Even though there is never the right way on how to do the travel planning some common ground can be found in all the tips on this topic. You might have a different approach to planning, but following below is the way I usually plan my trips and in this case our trip to Central and Northern Italy by train. If you have any tips for me on how to improve our planning for the next trip drop a comment below in comments section. All comments are greatly appreciated.
Some steps where known in advance, but never less here it follows as we plan it:
Firstly set up MS Excel sheet or any spreadsheet to note everything down on for easy access
It will help with planning and budgeting and later for adding dates, accommodation and train prices and all the important information.
Secondly choose the destination: Italy
How we chose Italy as our final destination you can read up on it here: How our travel plans for Norway got changed to Italy by train. But the long story short Skyscanner picket Italy for us, but normally we have a country in mind.
Check if you require a Visa
Before you start any planning make sure you check if you require a visa for your trip. If you do require one – find out what is the cost and what are the steps for obtaining one before you book anything. Preferably get one beforehand or get a confirmation first.
Check dates and flights or other transportation means on how to get there: Both Flights with Ryanair
I used Skyscanner in this case to check the flights and booked both with Ryanair. As I knew that we are going for certain, I booked them straight away. Otherwise I would go through the bellow steps first before booking the flights.
Write down all the must see places to visit: too many to list
Note places not cities. Why you ask? It will allow you to see in which cities you want to spend more time in.
Decide how long to stay in each place/ city
After combining all my and my mum’s must see places and considering the time we had for Italy, I came up with this brake down for our trip.
Milan – 1 day, Venice – 1 day, Verona – 1 day, Florence – 3 days, Pisa – ½ day
Decide on the transportation between cities: train, bus
Our main transportation was chosen in advance – train and bus connections will fill in the gaps.
Plan the itinerary and transportation between places
Why am I always doing it in advance? Well because I am a control freak and I don’t like to be stranded in a place I don’t know. Also looking in advance will save you much valuable time and then there is the cost of a budget. Planning in advance can help you reduce some expenses.
As our transport means for Italy is train, the next stop is to plan the itinerary according to train connections. Check out the map on ACP Rail website (on right side under link – Map of Italy), to see the possible connections. After some time studying the map, I came up with our possible itinerary:
Bergamo – Milan – Florence – Pisa – Florence –Venice – Verona – Bergamo
Now that I have a fair idea of itinerary, it is time to check for trains and accommodation. This is the more time consuming part. This took a while, because we only had one week and I had to plan to get the maximum out of it. So what I did, I was looking for trains that would save us travel time and be still cheap enough. And at the same time checking out Booking sites – like Booking.com for accommodation prices in general. To make some kind sense of all the possible trains and accommodations, I noted them on my MS Excel sheet for reviewing later. It quickly became clear it wasn’t going to be low budget trip for the itinerary I came up with. For example, accommodation in Venice was quite expensive over the weekend, but at the start of the week it was considerably cheaper. So after checking out the trains the other way around, I switched the itinerary to this:
Bergamo – Venice – Verona – Florence – Pisa – Florence – Milan.
Look out for:
Think how you can save time while traveling
Example: stay in as few places as possible – save time on checking in and out, also getting used to surroundings and finding the place, take evening or early morning trains/ buses/ flights etc. – so you have the daytime free to explore.
Check transport duration times
On Trenitalia website check out the duration aisle for trains, some of them are express services with fewer stops and some trains stop at every station. Also some regional train services takes considerably longer, where you can make the journey quicker if you board a faster train.
Pick the right train
There are different train types in Italy: The Frecciarossa – high speed trains reaching 300km/h, The Frecciargento – operating on high speed and conventional tracks with a speed up to 250 km/h, Frecciabianca –operating on traditional tracks, a lot slower trains, but still comfortable, Regionale Veloce – commuter – express trains, Regionale – commuter trains, stops in every station.
Buy tickets in advance to save money and time
Buy tickets well in advance for fast trains to get cheaper rates, sometimes they work out a cheaper than much slower regional trains and will get you quicker to your destination. Also Regional train tickets you can buy around week in advance online or simply get them in train station, prices are the same. Choose the current or next week’s date on Trenitalia website, to see the fare for planning purposes.
Check the corresponding city names in Italian
Trenitalia are using Italian names for the cities and stations on their website, here is a quick guide for the most popular ones and the ones we have used in Italy:
To see all stations for your departure/ arrival city select – Tutte le stazioni
|English||Italian||Stations, we used|
|Florence||Firenze||Firenze S. M. Novella – Central train station
Firenze Campo Di Marte
|Milan||Milano||Milano Centrale – Central train station|
|Pisa||Pisa||Pisa Centrale – Central train station|
|Rome||Roma||Roma Termini – Central train station|
|Venice||Venezia||Venezia S. Lucia – Train station on island – Venice
Venezia Mestre – Train station on mainland – Mestre
|Verona||Verona||Verona Porta Nuova – Main train station|
Validate your ticket on public transport
Remember to validate your ticket at train station, little machines just before you get on the platform. Online tickets with set date and time doesn’t need to be validated, but double check this just in case it is changed. Don’t assume that there is only one stop and no conductor will check your ticket, our tickets were checked on every train we took and fines are quite heavy.
