So I’m in the business of dreaming. Most people have a travel dream and I can help them get there. Some people know what they want to feel but maybe that’s the only detail they can really define. They aren’t sure where to go or what to do to have the experience they are longing for. As a result people are interested in ideas where my dream vacation is. Allow me to elaborate…
I’m unlikely to to spend Clayoquot Wilderness Lodge money at around $7000/night to sleep in a tent, (a gorgeous, well appointed tent with chef prepared meals and a gracious spa but still). Clayoquot Wilderness Lodge may have the local market on luxury service and amenities, but it’s on Vancouver Island with other resorts, places to rent, tours to take. In other words, you could still go and do the things with some planning on your own. It’s not cheap or easy but it is possible. So why haven’t I gone there? Bears. That would hardly even be my 10th trip to places where bears could be a potential problem. I understand how to avoid bears and what to do if you can’t avoid a bear. But I don’t want to meet a grizzly bear in the Canadian Wilderness. In my mind’s eye bears are everywhere conducting bear business and every venture outdoors means I will encounter them. That’s not even remotely true says Brain, but Imagination says otherwise. I’m hardly alone in these worries. Some people are worried about sharks and they can’t enjoy the beach, some people are worried about flying in a plane to their destination, I could fill these pages with a list of what people have anxiety about. The early explorers were afraid to sail their ships into unknown waters where they might encounter sea monsters or boiling water near the equator.
Does fear/ anxiety hold you back from something you would like to do? If you just ran with it would you have a good time despite your fear or would you be a ball of anxiety? Can you plan a way out of your fear? For instance, could I buy and carry bear repellent or a weapon to scare off bears? What kinds of travel fears do you have and have you overcome any of them? Was the trip worth it? Drop your comments below and tell us about the things that are holding you back or how you manage to still have a good time.
Social media is full of algorithms that have you all figured out. You get advertisements for things you only thought about a few minutes ago. Weird huh? Choosing your accommodations for trips is a lot like solving for the perfect equation of fun and functional. Sometimes I have the magic touch when it comes to finding just the right place to relax and unwind. Here are some things I consider when choosing a place to stay.
Which is more important to you price or location? This can change by destination of course. If I’m going to the beach, it’s definitely location, the closer the better and I’m willing to pay to be beachfront. If I have to give up a pool or even glamorous furnishings, I live by there is no such thing as an ugly beachhouse. If I’m going to the mountains location isn’t as important because I enjoy all kinds of mountain views. My decision is going to be based more on price and looking for certain amenities that make traveling easier and more enjoyable. When you are traveling with a group this includes sleeping accommodations, kitchens, free breakfast, pools, and other considerations that are important to your traveling partners. If my group is going to a theme park, I appreciate a continental breakfast available so we can be energized and out the door to take advantage of every minute of those park tickets. That is never a consideration for me at the beach because I like a kitchen for a quick lunchtime break and then back to the sunshine and waves.
Speaking of theme parks we have stayed at Orlando resorts that had fun pools and multi bedroom condos away from the parks. And off site hotels that were basically the same as the value resort level Disney hotels that included a shuttle to the parks. Mostly we stayed there because the accommodations at Disney or Universal were full or we were doing multiple destinations and had a car. It has been our experience that the extras you get by staying in the theme park resorts actually saves you time and money, at least on the days you are at Disney or Universal.
Consider your transportation. Are you driving, walking or taking public transportation? If you are driving to your destination you need to consider parking- is it hard to find or expensive? Does your hotel charge for parking? Having your own car opens up a host of locations you can stay if parking issues isn’t a consideration that might save you money. If you are flying to a destination and will be without a car, staying closer to bus or tram stops or within walking distance to destinations will save you time and money and doesn’t tie you to rideshares that can be busy in tourist areas. I like to use Google Maps and map out hotels to travel destinations and look around on streetview. Also keep in mind traffic and crime and your comfort level if you plan to walk. My favorite starting point is Hotels.com using the map feature (Or VRBO, AirBnB if you are staying in a short term rental). Read the reviews, take note of the price and then compare with other accomodations. Here is where a travel advisor can save you time and money. Hotels will almost always be cheaper through a travel agent and even if you manage to find a deal that’s not, they can probably at least snag you an upgrade for you. Weighing the factors and making decisions based on your group’s needs may be tricky but it can make a big difference on how much you enjoyed your trip.
