Planning a Road Trip through Italy

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It’s road trip time, dear readers!

We didn’t take an extended road trip in 2015, although we did take smaller road trips closer to home which were a lot of fun and a great reminder that unforgettable travel does not have to be to far away places.

This year we are going international again (see our 2014 road trip through France)! I am excited to be returning to Italy and to revisiting some of the ol’ stomping grounds of my youth in Brescia.

Brescia is in the region of Lombardy in Northern Italy and is a 1.5 hour drive from Milan. I spent some time here deciding whether I wanted to stay and study there. I struggled with the language and was very young and  eventually made my way back to New York City. This time I will be traveling with my two youngest boys and my husband, and though things have changed dramatically since I was last there, I can’t wait to reconnect with my sister – whose wedding we will be attending – and with a region I once fell in love with. Of course, sharing this with my family makes the return that much sweeter.

Tips and lessons learned while planning our road trip through Italy.

Excited to be seeing my family and my old stomping grounds of Brescia!

Train or car: We will primarily be traveling by car on this trip. We expect to travel by train on occasion, especially the metro in busier cities such as Milan as well as Venice where there are no vehicles allowed, but this will be a road trip experience, as it was when we traveled through France. Still, I love, love, love train travel in Europe. It’s super easy and affordable too. (Check out my tips from our trip through France.)

Our road trip in France prepared for a lot in planning this trip, but there were other things we learned along the way too. Here are the tops things to note when road tripping through Italy.

Tips for car renters: Cars are smaller in Europe, in general. Expect to pay more for automatic rentals, which can also be a bit harder to find especially during high tourist season. Automatic vehicles tend to be larger, which American’s like except that they can be difficult to navigate through smaller town streets and even more difficult to park. If possible, rent small, taking into consideration luggage as well as passenger capacity. Finding the balance between the two (size and automatic drive) is more difficult than one would think.

Cash is always better. Small change is the best. Most credit cards are chipped now and thus widely accepted word wide, but it’s also best to have cash handy for tolls and gas, but also when looking to get around town. I always have “bathroom money” to access public bathrooms along the way.

Make sure you have all your documents! When driving in Italy (and many other EU countries) you will need an International Driving Permit (IDP), which is a translation of your license. You can get one fairly quickly from any AAA office. The cost is $15 and requires two passport photos, which they take for you at the time of your appointment.

Larian Triangle, Lake Como

Larian Triangle, Lake Como. Photo: Lake Como Tourism

Be flexible in your lodging choices. For lodging, we are staying in hotels and home rentals. We’ve been planning the trip for my sister’s wedding for a while now and so had a lot of flexibility in our lodging options, but where we stayed essentially came down to a few main issues: was there parking, was it free, and which option brought us closer to specific “wish list” items, such as a stay on the lake, or in the center of town. It was difficult to find a home rental in the heart of Venice, for example, so we chose a hotel (will share more details in a later post) that was right near the canals and provided free breakfast. We splurged in larger rooms with views. Lake Como had few hotel options, so we rented a lakefront villa with parking. Note that most locations do not have parking on site so make sure that you include this cost (an average of about US$35-$40 a day).

Make sure to check to see if there are any major events or festivals around the time of your visit as these may impact your cost and lodging options. When looking for a place in Milan, we initially thought to rent a nice hotel room. However, the Salone Internazionale del Mobile, a high-end furniture show, is happening around the time of our visit limiting the number of available rooms and increasing the cost by no less than US$1,000.00 a night in most cases! We then headed over to AirBnB where we found a gorgeous apartment in the trendy Navigli District, Milan’s equivalent of the West Village but with canals.

Day trips within the trip. The region of Lombardy is close to so many beautiful cities. We will land in Milan, where we will pick up our car. Then we will take the 1.5 hour drive to Brescia where we will spend a weekend celebrating the wedding, family time, and touring this great city. We will stay in Brescia longer, but take day trips of Verona and Bergamo which are no more than an hour away. Having my sister and her then husband with us as guides will be super helpful too. We will be seeing a lot, but not in a way that will feel rushed or overwhelming.

Tours are a fun way to see and explore in a short time. This trip is a non-working vacation for me (yay!) but I’ve been wanting to work with Walks of Italy for a few years now. They offered me two complimentary tours both in Venice and Milan. I covered the cost for my family and am excited to have them show us around these two great cities. We will be touring mostly on our own, so it’s nice to have a couple of places that will be guided, especially in a city as big as Milan and as complex as Venice. (Read about how we kept getting lost in Venice the first time I visited with my older son).

If you have time take the train into Switzerland. We’re also super excited to be making our way across the border into Switzerland where we will spend some time touring St. Moritz. One of the best ways to travel into Switzerland is by train. The scenic ride from Tirano, Italy on the Bernia Express came highly recommended and is on my absolute must list! The kind folks there have set us up with some hiking passes for my family and I to enjoy, and though I am told to wear my boots, I just can’t wait to be surrounded by the alps and nature.

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Packing my hiking boots for Switzerland!

Language and other apps. While researching tours with Walks of Italy I came across their guides for apps while traveling through Italy. It’s full of great suggestions. Note: Thanks to our reader Veronica for suggesting Duolingo as another great language app option!

I have tried to practice my Italian, which tends to sound like Spanish and can mingle with my French. It’s going to be pretty hilarious for sure. One thing to note is that each region has its own dialect, and the further into the mountains you go, the harder it is to find someone who speaks English. Not saying it’s impossible, just not as easy as when you are in a bigger city. It’s OK though. I find Northern Italians to be super friendly and helpful, and they have been pretty forgiving in the past of my Italian as well. As long as you try, you will surely find someone willing to help.

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We will begin and end in the beautiful city of Milan, in the Navigli District.

We booked and prepaid for our trip through apps like Expedia and AirBnB. I was able to cover half the cost of our airfare through miles accumulated through my Mileage Plus membership with United (sign up for those memberships and get those credit cards to accrue points! I am not a fan of credit card debt, and don’t have any as I pay them off right away, but I do use them for hotels, car rentals, and flights to get those miles! I highly recommend it!) The only costs we have incoming are for food, tolls, activities, shopping, gas, city taxes (charged at some hotels), and any insurance and deposit we may have to pay upfront for the car (check with your car rental agency as well as hotels so that you are prepared for those additional fees).

I am looking forward to the mountains, the lakes, the people, the food, the views, my family, all of it. We leave in a couple of days and I hope you will follow us along. As always you can find me on Twitter, Facebook, and of course, Instagram and just to make it easier, we will be using hashtag #GGTinItaly.

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Carol Cain

Carol is her happiest when on an adventure, either close to home or farther away. She's the mom to three fun boys and wife to a handsome Irish/Scot. She lives in New Jersey with her happy crew, but will always be a girl from Brooklyn. You can read her full profile here.

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2 Responses to Planning a Road Trip through Italy

  1. Rachel says:

    Taking a road trip through Italy sounds like so much fun! I’m sure you and your family will have a blast. Thank you for the tips too, they’ll be very helpful when I finally make it to Italy!

    • caincarol says:

      Thanks Rachel! I have since written about a few of the stops along the way. Check them out and hope you make it there soon!

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