Shotgun of emergency international travel questions
April 25, 2012 10:35 AM   Subscribe

A dear family member suddenly passed in Italy. I live in the Mid-Atlantic USA. I really need to travel to Italy on very short notice for the funeral. I am not a frequent air traveler to begin with, but have never been abroad in my life (though I do have a passport). I have no idea how this works. I want to know anything I should know about getting to and from my destination (e.g., negotiating customs). I also want to know how bereavement fares work, whether I should bother trying to get one, who people have had good experiences with, etc.

Any advice any can have on this subject would be very much appreciated. I know many of these answers are in some way Google-able, but this is a rough time and I want to get as much information and perspective as I can, fast, especially as I'm not thinking terribly clearly or rationally.

* I know bereavement fares exist, but I can't seem to find any hard information on them. People seem to be souring on them recently, and many carriers seem to be dropping them. It seems confusing to the point of being prohibitively bewildering. Obviously, though, short-notice international travel is madly expensive. Has anyone had any "good" (relatively speaking) experiences doing bereavement fares with any particular carrier? Any tips for negotiating this if I do dive in? Any idea on other ways to get (as is possible) cheap international fares, fast?

* What can I expect at customs? I have a passport but have never actually exited the USA. I know rules on domestic travel restrictions, but is there anything else in particular I should think about or know about, perhaps especially regarding the EU and Italy in particular? I'll probably be travelling specifically out of Philadelphia International Airport. Any resources? I'll pack light, generally speaking.

* International flight in general: what can I expect on the plane? What might it be like in economy? Is there anything I should be wary of?

* W/r/t power converters: Can I pick one up at a local CVS or similar? I imagine they must sell them in airports?

* I do not speak Italian. An out-of-place question, but: best online Italian phrasebook?

Thanks in advance, MetaFilter.
posted by Keter to Travel & Transportation around Rome, Italy (35 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: (If it helps, I would specifically be travelling to Rome.)
posted by Keter at 10:36 AM on April 25, 2012

1. In my experience, bereavement fares don't knock that much money off of a ticket. There's no harm in asking for one. Call up some carriers, explain the situation, and see what they say. They've typically required some sort of documentation that may or may not be difficult to get.

2. Customs is pretty easy to get through, really. You'll have your bags with you, you'll stand in line, you'll get to the customs agent, they'll ask some questions about your stay, they'll stamp your passport, and you'll be on your way. The lighter you pack, the easier this will be. Coming back home, you'll need to declare stuff (or not) you bought while overseas. You'll be given a form on the plane; fill it out before you deplane and you'll be good to go.

3. It'll be a long flight, probably overnight. If you feel comfortable doing so, get a prescription for a sleep aid. International economy is the same as domestic economy, just longer in duration. You may or may not get dinner on the flight, you'll get breakfast if it's overnight. Just prepare yourself for a long flight.

4. In Philly, I can't imagine it would be hard to get converters. I'd try Target, Best Buy; those kinds of places. Getting one at the airport = ridiculously expensive.

5. I once called a hotel in Rome to book a room. I apologized to the nice man on the other end, when he answered the phone with a rush of Italian, saying I didn't speak Italian. He said, very sweetly, "It's okay! Everyone speaks English here!" I'm sure not everyone speaks English in Rome, but I doubt you'll have any problems. Just make sure you know please, thank you, hello, good-bye; maybe some smaller phrases. You'll be fine.

I'm so very sorry for your loss and I hope you navigate all of this with as little stress as is possible in the situation.
posted by cooker girl at 10:51 AM on April 25, 2012 [3 favorites]

Do not bother with bereavement fares. Just use all the search engines everyone lists in all the other travel AskMes. The upside of last-minute is that airlines are trying to fill every last seat, so there are deals. Note: every last seat is in the middle of a 5-6 seat section. The likelihood of you getting an aisle seat is low, window seat is none.

