Italy Travel Itinerary: Planning Smarter With These 5 Tips

Italy travel, Roman ruins, Forum

Le Monsieur and I spent most of the weekend hunkered down at home to start mapping out our itinerary and booking activities for our trip to Italy at the end of the month. We’ve learned the hard way that it can be easy to fritter away precious vacation days if we don’t plan well, but we’re still trying to find that perfect balance between scheduling activities and leaving time open for spontaneity and relaxation.

Our first visit to Rome was brief (3 full days) and we felt as though we barely scratched the surface. We’d done very little planning ahead of time (we’d mostly focused on the longer Florence portion of that trip). We did squeeze in a guided Coliseum tour, and walked ourselves through the Forum ruins, the Vatican museum and St. Peter’s Basilica, several churches and cathedrals, the Spanish Steps, the Galleria Borghese, and (as we tend to do) spent a lot of time wandering the streets trying to decide where to have lunch. And gelato. It didn’t help that Europe was having a major heatwave that year, and our enjoyment was diminished by discomfort in 90+F degree temperatures.

In a city like Rome, (or Paris, for that matter) it can be very hard to narrow down what to see and do, especially on a shorter visit. We’ll be in Rome for 4 full days, and are trying to be more strategic this time.

  1. Break it down. Sometimes we schedule activities by locale keeping to one area or neighborhood per day. For this trip, le Monsieur suggested that we set aside each day for a specific type of venue…Museum Day, Park/Monument Day, Shopping Day, etc. It sounded like as good a launch point as any.
  2. Get acclimated. We’ve learned to keep our first day in a new time zone relatively unscheduled, in case of jet lag or fatigue, or “tender” tummies. For our first full day we’ve downloaded some self-guided walking tours, and will spend as much time outdoors and moving as we can manage to get oriented and help ourselves adjust to the time change.
  3. Plan meals. We’re making lunch reservations in the vicinity of planned activities each day, rather than leaving it to chance. This will save a lot of time and angst!
  4. Prioritize. We’ve pre-purchased tickets for some activities and guided tours that have limited hours or availability, so we can plan around those.
  5. Pace ourselves. Though there are so many things to see and it’s tempting to try to schedule every minute, we’ve learned that there’s a point of diminishing returns. We’d rather see and do fewer things each day and enjoy them fully than feel rushed through or at the point of Sensory Overload where it all becomes a blur. Some of our very best moments traveling have been those unscheduled breaks spent sitting, sipping and people watching.

After Rome, we head to Lake Como for 3 nights/2 days. We’re not scheduling much for this portion of the trip aside from dinner reservations; the idea is to build in some down time in the middle just to relax and be off the clock.

Rialto bridge, Grand Canal Venice

Then on to Venice for 5 nights/4 days. We’ll be using many of the same strategies for scheduling our time in Venice as we have for Rome. We’ve already booked a couple of tours/activities that I’m super excited about and am looking forward to sharing with you.

We rely on a variety of sources for suggestions for accommodations, activities and dining. Le Monsieur has subscribed to several travel-related publications over the years, and regularly reads a lot of travel and “foodie” websites like Chowhound. I’ve picked up some ideas on Pinterest, as well as from other bloggers. We’ve learned to make notes when we hear of something that might be interesting, and then refer back to them as we begin planning.

How do you set your itineraries when traveling? Do you mostly plan ahead, leave it until you arrive, or a mix of both?

Images via Wikimedia Commons. Sadly, most of the photos I took on our first trip to Italy (2011) were lost when my laptop crashed a few months later. Now, in addition to backing up my laptop to an external drive, I upload all of my photos to Dropbox!

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  1. April 4, 2017 / 3:26 am

    I live in Italy and often take friends and family around when they visit. While I have the benefit of local knowledge and language skills, I give people the same tips as you do in your excellent advice.

    • karen boyd
      April 5, 2017 / 5:39 am

      I’m a big Rick Steves follower. His advise has guided my planning in the right direction all through Europe.
      Don’t forget the Cinque Terra if you have the chance.

  2. Julie Murphy
    April 4, 2017 / 3:57 am

    You must go to ‘babette’ for lunch when in Rome ( recommended to us by local friends) tricky to find but we went for two lunches there we enjoyed it so much, off the beaten track but worth finding !

  3. Deede
    April 4, 2017 / 4:17 am

    Loveth your organization and plans for no plans…Well orchestrated…Now for the implementation…

  4. Laurie
    April 4, 2017 / 4:25 am

    I find the site Momondo best for airfares, and Rome2Rio very useful for planning how to physically get from place to place within a country (train vs bus vs rental car, route, distance, fares, etc.) Ha una buona vacanza!

  5. Martina
    April 4, 2017 / 5:20 am

    I do the same museum day, shopping day, etc. kind of plan…and I build in no plan days too. I can highly recommend Context Tours…the tour I took of the Forum with them was amazing. Our guide was an archeologist who had worked on the original dig! In Florence we had an art historian who seemed to know every painting in Palazzo Pitti. Have a wonderful trip!

