How to create a budget for Italy travel

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The main constraints to your trip to Italy are money and time. People have more of each than they need. And even if you do have the money, chances are you won’t want to spend more than necessary. Budget questions are important when planning an Italy vacation.

It’s not easy to answer these questions. I cannot give you a single budget for Italy, and I can’t answer all your questions. I will try to help you determine the cost of your Italy trip based on what type of trip it is. You will also find money-saving tips and when I feel splurges should be made.

Remember, however, that the actual numbers I have listed below may be estimates or could have changed since I first wrote them. This guideline is intended to be a guide. However, you should double-check the actual prices as you go.

Let’s now take a look at how much each element of an Italy vacation costs.

Fly with Airfare

Flights to Italy are almost always the largest expense, but it can vary based on the season and the airport you fly to.

Italy’s peak season is May-September, with occasional dips and spikes around Christmas and Easter. This is when it will be the most expensive. Winter months are the best for flights, with November and January being the cheapest. This means you will have to endure some damp and cold weather. If you want to find a middle ground between not-super-expensive and not-super–cold weather, consider the shoulder seasons of spring or fall. The shoulder seasons of April and Oct are generally considered to be the best.

It’s simple math: the further you are from your Italian destination, then the more expensive your flight will be. It is not hard to see why flights from North America to Paris, London, Frankfurt, or Frankfurt are so much cheaper than flights to Rome and Milan. It’s frustrating, but it’s the truth. If you have the time and enjoy puzzles, it is possible to create what I call a “two-step” plan for getting to Italy. This involves taking advantage of a low-cost flight to Amsterdam, then jumping on a European budget airline to take you to Italy.

If your itinerary is moving in one direction throughout the country, then you might consider “open-jaw” ticket. These tickets allow you to fly into and out of one city. Although they are more expensive than regular round-trip tickets, the difference in cost is often negligible. Open-jaw tickets are worth the extra expense if you don’t have any need to travel backwards and can spend some of your vacation time in transit within the country.

Actual Numbers: How Much Does It Cost to Fly to Italy?

Summer fares from the US east to Rome cost $700-800. Fares from the US west coast range from $1,000-1,200. Prices can be cut by half in winter. Fare sales are common, especially in shoulder and off-seasons. If you’re still looking for a deal and aren’t sure if there is one, then make sure to create an email alert with the booking engine of your choice. This will keep you informed about current fares and let you know when they drop or rise.

Accommodation

This line item can vary from a bed in a hostel dorm room to a five-star hotel in Venice. This line item is not like airfare. It is largely dependent on what you can control.

Italy Accommodation follows the same high- and low-seasons as airfare. May-September is high-season, while winter is low-season. For seasonal holidays, there are mini-spikes or mini-dips in hotel price, but these spikes and dips are less frequent. There is a peak at which hotels in your desired price range will be booked well in advance, while others are higher for Easter and Christmas. Weekend rates may be higher in some cities because they are tourist destinations. Weekday rates in other cities will be higher due to the large number of business travelers.

Make your decision about what type of accommodation you are looking for, then do some research on the prices in the areas you plan to visit. You shouldn’t only focus on a star-rating. The star rating system for hotels is different in Italy than elsewhere. It’s also not consistent across the country. I would also advise you to look at other lodging options. Although some guesthouses and budget hotels are classified as “hostels”, they are not the same as what we would consider hostels. Vacation rentals are becoming more popular throughout the country.

A Venice hotel is a worthy investment because you only need to stay one night to really experience Venice. You should stay on the islands and not on the mainland. You’ll pay a bit more but it’s only one night. It’s Venice.

Actual numbers: How much does it cost to stay in Italy

Hostel dorm beds can be found for as low as $15-40 per night. The more popular ones are located in tourist areas. Prices rise if you need a private room. The 2- and 3-star hotels (I prefer to start my search among 2-star hotels) start at $80 per night, and can go up to $200. The price of a room can go up dramatically if it is luxurious or overlooks a major attraction. It’s possible to save money by choosing a hotel that is a bit further from the main attractions (just make certain it’s close to a Metro stop) or by opting for less-visited destinations.

