Let me start this post by saying that I love Italian cities. I have to say this because I don't want the Italian city purists to come for me after reading this post. So again, I'll reiterate. I LOVE ITALIAN CITIES.
With that said... Agritourism is the purest way to experience Italy and you'll never change my mind about this.
Sure, go to Rome and walk around Piazza Navona with a big ole gelato cono in your hand!
Yes! Go to Florence and eat a big ass steak and then walk it off alongside the Arno River!
Get lost in Venice! You should do ALL OF THESE THINGS.
But if you want to experience true Italian culture — PURE ITALIA! Then book some time at an Agriturismo in the countryside. In fact, stop reading right now, go book it and then come back.
For those uninitiated, Agriturismo is exactly what it sounds like. Agricultural Tourism. In Italy it means that you are either dining or staying on someone's farm, land or vineyard and they are hosting you and feeding you from their land. I have visited Agriturismos in Sardinia, on the Amalfi Coast and in Tuscany and each and every experience has been incredible. Some of the best meals and wine tastings of my life!
The accommodations for overnights have always been lovely in my experience, but if the idea of coming and staying on someone's farm makes you nervous then visiting an Agriturismo for a wine tasting or meal is a great way to dip your toe into the water. In most cases you're looking at a multi-course home cooked meal for under €100.
Bonus if you do decide to stay overnight: you may have access to a pool.
When you visit these properties, you are visiting someone's home. You are there as a guest and in many cases you'll feel like part of the family. The people you will meet are not just cooks in a restaurant or staff at a hotel. They are locals who are welcoming you to their village, their region, their land or their family's land and they're excited to share their stories with you. And you will meet other travelers there too!
This is in my opinion, the best way to experience Italian culture. It's not just about the statues, fountains, museums and glasses of Aperol spritz. It's about the people. Go meet the people! Speak to them in shitty broken-Italian if you have to but, just go.
A few tips:
When I left for a month-long trip to Europe there was this little voice in the back of my head that kept saying, “Don’t eat too much bread.” And I honestly finally had to tell that little voice to fuck right off. I'm a food writer and a body positivity advocate and I still sometimes struggle with my own inner judgement.
But here’s the thing. Warring with your body over how many net carbs or how many grams of sugar you consume on vacation is not only BS, but it’s just so passé. I’m too old and too comfy in my own skin to care about a measly five pounds I might gain on vacation to torture myself the entire time I’m there.
What was I going to do while spending time in France and Italy? Not enjoy bread and pasta? Who ever came home from vacation in Italy saying, “Gosh I just had the best spinach while I was over there!”
Spoiler alert: NO ONE. Zero people have ever said that.
So, I had this moment with myself where I said screw it, it’s one month. Enjoy yourself. You’re walking and sweating so much each day that it doesn’t matter anyway and torturing yourself about every bite of indulgent food you put in your mouth is only going to make you miserable.
Guess what? I came home from Europe the same size I left. And I’m so, so glad that I enjoyed myself while I was there. If you're going on vacation, don't worry about your weight. Enjoy the food. Enjoy the culture. The gym and your kale salad of choice will be available when you get back.
Here are some of my favorite super carb-y meals I ate while there.
Suck it, diet culture.
It's been two weeks since I've returned back to Los Angeles after a month in Europe and while I cannot wait to tell you all about every detail of my trip, I've needed some time to rest and process all of it since I got home.
Busy Europe trips are more adventure and less relaxation, although don't worry I made time for both! With the jet lag, plus catching up on work, and another trip to the Sierras, I've needed a few breaths to figure out what I want to share, how I want to share it and most importantly when I'll have time to write about it.
For the time being, let me just say that the trip was (in all honesty) the trip of a lifetime. I knew I was good at planning travel, but I honestly even wow'd myself. Anyone ever emergency-book a hotel in Rome in 5 minutes while in a cab? (More on that later!) I have so many stories to tell and I can't wait to tell them. In the interim here are a few photos.
Thanks for your patience.
Best Travel Accessories for Europe
Google the best travel accessories for Europe and you might see recommendations for iPhone tripods or selfie sticks, but when it comes to traveling in the EU, I find there are a few more important things you'll want to have before you head to the airport.
The best advice I ever received or will ever give is to carry on your luggage. If you're planning a trip to Europe, you'll likely be planning to see a few different countries or cities. In essence, you'll be moving around a lot. So what happens if you check your bag and it gets lost? You might land in Paris but 2 days later you might be heading to Brussels. Whatever you do, on the way there just carry on your bag so you have it with you at all times. For more advice on how and what to pack, check out my previous post: How to Pack for 2 Weeks in Europe.
