But We’ve Never Travelled (Overseas) Before

The very first time I got on a plane, I was 20 years old and about to start the journey of our honeymoon in Durban.  I was literally shaking with excitement because it was all just so new to me.  I distinctly remember trying to navigate though the airport to load our luggage and that feeling of taking off for the first time.  And for someone who forgets almost everything, you’ll know how memorable it was if I still think about it.

And I know for many of you lucky few out there, that’s a bizarrely long time to wait to go and explore our World, or well, the rest of the country.  But it is what it is.

Air travel (or actually travel in general) is a real luxury.

Having had three kids just after getting married meant that we did the family thing instead of the travel thing.  We try and make up for our “lack” of international travel by doing semi regular trips around our own country.  Like, why would you want to see the rest of the World when you have one of the most beautiful countries right on your very doorstep?!  Exactly.  There’s so much to see right here in Cape Town, or even just two hours away.  The options are literally endless.  We didn’t even feel like we were missing out by not going overseas.

But then we realised that our ten year wedding anniversary was coming up.  And ten years?  Well, it’s a pretty big one.  We decided a year or so ago that no matter what happens, we were going to leave the country and go on our very first international adventure.

Which is why we’ve just booked our first international trip to Italy.

Why am I sharing this here again?  Because it’s my freaking blog that’s why!  It’s here to preserve the memories and so I thought I’d share what we’ve done so far.

Booked tickets on Ethiopian Airways

We used Skyscanner to find the cheapest flights to Italy.  Originally we were going to land in Rome, then go up to Florence and then Venice before heading to Paris and then flying home from there.  But after a lot of back and forth and checking ticket prices every day it just didn’t seem worth it.

Yes, we’d be seeing more but it would be rushed – we only have a total of 10 nights that we can be away.  Plus, the tickets to Rome were R4000 pp and then back from Paris was another R6000pp.  Which means we would have spent R20k of our limited budget just on the tickets.  Getting return tickets for both of us in and out of Rome were only R13k (with the smallest layover time) with Ethiopian Airways.  It just made so much sense and so now we’ve booked the tickets.

Which means that I need to get a passport and why I…

Lost 4 and a half hours of my life to Home Affairs

So Seth had the wonderful experience of “popping into Home Affairs” a little while back to get his passport.  I think it took him like 30 minutes in total.  Not me.  Oh no.  That kind of thing doesn’t happen to me.  I waited in that line for FOUR AND A HALF HOURS!  Only to find out later that you can do something online then just “pop into your bank” to get them to do the finger prints.

But you live and you learn.  Hopefully I’ll get my passport in the next week or so, then we can apply for our VISAs.  Which hasn’t stopped us from…

Figuring out our itinerary – well, sort of

After limiting ourselves to Italy only, we wanted to do Rome 2 nights, Naples 1 night, Florence 3 nights and Venice 2 nights before heading home.  We wanted to go to Naples because Seth’s great, great grandfather came from there to South Africa.  But guys, have you looked at Naples?  I think there’s a reason he moved to South Africa.  Unless Google just chose to show us the most unflattering pictures they could unearth.  I could not bear to waste a day in ITALY in a place that looks like a dirty Woodstock.

So now the itinerary is sort of this:

  • Day 1 – Leave Cape Town for an overnight flight to Rome (pit stop in Addis Ababa)
  • Day 2 – Arrive very early in Rome.  Do the Colosseum and surrounding sights. Find our AirBnB
  • Day 3 – Do a day trip to Pompeii that goes through Naples so at least we see it
  • Day 4 – Change AirBnB. Explore the other side of Rome (Vatican City etc)
  • Day 5 – Head off to Florence on the train. See the markets etc (because Mondays the Museums are closed)
  • Day 6 – Do the David thing and see the big Cathedral Dome Thingy.
  • Day 7 – Day trip to Pisa on the train
  • Day 8 – Go to Venice – settle in, eat all the gelato
  • Day 9 – Do a walking tour and gondola ride (apparently this is better because the gondola peeps rip tourists off?).
  • Day 10 – Head back to Rome (5 hour train trip) before heading home to squeeze our little people.

We’re “back packing” without actually staying in a back packers.  We’ve found some really amazing AirBnB options so we’ll be staying in those.  But we will only have back packs for our luggage because we need to be able to walk from place to place without having to get a taxi etc.

