Another trip to Rome taught us new lessons and reinforced some old ones learned on previous travels.
We bought a lot of euros from our bank before departure. Wells Fargo did that well: you can order online, you get a competitive exchange rate, and the euros can be delivered to your door by FedEx next day, or, they can be picked up by you at your local branch. If you order a large amount the FedEx delivery is free.
Under no circumstances do you want to buy euros at the airport – the exchange rate you pay at such places (Travelex, et al.) would be criminalized in a fair and just economic system…
Wells Fargo Good/Wells Fargo Bad
So buying euros from Wells Fargo in advance of the trip was a good deal they executed well. But Wells Fargo inexplicably bungled an important detail: Prior to departure I duly notified the bank that I would be using my debit card in Italy, but at the first ATM in Rome the card got rejected. To this day Wells Fargo insists that denying a card for ‘unusual activity’ in Rome that was properly pre-authorized for use in Italy is not their fail…
We had broadband WiFi in our apartment in Rome by renting a mobile hotspot from this company. Of course, when in Rome you don’t spend a lot of time indoors hunched over the computer, but, that personal wifi network sure came in handy for making museum reservations, researching sights and restaurants, buying train tickets, etc. Not cheap, but worth every dime and it worked great.
Taking my smartphone to Italy seemed complicated and cost prohibitive, so I bought a cell phone from this company. It’s not a rental – you keep the phone, you keep the (UK) number forever, and you reuse the phone anytime you travel abroad. Your account is billed by the minute as you go – no subscription or contract. So you can give the loved ones a number that will always work regardless of where you go, and you can step off the plane in Europe knowing you have a cell phone that works.
Flying Poor Man’s Business Class
Flying to Rome from Spartanburg usually means a long layover on the way and back at a large international airport on the East Coast. On this trip the several hours we had to kill at Philadelphia International were spent in relative luxury at the US Airways Envoy Lounge. It was a splurge (we bought a trial membership for $99), but considering the trip’s total cost it’s a relatively small investment that pays huge dividends by making the long haul travel so much posher.
And finally, crossing the Atlantic in a coach seat is wicked and cruel. We called the airline the night before our flight and secured front-cabin bulkhead seats. Leg room galore, and no seat in front of you reclining into your lap.
Coming next: Rome.