Shoestring Travel: A budget travel guide to Northern Italy
Pizza, pasta, pesto, pastels, there’s no denying the truth – Italy is the ultimate dream for any traveller. The real question is, can you travel around this foodie paradise without breaking your bank? This novice shoestring traveller is here to tell you how!
Having left New Zealand with no more than a few scraps in my savings, I went to Northern Italy for a 10-day adventure with my British best mate feeling a little financially deflated. Eager to take on all that Italy had to offer, I set myself out a little budget and hoped for the best. What I found on this adventure is that you really can see and experience so much without having to give up a part of your soul to pay for it!
Milan: World Capital of Fashion
Milan is the capital of all things glamorous in Italy. I spent my 22nd birthday here, running around in my tired, worn-out converses among the copious amounts of Gucci-kitted fashion bloggers.Pizza, pasta, pesto, pastels, there’s no denying the truth – Italy is the ultimate dream for any traveller. The real question is, can you travel around this foodie paradise without breaking your bank? Click To Tweet
Amidst the chaos of Milan’s main square, home to the Duomo di Milano, it’s easy to mindlessly wander off into the side alleys and find yourself with real locals. Pockets of Italy are waiting at every turn in Milan, so save your money, ditch the Uber, and take on the city by foot – you’ll certainly earn your carbonara for the evening!
Speaking of exploring on foot, my British companion (and effectively free walking tour guide – shout-out to organised travel pals!) led us down to the canal way of the fashion-forward city during our last night. At 5pm, this area became a hive of interaction. Expect plenty of attention from waiters as they try to bring you in for happy hour. Our choice of dinner was put down to the cheapest offer – this happened to be an all-you-can-eat buffet at the cost of one happy hour cocktail. £8 well spent!
Shoestring travel tip for Italy: The majority of restaurants will provide free tapas with your drink of choice!
Off the Beaten Track at Lake Como
Located 90 minutes north of Milan, Lake Como is somewhat of an undiscovered gem. At a reasonable train price of €10-€15, this pastel-covered cove is the perfect detour for off-the-beaten-track travel lovers.
A small lakeside town, Lake Como is easy to explore by foot. But if you want to see it from above, a gondola for €5 return can take you to the main clifftop viewing area, with a hiking trail to the town lighthouse available free!
Avoid having food up in the clouds – premium prices are charged for even the simplest treats. Head down towards the pier after, grab yourself a double scooper from the local gelato shop, and take in the insane views.
With little to no transport costs, reasonably prices restaurants, and a private room two minutes walk from the luscious lakeside, Lake Como is a match made in heaven for any budget traveller.
Cinque Terre: Five Mindblowing Fishing Villages
The Northern equivalent to the well known Almafi Coast, this string of villages, also known as Cinque Terre, has a fighting chance as my favourite travel destination so far.
This was my longest stay during our northern Italian adventure and for that I’ll be forever grateful. These fishing villages have less tourist density (win!) and are easily accessible by use of the local train line. Full-day train tickets to explore these mindblowing compact clifftop towns cost as little as €5 return.
We chose to stay in the town of Levanto, in a private AirBnb room for approximately €15 per night (each – gotta love sharing the cost of travel). This was relatively cheap in comparison to some centrally located rooms which can charge upwards of €90 per night.
To save on food costs here, think about packing a day bag and bringing some snacks with you as you lie on the beach and hike in and out the cliff top houses! However, if you really want to treat yourself, there is a beautiful cliff top restaurant in Manarola. A carafe of white wine and a platter of tomato bruschetta cost only €12 – a budget traveller’s dream splurge!
Accommodation: £20 Per Night
Accommodation can be done relatively cheap, potentially even cheaper than I did – if you really don’t mind where you lay your head. A variety of hostels and shared AirBnb private rooms sustained my trip, and for a girl who has stayed in some questionable places to save on some dollars, I was more than satisfied with the average spend in comparison to the quality!
Food: £10 Per Day
Ahhhh yes. Italian food. What. A. Treat. I think its safe to say you can have one big meal in Italy and be sustained for a whole day (or maybe a week). On average, a pizza or pasta delight in majority of these northern cities can cost approximately £8-10 depending on what you get. Keep it basic on a budget; a margarita pizza really can’t go astray.
Transport: £8 Per Day
Depending on where you are travelling to (longer or shorter hauls) your transport costs can fluctuate. Some days I would have spent as little as €3, others it might have been upwards of €15 to get between cities. Travel early in the morning or late at night in Italy to avoid peak travel times where prices can surge. Slow travel can also help to cut costs especially in Europe, with trains, buses, and boats providing an opportunity to see the countryside for as little cost as a main meal.
Activities/Attractions: £0-£5 Per Day
I tend to stay away from the typical tourist activities while travelling, and northern Italy was no different. I saved money on this by researching popular sights to see in the area and acting as my own walking tour guide, ticking off places as I went and taking in the opportunities nature provided: swimming, hikes, etc.
I think Italy will have a part of my heart forever after this trip.