Most airlines, especially smaller ones in Europe (if you're country-hopping by plane) have strict carry-on guidelines. You want a to a 22-incher or 21-incher. I also recommend a backpack for your personal item, that fits a purse or fanny pack for those who carry them.
In addition to packing light, you'll most likely be trying to sleep on planes, do laundry at hotels or Airbnb's... the list goes on and on. So here is my list for the best travel accessories for Europe.
* Also this is not a sponsored post. Every one of these items are just favorites of mine I've chosen to recommend.
Carrying on your luggage means you'll be limited to how much liquid you can take. So to make sure that you don't have to dump that expensive face serum or hand lotion at TSA, I recommend this toiletry travel kit from Amazon. It is clear so the TSA folks can see right through it.
It's the standard size and it holds all the containers and tools you might need to bring your favorite toiletries with you!
Sleeping on planes is the absolute worst and it's hard enough to adjust to a new timezone if you're not rested. With its ergonomic design and soft memory foam that wraps and fastest around the neck, the Ostrich Pillow is the best luxury travel pillow on the market.
It retails on Amazon for $59. But while it's $60 on the brand's site, new customers get 10% off when you buy it there.
Perks: 100 Day return policy and a 2 year warranty.
Packing everything for a multi-week trip to Europe in a carry-on bag is majorly challenging. So to help keep clothes organized and compact I have two suggestions. If you're looking for organization and compression I recommend these packing cubes from Amazon. They're cute and help you condense, organize and easily access your clothes once you've arrived. They can easily be organized by color, type of item, location/temperature where you'll be (e.g. mountains, beach, lake etc...) And they can be moved to bedroom drawers if you'll be staying somewhere long term. These cubes keep you from having to unpack your entire suitcase just to find the two or three items you want for the day.
If you're looking just to compress a lot of clothing as quickly and easily as possible then you can't go wrong with these travel compression bags from Amazon.
They don't require any suction to seal out the air. You simply pack them, zip them and roll them.
If you'll be doing laundry while you're abroad then you'll need laundry detergent. While some hotels and Airbnb's might offer this to you, it's not always a guarantee.
If you're worried about powder detergent spilling in your suitcase, or liquid detergent either spilling or affecting how many liquid toiletries you can bring, then these space-saving, eco-friendly, no-waste laundry detergent sheets from TruEarth can help!
Just $16 for 32 loads of laundry. You can share them with your group, save them for next time, or leave them for the next set of travelers.
One of the main packing woes travelers experience when jamming many weeks worth of clothing into suitcases is having your cute outfits arrive wrinkled.
Yes, hanging up your clothes near the shower helps a lot and even better if your Airbnb host or hotel concierge can offer you a steamer or iron. But when all else fails this Downy wrinkle-release spray in travel size will have you looking spiffy in no time.
What are your favorite travel must-haves? Leave a suggestion in the comments!
I get asked a lot about planning travel itineraries and especially when it comes to foreign countries it can be very daunting. There are a million books, blogs and podcasts to research and I myself have been overwhelmed at times by the pure bulk of information out there.
Over the years I have found some hacks that have really helped me plan wonderful euro-trips, so here are some of my tips for how to plan your trip to Europe.
Before you book anything, map it out!
This might seem silly but before you book any kind of airfare, hotels, Airbnbs or train tickets print out a physical copy of a map and plan out your trip. I like to use the map below (which you can download for free) and then take a pencil and physically draw lines between cities and countries you want to visit so that you can have the best flow as you plan.
Sketch it out on a calendar.
Next, use a physical calendar, or print out a calendar page and sketch out the the days. What cities will you visit? What days will be travel days? Are the places you want to go close enough to travel by train? Or should you use cheaper European airlines?
Remember to allow yourself at least 2 full days in each of your destinations. Which brings me to...
Don't cram too many stops into your itinerary.
I can understand the urge to want to see as much of Europe as you can during your trip. Afterall, if you're flying across the ocean you want to make it count right? Unfortunately too dense of a Europe itinerary will just leave you exhausted and you won't be able to enjoy yourself. If you're jumping on a train every 2 days to go to a new city or country you won't be able to delight in the pleasures of being in Europe.