Don't take fresh fruit, meat, soil or plant matter, mad cows or any other upset animals, drugs, more than $10,000 cash, or weapons with you. When customs asks if you have anything to declare, you may honestly say no. Avoid walking around on farms in the days before you leave the US, as you may also be asked about this. That's what Customs does. Immigration, on the other hand, may want to know why you're there. It is fine to say you are there for a funeral.

Coach is usually slightly nicer on international flights than on domestic, but really very slightly. You may have an individual video entertainment device in the back of the seat in front of you. You will probably get fed a couple of times for free. Be wary of forgetting things in the seat in front of you. Also, put shoes on before using the toilet as there is no surface in there that is not covered in things you shouldn't be sock-footed in.

You can buy power converters in most stores. You will pay 4-10 times more for these things inside an airport.

An online phrasebook isn't going to help you when you are there. Buy one of the Berlitz or similar small reference books that you can hold in your hand and point at sentences/phrases for other people to read.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:51 AM on April 25, 2012 [4 favorites]

We just went through this in our family, with suddenly needing to get people from elsewhere to here. Unfortunately, the 'bereavement fare' thing turned out to be a bit of a scam. It was not a discount per se, just a special ticket that ensured you could not be bumped and waived a few of the extra fees for stuff like rebooking. And you had to provide a whole bunch of documentation including a death certificate...
posted by JoannaC at 10:51 AM on April 25, 2012

I'm sorry for your loss, first of all.

1. PASSPORTS AND SUCH: You actually should first sort out the visa situation - I've just done a Google search, and it's actually a little confusing whether you'd need a visa; according to the site I found, you DON'T need one if you're visiting as a tourist, but you DO need one if you're visiting for "religous reasons". Fortunately there is a consulate in Philadelphia who can offer a visa if you need one, and can answer questions about whether you do need one; they are located at Suite 1026, Public Ledger Building, 150 South Independence Mall West. Their number is 215-592-7329. You'll need to sort that; fortunately it is possible to do this on short notice, but there may be a charge. If all else fails, you could just say you're visiting as a tourist when you get to Italy, because you don't need a visa for that.

Once you get that sorted - when you enter Italy, you'll have to turn the visa (if you need one) and the passport over to a guy who'll look everything over, maybe ask a couple questions about things, and then stamp your passport. That's pretty much it. Maybe you'll have to fill out a second form once you get to Italy, with basic information about your travel plans (where you're from, where you're staying, when you're leaving, if you're going anywhere else within Italy other than Rome; this is where you'd pretend to be a tourist if you have to, is filling out that form). If you end up on a connecting flight that connects in a different country (i.e., you go on Iceland Air or something and they make you change planes in Rejkyavik), you'll have to get your passport stamped in that country's airport too.

Then when you return to the U.S., before you land you'll get a form to fill out where you can list how long you were outside the U.S., and can declare things you're bringing back - you may not need to worry about that unless you're bringing in about 30 samples of some kind of item, though, they don't stress much about souvenir type shopping. Then when you land in the US you turn that and your passport over to another guy who looks everything over, stamps your passport again and gives it back to you, and you're done.

2. POWER CONVERTERS: I had trouble finding power converters in an airport, actually. They may have them at CVS; be sure, though, that you're getting something that is an actual VOLTAGE converter rather than a plug converter. I made that mistake on my last travel; I got something that would let one plug fit a different-shaped hole, but wouldn't do anything about the voltage. So when you do go shopping, check that before you make a purchase.

3. ENGLISH/ITALIAN: A friend of mine who visited Rome assured me that not speaking Italian was a minor concern for her; "almost everyone spoke English," she said.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:52 AM on April 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm sorry you're going through this.

ebookers is often mentioned here as a good source of cheap flights. can also be good.

you will find adaptors at the airport shops on your side of the Atlantic, just explain to the person where you're going and they will sell you the adaptor you need. Ask them if your particular piece of equipment works with just an adaptor.

I bought an Italian phrasebook recently also at my departure airport but in Rome a lot of people in service positions speak enough English to help you get to your destination.

