9 Things you should be aware of when backpacking and hitch-hiking in Italy

Jon pitching the tent in Florence, Italy - small

Food & Drink

1) Keeping your budget low & eating well is difficult in Italy

To be honest with you, we were hugely disappointed with Italian food. Of course, if you can afford a meal in a fancy restaurant, you can taste the best cuisine anywhere in the world, but if you are on a tight budget, your options in Italy are very limited.

First of all, food (apart from tomatoes and tomato-based products) is really expensive, if compared with other European countries. I can’t see a reason for that, given the fact that Italy is famous for its supposedly food-orientated culture. The supermarket prices were much higher than e.g. in Spain, and the choice was much poorer. Of course you can find supermarkets where the whole shelf is dedicated to tomato sauce, but you won’t be able to find any other type of sauce, (well, maybe also pesto, but that’s it).

UPDATE from one of our readers whose family is Italian
“Grocery stores and supermarkets are incredibly expensive and often difficult to find – most Italians tend to shop in the daily markets which are so much cheaper and of higher quality. Prices tend to become cheaper as you make your way further and further into the markets.”Massive thanks to Travis H for this update!

2) Your best options are…

The best cheap street-food option in Italy is obviously pizza. In many restaurants and bars you might find pizza sold by slice (pizza al taglio or pizza al trancio), baked on big rectangular trays. All you need to do is show them the size of a piece you want and they will weigh it for you.

Also, don’t forget to try the famed Italian ice-cream (gelati). They are delicious, will cool you down on a hot day and the portions are big, so you can kill your hunger and survive for the next couple of hours, until you find a cheap pizzeria or a Panini shop.

3) Mind the ‘coperto’!

One thing that really annoyed us and put us off Italian restaurant culture is the so called ‘coperto’. It’s nothing more than a cheeky little service charge that’s added to anything you order, even if it’s a glass of water. Many a time did we argue with waiters who sneakily added even up to 3 Euros to our bill without having given us the slightest indication what the coperto was and how much they thought it appropriate. After we learnt our lesson, we carefully looked for places that advertised ‘no coperto’, but they are in the minority!

4) Beware of bread

Another extra cost that can come unexpected is the price of bread that might appear on your restaurant bill even if you didn’t order it. It’s enough that the bread is on your table and you nibble on it to be charged up to 2 Euros!

5) Water is free

One good thing about Italy is that the water quality is very good, so don’t bother buying bottled water. Drink straight from the tap and fill up your bottle from city fountains, which are widely available everywhere.

6) Mediterranean meal times

Be warned that Italy is a typical Mediterranean country, also when it comes to meal times. If you are hitch-hiking or backpacking in Italy we recommend:

1) having a solid early breakfast (before 10.00 am)

2) eating a snack/lunch around 1.00 – 4.00 pm – most shops and institutions close between these times and everyone is on lunch break.

3) having dinner around 7.30-11.00 pm – You should be aware of that, as most restaurants will be shut before dinner time.

Crepes restaurant in Trastevere, Rome, Italy, backpacking in Italy

Accommodation

7) Rely on backpacking friendly CouchSurfing or camp

If CouchSurfing fails you (in most touristy places in Italy people are fed up with it and not that keen on hosting), the cheapest accommodation alternative are campsites which are usually well-organised.  For two people and a tent you are likely to pay between 18-20€/night.

Outside the big tourist cities, there are not many cheap accommodation options, so it’s a good idea to have you own tent or be prepared to sleep in the bushes.

8) Tourist tax

Italians have really mastered the art of ripping tourists off in every possible way, no matter if it’s the sneaky coperto added to your restaurant bill or the tourist tax which you must pay on top of every accommodation option you use. The amount varies depending on the region and owners of the place but expect to find something between 1 € or 2 € per person per night.

Jon pitching the tent in Florence, Italy - small, backpacking in Italy

Weather

9) The weather depends a lot on the region

You should be aware that Italy is not as homogenous in terms of weather as one may think.

Rome, the south of the country and all the coastal areas (excluding the north-east) share the typical Mediterranean climate with the average winter temperature of 6 °C and hot, dry summers with the average temp. of 23 °C. It occasionally rains here in winter but snowfall is a rare sight.

The north of the country lies in the humid sub-tropical climate, marked by hot (22 °C  on average) and wet summers and moderately cold (1-3 °C) winters.

The middle of the country, as well as medium and high elevations in the south share the Mediterranean mild climate, similar to the standard Mediterranean climate but with slightly lower (by approx. 3-4 °C) temperatures in both seasons.

Oceanic climate can be found in the Apennines and in the alpine foothills. It’s summer temperatures are between 17 and 21 °C and in winter: -3-0 °C.

In the Alps at an altitude of 1000-1200 m you can expect the winter temperature to be between -7 and -3 °C and mild summers: 13-18 °C. On higher elevations (1,600–1,800 m) be prepared for really cold winters (-12 and -5 °C) and cool summers (around 12 °C). On an altitude higher than 1800 m you will find a tundra climate with the average temperature below 10 °C in all seasons.

Have a look at this handy climate graph for more details for the weather in Rome:

Rome, Italy climate graph. Weather, temperature, rainfall, backpacking in Italy

written by: Ania

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