Rome/Florence, Italy – or how I stopped worrying and started to blog

Today is Sunday, September 25th. We started our first trip since I launched the blog on Saturday, September 17th. Have I already failed at blogging for the first time?

Anyway, we actually arrived in Rome on Sept 18 and stayed for 4 nights. We then spent 3 nights in Florence and currently I am sitting on the patio of our room at the agristurismo La Pietriccia near Chianco Terme in Tuscany. Wow, this is a view that if I think to much about it, I start to tear up. I’ll have to add a pic here later.


Anyway, while I try to work through exactly the format this blog will take (although I expect it to evolve over time,) I know for sure what this blog is not – it is not “today I did X, Y, and Z. As I look into my future of traveling, I know nobody wants to read that.

As I get started, I THINK this blog MIGHT be more like – what I learned while spending time in A, and maybe a couple of suggestions for you if you visit. Also, what I learn about traveling as we wander around the world and what I learn about myself.

So today I’m going to talk about some of the strategies we have used for this trip –

1. “Free” tours
2. Paid tours (group or private)
3. DIY
4. Audio tours (new to me this trip!)


These are somewhat controversial in the traveling community because they exist in various states of regulation and can take business away from the pricier paid tours. However, they fill a true void when 1 – you want to keep your schedule flexible, 2 – you only need a basic understanding of what you want to see, and 3 – nothing you want to see needs an appointment or entrance free. We’ve used two of these tours so far on this trip, one each in Rome and Florence.

Keep in mind these are not really free – you are expected tip the guide at the end. Based on the quality of the tour (the skills/passion of the guide and size of the group mostly) we tip anywhere fro $5-10 per person per hour. Some you need to register for online because they limit the size of the group and some you just show up at the meeting place for. Some of the guides are fantastic and some are barely okay. Every now and then you get too terrible of a guide or too big of a group and you just find yourself wandering off – but that’s what you get with a free tour – you pay what the value of the tour is to you personally.


We also took 2 paid tours so far – one group and one private. Our group tour was of the Coliseum (all 4 levels,) Palatine Hill, and the Roman form. We were a group of 12 and it took 3.5 hours. The cost? $100 each ($30 per person per hour) – but the guide was fabulous (I guess I’ll add the information at the bottom of the page,) it included the tickets costs, and we we saw a few very limited areas, like the underground and 4th level of the Coliseum.

Our tour in Pompeii was private. The group tours were all full-day bus tours from Rome and very pricy. Instead, we took the high speed Trenitalia train from Rome and then the tram from Naples, and got a much better experience at the site. We then continued on to Sorrento and had lunch on our own before taking in the beautiful coast views. Cost of the tour? $155 for 2.5 hours ($15 per hour, per person)


The longer we have in a location, the more DIY we do. Since we’re moving around every 3-4 nights on this trip, there has been less DIY than usual, but it’s definitely there. We did the Vatican Museum, Sistine Chapel, and St. Peter’s Basilica on our own, since I’ve already been to all of them and Jason and his mom aren’t super into art (although we did buy timed tickets to avoid the line.) We also did San Gimignano on our town today because we didn’t want to have to stick to the schedule and were really just using it as an awesome rest & relax stop on the drive down here from Florence (although we did climb the town for the stunning views.) The next 2 days in Tuscany are all on own, with 3 wine tours/tastings scheduled.


From a suggestion from friends (Genni & Tim!) I downloaded the Rick Steeves audio tour app (it’s FREE) and did his audio tour through the Ufizi art museum in Florence yesterday. Let me tell you – it was surprisingly good! He really picked our the highlights (only suggesting about 2/3rds of the rooms) and his commentary was interesting and not too verbose. I would definitely try this again in the future – maybe in Venice?

Finally – stand outs so far? You can’t miss the standard must sees of Rome and Florence, but I’ll list my favorites here in case your planning your trip –

ROME – Coliseum, Palantine Hill (with the new overlook, opened in 2011 or so), Roman Forum, Vatican Museum & St. Peter’s Bascilica, Spanish Steps & the surrounding neighborhood for shopping and eating.

POMPEII – this can be done as a long day trip from Rome, but is still my very favorite ancient ruin site.

FLORENCE – The Accademia (with the David,) the Uffizi (with the Birth of Venus & many others,) the Duomo, shopping & eating all over the city

and more to come as this trip continues. We have two weeks left, visiting Tuscany, Venice, Lake Como, and Milan, and I would like to write about the types of places we stay and why.