    • Jacqueline
      April 4, 2017 / 5:42 am

      Thumbs way up for Context Tours!

    • Susan B
      April 4, 2017 / 6:06 am

      Hi Martina, we love Context Tours! Have used them in Hong Kong and Tokyo, and are using them again on this trip.

  6. Ali
    April 4, 2017 / 5:27 am

    Hi Susan
    Reading about your Italian sojourn…woohoo! Verona is the town of Romeo and Julliet and is on the trainline from Milan to Venice. If you have time is is a lovely town and easy to get around. Just a suggestion. (I lived on Lake Garda, half way between Milan and Venice, for 11 years.)

  7. Anonymous
    April 4, 2017 / 5:47 am

    We carefully work out our priorities in advance too. Particularly when it comes to museums/galleries. We would rarely see more than one museum in a day. We never allocate a whole day just to museums. We like to mix it up each day but agree about sticking to an area each time. We tend to go to museums early for a few hours, following this up with lunch – either in the museum itself if it has a good café, or nearby. Then perhaps a walk around the local street areas, maybe visiting churches or gardens of both. Leaving my husband at a bar/café drinking coffee while he does a watercolour sketch, I might meander through some nice boutiques.
    Of course it depends on the weather – museums are perfect on a wet day – and gardens beautiful on sunny days – except during very hot summers.
    While in Rome you might like to try the Grappolo d’Oro in the Piazza Cancelleria, very near the beautiful Piazza Navona – which is best avoided for lunch/dinner as many of the places here are aimed at tourists. The Grappolo d’Oro hasn’t much street appeal, but inside is very pleasant, good helpful service and when we kept going back a few years ago, superb food. It was once the favourite restaurant of a NY Times Rome correspondent. Best wishes, Pamela

    • Kelly
      April 4, 2017 / 8:38 am

      We do this as well – something more intensive with something less intensive so we aren’t overwhelmed (with walking, with thinking, with….whatever!)

      I have a hard time being spontaneous. I find it’s easier for me to be spontaneous when I’ve done a ton of research ahead of time and know what my options are 🙂

    • April 4, 2017 / 1:44 pm

      Anonymous, I agree about museums, and historic churches. I try to do no more than one a day when I have free days when travelling (most of my travel now is for paid work, volunteering (but they pay my travel and stay) or a combination of the two). Of course you can pop into more than one chapel, but it is very important to keep time for just walking.

      pseu, have you visited the former Jewish “ghetto”? (though as in Venice, that term sounds like it is much more unpleasant than it is, and than it was for much of its history).

      It is a bit different for me as I speak Italian fluently and studied there. On the other hand, I’m on a much tighter budget and shop very little. Mostly for books.

  8. Ellen
    April 4, 2017 / 5:55 am

    We try to have a mix of plan and no plan. My husband loves to travel, hates to plan, likes a lot of structure and to feel he is learning as he goes. He will always go for the guided experience. I want lots of serendipity, to wander and get lost, and to spend time talking to strangers. He is learning to enjoy this over time, but we try to have a mix of both in every trip. However, it is usually the case that those serendiptious adventures are the ones I remember most fondly.

  9. Sarah Harvey
    April 4, 2017 / 6:18 am

    Can’t wait to hear about your next adventure. Rome is amazing and I’m glad you’ll be spending a few days there this time. Try Tasting Tables sometime for foodie places to eat. We’ve been using it the last 3 years. I think planning to be at a bistro or cafe or restaurant near your activities is a fabulous idea. It’s so important to be able to sit down and have a rest and a nice meal. Have fun! Sally

  10. April 4, 2017 / 6:24 am

    I also like a mix of planning and no schedule. Things like museum tickets that are limited are best bought online in advance. I don’t like to do too many museums in one day–museum fatigue sets in and I don’t appreciate the works as the hours go on. Same thing with shopping–I can take only so much. So I do a little of both in a day.
    Good idea to reserve for lunch. The choices can get overwhelming, and nothing is worse when you’re hungry than going from restaurant to restaurant, finding a place with a free table AND something you want on the menu or in the right price range.

  11. April 4, 2017 / 6:47 am

    I never thought to make dinner reservations. That makes sense! We did plan for our Paris trip but for when I visited Rome I got a tour book after getting off the train ( I was solo traveling and had been teaching in Italy prior to the Rome trip so little time to plan. ) love all your tips!

  12. MJ
    April 4, 2017 / 7:12 am

    Sounds like a wonderful trip. Be sure to spend some time on the water in Lake Como, perhaps by taking a ferry ride to another town for lunch. Venice is magical. It can be crowded, but getting just a little way off the main drags you can find charming and quiet little squares. Have a marvelous time.