Walk around a lot on the flight to avoid DVT, and explain to the air personnel what has happened if you are distraught, rather than leaving them think you might be drunk.
posted by Wilder at 10:53 AM on April 25, 2012


I can't comment on bereavement fares, but can give a general overview of international travel. The main thing to realize is that there are lots of clueless American tourists who do this all the time, so there are very explicit instructions about what you need to do. And most customs/immigration officials have no problem with you asking them questions if you are confused. The basic process is that you go through immigration and then customs when you arrive in a different country. Immigration is where they look at your passport, ask you why you are visiting the country and how long you are staying, stamp your passport, and you're done. It's very quick, but usually involves a wait in line. At customs you have to hand over a form (the form is distributed on the flight, so you fill it out in advance) that lists what you are bringing into the country. Certain items like large amounts of cash or agricultural items may require you to talk to a customs officer, and you may also experience a random inspection of your luggage, but usually this is not a big deal. It's pretty straightforward and well-explained with signs. You can also ask people around you what to do if you are confused.

Basically international flights such because you are trapped in a metal can in a small seat for a long time. It's basically like a really long flight where the flight attendants speak multiple languages, so not so different from other travel you have experienced. Personally, I like to take drugs to make it easier to sleep (melatonin). This can make you foggy the next day, however.

You can absolutely get a power converter at the airport.

The rumor is that there are often lots of pickpockets and petty theft of tourists in Rome, so I would look into precautions for that.
posted by medusa at 10:57 AM on April 25, 2012

My mother managed to get a bereavement fair several years ago, travelling from Australia to the UK, she went through her travel agent who handled everything. I vaguely remember some paperwork/proof being needed but can't remember what it was. Talk to a travel agent anyway, yes you can save a few bucks working out tickets yourself online but you have enough to worry about as it is, let the agent work the ticketing to get you the cheapest flight they can, they can also handle any visa requirements if needed (I think US citizens can stay up to 90 days in Italy visa free).

I've never left a US airport as a US citizen but security has been pretty much the same as for domestic flights but even more thorough in my experience. Have your large electronics out to scan and keep your fluids under limit and in a ziplock back just like on a domestic flight and you should be fine. Customs forms for when you land will be handed out on the plane, most international flight attendants can answer any questions you might have filling them in, but they are pretty self explanatory, why are you going how long you'll stay, where you'll stay (just put the address of your first nights accommodation if you don't know any other details). You may have to declare items you've purchased, but as you are not going on a vacation I doubt you'll have anything to declare.

International flights are like local domestic ones really but longer. Flight attendants are usually friendlier and there is usually a smidge more room, depending on the airline. If you have dietary requirements (vegan, kosher or whatever) let them know when you book your ticket. Meals & drinks are included.

Things to take on plane I can't do without. Empty water bottle to fill up at drink fountain past security as long flights really dry you out. Compression socks, to avoid DVT and to avoid painfully swollen feet on landing. Drink lots of water. Lipbalm & moisturiser. Noise cancelling head phones or ear plugs. Neck pillow if you like them, I don't. Large scarf or use the airlines blankets. Something to read. Most international flights have a pillow and blanket for each seat and most have pretty good inflight movie systems now a days.

You can pick up plug convertors at most walmarts and the like. A lot of electronics powersupplies can handle a range of voltages, check yours before you go, Italy is 220V.

Have some cash for when you land if possible for taxis and the like. '

Most Italians I found are super friendly if you at least try a little Italian first, heck if they find out why you are there most of the Italians I met would bend over backwards to help you.
posted by wwax at 10:58 AM on April 25, 2012

So sorry about your loss. I don't know anything about bereavement fares first hand, but hopefully I can help with the rest. Clearing customs in Europe is pretty straightforward, and nothing like the US in my experience. I'm not sure how US customs works getting out of the country, (I'm Canadian), but once you land in Italy you'll get off the plane, grab your bag, and clear customs. Should be very straightforward going out, they'll ask you the purpose of your visit, how long you are staying, etc. If you have a connection in a Schegen country prior to flying to Italy, you'll clear customs there and maybe do passport control in Italy (go up to a desk and they check your passport, its really easy and not as intense as customs).

