It’s a little hard to believe that I’m approaching three weeks since I arrived in Rome, and it is really feeling like home now.
After about a week of sightseeing and acclimation, I could confidently give directions and navigate without worries. Many people who take vacations to mega-cities such as Rome never reach this comfort level because they don’t spend enough time there to become immersed. At least a week, maybe even a week and a half, is needed to get a good grip on the environment.
I will be in Rome until next Thursday the 14th, at which time I will be venturing to London to see how the city is setting up for the upcoming Summer Olympics. I will then return to Rome for finals week. Some students at school are planning trips every weekend, either around Italy or elsewhere in Europe. I would really like to get to know Rome and act as a resident instead of a visitor, so I will take these days leading up to London and continue to develop my inner Roman.
Taking care of money while abroad
Fortunately for Americans, the euro (the official currency of most European countries) has become gradually weaker against the U.S. dollar. At the time of writing, one euro would set Americans back $1.241, and the usual rate is between $1.35 and $1.40.
Although the slightly more favorable exchange rate helps, it doesn’t mean that it’s safe to splurge on top-shelf European designer items or bring home a bottle of wine worth hundreds of dollars.
In Europe, there are some items that you will find less expensive than in the States, and some you will find to be eye-opening costly. First, the expensive:
A can of soda at a restaurant can easily cost three to four euros. In the U.S., you can get a 12-pack of soda for the equivalency of three or four euros. And don’t think a glass of water will exactly save you money; restaurants charge for that too.
Next, gasoline. Europeans measure their gasoline (and all other liquids) using the metric system, so one liter of regular gasoline is approximately 1.80 euros. About 3.8 liters equals one gallon, so one gallon of gas costs $6.84. After an earthquake that killed 17 people in northern Italy last week, Italians are being taxed an extra two cents per liter on their gas to help raise the relief funds. It’s probably best not to drive if you come to Italy -- not only because of the high gas prices but because of the chaos that surrounds the driving manners here.
If there is one inexpensive thing about Europe so far, it must be service. Since many workers in customer service are already getting a decent salary, tipping is almost never necessary unless if they are outstanding. Restaurant servers see tips as more of an insult than a compliment, and when people do tip, it is usually never more than five percent of the total cost.
When using an ATM, make large withdrawals at each visit. Banks in the U.S. usually charge a pre-set convenience fee for international transactions, so don’t be afraid to yank out 200 euros from the dispenser.
Credit cards can either be your best friend or a complete hassle when traveling. I have two credit cards and have been using them occasionally, but one in particular keeps getting shut down because I am making purchases overseas (even though I told the bank before I left that the card will be used in Italy). In these situations, I either switch to my other credit card -- which hasn’t had problems yet -- or pay in cash. Always have some cash on you just in case.
Lastly, protecting money is important while traveling. I am using a comfortable money belt that goes under the shirt and just above the waist. I put my credit cards and some cash in there and reduces the risk of pickpocketing significantly. Even though it comes across as a “touristy” look, it really does work and could save you from losing potentially hundreds of dollars.