Ciao <3

$100 a night

I’m not sure if this is realistic, but going into the trip I have somewhat of a goal of trying to keep our accommodations cost around (or under) $100 a night for the less expensive areas. Obviously this isn’t realistic in more expensive cities like Tokyo and Amsterdam, but I also want to make a solid attempt at controlling our expenses. I’ve booked our first week at this hotel in a private room with an ensuite bath for $80 a night – Park City Inn and Hostel

Also, I found this interesting flight tracker that I’m going to try to use. It doesn’t look super amazing but I think it might be fun to keep up – OpenFlights

We’re also making some progress around insurance and have started talking about travel vaccinations. We’re off to Italy for 3 weeks starting next week, but when I come back I’m going to start sorting through my clothes.

Ciao for now 😉

Holy shit guys …

We just booked our first leg of the trip!

February 4th we’ll be traveling from San Francisco to Taipei! We chose this date to avoid the early Lunar New Years closures, but be able to see the Lantern Festivals.

It feels really real now. We have a date, which means we will need to give our apartment complex notice by January 4th. I’ll have about a month after leaving my job to get our home sorted and what whatever we are keeping packed up and stored. In this month, we’re also planning a week at Disney World & Universal and a long weekend in Las Vegas. Should be an interesting month…

Insurance … ?

T-5 months!

I had no idea adjusting the various insurance policies we have would be such a nightmare. It seems like everything is based around the idea that everyone has an address that very rarely (if ever) changes.

  1. Health insurance – I have a couple of quotes, but need to work on this more. Since we’re losing our employer’s policies, we will need to get both an independent, US-based plan and a traveler’s plan.
  2. Car insurance – I think we will need new policies on the car if we admit that we are no longer living at our apartment. Jason’s parents will have one of our cars because they’ll have the dog, so I’m guessing we’ll get an AZ policy.
  3. Renter’s insurance – I was actually going to let this one go because none of the stuff we are keeping is particularly valuable and will be locked in a storage unit. Even if an earthquake caused the ground to open and our storage unit to fall in, it wouldn’t be a huge deal. (But now that I think about it, renter’s doesn’t usually cover earthquake damage… right?)

Clearly there is still a lot of work to be done with this – I’ll try to keep you guys updated.

Other than insurance, we’ve started talking about what we need to get rid of and even gave away my fish tank! I’ve collected a ton of boxes from our office’s recent move, so if I had the time, I could even start packing! We go on a trip to Italy in about 3 weeks and when I get back, I’m going to let my boss know my last day will be December 30th. January will be the epic month of organizing, selling, donating, tossing, and packing.

I also need to get on the international driver’s licenses – this is a one-time visit to an AAA office, so perhaps I could focus on this baby step and do it Saturday!


Update 8/30/16:

I’ve been working on this here and there for the past week and here’s what I’ve come up with so far –

  1. Health insurance – we are going to declare our income for 2017 as the lowest possible to qualify for Covered California, so we benefit from the subsidies since we don’t know how long the trip will be. If we return before the end of the year and work, we’d pay back anything we are ineligible for, plus a possible penalty fee.
  2. Car insurance – going to talk to our car insurance company about dropping the car we are leaving here to liability only (it is going to sit in storage) and if the car staying with Jason’s parents needs an Arizona policy.
  3. Renter’s – not sure we will keep a policy open since we don’t really qualify without a residence and all of the valuable stuff is in the bank safe deposit box. If the earth opened up and swallowed our stuff, it wouldn’t be the end of the world – we don’t have expensive furniture, clothes, or kitchen stuff.

Also – we both got our international driver’s permits last week so that’s one item off the list of things to do 😀

To Do:

We’re currently working through a list of items that need to be sorted out before we leave. I’m sure I’ll write more about some of these as the weeks go by, but here’s what we’re currently thinking about –

1. Selling, giving away, donating, or tossing out most of our stuff. We’re breaking our lease, so what doesn’t go into our storage unit needs to find a new home, even if it’s the trash.

2. Forwarding our mail to one of our parents’ homes or a mail service. What’s our address when we don’t have a place to live?

3. We still need to find a temporary home for our cat. Boba will be staying at Jason’s parents’ house.

4. Health insurance – both for travel and also a US policy, since we won’t have our employer-sponsored plans after we quit our jobs.

5. Packing – what to bring and what not to bring. Jason and I are planning to travel with carry-on size suitcases and backpacks.

6. Deciding where we are going first, buying our one-way plane tickets, choosing where to stay when when we get to our first destination. As of August 7th, it looks like this will be Taipei, Taiwan, but it is totally subject to change. (Done 8/27!)

7. Break the lease (30 days notice) and give notice to both of our employers.

More on each of these to come 🙂