How you can afford to take your kids to Italy.
When we tell people we’re off to Italy for 8 weeks, I can almost hear the thoughts crossing their minds. One of the first sounds is the cogs crunching the numbers. I know what you’re thinking, are they trust funders, independently wealthy? Nope. It takes commitment, determination, work (there I said it) and with a few tips of the trade to save dollars along the way, it’s achievable.
What do you want to experience?
Decide and start researching. If it’s two months in Italy, then where exactly do you want to go and in what season? How much culture and museums can your kids take? Do they need some country air and room to roam around to break up the museums? I like to mix it up between city and country time. Even with older kids, I find cities are harder work, though they have all the captivating sights. In the country you can relax. If your kids are older they can have a wander on their own even. Imagine you are doing the trip and price it. My favorite accommodation site is www.homeaway.com.au Others like www.airbnb.com.au . Just go for it and see what you can find.
Then, reassess . It’s kind of like packing and then taking out half of what you packed. You adjust your goal to your budget. Or, you wait longer before the trip and adjust your budget to your goal. You research towns, accommodation options and then you research some more. If you are anything like me, this is the fun part.
Save, save, save
It’s simple right? You save up for it, you put away what you can each week, you take extra shifts if you work. If you don’t, you find a way to make money, take your old stuff to a market, have a garage sale, Ebay your kids old clothes, work online. Ask for Euros for your birthday, do ironing, clean houses. OK so these are just some ideas but you get the picture. We have a 1.25 litre plastic bottle that we put all our $2 coins in. When that bottle is full it will total $2000. Every little bit counts. It may mean that you go without the latest fashion, you shop in the sales for what the kids need and you don’t go out for dinner. Keep your eyes on the prize, and on the green hills of Umbria, on the cheap but incredible quality wine, the fresh tomatoes, the basil, the buffalo mozzarella and the home made olive oil. It will all be worth it.
Get 50 % off your accommodation – stay longer.
This is the key to making your trip affordable. Choose a place you want to stay for a month. Assuming you will be in planning mode a year or two out from when you want to go, there should be plenty of options. I chose Spello in Umbria for our first one month stay, for a number of reasons. It’s a beautiful hill town with a population of around 8000 people. It has a major supermarket. Parking is free and relatively easy. (This is a big issue in Italy if you are staying in a city) it has a train station that connects you with other destinations like Perugia (45 minutes away by train) or Florence further afield. It has a winery. I know, I found the perfect town right?
It is close to other beautiful towns like Asissi, Todi, Spoleto, Gubbio, all just a day trip away. The benefit of staying a month is not only will you actually get to know the place you are staying, you will get up to a 50 % discount on accommodation. When you find a place that fits your needs, send them a message and ask for a one month price. It will vary seasonally, but in general, it will be about 50% of the normal nightly rate. Start researching and find your perfect town, or just go to mine.
Go for a longer term car rental.
Car rental rates get cheaper per day when you rent beyond a certain amount of days. Companies vary in their prices, but all will reduce the daily rate as the rental period increases. For some it’s over 10 days, for others 14 or more. Do your homework when getting quotes and rather than doing several small rental periods, try to do one longer one. Rent a car while on your one month stay and you can explore the surrounding area as well.
Pick your season
Italy in October, November is beautiful. It is also way cheaper than June,July, August. It really depends what you want to do. If you want to swim and hang out at the beach or find a beautiful Island, then this is not the time for you. There are many benefits to visiting in lower seasons. This time of year can be rainy, but we found it to be better weather than we expected. The crowds are smaller. The prices for accommodation are cheaper. The worst of it is you may get cold eating your gelato in November, but my kids found the answer, just put your coat on. Or for the grown ups, follow it with a coffee.
Stay in apartments not hotels
My rule is no less than 3 nights in one place. I broke it once for a transit stop in Verona because I just couldn’t make the trains work for me. That said, most apartment stays have a 3 night minimum. If you want to visit a place, 3 nights is just a taste, and as a rule I prefer longer stays. Apartments are good value for larger families. If you have gone beyond the standard 2 adults and 2 kids, then an apartment will usually work out cheaper.
You also then have the independence to eat at home. I know it’s Italy, but sometimes making your own bruschetta with a glass of the local wine is just what you need. It also helps to reign in the budget to prepare some meals at home, and an apartment will always have at least a kitchenette. Some places we stayed in Italy even had some basic supplies, like pasta and some sauce, some breakfast cereal, just to make us feel really welcome.
Don’t eat where there is a view
I know you want to sip a coffee while you look at the Pantheon. My rule is never eat on the piazza in big cities. Smaller ones it can be ok, but you will still pay more than you would just a few steps down a side street. Get your view of the pantheon, go inside, soak it in, then walk a block or so, and you will find the food is better and so is the price. This can be the difference between paying major euros for a coffee or getting the best coffee of your life in a bar a block away for un euro (just one). For me, it’s worth the walk when you are multiplying everything by 6.
Book your own trains and flights.
Book your trains on www.trenitalia.com They now have a website in English, though a slight catch is you need to put in the town names in Italian. So Florence is Firenze, Rome is Roma. Another site I like for train journeys outside of Italy is www.trainline.eu This site is great for your planning too. You can get an idea of how much it will cost to get from A to B. I highly recommend printing your tickets before you go, as the opportunities to print are not always there in Italy. You can always just turn up at a train station and buy your tickets there. The only risk though is that the train is full. You can book two months prior to the actual journey, so if you are trying to get prices for a future trip, just dummy the dates. You will get the most choice further in advance, so if you are travelling in peak times, book early.
Taking care of your own flights online can also save you money. Do a simple google search for say “flight Catania to Rome” and you’ll get lots of options. From there, you can go direct to the airlines website. For flights from Australia to Europe, I have gone through a travel agent and found some good deals. Do your own research though. I use www.webjet.com.au for comparing and always go to the original airlines website to read up on their current deals. Subscribe to your favorite airline if you want specials delivered to your inbox.
Keep your dream in sight.
See those bumps in the road for the speed humps they truly are. They may slow you down a little, but they wont stop you. Do your research, get to know your destination, and create your trip.
I know you enjoy Italy as much as I do. Buon Viaggio!
Please ask if you have a question, I will be happy to help.