$aving money in Rome and Italy in general can be challenging — you’re going to want to see and do a lot of things. With the euro being that much stronger than the American dollar, it’s a safe bet that you’re going to be spending more of your money.
(I just want to apologize in advance to my non-American readers for using the reference to the US Dollar. But many of my practice tips will apply to you, regardless of your currency.)
So here are some tips:
- If you plan to do a lot of sight-seeing, check out the Roma Pass. It can save you money on admission to museums. You can read about the pass from my previous post.
- Unless you plan to venture outside of Rome and outside the range of the trains, metro and CoTRAL bus service, I suggest that you avoid renting a car. Gasoline is expensive (twice what one might pay in the US), parking is difficult to find and can also be expensive, as well as the necessary car insurance. Unless you direly need the car, stick to public transport, cycling, or walking.
Public transportation is extremely economical in Rome. Remember that a Metro pass will work on the bus and some train routes, too, and vice versa. Always validate your ticket!
- Dine with the Romans. Restaurants that serve dinner at 5 or 6 o’clock in the evening cater to tourists. Romans eat much later – generally after 8pm if not later. Tourist restaurants and tourist haunts charge more than the average Roman tratteria. You’ll find better food, better service and more savings if you dine like the Romans do.
- Your hotel and airfare are going to be the two largest expenses of your trip. The airline ticket is going to be the hardest expense to reduce, but you can choose a hotel that isn’t going to break your budget. It’s important to remember that hotel rooms in Rome will be much smaller than you’ll find in America. So you’ll find yourself paying more money for less space. Expect it, and expect to pay more if you want a spacious room. Go for the cheapest hotel room that you can find without sacrificing your personal safety or your sanity. You don’t want to return to your home in a financially poorer state than when you left.
It’s hard to recommend a good hotel, but there are lots of excellent sites and resouces. Check out the links in the sidebar — the accomodation resources listed have proven to be useful and are good sites to start. Most guidebooks have recommendations. Authors of the guidebooks have typically stayed at these establishments and probably would not recommend them if they weren’t reputable.
- Avoid shopping at tourist traps. They tend to overprice their wares. Also beware of fakes and forgeries of well known designers. In the coming days, I’ll have a post on shopping in Rome.
- Traveler’s checks are a thing of the past, but it never hurts to take a few with you just in case. Avoid exchanging them if you can – if you don’t use them, you can generally return them to the bank where you purchased and get a refund. Use your debit card or credit card to make cash advances or to take money out of your account. I would suggest that you use your credit card since there has been a rash of identity theft worldwide, where thieves sabotage an ATM machine so that when you insert your card, your card number and pin are transmitted, often through a bluetooth signal, to thieves who can then sell or use your data to access your account.
Using your credit card will often net you a better rate than what you might get if you exchanged the cash directly at the bank. Avoid exchanging cash or traveler’s checks in tourist areas — including your hotel. They tend to offer the least favorable exchange rates.
Be careful when withdrawing money from your bank at home — you’ll probably be charged fees for making an international withdrawal. Mastercard and Visa also charge a small fee for any purchases made overseas, typically about 1 or 2 percent of the total purchase. Consider these fees when making purchases. They can add up fast!
- If you make a purchase at any single merchant for 59 euro or more, you are entitled to a refund of the VAT. This is a complicated process and requires filling out a form at the time of purchase. The merchant is not likely to advertise this so be sure to ask. Remember, your purchase must exceed 59 euro. If you shop 10 different days and spend 60 euro at the same merchant over a course of 10 days, you won’t be entitled.
When you leave the airport, there’s a counter that will process your forms. You can usually get a refund directly to your credit card or receive cash. Depending upon the amount and whether you filled out the form correctly will determine how you receive your refund.
If you intend to make some large purchases, this is a good way to recoup some of your loss.
If you have any other tips on saving money while in Rome (or Italy for that matter), leave a comment!