Italy: Expectation vs. RealITALY

I’ve seen pictures of the Amalfi Coast on the Instagram profiles of nearly every travel blogger I follow. The pastel villas and turquoise waters seemed to be straight out of a luxury perfume ad, so I came ready for my month-long study in Salerno with the classiest outfits I could fit in half of a carry-on. I’ve never been to Italy, but I prepared for “la dolce vita” with the knowledge I had from Lizzie McGuire the Movie pop culture. Although my spreadsheets and packing lists were organized perfectly, here are some assumptions I had that have been proved false in my first week.

  1. I can use my card everywhere: I signed up for a travel credit card before arriving to Europe and brought limited cash. With the fear of pickpocketing or losing my luggage, I thought my little card tucked away in my phone case could protect me from losing hundreds of Euros in a second. However, when I arrived, my plastic quickly became just plastic. At all the restaurants I visited, the bills are shared for the whole table, so I had to use cash to contribute my part. For my 1,50 gelato, the cashier refused to even accept my 5 Euro note, let alone a card. Plan in advance and bring small change– it may be harder to keep track of, but it’ll make purchases much easier.

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    Not everything is picture-perfect when traveling–I expected to be eating gelato, not my hair, on the boat to Minori, but wind happens!
  2. It doesn’t rain on the coast: The slippery cobblestone and downpour my third day here proved otherwise! I tried my hardest to be a minimalist because I’m only studying in Salerno for four weeks, but my loving mom made sure I packed a raincoat (though she was met with MUCH resistance). Salerno is a hilly city, so the streets are like Slip-n-Slides when wet. I’m grateful I brought my coat, but I also wish I would have brought shoes with better traction. Check the weather patterns before you go abroad, and don’t be afraid to prepare for plausible situations. Overpacking has consequences, but so does underpacking!
  3. Shorts are the only appropriate summer apparel: It’s important to respect sacred places and customs, so I knew to bring a dress that would cover up my shoulders in churches. I packed cloth shorts and tank tops for days when I was just going to class. Unfortunately, I had to restructure my wardrobe a bit when I arrived. In Southern Italy, few women wear shorts, and women who do attract a lot of attention. I’m all about dressing for personal comfort, but it is scary to walk down a narrow cobblestone street and have a man start following you and your friends or yell in a language you hardly know. Look at Trip Advisor forums or street style photos for the city you’re staying in to plan your outfits, and you’ll have a better sense of comfort and better chances of fitting in with the locals.

No matter where you go, it’s important to be educated about the place you’re visiting. Even in the U.S., the cultures from different regions are vastly different. To maximize fun and limit stress, do your research and leave your preconceived notions off of your packing list!

 

 

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