Having recently travelled to England, Italy and France on holiday I thought I’d share some of my tips and experiences.
This was our basic itinerary:
- Fly to London, stayed 1 night and then flew to Italy.
- 6 days in Italy which comprised of 2 nights in Rome and 3 nights in Florence.
- 2 nights in Nice, France and then back to London for 6 nights before heading home
Booking flights and trains
I used Hipmunk.com to find the cheapest tickets / airline. I then go and book the flight directly on that airlines website. In this case, Qatar Air had by far the cheapest flights as well as the shortest layover getting to London. Don’t just blindly book the cheapest flight you can find. Try and minimize flying time and time spent waiting at airports for connecting flights. All that time waiting is time you could spend on holiday which is worth money to you.
The other flights I booked were to London to Rome and back from Nice to London. We booked these flights with Easyjet, once again using Hipmunk to find the most cost effective flights paying close attention to when we would arrive in Rome. The cheapest flight arrived in Rome at 11pm, a complete waste of a night in Rome. We caught a flight that landed in Rome around lunch time that was more expensive, but it felt like we had a whole extra day in Rome because of this.
We used trains to get from Rome to Florence and then again from Florence to Nice. Book these tickets once you arrive in your destination country at the train station you will depart from. You’ll get the best prices and quickest routes. I struggled for hours online trying to find a train from Florence to Nice in France because you are switching trains and train companies. At the station though, the ticket sales counter booked everything in 2 minutes!
Finding a place to stay in a foreign country is can be really tricky. I used a combination of Tripadvisor for reviews, ratings and photos and then Hotels.com for booking all my accommodation.
Picking a place to stay started with first choosing the main attractions we wanted to visit. We wanted to be within 2/3 minutes walking distance of the Trevi fountain in Rome, so I used this landmark on Hotels.com as the place to find hotels nearby (Hotels.com is more accurate with pricing and availability than TripAdvisor). So after picking a few hotels, I read their reviews, ratings and photos on TripAdvisor. Take all the reviews with a pinch of salt though. The most important thing is to pick up on trends in the reviews – from things like “breakfast is actually served at a bistro down the road” or “the host Francesca is amazing”. The user photos also easily show you how clean and neat a place is as well as gives you a better sense of the size of your room and bathroom that the professionally shot hotel photos don’t. For me the order of importance for a room is: cleanliness of bathroom, cleanliness of bedroom and lastly size. Once I found the hotels I wanted to stay at, I booked them on Hotels.com. Pricing across all these travel booking sites is pretty much identical, but on the odd occasion, I always found hotels.com to offer the cheapest rates. Online booking sites are also without fail cheaper than going directly to the hotel’s website itself.
What to do and where to eat
Top 10 lists of things to do in “this city” are all over the web, so research those and make a note to visit those spots. For transport around Rome and Florence, we used those hop-on hop off city busses. They might sound too touristy, but they are a great way to see a city and get you from A to B without being ripped off by taxis and the likes. You also learn a thing or 2 about the city while driving around!
Tripadvisor also has lists of day trips and excursions. We did the “#1 thing to do in Florence on Tripadvisor” which is take a day tour of Tuscany and it was one of the highlights of our holiday in Italy.
Finding a place to eat is easy. Finding a memorable place to eat is not. I often used Foursquare and Yelp on my phone to find places. Another tip is to ask local people working in retail shops when shopping for advice on places to eat. Your hotel might send you to places that are affiliated to the hotel and therefore get kickbacks or commission for sending you there, where as shop assistants really just want to help!
What to pack
No matter what, you will always pack too much clothing. I can tell you not to, but you will still do it. Buy clothes and dry clean stuff if you do run out when you are on holiday. It’s really that easy.
Different holidays and countries require different types of planning and research, so ask your friends and family for advice. Everyone’s experiences and memories are different, so go out there and find it out for yourself.