How to Backpack Through Italy in a Little Black Skirt
Slang for Looking Good & Eating Well on a Budget
I’m willing to concede that I may be a touch high-maintenance, and that backpacking through Italy wearing jeans every day would probably be much easier. I mean, the all-occasion, little black skirt is not for everyone – but it doeswork for me. The objective of the little, black skirt during my two-week culinary love affair with Italy was to look appropriate in both elegant restaurants & casual cantinas, travel lightly, and blend in with the locals.
The versatile black skirt can be dressed up or dressed down, it hides indiscretions well, it’s comfortable, always fashionable, and (as Mom taught me when I was young) it visually takes off ten pounds. When the weather gets chilly, add tights; for serious walking, accent with kick-ass combat boots; for casual strolling, don some fashionable walking clogs; and diamond earrings – well, they’re always appropriate, let’s be honest. My theory was sound – I hung out with the Bolognesi in multiple venues, and never once felt out of place.
One more clarification: when I say backpack, I use the term very loosely – as mine is a stylish, portable, albeit serious one from REI. And I stayed in hotels – there was no roughing it. Didn’t want to give the wrong impression of my definition of backpacking. For me, on this trip, backpacking meant toting around everything imaginable that I might need for my daytrips in a really great little backpack. Now again, don’t be lead astray – I may be “particular” and perhaps a bit chichi, but I’m a tough girl, I made some serious tracks through Emilia-Romagna and experienced everything I set out to do. All it took was a little planning – here are a few tips that worked for me:
- Research, research, research! Use all the resources at your disposal – internet, books, magazines and other travelers. Plan an itinerary, destination goals and a budget. And then double your budget – trust me.
- Make reservations online or by phone. Most restaurants take reservations, and the best places are usually booked. It’s worth the effort to secure a few special tables. Also bear in mind that restaurants, museums, galleries, etc. each have different days and hours of operation – it can be a trick fitting everything into a schedule.
- Buy a detailed street map for each Italian city you’ll visit & highlight your destinations. (If you are really anal, color code hotels, pasticceria, restaurants, etc.) Get to know the city well on paper – this is extremely important for women traveling alone. When you know where you are going, without the continuous use of a map, you look confident, and will less likely be harassed.
- Learn Italian. At least as much as you can to get by, then bring your book & continue to study in Italy while waiting at train stations and bus stops.
- Get back online – learn the train systems, customs, etiquette, holidays during your stay, etc. Go through your itinerary again to be sure you can handle whatever strikes, mishaps or roadblocks that may come your way.
- Create a packing list – don’t forget your passport, plug converters, maps, itinerary, sunscreen & your little black skirt!
- Use space saver travel bags – they protect and squeeze everything down to make room for those gorgeous wedges of Parmigiano-Reggiano & bottles of Barolo for the return trip. Pack light clothes that can be layered, easily washed out in the sink, and air-dried quickly. And then take out half your clothes – again, trust me. A small, light-weight, half-packed suitcase on wheels is easy to roll around & can by-pass baggage claim.
- Sleep on the plane. Earplugs, an eye mask & inflatable pillow will easily fit into your stylish backpack and are invaluable. Most flights from the US are overnight (European time) and land in Italy early-ish the next day. Immediately acclimate yourself – check into your hotel, freshen up, and go be with the Italians – sleep when they sleep, si?
- One more tip: if you don’t want to nap or lie around the pool during the country-wide afternoon siestas, use the time to relax, munch on your daily hoard of freshly baked goods, and write about your experiences “in the now” while they are as fresh as those pastries.
- Live in the moment – Italy is an experience of a lifetime!
A few really great resources:
www.slowtrav.com - travel information, restaurant reviews, train info, etc. written for foodies by foodies
www.venere.com - hotel rooms with reviews
Italy for the Gourmet Traveler by Fred Plotkin – Fantastic culinary resource!
Italian for Dummies - It got me through.
Italy for Dummies