My family and I just returned from a 10 day trip to Italy including Rome, Florence, Siena and the Tuscan countryside. So while it’s fresh in my mind I wanted to share some things you should know and do before embarking on your trip to Rome and beyond. Some of these tips can be used for planning visits to many larger European cities within the EU and some are specific to Rome. I gathered this list from my recent Italian vacation, as well as other multiple trips abroad. Some of the to dos on this list aren’t glamorous, but they are important. So get them done now in order to save headache and devote more time to exploring and enjoying the ancient, romantic city of Rome.
11 Important Things to Know When Traveling To Rome, Italy.
1. Make sure you have enough euros. Last time I went to Spain I didn’t have enough euros thinking I could get by on my credit cards. Nope. Many taxis and smaller shops still only take euros throughout Europe. I wasn’t going to let it happen in Italy so I ordered euros through my bank. Larger banks can get currency for you within 2-3 business days (smaller banks can take weeks) and there is usually a minimum exchange amount (with my bank it was $200 US). Another option is exchanging at the airport before going over to Europe. Banks usually offer slightly better rates and fees than if you were to exchange at an airport or your hotel.
Rely on currency for small things like drinks, gelato (yum!), snacks, using the bathroom (yes, often you will have to use a coin to access) and taxis when going short distances. However I try to utilize my credit cards as much as possible (keeping in mind the point below) because it is easier to keep track of expenses.
2. Watch Out for International Credit Card Fees: Call your credit card company to find out if there are fees associated with your cards. My American Express and Master Cards have no fees while my Visas do. I don’t think it’s even worth it to bring an Amex to Europe as most places I’ve visited do not accept them. Another way to exchange dollars for euros is at an ATM. You will pay an exchange fee, but if you use an international fee-free credit card at least you won’t be paying a double fee.
3. Let your credit card companies know you are traveling out of the country: Give them exact dates so they can log them in the system. This way there will be no decline surprises when you go to buy the Fendi shades you’ve been eyeing as you stroll the Via del Corso.
4. Call your phone provider and utilize a Travel Pass. I have Verizon but most major carriers have something similar. For Verizon you can either call or activate this online. For just $10 a day per line you can take your talk, text and data allowances with you. You’re only charged on the days you use your device abroad.
How it works: So once you land in Italy you will receive a text from Verizon saying your travel pass is ready to activate. To do so respond YES to the text. You will then be linked to Italy’s main wireless providers depending on where you are in the city. Each day you will receive a new text asking if you wish to activate the travel pass. It will activate as soon as you text or use your data. If you are going to make calls in Italy or back to the US, you will have to include the corresponding country codes. So if you are going to call using your contacts or recent phone history you are still going to have to add the country code.
5. Make copies: Make 2 photocopies each of your passports, front and back of credit cards and health insurance cards. One copy should travel with you in a safe place and the other copy should be given to a loved one at home that you can call on in an emergency. Obviously you photocopy the card front for the numbers and the back for international customer service phone numbers in case your cards get stolen. Keeping another copy of your passport on your person while traveling can be used just in case it’s stolen and you need to reference it for the embassy.
6. What to know about Roman taxis: Official taxis in Rome are white. You cannot hail a taxi on the road, even if their light is on. In order to get a taxi you need to find the many taxi stands throughout the city and queue. Rome does have Uber, but our experience was that every time we tried to use the app, the wait time was over 20 minutes and using Uber was 2-3 times as expensive as getting a taxi. Please also be aware that taxi rates go up for trips outside the city centre, on Sundays, with luggage and after 8 pm. Oh and this is personal opinion, but in my experience, don’t sit behind the driver if it’s hot outside. They will not direct the airvent to the back of the cab for you. Instead they will direct it at themselves (can you blame them?) and there is like no air circulation. If you can help it…just walk.
7. Have “Just in Case” Documentation: No one wants to think “what if something happens to us or our children while we are away,” but you do. Geoff and I have a Medical Authorization Form giving our parents authority to get medical treatment for our sons in our absence. Creating one is simple. Just Google “How to write a Medical Authorization Form” and multiple examples populate. This is signed by both of us. We have forms for both maternal and paternal grandparents and after we signed the documents we scanned and emailed them to our families. You may also want to call the Pediatrician and let them know the dates you will be traveling and who will be watching your children during these times.
8. Add important information to phone contacts: Make sure your phone is password protected (facial recognition is even better so update your iOS) and also add your credit card numbers, pins and corresponding customer service numbers in the contact notes.
9. Don’t pay for bottled water: The first couple of days in the city we paid for bottled water. Then while on a tour with a local we learned about Nasone (little drinking fountains) scattered throughout Rome. It literally means “large nose”, because of their characteristic stout design and spout. There are approximately 2,500–2,800 nasoni in Rome, supplying citizens and tourists with free drinking water that flows continuously. We actually had one right across from our hotel and the water is delicious and refreshing. The water for these Nasone come directly from the mountains via aqueduct originally by the Romans. The water is licensed by the City and tested for purity around 250,000 time each year. So just bring your own water bottle from home or reuse one of your empty bottles during your trip. Rome is known as “La Regina dell’Aqua” – the Queen of Water for this reason.
10. What to know about tipping and the controversial “Coperto” or service charge: You have probably read or know that tipping is not expected in Italy and throughout Europe. However, some of the restaurants where we dined added a Coperto of 1-2 euros per head. If you look at the travel forums this is one of the most controversial topics. It is said the more touristy you look, the higher the chances of a coperto being added to your bill. When we asked what this was, they said it was a fee for the “bread and tableware,” such as linens, cutlery, etc. The best thing you can do is try to negotiate it down, but I looked at it as a tip we would be paying back in the States anyway. We were offended the first time we saw it, but got over it. When in Rome. So just enjoy the wine, bread and delicious olive oil and let it go.
11. Read up on VAT taxes: If you are going to be shopping in any country that is part of the EU then you may be able to get back the European Union Value-Added Tax (VAT), which ranges from 15 to 25% per country. This is because unlike the US that adds their sales tax according to state, in EU countries it is part of the retail price. Since you are not a resident, you are not entitled to pay this if you spend a certain amount in a lump sum. If you have traveled to Europe before then you know the routine including the forms and where they need to be stamped. But if you are a first-timer please visit here to read up on what you need to do as well as the rates and retail thresholds.
Wishing you a safe and memorable time in the gorgeous city of Rome! So much history, incredible food and kind people. Oh, one more tip. If you plan on seeing the big tourist attractions such as the Vatican, Roman Forum, Colesseum and the Pantheon, remember to get fast passes or book tours in advance. If you would like to read other helpful prep lists for going overseas here is: What to Pack for a Week in Paris, What to Pack for a Week in Barcelona and Things you Should do Before Traveling to Paris. Ciao! xx CC