Italy has kicked my butt more than once. More accurately, Italy has torn me down, stomped on me, left me stranded and frustrated, and then called “ha!” over her shoulder as she’s walked away, uncaring. Then, beckoning me to follow, she leads me through breathtaking scenery and introduces me to the most amazing food and wine, the most beautiful art, the most friendly, relaxed, and welcoming people, and even to another side of myself. Invariably, I forget about the earlier minor infractions, and I’m having the time of my life.
One lesson from this? (apart from the fact that Italy can charm anyone.) You need to have your wits about you on your trip. That means being somewhat organized, relatively rested — or at least not exhausted — and therefore open to spur-of-the-moment opportunities, able to enjoy and appreciate new experiences, and problem-solve where necessary.
The secret? The secret is not about what you see in Italy, it’s about how you see it. More specifically, the secret to a fabulous Italy trip is an itinerary that is balanced – on several levels. Since I’ve been there and done that (and since I make a living from it) here are some tips:
- Your overall itinerary should ideally be balanced, which means that if you’re starting in a big, bustling city like Rome or Milan, follow that with a few days by the sea or a visit to the countryside, not another chaotic city. Italian cities are exciting, very busy, and can be somewhat stressful. Experience the action, see the main sights, and then leave before you get physically or mentally tired.
- Balance similar activities across days. So if you have 4 days in Florence and you don’t want to miss the major museums, do a museum on day 2 and then another museum on Day 4. Do not book tickets for two museums in one day, and even better, leave a day between museums — to visit, say, the Chianti countryside and drink wine or go for a hike. Spending an entire day inside museums or trying to pack everything in without changing gears will leave you weary.
- Think about the flow and balance of each day. So if you sign up for a morning activity that is going to consume lots of brain power (like 4 hours in a museum) take a break halfway through, and sit in the museum’s cafe. Don’t make a reservation for that amazing lunch on the same day you reserve that amazing dinner, or you’ll be sitting at the table half of your waking hours that day and frankly you won’t really enjoy the dinner. And if you do a brain-intensive activity one morning that requires concentration to absorb lots of new information, plan something lighter in the afternoon, like shopping or a fountain-hopping walk or a few hours of people-watching at a cafe.
Putting together the pieces, making sure you know how to get from A to B and back again, and making sure all travelers are happy can be a daunting task if you’re the one planning your trip. But trust me, during the planning process, spend the time to focus on the balance of the trip in the three areas above so that, once in Italy, you won’t be too harried or too exhausted to handle the unexpected when it happens. Because in Italy, it will. But you? You’ll have your wits about you.
Top photo: awesome Vatican guide talking about the Laocoon sculpture; bottom photo: a Rome cafe. Photos by Madeline Jhawar and may not be used without permission
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