Transport within Italy

There are many options for transportation in Italy, which is something that’s not the case with some other places (I’m referring to the United States of America). You can rent a car in Italy for those who want to explore more remote areas. However, most tourists are well-served thanks to the country’s extensive train and bus networks (not forgetting the many boats that ferry people along the coast and islands). There are many transport options to suit every budget.

It is the best way to get around Italy for the least expensive and most convenient. Individual train tickets can be purchased as you travel, or you can purchase an Italy Rail Pass prior to leaving home. Each option has its merits, so it’s important to do some math before you decide which one is best for you. This is what I wrote in ” How To Decide Whether to Purchase a Rail Pass or Point to-Point Train Tickets in Italy.

Traveling by bus in Italy is cheaper but it is not possible to travel from one area to the next using the national bus network. If you are traveling with a group, renting a car is more affordable. It can also prove to be an essential option if you have to travel to many places that don’t have train stations. You can also get “train + driver” rail passes that allow you to take the train most of your journey, but give you a few days to rent a car for when you reach Umbria or Sicily.

Public transportation is my favorite mode of transportation in a city. I prefer buses and Metro to walking if possible. To get to the city from the airport I prefer trains and shuttle buses, over paying for a taxi. If I have luggage, I will pay for a taxi to take me to the hotel or apartment. A few years ago, on a trip to Italy, I was able to get from Milan’s Malpensa Airport with two large suitcases and a carry-on bag. It took me 20 minutes to walk and the Metro. Although I did save money, I was still exhausted, aching, and cranky upon my arrival at my home. If you ask me, being frugal at one’s own expense is not math that adds up properly.

Actual Numbers: Italy’s Transportation Costs

You have many options when it comes to Italy Rail Passes. It all depends on how many days you need. At the top of the range, a pass that allows eight days of train travel within a month costs between $373 and $465 for adults and $304-373 for youth. For three days of train travel, a pass is good for $212-$264 for adults and $174-$212 for youth. Add up the price of individual tickets and reservations for each trip to determine if a pass is more affordable. (I will go into detail about the math of a rail pass and train tickets here. The cost of renting a car will depend on how big the car is and what season it is. An economy-sized (i.e. A car that is small in size (i.e., not too big) could be rented to drive around Tuscany for as low as $50-70 per night. It is important to note that almost all rental cars in Italy have manual transmissions – automatics are more expensive.

Food

Some people view food as merely fuel. I have met others. One man even said that he would not travel anywhere for good food, let alone cross the street to get it. If you don’t think this is you, skip this section. You’ll be satisfied with any cheap food you find in Italy.

For me, however, eating in Italy is part of my souvenir-gathering process.

Even if you don’t like caviar, budget-conscious tourists have good news: you can still eat well in Italy even without trust funds. It is not expensive to enjoy some of Italy’s most iconic treats, such as gelato, pizza, and espresso. Contrary to what the traditional Italian menus may tell you, you don’t have to order everything from each course: antipasto, primo and secondo, contorno and dolce. It’s not something that the Italians do, so why would you?

Italian food is best when it uses seasonal ingredients and local produce (both of which reduce transport costs). It’s a smart move to locate an outdoor market for food, even if it’s not necessary to have your own pantry. Knowing what’s available locally will allow you to make informed choices when ordering in the town’s restaurants. You’d also be smart to avoid restaurants that cater specifically to tourists with their menus-in-many-languages and hawkers out front telling you you’re hungry as you walk by the front door. These places are more likely to serve lower-quality food and have higher prices, often because they offer views of major attractions or are close to them.

A carafe is cheaper than buying a bottle of wine, and the quality of Italian house wine is exceptional. If you ask for water, you will be purchasing bottled water. Tipping in Italy doesn’t really exist (no, seriously), so don’t include the 15% tip in your food budget.

Actual Numbers: Italy’s Food Cost

A typical Italian breakfast includes a coffee and pastry. If you order a table, the same food will cost EUR2-3. Your hotel or hostel might offer breakfast for free. Pasta can be priced between EUR7-15 depending on where you live and what it contains. Meat courses range from EUR10-25 and meat courses are EUR10-25. Side dishes (vegetables and salad) are available from EUR4-10. Italians love to have an afternoon espresso. It costs EUR1-2, but it is more if you sit down at a table. A scoop of gelato can be had for EUR1-2. A whole pizza from Naples, one of the most famous pizzas in the world, may cost you EUR5. You can often get the same dish at a restaurant for less than dinner. This means that you can save money by ordering your biggest meal at midday. If you are looking to save even more money, stock up on delicious picnic items from the outdoor food markets, such as cheeses, cured meats and fresh bread.

