Things to do and to avoid when travelling to Italy
Travelling as a tourist may lead sometimes to a series of inevitable mistakes that could often be easily avoided. If you keep them in mind, you may get much more from your vacation than you expect!
Take a look at what you must avoid this year when coming to visit Italy, if you want to truly enjoy your stay at its best.
Eating in touristic places
You're on holiday and you get hungry. The most likely thing you do is to run into one of those restaurants advertising "authentic cuisine" for tourists, one of those with their menu in English: they say they're authentic and they're tourist friendly, so what's best? Moreover, look at their location, bang! Right in the middle of the touristic area of the city.
Well thanks. But no, thanks.
These places tend to be tourist traps: characterized by low quality, yet overpriced grub, they tend to be far from traditionally Italian and are tailored around what tourists "think" to be authentic. The fact you barely spot an Italian having lunch in any of them should already put you on guard because, you know... never eat where the locals don't eat.
Of course, there are exceptions to the rule, but if you want to eat real local food, the best thing to do is to ask locals about their favorite restaurants. By this, I don't mean you need to spend half of your day interviewing people in the street, but you may well do some research online and see what Italians say about places you're thinking to eat in. Even better it is if you know people around and can ask them. The people at your hotel or B+B can be really helpful, too: just ask them where they like to eat when going out!
Overdo the pizza toppings
Alas, you finally made it to the motherland of pizza. Don't spoil the experience by demanding ham and pineapple on it. We Italians love to put a lot of stuff on pizza, and when I say "a lot" I mean it; yet, there are certain things we simply think don't go well on it: chicken or pineapple, for instance, are among them. So, explore Italian toppings instead and try an authentic pizza all'Italiana: all type of cheeses, grilled vegetables, eggs, salumi, pesto, fish... they can all go on an Italian pizza.
Heads up about one thing: in Italian, pepperoni doesn't exist. If you want that sort of stuff on your pizza, you should look for salame or salame piccante (although they are not exactly the same thing). When you see a pizza with peperoni (with one "p"), it means it has peppers on!
Choosing the wrong meal for where you are
Just as you wouldn't order seafood on a mountain, you should pay attention to where you are before ordering your food. Italy is far from being an homogeneous country and this is true for its culture, its people and, even more so, its food. So, order local: check out what the area you're in is famous for and try those dishes. Don't order pesto in Rome, but in Genoa; get truffles in Cuneo, but maybe not in Naples. You got the geist.
Drinking coffee with your meal
We love coffee, we do. It's truly part of our cultural and social history and we do love having it more than a couple of times a day. Yet, coffee is not a drink to have while you eat. If this may be a given when thinking of espresso, a shot of strong, flavorsome coffee, it may not occur to tourists that having a cappuccino with your meal is just a no-no in here, so do as the Italians do and wait to have your coffee at the end of your meal. And by the way, it's an espresso you should ask for, if you really want to blend in, as cappuccino is usually a breakfast drink!
If you really cannot have your lunch without drinking coffee with it, you can ask for an Americano, as more and more places, especially in larger towns and cities, prepare it, but don't expect the same coffee as you'd have back home. Italians Americanos are on average stronger than American or British ones, and wouldn't fill up your morning mug. Just to let you know.
Using Plastic to Pay
Paying by credit card could be a bit of an adventure in Italy up to a relatively short time ago. To be fair, things have changed a lot in the past 12 months, since it's become compulsory for all commercial venues to have a credit card machine (we call it POS in Italy). However, smaller shops may still be upgrading, so always keep some cash on you, just in case.
Shop without comparing prices
This is true not only in Italy, but everywhere there is tourism: buying in a very touristy place means you'll pay more for your items, so be aware of it. Sometimes you only need to leave the main street and take a smaller side alley to find the same thing, but much cheaper: in other words, shop with your eyes open and always compare prices before buying.
Relying on trains and buses splitting the minute
Italy is extremely well connected and you'll never have problems moving around the country using public transport. However, be aware our trains and buses don't run perfectly on time. This is especially important to know if you've changes to make to reach your destination: it's always better to plan things properly and leave some extra time between arrival and departure in such cases, so if it happens the first train or bus is late, you'll still have plenty of time to jump on the other. Same thing is valid if you have to catch a flight, or you're meeting someone on business: our advice is to always take the earlier train/bus available to your destination.
Walking without being aware of your surroundings
This is, once again, valid for every single place on earth, especially when loads of tourists are around. When we're on holiday, we tend to – rightly – relax, and let out guard down a bit. Add to it we're usually in a place we don't know and we speak a foreign language and voilà! We become the perfect mugger's victim. Especially when you're in a city or in a very crowded area, keep always an eye on your bag and belongings. Never leave them unattended, and keep an eye on people around you while you walk and visit places, especially if you sense they're getting too close for comfort.
Here we go, follow up these simple points and, you'll see, your visit to Italy will really be more enjoyable and more relaxing! Let us know how it goes!