5 Mistakes to Avoid When Planning a Trip to Italy

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Almost everyone who I’ve ever met or known who has visited Italy absolutely raves about their experiences— the people, the food, the wine, and the sights. I typically nod in agreement while the usual places are listed, or sometimes chime in with the things that I also love about traveling there.

However, after years of operating our small group tours and customized private trips in Italy, I’ve come to understand how to get the most out of your visit to this beautiful country, and also a few common mistakes made by travelers that can be easily avoided for an even more amazing and unique experience during your vacation.

Here are 5 common mistakes that can keep you from the authentic and unique experience you’re looking for on your Italy trip (and what to do instead!):

1. Eating only at places with menus in English

Yes, there are great restaurants that have menus in English. But the real adventure begins when you’re in a place so authentically local that they are not catering at all to travelers, even if they know they could make more by having a menu that travelers could understand.

2. Eating “Italian Food”

There’s no such thing. Italy is all about regional cuisine—what you eat in Naples should be very different from what you eat in Milan. Eat the local dishes that are specialties of that region so you can taste what they’re best known for, and enjoy each dish at its very best.


3. Waiting for the bill to come

You’ll be waiting forever! (As long as you’re in an authentic place.) This isn’t a huge mistake, but it is a helpful tip! Restaurants in Italy aren’t trying to rush you out the door, they’re not solely focused on turning tables. So they often won’t bring your check until you ask for it.


4. Taking a huge tour with 20+ people

With this size of group you just can’t have the intimate, authentic experiences that allow you to see Italy as it should be.

We see these 30+ traveler groups all the time. They eat at the worst restaurants because that’s where they can get reservations for that size, they shuffle through the streets having sights pointed out to them, without going in and experiencing anything unique. And they have tour guides who are ticking off a checklist of things they’ve seen.

Get intimate! If you are going to take a tour, focus on small groups, experiences, and places that take you behind the scenes and not through the main thoroughfares where everyone else is walking.

5. Being afraid to get off the beaten path

Albert Einstein said, “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.” But I’d like to add that my definition of insanity (applicable to this situation, at least) is going to the same exact places all the tourists go, and expecting a unique and authentic traveling experience.

Traveling to Italy is about having a deeper understanding and appreciation of the culture, history, and their way of life. Yes, for some folks it is just as important to see Botticelli’s Birth of Venus at the Uffizi Museum. And that’s ok (because it’s amazing, of course!); but if you’re in Florence and all you do is stay in the historical center of the town (as many tourists do) then you are swimming in the sea of other visitors where there are certain establishments (and many vendors) who are catering simply to the tastes of tourists and not the reality of the locals.

Venture to the Oltrarno (the other side of the river) where more Florentines live and work. Stroll the streets and get lost. Find a café or a restaurant that has a small menu, only in Italian, and try it. Get outside your comfort zone. Go to a place where they don’t speak any English. Learn a few phrases in Italian and maybe mess up your order trying to use them (it’s all about the experience!).

Traveling is Truly What You Make of It

Traveling in Italy can be nearly like a “Disneyland experience” —manicured, swimming with the sea of other tourists, comfortable, and accessible.

Or you can get your hands dirty, explore, and absorb the culture like a true local.

If the latter is a little scary, or uncertain, or you’re not sure where to start or how to go about it, then join us on one of our curated culinary trips to Italy where we help facilitate bridging that gap.

We’ll introduce you to our friends—locals who live and work in the places we visit—who show us the inside scoop. We’ll teach you a few Italian phrases, or help with your ordering if you’d like some help. We’ll give you a behind the scenes view at artisan workshops, crafts that have been passed down through generations, and homes where you can dine with locals. And as always, our small group tours stay within 6-12 people to allow for more intimate experiences. (no 20, 30+ groups here!)

We’re taking two more trips to Italy this year—September & October— and we still currently have a couple spaces left in each of them.

Learn more about our 9-day Heart of Italy Tours (and why they are an experience of a lifetime) here.

If you found this post helpful, pin the image below to Pinterest to reference later!

 
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3 Must-Have Items for International Travel

Let's just be honest...travel is amazing and wonderful and sparkles and unicorns and whiskers on kittens. But if we're being really honest there's also the side that's tiring, uncomfortable, and annoying. For me—that's packing and preparing for travel.

But there are a few things that are always, without a doubt, going in my travel bag...and that make those uncomfortable parts of traveling a tad bit easier.