Because, you know, we have three kids and so money doesn’t grow on trees and all that.

In fact our budget was so tight that I actually thought that when we took out the flights, the accommodation, the travel and the entrance tickets to all the things we want to see, we’d be left with nothing to use to eat.  But I did a few sums the other night and I think we’re all good.  But still choosing AirBnB’s with breakfast options because then at least we start the day off really well.

Aaaaaand that just about sums up where we’re at.

I’m really excited and honestly it takes up so much of my mind space that I’m struggling to think of other big events that are happening, like Seths birthday and our actual wedding anniversary.   Once I get the VISAs I think I’ll be less anxious and more excited, but you just never really know do you?!

Do you have any life saving travel tips that you could share with me?  I found this on Pinterest and thought it was really helpful:

55 thoughts on “But We’ve Never Travelled (Overseas) Before

  1. We did a Med cruise awhile back and one of the stops was Naples – we didn’t actually spend time in Naples as we didn’t find anything that caught our attention either but we drove the Amalfi Coast – through Positano and Ravello and it was great – then we did Pompeii!

  2. Italy is amazing …. we got married 11 years ago and went there on honeymoon…before our wedding… because John had to go there on business and well… I wasn’t letting him go on his own!
    We also walked and trained everywhere… pack your suitcase and then unpack half … you won’t need it!
    We walked Florence flat… at gelato at 2 am in the morning and hit the cobbled streets before anyone was awake! Just too magical! Venice is another world… sublime! Look forward to reading all about!

    • Oh man, this comment has me all excited now!! Eating gelato in cobbled streets is pretty much the picture I see in my mind when I picture it. Did you find the train easy to navigate?

      • Trains were fine! We found the people so willing to help… I am sure they must be so used to tourists! … we just had enormous suitcases! That was our biggest mistake!

  3. Oops…. one more thing! When we ate out… I couldn’t understand why we had to wait so long for service…. then after day 2 the penny dropped! The dining, eating and drinking .. IS the event! Our waiter kept telling us “you wait”! It was infuriating… then he pointed to another table and we saw them laughing and drinking … “see… you wait!”

    • Ah yes – I’ve read this quite a bit on the blogs I’ve been stalking. It seems if you want a quick meal then the markets are the way to go, if you sit to eat you sit and eat haha 🙂

  4. Naples freaked me out when we arrived. Some Mafia dude was killed that pass week and his face was pasted all over but we stayed for two days and fell in love with the city. There are beautiful parts. Pompeii was amazing, the kids will love it!

    We also did the Amalfi coast for over a week, which was so special – try to do it next time.

    I’ve heard Italy and Italians love kids and are very accomodating.

    Have a super time with the family 🙂

    • We’re actually leaving the kids behind on this trip – we’re keen to take them but only when they’re old enough to appreciate it and after we work a lot harder to afford all the tickets 😉

      The Amalfi Coast is on my hit list for next time, along with the smaller towns. But just in case this is our only trip we wanted to see the “main” things.

  5. I LOVE Italy and you are going to have the most amazing time! Some things that I have found useful are:

    – Take a few easy to transport snacks with you (think granola/ protein bars; jelly sweets). This saves you cash and prevents you from being cranky and hungry when you are out and about.
    – Don’t eat at restaurants, but rather buy food from grocery stores. Depending on your accommodation, it can be a good idea to take a sharp paring knife, some decanted salt and pepper and a few bits and bobs to turn a bedroom into a mini-self-catering kitchen. We would always collect any plastic cutlery/ napkins/ free sauces from food we bought and build up a stash (It’s a weird form of treasure hunt…)
    – We did not go on any gondolas in Venice. The vaporettis (water taxis) are reasonable and you still get to enjoy being on the water. We particularly enjoyed going out to Murano and Burano (two islands off main-land Venice). Unless you are particularly hell-bent on going on a gondola, I think you can get better value for money
    – Do research on all day travel tickets. When we were in Venice we got a deal which gave us unlimited access to museums and transport (but it might be an age-limit thing).
    – In Florence, go to the Piazza Michaelangelo at sunset to take photos over the skyline
    – The BEST gelateria in Florence is Gelateria La Carraia

    If I think of anything else, I’ll let you know 🙂

    • Thank you, thank you, thank you!! This was hugely helpful, especially the travel card (we just missed the 29 year old cut off) but even the one day pass is worth it over paying per fare! If you only had one full day to go island hopping would you go to Burano or Murano or try and do both?

