There are many steps you can take prior to leaving that will make your trip more enjoyable and successful. I have talked about getting in shape and the importance of good shoes here, as well as keeping safe and important documents here. Now for more tips and advice.
The world is a smaller place these days and I no longer use Travelers’ Checks or go directly to the banks. There are ATM’s in every town and on every corner in the big cities which you can use to get cash. While you will incur a charge, it is comparable to the best rate at any bank and a steal compared to the corner exchange windows. Not to mention the time you save and the ease of use. Most banks have a daily limit of around 200-300 euro. You will need to verify this limit with your bank and make sure that you can use your card internationally. I always bring a back up card just in case. That way if for some reason one card is denied or eaten by the machine you have immediate access to cash.
You will need to call your bank and your credit card company before departure to let them know of your travel plans. Due to increased security some companies will stop your card until they are able to contact you to verify its use. You must notify the company AND then have them transfer you to the fraud department and do it all over again. This is redundant, but it is better than getting stuck trying to fix problems while in Italy.
Be aware that all banks and all credit cards will charge an international fee. It is maddening but it is just a fact of life. The fees have typically been 1-3%, but with the recent changes going on I would not be surprised to see that increase. When taking out money in the ATM, I always take out the max to make better use of my machine fee.
Make sure you bring some euros with you, usually 100-200 is enough to get you to the first ATM. Having this cash immediately available can come in handy in those ‘just in case’ situations. You can purchase these through the larger branches of most banks. If you are flying through another city in Europe (besides the UK) and have a long layover, it is possible to use your debit card at one of the airport’s ATM’s.
The exchange rate! Oh it hasn’t been on our side since the Euro was first introduced. At this time the rate seems to at least be staying under 1.4, so assume you are spending 1 1/2 the price and that way you wil not under estimate the price. See my resources page for current rates.
Trip insurance is always a nice thing to have and there are many different companies to choose from. I admit I haven’t always use it religiously, but if you are in any way concerned about losing money due to circumstances out of your control this is definitely a must. It is always better to be safe than sorry and now that I have more at stake I want to protect myself. I would suggest using a big name company like Access America, Travelex or Travel Guard. Insuremytrip.com is a good site for comparing the different options.
Now this is an area that has completely changed in the 20 years that I have been traveling. Everything is so much easier and faster with technology; gone are the days of postcards and written letters!
The easiest way to keep in touch with those back home is the Internet. In big cities you will find Internet access everywhere, from exchange booths and in the back of mom and pop stores to your own hotel and chain Internet stores. Even small towns will have at least one spot where on can get on-line. Places will either charge you by the minute (you will pay when you are done) or you will buy a pre-paid time card. Either way you will be asked to show your passport. Don’t Panic! This is standard security procedure and a requirement by the European Union.
Phone calls are possible in several different ways. You can call home at any pay phone or the phone at your accommodation by purchasing an international calling card, found at any Tabacchi shop (see below). Ask for ‘una carta telefonica prepagata internazionale.’ I always buy either a 5 or 10 euro card because you can get a dud occasionally and these aren’t refundable. There are two numbers on the card, the first takes you to an operator (or recorded voice) that will ask you to enter the code…which is the second number. If you have ever used a calling card in the states, these work the exact same way. You will then be able to dial your number. From Italy to the US, you will dial 00 then 1 then your number with area code. For example, to call my phone from Italy I would dial 00 1 208 419 8957.
Words of warning regarding pay phones. With cell phones so prevalent now, I’m finding that as the pay phones break they aren’t being repaired (at least not in a hurry). If you find one that seems to be working but you are having trouble, it is most likely the phone. Treat it like you would your 89 year old grandmother, get your point across but with tenderness. Push each button distinctly and don’t give up. You may have to try several times. Also, pay phones use up more minutes than the phone in your accommodation. They require a different phone number (listed on the back of the card).
Cell phones are all over and I’ve been traveling with mine the last few years. You will want to check with your phone company to verify if it will work in Italy. If so, be prepared to pay as much as 1-2 $ a minute. Prepaid phones can be purchased once in Italy but tend to come with quite a few restrictions and I never feel like taking the time to get one once I’m there. I have traveled with a blackberry before and found the connections weren’t too bad, although I’m sure with each year this will continue to improve. My suggestion would be to ‘un-plug’ while on vacation, or just have your phone for emergencies. I keep in touch with my daughter using prepaid phone cards as they are truly the cheapest and easiest, but keep my phone with me just in case.
Italy’s time zone is ahead of us by 6-9 hours depending on where you live.
And then there is mail. What can I say.? It’s Italy and some things never change; you will beat your postcards home!
The Am-Pm of Italy, these can be found on just about every corner and in every village and town. Look for a black sign with a big white T (although I have seen some green ones around). In here you can buy just about anything, including phone cards and bus tickets. If you find yourself lost these are great for a point in the right direction.
I love feedback, so leave me comments!
copyright 2012 Andi Brown, Once in a Lifetime Travel
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