How to Save Money while Traveling in Italy - Italy on a Budget

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Traveling in Italy is not cheap.  In fact, you’ll likely end up with many more charges than you are expecting.  We planned our trip out day-by-day and still ended up spending about $1,000 more in the first 2 weeks than we had intended.  But, you can (mostly) avoid this problem by learning from our mistakes.

Italy is one of the most traveled to countries in the world, and it’s no wonder with all the movies it shows up in! From A Good Woman (Amalfi Coast), Only You (Amalfi Coast), Under the Tuscan Sun (Positano and Tuscany), The Italian Job (Northwestern Italy), The Godfather (Northeast Sicily), The Talented Mr Ripley, A Room With A View, Tea With Mussolini, Much Ado About Nothing, the 1950’s hit Roman Holiday, Letters to Juliet, the James Bond film Quantum of Solace, and of course the first stop in Eat, Pray, Love.

But, that doesn’t mean that it’s set up like in your country and some of the surprises will cost you quite a lot. Learning more about the culture of Italy using the Italy - Culture Smart!: The Essential Guide to Customs & Culture book is also recommended! Either way, we have some first hand experiences to share with you.

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While it may sound like a simple solution, finding a hotel that has a shuttle does not necessarily mean that the shuttle is free (it is almost NEVER free in Italy). One of our hotels recommended that we get a taxi instead because they would have to charge us €45 per person to use their shuttle!  A second hotel that we had that was near the airport said they could bring us to/from the airport for €2.50 each.  So, if you have luggage, make sure you are planning to have a hotel near your arrival destination or within walking distance (check google maps for the walking route because long fences may prevent you from walking to a hotel that seems like it is only 50 meters away but actually requires going on a walking detour of 3,000 meters). If not, keep in mind that Uber is only slightly cheaper than Taxis here. You could pay $30 for short trips (we went 9.4 km) or $80 for longer trips (34.4 km, like we did for the first hotel mentioned here).  We recommend taking the Metro lines instead.  It's actually better than it appears and you can get single-use tickets for €1.50 that allow you to transfer for up to 100 minutes after first use (we could have paid a total of €6 over the two taxis instead of $110!).

That being said, do not forget to validate your bus/metro tickets. A member of the “Visit Italy Community” on Facebook stated: “… in Venice we took a water taxi [and] paid for our ‘go and return ticket’ and we were fined 60 dollars for not scanning the ticket before going on the ferry [but] we didn’t know we had to!!! Omg must u pay this we feel we didn’t do anything wrong [as] we paid for [our] tickets just had no idea…” This traveler boarded the Vaporetto in Venice, Italy and it is actually a water bus, not a ferry. As it is a bus, it does require validating your ticket and the fine is legitimate. If you don’t validate the ticket you could technically use it in the future, so that is why the fine exists. Lesson learned the hard way, please avoid this one by validating your tickets as soon as you are ready to get on a train (on the platform), in some cases before you get on a bus or metro (like the Vaporetto), and in other cases as soon as you get on the bus or metro.

Saving money on food is quite easy if you have a kitchen available to you.  This is likely not an option for you if you have a hotel, but if you’re staying at an Airbnb (we recommend the luxury Airbnb Plus offerings that are like renting out a condominium/resort-style room at the cost of a regular hotel room), then a kitchen and the necessary cooking supplies will more than likely be available to you (Superhost listings are also quite nice and roughly 33-50% cheaper - most also include the kitchen necessities).  Pasta can be around €0.39 per pack (the equivalent size of the $1.00 boxes you find in the U.S.A.) and the tomato sauce base is around €0.60.  However, most places don’t sell the ready-made pasta sauces in a jar.  If you don’t like plain tomato sauce for your pasta, you’ll have to add some spices, onions, peppers, mushrooms or anything else that you’d like to the sauce base.  Sauce packets can be found in the tourist areas for €3-€4 each, but we didn’t find any in the grocery stores.  You could mix up some spices yourself and bring them with you in a jar or plastic bag before you head to Italy as well.  Here is a site that has a number of recipes.  Cereal and milk aren’t terribly expensive either – actually, you can find quite a lot of affordable food and snacks at the grocery store, including water (€0.17 for 2L versus €2.50 for 1.5L at Roma Termini Train Station). 

In addition to grocery shopping, small pastry shops sell baked goods such as pizza squares, breads, pastries, and other food and dessert type items for quite a bit less than you’d pay at the restaurants.  We bought €5 worth of delicious food (5 different things) and had to save some of it for later because we couldn’t eat all of it.  When we went out to restaurants on the shores of Positano and Capri, we ended up spending €34 one time and €46 another time (we didn’t even order beverages) and were unfortunately still hungry after our meals were finished!

Pizza in touristy areas versus off the path areas have quite a different cost as well.  Even in Naples we were able to find some higher end Margherita pizza for only €4 while it seemed to be at least twice as expensive in more of the touristy areas.  In Torre Annunziata, near Pompeii, we found a great place where the pizza cost only €4.50.  Just outside of the Pompeii entrance we found a place that was selling them for €6, which included a regular beverage (also inclusive of the €2 cover charge – so if 2 people are sharing the pizza it would end up being €8).  When we were at the dock in Capri, the pizza was selling for €7 (inclusive of the €2 cover charge, so €9 for two people).  However, a fluffier pan-style square of pizza may only cost you €1-€2 in the local bakeries, so it depends on what you are interested in eating.

