I’ve learned a lot during my travels. Most recently, while taking trains through Italy. My experiences inspired me to come up with this list. If only I had read something like this before I actually left on my trip.
Read on for some tips about how to make your train travel experiences in Italy stress free.
1) Buy your ticket online at Trenitalia. It saves time and cuts down on the hassle and confusion new travelers may experience. The process of lining up, buying a ticket, and making sure to get it validated before boarding the train can be overwhelming to tourists who have not previously experienced such a system.
2) Learn some basic terms in Italian before arriving in the country. Learn how to ask for help by asking specific questions such as “how much will this ticket cost?” or “when is the train arriving?”
Lonely Planet has phrasebooks which can assist you in learning the language. I have the Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese ones and they have been invaluable during my travels.
It`s unfair and rude to expect they speak English in Italy – or elsewhere for that matter. They do not exist to cater to the English speaking population of the world. They will appreciate any attempts on your part to speak Italian, even poor ones, and your interactions with locals will be that much more pleasant.
Not knowing how to speak Italian can prove to be quite a hindrance if you need assistance, as finding an employee or fellow passenger on the train who speaks English well and is also willing to be helpful can prove difficult.
3) If you do buy your ticket at the station, be sure to validate it at one of the machines prior to boarding. Note – if you book online, there is no need to validate your ticket. Just be sure to bring the printed copy of the ticket with you to present when required to train officials.
4) Do not under any circumstance let anyone who does not work at the station or for one of the train companies help you with your luggage.You may fall victim to schemes such as the one I encountered (blog post to come). I consider myself lucky not to have been robbed. That being said, be vigilant, aware of your surroundings, and watch your belongings at all times.
5) Plan ahead. Find out your train`s final destination and where your stop is along the line. You can count the stops along the way and be sure that you`re getting off at the right one. Train station names are not always prominently displayed or visible from all cars. For example, my train departing from Rome was headed to Orte. When I looked at the sign displaying the train schedules, I couldn’t find it anywhere. The train’s final destination Perugia was displayed, and Orte was just one of the stops on the route.
6) When you board the train, if possible try to keep your luggage with you. If you need to store it at the end of the car, get up at every stop and wait with your luggage until all passengers get off and new ones come on. Luggage theft is quite common.
7) Get to the train station early, especially if you have to purchase tickets and validate them. Give yourself time to determine if the train is on schedule/canceled, which platform is yours etc . Some platforms (such as the one for the train that runs between Roma Termini and FCO) are quite far from the main entrance of the train station and require time to reach them.
8 ) Don’t dress like an obvious tourist. Try to blend in with the locals. Dress nicely. Someone wearing khaki shorts, sneakers, a loud Hawaiian shirt, and a Texas Rangers baseball cap, with a camera strung around their neck sticks out like a sore thumb. Thieves will target you. People may not want to help you either.
On a side note, I can’t tell you how many times, I saw people wearing Hawaiian shirts. Why oh why, would someone come to Italy of all places and wear such a shirt. It`s not the tropics. You’re in Europe, in a country known for fashion. Whatever you do, DO NOT WEAR a Hawaiian shirt. Do the world a favor! Thanks.
9) Italian trains leave on time and will not wait for you. Know in advance, you are not special. The train company has an obligation to get people where they need to be on time. That being said, don’t expect sympathy from staff if you miss your train. Just buy a new ticket. Don`t take your frustrations out on them by yelling or resorting to name calling.
10) In addition to arriving early, try to give yourself time between connections. Sometimes trains run late and you may miss a connecting train. For example, I missed my train from Rome to the airport as my train from Naples to Rome left late. I got to the platform just as the train pulled away.
I was disappointed, but didn’t really stress about it much. I simply purchased a new ticket and caught the next one which left 30 minutes later. Because I had planned well, I had the needed buffer time to ensure that my missed train was not a catastrophic event.
11) Travel first class if at all possible. It`s not that much more than regular class and will lend a little more safety (especially if you`re a solo female traveler like me) and will score you free drinks and snacks.
12) Don`t be surprised if someone is sitting in your seat. Just go with the flow and find another seat close-by. I found that people didn’t really seem to stick to the assigned seating system.
13) Never assume that someone doesn’t know English. I witnessed quite the exchange between a young backpacker and a train company employee. The backpacker was frustrated (long story) and called the employee a bitch. The employee heard her and spent a good 5 minutes telling off the backpacker, calling her several err … “choice” words in Italian.
14) Don`t travel without extra cash and a mobile phone for emergency purposes. You may miss a connection and be required to stay overnight somewhere. Be sure to have the money if this occurs and ability to call people and let them know of changes in travel plans. It is key you know how to make International calls from your phone or on public phones.
I saw people reduced to tears in the train station due to missed trains, not having money, or a way to contact their loved ones. I felt bad, but shook my head in disbelief. How could they be so unprepared?
I realize that some of these tips are not unique to train travel in Italy and can be extended to other situations, such as flying or travel in general. The main message that I want people to take away from this post is to blend in, plan ahead, be flexible, and take the time to learn a little of the local language. This will help to make your travels more enjoyable, stress free, and fun! 🙂