Why would you try to cram an Italian vacation in a week you ask? Well, shingles and good luck. Sweet Husband had an itchy spot on his side last summer right before we were ready to pack our suitcases for Italy. It was shingles and his doctor said it could get very bad and advised against travel. Thankfully shingles were no big deal and I’m even more thankful that shingles caused us to delay a trip that would have put us in the biggest heat wave Italy has ever seen. Train travel came to a pause in places as tracks buckled due to heat. Many buildings have little or no air conditioning so it was difficult for people to get relief. I’m thankful that we weren’t in Italy in the summer months but that left our kid’s Fall Break to cram in ten days of plans we had made for Summer travel. If you are beholden to school and sports schedules this fast track through Italy is for you and if you are fortunate enough not to go to Italy like you are competing in The Amazing Race, then you can work off this itinerary and take a slower pace and add in more excursions. Either way you will see the sites and leave Italy without feeling like you missed something.
Two Days in Rome
Day 1– Arrive in Rome and get right to it!
We arrived in Rome just before 9am local time. Getting through customs was very simple as we just waited in line and showed our passport. We visited the ATM at the airport and got Euros in our pocket for just a small ATM fee- much cheaper than exchanging your money abroad. We pre-arranged our transfer from the airport to the hotel so we soon found ourselves in a private van headed into the city. Ride share services are spotty at best in Italy although we used the Uber app more than once that arranged a professional taxi service. There is train transportation into Rome from the airport but transfers are faster, more convenient and go directly to your hotel with your luggage. We checked our luggage with our hotel and headed to Galleria Borghesi. Luckily we had seen this wonderful art museum inside Rome’s largest public park on Rick Steve’s Europe, streamable TV Series available on Amazon Prime. The museum has some of the most important works of art in Europe, most notably The Rape of Proserpina sculpture by Gian Lorenzo Bernini along with many pieces of art that was the spoils of the Roman Empire. You must buy tickets in advance AND reserve your date and time. No need to schedule a group tour, this museum is very accessible, especially with the use of the optional audio guide. Book your tickets directly https://www.ticketone.it/artist/galleria-borghese or have your travel advisor include it in your travel package. It’s a must-see! If you happen to arrive to Rome on a Monday when the museum is closed, be sure to include it another day or see it on the day of your departure by utilizing their baggage check service. Allow for 2-3 hours.
After our museum visit and meandering through the park, past the Spanish Steps and onto Trevi Fountain, we found a local trattoria, or an Italian restaurant serving simple food. The touristy areas of Rome have mainly the same offerings from one place to another as many of the hotels, restaurants and shops are not owned by local Italians but foreign investors. We managed to find a locally owned restaurant for authentic pizza and antipasto with a little luck and discernment. Finally checking into our hotel, we took a much deserved nap and wandered the area around Trevi Fountain at night. While you should be vigilant against pickpockets especially in the most crowded areas and public transportation, our small group felt quite safe and enjoyed walking around to have gelato and visit the small tourist shops each evening after dark.
Day Two- Wear your walking shoes!
