1) Before leaving for your dream trip, buy maps. Maps, travel guides, tour books, the whole lot. First off, it’s really fun planning everywhere you want to go and all the sights you want to see. Second, for example, if you get lost in a town you’ve never been to and happen to lose track of a rental car and your google maps isn’t working…maps are good.
*Note: pay special attention to the scale on the map. Walking routes look different on paper then when it’s 97 degrees and you are tired. If you are not a person who likes to walk miles a day, you aren’t going to suddenly enjoy it just because you’ve arrived in Europe. Plan a schedule at a pace you are comfortable with to really enjoy the activities you want to do.
2) If you’re an American girl in Italy and notice lots of men staring at you, you aren’t just imagining it. Especially if you’re fair skinned with light hair and eyes, you will draw more than a look or two as it is obvious you aren’t a local. At one point, a waiter offered to waive our bill if my father left me behind for a day or two. He considered it. All jokes aside, the attention is mostly harmless flattery as long as you are careful about general safety, which you should be especially in tourist hotspots. The only issue I had was when someone touched my butt in the Sistine chapel (irony?)
3) Going to Vatican City and seeing everything there is a must. Beware though that many places in Europe are not air conditioned to the max like in America, and the Vatican museum was no exception. Dress for the fact that it is going to be packed and hot inside, but be conscious of the dress code that exists. Also, if you would prefer to not get lost during this experience, I would advise you go to the restroom and not drink a lot of water prior to going in, as there are not a lot of bathrooms once you’re walking through, and the museum is HUGE. Getting lost in a crowded place with a lot of people when you have to pee and are panicking is not a fun feeling, but you really can’t pass up everything the Vatican has to offer religiously, culturally, historically, and artistically.
4) If you are going to Italy and don’t speak any Italian, you really don’t need to worry at all. The majority of people speak English. However, if you do pick up a phrase book before you go and try to speak a couple phrases, the people there find it very amusing and appreciate the effort. You are more likely to make friends, and the locals may even try to teach you a phrase or two.
5) The coffee and wine in Italy is simply amazing. Drink water to stay hydrated, but if you can avoid drinking soda or anything you can get at home, try and do so. Each region in Italy has their own specialty wine for the most part, so you can get an amazing house wine with dinner and not have to pay a fortune.
6) I really enjoyed the day we took a road trip and spent some time at the beach. Having a day to ‘get off the beaten path’ is really worth it if your schedule allows. Driving up the coast from Rome to Florence/Pisa was very easy to do- the only difficult part about driving was once you get into the cities the streets are very narrow and crowded! Find some small towns to stop and enjoy on the way to the major cities; some of my favorites are Lucca, Lari, and Selvatelle.
7) Probably the best advice I gave myself before I left was to abandon my typical dietary regimen and just eat whatever I wanted. Due to the smaller European portion sizes, an ideology where “farm to table” is of the utmost importance, and the amount we walked each day, I had very minimal weight gain when I returned to the states. Honestly, you’re on vacation and won’t be eating pasta of this quality in many other places of the world, so enjoy yourself!