We recently enjoyed a week in Italy with our daughter and son-in-law. We visited Rome, Florence and Modena. My wife and I previously visited Rome and Florence about 40 years ago.
This was a delightful and different experience, being accompanied by two adult family members and not traveling as students. Here are 17 tips and takeaways from a family trip to Italy, based upon our experiences and impressions.
Tips & Takeaways
- Have a Plan. Get organized before you leave. Of course you are going to have your international travel and lodging in place before you leave. Get your travel within the country organized, and have a plan for each day. Include in the plan downtime and separate time for family members. It is OK for different members of your group to go their separate ways from time to time. You will enjoy having structure to your day, and you will enjoy time apart.
- Get a Global Entry Card. Global Entry is a U.S. government program for international travel. It is well worth the effort to get your Global Entry card. Doing so will expedite and relieve stress in your travel.
- Talk to Your Bank. Let your bank or credit card issuer know you are traveling, to make sure your cards keep working. We found it easy to set up international travel notifications with the companies on-line.
- Talk to Your Cell Carrier. Make sure you have a plan for international use in place for your trip.
- Hire a Guide. If you can scrape the money together, hire a guide. Your days will be more pleasant and efficient, and you will learn much more from your visit. We didn’t have guides 40 years ago; we did this time, and it makes a world of difference.
- How to Pack. Obviously, you want to have everything you need, and to pack as lightly as possible. That is the conundrum. Shoes and outerwear are critical. Shoes are heavy and take up a lot of room, but you are going to be walking a lot, and you need comfortable shoes with good support. Likewise, outerwear is bulky, but you want to stay warm and dry.
- Kindness and Politeness will Solve any Language Problem. Don’t know much Italian? Don’t stress about it. Neither did we. Fortunately, English is the global lingua franca. Politeness and kindness also are a universal language. If you can’t find the right words, being thoughtful and kind will get the job done.
- Respect the Service People You Encounter. People providing you services take their jobs seriously and professionally. Their job to make your experience enjoyable. Respect these people for what they do. Value the services they provide to make your trip wonderful.
- Local Pride. Residents of cities such as Florence and Rome, home of much that is ancient, are well aware of the historical significance of their cities. They take pride in the history, and are knowledgable. Respect this and learn from the residents.
- Visit a Wine Bar. If you are interested in Italian wine (we admit we are), visit a wine bar. This seems to be a well-developed and easily available option for visitors. The atmosphere is informal. You will sit at a bar and can sample wines of the region at a very reasonable price. In our experience, the proprietor also will provide you with fabulous meats, cheese and breads with your wine, and will be more than happy to help along your education in the wines of the country.
- Infrastructure. It is common to hear from visitors returning from Europe that many European countries are way ahead of the U.S. in infrastructure. That was our experience. The cell service and coverage were, in general, excellent. The roads and highways were in good condition. The airports and train stations were clean and modern. The trains were fast, immaculate and on-time. The U.S. has fallen behind.
- Use Google Maps, but be Wary. Google Maps normally got us where we wanted to go, but have a paper map back-up. For some reason, Google Maps consistently wanted us to cross the Arno River into what our daughter came to call the Bermuda Triangle of Florence when, in fact, our destination was not across the river. Nonetheless, this is a great improvement over 40 years ago when paper maps and asking for directions were all we had.
- Enjoy Your Children. This may seem a chimera for parents of young children, but there is an end in sight. It turns our that your children grow up and become adults, and they can be delightful and independent partners on a family vacation. I promise. It really will happen.
- Our President. Italians we met and spoke with about our President seemed mostly mystified as to what has happened. Yet, they have experiences with elected officials that give them a frame of reference for understanding.
- The Trajectory of Western Civilization. How’s that for a grandiose sounding caption? When you visit a country that was home to ancient Western civilization and the Renaissance, then follow the trajectory of Western civilization though the Enlightenment to the present day, you can’t help observing our current detour on the highway. The long trajectory of history seems to lean towards respect for individual rights and freedoms, valuing rationality and the intellect. It works to establish order for living together that controls tribalism (which seems to be the default means of social organization). Today we can sense a departure from this trajectory, as we flirt with devaluing science and rationality, and embrace nationalist, tribalist impulses. A visit to Italy reminded us of the road we’ve been traveling, and how well, in general, it has served us.
- Mindfulness and why we Like Vacations. Mindfulness is all the rage these days, in secular and religious contexts. We seek to center ourselves in the present moment, and thus to free ourselves from regret over the past and concern for the future. Mindfulness also helps us see clearly the present we inhabit. A vacation to another country, likewise, pulls us out of our normal context. As we immerse ourselves in another country, another language, another culture, we are compelled to see clearly our changed circumstances and are separated from regret over the past and anxiety about the future. In this way, a vacation can be good for the soul.
- Save and Share Your Memories. The Families Connect application is built for saving memories from a vacation and sharing your experience with friends and family members selected by you. We used it for our trip, and it worked great. Please give it a try.
Rick Bryant is the founder of Families Connect, LLC. He is also a husband, father of three adult children, and a grandfather to two. Before Families Connect, Rick founded and built an investment advisory business, co-founded and served as a partner in a private equity investment business, worked in investment banking, and practiced securities and corporate law.