One of the themes that I return to often on my blog concerns the connection between Italian-Americans and the culture of the “Old Country.” I like to explore the parallels as well as the points of departure, and reconcile the misconceptions held by many of us second and third generation descendants. In other words, I want to be part of the conversation that helps me and other Italian-Americans gain some reality-based knowledge of the country where our families came from.
Of course, the only real knowledge comes from first-hand experience—you must go see it for yourself if you’re interested in some version of the actual truth. The nostalgia-drenched stories around the Sunday dinner table are emotional and fun, but they can also give a distorted view of a country that existed only in the hearts and minds of homesick immigrants.
My friend Anthony recently made such a journey of rediscovery, and brought along his whole “new” family to meet the “old” family in Italy. Furthermore, they were there for forty days and were able to enjoy their experience on a modest budget. Well, I’ll tell him the rest of the story…
Thanks, Rick. Ciao everyone, my name is Anthony Fasano (yes, I’m Italian, Italian American), and just three years ago, I couldn’t even tell you from where in Italy my great grandparents emigrated. Then, one day, after starting to think seriously about where my family came from, it hit me: My grandparents, who had all the knowledge of our family history, were aging, and if I didn’t find out everything I could from them, I might never find out.
Over the next three years, I spent countless afternoons at my grandparents’ kitchen table, asking questions. Along with online tools, I used the information they gave me to:
- Find living relatives in Italy;
- Learn Italian so that I could speak with my relatives; and
- Plan and embark on a forty-day trip to Italy with my wife and three kids to visit these relatives and the towns my great-grandparents came from.
It was life changing.
I know Rick prides himself on sharing information with you that makes it easier to travel to and enjoy the beautiful country of Italy. So, along those lines, I want to share an excerpt from my book Forty Days in Italy Con La Famiglia: How to Research your Italian Roots and Travel to Italy on your Own Terms. While my book outlines how I achieved all of the things I listed above, here I want to focus on how our family of five was able to travel Italy on a budget in forty days.
Italy on a Budget
The general perception Americans hold of travel to Italy is that it is very expensive. If you commit to traveling on a budget, it doesn’t have to that way. We are by no means wealthy, and we were also traveling with three young children, so in order for all five of us to be able to afford forty days in Italy, we had to be extremely frugal.
As a point of reference, I want to share the cost of our trip. For forty days, for our family of five, it cost approximately $11,000 out of pocket. I say “out of pocket” because we rented out our home in New Jersey – the $11,000 amount is after I credited our cost with the rental income.
If you examine that number more, it didn’t even really feel like $11,000. In fact, it felt like much less. If we were home, we would still have had regular food and living costs, and we most likely would have sent the kids to summer camp. We would have also taken our usual week-long vacation to the Jersey Shore. Therefore, our real expense was probably closer to $5,000 or $6,000.
Keep in mind that credit card reward points covered our flights to and from Italy. This went a long way towards keeping our costs down. Also, know that of the forty days in Italy, we stayed nine nights with relatives at no cost to us.
Here are some strategies we used to keep costs down. Your budget and vision for your trip may be different than ours, so traveling on a tight budget might not be as important. Either way, you may find some of these helpful.
- Instead of staying in hotels, we rented apartments through two websites: AirBnB (airbnb.com) and Booking.com (booking.com). This provided huge savings compared to the costs of traditional hotels. In some areas, we were able to stay in an apartment that slept all five of us comfortably for under $100 per night.
- We stayed mostly within the center of the cities we visited to avoid added transportation costs when we wanted to sightsee. Consider the location of your hotels or apartments with respect to the sights you plan to visit.
- We ate out at restaurants rarely. If you have children or if you plan to travel for an extended period of time, consider shopping at supermarkets and cooking your meals (also why apartments are important). Over forty days, we probably ate dinner out fifteen times or fewer – and most of those were when our Italian family members took us out. The five of us only went to restaurants as a family once per each city that we stayed; that was our own rule. You can get amazing produce for very low cost at both supermarkets and outdoor markets in most Italian cities.
- We regularly snacked on apples, carrots, and almonds while walking around during the day. Of course, we also brought water bottles for everyone, which is important for general health, but also to avoid dehydration in the Italian heat. When taking day trips, pack water and snacks. This tip may seem insignificant, but it can save you a lot of money. In some tourist areas of Italy, sitting down for a snack and a drink can cost a ridiculous amount of money.
Food can be a huge source of expense in Italy. Now, of course, one of the main reasons for visiting Italy is to experience the food, no doubt about that. However, if you are traveling for an extended period of time, then depending on the location, restaurants can start to get very expensive. Some of the best mozzarella di bufala (mozzarella from the milk of buffalo) that we ate was purchased at the deli counter in a supermarket.
If you are traveling without children, and you are in remote areas of Italy, you can eat out very inexpensively on a regular basis. You will find family-run restaurants in most small villages where there is no menu, but there are large, fresh, delicious, authentic Italian meals.
In my book Forty Days in Italy Con La Famiglia, not only do I go into detail on all aspects of my family research, language learning experience, planning and travel through Italy, but, along with the book, I also offer you access to a companion website that provides resources you can download to do exactly what I did. Click here for a video with some more information about how you can use the book for you and your family.
Anthony Fasano is a proud Italian American whose family comes from both the regions of Campania and Sicilia. His professional background is in engineering, where he now provides career coaching for engineers. He has created several successful podcasts that have been downloaded over two million times, but his favorite is The Italian American Podcast. He has authored several books, including a book for engineers titled, Engineer Your Own Success, published by Wiley Press, as well as a series of children’s books he co-authored with his now 10-year-old daughter, titled Purpee the Purple Dragon. Click here to see a video of Anthony explaining how you can benefit from his trip of a lifetime to Italy.
I am currently in Italy with my mum and these tips can’t be more helpful! Which place shouldn’t we miss there, Rick?
Where in Italy? It’s a fairly big country!
I admire determination. You prove that the holiday does not have to put off the whole year.
Nice post! it is just awesome.I am regular reader of your blog. Thanks for your information it`s very helpful.
What a great story! I’m so glad there are other Americans who travel like me and my wife. Our budget, including airfare, for 90 days in Italy is always under $12,000 (~ €13,300). That’s about the cost of a few weeks at the beach in Pensacola, Florida. We try to stay in hotels where no one speaks English. We rent apartments from locals (our last place in Lecce for a month was €450/~$500). Often we’re the very first English speakers at the restaurants we patronize. We ride buses and take local and regional trains. We walk a lot or ride bicycles and rarely use taxis. We never rent a car. We love shopping in the local open-air markets and making our own meals. We don’t worry about whether our lodging has air-conditioning. Everything we do in Italy is geared toward experiencing the culture like the locals do. You would be amazed at how much money one can save when everything doesn’t have to be first-class. This kind of trip can be difficult to plan as there is quite a bit of research involved, but in the long run it is very satisfying! Buon viaggio!
Sorry, but I used the wrong conversion rate for the first $ to Euro (€) comparison in my comment above. The figures should be: $12,000 (~ €10,800). The second one is correct. Mi dispiace!
I totally agree, Earl. In fact, I think the intimidation of planning such a trip keeps people in the mainstream hotels even more than the desire for “luxury” and such. But as you say, worth the effort!