  13. Kathryn
    April 4, 2017 / 7:15 am

    Great thoughts La femme!
    We will be in Italy for the third time in May; visiting both Venice and Rome twice. In both cases, we will use local transit, (in Venice, a vaporetto pass is an absolute must), make reservations and look at what we hope to do from here and not there!
    A little forethought goes a long way and actually opens up our days to those lovely serendipitous moments that happen when you aren’t trying to pack it all in..
    This time, I am planning a day for my husband and I in Rome which will be all about a new neighborhood but will include a dinner reso and pre-planned café visits. The area to be covered will be small but I think that is so much better than trying to “do” a city in a day ;(
    And thanks for your wardrobe post – already most helpful.

  14. April 4, 2017 / 7:19 am

    Currently planning a trip as well, but making my blogreaders guess my destination, so won’t divulge here for a moment. We’re much less organised than you and Le Monsieur, especially in terms of booking meals. The benefits of your approach are clear, but we’ve found many budget-friendly favourites through the years by accident, using some guidelines developed through trial and error — means there have definitely been some duds along the way! Do you look at Katie Parla or Elizabeth Minchilli? Both are good on eating in Rome/Italy. I hope you’ve got carciofi alla giudia on the list — in the Jewish Ghetto at Sora Margherita if possible, and on a day when you’ve burned a zillion calories walking . . .
    The one thing I always do when planning a trip is try to see what important art exhibitions are on at the city’s galleries/museums, and then build a few days around those. I can never do more than one in a day, though, and I prefer to get tickets for first thing in the morning while I’m still fresh…

    • April 4, 2017 / 7:24 am

      Oh, one more thing. Twice now, I’ve been lucky enough that a trip to Rome included opera (the first time, a retirement gift from my colleagues; the second, a Christmas gift from my husband). So worthwhile a splurge, even if you’re not an opera buff, I’d say, just for the magnificence of the opera, the scale of the production, the glimpse of lifestyle. Apparently, it’s not as easy as I would have thought to get tickets while there, and my husband and my colleague found it a bit challenging to book through the Teatro del Opera website — but they managed, so it’s do-able. Highly recommended and I have to say that I didn’t feel out of place not dressing up beyond what I’d wear to a good restaurant…. (i.e. I managed out of my carry-on!)

  15. Jude
    April 4, 2017 / 7:27 am

    We have been to Italy countless times with the luxury of staying a month or more at a time. We have stayed in several regions and love them all. If you have a car this article may interest you. Some can be reached by train. We visited all 5 of these cities last fall. Loved them. We were in Venice but moved on to Bassano to visit these towns. Then Lake Garda and Lake Como. All gorgeous and very interesting.

    Hope you have a wonderful trip. Italy is a favorite.

    • April 5, 2017 / 11:02 am

      For a couple it would be worth renting a car, but almost all those towns can also be reached by train or “pullman” (intercity bus). Public transport in the Veneto region is good. The whole region is interesting, not just the city of Venice. Sometimes one finds exceptional restaurants (at better rates) in smaller towns.

      • Jude
        April 5, 2017 / 11:54 am

        Yes we found great restaurants in all these towns. Trip advisor works well for finding good food. Better pricing than Venice too. Also the houses we rented were fabulous. Just two of us. The towns so interesting each one. We had a car because we covered a lot of ground and actually rented it in Munich, spending time in Germany and Austria first. Easier to rent a car in Germany. We have rented a car every trip in Italy. The German rental was a breeze flying in and out of Munich. The drive to Italy is beautiful. But you need a sticker for your car , which we ordered ahead of our trip. We had the luxury of time….more than a month. Trains and buses are possible if a schedule doesn’t bother you and dragging a suitcase. In Venice you simply park in the garage and carry a smaller suitcase to the ferry.
        The car garage is big and well lit and watched. Can’t wait to return.

        • April 5, 2017 / 4:18 pm

          Jude, if there were any restaurants or trattorie you particularly liked, you might want to suggest them, not only for pseu and Mr pseu, but also for her blog’s readers. I found the same; they aren’t paying the same rent or mortgage costs as in Venice and can’t rely on enough tourists of the type unfamiliar with the food traditions of the region. When I was taking trains and buses I was a student so had a home base in the cities where I studied – no suitcases. It is nice to know that the parking garage is well-lit and safe, many can be frightening.

          Austria and Bavaria are close by, as are the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region, Slovenia and Croatia. All lovely destinations.

          • Jude
            April 5, 2017 / 5:13 pm

            Check out….google.

            Iamalpha trip advisor find quite a number of places my husband and I have reviewed.

        • Patricia
          April 5, 2017 / 5:40 pm

          Jude, what kind of sticker did you need to order for your rental car?

          • Jude
            April 5, 2017 / 6:15 pm

            Hello Patricia. You need the sticker only if you drive the autobahn in Austria. It’s about 8 bucks and you can order online. They are also sold at gas stations. Only Austria is where it is needed. We were driving from germany/austria to Italy. We ordered ours online ahead of our trip and it came in the mail. Apparently a hefty fine if you do not have it. If you rent in Italy it is no problem. Sorry for not making that clear.

