Discretion, Italian Style

Putting Francis in Charge

We followed our friends to our rental car at the beginning our short vacation together, feeling a palpable sense of freedom and relaxation. The source of our contentment was easy to pinpoint: we weren’t in charge. While we had all chosen the destination and lodging together, another couple had rented the car and they would be doing the driving and navigating. As Paul and I climbed into the far back seats of the rented van, we felt as much like privileged children under the care of doting parents as any middle-aged people possibly could. We were so unburdened by responsibility that we were practically giddy.

All of which leads me to tell you about Francis Surman.

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Packing made easy (at least easier)

When I was a business traveler, I hated to pack because it was part of being a business traveler, which I didn’t like being.

Packing for my trip to Umbria is different, in many ways harder.  I don’t quite know what to expect of life in a tiny Italian village, so can’t anticipate precisely what I’ll want with me.  That’s the fun of travel, right?  OK, but what if I forget something indispensable?

Fortunately, I’ve found help:

  • Weather Underground — I went here first to get an idea what the weather will be during my stay.  I went to the “Travel & Activities” drop-down menu, selected “trip planner,” typed in “Orvieto” (the closest city) and the dates of my stay, and received a pageful of statistics about average temperatures and temperature ranges, chances of hot, warm, cold, rainy, and foggy days, and historic weather reports by day.  So I now know not to take my snow boots.  (One decision down.)
  • Packing Pro (iPhone app) — I like Packing Pro a lot.  It starts with an exhaustive list of anything anyone could EVER need, then lets me customize it for myself.  Next, it allows me to develop packing lists for each upcoming trip.  The Packing Pro website is here.
  • My Bella Vita — This is one of my favorite Italy blogs.  It has a feature called “Travel Tip Tuesday” that is great for trip planning.  There are several posts that include helpful packing tips.  Check this out.
  • Onebag.com — This is another helpful list designed to make sure you don’t forget an essential.  Go to the “What to Pack” tab for list heaven.  The author also argues against taking too much or checking luggage.

As a matter of last resort, I’ll remember the wise words of a dear friend’s father: “The funny thing about where you’re going?  They have STORES there!”  He was right.

Even so, I’m going to have to check my bag(s?), and I’m sure Mr. Onebag wouldn’t want me to take my yoga mat.  In all fairness, though, there IS a yoga studio near the house.  Come to think of it, maybe my business travel would have been more palatable if I had taken a yoga mat.

Final prep

I’ve never been away for 6 weeks before, so I’m preparing for this trip more carefully than usual.  My “to do” list includes items that I’ve meant to do for shorter trips but just never got around to doing:

International driver’s license – This may not be essential, but if – heaven forbid – anything bad were to happen with anything associated with my car, I would want to make sure I had dotted every “i” and crossed every “t”.  I got my international drivers license at an AAA office.  Quick and easy.

Health insurance – Years ago, my sister broke her ankle in Florence and wound up in a hospital at which patients’ families were expected supply the patients’ food and fresh linens.  More recently, a friend of a friend was in an Italian hospital that had cats wandering through it.  Yet our friends who live in Rome – those with good insurance – have had excellent health care in modern, top-notch hospitals.  Based more on hope than analysis, I’m buying insurance to 1) ensure cat-free health care and 2) provide help getting home if that were required.  I used www.squaremouth.com to  find the insurance.  I hope I won’t have occasion to report on its value.

Update — I have a better way to buy insurance: www.insuremytrip.com. I called 1-800-487-4722 and talked to a real person (Gail) who researched my needs and made a fact-based recommendation.

Credit card – Our credit card has always been reliable in Europe.  Nevertheless, I called that 800 number on the back of the card anyway to reassure their sometimes overly vigilant fraud department.  I got through to a real, live person who recorded my travel plans and gave me an 800 number for their international customer service.  (Bonus!)

Cell phone – Doing this in person has given me peace of mind that was worth the extra time.  I went to the AT&T store to order the necessary enhancement to my plan that will allow me to use the phone over there (it will be $1/minute, so I won’t be using it any more than necessary).  More important, though, the AT&T guy helped me really, really understand how to make sure my phone won’t automatically pull in emails at great expense.