italy travel tip: when in rome, tour the vatican

Even if you’re not super-Catholic, it is worth checking out the Vatican if you’re in Rome for a few days.

I would recommend, however, that you do a guided tour, so that you know what you’re looking at, and so you can learn the history behind the different rooms and artworks (if you’re interested in that kind of thing). We did this Skip-the-Line Vatican Tour.

A couple words of warning: Be prepared to have your space invaded. As you can see, it’s wall-to-wall people in that place.

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It’s basically like 2-3 hours of you shuffling along with a headset in your ears (but hey, I reached my steps for the day just walking the Vatican alone, so I guess that’s something, even if they were tiny steps).

The Vatican is incredibly gaudy, yet somehow manages to still be beautiful. It’s hard not to be super impressed with the Sistine Chapel in particular. When you’re standing there, staring up at the ceiling, it’s mind-boggling that one man begrudgingly laid upon scaffolding for four years to complete it.

TIP: Don’t talk in the Sistine Chapel. The scary security dudes will aggressively shush you (because that’s better than people whispering, apparently).

TIP: Make sure your shoulders are covered. They’re pretty strict about that at the Vatican. (My jean jacket slipped off one shoulder as I was going inside, and a dude was immediately like don’t be such a harlot and to cover up your shoulder for God’s sakes.)

At the end of the tour, you’ll visit St. Peter’s Basilica, which is a marvel unto itself, really, particularly because it houses the “miracle pope.” (I think it’s [interesting-]creepy, but when I declared it “creepy” on my Facebook page, a hardcore Catholic immediately chastised me: “It’s not creepy, it’s a MIRACLE.” Creepy, miracle, whatever, it’s still a dead person on display for millions of people to gawk over.)

Behold, the creepy miracle pope:

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Yes, that is a person in there. Not just any person, but the aforementioned “miracle pope.” Legend has it they opened Pope John XXIII’s casket and he was completely preserved, the way you see him above.

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So, all of the chairs you see? That’s where people sit when the pope makes his appearances in that middle balcony you see up there. Like, literally thousands of chairs. I, unfortunately, did not get to see the pope. My grandmother-in-law did though, a few weeks later, but she said it was NUTS. I guess I imagine it’s like going to a rock concert and people scream at the pope like he’s a rock star…but that could just be my imagination getting away from me…

I will say, this was my second time shuffling through the Vatican and St. Peter’s Basilica, and if I’m being honest, once was probably enough. I just happened to be traveling with people who’d never been to Italy before, and the Vatican is definitely worth seeing once in your lifetime.

Have you been to the Vatican? What did you think? Was it awesome or overrated?

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italy travel tip: do the best of rome free walking tour

So I recently traveled Italy with my mother, honorary auntie, and best friend. We hit all the highlights: started in Rome, bopped down to the Amalfi Coast, shot up to Florence, trekked over to Venice, and hit up Milan/Lake Como before sweeping back to Rome.

So, over the next several posts, I will be sharing with you the things we did in Italy that we loved best.

Our first night in lovely Roma, jet-lagged and unshowered for about 48 hours, we decided the best thing to do is hit the ground running, so we booked ourselves in to do a free walking tour.

We met down by the Spanish Steps, then, over the next two hours or so, saw some churches and government buildings, heard some cool history about Bernini and Borromini (and their weird Baroque rivalry), popped into the Pantheon, and completed our tour by Trevi Fountain.

Our guide was super informative and really energetic, and he said “Okay my people” just about every other second, which we all thought was hilarious (though jet lag and slap-happiness could possibly be to blame there, who knows?).

We could not have asked for more from a free tour. (It was probably the best of three free walking tours we partook in while we were in Italy, the other two being in Venice and Milan.)

A couple of TIPS for you:

  • If you want to go inside the churches, make sure your shoulders are COVERED. I get it, it can be incredibly hot in Rome (it was when we were there), so you may be thinking “less is better,” which is fine — but if you’re swanning around in a sleeveless top, make sure you’ve got a sweater or light jacket that you can drape over your shoulders in the event you want to see inside the churches. (Now, I don’t know that anyone would actually kick you out if your shoulders are bare — we saw plenty of people in suspect clothing — but if you don’t want to chance it, listen to what I tell you! (JK. Sort of.)
  • If you think your guide is exceptional, please tip him or her. ESPECIALLY since it’s a free tour and that’s likely the bulk of their fiscal take away from that day.
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    I like to take touristy pictures, but I also like to take not-so-touristy pictures. I’ll include the touristy highlights from each tour or excursion I post, but then I’ll also probably post a few randos, just because.

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    Italy Travel Guide | Do the Best of Rome Free Walking Tour

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how to plan an epic trip in 6 steps

In the last couple of years, we’ve really upped our traveling game, which means I’ve gotten a lot of practice planning big trips; we’ve gone to France, Spain, Italy, and Hawaii, while I ventured off to Italy again this year with the ladies. In planning these trips, I’ve made a lot of mistakes, but I’ve learned a ton. These are the steps I follow to plan an epic trip.

1. decide where you want to go (& when)

This can really be as general or specific as you want, but should at least be narrowed down to a country or a region.

Make sure it is attainable (i.e., think about the number of days you can allot to the trip).

When I planned our trip to Europe in 2015, we had 17 days, and we decided we wanted to go to France, Spain, and Italy. Perfectly reasonable, right?

When planning WHEN to go, think about what the weather will be like, if you’re a person who is picky about what the weather is like when you travel, like me (I like to travel when it’s warmer, so I don’t have to pack bulky clothes; plus I don’t like to freeze my ass off).

