In late September of 2019, Jackie, my wife, and I traveled through four regions of Italy and enjoyed a splendid vacation to celebrate our thirty-year wedding anniversary.
The thirteen days in Italy flew by way too quickly.
We met incredibly friendly people in all the regions and always got the help we needed when we needed directions or ideas where to eat. The choices were endless for savory and sweet Italian cuisine and we usually asked the local folks where to eat.
Every day we walked for miles on hikes like on the trails in Cinque Terre, which are worth every step or through centuries of history in Rome and Florenzia (Florence).
Planning for a first trip to Italy takes time and there are a gazillion resources. Here, I have listed a few suggestions for apps for your phone and guides and a few websites that we found especially useful. The list is short and doesn't list all the apps, YouTube videos and websites that we checked out before and during our trip.
Our 13- day itinerary included four regions
Detroit, Michigan > Rome > Florenzia > Cinque Terre > Positano > Rome > Detroit
Enjoy all the chapters of your journey from planning to doing.
When your US cell phone won't connect to the Internet
We have Sprint and we used Sprint Global Roaming and added unlimited data (optional) for $25.00 / week. We did a ton of walking averaging 7-8 miles/day and many times we wished we had a more reliable cell phone connection that would keep us connected to Google Maps.
I was not happy with the cell phone service and this poor connection often rendered our typical mapping apps irrelevant.
Connecting to Wifi is easy but not always available and Wifi doesn't help when you are hungry, have sore feet and lost and looking for the restaurant you located in your hotel or AirBnB where Wifi was great. Soooooo, having a local map (paper) or downloading a map to your phone for offline use can be very helpful.
Consider buying a local SIM card in Italy. It's not expensive. With a SIM card you may find your experience is much better when using map services... especially on hikes in national parks or cities where the cell signal is weak.
When you buy a SIM card for use in Italy (or Europe) you don't have to rely on WiFi to make calls locally in Italy and you don't incur per-minute charges from your US Carrier for roaming. This comes in handy when you need a map or want to call and tell the restaraunt where you made reservations that you are running late (or lost and need help).
Ask your US phone mobile carrier if your phone is unlocked (it probably is).
Become familiar with TIM (Telecom Italia Mobile) in Italy - it's one of the easiest places to buy a local SIM card; there are other choices. Take your passport with you; they will ask for it and make a photo. Learn more on The Roman Guy blog.
Download local maps for offline use to your phone of the region you will visit when you have a strong data connection. It's not a perfect solution but it's better than nothing. Learn more on Google Maps Help for navigating offline.
If you don't mind spending a little money, purchase an app for navigating offline. I tried several apps in this category and my favorite IOS app is Sygic GPS Navigation & Maps. This app is fantastic and I will also use it in the USA when I am not in an anemic cell phone connection.
Purchasing your train tickets: paper versus online
We loved the trains in Italy. High speed and local trains both offer very different experiences.
Consider downloading apps for purchasing a paperless train ticket
Depending on where you are traveling you may use different companies and different apps or websites. Paperless train tickets are nice and easier to have handy (unless you lose your phone).
If you want to use a third party app here is my favorite: Omio. I liked this app (you pay a few Euros more per ticket) because it was easy to use, stored all our purchases and I could buy the ticket for my wife and I and then send her the link.
TIP: Take a screenshot of the train ticket in case you can't open the app and view the ticket because of a poor cell or Wifi connection.
TIP: Remember you may need to validate your paper train ticket before you board the train. Do a little Googling and see some stories of the why/how to validate and implications of not validating a ticket.
We had no problems but I met one traveler in two weeks who was a victim of a pickpocketter. Use your judgment and search for the defense options you like most.
Apps, websites and guides
There are a gazillion websites, apps and books to guide your travels in Italy. Here is our short list of finalists.
Rick Steeves and Italy
Rick is well known as a guru of travel in Italy and much of Europe. We used several of his resources.
- The IOS app Rick Steves Audio Europe ™. This is nice for self guided audio tours that hit the high points.
- Book, Best of Italy . It's heavy when you want to pack lightly, but worth it if you like to read and prep for a visit.
- Website ricksteves.com is endless with resources and tours if you want to join them
- Youtube videos are very informative