        • Patricia
          April 5, 2017 / 8:25 pm

          Hi Jude, thanks for replying to my question. Yes, I remember we have had that sticker before.

  16. Dot
    April 4, 2017 / 7:33 am

    My mobile is 00393477681918
    Warm regards

    Sonia Tavoletta
    Via Etrruria 44
    00183 Roma
    cell. 3477681918

    We have employed Sonia several times over the years to take us around various attractions in Rome. She is very knowledgeable about history if that is your thing. She also is lovely to be with for several hours!

  17. Sheri Baker
    April 4, 2017 / 7:39 am

    We just returned from an 11-day trip to Italy. I have followed your blog (and many others) since beginning to plan for my first trip to Italy a year ago. Always thinking about what shoes to wear, how to “look like a local” or “look fashionable.” Here is what I learned from this trip: First of all, the puffy jacket is everywhere! Locals, tourists, everyone, every age! We had beautiful weather, mostly upper 60’s and even 75. Cool mornings and cool evenings. And as far as footwear, I took “cute” keds in black, black flats and black booties. I was comfortable, but wish that I had a thicker soled athletic shoe on for the majority of the walking, esp. on cobblestones. My feeling is, forget what all the blogs tell you about what Europeans wear for footwear. They do wear athletic shoes, they wear everything. And, no one is going to mistake me for a local, and no one is looking at my feet. You should just be comfortable! (no offense Susan, you give great advice! This is just what I observed on this trip. 🙂

    • Anonymous
      April 5, 2017 / 4:54 am

      Sheri. So agree about the thicker soled comfort shoes – with good arch support – for walking. I choose black leather if wearing black pants or jeans or the white version for white pants. So many European streets have cobblestones or irregular paving. Provided you’re not wearing track suits or shorts in cities, these shoes are perfectly acceptable for day wear. The French themselves wear shoes like this on hols – saw quite a few rather chic French women walking about at Lake Como in the villages and steep narrow lanes up and downhill wearing similar shoes. There’s nothing worse than feeling crippled by your shoes! Best wishes, Pamela

  18. MarcyLuna
    April 4, 2017 / 7:46 am

    Good planning, Susan! I especially like that you leave time for just wondering about. That is exactly what my partner and I love to do. We also spend a lot of time trying to figure out where to have lunch or dinner!
    We will be in Iceland for three days in May on our way to Athens and the small Greek island of Symi (we will not talk about the wardrobe challenges due to climate!). I’ve planned one museum – the Viking-themed one – lots of wandering around, and one very well-reviewed Icelandic restaurant, one Turkish restaurant and one Indian restaurant. We always like to experience what the immigrants to a country have and are contributing to the culture. We never do organized tours of any kind, perhaps to our detriment. Anyway, love your plans. We are definitely not that detailed!

  19. Nancy
    April 4, 2017 / 9:17 am

    My only trip abroad has been on a guided tour (Insight) to Italy last year and it was wonderful. Through some unexpected sources I am now traveling to Provence for a week in mid May. Have you or any of your readers been to Provence and what can you recommend in any and all categories for travel tips to this area. We are staying in 2 towns and will be visiting Senanquque Abbey, Marseille, Saint Remy and the open air market, , full day excursion to Les Gorges du Verdon, wine tasting in village of Chateau Neuf du Pape. thanks in advance for any suggestions, travel tips and recommendations.

    • Susan B
      April 4, 2017 / 10:10 am

      Hi Nancy, one of my favorite things from our Provence visit a few years ago was the Medieval city of Les Baux. Historical, charming, and (if you’re lucky) you can catch a trebuchet demonstration!

    • Maryann
      April 4, 2017 / 4:47 pm

      I would add Nimes and St Tropez to the list. Have a wonderful trip.

    • Anonymous
      April 5, 2017 / 1:33 am

      If you’re not already on a guided tour in Provence, our friend Cecile Beillieu (Tours in Provence) does superb private tours in her Mercedes minibus. She’s based in Aix en Provence and goes to all the places you’ve mentioned, plus others. Also speaks excellent English and is a lovely person. Mid-May is a wonderful time to visit this area – but will be too early for the lavender at the beautiful but austere Senanque. If you’re going to Les Baux on a weekday, think of booking into L’Oustau de Baumaniere for lunch. It’s two minutes away down in the valley and so beautifully located. The weather is nearly always gorgeous in mid-May – you can sit out on their terrace and enjoy the views all around and the fabulous 2 Michelin star menu. They do a fixed price lunch special on weekdays – but as you’d guess, this is not a cheap restaurant. But so worth a splurge. After lunch think of going to Les Carrieres just up the road and along from Les Baux – a son et lumiere in huge caverns carved into the hillside – the caverns were once an old stone quarrry. A magical experience. Take a jacket or pashmina because it is always quite cool deep in these caverns.
      Have a wonderful time! There are so many superb things to do in this beautiful area. The antique markets at lovely Isle sur la Sorgue are great to explore (further along the road there is the Fontaine de Vaucluse where the Sorgue emerges from a spring deep in the ground and rushes along the valley through the hills – you can walk along the banks, very beautiful) – and the weekly markets in lovely St Remy are wonderful too. The Luberon has so many wonderful villages, all so different from each other, all appealing. Hopefully, by the time you leave you’ll be a Provence addict and go back again and again. There is always so much more to see – and so many wonderful places to go back to. Best wishes, Pamela

  20. Kay
    April 4, 2017 / 10:08 am

    Torre Argentina is the place to visit if you want to learn about (and help) the thousands of feral cats who live in the ruins of Rome. Anyone who is at all sensitive to the plight of stray animals will find this part of the Roman experience disturbing.