How to Plan an Epic Trip in 6 Steps | A view of the Notre Dame from across the Seine | Paris, France
A view of Notre Dame from across the Seine | Paris, France

2. decide what you want to do & how many days you need to do it

In my humble opinion, how many days you stay in a place depends on what you want to do there.

Keep in mind how long it takes you to get to each place. If you’re going to be on a train for 9 hours and you only have a week to explore, do you really want to waste an entire day on a train?

USE TRIPADVISOR. It is the holy grail. Read reviews, figure out what you want to do, and make a list.

It’s very possible (indeed probable) that you’ll have to cross things off that list at some point, but it’s somewhere to start, at least.

Once you’ve completed your list, figure out what you absolutely cannot live without doing, and put those at the top of your list. For everything else, it’s a perk if you can fit it in, but it is not essential to your trip being as epically awesome as possible.

Based on the number of things you MUST DO in each place, figure out how many days you’ll need to be there in order to make those dreams a reality.

For example, when we were in France, we absolutely wanted to see the Louvre, Normandy, Versailles, the Musee D’Orsay, Hotel des Invalides (Army Museum), and the Paris Catacombs. I researched how many hours travelers typically gave to each place, and we gave ourselves four (very packed) days in Paris.

How to Plan an Epic Trip in 6 Steps | All things Gaudi, Parc Guell | Barclona, Spain
Find all things Gaudi at Parc Guell | Barcelona, Spain

3. map out the places you want to go

Put each location into a logical order based on geography (duh). Then you can figure out where you want to fly in and out of.

You can do this first, of course, and plan your trip around that if you like. That is, admittedly, what we did; we flew in and out of Paris and then determined the loop we needed to make to get from point A to B to C to D and back again.

I have heard rumors that it’s cheaper to buy two one-way tickets than it is to buy roundtrip tickets, so take that into consideration.

Start pricing plane tickets about 10-12 months before you want to go (that’s really the earliest you can start stalking websites anyway).

If you can map out your trip before you buy your plane tickets, you could score some deals on one-way tickets (and not waste that extra day retracing your steps to the airport of origin).

I’ve also heard a rumor that prices are cheaper on Tuesday evenings and that it’s best to buy international tickets 8 months before your departure date. For domestic flights, it’s 3 months before (or something like that; there are so many tips out there on this stuff).

How to Plan an Epic Trip in 6 Steps | Plot it out on paper
This method might seem a little crazy to you, but it really helped me organize what order we traveled in, how many days we needed to stay in each place, and what we wanted to do there.

4. book your hotel or airbnb

I usually do this around 4 months before our departure.

For my last two international trips, we utilized a combination of hotels and Airbnbs during our stays.

I typically reserve Airbnbs for longer stays, because: a) they’re often cheaper than hotels and 2) they offer a more authentic experience, but they’re also a little more inconvenient because you have to specify a time to meet your host, etc.

I also love Airbnbs because you can specify the amenities you want—washer and dryer, full kitchen, etc. You can save money by cooking some meals at your home away from home, and you can pack light because you can do laundry.

Hotels tend to be more convenient for shorter stays.

How to Plan a Trip in 6 Steps | Capri, Italy
A boat venturing into a cave | Capri, Italy

5. book your excursions

You’ve already done the legwork, deciding what you want to do and researching different excursions on TripAdvisor. I usually do this 2-3 months before departure.

6. book your transportation from point A to B to C

About a month before you’re set to leave (primarily because they don’t post them sooner), start researching the modes of transportation you’ll need to utilize: trains, automobiles, ferries, etc.

When in Europe, we love to take the trains; they’re often pretty inexpensive, they’re fast, and you can travel in relative comfort.

I base our train times on our excursions and the check-in times at our various dwellings (some Airbnb hosts have specific check-in times you must adhere to).

Just a tip for you guys: Keep an eye on the departure boards, as they don’t post the gates until about 10 minutes (sometimes less) before they’re set to leave. Once it’s posted, make the mad dash to the appropriate coach (listed on your ticket).

If you need to take ferries anywhere, typically you can get those right before you need to leave. But it’s helpful to at least have the timetable on hand so you can figure out what times might work best for you, depending on what you’ve got going on that day or when your trains are, etc.

How to Plan an Epic Trip in 6 Steps | The eponymous windmill in Edam | The Netherlands
An eponymous windmill in Edam | The Netherlands

7. research unique things to do, places to eat, etc. (optional)

In case you haven’t noticed, I’m a little crazy when it comes to planning trips. I want to have the best experience possible, and that includes doing some touristy stuff, sure, but it also includes doing things that are a little more off the beaten path and, of course, eating delicious food.

Thank God the blogisphere is no slouch when it comes to offering up unique experiences and orgasmic food experiences.

TIP

Unless you are independently wealthy (I wish), I highly recommend spreading these things out, rather than paying for them all at once. Your plane tickets are most often the most expensive part of your trip, but you can give yourself a couple of months to rebound from that expense before you dive into the other stuff.

How to Plan an Epic Trip in 6 Steps | Berlin Wall | Berlin, Germany
“You Can See Infinity” | A section of the Berlin wall still stands | Berlin, Germany

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oh, hey!

Welcome to my website, y’all!

In the past several years, the hubs and I have been on some epic vacations. (When I say epic, I mean EPIC.) Some were planned for us; others, I planned myself, from start to finish. I’ve made some mistakes, I’ve learned some things along the way, and boy, have I had FUN.

For any wanderlust soulmates out there looking for adventure and wanting to (eep!) try planning it yourself, I’m going to share some tips and how-tos to make planning a little bit easier for you. If you’re not so much into the research like this nerd, I’ve probably done it already and I’m ready to impart my wisdom!

Here’s to life, learning, loving, and adventuring!

xo, Ashley

 

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