      • Murano is the glass-blowing island, but you need to get there early enough (we arrived at 4pm just as the workshops were closing!) The museum there is interesting too. We really loved Burano – it feels a bit less run-down and there were a lot more locals around (think old Italian mamas sitting on plastic chairs outside their houses watching the tourists and chatting to their neighbours). We left there at just before sunset and travelled back to Venice as the sun was setting (it is about a half hour trip). It was one of our highlights. There is more to do on Murano, but we liked Burano more. You should quite easily be able to do both. It was a half-day out for us.

      • We went to Murano- worth the trip. Such a cool little island, a tour of the glass blowing and some amazing colourful houses (great Instagram opportunities) 🙂

  6. Sounds like an amazing trip! i have never done italy! but this makes me want to. and ahh addis ababa… have down 5 lay overs there… fun place(not). have lots of hand sanitizer! its a bit manic and crazy but SO SO worth it for the price difference!!

  7. I’ve been to Rome, it was quite a while ago but some of it may still apply. We had to book a tour for the Vatican, so we couldn’t go the first day as it was full. Had to book for the next morning. For some of the churches and for Vatican there is a dress code, covered shoulders etc so just check.

    I agree with the list, especially buying a water bottle, or if you get one on the plane, keep it, because it is expensive to buy drinks especially when it’s hot. We found a supermarket and bought juice there, because the street vendors are expensive. Don’t eat in the tourist places, like the well known squares, always very expensive. Even the gelato! Rather find something a bit more out of the way.. There are lots of places that serve pizza and charge by the weight, so you can say what size you want. The underground in Rome is quite good, we walked so much the first day we were exhausted and our feet hurt the rest of the trip. So good walking shoes! Also, careful crossing roads, traffic is hectic.

    Check for day tickets or city cards that sometimes give discounts on entrance fees.

    For the flights, get a small bag that can go around your neck under clothes that you can keep your passports and money in. I always keep it on me, even when out and about. Less easily accessible or stolen than a backpack. Tourists stick out and can be targeted by pickpockets sometimes. Have copies of all documents, you can email them to a gmail account too so they can be accessed from anywhere.

    Something I learned recently, you can go to your cell provider at the airport before you leave and they can set your phone so you can use sms, but not use roaming. That is very expensive. But there is a lot of free wifi, airports, stations, restaurants, and even on trains.

    Rome is beautiful, you will love it. Have not been to the other places, but I’m sure they are just as lovely.

    We also just spent 6 hours at home affairs for my daughters passport, as we are going to Dublin in June. Not a fun experience at all.

    Look forward to hearing all about it on your blog!

  8. Walk, walk, walk! Best way to see and experience a city. Rome is amazing! One of my favourite cities is Rome. We walked the entire city from one end to the other. T

    • That is the plan and good to know that it’s possible to walk from the one side to the other. Did you walk with back packs or were you walking from the hotel as the base? Seth keeps telling me I need to start like, training for the amount of walking we’re going to do with heavy packs on our back but I’m like, but that’s why I have you! So we’ll see 😉

  9. Haven’t been to Italy, but what helped us when we got to travel was: grocery store food, good walking shoes, and subway/bus/train packs. Pick up the free maps at the airport. Try to go under our food budget for most of the trip, it’ll leave you with more options for the last few meals. Learn key phrases in the language of the place you’re going – my key phrases included do you speak English? Where’s the bathroom? and please and thank you. Get any items you want at the end of the trip :p

    And have all the fun you can!

