Cuba: It’s Easier Than You Think


Three weeks ago, I spent what felt like countless hours watching the news, reassuring friends/family, and defending my choices. Days later, I schlepped nine hesitant travel buddies to Cuba. Despite how time-consuming and confusing planning was, everything went incredibly smoothly. The below are some tips I’d either heard beforehand or found out the hard way and wished I’d known:

  • You can’t simply travel to Cuba for fun (at least not on paper). There are 12 approved reasons you can choose from, though don’t go crazy compiling proof to back your decision up. I selected “Support for the Cuban People” and was honestly clueless as to how we could actually show support. I counted an AirBnB booking (we stayed with citizens!), had everybody bring requested supplies, and hoped for the best. I was half convinced they wouldn’t let us on the plane, but when we applied for our visas, no one asked a thing. In fact…
  • …You can save $25 by pre-paying for your visa and pick it up at the gate. We flew Delta and were able to call their main 800 number the week of our trip to pay $50 per visa using a credit card. Aside from having to provide our flight info and specify which reason we chose, the process was insanely simple. We grabbed our visas at JFK (no questions asked) and hopped on our plane, accounting for nearly half the total passengers.
  • Money can be a bit of a pain. American cards don’t work in Cuba and you can’t exchange US dollars there. Long story short, your best bet is to take out euros from your bank, then exchange those at Havana airport. There are two local currencies: the Cuban Peso, or CUP, and Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC), the one you’ll exchange for.
  • Your phone won’t work, either (at least not your data). You can call your service provider and explore options regarding calls, but data is essentially non-existent. While accommodations are usually a saving grace when traveling, the ones in Cuba don’t have Wi-Fi. Your only option is a pre-paid Wi-Fi card, which will allow you to log in when near a hotspot (like in most parks, for example). In all honesty, your best bet is to embrace the disconnect and go off the grid while you’re away!
  • You can’t just walk into restaurants and expect to be accommodated. Granted, we were 10 people, so it’s no surprise I needed reservations. It’s important in general, though, that you plan ahead for meals. Cuba has been flooded with tourists and while the demand’s increased, the supplies have not. This is especially true in busy areas like Havana. Call ahead of time, even if just hours prior.

I cannot stress enough how pleasantly surprised I was with Cuba. The food was excellent, the people were warm, and the process was easy (once I got my facts straight, that is). There was not one moment during which we felt unsafe or unwelcome. Plus, it was insanely cheap! If you’re on the fence, don’t hesitate: book your ticket and go.

The “How” Part 1: Flights

I recently posted a video explaining why I travel so often, and although it touched upon how I do it, I wanted to try to really describe it in detail. There are a few different methods to this madness and it’s somewhat complex (hence the verbal explanation), but if you get nothing else from this post, I want to be sure you remember that the key is to just book it. There’s a 24-hour window during which you can cancel without penalty and deals don’t last; I’ve had friends get back to me within an hour and the price was already gone.

Helpful Links:

Method 1: Pop-up sales and mistake fares

Method 2: Research

Method 3: Points

I hope this helps! Please feel free to email me with any questions. 🙂

2016 Travel Recap

Honestly, I can’t say I’m sad to see 2016 go. I don’t remember ever hearing so many people talk about how awful an entire year was. For numerous reasons, I think it’s safe to say the world is looking forward to starting anew in 2017.

This year’s travels have been extra special to me. In the spring, I decided to make videos after each trip and take my loves on monthly digital vacations. The response has been overwhelming and as cliche as it sounds, I’m so thankful to be able to share my journeys with them.

Below is a recap of my 2016 weekend getaways. 2017 is already filling up, and I’m ecstatic for all that is to come. ❤

January: Philippines for LIG Marian Rose Mission Trip

February: Weekend in Rome

April: Weekend on Lake Como

June: Weekend in Peru to visit Machu Picchu

July: 24 short hours on the Amalfi Coast

August: Weekend in Norway and VV for my 2 year anniversary

September (trip 1 of 2): Weekend on the island of Ischia

September (trip 2 of 2): Weekend in Portugal

October: Weekend in Rome and Stockholm

November: Weekend in South Africa for a Kruger National Park safari

December: Weekend in Sweden and Poland for Christmas Markets

Favorite Spots in Italy by Season: FALL

It’s no secret that I’m in love with Italy. Come August, I will have visited a total of 21 separate times. Excessive, I know, but one should not deprive themselves of the things they love. 😉 I’m often asked about “the best” place to visit, and my response is always the same: What time of year are you going? Do you like cities or the country? Do you prefer beaches or lakes? Are you a wine connoisseur or more of a foodie? There’s no way I could choose one location to recommend to everyone; Italy is incredibly diverse, and certain spots are best during particular seasons. In my opinion, they are as follows for fall:

