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The days when Italy was an idyllic, dirt-cheap destination for good food and countless treasures have passed, but there are still inexpensive ways to enjoy its wonders, as well as the incomparability of its dolce vita. With some flexibility and advance planning, a moderate budget can go a long way. This chapter shows you how to get your trip together, and get on the road.

Our $-A-Day guides are full of money-saving hints, insider information, contacts, and expertise accumulated over the authors' innumerable fact-finding trips. You'll enjoy your trip even more knowing you're getting the biggest bang for your buck, easily keeping your costs for accommodations (let's say breakfast is included), lunch, and dinner to as little as $70 per day. (We assume that two adults are traveling together and that between the two of you, you have $140 to spend. Traveling alone has other pluses and drawbacks but usually turns out to be slightly more expensive, mostly due to the hotel factor.) The costs of transportation, activities, sightseeing, and entertainment are extra, but we have plenty of insider tips to save you money on those activities as well.

It's hard to go wrong in Italy and so easy to go right if you give some heed to the following tips.

When to Go

1. So the weather isn't always a perfect 75°F and the skies aren't always cloud-free. But off-season Italy promises the biggest cuts in airfare, the beauty of popping up at small hotels (more discounted rates) without needing a reservation confirmed 3 months in advance, the blessed absence of lines at the museums, and finding the local people less harried and more accommodating.

  • May to June and September and October are the most pleasant months to tour Italy--temperatures are usually mild and the hordes not so intense. But starting in mid-June, the summer rush really picks up, and from July to mid-September, the country teems with visitors.
  • August (with July a close runner-up) is the worst month--not only does it get uncomfortably hot, muggy, and crowded, but the entire country goes on vacation at least from August 15 to the end of the month, and a good percentage of Italians take off the entire month, leaving the cities to the tourists. Many hotels, restaurants, and shops are closed--except along the coast and on the islands, which is where most Italians head.
  • From late October to Easter, most sights go on shorter winter hours or close for renovation periods, many hotels and restaurants take a month or two off between November and February, beach destinations become padlocked ghost towns, and it can get much colder than you'd expect (it may even snow). The crowds thin remarkably, especially outside the Big Three cities (Rome, Florence, and Venice).
  • High season on most airlines' routes to Rome usually stretches from June to the end of September plus Christmas/New Year's week. This is the most expensive and most crowded time to travel. Shoulder season is from Easter (usually late Mar or Apr) to May, from late September to October, and from December 15 to December 24. Low season is generally from January 6 to mid-March, from November 1 to December 14, and from December 25 to March 31.

Package Deals, International and Domestic Travel

2. An enjoyable, affordable trip begins long before you leave home. Do your cyber homework: Surf the Internet and save. There are lots and lots of Web pages and online services designed to clue you in on discounted airfares, accommodations, and car rentals.

  • Each city and town we cover lists its own Web sites for visitor information, and you can find plenty of other official links at the national tourism board's site www.italiantourism.com.
  • Major Internet sites like Yahoo! (www.yahoo.com), Excite (www.excite.com), Lycos (www.lycos.com), and Infoseek (www.infoseek.com) contain subcategories on travel, country/regional information, and culture--search these for links to Web sites specializing in Italy.
  • One of the best resources for general travel and destination-specific information is Excite's City.Net (travel.excite.com). Other good general sites are Travel Italy (www.travel.it), which includes updated tourist information as well as details about hotels and house rentals, spas, transportation services, tour operators, and more; In Italy On-line (www.initaly.com), with details on accommodations, tours, festivals, shopping, and more; the Italian Tourist Web Guide (www.itwg.com), with online hotel reservations and information on art and history; and Italy in a Flash (www.italyflash.com), offering hotel information, railway and airline schedules, latest exchange rates, weather, and current news.

3. No computer? No problem. Visit a travel agent and see what bargains or deals they offer you that you wouldn't have access to independently. It doesn't cost you a thing, and there's no obligation to buy. It never hurts to ask.

4. When calling the airlines directly, always ask for the lowest possible fare. Be flexible in your schedule--flying on weekdays versus weekends, or even at a different time of day, can make a difference. Find out the exact dates of the seasonal rates; these differ from airline to airline even though the destination stays the same. Some flights into or out of Rome versus Milan may differ in price. Don't forget to ask about discounts for seniors, students, or children.

5. Buy your ticket well in advance. Most airlines discount tickets purchased 7, 14, or 21 days before the departure dates.

6. Or buy your ticket at the last minute--something best recommended if you have a flexible schedule and are traveling off season when availability is more probable.

7. Be an educated traveler. Read the travel section of your local newspaper (especially weekend editions) for special promotional fares and discounts and know who's offering what and for how much.

8. Consolidators (also called "bucket shops") act as clearinghouses for blocks of excess-inventory tickets that major international airline carriers discount to a wholesaler or consolidator. These aren't charters, and the service is now available in peak periods (when discounts are moderate) as well as in the slow season (when savings can be major). You might even be able to accrue frequent-flier miles.

This is the factory-outlet approach to ticket shopping; when using the established and trustworthy agencies, the risk is extremely low. Tickets are sometimes priced at up to 35% (and more) off the full fare. Terms of payment can vary--say, anywhere from 45 days prior to departure to last-minute sales offered in a final attempt by an airline to fill an empty aircraft. Restrictions may apply: Inquire about the conditions involved in cancellations, refunds, and re-endorsing to another airline should your carrier delay or cancel. Ask about those frequent-flier miles. Paying by credit card should be your preference, if allowed, to guarantee further protection.

Since dealing with unknown bucket shops still carries some risk, it's wise to call the Better Business Bureau in your area to see if complaints have been filed against the company from which you plan to purchase a ticket. After booking with the agency, call the airline the agency has booked you on to see if you appear on their confirmed passenger list.

  • One of the biggest U.S. consolidators is Travac, 989 Sixth Ave., 16th floor, New York, NY 10018 (tel. 800/TRAV-800 or 212/563-3303; www.thetravelsite.com), which offers discounted seats throughout the United States to most cities in Europe on commercial airlines.
  • In New York try TFI Tours International, 34 W. 32nd St., 12th floor, New York, NY 10001 (tel. 800/745-8000 or 212/736-1140), which offers services to well over 150 cities worldwide.
  • We've also had good service and good deals by using 1-800-FLY-4-LESS, 1-800-FLY-CHEAP, or Cheap Tickets at tel. 800/377-1000 (www.cheaptickets.com).
  • From the Midwest, explore the possibilities of Travel Avenue, 10 S. Riverside Plaza, Suite 1404, Chicago, IL 60606 (tel. 800/333-3335; www.travelavenue.com), a national agency with ticket prices that keep up with the best deals.
  • The ultimate free-spirited traveler should contact Air-hitch, 481 Eighth Avenue Suite 1771, NY NY, 10001 (tel. 877/AIR-HITCH or 212/864-2000; www.air-hitch.org). Just pick a 5-day period during which you can fly to a general area of Europe (Northern versus Southern); most passengers are booked within their first or second day. Here are typical one-way fares from the U.S.: from the northeast to Europe $159, Midwest to Europe $209, southeast to Europe $189, West Coast or Northwest to Europe $239.
  • Similar rates are available to flexible travelers from Airtech (tel. 212/219-7000; www.airtech.com), which caters to carefree travelers who don't mind landing in Zurich instead of Milan on Monday instead of Wednesday. You can get discounted hotel prices on budget accommodations that are potentially short on atmosphere but big on savings.
  • A California company has started a Eurailpass-like approach to air travel within Europe called Europe by Air (tel. 888/387-2479; www.europebyair.com) for U.S. citizens. Fourteen participating airlines in 30 countries including Italy link more than 150 European cities. Coupons represent one flight, each costing $99 and valid for 120 days. A minimum of three segments must be purchased.

9. Before you start your search for the lowest airfare, you may want to consider booking your flight as part of a travel package such as an escorted tour or a package tour--even if you're not a groupie. What you lose in adventure, you might gain in time and money saved when you book accommodations, and maybe even food and entertainment, along with your flight. If you plan to visit a lot of different destinations throughout Italy, a good tour operator will make sure that you don't have to worry about the logistics of connections, transportation in places where language might be a problem, looking after your own luggage, coping with reservations and payment at individual hotels, and facing other nuts and bolts of travel in a foreign culture. Some travelers may find the biggest compromise is the hotel factor. Most lodging is found in large modern facilities (sometimes on the outskirts of town), not in the small charming places in the centro storico. Although several of the best-rated moderately priced tour companies are described below, check as well with a good travel agent, on the Internet, or in your newspaper for the latest offerings and advice.

  • One of the more moderately priced package-tour operators for travel in Italy is Italiatour, part of the Alitalia Group (tel. 800-845-3365 or 212-765-2183; www.italiatour.com), which offers a wide variety of tours at great savings in the off season. The company appeals to the free-at-heart and specializes in tours for independent travelers who ride from one destination to another by train or rental car. In most cases, the company sells pre-reserved hotel accommodations that are usually less expensive than if you had reserved them yourself. The range of accommodations provided begins with three-star hotels that, when booked with their bulk discount, can account for a very attractive bottom line. Because of the company's close link with Alitalia, the prices quoted for air passage are sometimes among the most reasonable on the retail market.
  • Also working with volume and affiliated with Alitalia--and therefore promising big-volume discounts--is the reputable Central Holidays Tours (CHT; tel. 800-935-5000; www.centralholidays.com), which offers low- and high-season package tours that are escorted, hosted, or independent. This outfitter is also a good choice if you want to mix and match your own arrangements: They'll help with air, hotel, and car rental according to your needs.
  • There are smaller, equally established agencies that specialize in Italy and often come up with rates comparable to those of the big guys. Pino Travel (tel. 800-247-6578 or 212-682-5400; www.pinotravel.com) and Penem Travel (tel. 800-628-1345 or 212-730-7675) offer a pick-and-choose menu of car rental, air, and hotel. Maiellano (tel. 800-223-1616; maiellano.com) specializes in discount car rental but has successfully expanded into all aspects of travel in Italy.
  • The London headquarters of the IATA (International Association of Travel Agencies; tel. 0181/74-49-280; www.iata.org) can provide the names and addresses of tour operators who specialize in travel relating to your particular interest or destination in Italy.
  • Other companies that offer consistently good value for your dollar include Go-Today (tel. 425/487-9632; www.gotoday.com), Donna Franca Tours (tel. 800/225-6290; www.donnafranca.com), Gate 1 Travel (tel. 800/682-3333; www.gate1travel.com), and Tourcrafters (tel. 800/482-5995; www.tourcrafters.com).

10. Domestic or one-way flights within Italy (or Europe) can be killers. The most distant flights within Italy (Venice to Palermo, for example) might be contenders for air travel, but opt for the train at a fraction of the cost, breaking up your travel times with overnight stops planned along the way. There is never a shortage of sights between any two points.

All major airports have rail or bus service to get you to and from downtown--Rome and Pisa's convenient trains pull right into the airport itself. Taxis are expensive though tempting to jet-lagged travelers laden with luggage.

11. Which reminds me: Travel lightly! You'll never wear or need half of the stuff you're convinced you can't live without. The inconvenience you'll find at every turn is what you'll remember long after your trip! What you'll save on cabs, porters, and energy can be considerable. Never take more than you can carry single-handedly when running for a bus or train.

12. Train travel in Italy has improved immeasurably since the 1970s and 1980s. The newer "InterCity" trains are clean and efficient enough to make second-class travel a near first-class experience. The fancy, fast-paced EuroStar trains can cut speed, but is a 1-hour (or less) difference worth the extra cost?

13. Map out your strategy before leaving to see if a rail pass will save you or cost you money (you can find a list of the various Italian ones offered, as well as purchase them, at www.raileurope.com). On long international stretches of train travel, the former is usually true. Within Italy, buying second-class point-to-point tickets as you go may save you money. Most rail passes are cheapest when purchased at home before you leave.

  • Trains provide a medium-priced means of transport, even if you don't buy the Eurailpass/Europass or one of the special Italian Railway tickets. As a rule of thumb, second-class travel regardless of the destination usually costs about two-thirds the price of an equivalent trip in first class, and the difference in quality is minimal. Except for a handful of privately run local lines scattered about, most Italian trains are run by the national Ferrovie dello Stato, or FS (tel. 892-021 anywhere in Italy, no prefix required; www.trenitalia.it).
  • Most InterCity trains (designated IC on train schedules) are modern air-conditioned trains that make limited stops. Compared to the far slower direct or regional trains, the supplement can be steep, but a second-class IC ticket will provide a first-class experience. EuroCity (EC) is just an InterCity train that crosses a national boundary; EuroNight (EN) and InterCity Night (ICN) trains run past midnight and have couchettes and/or sleeper cars. There are also brand-new, super-fast Eurostar (ES*) trains (formerly known as Pendolino), the most expensive, which service only the principal cities.
  • Seat reservations are recommended during peak seasons and on weekends or holidays. They must be booked in advance at the station for a small fee (usually less than $10); on some high-speed trains, seat reservation is already included in the cost of your ticket. Children 4 to 11 receive 50% off the adult fare, and children under 4 travel free with their parents.
  • Students and seniors get a break. Anyone 60 and over can buy a Carta d'Argento by presenting proof of age at any rail station. The card, which can be purchased only in Italy, allows a 20% discount off the price of any second-class ticket (30% off in 1st class) between points on the Italian rail network. It's good for 1 year and costs about 24€, as does the Cartaverde, which offers the same deal and discounts for anyone under 26.
  • The Italian Flexirail Card (IFR) entitles holders to a predetermined number of days of travel on any rail line of Italy within a certain period. It's ideal for passengers who plan in advance to spend several days sightseeing before boarding a train for another city. The following rates are for the regular Flexipass and (in parentheses) for a Saverpass version, which is for two or more people traveling together. A pass giving 4 possible travel days out of a block of 1 month costs $239 ($203) in first class and $191 ($162) in second, a pass for 8 travel days in 1 month costs $334 ($284) in first class and $268 ($227) in second, and a pass for 12 travel days in 1 month costs $429 ($365) in first class and $343 ($292) in second.
  • There's now even a convenient Rail 'N' Drive Pass that gives you a month in which to use up 3 days of rail travel and 2 days with a rental car (considerably cheaper than trying to rent a car for just 2 days). Depending on the category of car, in second class it costs from $235 to $285 for one adult, $195 to $222 for two adults; in first class it's $295 to $359 for one adult, $251 to $289 for two adults. Additional car days (up to 6) cost $41 to $67. A third or fourth adult sharing the car still has to pay for the rail pass: $152 in second class, $224 in first class. A child (ages 4-11) added to the package pays $76 in second class, $112 in first class.
  • Another option (good for families or small groups) is the Biglietto Chilometrico (Kilometric Pass), a pass that allows you to travel either 3,000km, 20 trips, or 2 months, whichever comes first. Up to five people can be listed on one pass, but each person's kilometers counts--if three of you make a 50km trip together, 150km is subtracted from the total. The benefit is 10% to 30% off regular fares (the longer the haul, the greater the discount), but you still must get in line at the ticket window every time so they can fill out the pass and stamp it. First-class passes are 181€, second class 117€. Kids between ages 4 and 12 on the pass use up only half the actual kilometers ridden (for example, an adult and 10-year-old child taking a 100km journey together will only "cost" 150km).
  • None of the rail passes covers the supplement you must pay to ride on Eurostar (ES*) trains; with the Biglietto Chilometrico, you also need to pay supplements to ride IC, EC, or EN/ICN trains.
  • You can buy any of these passes in the United States from a travel agent or at CIT Tours, the official representative of Italian State Railway, with offices at 15 W. 44th St., 10th floor, New York, NY 10173 (tel. 800/248-8687 or 212/730-2121; fax 212/730-4544); and at 6033 W. Century Blvd., Suite 980, Los Angeles, CA 90045 (tel. 310/338-8616; fax 310/670-4269). Its Web site is www.cittours.com. You can also buy all except the Biglietto Chilometrico from www.raileurope.com. In previous years, Italian Railway authorities have required that the IRC and the IFR be bought only outside Europe. These rules have relaxed considerably, and at press time you could buy them in Italy (the Biglietto Chilometrico has always been available there). Check with CIT before your departure, as this might change at any time.

14. Use public transportation in cities rather than taxis. It offers a peek into the daily lifestyles of the local residents. Most concentrated historical districts make sightseeing most enjoyable when done on foot; in the large cities like Rome or Milan, consider daily or weekly passes for unlimited travel on buses or subways.

Car Rentals

15. Call around to all the major car-rental agencies (see our online listings by clicking here; promotional rates sometimes make the big boys the best. Make a reservation before leaving home, but make one last inquiry before getting on the plane to see if any new lower rates have been introduced in the meantime. Making your reservation before leaving for Italy is almost always a guaranteed money saver.

16. Ask questions about waivers and insurance suggested and required by the rental agency and then check with your credit card company to see what they offer before booking. Don't wind up paying for the same coverage twice, or getting charged for extraneous coverage that is recommended but not obligatory.

17. Aim for the least expensive economy car category (unless you'll be driving long autostrada stretches when it will seem you're standing still as virtually every other vehicle zips by). If you're told they're unavailable in an attempt to have you book the next most expensive model, call elsewhere. Know in advance that almost all rental cars in Italy are stick shift; to book an automatic transmission--if any are available--will hike the price considerably. Air-conditioning will also cost extra, so consider the weather you'll be encountering.

18. Book the weekly rates to save. To book a car for just a day or two for a tool in the country is an expensive venture. However, to book for a longer period, only to have the car sit in an expensive parking lot (almost all historic centers now ban car traffic entirely) doesn't make sense either. Have a loose idea of what your vacation schedule will be, and work around that.

19. Parking is a nightmare in Italy and the police are serious about enforcing tow-away zones. Don't try to conserve parking-lot costs by parking on the streets if you're not sure what the streets signs say (a red slashed circle filled in with blue means no parking; spaces painted with blue lines mean you have to pay, either at a meter or to a parking official; yellow lines mean handicapped parking; white lines mean you need a local permit, which, only if you're lucky, your hotel can supply). The cost of retrieving a towed car is only half as bad as the hassle of trying to find it and get it back without the incident ruining your entire trip.

20. If you decide to rent once you're already in Italy, check out the prices and then call a friend back home and ask him or her to book for you from there if the rates are less; they almost always are.

21. Always return your rental car full of gas, or the rental agency will charge you for it, usually at top euro. Don't have heart failure at the cost of gas (benzina) in Italy: It is some of Europe's most expensive. The cars get excellent mileage, however, and you won't have to fill up often.

22. The largest cities may have car-rental offices at both the airport and downtown. There is often an extra charge to pick up at one and drop off at another; using downtown branches is almost always cheaper. To pick up and drop off in two different cities is even worse. In two different countries--better take the train.

Accommodations

23. If you're traveling during high season (roughly Easter through Sept or Oct), book early. You won't get any discounts, but you won't be forced to spend more by upgrading just to find a vacancy in town.

24. If the idea doesn't faze you, consider a less expensive room with a shared bathroom instead of an en suite private bathroom. Ask how many rooms will be sharing the bathroom--sometimes it is as few as two; if the other room is vacant, the bathroom will be yours alone.

25. Many of the hotels we review don't advertise seasonal rates, but some discount is usually offered during the slow periods. Always ask. The more nights you stay, the more you're likely to get a discount. The way you approach the subject is very important: A smile and a pretty-please upon check-in is always more successful than a hard-nosed demand. If it's a slow month and late afternoon, the advantage is yours.

26. Don't underestimate the power of Frommer's. Mention of a Frommer's travel guide in your faxed request or a flash of the book upon check-in will notify the hotel from whence you come. Most of the worthier hotels we list year after year are very appreciative of the volume and quality of travelers (that's you) that we bring to their establishments and they're apt to do their best to accommodate you when and if possible.

27. Is your room so dismal you could just cry? Keep cool and polite, but voice your disappointment and ask if you can be shown another room. Be specific about what bothers you--a different room might have a firmer mattress or brighter lighting that would better meet your needs. You might even get upgraded at no extra cost. Don't resort to drama and histrionics.

28. Single rooms in Italy can be downright minuscule. If you're traveling alone and it's off season, ask if the management might be so kind as to offer you a double room at a single occupancy rate. Many of them will if the rooms are available; always ask.

29. Before arranging your own parking, check first with your hotel. Hotels often have a standing deal with a nearby parking facility. In Venice, hotels will give you a voucher to present at the parking lots on the outskirts of town.

30. Breakfast. Is it included or not? Always ask, and ask if it is continental or buffet. If they expect you to pay 5€ per person (for example) for a prepackaged month-old cornetto (croissant) and cup of mediocre coffee, check out the charming outdoor cafe down the block instead. If the self-service, all-you-can-eat buffet of cold cuts, fresh rolls, juice, yogurt, and--well, you get the drift--is offered in a simpatico setting and will keep you going till dinner, dig in, enjoy yourself, and grab an apple for the road.

31. Never make telephone calls from your room if you can avoid it, especially long-distance ones. The service charge and taxes tagged on to the briefest call home will ruin the moment of enjoyment it brought. Use calling cards at public phones or arrange to have your family call you at designated hours.

32. The "frigo bar" (minibar) is a mixed blessing. That Diet Coke (Coca Lite) and Toblerone candy bar can set you back an easy $10. Check the price list before giving in to hunger pangs, and know what you're about to eat--it might not taste that good.

33. Each hotel's policy regarding children is different, so be specific regarding the children's ages when booking: Generally speaking, children under 12 (sometimes 10) stay for free in the parents' room. Remember: There's no fudging the children's age with the obligatory presentation of the passport upon check-in. (For additional tips on accommodations, including home exchanges, castle-stays, farm vacations, renting apartments and villas and more, click here.)

Eating

34. Take advantage of Italy's cornucopia of excellent bakeries and food stores and make every lunch a picnic. Yes, you'll save more to spend on dinner, but you'll also wind up enjoying a million-dollar lunch in an opera-set piazza.

35. It's lunchtime and it's rainy or cold, or you just need to sit indoors for a while, but an expensive meal is out of your budget. Italy is slowly leaning toward the affordable quick lunch. Bars and cafes are serving informal lunches of pastas and salads as much to local merchants and workers as to cost-conscious travelers, usually for 6€ to 7€ or less.

36. If you're running over your day's budget (sometimes it's hard to stay away from that Italian leather!), remember that this is the country that gave us pizza and wine. Find a pizzeria with outdoor seating, order a carafe of the house wine (vino della casa), and eat like a king (spend like a poor man). Save your three-course trattoria meal for a more solvent day.

37. Tourist menus (menu turistico) or fixed-price menus (menu a prezzo fisso) sound like a good deal, and often are. But portions may be smaller, choices less varied or uninspired (expect the ubiquitous spaghetti with tomato sauce and roast chicken). Menus are usually posted in restaurant windows, so peruse your choices before entering and ordering.

38. If you aren't accustomed to eating so much but want to taste it all, order a mezza porzione (half portion) of pasta for your first course, so you have room left for your second course--and be charged accordingly. Most restaurants will gladly oblige.

39. The rule of thumb in this cafe society: Always expect to pay more at a table than at the bar, more at an outdoor table (consider it your cover charge for the free piazza-life entertainment). That said, don't expect to be rushed: For the cost of an iced tea or mineral water, you can sit and write postcards for hours and never overstay your welcome.

40. If you've been snacking all day and would be happy with just a good plate of pasta and not a full-blown repast, make sure you choose your restaurant well. You might anger some establishments if you occupy a table for a single-course dinner and not the full 9 yards. Casual, informal neighborhood joints won't give a second thought to you lingering over a simple pasta, salad, and glass of wine.

House wines can be surprisingly good and inexpensive. Enjoying a good bottled wine will bring your bill up a notch but hey, that's probably what you're visiting Italy for anyway. Stick with wines of the region, and experiment with some of the small-time, lesser-known (but not necessarily less sophisticated) wine producers of the area. For the wallet-challenged, go with the mineral water, then stop off at a wine bar after dinner and choose one very special cru-by-the-glass in a convivial ambiente.

Sightseeing

41. Make a beeline for the Tourist Information Office to check out special events, free concerts, arts festivals, and so on, to maximize your (always too brief) stay in town. Some museums offer 1 evening a week free. Outdoor evening or church concerts are free, not infrequent, and lovely. Sometimes your hotel staff can be twice as helpful and informed than the tourism people.

42. To get the most out of always-increasing museum admissions, see if you can buy tickets in advance to eliminate waiting in line. Always ask about senior and student discounts. Extended hours for summer months are often confirmed at the last minute (and therefore are not reflected in guidebooks) and are not widely publicized: If you're in the know, you might have Florence's Uffizi Galleries to yourself at 10 in the evening--put a price on that!

43. More and more cities are offering joint tickets or passes for both major and minor museums. You might be able to get admission to as many as 10 museums over an open period of time. But study which museums are included--they are often obscure and esoteric collections that are of little interest or inconveniently located for the tourist on a tight schedule.

44. Free, do-it-yourself walking tours are a viable substitute for the expensive, escorted tours. But the latter are worth your while if your time in town is extremely limited and the sites are many. Before signing up for a half- or full-day tour, find out exactly which sites will be visited so you don't miss those of most interest to you.

45. Don't shortchange yourself on people-watching in Italy, the single great pastime that has been perfected here as an art form, and the best free entertainment you're bound to see anywhere. Pull up a cafe chair and settle in; to avoid any charge at all, a piazza bench will do fine.

Shopping

46. Before splurging on that fragile glassware from Venice or hand-painted ceramic platter from Deruta, consider the cost of shipping, which can double an otherwise respectable price. Do you really want to carry a package around for the rest of your trip? Some stores don't offer shipping, and doing the job yourself (buying packing supplies and so on) is troublesome and time consuming. Insurance hikes the cost even further.

47. Pay by credit card as often as possible: The fewer transaction fees (incurred by ATMs or changing traveler's checks to cash) incurred, the more saved.

48. Alas, bargaining in Italy, once a theatrical and generally enjoyable part of every purchase, is fast becoming a dying animal. But if you're buying more than one item, paying by cash or traveler's checks, are in an open-air market, and/or have struck up a friendly banter with the merchant, give it a shot. The best time to test your talents is during the slow months, when the market or shop looks like it's hungry for business.

49. Don't forget to cash in on your value-added tax (VAT; IVA in Italy) if you qualify. Millions of dollars of unclaimed refunds are the result of forgetful or uninformed tourists. If you're intending to shop, check with Global Refund in the United States (tel. 800/566-9828; www.taxfree.se) for details.

50. By now the world is a village. Be realistic about what you can and cannot find back home among the legion of made-in-Italy souvenirs you're dying to snatch up. Do you really want to spend a precious afternoon in Florence tracking down a pair of black leather gloves that are a dime a dozen at home, when your time could be far better spent gazing upon the wonder of Michelangelo's David?

Editor's Note: Do you have your own tips to suggest? Please, share them in our popular Message Boards covering Italy by clicking here. To post your advice, just click the blue ADD DISCUSSION at the bottom of that page.