How to Travel on the Cheap in Italy

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At the end of this summer, I travelled for almost two weeks around Italy with some friends I’d met working in Switzerland. We visited Turin, Milan, Genoa, Florence, Pisa, Verona and Venice – so it’s safe to say we covered a few miles. Whilst we wanted to see as much of the country as possible, we also wanted to do it without losing all of our summer wages. Overall, the trip approximately cost us about £250 each, which is a bargain considering this was two weeks in a western European country during peak season!

Portofino (near Genoa) Credit: Kristin Barret

If you’re planning on visiting multiple cities or places in the same European country, then you might initially think that the cheapest way to travel between these places would be to buy an interrail ticket. Now depending on the type of ticket you buy, it could give you up to unlimited train travel in a select country, or even multiple countries. And while for some countries that might be the cheapest option, (notably France or Switzerland, where a single train ticket can cost an arm and a leg) in cheaper countries such as Italy, buying individual tickets for trains and buses can definitely work out a lot cheaper. At the time of writing this, the cheapest Italian interrail ticket was €118, valid for 3 days of travel within a month. For my trip, I would have had to buy the 6 days in 1 month ticket: costing a whopping €199.

Now onto my top tips on reducing the costs in Italy:

  • Travel by bus
    • In the same way that in England, the cheapest way to get around is often by Megabus or National Express, coaches can save you lots of €€€ in Italy too. The main company we used was Flixbus, the buses were really comfortable and cheap! Surprisingly, we ended up liking bus travel more than the trains, since these buses came with free wifi, and they were super easy. We were able to travel from Florence to Verona for €9 each – such a bargain! Most of their fares are about €5 if you book far enough in advance, so you can definitely save a lot of money here.
  • Travel by local trains
    Venice Credit: Kristin Barret
    • These were a little more expensive than buses but in the spirit of “treat yo’self” we did take a few train journeys between cities too. These were still quite cheap in fairness, with the average inter-city connection being about €12. But definitely not really worth buying the interrail ticket!
  • Shop around for the cheapest accommodation – and don’t be too fussy
    • We booked all of our accommodation either through booking.com or Airbnb.com. We found some real bargains in the first few cities: In Turin we stayed in the Hotel Dock Milano, which cost us €9 a night each, and included an all-you-can-eat breakfast (stock up here to save money at lunch). It also had a huge room with large comfy double beds, flat screen TV, and even a bathtub (a luxury we hadn’t known all summer!). Though the rest of our trip consisted mainly of wobbly bunk beds in cheap hostels, we still really enjoyed the AirBnb experience. It definitely felt a lot cosier coming back to our own little Italian flat than a dark, smelly dorm.
  • Cook for yourself
    Florence Credit: Kristin Barret
    • Obviously, when in Italy, you’ve got to try the pizza. And the pasta. And the cakes, coffee, bread, pesto, risotto, Aperol, and hot chocolate. But once you’ve indulged yourself enough on these goodies, you should get back into that hostel/air BnB kitchen and cook up some supermarket pasta and tomato sauce. We made sure to try to find hostels with kitchen-access, for this specific purpose. In fairness eating out in Italy is actually really cheap – restaurant pizza for €6 anyone? But this hack really did save us a lot of money in the long run. Some nights we had home-cooked dinner and dessert for a measly €1.50 contribution each. Also, you should buy yourself breakfast from supermarkets, especially if you’re staying in one place for a few days; it’s definitely worth buying and sharing some cereal and milk. Although, again, eating out for breakfast in Italy also won’t break the bank: since a coffee and croissant won’t set you back more than €3, at most.
  • Go to the cheaper cities
    • Of course Venice and Florence were gorgeous, but they were also way more expensive than the other cities on our trip. Generally speaking, the less touristic the city, the better. On my trip, Turin, Milan and Genoa were the cheapest, both for food and for accommodation and in my opinion very underrated.
  • Book in advance
    • This may seem obvious, but my friends and I didn’t have this luxury when we planned our trip since we only met that summer! So we missed out on some of the best deals. If we had booked in advance we could have got the trip even cheaper – like booking the cheapest hostels before they sold out!
  • Find free (or cheaper) ways to have fun
    Pisa, obviously Credit: Kristin Barret
    • Don’t bother spending €80 on a one hour Gondola ride in Venice. Instead pay €20 for a 24-hour public boat pass (still a rip-off in my opinion though). Or if you really need that gondola selfie, take the €5 gondola crossing (lasts about 20 seconds and crosses the main canal as there is a shortage of bridges in that area, but that’s plenty of time for a couple of pictures!).
      In other cities, just enjoy walking around (free), spend the day in a park (free) or by a lake or beach (free), or spend a chilled evening watching Letters to Juliette in Verona (free, if you have the DVD). Don’t pay to go up the Tower of Pisa, when the best pic will be from the bottom anyway (free).
  • Plan your itinerary well
    • Burano (near Venice) Credit: Kristin Barret

      It’s logical that the shorter your trip, the cheaper it’ll be. So plan carefully how much time you want to spend in each place, and of course choose buses/trains that fit this plan. I found that Turin, Milan, Genoa, Verona and even Venice only really needed a day in each to see the important things. I would definitely recommend spending more time in Florence though (we were there for 3 days and it still wasn’t enough). Pisa only needed a few hours, we did it as a half-day trip from Florence. However, if you want to see more than just the city – like the coastal villages near Genoa or Lake Garda near Verona, then you’ll have to allow extra time for this too. Also plan your route around the cheapest flights there/home, as these will take up a considerable chunk of your budget.

So hopefully these tips will help you make the most of this amazing country. I would definitely recommend that you visit more than one city in Italy whilst you are there. Especially since it’s so cheap and easy to do but also because all the are so beautifully different.

Ciao, bella Italia!

 

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