Amalfi Coast

The famous Amalfi Coast is, without a doubt, all it’s cracked up to be. However, I wouldn’t recommend that anyone travel there in the summertime. Personally, I’m not a fan of “tourist traps,” and that’s exactly what you’ll find Positano to be from June thru August; it’s insanely expensive, everyone’s speaking English, and food is cooked to foreigners’ tastes (in other words, it stinks). You’re elbow-to-elbow in the streets and traffic is horrific. Full disclosure: I once hit a person on via Cristoforo Colombo with my car. We were crawling and I just bumped him with a side view mirror, but still!

September on the coast is incredible. The weather’s still amazing, prices are more reasonable, and towns are way less crowded. If you’re looking to stay in Positano, Albergo California is hands down the best I’ve come across thus far. Its views and location are unmatched; it’s a short walk down to the beach, shops, and restaurants, with no mountainous hill to scale on your way back up with a belly full of pasta and gelato.

The well-known isle of Capri is a short boat ride away, but I honestly prefer to do something different: right next door in Praiano, you can rent a boat for way cheaper and even be your own captain! As a plus, you’ll spend time on a more secluded beach and jump from tiny cliffs into the Tyhrrenian Sea. Check out La Sabilla for rentals and Il Pirata for the inevitable appetite you’ll build up swimming through grottos.

  • How to arrive: The best way, if you can stomach it, is by car. The airport in Naples (NAP) is super close, and the ride is like nothing you’ve ever experienced before. Windy, narrow roads scale the cliffs overlooking the sea and even on the cloudiest day will leave you breathless. There are no quick, convenient public transportation routes for most of the hot-spots, and transit in and around Naples is unfortunately shady anyway. 😦 *I can say that because I’m Napolitana*

Piedmont Region

One of the reasons I love autumn so much is that I’m obsessed with its colors. Two of the best places I’ve been for fall foliage are those I’m writing about here: the vineyards in Piedmont and forests in Veneto. Both regions are breathtaking at any time of year, but September and October are particularly stunning in my opinion. Though Piedmont is much further north than its well-known Tuscan counterpart, it is also known for its wine and vineyards. La Morra is one of my personal favorite towns to day-trip to; not only is it beautiful, it’s a mere 20 minutes from the annual October Truffle Festival in Alba.

Wine and truffles aside, Piedmont is also known for its hot chocolate, though it’s likely not what you’re imagining; it’s basically the exact opposite of our powder/water mix. Think melted, thick, mind-blowing hot fudge. :-O

  • How to arrive: I promise I’m not totally biased, but renting a car is often the way to go. Nothing beats driving through Italy, especially amongst vineyards and tiny villages! You can arrive in Torino (TRN), which is also a great city to explore, or Milan (MXP) if you’re strapped for cash – Torino usually requires layovers and is at least a few hundred dollars more expensive than further-away MXP.


Veneto: Dolomites & Lakes

Place #2 I’m most in love with for fall foliage as mentioned above: i Dolomiti. Words cannot express how absolutely breathtaking the Dolomite section of the Alps can be in autumn. The mountains themselves are tinted pink, and the forests and lakes that surround them are spectacular. To get the best views, I recommend either hiking or taking long drives. One of my favorite routes is Passo Giau, which is most easily accessible by, you guessed it, car. Many cyclists often take this route as well, and they’re obviously out of their f;ing minds – it’s insanely steep! :-O There’s a restaurant at the top of the mountain that’s pricey but a nice place to stop. The drive itself is stunning and there are plenty of photo-ops along the way, so take your time if you can.

