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Italy Q&A: Daily Budget for Italy

I got this great question by email, and thought I’d answer it quickly and add it to my list of Italy Q&A posts. It’s from Jen, who says:

We are planning our first Italy vacation for about 10 days. We are coming there with another couple and have our tickets and hotels all paid for. We are beginning in Rome for 3 days, then Tuscany, Milan, Florence and Venice.

Just curious – we are getting conflicting amounts from people that we have met that have been there in the past… how much should we plan on spending each day or for the entire trip?

After day 3, we are renting a car so; that will save on the Eurail Pass.

That’s a great question, Jen, and it reminds me that I haven’t done much on the website to talk about Italy travel budgets. The reason for that is simple, if a little embarrassing – I’m a terrible budget-er. I’m of the horrible mindset that I’ll pay for everything later somehow, so I don’t concern myself with what I should expect to pay in advance. I do not recommend this mindset (in college, it resulted in me maxing out my first credit card, which took me eons to pay off). Perhaps helping you establish a baseline budget for your trip will rehabilitate me from my careless ways!

But before I get to the budget, I have to ask – the order you listed your destintions in isn’t the order you’re doing them in, is it? Because it really doesn’t make much sense to go from Tuscany all the way up to Milan, then back to Florence (which is in Tuscany), and then back up to Venice. I’m hoping you were just listing those destinations without regard to order, because otherwise that’s going to be a lot of extra car hours.

So, down to brass tacks. Unfortunately, Italy isn’t cheap for visitors. Train travel in Italy is relatively inexpensive, and some parts of the country (namely southern Italy) can be cheaper than others, but on the whole the places that most people want to go aren’t cheap. Hotels in or near the city center are costly, especially during the high season, and any restaurant that offers a view is bound to charge you double (or more) what the meal is actually worth. Having said all of that, there are ways around just gritting your teeth and paying a fortune for your Italian vacation.

First off, you’re ahead of the game by taking the two biggest money-suckers out of your daily budget equation – with your airline tickets and hotels already paid for, your daily budget is going to be much less than it would be otherwise. And since you’re going to be renting a car after you leave Rome (which I assume is also already paid for, or at least budgeted for), your only transportation costs are going to be in-city buses, trams, and such. The remaining stuff you need to figure out, then, is just food and entertainment.

I don’t know what kind of travelers you are, and how many museums/galleries/attractions you want to take in every day, but if you figure that – on average – you’ll pay between €10-15 per attraction per person, that’s a good place to start. Obviously, some are going to cost less, while others may cost more, so this is a ballpark figure. This number also doesn’t include things like audio guides or guided tours, which can cost a few euro extra depending on the venue.

Your dining options in Italy are so varied that what you’ll spend on a daily basis can vary as well. If you’re a foodie who’s intent on sampling only the finest Italian cuisine, you can spend as much on eating out as you are on your hotel. If you’re a serious budget traveler for whom nearly every meal is a picnic cobbled together from the outdoor markets, you can eat extraordinarly cheaply (and really well, I might add). The “somewhere in the middle” crowd should plan on roughly €10-15 per person for a decent lunch, and €15-20 per person for dinner – including a liter of the house wine! And if your hotels include breakfast in the price, you can save money by eating the hotel breakfast every day. (It’s not as fun as stopping at the corner bar for a caffè and cornetto, but if you’ve already paid for it you might as well eat it!)

I’ve looked around at what other travelers (the ones who actually budget their money like good, thoughtful people) say about a daily budget for Italy, and one website I found said that a daily budget of €100-150 was necessary to have a comfortable trip – but that was including accommodation costs in the daily budget. Personally, based on my chicken-scratch calculations and some other poking around I’ve done, it seems to me that a daily per person budget of €60-80 (not including accommodation, and depending on how many museums per day you’re hoping to get in) would be good.

Of course, this doesn’t include enough to bring home souvenirs with names like Prada and Gucci on them, but there’s more than enough room in this budget for you to pick up lots of postcards, enjoy a cappuccino as a mid-morning pick-me-up, and have your requisite two scoops of gelato every day.

And don’t forget to read about how to use ATM machines in Italy before you go!

Have a great trip, and let me know if I can help in any other way!