This is about travel planning – an exercise in imagination regarding where to go, and moreover, why go there. It helps me set my own expectations about what’s to come at the selected destinations. The theme of this trip is a selected region within a single country – Northern Italy.
Italy is a country I continue to return to, and continue to discover, time and again. The regions I’ve already visited are varied, and differ from one another in geography, climate, cuisine, language, and other dimensions I have yet to discover. But they’re all interesting.
Having passed through Milan several times previously in transit to Venice, and Florence, I knew I wanted to eventually spend time there. Milan is the anchor of this Northern Italy trip, being both its entry and exit points, with the rest of the destinations visited in a circuit.
I wanted to visit the Ligurian Italian Riviera, specifically the town of Portofino and thought it would work out well as a day trip from Genoa.
Having previously been to Venice, I wanted to further explore the Veneto region, and do so through stopovers in smaller towns that would present a different kind of profile, and less densely touristed. It was a toss-up between Vicenza and Verona. I picked Verona because it made a tighter geographic circuit, and it was closer to Lake Garda – I thought it might be nice to explore there if time permitted.
And finally, I needed to see Lake Como, and the wonderful towns, and villas dotting its shores that I’ve read so much about in the media, and travel blogs.
The calendar allowed for 9 nights on this trip, scheduled over the American Independence Day holiday, the 4th of July. Four destinations would be a challenging itinerary as transit time would cut into exploration and discovery, but I really wanted to see all four destinations. I thought Milan deserved the extra time as compared to the other 3 destinations as it was by far the grander city, with the most exploration to be done.
Milan – 3 nights
Genoa – 2 nights
Verona – 2 nights
Como – 2 nights
From my home base in Atlanta, nonstop flights to Milan are available through Delta, and Alitalia as a Delta code share. While non stop flights are by far the most convenient, they can be very expensive, especially for the summer high season. Typically finding nonstop round trip tickets under $1,000 is pretty rare because the International market is dominated by Delta, and the lack of competition out of Atlanta. But I happened upon a flash sale by Alitalia where they were discounting coach fare to under $700. At that price point it was a good value, so I jumped on the opportunity.
With 4 destinations, and each separated by a three hour drive from the previous on my selected circuit, it logistically made little sense to use trains, or any other public transportation as it would take even longer to get to the next destination. Trains in particular may have multiple stops, may not run on time, may require a change with added connection time, and so on. Therefore I elected to rent a car, and here too I found a bargain through Rentalcars.com on an Alfa Romeo.
Car rental is a bit different in Italy in that insurance coverage is compulsory for primary coverage. Most insurance comes with high deductibles, and full coverage is either not available or comes at a high price. I typically use American Express as my primary coverage when possible, or as the secondary coverage when primary insurance is compulsory, as in this case with Italy. This has worked well for my personal situation.
I have a strong preference for apartments over hotels for several reasons. In general, apartments are a better value as compared to hotel rooms because they have much more space, can come with a washing machine so that both excess luggage and laundry services can be avoided, and are typically less expensive than hotel rooms – sometimes much less expensive for a much better experience. And the most important reason for apartments over hotel rooms is that it leads to a much more immersive experience for me.
I can find apartments in the center of the old part of town in most of the destinations of interest, which leads to more exploration time because I’m already located where I usually need to be for my style of travel, and I avoid transit time to the center of town. An apartment feels more like being a resident as compared to a hotel room. I found excellent apartments for each of the four destinations on this trip using a combination of Homeaway.com, and Booking.com
Google Flights is my standard tool for research, and planning airfare. There are plenty of others, and I’ve tried most, but find that I really don’t need to save the very last nickel at the cost of spending more time chasing that nickel.
Booking.com, and Homeaway.com, were used to book all of the apartments for this trip. My preference is to avoid Airbnb because they’re not transparent with property locations, and do not promote the size of their properties in their standard description. But I do use them if I can circumvent their deficiencies.
Google Maps is absolutely indispensable for planning purposes. I shudder to think what trip planning would be without it. I download the maps for the countries I travel, to avoid being out of cell range (highly unlikely in Europe), and to navigate should I exceed my daily data allowance.
Google Translate is installed on my phone and smart watch with Italian already downloaded for this trip. This way I can translate on the spur of the moment even if I have no data left for the day, or if I’m out of cell range (which still happens when indoors in some locations).
Tripadvisor is awesome for advanced travel planning, as well as finding a decent restaurant on the spot.