Of the Venetian lakes, Sorapiss is of the most spectacular: surrounded by now-colorful fall trees, its sky blue tint is striking. The journey there is brutal, though, as discussed in previous posts. The only way to arrive is by trekking and while it’s totally worth it, the experience was so frightening that I would never attempt it again. Sorapiss is not for the faint of heart or out of shape! :-O

Though just outside the Veneto region and into Trentino, Lago di Braies is too incredible to not be included, especially in the fall. This one’s easy and can be reached by car or bus, so it’s safe to leave your trekking stick at home (Grazie a Dio). Unlike sky blue Sorapiss, Braies is the most incredible shade of green. Honestly, it’s indescribable, and the photos don’t even do it justice. It’s an easy walk around the perimeter; I’ve seen plenty of people with dogs and strollers navigate it with no problem. Bring your jacket, though; as this lake is further north and nestled in the mountains, it’s likely much chillier than where you’ve arrived from!

  • How to arrive: As you probably got by now, Milan is the cheapest, most convenient airport to fly into when visiting Northern Italy. Its convenience is due to the fact that there are tons of direct flights, but MXP is not necessarily super close to where you want to end up, especially if traveling to Veneto. Venice (VCE), Treviso (TSF), and Trieste (TRS) are much nearer, but VCE is the only airport with direct flights and all three are consistently way more expensive than Milan. If you’d rather not drive so far from MXP, you can hop on a fast train to Venice and jump in a Fiat500 there. B-)

Where It All Began <3

Since I sent out my infamous “Rome Tips” document for the ~25th time last week, i figured I should post it here so that others can hopefully use it as well. 🙂 Rome is where my love for Italy began. Growing up, I’d drive my parents crazy about going on a trip to Italy. I joke that my ancestors have always pulled me there, and I’m believing more and more that this truly is the case. I took one step off our Alitalia flight in 2003 and was home.

I’ve since been back to Italy a total of 15 times, most of which have included Rome (if even for a day!). Below are some general notes and tips I’ve recorded over the years.

Getting to the City

  • Upon arrival at FCO Airport, follow signs for the Train Station (Stazione, Treno, etc.), and take the train to Roma Termini, the main train station in Rome
    • Should cost ~€14 per person and take about a half hour
    • It’s called the Leonardo Express train and has no other stops, so it’s very easy
    • Purchase your tickets at an electronic ticket booth before boarding the train and be sure to validate them before you hop on (you’ll just insert them into a validating machine that will stamp them)

Top Sights

  • Villa Borghese, the Central Park of Rome
    • VB is beautiful to walk around and inside is a museum, a great zoo, lots of fountains, etc. It’s easy to get lost in, though!
  • You can exit the park at Piazza del Popolo if you’d like, which is a big, beautiful piazza that gives way to three streets that are known as “il Tridente” – Via del Babuino on your left, Via del Corso down the middle, and Via di Ripetta on your right (when the Piazza is behind you and you’re facing the three streets)
    • Il-tridente-di-Piazza-del-Popolo
    • Via del Babuino will take you to Piazza di Spagna, where the Spanish Steps are
    • Via del Corso is excellent for shopping!
      • All the way at the opposite end of Via del Corso is Vittoriano/Monumento a Vittorio Emanuele (aka Wedding Cake Building, one of the most beautiful buildings in Rome IMO!)
      • Italy 107
      • Take the elevator to the top for incredible views of the entire city, especially the nearby ruins and Coliseum (€7 per person, totally worth it!)
      • The Coliseum and ruins/Roman Forum are right behind this building, and the Capitol buildings are also nearby (to the right when you’re looking directly at it)
    • Via di Ripetta will lead you toward the Pantheon, although it’s off on a side street (there will be signs)
      • Breathtaking structure, especially from the outside
    • La Fontana di Trevi (the Trevi Fountain) is between Via del Corso and Via del Babuino on a side street, and there will be signs for that as well
      • The Spanish Steps and Trevi Fountain are most stunning at night, when all lit up and less crowded, so try to also stop by as late as you can (while walking home from dinner, etc.)
      • IMG_6450 IMG_0818
  • The Vatican and its museums are stunning and well worth however long it may take you to get in
    • Best time to arrive is at the end of the afternoon, around 3PM, as it closes at 5:00 and is insanely busy earlier in the day (especially in the morning!)
      • Lines will be much shorter at this time, and you’ll be able to move through quicker
      • Can get there via metro on the red line (the stop is Ottaviano)
      • IMG_0841
    • If possible, visit the Papal Gardens and the Catacombs (underground, older Vatican with the tombs of past popes)
      • Note: if you get claustrophobic, the Catacombs will be difficult to walk through
    • Be sure to rub St. Peter’s foot for good luck!
    • Your knees and shoulders must be covered to enter – no tank tops, short shorts, etc.
    • The Pope hosts a Papal Audience almost every Wednesday. It’s not a full blown mass, but rather a chance to see and pray with Pope Francis
    • The Vatican is across the river, and as you’re walking back towards it you approach the Castel Sant’Angelo (it’s huge! & can’t be missed!)

