Ciao bella! The beautiful country of incredible cuisine, boisterous people, and a deep history. I’m a little biased when I say it’s my favourite country I’ve travelled to because I lived there for 6 months, but Italy has so much to offer. Every city is so diverse with such different landscapes, stories, people, and food, there is so much to see and do. There are also many mistakes to be made as a naive tourist, when there is so much to learn about this fabulous culture. Here are my top 5 tips on what to do and say while travelling in Italy:
#1: Learn the basics of the language.
Just like travelling to any foreign country, it makes your life a lot easier when you can find your way around and order food without having to struggle through a completely unknown language. Learning key phrases such as “Where is the bathroom?”, “How much does this cost?”, and “How do I get here?” are simple and make your life a lot easier on the go.
Not only this, but the locals will appreciate your effort trying to learn their language and culture. They will be a lot more welcoming and positive if you just try! You will notice a significant (positive) difference in their attitudes towards you if you try to speak their language while starting a conversation. Don’t be embarrassed, because they feel the exact same speaking English with you.
#2: Order like a local.
Every region in Italy is known for different types of food. When you go to Naples, you enjoy the best pizza. When you go to Milan, you indulge in their fine risottos. It only takes a few minutes to research what’s best in each region, and once you’re having the most delicious meals you’ve ever tasted, you’ll be thanking yourself!
There are also some easy rules to follow, and if you disobey, you’re committing Italian food crime. Here are a few guidelines to help you perfect your ordering! Never put parmesan cheese on a seafood pasta dish. Never order a cappuccino after noon. Don’t ask for salad dressing (there is oil, vinegar, salt, and sometimes balsamic on the table for this). Wait to eat the bread WITH your meal, mainly to soak up the rest of the sauce on your plate. Most importantly, take your time while eating. Italians take a lot of pride in their food and always take time to enjoy it. You’ll appreciate that you savoured the delicious dishes because you won’t find food anywhere else like it.
#3: Dress for success.
If you intend to visit the most magnificent cathedral in the world, don’t be surprised if you aren’t allowed in if your knees and shoulders aren’t covered. Sometimes exceptions will be made for men with longer shorts, but in general, they are very strict with dress codes in any of the religious sanctuaries.
As a female solo traveller, unfortunately, you also have to be aware of the attention you draw with how you dress. Italians are quite modest, so you may attract unwanted attention if you wear the popular short shorts and a crop top like at home. Even on very hot days, you’ll stick out like a sore thumb amongst locals. Dress best for the weather and for comfort, stay alert, and if anyone makes comments towards you as you walk by, simply ignore them.
#4: Know the tourist traps.
With any major tourist city, there are always tourist traps. It takes some trial and error to figure out exactly where these are and what they entail. Following are a couple examples of tourist traps in Italy.
Restaurants with photos of all of the menu items will almost always have raised prices and low-medium quality food. These restaurants are generally very close or beside major tourist attractions. They want to make sure all of the tired, hungry tourists understand what they’re ordering, therefore they display photos of all of the food or offer a full English menu.
Avoid travelling in high season. I had the pleasure of getting to enjoy this wonderful country in low-moderate season (fall, winter, spring). At times, I still couldn’t believe how many tourists there were in certain areas, I can’t begin to imagine how busy it would get in high season. It takes away a bit of the magic when you are trying to enjoy a small beach near the cliff side when it’s PACKED with people speaking your language and taking selfies.
#5: Be smart.
You may have heard from others before travelling to certain countries in Europe that theft and pick pocketing is an issue. I got told by many people to be aware of this and casually brushed it off, thinking something like that couldn’t possibly happen to me. Well it did happen to me, and it was a scary situation.
My friends and I had met with some other travellers from the USA and were walking in a less safe area to get to a bar, we had a fair bit to drink, and we were being quite loud. It was clear we were foreigners and we were easy targets. When I figured out the man who approached us had taken my wallet the guys we were with immediately went after the man to try and retrieve my belongings. He eventually threw back my wallet with the money gone, after he had slashed the guys with a knife. Fortunately the cuts weren’t deep and no one was badly injured, but it could have ended a lot worse. A fun night instantly turned into a scary situation because we weren’t being smart.
It’s so easy to be aware of your surroundings, and while travelling solo it’s a necessity. You never know what can happen, so take the time to be as safe as possible. Look around and be sure of your surroundings, are you somewhere quite public? If so, keep your important belongings close to your body. Don’t wear flashy jewellery to attract unwanted attention. If you are somewhere less public, are you in a safe area? Is there a building like a hotel or restaurant you could run into if you needed to escape an unwanted situation? Be sure to study where you are going everyday so you avoid getting lost and ending up in a bad area.
Italy is so wonderful and full of adventures (and food) waiting to be had. These 5 small pieces of advice are sure to help so you’re prepared for what’s to come. Enjoy this beautiful country and don’t forget to eat all of the gelato! Salute.