    • April 4, 2017 / 1:49 pm

      Actually Torre Argentina and other cat (and dog, and other stray creatures) groups have done a lot to alleviate this problem by caring for them and by systematic spay and neuter campaigns. There are far fewer feral cats in Venice too, not because they were murdered but because of spay, neuter and adoption programs, and shelters and safe places for the unadoptable.

  21. April 4, 2017 / 10:28 am

    You are so amazingly organized, it’s wonderful. We usually fly by the seat of our pants and wing it. I’m thinking your way is much smarter.

  22. April 4, 2017 / 11:53 am

    I have always relied on Rick Steve’s travel books, specific to the city or country that I am going to. With the exception of hotels (which are typically very utilitarian) I have found his suggestions amazing helpful: beating the crowds, “local” restaurants and more. As a side note, I was excited to see your post today because I will be in Italy in August, following sometime in France for a wedding that I am attending in Burgundy. . . I will be keeping an eye out for future ideas you’ll share with us Susan!

  23. April 4, 2017 / 12:11 pm

    Have a wonderful time! I love Venice and think it is the most romantic city! Gelato! I am so looking forward to your posts during that time like I enjoy all of your travel posts. May I request that you post more pics than you have in the past while on vacation?


    • Susan B
      April 4, 2017 / 12:17 pm

      Hi Julia, I’ll try! It often depends on the internet speed at our hotels. 🙂

  24. April 4, 2017 / 1:26 pm

    Looks like a wonderful plan, and I have two suggestions. Wander around Trastevere, visit the ancient churches, and definitely make a booking for dinner at one of the wonderful restaurants. We also loved a small gem of a restaurant near the Piazza Barberini, the Osteria Barbarini. They specialize in truffle menu items and you must have a reservation. We also highly recommend the Hotel Modigliani just up the street from the Osteria Barberini — and I mean UP the street. 🙂

  25. April 4, 2017 / 2:25 pm

    Hi Susan:) When I go to Europe I download some walking tours to my iPhone before I go. I particularly like Rick Steves but there are others as well. Then if I just feel like a wander around, I can start with my phone tour and just stop and have a coffee or whatever when I fancy. A lot of these are free (the tours not the coffee!) so I don’t feel obliged to finish the whole thing if I pass an interesting shop and time slips away. I’ve used these tours in Venice and Rome ( and other places). There are also good ones for a lot of museums. You can of course download them while you are in Europe but it depends on the availability or cost of your internet. I usually rent apartments (I tend to go for maybe a month – from Australia it’s quite a hike to get there) so internet connection is usually included.

  26. April 4, 2017 / 4:04 pm

    My husband and I just did Rome, Florence, Tuscany and Venice, in September of 2016. The best money we spent was the tours done with Alessandro in Venice. He is recommended in the Rick Steve’s Italy guide. He does a back streets of Venice tour, a wine and small bites tour and a Burano/Murano tour. He is a native and was a wealth of inside information. The groups are small and we enjoyed every one of the tours! Can’t recommend them enough! Enjoy your trip!

  27. April 4, 2017 / 4:20 pm

    I like small group guided walking tours and we had a terrific one of the Forum in Rome. Some of the companies I use are Context Travel, ArtViva, and Through Eternity. I like to leave a little downtime in the schedule and find I do better with a little rest back at the hotel before dinner.

  28. April 4, 2017 / 5:10 pm

    When we are in Paris, there’s a lot of visiting family time. We’ll try to take in a couple of museum visits or check out Pariscope to see what’s going on in the City. For the most part, we enjoy the practice of flaneurs.
    When we are in Theoule, we have the routine down pat. We either hit the beach or the pool in the morning. Then go back to the apartment and change and sight see. Every year we DO plan our sight seeing –i.e. for example on our next visit we want to revisit the Chagall museum and the Matisse museum. We want to go back to Eze because last time it was cloudy. We’ll drive to Monaco too. We take a couple of days to visit Vincent’s dad in St. Tropez but the rest of the time is really spent relaxing and seeing where the day takes us!