I read a “what to pack” travel blog that advised that athletic shoes and attire was considered tacky in Italy. The streets are made of cobblestone and the museum floors made of marble. Every other tourist in the city had on sneakers and for good reason. On this day we had tickets to the Vatican Museum. Those are timed tickets and you will want to buy your tickets well ahead of time with a voucher that allows you to skip the ticket purchase line (very long) and head straight for the museum. Vatican Museum tickets sell out very fast so if you don’t find any directly from the Vatican Museum Website, ask your Travel Advisor to book them for you. Expect to spend 4-5 hours inside the Vatican Museum. We had said we were only going to look at the Sistine Chapel, with a shortcut that allows you to see it in about an hour and a half. The Vatican Museum is massive and just walking to the basillica takes around an hour in heavy crowds. There are many guided tours available and while they would help you get more out of what is on display, you might find yourself feeling like cattle being herded through the galleries. While we didn’t think we necessarily wanted to spend a lot of time in this museum, it ended up being a favorite of our whole vacation. Be sure to see the cars in the basement garage as you exit near the cafeteria. There is much to see in Vatican City, you can easily spend an entire day (or week) here.
Crowds in halls of Vatican Museum
After a thrilling taxi ride back to the hotel from Vatican City straight out of the chase scene in the DaVinci Code movie, I put my sneakers on and we caught a bus to the Colloseum. These timed tickets are available from https://www.coopculture.it/en/tickets/ . Tickets also include the Palatine Hill area including the Forum and entrance to Pantheon within 48 hours of your Colloseum entrance time. Be sure not to skip Palatine Hill or the Pantheon, although the latter we visited the next morning before bidding Rome arrivederci.
The Colloseum is getting some repairs
Three Days in Florence
Day 3- Train to Florence (Firenza)
If you haven’t made your way to Pantheon or perhaps went for a bike ride on the Appian Way enjoy an early morning excursion before your train trip to Florence. We booked our train tickets in advance on the https://italiatren.com on a high speed train into the S Maria Novella station in “Firenza” (what modern Italians call Florence). I highly recommend installing the app on your phone. We booked our tickets in advance since we were traveling with our children and wanted to be sure we had seats together. It wouldn’t have been necessary to pay extra for seats but it was worth the peace of mind. For more regional service (like a daytrip to Pisa, https://italiatren.com/ will get you where you want to go efficiently and inexpensively.
Our train in the station in Rome on our way to Florence
Once we arrived in Florence we walked with our luggage to our hotel because the line for the taxi service was about an hour and our hotel only a few blocks. We checked in and began to explore the city by walking along the picturesqe Arno river and it’s bridges. You can walk to Basilica of Santa Croce, visit the leather market and of course have more gelato. Our trip through Rome seemed fast and a checklist of must-see sights, in Firenza, we chose to experience the culture and slow down a bit. Although it felt a little touristy- our whole family enjoyed The Three Tenors In Concert at Auditorium Santo Stefano al Ponte Vecchio and dinner on our own (as opposed as the available dinner package with the Three Tenors tickets) before walking along the river and getting our pictures along the Ponte Vecchio bridge at night. A perfect introduction to one of Italy’s top tourist destinations.
Ponte Vecchio Bridge over the Arno River
Day Four- Naked Marble Man!
You didn’t come all the way to Italy just to leave without seeing the David! Buy and print your tickets ahead of time or have your Travel Advisor organize your timed entrance tickets for Accademia Galleria. Most visitors would also want to see the Uffizi Gallery (available in the same link) or Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore and enter the dome with a ticketed entrance. We spent an hour or so in the Leonardi Da Vinici Museum, because I have scholars who were super interested. After an afternoon of exploring Florence, our dinner was at a pasta making class which is a great way to soak in a little more Italian culture. Honestly our fresh pasta made and shared by the group was the best meal of our trip. Of course we finished our meal with a trip through one of the many gelato establishments on our walk back to the hotel.