Getting Around

  • The metro system is extremely easy to use! There are only two lines, the red A line and the blue B line, but they’re in the process of building a third
  • Almost all stops you’ll need are on the red line, except for the Coliseum which is on the blue line
    • Most stops of your interest are named according to the attraction that’s nearby (ex: Spagna for Piazza di Spagna, Colosseo for the Coliseum)
    • There is also a tram, but it shouldn’t be necessary to use to see anything popular (unless of course you’d just like to try it!)
    • HOWEVER, everything you want to see in Rome is in walking distance! You can literally walk around the entire city to cover everything, and although it wasn’t built in a day, it can be seen on foot in just two! 😉
    • 6a013483a13a94970c014e8a1c86aa970d-500wi
  • The main station, Termini, is where you’ll arrive from the airport. It is probably THE shadiest spot in the city. Be mindful of your belongings and try to avoid staying in a hotel that’s close to the station, as its surroundings are ugly & unsafe as well

Where to Eat & Hang

  • Piazza Navona is a popular tourist spot for restaurants, but it is expensive and not super authentic
    • Beautiful to walk through, though! Definitely check it out
  • Via Veneto is huge for restaurants, but is even worse than Piazza Navona (they will rip you off in a heartbeat and the food isn’t spectacular)
  • Note: remember that there is no tax on food in Rome, nor are you required to tip anywhere in Italy. In fact, you are expected NOT to tip, as it is not customary. If taxes or tips are added to your bill, you can ask that they be removed, as there is no basis for them
  • The less Americans there are around, the better and more authentic the restaurants will be
    • Don’t bother going into a place that has a waiter outside trying to lure you in – tourist trap!
    • I’ve found that there are great authentic restaurants near the river (although not directly ON it, as they can be touristy and expensive as well)
  • Campo dei Fiori is a popular night-time spot, especially for tourists
    • It’s a piazza with tons of bars and people from all over the world
    • Always a lot of fun!
    • Wine Bar Camponeschi is right outside the piazza and is one of my favorite restaurants in Rome
      • I’ve never seen a tourist there, only Romans
      • Their carbonara sauce is the BEST!
      • The address is Piazza Farnese, 50/50a
      • Phone #: +39066874927
    • Casa & Bottega is my favorite lunch spot
      • Right across the river on your way back from the Vatican/Castel Sant’Angelo
      • The address is Via dei Coronari, 183
      • Phone #: +39066864358
  • There’s a pub crawl that leaves from the Spanish Steps every night that I personally think is amazing. It’s cheap (it at least was around €25, not sure if it’s gone up) and includes unlimited PIZZA, shots at the door of every bar, unlimited beer & wine, a T-shirt, & free entry at each stop, including the club at the end. I don’t even drink and I love it. We did this crawl almost every weekend when I studied abroad in Rome!

