Traveling on a budget doesn’t mean you can only go to third world countries. Being a budget traveler doesn’t mean you can’t experience ‘expensive’ destinations, it just means you need to do some research first.
The North and South of Italy are easier to imagine as two different countries, with two different personalities. While the sophisticated North sees the highest stream of visitors arriving to glimpse fashionable Milan and old world Venice, in order to stay on budget you can head to the often-neglected toe of ‘the boot’. In the rugged South Calabria sparkles with beautiful beaches, and for in-your-face culture shock head to Sicily. Wherever you find yourself, see if there is an agriturismo in a nearby small town, where you will get a closer peek into local life, at a super affordable rate. With an online library packed with a range of accommodation from rustic participation farms, to luxurious independent villas, agriturismos can be a great value.
Larger cities cater toward tourists, and a decent meal may cost hundreds of Euros if you are not savvy. Here the key is to walk 5 blocks in any direction away from the main strada, and look for a restaurant with a menu out front written only in Italian. It helps to know the level of service you should expect from an establishment. An osteria will be your most affordable option, and is good for quick meals and will have great wine. A trattoria is likely to be a traditional family run restaurant, where you can find local specialties. For the top level of service you would head to a ristorante, where you will dine on white tablecloths with formal servers. Knowing this, sometimes your most memorable meal will be a pizza on the street in Naples, or chestnuts roasting on the sidewalk in Rome.
Instead of hitting all the must see tourist sights, make a list of your own must-sees. Many of the most famous attractions in Italy are free. Spend an entire day getting lost in Venice wandering across cobblestone bridges, or spend an evening relaxing at the Trevi fountain, tossing in coins and taking in the romantically lit surroundings. Instead of going to expensive designer stores where the urge to buy might wash over you, sit for a half hour on a bench in Rome or Milan eating a (affordable) gelato where you can experience your own private fashion show.
Next time you see a great flight to Italy, don’t get intimidated by la bella vita, grab your backpack and go!