  10. I travel a lot for work, so here are a few tips:
    1. Make sure you phone your bank and flag your cards for international travel, you will have to tell them the country and the dates. If you are with Standard Bank, they might eff it up. FNB and Virgin Money seem to be ok.
    2. A powerbank is incredibly useful
    3. Download offline maps to your phone so you can use them if you happen to get lost. You can do this by going to the area you want to download on google maps, then typing ok maps.
    4. Download the google translate app – it has a nifty built-in feature where you can scan menus and signs and it auto translates them on the screen.
    5. Buy a bottle of water after you get past customs at the airport. You can only pack liquids less than 100ml in your hand luggage, so if you buy it before, they will make you throw it away at the security check point.
    6. Only take you electronics that have a 2 prong plug – thats the type Italy uses, and if you want to use your three prong plugs, you will need an adaptor.
    7. Pack plasters. And deep heat. And other things that may soothe your sore feet after walking for 4 years.
    8. Take tissues everywhere. Apparently toilet paper is a luxury item in some overseas public loos.
    9. Hand sanitizer.
    10. Activate your roaming on your phone before you go. DON’T activate data roaming, unless you want to re mortgage your house. Alternatively, you can buy a SIM sticker from Knowroaming, it has cheaper data rates, and free whatsapp. Otherwise, just wifi err’where.

    K bye

  11. The water bottle is also great for the flight, I always have one on me. A lightweight powerbank comes im handy especially if you will be using your phone to take pictures of the sights (and Snapchating obviously ?) I also prefer using a small cross over body bag with lots of compartments instead of a handbag. Look ma no hands! ?

    • We’re going to do the bulk of our photography with our DSLR but I am sure that I am going to be using my phone a lot too. I need to get a good power bank!

  12. This is so exciting!!!! I have never been to Italy so I can’t wait to hear all about your trip… All I can think about is pizza, pasta and gelato (I don’t drink wine!) x

  13. Great itinerary! Italy is awesome, so I’m sure you both will have the most memorable trip!
    My partner is a native Italian, and we try to go over yearly to visit his family. No plans yet for when we plan to go for this year, but hopefully around August/ September.
    The first time I went I was 6 months pregnant, and subsequently with a toddler in tow we always need a toilet. Public loos charge a fee, anything from 1€ and up. Even with a fee these toilets can be pretty nasty, especially in the bigger towns. We usually go into a bar/coffee shop or a McDonalds and buy a water or coffee. Much cleaner and everyone gets to use the facilities for the price of one purchase.
    Italian breakfasts are usually a coffee and a pastry. So for breakfasts included in your accommodation just be aware that you may not have a big spread. A coffee and pastry at a coffee shop or bar is pretty standard, and the prices are reasonable.
    Grocery stores for food shopping is definitely the way to go. If you do eat out look for restaurants that have a set menu special of 2-3 courses. Italians rarely go to restaurant and just have a main meal. Plenty of restaurants will display a menu outside the restaurant. Restaurant prices can vary tremendously, so walk around and you could find a reasonable deal. Another tip- some restaurants include a small service charge. Tip if you want, but it is not expected. Save money for gelato instead!!

    • That’s a great tip – re the toilets! I had no idea you;d have to pay to get in, but I have heard that they can be pretty mank.

      Good to know about the breakfast! I thought it was a lot more than that. Will make sure to stock up on snacks. And yes to saving money for gelato! I’m going to be rolling out of Italy at the end 😉

  14. Naples is so not worth it, so you are not missing anything there. Venice is gorgeous and so romantic. A gondola ride is a must. Most of the charm of Italy is strolling around, getting lost and eating stunning food. And if you are trying to save, there are plenty of places selling ready made pizza, sandwiches etc

  15. Dont forget your insurance. And remember that you’re not allowed any liquids,gels or pastes over 100ml in your carry on luggage. ?

  16. I can give you lots of tips for Venice – hubby and I left our 4 kids at home and went to Europe on a tight budget! (I’m a friend of Claudette- please get my number from her and whatsapp me?)

  17. So exciting!

    The one thing I did was write down all my social media, banking etc info (and passwords) for my dad just in case. And saved travel docs in dropbox which is on my phone.

    Then I packed my empty backpack in my carryon suitcase so that I could pack gifts in the suitcase (small) and my clothes in the backpack when I returned. It worked out great ’cause I had quite a few gifts lol, including a big toy car!

  18. Have fun! Loved Venice. We got up early and explored and went to places like Piazzo San Marco when it was quiet (it gets VERY VERY busy) and then went back for brekkie. Loved it there, the streets and the history and the buildings.
    Find a local trattoria that the locals eat out which has better food and much better prices than the tourist rip off places…

  19. I’ve traveled Ethiopian a few times. Addis Ababa Airport is a hole. A stinky, horrible hole. Hopefully your layover is short (mine have been between 1 and 4 hours). There is not much to do there and I don’t suggest eating from the (very limited) restaurants, so my tip is to ask for unopened water/cold drink on the plane and a few packets of peanuts/crackers etc that you can keep in your hand luggage so if you are thirsty or feeling peckish you don’t have to spend a fortune on bottled water or attempt the dodgy food in the airport. Alternatively, buy a few things once you are through security before boarding the plane in CT.