Over the years I've tried lots of travel-friendly products which help me build custom packing lists for our private travel clients and our those on our small group tours.  Here are a few of my favorites that I would never leave home without:

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  1. Inflatable Travel Pillow - I'll admit I used to make fun of people with travel pillows...and then I became one. My favorite Eagle Creek pillow deflates to a compact size, you can remove and wash the cover, and it's far more comfortable than airline pillows (currently unavailable on Amazon — another great option here: Purefly Pillow)

  2. RFID Blocking Wallet - You've certainly heard about the risk of identity theft through RFID (radio-frequency identification). This Articulate wallet/clutch is my favorite tool for storing my passport and cards while on the go. It has multiple compartments and has interchangeable straps.  There is also a men's wallet available.

  3. Compact Backpack - It's a pain to carry a backpack on the plane in addition to your other luggage. Having a backpack that folds up has been a life saver on hikes, in markets, and on day trips. My favorite is the Eddie Bauer Packable Daypack which has lots of pockets and *bonus* you can secure zippers to other zippers and hooks using an S-biner.

    And those are my top 3! What do you HAVE to have for international travel? I’m always looking to pick up more tips, so don’t hesitate to comment below your Top 3 Must-Haves!



    Don’t forget to pin this article for future reference!

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4 Not-to-Miss Restaurants in Italy

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“Wait…this is fresh made pasta, right?” I asked as the server shot me a look of severe discontent. 

Since when did I become such a pretentious eater that boxed pasta seemed so abhorrent?  Oh…since spending 3 weeks gorging myself in Italy, scouring the country for the best eats. I had officially been ruined for all the Barillas & DeCeccos of the world. After witnessing Italian nonnas (grandmas) fresh rolling pasta in the back of restaurant kitchens and lingering over fragrant sauces it was no wonder I was appalled by food from a box and a jar!

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After settling for his unequivocal reply of, “yes.”, I took a deep breath, a sip of wine, and replayed my trip through Italy as I prepared for my last meal before jetting off. As an avid traveler Italy was one place I had been hesitant about visiting…not because I was concerned that I wouldn’t like it, but because I was concerned I would love it too much and never want to leave.

And boy did Italy live up to all the expectations in my mind. From the first peek of the rolling Tuscan countryside through the airplane window, to the thrill of riding on a scooter around winding cliff side roads on the Amalfi coast, to this quaint little restaurant in Florence where I was eating my final fresh pasta dish, Italy took my breath away around every corner.

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There is something so special, so enriching, so passionate, so simple about the way Italians live. And food is a major part of that beautiful life. On my first night in Italy I made friends with a group of locals who invited me over for a barbecue. I stood awe struck in their Renaissance-period kitchen as one of them nearly apologized to me because, “this olive oil isn’t very fresh…it’s nearly 8 months old since their family is preparing for the olive harvest this year.” Old olive oil?! Is that even a thing?! At home I just used whatever EVOO I could find in my cabinet, purchased from who knows where, who knows when. And that was just the beginning of my education in the way Italians eat, drink, love, and live.

One of the most beautiful things about Italian cuisine is how utterly simple most of the dishes are and that so much of the rich aroma and flavor comes from using very fresh ingredients. Italians are not shy about their pride in this matter. While participating in a cooking class the chef looked at me and matter-of-factly asked, “Do you like lemon thyme?”  Then he continued by saying, “Great, let’s go pick some,” as we trotted out of the kitchen where a few pots of fresh herbs grew. I felt like smacking my Staples’ ‘that was easy’ button

As a tour operator for international culinary trips, my sole purpose in Italy was to uncover the places that made me feel uniquely in love with Italian cuisine…places that I would be overjoyed to share with other like-minded food lovers. With some help from my friends at Utrip I was well connected with local Italian experts who showed me the way. And amongst some of my favorite meals were these 4 gems I highly recommend you check out:

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  1. Fried Pizza at La Masardona in Naples

 

2. Fried (you’re noticing a theme…aren’t you) Calamari Salad at Ristoteca Oniga in Venice

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3. Cacio e pepe at Cacio e Pepe in Rome (seems legit, yes?)

 

4. Arugula salad & tagliolini magnifico at Trattoria Gargani in Florence

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Do you have any “must-not-miss” places you’d recommend? I’d love to hear them! Drop me a comment — I’m always looking for new great places to be able to direct clients to (and eat at myself, of course!).

You can always find more of my “must-not-miss” places ON our actual small group tours to Italy and other destinations. Check ‘em ouuuut!

Don’t forget to pin this post for easy reference!

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(A similar blog post was originally published by our friends at Utrip on their blog. Utrip is an online travel planner that uses your interests and budget to sort through millions of options to deliver you a personalized itinerary in minutes.)

Packing Hack: How to Spice up Your Travel Wardrobe (Without Buying New Clothes!)