Many European cities are similar in their offerings. If you're going to Italy, you will find museums, parks and restaurants in every city you visit. Rather than hustling from Florence to Rome to Venice to The Amalfi Coast to Naples to Pisa to Milan, pick the places you most want to visit and allow yourself to savor them. There is amazing pasta, wine and art to observe in both Florence and Rome. Don't kill yourself to do it all. You can always come back another year.
When you're planning your travel days, check flight times and train schedules.
Europe is a relatively small continent and countries are small and it's easy to get from one to another, but don't be fooled. It might seem like a cinch to jump from Paris to Provence to Nice, but that trip can still take hours. (It's 7 hours from Paris to the French Riviera!)
Also if you're hopping between countries, be sure to make sure there are trains that run between your destinations. Or check to see if you can fly.
Some rail companies don't offer service over country borders. If you want to travel from the French Riviera to the Italian Riviera, even though they're right next to each other, you still have to transfer between the French railway and the Italian Railway at a specific station.
Websites like Rome2Rio.com are really helpful for this kind of research.
Think about Airbnb vs. Hotel.
It's important to think about what kind of accommodations you want to have before you begin booking them.
Hotels might offer more services like room service and concierge services, but Airbnb's offer kitchens and often times washer and dryers. If you've read my post on, How to Pack for 2 Weeks In Europe you'll remember my tips about planning to wash clothes as you travel.
If you're on a budget, having a place where you can prepare some of your meals can really help you curb your spending. Also while most hotels do offer laundry service, there is often times a hefty fee. If you're staying at an Airbnb that has laundry the expense may only be buying laundry soap.
Have a list of things you want to do, but go with the flow.
One of the best parts of being in Europe is wandering and roaming around. For safety I don't suggest too much wandering after dark, but as long as you're in safe neighborhoods in safe cities, allow yourself to explore.
While you may have a list of areas you want to go, things you want to see and places you want to dine, don't forget to go with the flow and enjoy where the day takes you. If you're spending a day in Paris, I promise you wont have a bad meal, whether you're dining in a fancy restaurant or eating authentic street food. Make plans but keep them flexible so you can enjoy your discoveries.
When in doubt ask your Airbnb host or Hotel Concierge for recommendations. Also Rick Steves Europe has tons of resources for this kind of specific recommendations.
How To Pack for 2 Weeks in Europe
Knowing how to pack for 2 weeks in Europe isn't a skill that comes without practice and I'm here to help you if you're heading there in the near or distant future.
Just a note that this guide is intended for warm weather travel. I'll probably come back and do a part two for colder travel later.
If you follow me on social media you know I cannot shut up about how I'm spending the entire month of July in Europe this summer. And if you don't follow me on social media... well... I can't shut up about how I'm spending the entire month of July in Europe.
Simply put, vacationing in Europe is one of the great joys of my life not only as a traveler, foodie and, adventurer but especially as a writer! I'm so inspired when I'm there and this summer I'll be treating part of my trip as a writer's retreat while I work on my third novel, My Sister's Passport, (more on that later!)
I am one of those souls who is blessed not to be an over-packer but there are many over-packers in my family and amongst my friends and truth be known I EMPATHIZE! It's so hard to leave home and leave town and worry you've forgotten something, but I've come up with some really great ways to help people pack exactly what you need and nothing that you won't for your vacation.
So without further ado, I present my tips and tricks on how to pack for 2 weeks in Europe this summer.
A few years ago I planned the ultimate summer Italy trip. I was there for 21 days, I went to every major city and I truly thought I'd probably never go back after that. In some regards I felt that way out of fear. How could anyone be so lucky to go to Italy twice?! I'd better make it count!
On the other hand I just thought I'd have my fill of Italy by the time the trip was over.
I was wrong.
Weekender in Sedona
Sedona, Arizona is one of the most enchanting places you can visit in the American Southwest. The whole region is said to be home to many energetic vortices, and anyone who has even the slightest spiritual inclination has probably flocked there to meditate or practice yoga in these sacred spaces.
I like to say I'm spiritual-lite, while slightly skeptical, but even I feel like I've just had half a glass of wine the moment I enter the valley.
Sedona is great for hiking, biking, swimming, relaxing, yoga-ing, meditating, eating, walking and so much more! There's even a small wine country area about a 30 minute drive away in Cottonwood, AZ.
Hi! I'm Erin Shaw. I'm a freelance food, travel and lifestyle writer based in Los Angeles. My happiest days are those that are spent packing a suitcase for my next adventure! More at Erin-Shaw.com