If you’re a lover of art, culture, history, and delicious food, it’s safe to assume Italy is at the top of your list for travels. The thought of planning any trip can be overwhelming, and although a trip to Italy can seem luxurious and out of budget, it doesn’t have to be!
Whether you’re traveling from the United States or from within Europe, we’ve got you covered with the best tips on how to travel to and around Italy on a student budget… so let’s get started!
FINDING CHEAP FLIGHTS
Your flights and accommodation will most likely make up the bulk of your expenses, so once you have these two big-budget items figured out, budgeting for the rest of your trip will be easy.
Traveling during the off-season will be your biggest money saver. The off-season is November through March, the shoulder season is April through mid-June and September through October, and the peak season is mid-June through August. Booking your travels during the off-season will save money not only on air travel but also on accommodation.
Booking a roundtrip flight to and from a major city will save you major cash. Flying into Rome or Milan, for example, will be cheaper than flying into an airport that is smaller or has fewer international inbound and outbound flights daily. Most major cities also have multiple airports so be careful which airport you choose to fly into, especially if it’s a lot less expensive. If the airport is far from the city, the money you save on your flight may have to go into paying for the cab or train ride from the airport to get into the city or to your hotel.
Try booking your flights a few months in advance or, better yet, look at applications and websites such as Google Flights or Hopper, to see when the best time to book your tickets is! You can save one or multiple searches and get instant notifications on when prices drop or are expected to rise.
GETTING AROUND ITALY
If you’re planning on visiting multiple cities – and trust us, you’ll want to – it’s best to take advantage of the train system instead of air travel or renting a car. Car rentals average 40 to 60 EUR a day, and that’s if you’re not traveling during peak season.
Additionally, most rental cars in Italy have a manual transmission so if you don’t know how to drive stick shift… you might want to re-evaluate. Not only can car rentals get expensive but understanding road rules and foreign road signs can be stressful and dangerous, not to mention the added fees for drivers under the age of 24.
Trains are your best bet! Italy has an extensive state-of-the-art train network with both high-speed and regional train options. Most train stations are central to major cities and can be easily reached by either taxi or public transportation.
As an added bonus, most major companies like Trenitalia and Italo offer discounts for students and individuals under the age of 30 with the proper identification:
Though high-speed trains are cheaper than flights, they can average up to 50 to 70 EUR per ticket, so if you’re looking for an even cheaper option, although slower, Italian regional trains are a great alternative!
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GETTING AROUND TOWN
Public transportation is the most common and affordable way to get around major cities and towns. If you already have an idea of where you want to go, check to see if they have daily, weekly, or monthly passes available for purchase.
In many places, if passes aren’t available, a ticket for public transport costs 1 to 2.50 EUR for a 90-minute pass, meaning you can easily get around on a budget using the underground metro and busses. You can generally purchase tickets at bus or metro stations or local newsstands known as an edicola.
Sometimes public transportation can be slow, or even hectic, but not to fret! Taxis are affordable in Italy if you’re traveling within the city, and especially if you’re traveling with friends and can split the cost. Lyft and Uber are only available in Rome and Milan and are limited to UberBlack, so taxi cabs are preferred.
Lastly, if you can walk… do it! Walking around is the best way to get a feel for the city and take in your surroundings. You’d be surprised at the amount of hole-in-the-wall places you’ll stumble onto while walking around.
Although getting in some steps and exploring can be great, do a quick search on the areas you’ll be visiting to make sure it’s safe for you to go for a stroll regardless of if you’re traveling alone or with friends.
Also, consider joining a free walking tour. These tours can be a lot of fun and full of surprises.
BOOKING YOUR ACCOMMODATION
Tackling accommodation can be daunting, especially if you’re planning on traveling around and staying in multiple cities, but major travel websites like Expedia and Booking.com do a great job comparing prices for hotels, hostels, and villas.
Just like taking a stroll, spend some time researching the safest areas to stay in the city. Sometimes the cheapest options mean staying in less-desirable areas, so be on the lookout.
Hostels will be your most affordable option, especially if you’re traveling alone and don’t mind sharing a room and a bathroom. You can rent out a single bed in a shared room, save money, and meet fellow travelers all in one place. Hostels usually have a common area and kitchen that is open to guests, which could also help you save money on food during your trip. Many hostels also host events and get-togethers for their guests so travelers can get to know each other and hang out!
