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Italy Budget Travel Tips (Hint: They Include Hostels)

romeAnyone who’s even started looking into booking a vacation in Italy knows that it’s not a cheap endeavor. Italy knows it’s fabulous, and it’s not giving anything away for free. But a cursory glance at backpacker travel blogs is all you need to find evidence that even people who don’t have a six-figure income are traveling in Italy and enjoying everything this gorgeous country has to offer. So how are they doing it?

There are several big things you can do to make sure you’re not spending your life savings on an Italy trip. What’s fantastic is that some of them will actually help you have a more true-to-life local experience than if you could afford to spend more money. How’s that for a win-win situation?

Here are five of the best tips for making Italy travel affordable, including one that should be obvious to readers of this blog and a couple that you might not have thought of.

5 Budget Tips for Italy Travel

1. Be flexible when shopping for an airline ticket
The #1 way to save hundreds (and sometimes thousands) of dollars when planning a trip to Italy (or anywhere, for that matter) is to be flexible. Some booking sites make this easy by having a box you can check that allows them to do things like include airports that are close to (but not exactly) the one you chose, or by searching a few days on either side of your desired travel dates. If you don’t see options like that, however, and you’re not interested in trying out another handful of booking sites, then you’ll have to do the work yourself and play with different departure and arrival dates as well as airports. It may seem like a pain, but if you save a few hundred bucks, then it’s worth it, right? How much gelato can you buy with a few hundred bucks? Quite a bit, I assure you.

2. Look beyond the trains for getting around
As much as I love the trains in Italy, the truth is that with all the super-budget airlines that have popped up in recent years, on some routes it’s infinitely cheaper to fly from city to city rather than take the train. This isn’t always going to be the case, of course – both the airlines and the trains have regular sales and promotions – but it’s true enough of the time that it’s a good idea to check all your options before you book your train ticket. And your alternatives aren’t limited to airplanes, either. For some routes, especially the shorter ones within one region, taking the bus might be the cheapest option yet.

3. Eat like the locals
Italy is all about seasonal and regional cuisine, so rather than ordering pizza everywhere you go because you think that’s Italian food, learn a little bit about what the local foods are where you are. Not only are you going to get fresher and better quality meals, you’re also more likely to spend less money as well. After all, if the ingredients are local there’s no need to have them shipped in from elsewhere, right? Oh, and another great way to eat like the locals and therefore save money (and eat better) is to avoid any restaurant that has its menu translated into multiple languages. Stick to the places that have Italian-only menus (bring along a menu decoder and you’ll be fine) and, preferably, where tourists are in the minority.

4. Take advantage of free attractions
Sure, many of Italy’s top sights have an entry fee, and many of them are things you’ll feel like you missed out on if you don’t fork over the money to go see. But for every admission-charging church in Italy there are a zillion more (I counted) that are free to enter and may have world-class artwork on display to boot. In other words, if you see a church in Italy, go inside and you might just get treated to a Caravaggio or a Bernini without spending a penny. It’s not all the no-name churches that are admission-free, either. St. Peter’s Basilica, perhaps the best-known cathedral in Italy (and throughout the Catholic world) is absolutely free. What’s more, there are more free things to do in Italy than just churches. Check with the tourist information office of whatever city you’re visiting to find out what you can get into without paying anything.

5. Stay in Italy’s hostels
Okay, this is the one that should’ve been obvious to you from the start – but it’s true. Italy’s biggest tourist cities are nearly overflowing with accommodation options, so it’s not like you’re going to have to sleep on the street if you show up without a reservation, but even some of the hostels in Italy are more expensive than you might think they’d be. So to make sure you’re really traveling on a budget, you’ll want to do your research and book a bed in one of the cheaper hostels before they fill up. Every major city throughout Italy has plenty of choices when it comes to hostels, so you should be able to find one that fits not only your budget but your travel style as well.

photo by xiquinhosilva