Side Notes and Tips

  • Italian country code (for telephone calls) is 39, so if you’re calling an Italian number, you’d dial +39 and then the number
    • You can add an international plan to your phone for $30 (Verizon), but it’s limited and automatically charges you if you go over your tiny amount of data
    • It’s cheaper to get a Vodafone SIM card once you arrive and switch your SIM out
      • Usually €30 for the card and your plan, and you’ll be able to make calls, text, & use data, and it should last your whole trip!
      • You’ll have an Italian phone number but all of your stuff will be the same (pictures, contacts, etc.)
      • They sell them at airports and in big train stations
  • US country code is 1, so you’d dial +1 and then the number of anyone you’re calling back home
  • The maps they give out at hotels are cartoon-like with photos of monuments but are very helpful! The city itself can be confusing to navigate around, but everyone speaks English and can help!
  • ATMs are called Bancomats and they are all over the city
    • It is cheaper and easier to take money directly out of your checking account this way, as exchanging cash will cost you more and you don’t want to have much cash on you unless necessary anyway
  • It is not customary to sit down for coffee in Italy
    • Instead, stand at the “bar” and drink it/have a small breakfast like a croissant
    • Bars in Italy refer to coffee shops, although many also serve alcohol as well
    • “Un caffe`” is not a regular American coffee, but rather an espresso
      • “Caffe` Americano” is American coffee (the closest thing to it, at least!)
  • As in any city, always be mindful of your belongings
    • I keep my phone and wallet tucked into my pants and under my shirt to be safe
    • Don’t accept help from anyone who approaches you at the train stations, etc.
    • Rome is not dangerous by any means, but we Americans can be easy targets!! 😉
  • Building #s come after street names in Italian addresses, and street names are found on the sides of buildings as opposed to on actual street signs like here in the US
  • There is no tipping in Italy! Though it feels so uncomfortable for us as Americans, it is NOT customary to leave tips at restaurants, in cabs, etc.
    • If you really enjoyed interacting with your server and found them to have gone above and beyond, you can certainly leave them something, but don’t feel like it has to be 20%! A couple euro coins would be plenty (honestly!)
  • Driving is on the same side of the road as us
    • Most cars are stick-shift, not automatic, so if you’re renting, be sure to specify that you want automatic and not manual!
    • Tolls can be paid in cash or credit card if your rental doesn’t have “Telepass” (their version of our EZ-Pass)
      • In many cases, you’ll pull up to a tollbooth and take a ticket. Before you exit the highway, you’ll go through another toll booth where you’ll insert your ticket and be given the price
      • Though there are illustrations to help, if you’re paying with a credit card look for “CARTE” on the signs up top to know which lane to stay in
    • You won’t see many cops on the road, but the Italians are definitely watching your speed!
      • There are cameras all over, so be sure to stay at a reasonable speed or you’ll come home to a speeding ticket in the mail! I get one every single time I’m there
    • Their signs are different than ours, so it can be confusing to determine what’s a one-way, where you can and cannot park, etc. See my previous post for details
  • You can drink/fill your water bottles from any fountain in Rome. The water is clean and SO GOOD!
  • The fountain at Piazza di Spagna was just restored, and it looks amazing! They’re still working on the actual building at Spagna but it’s worth the trip regardless
  • The Trevi Fountain, unfortunately, is still undergoing restorations 😦

I hope this helps! If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out 🙂

Is It Worth It?

A week or so ago, I had a painful and reluctant discussion with my new boss that literally gives me anxiety to think about: for the first time, I had to ask him for a day off. :-O Anyone who knows me at all knows that I absolutely hate to miss work under any circumstances. I was once carried out of the kennel with a kidney stone and my biggest concern was being able to return before we closed. I’m getting upset just thinking about it.

Luckily, I only requested that I miss one Friday in March and he of course was fine with it. He even jokingly responded with, “Why, are you going to Italy for the weekend?” to which I replied, “Germany and Poland.” :/ He knows me too well already! Though the idea of traveling to Europe for a weekend seems insane and is laughable to some (ok, ok… laughable to most), I could not stress enough that, to me, it’s totally worth it.

As I mentioned, it pains me to miss even one day of work, especially now that I’ve just started a new job. I was even worse with school before graduating this past May; I’d have to be given a day or two left to live to even consider skipping class. In addition to my irrational FOMO, I don’t have a ton of free time; I have two jobs, I’m doing research, I have a 140lb puppy who needs my kisses, and I have a life. As I’ve been told repeatedly, though, my responsibilities will not dissipate as I get older. On the contrary, this is the easy time. Stai scherzando?! It gets busier than this?!?!?!

At 27, there’s still a ton I’ve yet to become sure about. I am beyond certain, however, that I will happily take what I can get. If a long weekend is my only option and the tickets are cheap enough, I’m there. No hesitation. If it’s too soon to request off, I’ll arrange so that I don’t have to; in February, I’m going to Austria for one night. Una notte. I will have 24 hours on the ground e basta. As I said, I will literally take what I can get.

