Ten years ago, when my childhood girlfriends and I were all turning 30, one of us said: Hey, let’s do something exciting when we all turn 40! Somebody suggested a trip to Italy, and we all thought that sounded like a grand idea.
We had no clue where we’d be living in 10 years, how many kids we’d have (if any at all), or what our life circumstances would be. But we made a pact and vowed to keep it. We casually mentioned the trip each time we got together over the years, until one day we realized that 40 wasn’t so far away anymore, and we’d have to actually start planning if we were going to go through with this thing. Lo and behold, we did it!
Last week, we spent seven days and nights exploring Rome, Praiano, Positano, Pozzuoli and the island of Ischia. There are so many things I’d love to share about our time in Italy, but to keep things manageable, I thought I’d write it out in the form of some “do’s” and don’ts.” Whether you’re thinking of a trip to Italy in the future, or you just want a peek into our experience, here are my thoughts:
Italy Do’s and Don’ts
DON’T use the city bus to get around unless you have a strong stomach, a bad sense of smell, and zero claustrophobia issues. I highly recommend traveling via your own feet, a taxi, train, or a driver if you’re going a long distance.
DO stay in Praiano if you’re going to the Amalfi coast. It’s a small town in between Positano and Amalfi that’s less touristy and crowded than the more popular coastal towns. And the Tramonto D’Oro is an absolutely gorgeous hotel to stay in, with a fabulous restaurant overlooking the sea and lovely, kind owners.
DO pay attention to which coach your seats are in if you take the Trenitalia train between cities. Hint: The seat number and the coach number are not the same thing.
DON’T sweat the mishaps. Of course everybody dreams of a flawless vacation where everything goes off without a hitch. But the things that went awry, like the aforementioned luggage snafu, attempting to wash our hair in a bathtub, being told “No cappuccino for you!,” and the tour guide who wouldn’t stop talking, are the things we’ll remember most about the trip and laugh about years from now.
DO consider spending time in Pozzuoli if you’re going to the Naples area. We never would have known about Pozzuoli if it weren’t for our friend Carri who’d lived in Naples for a few years, but it was a fun and picturesque seaside town that was full of amazing restaurants and shops, and way less touristy than some other Italian cities.
DON’T visit Pozzuoli without having dinner at Sal e Pepe. For 25 euros we were treated to all of the wine and food we could consume, including freshly caught fish, seafood risotto, and many unique Italian delicacies. We left there so stuffed we could hardly walk.
DO order the house wine everywhere you go. It’s always good (and I’m a bit of a wine snob), and it’s also very cheap.
DON’T pack uncomfortable shoes. You’ll never wear them, and if you do, you’ll regret it.
DO consider a visit to the Negombo Spa on the island of Ischia. Capri gets a lot of publicity, but I’d recommend Ischia over Capri to anyone. Once again, Carri recommended this island, which is home to the Negombo Thermal Spa — one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever visited in my life. OK, I think it’s the most beautiful place I’ve been in my life.
DON’T over-schedule yourself. I loved the time we had to just wander, sit in cafes, and discover what was around the bend, like this amazing cliff-side bar in Praiano. (As if the view isn’t enough reason to want to go there, the bartender is a mixology genius).
DO invest in your friendships. Obviously our trip was a luxury and a HUGE blessing, but it also took a lot of effort to pull off. Arranging and re-arranging schedules, figuring out childcare, taking time off of work, saving up money, asking for lots of favors from spouses, family, friends and neighbors, researching, making countless lists, overcoming anxieties, ailments and phobias…
I’m sure we all had a moment in the midst of the crazy planning and arranging when we wondered if it was worth it. But it absolutely was — at least to me. Not because of the amazing scenery we took in or the fantastic food and wine we consumed, but because we had a chance to talk and laugh and cry and reconnect in a way we haven’t in decades.
Keeping up old friendships can be hard, especially when you have families and live in different places, but it’s completely worth the time and effort.
PS. We planned our trip with the help of Jan from Gateway Destinations, who specializes in women-only trips to Europe. I recommend her if you’re interested planning any trips of your own!