    • Anonymous
      April 5, 2017 / 1:51 am

      If you’re going to Eze, google the restaurant the Chevre d’Or there. It’s two Michelin stars, expensive, though they usually have a fixed price menu as well as a la carte. Food is very good – but the most stunning thing is sitting out on their terrace overlooking the magnificent sea and coastline! Choose a lovely day though – and normally best to book a table if you can. Also, if you’re an art addict think of visiting St Paul de Vence (also the Fondation Maeght up on the hill above town) – the Colombe d’Or. Magical – you dine in a lovely courtyard and are permitted to wander at your leisure through the indoor dining areas (unused during good weather in the day) with their original artworks by Picasso, Matisse, Roualt, etc etc. Previous aficionados include F Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda, Hemingway, Marilyn Munroe, Dirk Bogarde, Yves Montand and Simone Signoret, etc etc. During the annual Cannes FF you need to have booked well ahead as it’s normally filled by the stars and directors/producers. Best wishes, Pamela

  29. Marie
    April 4, 2017 / 5:18 pm

    I like to make a list of must see places. Then I will make a loose itinerary after checking the weather. For example, if it is going to rain on Tuesday, then I will make that my museum day. I usually don’t jot down more than two things per day. I then will look up some places I want to eat and make sure I know where they are and how to get to them from my hotel. When I get to my destination, I will follow my loose itinerary, but sometimes change it depending on how I feel. I will also choose eateries based on my bank of places I picked before I left. I have done a lot of traveling so I no longer feel like I need to see every church or tourist site. If I want to spend an afternoon walking around the park instead of going to the museum, then I will change my itinerary and do just that.

  30. Di
    April 4, 2017 / 5:35 pm

    You may have been to the top of Monumento a Vittorio Emanuele II in Rome, I love this building and the view from the top is spectacular. There is also a cafe on the rooftop.

    • April 5, 2017 / 5:57 pm

      There is also a splendid view from the top of Gianicolo. My Roman friends do NOT love the Monumento a Vittorio Emanuele II, but to each their own…

      • Anonymous
        April 6, 2017 / 1:54 am

        Think most people who live in Rome call it the wedding cake, no? Pamela

  31. April 4, 2017 / 5:49 pm

    I wonder if you have spent much time in Asia? My daughter lives in Ho Chi Min City, formerly Saigon, and I would like to visit but am traumatized at the thought of 20+ hours to get there. What are your thoughts.

    • Anonymous
      April 5, 2017 / 4:36 pm

      My husband is over 70. We still travel at least 24 plus hours from Oz to destinations in Europe every year. Those hours are not much fun – but we have little tricks to make them pass more easily and to reduce jetlag on arrival. If you’re in good health and you’d really like to travel, don’t let travel times defeat you.
      Aussies are all used to the distances – it’s just part of our DNA because of where we live. Once when I joined a very special garden tour group in London, the American women were all complaining about their jet lag. Aussies had made no complaints. I asked some of the Americans how long they’d travelled to get there. It varied – some only about 8-10 hours, others 12-16. We’d all travelled at least 20 plus and just took it in our stride. It’s about attitude and preparation. It will all be so easy and so much fun for you with your daughter actually living in HCMC. Best wishes, Pamela

      • Catbird Farm
        April 12, 2017 / 11:03 am

        Pamela, that’s impressive! Can you share your little tricks to reduce jet lag? And any other long-haul tips you have?

        • Anonymous
          April 16, 2017 / 6:06 am

          Dear Catbird Farm
          General approach we follow:
          TIMING: Select flight times that work for you. For long haul, ie flying Sydney to Singapore (around 8 hours ) then Singapore to Heathrow (around 11-12 hours) and then maybe further, we book a late afternoon flight with main part of flight running through what would be our normal night to help us get as much sleep as possible.
          After take-off we settle in and relax, getting everything we need at hand (not high up in lockers), eg reading glasses, magazines, books, lip moisturiser, sleep masks etc. Then either watch a movie or read or listen to music. We try not to sleep for first 3-4 hours. Then maybe settle in for a nap for a couple of hours. The second and longest leg is our designated sleep time and we settle early for this. Rather than watching movies. We put on sleep masks and wrap ourselves up warmly – this makes it clear to airline staff and other passengers we don’t want to be disturbed.
          SEATING: If you can, try to avoid seats near toilets or galley as you’re likely to be disturbed by noise or people talking in toilet queue. If there’s turbulence sometimes passengers who’ve had a few drinks can actually fall on you near toilets. Also avoid areas with baby bassinets.
          FOOD/LIQUIDS: Drink lots of water, v little alcohol and relaxing herbal tea like chamomile. No coffee – usually dreadful on planes anyway. Limit food intake – particularly on second leg where you hope to get as much sleep as possible. Airlines tend to keep feeding you to alleviate boredom. Particularly in Business or First Class.
          MEDICATION: Keep track of real times for your body (passing through several different time zones) if you have to take medication. For most of flight I keep my watch set on home time so I can track medication times – but also so I know what my body would normally be doing at this time. But my mobile phone has settings for destinations along the way so I know what time it is there – eg Singapore, Heathrow, Paris. Some people ask their doctor for a mild sedative for long haul. If so, usually not with alcohol. Important also not to take something that will leave you feeling hung over or out of it at destination – going through immigration/customs etc..
          HAND LUGGAGE: We check in suitcases, but take a bag with change of clothing in case of spills or sickness – also I take small toiletries, specially moisturisers and a cleanser to prep for long haul sleep.
          ARRIVAL: As we’re no longer young, after long haul flights we pre-arrange a transfer to destination hotel. Someone meets us with our name on placard in arrivals, takes our bags and escorts us to car. So soothing and reassuring when you’re feeling v tired.
          ARRIVAL HOTEL: We always pack night things on top of bag so we don’t need to dig around – then take out only what we need that night. We do the rest next day. We almost always arrive in daytime and despite tiredness do not lie down and go to sleep to recover at this stage. This will wreck you for new time zone. Take a good long walk outside in fresh air, find a nice seat in the sun and look at sky. This helps your body’s rhythm adjust to new time zone. Have light meal early (no alcohol but plenty of water) then relax in a warm bath and go to bed early, local time around 7 or 8ish. If you wish and with doctor’s prior agreement, take a light sleeping tablet. We usually find we’re so exhausted we go to sleep quickly. We may wake up in the night or v early morning but usually drop off again quickly. We get up around 7 or 8 rather than staying in bed late – as this helps adjust to new time zone too.
          We’re usually able to function well and enjoy the next day, but have early nights for the next few nights.
          Hope this helps. It’s really nothing radical or new. Best wishes, Pamela