In terms of international flights, it all depends on your airline and when you are flying. Generally economy is not the most comfortable thing ever (for me anyway, I'm 6'1 and have very long legs), but is slightly better than flights in the US. These days you probably (depending on the airline) have to pay extra for an exit row seat, but you get more legroom and is a bit more comfortable. Once you have a flight, you can look up the flight number on Seatguru, which rates seats on your flight and allows you to avoid the really bad ones. They should feed you a couple times, and sometimes will have blankets and such (depending on the airline). Bring ear plugs/music aid, a sleep mask, and something to do if you can't sleep and you should be fine.

You'll be able to get an adapter no problem in the airport, might be more expensive but they definitely have them in those kisok type shops. Depending on what you are thinking of charging, you might be able to just use a plug adapter. For example, most laptops will do the converting for you and all you end is an adapter.

For actually finding a flight, I like the ITA matrix and generally find it has the lowest fares. You can't actually book there like you can from Kayak or Expedia, but is handy none the less. Otherwise, maybe in your case a travel agent would be worth it so you don't have to worry about finding flights, etc? They would also be an excellent resource if you have any other questions about going abroad.
posted by snowysoul at 10:59 AM on April 25, 2012

I'm very sorry for your loss, and that you have to stress about the travel right now as well. Is it an option for you to call a travel agent right away for help? He or she will be able to answer all these questions, and more that you might not have thought of yet.

If not, let's take these point by point.

1. Bereavement fares: I have no personal experience, but from what I understand a copy of a death certificate or "doctor's note" are usually required. Do you have access to something like this? If not, you will probably just have to do you best on Kayak like a traveler under normal circumstances. I just searched Kayak, and the lowest fare (economy, one person) that came up leaving Philadelphia tomorrow and returning a week from tomorrow was $1463. Now that's not really all that ridiculous of a fare. I spent a bit over $1000 last fall to fly to Rome, and that was a ticket purchased about six months in advance, just as a point of comparison. Can you afford that?

2. Customs might seem quite scary if you've never traveled internationally before, but there's really not much to it. When you land, just follow the crowds to the non-EU citizen line. It's easy to tell - the EU line has signs with yellow stars against a blue background and says "EU Citizens only" really big. There will be an "All Others" line for you. Just relax and follow the crowds. When you get to the front of the line, approach the agent when you're waved up. The agent might ask you why you're traveling, and you'll tell them about the funeral. They'll stamp your passport and wave you through. I really don't think you need a visa for this type of trip, but I could be wrong. On the way back, a flight attendant will give you what's called a landing card on the plane, which you will fill out and present to the customs agent. Same thing - they'll look at your card and wave you through. It's really simple, trust.

3. International flights are just longer. Bring lots of varied entertainment if you can. Get up and walk a lot. Bring music. Use the bathroom a lot and rinse your face off.

4. Converters: Don't buy at airport. If you really need one, get it in Italy at an electronics store. They abound.

5. Good instinct to try to speak Italian, but everyone will speak English. Now's not the time to worry about that. Maybe try to use "grazie" as much as possible.

Good luck. Again, I'm sorry for your loss.
posted by CheeseLouise at 10:59 AM on April 25, 2012

Go to a bookstore and get a guidebook to Rome to bring with you. Frommers is probably the most useful for someone who's never traveled before, but there are plenty of good ones, like Lonely Planet. Even if you get all your questions answered here, things will come up during your trip, and you'll want to have a simple reference in your hand.

Also, the full Frommer's guides are free online; the section on planning your trip from the Italy guidebook is here. The Fast facts subsection is particularly useful.

You can also purchase electronic guidebooks for your phone or tablet, but if you have an actual book you won't have to worry about losing power or other technical issues.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 11:01 AM on April 25, 2012

1. Best bet for the fares - call the airline and explain your situation. Also, hit up search travel sites, and hope that there are flights that haven't over sold.

