A reader asked me recently (and I apologize for taking so long to respond):
I’m a college student, I don’t have a lot of money, but I want to go to Rome for a few weeks this summer with some friends. I can’t afford to eat out at all those restaurants all the time, and I heard that Rome is expensive. I also want to have an authentic experience – can I do that on a student’s budget?
If you’re going to Rome with friends, then you’ve already found a great way to save money. You could share a hotel room or go the inexpensive route by finding a nice hostel of which there are plenty. It’s a policy not to suggest individual places — since I’ve never stayed at them, I don’t want to lead readers astray. My suggestion is that you check out Lonely Planet guidebooks or Rick Steve’s guidebook to Rome and see what’s on offer for lodgings. Then take their suggestions and google them to see what others are saying about them. Don’t let one or two bad reviews sway you, but if you find that a great number of people are saying the same things, then look elsewhere. Poor lodgings can ruin a vacation.
As for eating out – the best way to save money, and this applies to anyone, is to avoid the tourist traps. If you see people eating dinner at 5:00 or 6:00 in the evening, it’s a restaurant that caters to tourists. While the food may/may not be the greatest, you’ll get a more authentic experience (and cheaper, too) by finding a more Italian place to eat. The only downside is that 1) the menu might not be available in English but that usually shouldn’t prove too difficult 2) the waitstaff might speak limited English. So learn some Italian phrases related to the restaurants and learn how to say please/thank you. Check out Learnitalianpod.com — they have a podcast or two on eating out and ordering food.
You can probably find an inexpensive hotel that will offer a free breakfast – that takes care of one meal. You can load up on fruit, coffee, a cornetto or two, and some juice, and that should last you the morning until lunch. And your lunch does not have to be fancy or exotic – a slice or two of pizza, some fruit purchased from the local supermarket, a panini, or even a gelato. Just be careful – it’s usually not permitted to eat at many sites and museums, and it’s also forbidden to eat/drink on the Spanish Steps. At dinner time, find a trattoria or osteria with a decent menu and enjoy yourself – you can probably have a nice meal of pasta for under $20.00 depending on where you eat out, and if you’re dining with friends you can split that bottle or carafe of wine!
As a student, do take advantage of student discounts at museums and other attractions. Take advantage of things like Archaeologia Card and the Roma Pass – both are excellent values! Save money on public transport when you can by walking the city – walking is not only great exercises but it also good for the environment and will cut down on your carbon footprint (not to mention save you money, too). Avoid taxis when you can – they are expensive and will certainly drill into your budget! Anyway, Rome is best seen on foot – invest in a good pair of walking shoes!
Your two largest expenses are going to be your lodgings and your flight to/from Italy but with some careful planning and research, you can find some great deals on both. Remember, that the summer is a busy time in Rome so don’t leave your lodgings to chance – not only will you pay more but you might find it difficult to secure a place to stay.
Some airlines offer student discounts – do your homework to find the best fare. You could save yourself money that could be spent on some great souvenirs for your trip!