    On the plus side Ethiopian Air is fantastic, the service has always been good and the food was amazing. They are really friendly and helpful and go out of their way to make you happy.

  20. Cinds you are going to have the most incredible time! Definitely take a water bottle as there are plenty of water fountains in Italy specifically for people to drink and fill their bottles from. Take a decent pair of walking shoes- sometimes practicality has to trump fashion. Separate and pack your clothes into plastic packets (ie all shirts in one, shorts in another) and label the bag on the outside with a koki. That way you don’t have to empty the entire bag out in a huge heap everyone you want sometime, also have a spare packet for dirty clothes so that laundry is easy at the end. Take a smaller backpack that your can use as a day bag for your sightseeing. Becareful of the prostitutes and beggars in Rome- they are everywhere. Also, don’t try and buy any fake handbags or wallets from the traders on the side of the street, the police are watching and they aren’t shy to hand out fines. Always try and find little cafes and supermarkets off the main streets as they are cheaper and you will get a better feel of the cities- don’t be nervous to leave the tourist sections! Lastly, get certified copies made of your passports etc and keep them in a separate place from the originals- huge help in the case of theft. Download street maps of Rome and Venice from tripadvisor before you go so that u don’t have to buy a map. Venice is awesome but it’s a bit like a rabbit warren so you’ll be grateful for your map! Eat all the gelato, drink all the lemoncello and take in every sight ♡

  21. You might think I’m mad, but trust me on this – take only hand luggage! And make sure its a good quality carry-on with wheels. I promise you its so much less hassle, especially all those train trips. And its great just getting off the plane and going, without having to spend hours at the carousel waiting for your lost luggage…You do not want to be stuck in Venice with cobblestone street and massive crowds of people lugging heavy suitcases. It is absolutely do-able (hand washing is your friend), and makes travelling so much easier.

    You will get lost in Venice, its a rite of passage. Google Maps is your friend!

    We were going to do this (but got lost), they have good reviews (Tripadvisor is also your friend):

    Also the best food (and ice cream) I’ve eaten in my life was in Italy, its going to be awesome!

    • I have been wondering if we should do this! We are wanting to literally “back pack” across the country and not be weighed down by heavy bags, so this might just be the best idea yet!

  22. For the travelling. Comfy clothes and shoes. It’s a LONG flight so get up and walk as much as you can. It’ll help with swelling and stiffness from travelling. Drink lots of water and avoid too much tea/coffee/fizzy drinks.

    Wetwipes can usually be safely carried in your carry-on and are great for refreshing after a long flight.

    I heartily agree with not eating at restaurants. If you end up in a BnB, snaffle stuff for lunch at breakfast. e.g. breadrolls, cold meats fruit etc.

    Depending on your particular insurance etc. you might need to notify them that you’ll be travelling internationally. Nothing more nightmarish to me than being overseas and having a credit card cancelled because the don’t know you are overseas.

  23. Ok. So I’ve been there and I have some great tips.
    1. Don’t take photos with the gladiators outside the Colosseum. Don’t even ask them to take pictures of you with your own camera. They will want to charge you and will keep your camera until you pay.
    2. Walking tours through the Colosseum are super boring. Half the time you can’t even hear what your tour guide is saying. They are beneficial because you get to the front of the queue, but we ditched ours and just walked around talking photos.
    3. Be careful on the metro in Rome. It’s so full you can’t move. I had a few friends that were pick pocketed and felt nothing because everyone is rubbing up against you.
    4. Go to the Vatican City in the late afternoon. No queues!
    5. Do not eat in St Mark’s Square in Venice. There are amazing Italian eateries in the back alleys.
    6. In Rome, stare down the cars when you cross the street. They are not afraid to nudge you out the way if you don’t.
    7. The water fountains in Rome are safe to drink from. They are natural springs. So top up your water bottles. There is a particularly nice one at the bottom of the Spanish Steps.
    8. Lastly, throw 2 coins in the Trevi Fountain.

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