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English speakers' 1st Visit: Guided tour or go it alone?

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English speakers' 1st Visit: Guided tour or go it alone?

My husband and I are traveling from the US to Italy in the fall, most likely for about 10 days and focusing on Rome and Florence. We've been looking at tour packages but aren't crazy about the constant go-go-go and packing/unpacking of that style of travel and would like to spend significant time in fewer places so we can really enjoy those at a leisurely pace.

We have visited the UK 4 times and always rent a home, go at our own pace and have a great time. We've done this many times in the states as well. However we're not sure if a self-guided visit to Italy, especially for our first trip to the country, will be as enjoyable due to potential language barriers. We will definitely take along a book of basic phrases/translations and maybe even buy a Rosetta Stone CD before we go.

So, all you knowledgeable travelers, will we be able to manage basic communication, particulary in the lesser known tourist venues and perhaps rural towns, if we want to ask questions of a docent or a local, read a dinner menu, etc, without a good working knowledge of Italian? Thank you for your insight.

Norwich, United...
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1. Re: English speakers' 1st Visit: Guided tour or go it alone?

As far as I'm aware, we've yet to have a TA member NEVER find their way back to civilisation...

My advice would be to suck it and see - if need be, hiring a guide for any specific day, visit, site, tour or whatever - but doing without that insulating, isolating, barrier as much as you can?

Certainly that was the approach we've taken in other Mediterranean countries (with the exception of Albania!) - even if here my wife's degree in Italian has been very useful...



New York City, New...
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2. Re: English speakers' 1st Visit: Guided tour or go it alone?

If you read these forums, you will see that thousands of people do this all this time. Yes, there are some challenges at moments with language barriers - but, to me, that's the fun of traveling, otherwise I'd only go where people speak my language.

I have been going for years and have been many times - to the cities, small towns, etc and have never had a problem I can't overcome.

Take a little book that also has some menu/meal items listed with translations. I have sometimes misunderstood an item on a menu and got something I didn't think I was ordering but ate it anyway and never griped about it or became disappointed about it.

I think it is about attitude. If you go and don't expect everyone to speak English and make some effort to speak - at the very least - the courteous phrases (thank you, hello, good-bye, excuse me, where is..., etc), you should do fine.

You mention Rome and Florence - people who work in the tourist businesses will usually have either excellent or some English. I have run across some places in both cities where no English was spoken by servers (and I was thrilled) and still, it's fine.

Learn about some of the cultural differences (i.e., when people eat dinner - usually dinner begins around 8 p.m.), that sort of thing.

Guidebooks have a world of info as does the many online sources.

No reason to take a tour based on your voiced concerns. You may want to sign up for certain tours when there - maybe for the Vatican Museums or the Forum in Rome, etc. But, that's a different issue.

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3. Re: English speakers' 1st Visit: Guided tour or go it alone?

My husband and I, both age 62, just returned from our first visit to Italy and we did the trip on our own with great success. We speak little to no Italian but managed to learn a few words and phrases before we left the US. Those few phrases combined with laughter and hand gestures saw us through our days in Venice, Florence, a week in an apartment in Tuscany where very few residents spoke any English, and then 4 days in Rome. The people were gracious and helpful and so proud of us when we attempted to speak Italian. On more than one occasion we were encouraged with "Bravo!" when we spoke the language even poorly. We do not like to follow someone else's schedule so planning the trip on our own was the best decision we made. "Bravo" to you for being independent travelers!

PS - we did arrange for 3 English speaking tours: Secret Itinerary Tour of the Doge's Palace in Venice; Vatican museum tour; Underground Tour of the Colosseum.

Edited: 20 May 2013, 18:11
Rutland, UK
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4. Re: English speakers' 1st Visit: Guided tour or go it alone?

You might find it helpful to get Dieter Graf's 'Point it' universal photo phrase book for travellers.

Cincinnati, Ohio
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5. Re: English speakers' 1st Visit: Guided tour or go it alone?

I've planned several successful trips to Europe and rarely have had a language problem. Rome and Florence are major tourists destinations so many people speak some English. Do learn the courtesy phrases like "hello" and "thank you". Study the transportation system and learn to recognize the phrases related to them like "arrival" and "exit". It also helps to stay in a hotel that gets good marks for the helpfulness of their front desk staff . With some effort put into planning, you'll do fine and have a great time .

Atlanta, GA
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6. Re: English speakers' 1st Visit: Guided tour or go it alone?

My wife and I(mid 50's) rented a car and toured northern Italy on our ownfor three weeks a couple of years ago. I agree with the other commenters here. We loved it--had no problems of any significance. We stayed mostly at B&B's and the hosts were wonderful. A lot of people speak at least some English.

I would use caution when driving in large cities. Can be confusing, and your GPS can sometimes lead you astray. We turned in our car when we were in Rome and just took public transport. On the Autostrada and on rural roads you will have no problems at all.

7. Re: English speakers' 1st Visit: Guided tour or go it alone?

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