As for transportation, Eurail is not a deal in Italy.  A 2-country 2nd class Eurail pass including Austria and Italy for 6 days (plus 1 “free”, total of 7 days) ended up costing us $355 each (inclusive of the Eurail fee) after the 15% “always traveling together” discount was applied.  That equates to roughly $51 per day.  As we were only really using the pass to travel from one major city to the next (i.e. from Sorrento to Rome, Rome to Florence etc.) it really wasn’t worth the price we paid.  Here’s why: A standard 1-way ticket at the station to do the same thing, for 2nd class, would have been €45 (~$53, only a couple dollars more).  Additionally, the non-stop bullet trains to/from the major cities typically have an additional charge of €10 for “seat reservation” that aren’t included with your Eurail pass, so you’ll have to pay the extra fee.  Taking a slower city train can save you the €10 seat reservation charge if you plan correctly, but it does take more time.  Here’s the kicker though, had we planned these trips 60 days out (like we did - but didn’t know about this deal), then we could have purchased the one-leg tickets for €19.95 (as described on “The Man in Seat 61”, only about $23.50) and saved over half of the cost!!! 

Watch out for compounding costs.  When we took a day trip to Capri we spent $109 total for 2 round-trip ferry tickets from Sorrento ($27.25 per person each way).  Once we arrived we had to go see the Blue Grotto so we bought “Island Tour + Blue Grotto” tickets for €18 each from a boat operator near the pier when we arrived at Capri.  Read the fine print: “Rowboat service and entrance fees not included, to be paid at the entrance of Blue Grotto”.  How much is the Rowboat service and entrance fee combined?  Another €14 each.  Additionally, the rowboat skippers expect a tip of €2-€5 each on top of that.  The costs kept compounding.  If you’d like to save some money on this, you could first make your way to the city of Anacapri and then walk down to the Rowboat service and skip the €18 “Island Tour + Blue Grotto” cost – unless you’re set on seeing the whole island by boat first.  Even the €15 “Blu Grotto” line doesn’t get you into the Blue Grotto. Read our “How to Enter the Blue Grotto - Capri (Grotta Azzurra)” if you’re interested in this adventure.

In most of the cities there may be taxis or shuttles that will bring you from one point to the other.  In Capri, there is a funicular train that will bring you from the shore to the Capri city center that will run you €2 (one way only tickets here).  The line is EXTREMELY LONG and the cars are PACKED!  This applies to the public buses as well!  Additionally, we noticed that some people stay overnight in Capri.  If you’re doing this don’t bring your luggage; or, if you need to bring your luggage you shouldn’t stay in Capri (see our post: “The Perfect Capri Itinerary on a Budget (Day Trip)”). Most of the hotels don’t seem to transport your luggage for you from the ferry stop.  We saw many people lugging their luggage up the stairs (and sweating profusely) while others were trying to add theirs to the funicular train (€1.80 extra each way).  However, you are only allowed one piece of luggage per person on the funicular train and it has to be under 10 kg and fit within a space of 23cm x 30cm x 50cm (roughly the size of a carry-on bag).  Bags larger than this can only be transported by porter service or taxi which will run you €22-€45 (Capri city vs. Anacapri, see fare schedule for specifics).  You can save that money by forgetting your luggage and walking up the stairs if you are physically fit.  It is a bit of a workout, but you’ll get to Capri in roughly 10-20 minutes or Anacapri in 30-45 minutes, and it won’t break the bank.  We noticed that even after people who brought their luggage made it to the top (Capri is up the hill), they were still rolling it up and down the long narrow and winding walkways of Capri before making it to their hotels.  We felt bad for them because we knew most of them would be doing the same exact thing in reverse the following day.

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Even though we decided to stay near Pompeii and rent a car for 3 days to explore the Amalfi Coast, it may have been more affordable to stay in Sorrento.  Rentals could end up costing around $40-$50 per day if you book for 4-7 days, but for some reason it was only $23 per day when we looked for a 3-day rental instead.  Additionally, opting for 9AM pickup and drop off made the vehicle rental cheaper than choosing 10AM or 2PM times.  The trains to and from Pompeii from Sorrento are cheap (€2 each way per person) while our parking in Sorrento for 12 hours was €22 when we went to Capri.  Thus, we may have been able to stay in Sorrento and take the train to Pompeii for a few days to save a few Euro.  Additionally, parking on the Amalfi Coast (including Ravello, Amalfi, Positano and Sorrento) is not cheap.  We paid €10 for 3 hours parking in Ravello, another €10 for 2 hours of parking in Amalfi, and then another €18 for 3 hours of parking in Positano.  Some people, who were likely staying in one of the coastal cities, opted to take the public buses from one city to the next to save money while others opted to use the ferries or motor-scooters.  According to Rome2Rio, ferries from Sorrento to Amalfi are roughly $18-$27.  The public bus would cost only about $6 per person each way; However, the buses get extraordinarily packed as we noted after driving behind one for a while from Amalfi to Positano and people were visibly surprised that more people were even able to make it onto the bus at each subsequent stop – literally packed in like sardines (see picture above)!  Parking was easier to find for scooters and less expensive or free in most situations (if you're comfortable driving them and not worried about rain).

As an additional note, hiking is not always free either. You are required to purchase a “Cinque Terre Pass” when you try to hike between the 5 cities. You can get them at the train stations, but we noticed that there were a few “ticket validation booths” around the main cities that would check to see if you had a ticket. If you don’t, you are generally not permitted to continue and must return the way you came.

We hope our financial missteps around Rome, Naples, Pompeii, the Amalfi Coast, Florence, Cinque Terre, and Venice will help you save money on your adventures in Italy! 

You can even grab a travel guide for Italy, such as Fodor's The Amalfi Coast, Capri & Naples, Rick Steves Snapshot Naples & the Amalfi Coast: Including Pompeii, or Lonely Planet Naples, Pompeii & the Amalfi Coast (Travel Guide).

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Respectfully,
Jenny & Bradley of EatWanderExplore