Today I have something a little different on the blog. This is a new series on travel tips. I’ve been traveling since I was six years old. Some of this comes from my upbringing: I’m originally from Brazil and have hopped all over the globe since I was a child.
Some of this comes from pure wanderlust: I thrive on last-minute travel. It fuels my soul and is incredibly exciting and powerful. I could never be one of those gals that plans out a trip a year ahead of time. The countdown would drive me crazy. After years of practice, I have a knack for last minute bookings, even international ones.
So, when my husband and I say tickets to Italy for under $500, we knew we had to jump. The idea of traveling to Italy in the winter started floating happily through our heads. We started planning a romantic winter trip…during the first week of November. Eighteen days later, we were boarding Alitalia for a week plus trip across Italy.
With decades of last minute travel experience, and fresh off an incredibly Italy vacation, I’m here to give you my top 7 tips for planning a last-minute international trip without losing your mind.
1. Get Some Helpful Apps
My sister told me about Hopper, which alerts you about price spikes and drops. I was pretty skeptical…until I booked my flight. To my surprise, the price dropped $150 the very next day. I was bummed, but I should have taken her advice in the first place!
I discovered quickly that Hopper is a top app to have for travel plans. It’s pretty accurate about forecasting price trends, so I highly suggest you try it out. You can even open up a calendar in-app, see what dates are more expensive, and schedule your trip around that.
Other apps we used and loved: Kayak, Expedia, Tripadvisor, and Airbnb. All of these also have desktop versions, which I honestly prefer to the mobile experience.
2. Book the Big Items Right Away
We had to book several accommodations since we planned to go from Rome to Florence. This was by far the most stressful part of planning my trip. I started getting anxious over the smaller items and the fact that we didn’t know when we wanted to return to Rome. This made it hard to pick hotels, until I realized that none of that really mattered until I booked the most expensive item: our flights!
Along with the flights, we wanted to guarantee a hotel or Airbnb for our first three days in Italy. We arrived in Rome on Friday and wanted to get to Florence on Monday. Luckily, we found a direct flight to Rome and a hotel for the first three days using the next tip (don’t skip ahead just yet!).
The next most significant item remaining was our train ticket to Florence. After that was where we’d stay while in Florence. Then there was the wine tour. And then…and then…and then.
Starting with the most important, and expensive, items and working my way down made it much easier for both me and my husband. It also made it easier to change our plans when something cool and new came up after we’d arrived in Florence.
3. Compare and Compare Some More
I would have ended up paying A LOT more if I had just booked the first flight I found, reserved the first hotel room, or bought the first train ticket. Instead, I compared and saved money. It’s that simple.
So, one of my best tips is to compare, compare some more, consider bundled deals, and compare a little more.
Bundling travel, transport, and accommodations together is easier now than ever. You don’t need a travel agent to do it. When I started looking at flights I was only finding flights with connections and even those were too expensive! After a few days of searching (it takes me awhile to learn sometimes!), I started comparing and quickly found direct flights AND serious savings when I added a hotel into the picture.
This made planning the rest of my trip different. I started using combo websites like a pro. My personal favorite is Expedia. I was able to find better prices there and knock off even more money with their points system.
I also love finding great blog posts like this Italian Road Trip post that showcases 2 or 3-day itinerary I don’t follow all of them but they help me create the main backbone of the trip. Then I play it by ear and see what the day unfolds.
Finally, you’re going to want to consider what’s most important to you. I work full time and wanted to maximize my vacation time, so finding a direct flight was one of my top priorities. What are yours?
Bonus Tip: Compare hotels and read up on reviews. Trip Advisor was my best source for hotel reviews.
Bonus Bonus Tip: The clock’s ticking. Take your time when comparing, but don’t wait forever for the perfect deal. Make a decision and stick to it, trust me!
4. Ask Friends for Input
Ask your friends that have been to your vacation destination for tips! I can’t tell you how much this helped me out.
My old college roommate lived in Italy and already had two itineraries set up for Florence and Rome. Her tips and advice were huge timesavers. Not only that, but they took a lot of pressure off my back, especially when it came to finding the best restaurants.
Make sure to ask your friends for local insight on transportation, some essential phrases you should know, and anything you want to avoid doing while on vacation. Write these answers down into a little cheat sheet and carry it with you at all times!
5. Get Travel Insurance
I’m the consumer who rarely buys protection, insurance, or other travel add-ons. This probably stems from my mistrust of airlines and their add-ons. Like I said, I’ve traveled since I was tiny. I’ve seen all the crazy things airlines do. Remember the Tokyo flight mix up? I’ve seen stuff like that firsthand.
That being said, traveling to Italy for over a week presented a lot of risks. I was using my valuable vacation time, the flight was super long, my husband had never been to Europe before, I spent time and money planning the trip…the list goes on. I didn’t want anything to ruin my perfectly planned getaway!
All of this means that travel insurance wasn’t an addon, it was an essential part of making sure my trip went smoothly. A coworker told me about Yonder Travel Insurance, so I decided to check them out.
That brings me to writing this very article! I loved Yonder from first sight. The layout of their website was super easy to navigate. The services and coverage were explained in language I could actually understand. I was able to compare, compare, compare, and compare some more.
When it came time to choose my specific insurance, I was able to single out what was most important to me: medical, terrorist attack, and missing luggage. I was able to compare travel insurance quotes based on these specific areas. To say I was impressed would be an understatement.
Unfortunately, I made a big mistake. I didn’t check out travel insurance until the day of my flight. Yonder usually needs at least twenty-four hours notice. Thankfully, their support team was still able to get me insured and for less than I expected. I felt taken care of the entire time. I can’t recommend Yonder enough!
Tip- Don’t wait last minute to book travel insurance.
6. Write Some Phrases Down
My husband started watching YouTube videos before our trip and learning some basic Italian. God bless him. As soon as we landed, though, he forgot it all. My rusty Italian was almost nonexistent.
The result? We felt dumb speaking in broken Italian throughout our trip. I wish I had taken a notebook and written down some key phrases. I even could have jotted some notes down on my phone! You should make sure to do this to avoid getting annoying looks from locals. It’s embarrassing!
If nothing else, make sure to learn the phrase “Come se dice…” which means “how do you say…?” Not only will this help endear locals to you, but you’ll seem like less of an arrogant foreigner. It’s a win-win.
7. Buy a Selfie Stick (sounds silly but trust me)
I told my husband to get a selfie stick and, like a typical husband, he ended up with a super flimsy, cheap one. We used it at the Vatican Museum, but it didn’t open right. I let my husband know I wasn’t a fan but thought that was the end of it.
To my ENORMOUS surprise, our selfie stick ended up being invaluable. It’s annoying to ask other people to take pictures of you. We didn’t have to thanks to our selfie stick. There were so many cool things to see and do. We were able to capture them perfectly with our selfie stick. We didn’t have to hold the phone too close or far and cut out beautiful monuments or scene views. We were even able to create some cool videos for our YouTube channel.
We couldn’t have done this without our selfie stick!
I can’t say that planning a trip to Italy in eighteen days was stress-free. It was a headache at times, but I learned from my mistakes. These tips are that knowledge. They’ll help my next international adventure be a success and can help yours too!
Which tip did you enjoy the most? Do you have any other hacks you’d like to share?