If you’re looking for extra privacy and are willing to spend a little bit more money, you can book a private room in an Airbnb or a hotel. Private Airbnbs are usually as costly as hotels in Italy, but if you’re looking for Italian family hospitality and a local feel, an Airbnb is the place to be whether you’re booking a private room or the entire place for yourself.
Although hostels and Airbnbs are considered more affordable, hotels don’t have to be super expensive either. Just like flights, the Hopper app helps you figure out when is the best time to book your hotel, so you don’t have to do the research yourself!
If you know what you’re looking for in your accommodation, finding the right budget-friendly place for you will take some time but will make your trip that much more enjoyable!
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EATING YOUR WAY AROUND ITALY
Once you have your big-ticket items figured out, you can have a better idea about your spending budget for food and activities. If you’re careful of tourist traps, eating your way around Italy on a budget is a piece of cake – yes, pun intended.
Visit the local café (bar) for breakfast. Don’t let the name fool you! Cafés in Italy are actually called bars namely for the bar inside that the barista serves coffee on, grab-and-go style. Sitting down to order a cappuccino and a croissant is one of the most enjoyable and Italian things you could do.
Breakfast options won’t set you back more than 5 EUR, with most places averaging 2 to 3 EUR for coffee and a pastry, and sometimes even a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice.
Try to pack your meals as often as possible. A fun and budget-friendly Italian experience is hitting the local panificio, or bakery, to grab some fresh bread or breakfast items and then visiting the local alimentari, or deli, to get what Italians call affettati or sliced deli meats… and there you have it! A delicious sandwich – or panino – for less than a few euros.
In most alimentari you can also ask them to make a panino for you to take with you for the day. Grocery stores in Italy are also packed with local snacks and foods to try that are both filling and won’t break the bank.
Pick going to a trattoria over an osteria since they’re generally less expensive and “cosier” environments. With websites like Yelp and TripAdvisor, it’s easy to find places in the city that are highly reviewed by locals and that aren’t overpriced.
Eating a delicious meal for 8 to 15 EUR is pretty standard. It’s important to note that a tip does not need to be added to your check like in the United States and is not expected – in fact, in some places it’s even considered rude to add a tip so leaving a few euros behind isn’t necessary.
To save a few more bucks, skip the dessert at the restaurant and look for a gelateria or pasticceria! Gelato is famous worldwide and costs 1.5 to 5 EUR depending on where you go and what size you order and is worth every single penny.
If you’re not feeling like gelato or ice cream, you can’t go wrong with visiting a pastry shop, known as a Pasticceria. Or go to a local café where you can get phenomenal desserts at a fraction of what you would pay for them at a restaurant.
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SIGHTSEEING AND ACTIVITIES
With the extensive amount of art and history Italy has, even walking around is a cultural experience on its own… and it’s free! Italian cities have history woven into every street and around every corner, so you don’t have to spend a lot of money on experiences.
Many of the churches and basilicas are free to visit and there are plenty of beautiful parks you can stroll through as well.
Check to see if there are discounts available for students, especially if you’re a big fan of art and history and have set your mind to go visit a few museums! Like train tickets, many museums discount tickets for students and some even let students in for free with proper I.D. or documentation.
Learn Italian. Most likely you can get by with speaking English, but learning Italian will open new opportunities. You will be able to talk to the locals in their language, better understand their culture and ways of life, and meet new friends all over Italy. There are several language schools throughout Italy, but if you want to get a head start, take a look at this phrasebook:
Visit Facebook groups and event pages to see what local events are going on. If you’re someone who loves to feel like a local, check Facebook for free or inexpensive events that you can attend to make your Italian trip even more enjoyable!
Additionally, look for free walking tours in Italian cities. These tours are full of local tips and historical fun facts.
THE FINAL VERDICT
So, can you travel to and around Italy on a student budget? Of course! With the right amount of planning and research, exploring Italy can be both enjoyable and affordable.
Traveling during the off-season will seriously slash your prices, not just for airfare but for accommodation and well, giving you a more flexible budget for food and activities… and who wouldn’t want that? Enjoy and relax! Or as we say in Italy, divertiti e rilassati! Ciao!
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Article by Julia Perry: Julia is an Italian American content writer, editor, and creator who loves to travel. She’s called many places home and has traveled to 20+ countries. She now lives in Hawaii with her dog, Millie, where she splits her time between traveling, working, adventuring, and cooking.