2. Make sure you have your passport on you, you have a copy of your passport in your checked luggage (if you're checking it, if not in your carry on), and you leave a copy of it at home with someone you trust. I can't stress this enough. Being stressed out and discombobulated while traveling can lead to forgetting it, leaving it somewhere or someone stealing it, and the only way to rectify the situation is at an Embassy. Copies help immensely. Also, you shouldn't need much as you're pretty much going to Italy as a tourist - since you're not staying for an extended period of time you shouldn't need a visa. However, if you're going to be there a while, I would look up the restrictions. Also, make sure you have copies of all your important documents or papers, and numbers to call to report things lost or stolen. And know where the Embassy is.

3. I found Tylenol PM was my best friend on the flight. And moving around. Sitting that long is tough (~8hours), and sleeping is uncomfortable at best. Sleep meds help immensely and make time fly. If you're in Economy, expect to be crowded, and crappy food. Bring some packaged snacks for yourself if you're wary of the meal on the plane.

4. Converters - Brookstone has an actual transformer, and while not cheap, if you're taking electronics with you that don't have a conversion switch (see - old school hairdryers) you're going to want an actual transformer of sorts (blowing up electronics overseas is no fun). Otherwise, if you're electronics have a switch (or your laptop power cable will automatically convert for you) you could just use the plug adapters. Don't buy it in the airport, it'll be ridiculously expensive.

5. I went to Rome and Florence a few years ago and had no problem with a lack of Italian. I carried a pocket dictionary with me for the times I knew I'd need it (off the beaten path - when my French/Spanish from high school was failing me) but for the most part people spoke English. But I definitely recommend a pocket dictionary, or an app with some basic words that doesn't require the internet.
posted by bleachandink at 11:02 AM on April 25, 2012

Bereavement fares exist, but are subject to the same maze of complexities and nonsense that haunt all airfares. In my experience, your best bet is to call the airline, explain the situation, and see what they can offer. Be prepared to discover that the bereavement fare is sold out or is more expensive than fares you can find online for the same flight. In your case, you'd be looking at US Air's US718, which is a direct flight from PHL to FCO (Rome) and US719 (its return). For a bereavement fare, the airline will probably want a copy of the death certificate or similar documentation.

It will probably be crazy expensive no matter what you do, but if the direct flight winds up being insanely prohibitively expensive, you can look at either flying to the New York area or taking a bus or train to Kennedy or Newark and catching a flight to Rome from there. The alternative is to fly to somewhere else in Europe, likely Heathrow, Paris, Frankfurt, or Amsterdam, and get a flight to Rome from there. This might work out cheaper, but it might be more comfortable for you to not have to worry about international connections on your first trip abroad. Hipmunk is your friend.

Customs is really not a big deal. In both directions, you'll likely be given a small form to fill out on the airplane. It's not rocket science, mostly name, passport number, hotel/family member's address, purpose of your trip, etc... When you come back to the US, you'll be asked to list whatever you're bringing back. I'd make a habit of saving the receipts for customs, at least for big ticket items, but its really not a big deal. You won't owe any duty (tax) to the US unless you're bringing back more than $800 worth of goods or large amounts of booze or tobacco. Don't bring food or agricultural products with you (prepackaged snacks for the plane are fine really, and you can always leave any leftovers on board). Just fill out the form accurately and they'll help you out; as long as you aren't trying to hide things from them, customs people are perfectly happy to explain anything.

Further immigration/customs detail: when you get off the plane, you'll likely walk down a long back hallway to the customs area. There will probably be two lines, one for citizens and one for foreigners; get in the appropriate one and hand your passport and form to the agent when you get to the front. You'll then continue to a baggage claim, which works just like domestic baggage pickup. Grab your bags and follow the signs to exit, either to the outside if you're at your destination or to connecting flights if you're traveling on. You might be asked a couple quick questions by customs at this point or subjected to a random check of your bags, which should be quick enough.