I’ve decided to compile a list of pros to my insane[ly fun] short trips to support their awesomeness and to hopefully discourage any readers from committing me to Overbrook:

  • YOU SAVE MONEY: When my equally crazy friends and I go to Germany and Poland, we’ll spend about $900 each TOTAL. That includes flights, hotels, a car, excursions, and food. That may seem like a lot for 3 days, but considering they’ll likely be 3 of the best days of our lives, $300 per day is worth it. In addition, had we decided to go for a week, we’d be paying $X more in hotels and food, and we’re not made of money!
  • YOU DON’T DISRUPT YOUR LIFE: I cringe typing these words, but missing one day of work isn’t going to kill me. I won’t come home and have a ton of catching up to do, and the show will certainly go on despite my brief absence.
  • YOU HAVE A LOT TO LOOK FORWARD TO: This may not be the popular opinion, but I’d much rather take quick, frequent vacations than spend all year waiting for one long one.
  • YOU’RE SEEING THE WORLD: How much can you get done in one weekend? Well, you can galavant around Lake Como, tour the Piedmont vineyards, attend a food festival in Alba, climb a mountain in Switzerland, and still get over 7 hours of sleep (*note: we did all that on a 24-hours-on-the-ground trip). You can cross glaciers, see geysers, swim in thermal lagoons, go dog-sledding, and scale waterfalls in Iceland. You can ride horses in Ireland and tour its entire southern coast. You have no idea how much you can accomplish in a weekend’s time.

On Friday night, you can either go to sleep in your bed and wake up at home or pass out on a Boeing 747 and wake up in another country. I choose the latter.

In Love and War

As two weeks of playing tour guide to friends winds down, I finally have some time to sit and reflect on what’s gone on lately. It was brought to my attention that an American movie was filmed in my tiny town of Vittorio Veneto in the 1990s, so I of course had to immediately rent it on iTunes. In Love and War takes place during the First World War and documents Ernest Hemingway’s experiences as a Red Cross volunteer. Apparently, he was injured and fell in love with one of his nurses during recovery. Their relationship unfortunately did not work out ( why couldn’t the movie just pretend?! 😦 ), and it is said that Hemingway remained forever heartbroken over his first love, Agnes von Kurowsky.

The film is so incredibly cool to watch because I live in the heart of its setting and it hasn’t changed a bit. Being a historic town, VV looks as though it did during both World Wars (or at least extremely close to it). After playing In Love and War on repeat and sulking about the breakup, I began researching “Ernie” and pulling together some of my favorite quotes of his.

“There is nothing else than now. There is neither yesterday, certainly, nor is there any tomorrow. How old must you be before you know that? There is only now, and if now is only two days, then two days is your life and everything in it will be in proportion. This is how you live a life in two days. And if you stop complaining and asking for what you never will get, you will have a good life. A good life is not measured by any biblical span.” – found in For Whom the Bell Tolls

“Try to learn to breathe deeply, to really taste food when you eat, and when you sleep, to really sleep. Try as much as possible to be wholly alive with all your might, and when you laugh, laugh like hell. And when you get angry, get good & angry. Try to be alive. You will be dead soon enough.”

“Out of all the things you could not have, there were some things that you could have.. & one of those was to know when you were happy, and to enjoy all of it while it was there and it was good.”

“Life is unpredictable; it changes with the seasons. Even your coldest winter happens for the best of reasons. And though it feels eternal, like all you’ll ever do is freeze, I promise spring is coming, and with it brand new leaves.”

“You talk like a timetable. Did you have any beautiful adventures?” – found in A Farewell to Arms

“Worry a little bit every day and in a lifetime you will lose a couple of years. If something is wrong, fix it if you can. But train yourself not to worry. Worry never fixes anything.”

“I can’t stand to think my life is going so fast and I’m not really living it.” – found in The Sun Also Rises

“Live the full life of the mind, exhilarated by new ideas, intoxicated by the romance of the unusual.”

As I’m sure is apparent, the excerpts I’ve shared are all related in that they have to do with living and appreciating life. Hemingway, though perhaps broken and in pain (he married four times and eventually took his own life), certainly offered great advice about living. In the scheme of things, our time on Earth is so excruciatingly short.. to worry serves no purpose, to wait is ludicrous, and to simply exist is one of the saddest ways to spend your days.

Driving in Italy

Though I’m a CartaFreccia member and swear by TrenItalia, I must admit that I’m partial to having a car in Italy. If not staying in or exploring a city, I love having the freedom to pull over wherever and take in the incredible sights seen right from the Autostrade. My friend Natalie and I are notorious for waking up in the morning, looking at our iPhone maps, and choosing a place that sounds cool to visit that day! It’s actually how we discovered Portofino, one of our favorite spots on the Italian Riviera.

