Although we had some misadventures along the road, North Italy was an interesting journey for both of us. ! In this new article we write about hitchhiking, wild camping and beautiful places (Milan, Verona, Venice, Pisa, Florence…) you can visit on a budget or for free in (North) Italy.
Amount of time spent in North Italy: 1 week
Distance traveled: 783 km
Languages spoken: Italian : It’s advisable to learn the basics of Italian! None of the people we met spoke English or French.
Our journey through Italy
Hitchhiking and transport
Hitchhiking in Italy requires a lot of patience! Don’t be surprised if you have to wait for hours at the side of the road. It is very hard as, for some reason, many Italians are reluctant to stop.
People also kept telling us that hitchhiking is illegal in the whole country. We never had problems on the small roads but whenever we approached a highway, there were big signs telling us it was forbidden. In most countries it’s not allowed to hitchhike on highways for safety reasons. Italy explicitly includes service areas into the law as well. You can be fined as the drivers picking you up may also be fined. We didn’t know that. We were hitchhiking in a petrol station when a police car stopped us. Too bad they weren’t giving us a ride but a warning and made it clear that if we wouldn’t move, we would be fined. Of course we had to find a ride first before we could move…
Stay away from highways in Italy if you want to hitchhike. Don’t even touch them with the tip of your thumb. Smaller roads are fine and doable if you don’t mind the long waiting time. You could always learn the Italian language to kill time,it comes in very handy!
If you would get fed up of waiting around, you can always take the train. In Italy they are quite cheap and bring you everywhere. And of course you can always study Italian during the train journey!
No autostop here!
My first impressions of the Italians were very influenced by stereotypes: fashionable, proud, reserved. I learned quickly that it’s not good to have prejudices and that you can’t tell how people are just by the looks of them. I was grumpy, cold and frustrated because nobody picked us up in 17 hours. It’s easy to project frustrations on other people. My opinion changed very quickly after we approached them. The Italians are very curious but aren’t likely to take the first steps to make contact. Out of precaution or out of cultural habit. Once you start talking to them, they open up and are very kind and helpful people. I recall an old lady hugging me after she gave us sandwiches from her shop telling me to be careful on our trip. Or another woman who looked at first sight very posh went out of her way to help us find a place for the night.
My advice is to learn at least the basics of the Italian language. It’s harder to connect without speaking the language. Never judge a book by its cover!
While it was easy in France to find good places to pitch our tent in the wild, in the North of Italy it appeared to be more difficult. Especially in the border town Ventemiglia where we eventually spend the night on an uncomfortable bench (read about this adventure in Why crossing borders at night isn’t always a good idea…). Throughout our journey we had difficulties finding a little forest or an isolated field to camp. I suppose we were just unlucky with the places and more aware of the fact that the Italian police is a lot stricter when it comes to wild camping. Nevertheless we always found a place in the end.
Taking it easy near Lake Garda
Places worth visiting
We only spent one day in Milan. We didn’t really take the time to visit something (we were to focused on going to Venice) but if you would be interested in visiting Milan on a budget, the article by Suzy Strutner will help you out.
On our way to Venice we had a stopover in Verona. Time for a short and sweet visit to the beautiful city that is famous for being the setting of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.” Verona is also known for its grand Arena, a 1st-century Roman amphitheater still hosting concerts and an annual opera festival.
Heather Cole from Conversant traveller had a beautiful description for this wonderful city :
“So when I found myself with one day in Verona this month, I had no idea I’d be on the trail of the famous star-crossed lovers. Although Romeo and Juliet may be purely fictional characters, the romance of Verona is very real.
Think ancient cobbled streets dappled in sunlight. Cosy street cafes serving risotto and valpolicella. Or medieval churches where each stone tells it’s own story. The tales this city could tell far surpass anything dreamed up by Mr Shakespeare!
I’ve always thought Italy to be a colourful country, but never before found brown to be a particularly romantic pigment. Yet when the sun shines on Verona, the painters palette springs to life. Visions of burnt umber, raw sienna and yellow ocher glow along the narrow streets, a photo opportunity at every turn.”
Read more in her article One day in Verona what you can do with one day in Verona.
Playing a modern version of Romeo and Juliette
Venice was definitely the highlight of our journey through North Italy! An amazing city with an amazing vibe! In my article How to hitchhike a gondola you’ll find out how to visit Venice for free and where to find cheap accommodation.
a free gondola trip around Venice!
Although we didn’t visit Pisa, this is a fun and great read by Rob Taylor from 2 Travel Dads on how to go for a quick visit to Pisa on a budget: Pisa and how to be speedy. The way he describes the city makes us regret we didn’t went there:
” So, you start… you walk… you cross the beautiful Arno river (which you’ll also cross in Florence)… you walk past narrow streets and tiny churches… you hear bells everywhere. It’s actually amazing. As you walk though, it’s surprising to see how much less touristy the city is than what you’d expect. Pisa is what a functional, non-tourist town looks and feels like. You actually get to see Italy without tour buses.”
Photo @ 2 Travel Dads
Another great city that we didn’t visit (you would start wondering if we actually saw something in this country) is Florence. When we read the article of Menorca Chaturvedi of Europe Diaries on how she explored Florence on foot with two free walking tours, we kind of regret it now. Especially when you see these unique street signs:
Street signs in Florence. Photo @ Europe Diaries
But hey, Italy isn’t going to run away!
Hitchhiking and traveling on a budget in North Italy was challenging but possible! Eating out can be expensive but there are many supermarkets where they sell nice bread and cheese and other cheap goodies. It turned out to be a shorter journey then expected but it’s important to follow your instinct and ours was telling to move to the next country.
If you would like to see more about our journey through North Italy, watch this video: