A summer in Milan spent studying fashion design, image and styling isn’t swinging for the fences; it was a reality for Kaitlin Sheppard. Most days of the week were spent in class from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., but her weekends took her to Lake Como, Cinque Terra, Rome, Florence and Belluno. I asked Kait her pro tips on how to travel Italy, and she dished all the deets:
Q: How did you save money?
A: Money was a bit of a challenge. I had been saving up for quite some time, but I still had a limited amount that made it, so I couldn’t go on every tour, go parasailing or buy the best train tickets. This forced me to really be smart with what I bought and where I went. I never would have thought it but my limited money truly allowed me to have the best experience ever and would not have traded it for anything. Here is a short list of ways that I saved a significant amount of money.
- Limited myself to eating out once every two days and packed my lunch and made dinner the other days. I kept eating out the weekends away.
- Drinks were expensive! Even tap water had a regular soft drink charge! I skipped the drinks at meals, and if I was going out at night, I would make my own cocktail in my apartment and limit myself to only one drink once I got downtown.
- When booking tram tickets for the weekends I would check every website for the lowest cost ticket. I compromised prime times, fastest trains, service on board and comfy seats in order to save half on train tickets. Most tickets I got for 20 euros or less!
- When visiting new cities, I kept paid entrances to a strict limit. For example, in Rome we bought one reduced student ticket to see inside the Colosseum. We skipped out on every other charged entrance in Rome (i.e. St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel, Galleria Borghese). We went to all these places but saved time and money on lines and entrances and instead admired the outside. Doing this allowed us to find other hidden treasures that we would have never discovered if we had money to spend. There are so many absolutely stunning free art museums and churches in Rome that no one ever hears about!
- Long story short, but skipping out on a Switzerland trip! I wanted to go to Switzerland so bad but with the cheapest hostels around, cheapest train ticket and cheapest transportation around the city, it was going to cost upward of 400 euros for two days! Ask any local Italian, the country is so unnecessarily expensive. We instead found a beautiful hidden mountain town in northern Italy that costed us only 80 euros total!
Q: What was the best experience of your summer?
A: It is so, so hard to narrow it down to one experience, but our weekend in Belluno was pretty memorable. When we got to Belluno, we realized it was such a small village that we had no way to get to our Airbnb, no way to get to the main town or to the national park. It ended up that the man who owned our house we were staying at volunteered to drive us around the town and give us all the information we needed to know. He was so hospitable and was so generous with his time. The town and the house was the most quaintly beautiful thing I had ever seen, and we found it in the depths of Google! It was in the middle of the Dolomite mountain range. Everything about it took my breath away. One day we ended up at a small village pub where no one knew English. While sitting there, a bus of young adults came into the pub drunk after a wine tour and hung out with us. One morning we made a classic Italian breakfast that will forever be etched in my memory as the most soulful moment of my life. My travel journal allows me to relive it:
“I cut up a few apricots, toasted the croissants and poured a few glasses fresh juice. We took our breakfast outside on the front porch, and it was a morning I only dream about. The fresh Italian breakfast lay in front of me while I sipped on coffee. I closed my eyes and listened to my surroundings. A million different sounds were around me but all working in perfect harmony with one another to create this incredible song of nature. The wind softly blew between the mountains and brushed against the trees. The gentle hum of bumble bees sounded from a nearby lavender bush. The faint call of a morning rooster, summer cicadas making their mating calls, a few crickets still chirped from the night before. I breathed in the smell of fresh morning mountain morning air, lavender and newly trimmed grass. It was simply and utterly perfect.”
Q: What didn’t go as planned? What would you do differently?
A: There were quite a few things that did not go as planned. One being our mixup with train tickets the weekend we were going to Rome and Florence. Long story short, we bought all three tickets for the wrong weekend. This was quite the ordeal. We were halfway to Rome before we figured out all our tickets were invalid for the weekend. We had to re-buy every ticket without any refund on the previous ones. That was only the beginning of that weekend though. We missed our train out of Rome and had the times off for our bus out of Florence so missed that too. We had to buy another new ticket back to Milan and did not get back in until 5 a.m. It was not a good night. I would definitely double and triple check the times and dates for tickets and leave with more than enough time to make a train.
Q: What are your biggest pieces of advice for people traveling to Italy or Europe overall?
A: Use common sense and pay attention to detail. Referring to travel plans that didn’t go smoothly, I could have easily avoided the issues if I just paid attention a little more. I never got pick-pocketed though, and I really think it was because I used common sense. I never put things in pockets, zipped up the purse and kept a lock on my backpack. Also don’t get wrapped up in an agenda! The best times I had in Italy were because I had no agenda or time restraints. I stayed late at restaurants. I got lost with a friend in Milan, but we ended up at the Duomo alone at 3 a.m. I found hidden art and had discovered some of the best food I had ever had.
Q: What will you remember most about this summer?
A: I’ll for sure remember all the really beautiful moments that fed the soul. Our lunch at Cinque Terra was an absolute dream, there were a few churches in Rome that made me feel God in the oddest way, there was a few really beautiful cross-cultural moments when being in Rome where all these kids from all different languages and corners of the world all came together to play in a street vendor’s bubble show. The entire weekend in Belluno was so meditative and a glimpse of heaven! Personal experiences like that I think I will remember more vividly than anything else because it isn’t necessary things that I can snap a photo of.
Follow Kait on Instagram: @kaitsheppard354