What it’s like doing Italy on a budget

Despite living in Berlin being relatively affordable, and despite me actually making a decent wage, this year living abroad has left me financially crippled. I won’t go into all the details of it now, but suffice it to say I’ll probably be slumming it for the first few months of my return to Canada. It’s a combination of the problems I had immigrating to Germany and the low Canadian dollar.

In reality, I probably shouldn’t have hopped on my Italy trip at all. But this has been in motion for a long time now and I was too excited to quit.

So I decided to try Italy on a mega-budget (although I still splurged on many things). Combined with the fact that Italy doesn’t seem to like my credit card, this is probably the tightest budget I’ve ever had.

Finding Hostels

I thought after all the hostel dorms filled with 50+ snoring men on the Camino I’d be well equipped to handle any hostel dorm. MY GAWD was I ever wrong.

Things got better at the end of my trip. I guess I was too exhausted to stay awake.

But it was hell at the beginning of the trip. The only two nights I did sleep were when I threw down my budget shackles and got slightly intoxicated. And by slightly I mean “I shouldn’t have drank two bottles of wine the night before hiking 15 kilometres over a mountain.”

Anyway. I’ve picked mixed dorms in hostels, which are usually cheaper than all-female dorms. Except for my first dorm in Venice (all female).

Even hostels aren’t cheap here. My place in Venice (Youthvenicepalace Hostel) was about 40 EUR a night in a six-person dorm, and then one night the owner squeezed an additional bed into the room…which frankly, really pissed me off. I paid for a six-person dorm. It should have stayed six-person. But I was certainly paying for location, and honestly, I’d probably stay here again based on that reason alone. The water taxis were HELLA expensive from the other hostels…7.50 EUR one way! Without a transit card, that is.

Billy the hostel dog

(This guy ran the show at Hostel of the Sun. Ain’t he sweet?)

Florence (PLUS Hostel) and the Cinque Terre (Ostello di Corniglia) were cheaper, about 25 EUR each, and same for here in Rome (Alessandro Palace Hostel). Naples’ Hostel of the Sun was cheap, and my absolute favourite. But Naples was cheaper than other towns in general.

There was a good discussion about this on my Facebook page recently – are we getting older, or are people just getting shittier? In some places, people were blatantly disrespectful. They stomped back and forth, or talked loudly while people were in bed, or they left the lights on. And there’s always that one goddamned person with a million rustling plastic bags.

I don’t remember it being this way in my earlier backpacking days.

What I like about Italy is that as long as you pick a hotel in a decent part of town, it’s not that hard to commute. Usually. On Capri island, my hotel just outside the main town is 20 EUR a night and a bus comes along every 15 minutes.

I splurged on a pretty average hotel (Nazionale Levanto) in the Cinque Terre. The service was excellent, but a single bed cost me nearly 80 EUR a night. I needed the break. And yet, I still didn’t sleep.

I had some Expedia credit, which is how I booked all these accommodations. Otherwise I might have tried Couchsurfing or Airbnb, or a Homestay for far cheaper options.

All Those Bloody Hidden Fees

I loved Italy a lot. I was completely enchanted. I completely GET IT. I could live in Rome; I sincerely mean that. I love the vibe.

But I’d worry as an outsider I’d never escape the price gouging. I get why they do it; tourism is a huge part of the economy and we (tourists) are kinda trampling the shit out of their country. But in some places I have to pay 2 EUR a night for a “city tax” and then most hostels charge up to 5 EUR for towels, and even SHEETS, etc.

Capri boat tour

I’ve spent 10 EUR on padlocks. PADLOCKS. I brought one with me but it didn’t fit my first locker, and in my hostel here in Rome, neither the first padlock NOR the second padlock fit. YE GAWDS. THERE ARE SO MANY KEYS IN MY PURSE.

The Food

Food is actually not so bad. And you’ll find that in the more local, authentic places (read: better), the food is cheaper anyway. Last night I shared a bottle of wine, a huge bowl of pasta, and some pizza with two friends for about 18 EUR each. In a tourist trap the other day I paid nearly as much for a pizza and two beers, and it was…gross.

Plus there are so many places to grab something on the go. A slice of pizza and a bottle of water might only be 2 EUR.

But the drinks are expensive, and there’s often a “service” fee (2EUR). This is not just a tourist thing, but it’s definitely more common in tourist places. In that case I don’t leave a tip (an Italian friend suggested this).

As a general rule on this trip, I didn’t worry TOO much about what I was spending on food. Food is a big part of why I visited. So I’d eat light all day, maybe grab a gelato, and then get a little splurgey with dinner. If tiramisu was on the menu, it went in my belly.

Tickets and Tours

This is definitely where ALL my money has been going. I’ve been working with Walks of Italy and Eating Europe for some tours, but everything else is coming out of my own pocket.

Getting into historical Italy is really, really important to me. That’s why I won’t skimp on in-depth tours with really knowledgeable guides. Starting prices for everything are usually around 40 EUR (with the luxury of skipping the line-ups), but they can get suuuuper expensive too. Do your research first.


I also wasn’t aware of how booked up things would get until I arrived here. Reserving tickets to things like the Uffizi Gallery or Accademia in Florence should be done way in advance – not when you arrived. Otherwise you’ll be stuck in the ticket line-up for a million years.

For the Uffizi Gallery and Accademia, I actually downloaded some free audio guides from Rick Steeves. They were perfect. It would cost about 7 EUR at the sites themselves.

I mean, it’s only really worth the tours if you actually care about what you’re looking at. It wouldn’t do for me to just look at the Collosseum and say “cool.” I need to know EVERYTHING.


Italy has honestly been the easiest country I’ve ever travelled around. Its public transportation network is just wonderful. There are super fast trains and slow regional trains and a million different bus companies and also Bla Bla Car is crazy popular.

I did the cheapest routes possible, which unfortunately is a pain in the ass. It took me nearly 10 hours to get from Levanto to Rome. TEN HOURS. It would have taken me two or three via high speed rail, but the price was insanely different.

At some point I figure the cost doesn’t outweigh the benefit of all those hours saved. On the other hand, I caught up on some admin work and read a book. C’est la vie of the poor pauper.

The Final Word

I  averaged maybe 30-50 EUR per day since I got here, but that isn’t included the tours I’ve hopped on or my rooms. That’s just spending money, and it’s actually not all that bad.

So yeah, you can do Italy on a budget. But don’t deny yourself the pleasures of a good meal either, or a beautiful behind-the-scenes tour though the Private Rooms of Emperor Augustus.

My credit card argues, but that’s my feeling on the matter. Yes, Italy is possible on a budget.

  • June 21 2016

    Budget traveling in Europe always worried me, but this doesn’t look too bad. Minus the hostels – that is sooo expensive for having to share a room! And I’m firmly on the ‘people are selfish dicks nowadays’ side of that camp :)
    Rika | Cubicle Throwdown recently posted…PSA: Kayaking in Roatan

    • June 22 2016

      Hahaha right? Italy is probably one of the most expensive countries in Europe so I wouldn’t use it as a marker against the other countries!

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