Pasta Mania Class and Leaning Tower of Pisa
Day 5- Pisa and Chianti
We were getting a little full of ourselves and how well we were traveling. We walked back to Santa Maria Novella train station, purchased our train tickets to Pisa at the kiosk and took our stop at Pisa Central. We bought our bus ticket to Piazza Del Duomo (where the tower is) in a little machine on the sidewalk in front of the buses at the train station. While on the bus a group of American students were fined $40 each when the bus authorities boarded and checked to make sure everyone had validated tickets. Bus tickets and routes can be a bit confusing. After easily getting to the leaning tower of Pisa, our return trip was a bit more difficult and confusing. We were unsure of the bus route and number or where to find the tickets while we were out and about in Pisa. In retrospect, we should have bought two sets of bus tickets at the train station and we would have just been able to board the bus we had come by. We eventually got back to the train station and rode the train back to Florence. After a late lunch we headed to our next excursions, an evening tour of the Chianti region of Tuscany in Fiat 500’s as part of a tour. The setting sun over the many vineyards and hills was a beautiful end to our time in Florence and made for wonderful pictures. We enjoyed antipasto, chianti and the very Italian Aperol spritz al fresco at a Tuscan estate before boarding our city bus back to the hotel. In all we had enjoyed classic Italian opera, learned to make pasta, seen the leaning tower, the David, and took in the beauty of Tuscany and the city of Florence. If you find yourself with extra time to spend, adding days in Florence is well worth it.
Fiat 500 from our evening tour of the chianti region/ Tuscany with Fiat 500 Club
Two Days in Venice
Day 6- Goodbye Florence, Buongiorno Venice
By now we are comfortable with taking the train and writing strongly worded letters to our Senators to get high speed rail in the states. We were not prepared to step out of Santa Lucia train station and take in just how beautiful Venice was. We did not understand the water taxi system but since we had planned a tour early the next day we chose a hotel that was very near the train station. Instead of carrying our luggage over the very large bridge with many steps, we should have used the water ferry to cross the canal which we understood better later. There are many crowds of people in Venice, none of them seem to have any luggage. Perhaps they arrived in Venice knowing that buildings are quite old and rooms are typically very small and without elevators. We dragged our luggage up two flights of stairs in our hotel and then laughed when our whole room was just 3 beds with barely room to manaever. It was fine, and frankly added to the memories we made. While our room was typical in Venice, larger more modern rooms are available but they are closer to the beach and much more expensive. Venice is so beautiful you want to be out walking the streets with your camera anyway. Our hotel manager kindly mapped a path of sites for us to see and we spent the afternoon and into the evening taking it all in. You may need to pinch yourself to be sure it’s real.
We appreciated this map that marked out a wonderful walking path/ the canals
Day 7- The Dolomites might be the most beautiful yet
I have to give it to my teens. There were zero grumbles about having to meet our tour guide at 8am for our trip to the Dolomites. We had arranged the trip knowing that weather or less than six participants might cause cancellation. No matter, we had a plan B, C, and D. Most who visit Venice like to see Saint Mark’s Basillica Dome, maybe go to the beach via water taxi, see an orchestra or opera event in the world’s first public opera house, see Doge’s Palace, or tour the islands of Murano, Burano and Torcello. I saw some pictures of Lake Misurina in a travel guide and I was smitten. The aquamarine water with the mountains as a backdrop reminded me The Sound of Music, and for good reason. The real Von Trapps excaped to Italy via the Italian Alps and Dolomites, not Switzerland as portrayed in the movie. It was an incredible tour to Cortina d’ Ampezzo which hosted the 1956 and will co-host the 2026 Winter Olympics. It’s a beautiful alpineesque village with upscale shopping and ski options. Then onto Lake Misurna, a wave to Austria and our last stop at the breathtaking Auronzo di Cadore. This tour was probably my favorite part of our vacation and we saw many incredible things while in Italy so I don’t say that lightly.
Auronzo di Cadore from the dam.
Day 8- Arrivederci and back home!
