Why You Should Consider Skipping the Colosseum
Two Crucial Questions to Shape Your Perfect Italy Itinerary
Thank you so much to everyone who participated in the poll I sent out in my last newsletter. The top request for 2024 was for more posts on travel planning, closely followed by a podcast.
Since it’s officially trip planning season, let’s start there.
Here’s a direct transcript from my most recent Trip Consultation, which succinctly illustrates what happens to most people when they start self-planning their Italy trip. My client said:
“I think we probably fell into the trap that everyone does.
We've never been to Italy.
So you read a little bit and then you book some things because that's what's popular.
And then after you book it, you read more and then you're like, oh my God, should I just go somewhere I've never heard of?
And so I'm just in the middle of that decision and I'm at the point where you read too much and everyone has a different opinion. And so…I don't know if I'm making good decisions!”
If you want to cut through the noise of all the information and opinions you have absorbed, answer these two questions:
What are the experiences you most want to have?
What is your budget?
My client and I continued talking, and she said that she had chosen three locations for her two-week trip: Venice and Rome because they are iconic, and Sorrento for a full week. When we discussed experiences, she said she wanted to see famous sites, especially the Sistine Chapel, but she chose Sorrento as a place to relax, not have any real plans, avoid crowds, swim, wander, and explore quaint seaside villages. Unfortunately, this vision does not align with the reality of tourist-heavy Sorrento, even though that’s the image the mass tourism market sells you.
So we moved on to the next question: what is your budget? With that in mind, it was very easy to choose a different location where she could have the easy, relaxed experience she wanted.
If you’ve spent too much online, this question might confuse or even annoy you. Aren’t there things you must see, like the Colosseum or Michelangelo’s David? Aren’t the Cinque Terre and the Amalfi Coast unmissable destinations? If these are the ideas guiding your trip planning, I invite you to list the things you are truly interested in doing and seeing without worrying about anyone else’s judgment. Be honest about how you feel about heat and crowds, and don’t expect nice hotels or skip-the-line tickets to solve those issues completely.
A few months back, I had clients who had chosen Rome as the single destination for their one-week vacation, and they were having a hard time choosing the right neighborhood to book an apartment stay. Their list included:
-Want to see a local tradesman/artisan shops
-Interested in buildings and architecture more than churches
-Unique food experiences: We don’t care about social media favorites; we prefer family-run places with true, authentic character. We hate lines and don’t want to have to make all of our reservations ahead of time.
Rome has always been a capital and a pilgrim city, not an artisan hub. The bigger problem is that few decent restaurants are in the city center, all requiring reservations made two months ago. This couple wanted to do everything on foot, so traveling each evening by taxi to the restaurants where Romans eat did not match their vision.
I suggested they instead consider Modena, where they could wander around the Mercato Albinelli, take the train to Parma to admire the architecture and decide where they wanted to eat spontaneously without receiving the dreaded laminated menu with photographs. After the trip, they told me that it was the perfect location, that they barely scraped the surface of all the wonderful things to see and eat, especially in Parma, and they plan to return.
Italians frequently use the expression “che emozione” which does not translate well into English. Literally, it means “what an emotion,” and you may see tours that promise to “give you emotions” or the spa menu in a hotel lists “an emotional shower.” The sentiment conveys something more akin to “how thrilling” or “how moving.” So, when considering the experience of Italy you want to have, ask yourself what makes you feel awe and wonder. Is it art, music, or being in nature? A suit cut to your exact measurements by a Neapolitan tailor or simply being in the company of interesting people? Identify what you want to experience, and you’ll escape the FOMO trap.
Let’s talk money
This is frequently an uncomfortable question, and I’m still surprised by how often people don’t want to think about it. But it’s critical, even if your budget is open-ended, because the luxury market is especially rife with hollow experiences.
A huge mistake is to shop the travel market like a grocery store. If you find yourself on Viator or GetYourGuide, you’ll feel inclined to price shop for Colosseum tours and “pizza and gelato” cooking classes and be led in circles by the algorithms and reviews. Like at the grocery store, you may splurge on one or two items, but overall, you feel assured you are spending a reasonable amount of money based on what the Internet tells you are the best things to do in Italy. Don’t do this.
There’s no average cost for a trip to Italy, and the best experiences in Italy are not on those platforms with outrageous commission structures that are slowly gutting small businesses.
This is where the two questions meet and show you the way: Do you really want to see the Colosseum? Maybe so, but don't if you only buy those tickets because you feel you must. The money and time spent might be better used on an experience of something you think you can’t afford, but it makes you say, “Che emozione!”
A few ideas
Here are a few experiences that made me feel Italian emotions:
The Vatican Key Master’s Tour is outrageously expensive yet worth every penny for an art history nerd like me.
The tripe sandwiches at Tripperia Pollini in Florence. Nope, I'm not kidding.
Seeing the ragù pot at Antica Trattoria di Pietro. (I was moved to tears.)
The Temple of Mercury at Baia. My jaw is still somewhere on the floor.
Was this helpful? Let me know what you’re thinking about in the comments.
The last day to register for my Spring Food & Wine Workshop in South Italy is February 5th! If you’re considering joining us but have questions, get in touch so we can make an appointment to chat by phone or Zoom.