Planning an Italy vacation can be a daunting task – with so many things to do and see in this relatively small country, where do you start? Unless you spend a lifetime there, you will certainly miss some things, so what do you leave out? What do you put on your must-see list? What do you save for next time?
When you reach this point, you have two choices – you can plan your own Italy vacation, setting up your own itinerary and connecting the dots between sights, or you can book yourself a spot on a vacation where someone else has done the hard work for you. Both have their pros and cons, you just need to know which one suits your needs best.
Below, you will find a few of the things to take into consideration when deciding whether to go it alone or rely on someone else’s judgment – but keep in mind that you could end up doing a combination of these two options. If you will be in Italy for an extended period of time, you could take charge of most of your tourist outings but jump on a guided trip into the mountains or a three-day trip to the lakes in Italy while you are there.
Italy Vacation Packages
Vacation packages come in all shapes and sizes and suit every travel taste and budget. There will be tours that cover the highlights of one city or the entire country, tours that focus on one region, tours that center around a particular interest or hobby, tours on water and tours on land. You name it, there is an Italy vacation package that covers it.
Package tours are generally a fantastic option for those with more money than time – people who simply are too busy to research and book their own hotels and activities, who just want to show up and have someone else have done the hard work in advance. And since every tour company has a different clientele they are trying to appeal to, you will be able to find a tour that matches your personality. In other words, if you prefer staying in hostels there are vacation packages that give people lots of independence, rely on local transport and stay in small family-run inns. If you would rather not pack and unpack your bags every two days, there are vacation packages on cruise ships which allow you to unpack only once and yet still see the sights on daytrips. And, of course, there are plenty of options in between. Ask any tour operator what their average age is on their tours and you will get a good idea about whether you will fit in or not.
Vacation packages can also be great if you have a specific interest that you want to focus on when you travel, whether it is food or history or cars or wine or skiing. The time it would take the average traveler to seek out each stop on an interest-based tour like that would make planning the trip a nearly full-time job. With someone else to sort out those details – someone on the ground in Italy who knows where to look – you are assured of a great experience without having to make a chore out of the planning process. You are also bound to meet like-minded travelers, people who share your passions, which always makes a trip more interesting.
The downside of a pre-planned vacation is that you have no control over the itinerary – it is someone else’s idea of a great Italy vacation, and you are stuck with it once you sign on. If the whole thing from start to finish looks good to you, or if there are opportunities for individuals to have free time, then go for it. But if the idea of being herded around from sight to sight sounds unappealing, look the other way.
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If the idea of someone else planning your Italy vacation interests you, then be sure to read more about Italy travel packages and find out what kind of package tour is right for you.
Planning Your Own Italy Vacation
There is nothing quite like taking control of your own Italy vacation, doing the research, booking the hotels or hostels, choosing the sights you want to see, and mapping your route. It can be an incredibly satisfying experience, knowing you are getting exactly what you want out of your holiday. It is also time-consuming and can be frustrating – so you do not want to leave this to the last minute.
Your first task should be to prioritize the things you want to see and do in Italy. Making this list, and truly prioritizing it from top to bottom, will force you to see your trip in terms of what you really have time to do and what you simply do not. It will also allow you to more easily cut things from the itinerary if you already have things prioritized early on – if not, you will feel like you are being asked to sacrifice one of your own children.
This priority list should morph easily into your trip itinerary, provided that you:
- are not trying to do too much in too short a time, and
- are not dead set on seeing Sicily and Venice (and a few things in between) in a week.
While neither of these obstacles will prevent you from having a good Italian vacation, either one can keep you from having a great Italian vacation.
To budget your time realistically, plan to spend at least three days in every destination you visit, give or take a day. In Venice, for instance, two days is probably plenty (and a city like Pisa can even be done in a half-day en route from one city to another), while you might want to add a fourth day to Florence or Rome, especially if you use one of them for a daytrip outside the city. But in general, three days is a good baseline to work from. This will keep you from zipping too quickly through any given place, and will allow you the pleasure of getting to know your way around a complicated foreign city.
Do not make the mistake of forgetting to factor in your travel time, however. Train travel in Italy is efficient, but that does not mean you will get from Point A to Point B in a half hour. The train from Rome to Venice, for example, will take four to six hours on the EuroStar, Italy’s high-speed train. That will give you only a few hours in Venice the day you arrive, so do not plan to leave immediately the next morning.
To get a realistic picture of how much ground you can reasonably cover, my best advice is to look at Italy the way most people (including Italians) do – in two halves. The northern half, from about Rome up, is where most tourists spend their time, and seeing both Rome and Venice in one trip is totally do-able. Most travelers do what I call the “Holy Trinity” of Rome, Florence and Venice in one trip, usually in 10 days or two weeks, and that is plenty of time to see each of those three cities – with a few days leftover for daytrips.
The southern half of Italy is significantly less touristed and so might be more challenging to get around in – but is absolutely worth the trouble. I would not necessarily recommend including Sardegna in with a tour of southern Italy, unless you can make at least an overnight trip, because it is remote enough that travel time will eat into your holiday time. You can get a little sample of Sicily in a vacation through southern Italy, however, and if you are at all interested it is definitely worth planning a day or two in Sicily.
The biggest downside of planning your own Italy vacation is the time it takes to do it right. The results are rewarding, but just as Rome was not built in a day, neither was a vacation to Rome. There is a reason, after all, why people employ travel agents and tour companies to do this stuff for them. Another downside is that if something goes wrong you have no one to take care of the problems for you. With a tour company, you can pass the complaint on to someone else whose job it is to fix it. So, if you have the time and the fortitude to plan your own holiday, go for it. If you do not have any spare time for lunch let alone vacation planning, and if you prefer to have someone around to take care of problems so you do not have to, you are probably better off going with a tour.