We’ve always travelled cheap, it’s come naturally, and honestly it’s had little impact overall. Though most of these may be kind of obvious, I’ve tried to collect as many of the things we did – quite often without even thinking about it – in order to keep costs down.
A huge help is travelling with similarly light-walleted friends. As soon as searching the net for hostels or B&Bs, we quickly established we were looking for nice and cheap. Emphasis on nice and cheap. We struggled in Milan and had to go for a typically minimalist hostel (bags in a locker and put sheets on your own beds) a short metro ride from the centre, but every other city we stayed in had affordable B&Bs right in the centre. Verona in particular was beautiful, only three rooms on one floor but beautifully decorated with a well-stocked breakfast kitchenette. We searched around for these on sites like ‘Hostel World’ and had a rule of a 70% minimal rating (ideally 80%). You would think three would be an awkward number, but it was actually ideal. We decided first off we would be happy to share in a larger dorm for cheaper rooms (we would only be in each city for a couple of nights) however every place we stayed had cheap rooms for three. The privacy was relaxing once we were there.
However all this is pre-trip planning, and just requires sitting around with a laptop and Wi Fi for a while. Once finally away we kept costs down also. In most Italian cities there’s plenty to do in the day for free. Apart from just seeing the pretty sights (the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, the piazza in Siena, the sunflower fields in Grosseto) you can walk around the city and look around. There are beautiful religious buildings all over Italy, and most will let you look inside for free (though also prefer people to be reasonably covered – I had a large shirt to cover my shoulders anyway). Places like the Uffizi Gallery do unfortunately charge, but they do a lot of concessions rates so definitely check. We always got tickets for things like this at the door, and the Uffizi gallery was far less daunting than it first appeared (a lot of people seemed to just be crowding near the door…?).
For lunch we mostly just grabbed a slice of pizza for a couple of euros, but did have dinner out a few nights. Sometimes we bought bread, pesto, tomatoes (all the things I am currently day dreaming of), beer and wine from the supermarket and ate it outside our hostel (where in Milan we were joined for dinner by the mosquitoes, one bite covered most of my calf for a few days). To eat out we, of course, shopped around. Every restaurant had a menu outside its doors for us to price-check and the ones off the main streets were cheaper and, in every place other than Venice where it really was a struggle to find somewhere cheaper, the food was always gorgeous. In Naples there is a small place that just does ragu. It is amazing. It was called Tandem and Trip Advisor seems to agree with me.
We thought of things we wanted to do that day, and mostly they were free. One wanting to hit one of the libraries, the other take a look at the shops in Milan. Art galleries, museums, gardens, tourist-tat shops (mine), we all had our things. Every place we stayed had Wi Fi and, especially in the smaller places we stayed, the people there would suggest places. In Verona for instance the lovely lady working there directed us to the pizza place we went to that evening.
For travelling we stuck to trains and, occasionally, buses, though when I arrived in Naples my friend and I grabbed a taxi having checked with the B&B beforehand. They had a fixed fee with the taxi company. We got a free boat road in Venice thanks to a mix up at our hostel, that was definitely fun.
One time when it was a large group of us we stayed in a villa rather than a hostel. Sounds extravagant, and it definitely felt like it (there was a pool that looked straight out onto a stunning view) but, split ten ways, worked out the same as the cheapest hostel. This wasn’t in the centre of a city, it was in the quiet town of Monte San Savino and was the perfect quiet holiday.
So, like I said, not many cheap secrets here. Mainly just common sense. If you’re seriously hosteling it, bring a towel, hygiene gel and a lock at least. Also the hostel in Milan had a vending machine that did amazing hot chocolate, it was oddly delicious. Speaking of which, splash out on the little things. Especially ice cream, pizza and wine.