The amount of forethought and preplanning one does before embarking on a family vacation to a foreign country can mean the difference between a perfectly enjoyable trip and a disastrous one.
When I went on a two and a half week trip to Italy last June with my family, we were able to have the most stress free and fantastic vacation of my life; all because we began researching and making reservations and plans many months in advance. First, we decided which cities we wished to see or visit family in: Venice, Florence, San Giminiano, Sorrento, Rome, The Vatican, Cinque Terre, Naples, Pompeii, Cicala, Taormina, Montedoro, and Catania. From there we were able to determine which order to visit them and which way to travel the boot of Italy most efficiently: arriving in the north (Venice) and making our way south, all the way to Sicily where we departed from Catania. Then came the fun part!
For each city we planned to visit, we made reservations for hotel accommodations, as well as dinner reservations for almost every night as well as a list of other restaurants in the areas we would be exploring and would be interested in. This took time, patience, and many evenings spent on Trip Advisor, which was our main resource for finding accommodations and restaurants. About making reservations, instead of purchasing long distance cellular coverage (if you don’t have it already), I would recommend making calls using Skype, or sending emails (however, emails are not as reliable, especially if you are in a time crunch). Once you have made your reservations, be sure to record each along with the addresses, and sort them my city so you do not become confused!
Italy is such a historically and culturally rich country, and most people are aware of many of the main attractions such as the Coliseum. However, these can become absolutely packed with tourists, and there are so many other astounding historical sights. So, as not to miss anything, we took our planning one step further by purchasing four Blue Guide books by Alta Macadam which are compilations of landmarks and sights worth seeing which include brief histories and maps. From these we learned more about main attractions such as the Uffizi and the Duomo in Florence, and were able to discover a tiny church in Naples where one of the most famous works of art is located — The Veiled Christ.
We also researched how to dress to blend in with the Europeans and not appear as tourists (to avoid pick pockets and up turned noses). Covered shoulders, skirts, and long pants were a general expectation in order to enter most churches and some museums. We also opted for a small, minimalistic, slash proof, backpack. Overall, we blended in quite well, and were very comfortable in addition. Word for the wise: no short shorts, no white trainers, no baseball caps, and no hoodies (hoodies are actually associated with gangs in Italy!)
All of this seemingly superfluous planning and list making and map marking made this trip a truly amazing one. We never had to worry about being lost, without a place to stay, or which trains to take. We could focus on stellar meals, hilariously hopeless tourists, unbelievable ruins, and the Mediterranean sun.
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