Driving in Italy, however, is of course different from driving at home in the US; it’s more fun 😉


  • Luckily, one thing that remains the same is the side of the road Italians drive on
    • No need to make adjustments there! They’re on the right side, like us
  • The majority of cars (probably like 95%, with the remaining 5% reserved for tourists) are stick-shift, not automatic (o Dio)
    • If you’re renting, be sure to specify that you need automatic and not manual!
  • They’re also much tinier than our cars, and at least attempt to be more fuel efficient
    • You may notice that your car turns off when you come to a full stop at a red light or to pay a toll. This happens automatically to preserve gas, and it’ll turn back on once you let your foot off the brake
  • Speaking of tolls, they can be paid in one of three ways: Telepass (their version of our EZ-Pass), in cash, or with credit/debit cards
    • In many cases, you’ll pull up to a tollbooth and take a ticket
      • Before you exit the highway, you’ll go through another tollbooth where you’ll insert your ticket and be given the price you’re required to pay
      • Though there are illustrations to help, if you’re paying with a credit card look for “CARTE” on the signs up top to know which lane to stay in
    • You won’t see many cops on the road, but Italians are definitely [sneakily] watching your speed!
      • There are cameras all over, so be sure to stay at a reasonable speed or you’ll come home to a speeding ticket in the mail! I get one every single time I’m here… you’d think I’d have learned by now (sorry Dad!!)!
    • Their road signs are different than ours, so it can be confusing to decipher what’s a one-way, where you can and cannot park, etc. Some of the more important ones include:
      • Screen Shot 2014-09-09 at 4.35.49 AM and Screen Shot 2014-09-09 at 4.35.58 AM may look like “Do Not Enter,” but they actually signify “No Parking” and “No Stopping,” respectively
      • Screen Shot 2014-09-09 at 4.37.30 AM means “Do Not Enter,” whereas Screen Shot 2014-09-09 at 4.38.23 AM denotes “Restricted Access”
        • Natalie and I have also gotten tickets in the mail months later for driving in restricted areas in Rome, so this would have been helpful to know!
      • Screen Shot 2014-09-09 at 4.40.07 AM is “One-Way Traffic”
      • When headed into town/a city, you’ll see signs like these Screen Shot 2014-09-09 at 4.43.08 AM to indicate where the center (“Centro”) is (probably where you’re looking to go!) as well as the main train station (Stazione)
      • Luckily, their stop signs are the same as ours
    • As with everywhere else on Earth aside from the United States, Italy uses the metric system
      • Distances are given in meters/kilometers, as is speed/speed-limit signs (km/hr)
        • 1km/hr is a little more than half a mile per hour, so if you’re driving 100km/hr you’re going about 62miles/hr
      • Just as Jersey loves jughandles, Italians are all about traffic circles
        • They’re everywhere!
      • They also love driving fast in the left lane
        • I have a heavy foot and love being number one on the road (especially on the Parkway), but Italians take it to an entirely different level
        • If you’re driving in the left lane and are not going well above the speed limit, they will tailgate and flash you with zero hesitation
          • It is considered extremely rude and unnecessary to stay in the left if you aren’t going very fast, so your safest bet is to stay out of that lane
          • Don’t expect dirty looks or middle fingers as they pass, though – this is simply common practice and etiquette on Italian roadways (so don’t take it personally) 🙂
        • Passing is common even in residential areas and on smaller roads
          • It is acceptable to move into the lane for oncoming traffic (if all clear, of course) to pass the person in front of you if you’re traveling faster than them
          • Italians have no fear! I’ve seen this done on windy, narrow, cliff-scaling roads along the Amalfi Coast as if it was nothing
        • AutoGrills can be found all over when driving on the highway/Autostrade
          • They’re awesome rest stops that are similar to our 7-11s but better
          • If you’re hungry or need coffee, they have tons of amazing snacks in addition to a “bar” with coffee, drinks, sandwiches, etc.


Good luck, have fun, and be careful!

MileagePlus Program (iLOVEYOU)

After doing some mileage program research, I decided to go with the Chase United MileagePlus Explorer card a few years ago. There is an annual fee, but it’s minimal and you more than make up for it if you use the card wisely and take advantage of its benefits!