Attractions and Activities

It is difficult to determine a budget for activities or attractions due to the variety of things that each traveler has in mind. One person may be content to just sit on a bench in a park and watch people pass by (cost – nothing). One person will be content to sit on a park bench and watch people pass by (cost – nothing! ), while another person may dream of flying over every major city (cost: astronomical!). You can narrow down your list and find out the cost of each activity.

To find out the cost of admission to the museums, art galleries, churches and monuments on your itinerary, visit their official websites. Some attractions have a fee, while others offer free admission on specific days or times. These are all great information to have in your travel planning. Even if the church does not charge admission, it is still expensive to maintain. Donations of one or two euros are always appreciated.

You should consider the benefits of a city pass to access the places you will be visiting. The Roma Pass will save you money compared to paying full price for the attractions you desire to see. Or will you not be able to visit enough to justify the expense? These passes can also include transportation which could impact your budget.

You can download audioguided tours of museums or follow a guidebook through a city. There are many DIY tours available. Even though there are many free tours, I still love taking guided tours. Expert guides make me feel more connected to a place and help me learn more about it. Although the cost of tours can vary widely, this is one area where I feel a bit more expensive. Don’t forget tip your guides!

Actual numbers: Italy’s Activity Costs

You’ll need to check the current admission prices at museums and attractions in your itinerary. Then, do your math. These are some of the top attractions in Italy, as of the date of writing.

  • Colosseum EUR12
  • Vatican Museums EUR16
  • Uffizi Gallery EUR14
  • Last Supper EUR8
  • The Leaning Tower of Pisa EUR18: Climb it
  • Pompeii EUR11
  • 3-day Roma Pass EUR36

Souvenirs

This is your only option for determining the budget.

A genuine Deruta painted ceramic plate could cost hundreds, while a counterfeit Gucci handbag, made in China and not Italy, would run you less than EUR20 from a street vendor in Milan. For the price of a night in a luxury hotel, you could buy a beautiful piece of Murano handblown glass or a small statue of David for a few euros. It all depends on what you plan to bring home, and what you will be able to look back at years later.

Sometimes outdoor markets offer excellent souvenir-shopping opportunities, including cheap clothing, shoes, or leather goods. Italian police can fine sellers who sell counterfeit designer brands on sidewalks from cardboard or sheets.

It is possible to find clearance sales in Italy during the winter and summer seasons. Discounts are usually around 30% and then drop over the course of the sale period. You might find some bargains if you visit during an official sale.

Make sure you do your research on what you are allowed to bring home. This is especially true for wine and food, as certain foods can be confiscated by customs. In some cases you are limited in the amount of wine and food you can bring home. This is a matter of national law and you will need to check the rules in your country.

You might be more interested in “experiences as souvenirs” and take a class in Italy. It will give you many years of benefits. For example, learn how to make authentic pizza in Naples or to speak Italian in Siena. While you won’t be able to take home any souvenirs, learning experiences like these will last a lifetime.

Actual numbers: Italy’s Souvenirs Cost

You guys, I cannot help but to sympathize with you. This one’s all yours. Have fun shopping!

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10 Responses to “How to Make a Budget for Italy Travel”

  • Helene said:

    To see if Abruzzo is a place I could retire, I plan to visit it twice. According to what I’ve read, the cost of living in Abruzzo is lower than elsewhere in Italy. I thought about moving to Sultano. Because I don’t have the money to buy anything, I would need to rent an apartment. It is extremely difficult to get residency in Italy. It is common for Americans to expect to be wealthy, according to the Italian Consulates. They require that you have a minimum monthly budget of $4000. I have a fixed income less than $2000 per month. I am a former teacher of English as a Second Language. Can I teach private classes? If so, how much would that be? Does that violate the law? Sultano has a population 25000, and I thought about settling there. It is small, but it still feels like a town. I can speak Spanish and am currently learning Italian. I would like to live with Italians, not Americans. Are you familiar with the abruzzo area? Sultana? I wanted to take the bus from Sultana to Sacco to swim at the lake. However, it is possible that there may not be enough people living there. Their population is not available. I know that I have a better chance of success if I’m well prepared. I am sincere about my desire to live in Italy. Any help you could give me would be greatly appreciated.