There are many ways to get you back to Marco Polo airport to fly back to the US. You can catch a water taxi for about 200 Euros. That is probably the most effecient, however be aware that most flights to the US leave around 9:00am so there may be a crowd trying to get on the same transports you are. We were fortuneate to have an 11:30 flight so we walked to nearby Piazzale Roma bought tickets and took a public bus 5 for 32 euros. Piazzale Rome is the only place that cars and buses were allowed in Venice. There is not train service to the airport. Be aware of this snag that people often encounter on return from International Flights, if you have connecting flights, you will have to go through customs and back through security in each country. Pay attention to your layover time to make sure you will have a minimum of two hours. When we arrived in Newark, we had to go through customs, get our luggage (which was delayed) recheck it, and stand in a very long security line. Even after a security employee helped us move faster through the line we had to run a very long distance through the terminal and barely made our flight. Our luggage did not make it back home until days later. Ideally you would have 3 hours with each layover in a new country. Also make sure you have insurance for your luggage, cancellations, sickness and medical needs while out of the country, including insurance for flights and hotels and the more expensive of your excursions. Check your credit card to see if it includes any travel insurance and the airline and hotel policies for your reservations. Travel protection may be included in some of your purchases and your Travel Advisor can suggest a reputable insurance provider.
I hope you have enjoyed taking our whirlwind tour of Italy and maybe this will help you build your trip. As GuidetoAdventures.com, I’m available to help you plan and make reservations or you can browse and book your trip from my site http://www.guidetoadventures.com and click on book a trip.
My next blog will include this itinerary but in a calendar form without the dialogue.
I started this blog because I noticed over and over that I was getting my travel advice from 20-somethings who’s idea of a great vacation was Instagram pics from the top of Mt Vesuvius. They were not concerned at all about retirement savings nor do they have a kid headed for college next Fall. They probably don’t have plantar fasciitis and certainly no extra pounds in their bikini pictures from gorgeous beaches. They can sleep outside with a rock for a pillow but I’m partial to air conditioning and luxury bedding. And I’m FOR SURE not sleeping in a hostel. The other reason I started this blog is because no one tells you that NOW is the time to take these trips. Don’t put it off until you can’t enjoy it. The key to having a wonderful adventure wherever you travel, is taking an honest look at yourself and planning accordingly.
What would make your trip amazing? What would ruin your trip? What is your energy level and your level of interest in what the location has to offer? The last may seem obvious but if you could care less about art history, why are you standing in long museum lines? But would you go to Rome and not see the Sistine Chapel? Prioritizing what is your absolute must-do’s will help you have your best trip. It also helps you manage your budget and time. What would be an absolute deal-breaker for you? We recently visited Italy and our careful eye on the weather forecast told us to expect sweater weather but we found ourselves washing our short sleeves to wear again as temperatures flirted with 90. Had we booked hotels without air conditioning, I would have been an unhappy traveler. I also like to be close to transportation and walking distance to a few sites and restaurants. Looking at accommodations search engines with a map view or getting those details to your travel advisor will help you find a place to stay that meets your needs. A quick check of the address in Google Maps with street view can help you rule out any locations that might have a lot of graffiti which can be an indicator of neighborhood safety. Being aware of details that are important to you will help you make good choices.
Research, Research, and more Research
Do you know what your destination really has to offer? Finding those must-do’s for your trip means understanding what your options are. I like to browse Pinterest.com by searching my destination and then taking a very realistic look at the destination in Google. For example there are beautiful hot spring pools made from mineral deposits in Saturnia in Tuscany that has become very popular due to social media trending. The pictures are beautiful on Pinterest and IG but they don’t give a realistic view of seasonal crowds or red worms that are found in the pools. The mineral deposits can also be slippery and rough in places for those who are not steady on their feet. While this six hour trip is a must-do for some, others would be disappointed they spent their time and resources in Saturnia. TripAdvisor.com is a great place to research destinations from recent reviews. Just take that advice with a grain of salt and be objective. Additionally, I enjoy https://www.ricksteves.com/ and his TV show available on his site and streaming on Amazon, about European travel. His website has many good tips and tricks about what to see and expect in Europe. Finally check out travel agents. Have conversations with them after you have done a little research. Have them help you with itineraries or recommend tours and great attractions. Not only is it often free to use a travel agent, their expertise and guidance will most definitely save you time and money but you can wander without feeling lost.
Please visit my contact page to have a conversation about how my travel business Guide to Adventures can help you make the most of your next vacation.