Generally, the way it works is that you build “miles” according to how much you’re spending and what you’re buying. Every dollar is equivalent to at least one mile, though shopping at certain places earns you more. For instance, Nordstrom is typically at least 4 miles to the dollar. FTD is another favorite of mine – a $100 bouquet of flowers can earn you thousands of miles! I send flowers to everyone for the most random occasions (it’s a win-win)! 😉 is another huge one; a magazine subscription can earn you ridiculous amounts of miles, and I’m an avid Cosmo reader so this one’s huge for me; I get the US, Italy, and UK versions delivered to my apartment.


When you actually travel, you earn not only on the ticket price but also on the distance flown. It’s great!


Once you’ve accumulated points and are ready to book, it’s important to keep in mind that “miles earned” is not equivalent to “miles you want to fly.” In other words, if you’re trying to go from NYC to Rome, you’ll unfortunately need more than ~4,300 miles (which makes sense considering you can accumulate that many from one bouquet of flowers alone!). Instead, a one-way ticket from NYC to Rome is 30,000 miles (round-trip is 60,000). Domestic flights are way less!


Using the United MileagePlus card, I’ve managed to have almost every other flight completely paid for in miles. In other words, zero dollars. When I do spend on flights, I spend hours looking for deals – I try different combinations of airports (out of Newark but back into JFK, for instance) and dates. I credit my psych background for these incredibly valuable research skills B), and I spend on average $600 for round-trip flights to Europe when I pay out of pocket.


It’s safe to say that miles are more valuable than money for me at this point in my life, and I’m not even ashamed to admit it. ❤


Any time I talk to someone new about my “galavanting” as my grandma puts it (she’s the one who’s so lovingly called me a gypsy my whole life, too), they’re convinced that either a) my dad pays my rent (HAHA!), b) I have a rich boyfriend in Italy (another joke.. I’m Miss “Don’t Even Say the R Word in My Presence”), or c) I’m in insane debt and spend beyond my means.


Obviously, none of these are true (& thank GOD c isn’t). Truthfully, I’m just careful. When I get paid each week (or got paid, since I’m now solely volunteering), my direct-deposit check was automatically split into three accounts:

  • Rent Checking: $300
    • This amounts to $1,200/month, which is enough to cover both my rent and utilities
    • I don’t even see this money, so I never have to worry about being tempted to spend it or about scrambling at the end of the month to come up with rent
  • Savings: $100
    • It’s probably not a lot, but for me this is huge
    • I started my automatic savings deposits small ($20) and had them gradually increase to where they are now
    • Up until embarrassingly recently, a “savings account” to me was one I drained when I wanted to buy something big or go somewhere extra far.. I definitely wasn’t saving to save (& would’ve been screwed in the event of a full-blown emergency for sure)
  • Regular Checking: the rest
    • It’s from this account that I pay my credit card and other bills (lease, insurance, etc.)

BIG checks from real estate deals are split in a similar manner, though only between savings and regular checking. The majority goes to savings and to pay a chunk of my school loans.


Automatic payments are lifesavers for me! As I’ve said, I’m constantly going in 73 different directions at once – between work and school alone I’m swamped, and if something isn’t in my iPhone calendar, it’s not happening. Automatic, recurring payments save me from having to remember certain bills (& spare me from ever being late!).

  • Car: my lease payment is automatically taken out of my checking account at the end of the month
  • Student Loans: these payments break my heart when I see them constantly withdrawn L but it has to be done
    • I didn’t defer my loans/put off payments until after graduation, so I’ve always paid as I’ve attended classes
    • I make these a devastating once a week (even now while I’m unemployed.. posso vomitare)
      • I think the minimum is like $40/month, but I end up paying about $300/month because I’m neurotic


I’m sure you could make automatic payments for credit card bills, but I don’t. As neurotic as I am about school loan payments, I’m way worse with my card! I only have one: the Chase United MileagePlus Explorer Card. I am obsessed. I use Chase for my checking/savings/rent accounts, as well, and I can’t say enough good things about them or their app. I’ve heard it’s good to keep a small balance on a credit card, but I literally would lose sleep at night – I immediately pay off any charges I make directly on my iPhone through the Chase app. I always saw my parents pay early and in full, and I guess I’ve picked it up from them!


Budgeting aside, the MileagePlus program associated with my card has allowed me to travel like the gypsy I am and then some. It changed my life! It even has its own separate post, that’s how f’ing valuable it is to me! 😉 Check that out for more info.