          • Anonymous
            April 16, 2017 / 6:42 am

            Forgot to say, take comfortable ear plugs that really work in blocking noise – experiment beforehand. (I don’t bother with those noise cancelling headphones – expensive and not wonderfully comfortable to sleep in anyway.) Sometimes there are noisy passengers or crying children – just slip in the earplugs and they won’t bother you. I also take a Sephora moisturising/relaxing fibre face mask and apply it when settling down to prepare for sleep. So soothing. Then remove it about when directed, rubbing the residue into my skin and put on the sleep mask. I don’t worry about how weird it might look – nobody’s watching you anyway – they’re all busy doing their own thing – fixed to their screens or laptops or trying to relax too. Pamlea

      • Catbird Farm
        April 16, 2017 / 7:08 am

        Pamela, thank you so much for taking the time to answer my question in such detail! I have copy/pasted your entire response into my travel tips folder for safekeeping. Thanks again for your generosity. –Catbird Farm

    • Ellen
      April 6, 2017 / 5:47 am

      I went to Vietnam and Cambodia two years ago, and every minute was totally worth it. We went with an organized trip through Vantage, which included bot time on the ground and a Mekong river cruise…I am more likey to choose this sort of option if I am unable to read the alphabet of the language spoken there and/or if traveling with another couple who may not want tot do all of the things we want to do; in this case, both of those things were true. The trip for us totaled 24 hours in each direction,which can feel brutal, but it was an absolutely amazing experience: do it while you have this opportunity!

  32. April 5, 2017 / 2:36 am

    This all sounds fantastic! I love reading about your travels. Italy remains on my “someday” list. For all the times I have spent in France, I have yet to make it to Italy. But someday! And you have just wet my appetite once again.


  33. April 5, 2017 / 5:58 am

    Would you please share the travel-related publications you and your husband subscribe to and any travel websites that are good? I am in need of some recommendations. Thanks Susan!

    • Susan B
      April 5, 2017 / 8:26 am

      Hi Karen, magazines include Travel & Leisure, Conde Nast Traveler, Departures, London Sunday Times Travel Magazine, and Wine Spectator. I’ll get a list of some of the websites from le Monsieur.

  34. April 5, 2017 / 7:18 am

    I was in Italy for a week on business ten years ago, and the unexpected opportunity to spend a day in Venice arose. I had no time (or internet) to make plans beyond getting on and off a train. From the station, my colleague and I took a water taxi to Saint Mark’s Square and just wandered around soaking it all in. I’d love to go back and see more of Venice with a plan in mind, but that one day was still magical.

  35. Wendy
    April 5, 2017 / 7:46 am

    I saw this today and thought it would probably be of interest to you for the Venice part of your trip – artisan shops.
    I would also recommend a food tour – I’ve done the day and the evening Venice Bites tours and can thoroughly recommend them both. And for the best view catch vaporetto 2 from St Marks over to San Giorgio Maggiore and go up the Campanile ( which, thankfully, has a lift). The vista over Venice is spectacular.

  36. cindy allen
    April 5, 2017 / 8:05 am

    All GREAT planning tips. One that works for us on arrival day is buying a 24 hour/one day pass for the HOHO (Hop On Hop Off) double-decker tourist bus. We usually do not spend any significant time at any of the stops, but rather get an overview and confirmation of what to see/leave out.
    This is great for several reasons. It is flexible, spending as much or as little time as we like getting on or off. It gives us the layout and feel of the city. It keeps us moving and awake until after dinner to get on the local time zone. (Depending on how we slept/feel from the flight, we may take a short nap before heading out for the afternoon.)
    The next day we take it to our first and sometimes second planned attraction before the ticket time runs out.

