Five Essential Tips for Navigating Italy: A First-Time Traveler’s Guide

Written by Eliza Ward (Meredith College), Student Correspondent for CET Siena, Summer 2024

Culture shock, jet lag, homesickness, new environment, and language—oh my! The possibilities are endless when traveling to a new country. I remember my first time arriving in Italy feeling overwhelmed, exhausted, and lost at times. I was unaware of the language, typical routines, dos and don’ts, etc., to the point where I cried just from feeling out of place and wanted to go back home; however, after a couple of weeks of adjustment, a three-hour Italian class, and exploring the city with new places, I eventually started to feel better. I became acquainted with speaking my needs and wants without using my native tongue, making connections, and becoming one with the culture. This is my second time in Italy, and I want to share some of my tips and tricks on how to navigate Italy as a first-time traveler.

Tip 1: Communication

While this may seem like an obvious thing to do, it will help you make yourself feel at ease. Communicating about how you feel, whether you feel nervous, ill, upset, or if it’s a simple question to your roommate, your mentor, or your host family will assist in having your wants and needs met for your experience. Besides, you’re only here for a couple of months, so make those months count!

Sometimes, you may need to translate, and that’s okay! I recommend downloading the SayHi app. This app will allow you to either speak or type out what you want to say, and it will translate to whichever language you desire; plus, it can repeat the translated language out loud for others to hear. This app is very accurate compared to Google Translate.

A large group of CET Siena students posing in the middle of Piazza del Campo in Italy
My study abroad group! We’re all supporting each other every step of the way.

Tip 2: Optimism

Come into this experience with an open mind. It’s common to have assumptions and stereotypes already placed in your mind about the culture or the people. My advice is to keep the glass half full and be optimistic. You can always ask questions about what you see or hear because there are no dumb questions.

As always, you can talk about your own culture and see the similarities and differences between two worlds. Sometimes you might get asked about your own culture with the assumptions and stereotypes that come in mind, and it’s normal! When talking about your culture, remember to be respectful about it and never be too opinionated, especially when it comes to politics (Italians may ask about it, and I will possibly write a more detailed blog about my experiences!). Talk about it like you’re teaching a classroom, not like you’re in a debate. Italians want to learn from you, not pick fights.

Tip 3: Taking Pictures

Italy is such a beautiful country, and I know lots and lots of pictures will be taken; however, when taking pictures, make sure to step away from crowds of people walking. I can’t emphasize how many times someone in front of me has walked, stopped immediately, grabbed their phone, and took a picture, almost making me bump into them. Also, be sure to be aware of oncoming traffic. Traffic in Italy is a lot different than in the United States, and drivers may not stop for you. Take the time to look at all of your surroundings before taking a picture. As always, the buildings, the paintings, and the scenery will still be there tomorrow!

The Duomo of Siena taken at nighttime! Less crowds and traffic during this time.

Tip 4: Never Leave Your Items Behind

Always keep everything with you and put them all in a safe, non-accessible for others but accessible for you, place. Pickpocketing in Italy and all across Europe is a real and serious issue. Keeping your bag and items closer can help lower the chances of having something taken away from you.

For precautionary measures, keep a physical or digital photocopy of your items, whether it’s your passport, ID, debit and credit cards, etc. This will help locate your items faster, but also being able to easily receive a replacement. Remember to report and cancel the use of your credit or debit cards if stolen, contact the U.S. Embassy for another passport, and file a report to the police.

Tip 5: Caring for your Well-Being

As you may experience jet lag, anxiety, homesickness, or emotional drain, always take care of yourself. You don’t need to travel every weekend, you don’t need to spend a lot of money, and you don’t need to be with everyone 24/7. Let those feelings out that you’ve kept inside of you, stay in whenever you need the rest, ask for that extension for an assignment, cook at home, or wait to purchase that item when you don’t feel like spending money.

There’s so many things that you can do to make yourself feel better. Another thing I’ve always told myself is to step out of your comfort zone in order to feel comfortable again. You can order that coffee in Italian, you can walk to your destination without using the GPS, you can order that ticket for the bus. Never let negative thoughts have control of your brain. Instead, keep thinking the opposite.

I hope some of these tips help to make you feel at ease. You’re going to become a great traveler! Grazie e a presto (Thanks and see you soon!)

A partial view of buildings and trees in Siena, Italy form a home
This is my view from my bedroom in my homestay. Take the time to breathe and relax a little when you need it.

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