    • Jess has the following:

      Helene, thank you for your note. This is a major decision that you need to make and you should gather as much information about it as you can. I recommend that you visit your local bookstore or library to get the latest copy of any number books about Italy. There are many of them, and they have similar advice, except for the one that is specifically geared towards moving to Italy to work. Although I don’t know your location, you will need to complete paperwork through the Italian consulate in your area. If you are close, you may want to schedule an appointment to speak with someone about your options. This site provides some details that you might need. The longer you stay, the more you will be able to determine if a place is right. A visa is not required to stay for 90 days. You may be able to rent an apartment for a few months to get to know the area. I hope this helps!

      • Helene said:

        Jessica, thank you so much for all your suggestions. It was especially helpful to spend three months in one place to experience what it’s like to live there. Your link to international living is a great help. Once I have the funds, I will order a subscription. Also, thank you for explaining to me that I must start at the Italian consulate. What documents do I need? It took me five hours to travel to the Italian consulate. Without basic documents, it would have been very frustrating. The Italian consulates seem to be telling Americans that they need to be rich in order to get a residency permit. You must earn $4,000 per month and have a large amount of money in your bank account over the past six months. Some Americans have purchased property in the USA but are not eligible to apply for residency. It is believed that there are too many refugees entering Italy and that authorities don’t want to risk more people becoming a burden to the government. Is it possible that refugees are trying to remain in Italy? How about the Abruzzo Province?

        Are there any English-speaking bloggers in Abruzzo that you are aware of? It would be great to hear about their experiences.

        Again, thank you for your assistance. I hope you find the information I have shared with you useful. I wish I could recall where I saw this information. I’ll pass on the link if I find it. Helene Hensen

        • Jess has the following:

          Unfortunately, I don’t know any Abruzzo-based bloggers. However, that doesn’t make them nonexistent! You might find a few by doing some clever internet searching.

  • Virginia Campbell:

    How about cash? What amount of cash do you have on hand? How many items can you buy with a credit-card? Are you able to exchange money here and there? Is it possible to find a bank if there is no exchange? I feel very rusty because I haven’t been on a trip in years.

    • Jess has the following:

      I always bring some euros bills to exchange at home and plan to use my debit card to withdraw more at cash machines when I travel. It’s still more common to use cash in Italy than credit cards and even in restaurants. It’s important to notify your bank about your travel plans so that they don’t shut down your account if they discover foreign charges. After that, you will be able to use the cash machines at Italian banks just like at home. These safety tips for Italy are a reminder that I should write an article on how to use money in Italy.

  • Jessica, this is a great post! Thank you for sharing. When it comes to traveling, budgeting is one of the most difficult things to do. This is especially true if you are a compulsive purchaser like me. I’m planning to travel to Italy this summer. I will be comparing prices and trying to find the best deals. This tip is very helpful. This is exactly what I did in Greece last summer. I was able to book transportation passes and passes for museums and Greek Island Hopping with an e-pass at Hostelbay. I would love to learn more about Tuscany and I’m looking forward to the wine tours. Are Florence’s prices too high compared to Pisa or Lucca?

  • CRAIG says:

    It was a great blog to read. I am planning to go on a trip to the metros for my birthday in December. Although I am European, the culture and customs of each country are different so it is always helpful to read articles like this.

  • DMS says:

    Italy is my country of heritage (Maternal Grandparent Minturno), and a beautiful country. We have been to Italy three times. Now that we are both retired educators (me this past 2.1.18), one of our dreams was to “rent a villa for a month in Italy.” It is ideal to be “off the grid”, with traditional Italian shops/eating places. My parents, now 80, took me on the most memorable Italy trip: a week living in Florence as a local. It was the trip of a lifetime. We are looking for the best way to find small villas. We will be spending February 2018 in Florida, a 1 bedroom condo close to beach/pool. We appreciate your tips on how to begin the villa dream – we went in May and were pleasantly surprised at the temperatures and cost.

    • Jessica says:

      There are many vacation rental websites that have listings for Italy. This means that whatever service you used to rent a Florida property may have the right listing. Another option is the Agriturismo route.