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Travel is immensely rewarding and exciting, buuut, sorting the details can be incredibly complicated, frustrating, and stressful.

First, you have to choose where to go (okay, that’s the easiest and most fun part) and figure out how to get there. Then there are the hours of researching and (if you’re like me) breaking out the Excel sheets for what to do once you get there, where to stay, and where to eat—all the while trying to decipher which will actually be the unique and authentic experiences you’re looking for, hoping you don’t end up at some touristy diner that serves pre-made frozen pasta dishes in Italy.

Thankfully when you travel with us on our trips to Italy, Peru, or other destinations, we take care of all those maddening details so you can stop googling “best places to eat in Naples” for the 5th night in a row and get back to your busy lives with the reassured confidence that you will show up and have an amazing trip of a lifetime with deep, authentic connections (and zero amounts of pre-made, frozen food).

However, there is one more thing about travel that is complicated, frustrating, and stressful, and that even if you go on a trip with us, you’ll still have to do yourself—PACKING.

Packing is— by far—the thing that drives me most crazy about travel. I’m a “better safe than sorry” kind of person, so I want to make sure I have something for every occasion and weather possibility...while at the same time, I am also equally dedicated to packing ONLY a carry-on whenever possible.

This paradox subsequently results in hours spent debating which items are appropriate for the occasion (will I be too cold? Too hot? To dressy? Not dressy enough?), but also versatile (can I wear this shirt with multiple other items I’m bringing? Does it transfer easily “day-to-night”?).

And then, finally, and perfectly rationally, I usually come around to the conclusion that I hate everything I own, I have nothing to wear, and I want need a completely new, fun wardrobe to bring with me and not the same clothes I wear every day.

Tell me I’m not the only one who goes through this.

The Packing Hack We’ve All Been Dreaming Of...
In walks Armoire—a wardrobe rental subscription service, based here locally in Seattle, but available to anyone online.  

As an already fond member of their service, I was in their store, discussing the pains of travel packing and how I was considering pausing my membership with them while I’d be in Italy for three weeks, since I wouldn’t be able to swap out new items.

And suddenly, it became clear to both of us this was not a problem, but an opportunity!

Together we created the 8-Piece Travel Pack—a travel wardrobe you could curate with a stylist and then return when you get back—to assist with your travel adventures this summer, and solve the classic packing woes.

How it Works & Why Renting your Travel Wardrobe is the Best Tip I’ve Found
For this May Heart of Italy Tour and research trip, I met with a stylist at Armoire and shared the basics I thought I would bring: a white tee, jeans, gray jackets, sneakers, sandals, etc. Then together we picked out 8 items with fun prints, patterns, and colors to put together that worked with my staples and that I could mix and match, dressing up and/or down.

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Anytime that I’m allowed to shop, chat, and drink champagne—I’m pretty happy. So packing with a stylist actually became something fun instead of a dreaded chore I save for the last, frantic minute (scene cut to me at my own home alone, frazzled, throwing things around my room, and sending mirror selfies to friends asking which pants I should take).

So here I am currently in Italy with my 8 pieces (you can ready more about which ones I settled on and how I’ll be styling them here), and I am digging this experience!

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What I’ve loved about traveling with these 8 pieces is that they are all fun, new, and I am excited to get up in the morning and put on a full outfit that has already been pre-planned. No standing in front of my suitcase debating which items to put together for the day.

Travel Packing Tips to Live By
To get you inspired, here are some of my go-to travel packing tips to keep in mind whenever & wherever you’re doing your packing:

  1. If a piece can’t be made into more than two outfits, ditch it

  2. Rule of thumb: look for super lightweight, breathable items that don’t wrinkle easily

  3. Layers, layers, layers. Unless I’m going somewhere with extreme cold temperatures, I’d rather wear 3 sweaters to keep warm than to carry a heavy, big coat.

  4. Always pack more underwear than you need. It’s the smallest item you pack and the thing you change the most (hopefully :)

See How it Works In Real Life — This June!
Interested in this life-changing, new way to pack for a trip? Join us for a drink, packing tips from me, a stylist to help you choose your 8 pieces for your next trip, and a chance to win a $1000 gift card at our Armoire + The Table Less Traveled Event on June 19.

I’ll be hosting this event with the amazing boss women over at Armoire. Come by to get styled for your summer, learn about traveling to Italy on a trip that’s curated and planned, and hang out with fun people while doing that dreaded packing at the same time.

Hope to see you then!

Travel in Style
with The Table Less Traveled + Armoire

Wednesday, June 19, | 5:30-8pm

Pin this post so you can come back to it!

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