all in!

~ Water, espresso and wine – Italians drink mostly espresso, wine, water or a Spritz, the latter being a mix of sparkling wine, an Italian red bitter liqueur, club soda and an orange wedge. (My favorite bitter liqueur for a Spritz is Contratto bitter by the Rivetti family). Some spirits such as vodka, gin and whiskey are in bars, although not always in abundance, unless your are in a bigger city like Milan, Rome and Turin.

Aperol Spritz in Italy
Aperitivo with Negronis & nibbles in Turin with friend & business companion Kait Roberts

~ Aperitivo time – Italians love to enjoy each other’s company, and most often with food and wine. Aperitivo time, social time in the early evening before dinner, gives them yet another possibility for this. Therefore, during aperitivo time, you will enjoy wine, a Spritz (shared above) or water at an outdoor bar or café with complimentary bites. As a result, you may leave the café eating more food than you expected. Therefore, you will want to take a stroll and wait on dinner.

~ Walking and more walking – Walking is a way of life in Italy (in fact most of Europe), and Italians go from here to there by walking, when they can. Certainly, you must drive or take a train if you are not living or staying in a city. (You do not see locals walking on the highway.) Therefore, the point is – Italians like to stroll and take in all that is around them, including the person with whom they are walking. And ensure you pack comfy, yet stylish, shoes because Italians love their fashion.

Have some questions about traveling to Italy, send me a note.

Favorite useful Italian phrases

Italian PhraseEnglish Meaning
Buona giornata!Have a good day!
Un caffè per favore?May I have a coffee (espresso) please?
Andiamo! Let’s go!
Quanto costa il biglietto?How much does the ticket cost?
Posso avere il conto per favore?Can I have the check please?
Dov’è il bagno? Where is the bathroom?

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  1. Jessica I really enjoyed your article. I traveled to Italy a few times and loved it. Keep up the good work.

    • Jack – we have a mutual love of Italy. Thank you for reading! Stay connected.

  2. We’re currently planning our trip to Italy this summer. Your blog is an essential part of planning. Thank you for all the information and tips!

    • Hi Chris – So glad you found it useful. Reach out anytime if you need more help.


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