    • April 6, 2017 / 12:27 pm

      We do the same with the HOHO buses in new cities. It keeps us awake while still scoping out how to get around.

  37. Mary Perez
    April 5, 2017 / 8:15 am

    Have been to Rome 3 times…all wonderful trips. Like to do a guided tour the first day to get the lay of the land and honestly rest in the bus or car between stops. There is no amount of espresso to cover first day jetlag…On one trip, we went to Il Giardino Restaurant near our hotel at the top of the Spanish Steps. A Verona story…a group of myself and three women friends decided to take the train to Verona from Rome. While gabbing non-stop on the train, we heard an announcement saying Verona. We got off at that stop, looked around, and the four of us with our designer bags, were standing in the middle of a large field, not anywhere near a city. I yelled, “this isn’t Verona” and we jumped back on the train as it was pulling away.

  38. Buffalogal
    April 5, 2017 / 12:12 pm

    I have found it to be great fun, and a great way to get to know a relatively unknown part of a city to book a walking food tour. I have recommended “Rome Eats” to many people. I LOVED the tour to Testaccio- it is a little visited part of Rome- a true neighborhood- that will blow you away. The guides are well trained and give one quite a bit of history as well. I can’t recommend them highly enough! Their tours have been a highlight of many European cities we’ve visited.

    • cindy allen
      April 5, 2017 / 1:51 pm

      Is this same company in other cities? Or do you just mean food tours in general?

  39. April 5, 2017 / 5:24 pm

    Italy, how fabulous, Susan! Lake Como is the perfect place to slow the pace and enjoy the beautiful sites around the lake. Rent a boat and take in the gorgeous views. It looks like you are getting some wonderful suggestions here. I don’t know if you’ve been to Positiano, Capri and the Amalfi Coast. We feel in love with that area last summer. Your ideas on planning fit mine perfectly. Enjoy every moment!

  40. April 7, 2017 / 9:56 am

    Thanks for all the travel tips. Great planing ideas. You’re an incredible resource!

  41. April 7, 2017 / 4:16 pm

    We spent a month traveling around Europe in May 2015. While starting a family trip in Denmark meeting cousins, we then moved south. In between we enjoyed a bicycle barge trip on The Mosel. Viatour was a great planning guide for setting up individual bicycle tours in Florence, Rome and Paris. The big hit was two cooking classes in Florence which solved “where do we eat.” Very reasonable with lots of options through them. We are headed to Greece in Sept and have set up a few tours. It makes a great way to plan ahead, costs are fixed and still gives lots of spontaneity.

  42. Gail
    April 11, 2017 / 11:07 am

    Last September, we spent 5 magical days exploring Venice, on our own.
    We plan all of our trips ahead in detail before we leave home. We plan days (ie museum day, walking sightseeing day, shopping-leisure-rest day, etc), not the specific dates. As someone mentioned previously, we leave a bit of flexibility for weather. If it is raining today, it is the museum day. A sunny day, a the sightseeing walk around city day.
    The internet has been a terrific source. We start with Rick Steves guide book and internet site. He has such practical tips, ie upon arriving at train station, proceed to the front and turn right to get the bus to desired destination. Rick’s choice of hotels and restaurants are adequate but not luxurious
    We also use Trip Advisor, for hotels, restaurants and sites reviews.
    Fodor and Frommers as additional information.
    For most big cities you can find in the New York Times “36 hrs in ?” with a suggested itinerary of the must see sites, a couple better restaurants and hotels.
    Most cities have Tourist Information or specific City web sites with up to date info.
    Always remember to check ahead for museum/site hours of operation. It is so frustrating and disappointing to go to the Louve on a Tuesday and getting there only to discover that is the one day a week they are closed.
    1st tip for Venice. I believe you are there 5 days, plan on the 2nd day (your 1st full day) getting a 3 day Vaporetto pass for E40/person. You can easily walk your first and last days (first day to just wonder and get to know the city and last day, by then you will know the city and where you want to go). Riding the Vaporetto was like a US big city bus with free on off transfers. The days pass lets you get on and off with no time constraints. Once you learn the routes you can easily go from one site to another quite easily. May people only walk and that works too…sometimes.
    Someday we will return to magical Venice to see all the things we ran out of time to see. When we do we will also visit Florence and Rome. I will await your recap!
    Your trip sounds magical. Have a wonderful adventure.

    • Anonymous
      April 17, 2017 / 2:51 am

      This is a very good tip. However, if you just get a one ride vaporetto ticket, make sure you get it validated in the machine. If you don’t do this and an inspector boards there’s a substantial fine – enough to cast a blight on your holiday. A lovely American couple at a hotel we stayed at years ago had this experience. They didn’t know about validation and tried to appeal to the inspector – but he insisted on fining them. Worth knowing. Pamela

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