The same applies for buses, validate your ticket on board – little yellow machines usually at the front of bus. Pass your ticket in front of it until you hear a beep, the screen also will show how many trips you have left on a ticket.
Our transport links, times and where we got the tickets:
Bus Nr. 1 from Bergamo airport to Bergamo train station – tickets from info desk in airport, there is also a self-service ticket machine at the bus stop – coins only.
Train from Bergamo train station to Venice Mestre (change in Brescia) – pre booked online on Trenitalia website, evening train
Train from Venice Mestre to Verona – tickets from self-service ticket machine in train station, morning train
Train from Verona to Florence – pre booked online on Trenitalia website, evening train
Return train trip Florence – Pisa – Florence – return tickets from self-service ticket machine in train station
Train from Florence to Milan – pre booked online on Trenitalia, evening train
Bus from Milan to Bergamo airport – tickets pre booked online from Terravision, early morning bus
We ended up taking 6 trains and 2 buses. The total cost of all the transport come down to 83 euro per person, 11.85 euro per person per day on transport.
Decide on what kind of accommodation you are looking for: air-conditioned, twin beds
To choose your accommodation right, dot down all the must haves and what facilities and features your accommodation must possess.
As I was traveling with my mum, my focus was on more private and comfortable accommodations. Our main must haves was: close to public transport or the station we used, air-conditioned – Italy in August is very hot, twin beds of course and private bathroom- not necessary.
If your budget is very limited there might be some compromises to be made.
There are many booking sites available, the one we use most of the time to find accommodation is Booking.com. I have found that booking.com have become very competitive and a lot cheaper in last year, 90% of our accommodation bookings have been made through this booking site. And we never had any complications arising from them. Plus they offer a price match policy and a lot of listings have free cancellation policy, if you find anything better in mean time.
Some travelers suggest going to the accommodations own website to get a cheaper rate. So far we have never came across this to be true, but you never know, always check first just in case.. 🙂
Look out for:
Check the booking site map of all hotels
If you are looking for and accommodation close to specific place, look for hotels in the booking site’s map. This will shorten the time for finding one quicker than going through the listings main page one by one.
On booking sites, check reviews, not only photos. Most of the time photos are not up to date so be vigilant and check reviews with a pinch of salt. Look for who is posting and what was the purpose of visit. I find that reviews from Eastern Europeans are with down to earth expectations and more reliable.
Check if all the taxes are included in the price
Always check if the taxes are included in the price. It really depends on country and city. In Italy there is a VAT and a city tax on top of accommodation price. Each type of accommodation have a different rate, also the more stars you had for hotels the more expensive the rate is. So calculate carefully your final price.. 🙂
Always check the fine print
Check the fine print before booking, sometimes there are extra charges or limitations on check in/ check out or even a curfew.
For our stay we used these hotels/hostels:
|Sun||Bergamo||Venice||Hotel in Venice Mestre – only a short bus ride away from Venetian Islands|
|Tues||Verona||Florence||Panorama Hotel in Florence|
|Fri||Florence||Milan||Guest House Pirelli Milano|
|Sun||Transfer to Airport|
Italy offers vast range of hotels, hostels, B&B, pensions and apartments to choose for every budget. For our visit we used two Hotels and a Guest house/Hostel with total cost coming up to 215 euro per person, 30.8 per night per person. My choice of our accommodations was based on what my mum would think is acceptable and more comfortable for her. But if you are willing to compromise there is a lot cheaper deals for the 7 day stay in Italy.
For more info on these accommodations check out our previous post’s Central and Northern Italy by train accommodations section.
Book tickets / reserve hotels
Ta daa… And finally we have reached the end of it. It is time to book and reserve your tickets and accommodation. But just before you go ahead with booking double check the prices, if you haven’t done that recently. Sometimes they can go up or have been sold out in the meantime.
Before you start booking set up a dedicated folder in your email account and one on your PC also, where to keep all the booking / reservation confirmations, tickets etc. for easy access.
Here is a checklist to help you with your planning:
Make an Itinerary one pager – summary
Now that you have booked/ reserved everything, write up itinerary summary with all the details of your transport and stays, also with payments still due. This one pager will be your one to take with you on your travels, easy access information to keep track of your travels, so that you don’t miss anything.
Planning your own itinerary is easy, once you know where to start. Hope you have enjoyed our little insights in planning our itineraries and found them useful. If you have any recommendations or just a thought on the subject, please feel free to drop a comment below.
Enjoy your travels!!! Stay safe..