In my experience, English is pretty widely spoken in Rome's service industry, at least enough to get by.

I'm sorry for your loss and hope you can spend this time with your family soon.
posted by zachlipton at 11:09 AM on April 25, 2012

You actually should first sort out the visa situation - I've just done a Google search, and it's actually a little confusing whether you'd need a visa; according to the site I found, you DON'T need one if you're visiting as a tourist, but you DO need one if you're visiting for "religous reasons".

"Religious reasons" means serving as a missionary or a ministering to a religious community as a member of the church's staff. Visiting for a funeral is just like any other visit, assuming you're staying for less than 90 days.
posted by deanc at 11:31 AM on April 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Power converters: Depending on what you're taking, you might not need them. Laptops, iPhones, etc work on dual voltage. All you would need is a power adapter (a lot cheaper than a converter)
posted by blue_beetle at 11:42 AM on April 25, 2012

Make sure to get a *southern* European power adapter, not just a generic European power adapter; the plugs are different in Italy.
posted by Jeanne at 12:03 PM on April 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

The lighter you pack, the easier this will be.
(in passing customs/immigration) - This is true, within a certain limit. If you are traveling with only a carry-on, especially if you stay more than a long weekend, you can expect a greater likelihood of getting the old hairy eyebrow and a few more questions about your travels. Nothing serious, but just enough to make you nervous.

For your electricity questions: most of your important devices will work both on 110 V and 220 V. Read the label with all the small print. This includes laptops and iDevices. Then you need the device to change the shape (rather than the transformer). For this trip and any other, you can check out the shapes of the plugs and the voltage at kropla's Electricity Around the World. Has pictures of Italy's, just get down to I and click the C, F, and L links. I've never been so can't tell you which is most common.
posted by whatzit at 12:39 PM on April 25, 2012

The thing you didn't ask so hasn't been answered is the search procedure before boarding aircraft. Shoes come off, bags are opened, anything metal goes in the search bin. Belts come out of pants loops, pretty much. Money and keys – into the bin.

Don't plan to bring any liquids on board with you unless they're tiny bottles of hand lotion or something. You can get water or other necessary liquids from the flight attendants later.

Do not expect to get on board with anything sharp - you will lose penknives, nail scissors and so forth if you forget and bring them along in your purse. Various other info here.
posted by zadcat at 12:44 PM on April 25, 2012

I do not speak Italian. An out-of-place question, but: best online Italian phrasebook?

Italy was one of the first countries I visited abroad. Now I've been to over thirty, and my advice about phrasebooks is, don't bother. In practice, looking stuff up in them takes too long; and in Western Europe especially almost everyone you meet will have some English. It's nice to pick up on some basics: yes, no, please, thank you, you're welcome -- the considerate traveler memorizes those during the months of prep before the trip. But Italian -- after a few days there, we were joking about how the language is so easy -- just append "a", "ia" or "o" to the English word. (Of course, that's not true.)
posted by Rash at 1:07 PM on April 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

First: relax. I know it's a stressful time but it's easy for an American going to Italy. Most everyone you encounter in Rome in any service positions (restaurant/hotel staff, tourist spots, etc) is going to speak English. Knowing how to say buon giorno and grazie and being polite are going to put you ahead of most tourists. There will be English signs in important places like airports and train stations, and there will always be people willing to help if you ask.

Places to look for fares: travelocity, orbitz, hipmunk, kayak, yahoo travel.

Immigration and customs are two different things. Immigration is where they stamp your passport letting you into the country and where you likely will submit a disembarkation card, which will probably be given to you on your flight. The disembarkation card will ask for things like your citizenship, country of residence, date of birth (make sure to enter that correctly as Europe is generally in a Day/Month/Year format, ie 25/04/2012), passport number and expiration date, and other things like flight number, days staying, address staying.

Customs is where you declare any goods bringing into the country. Generally things like foodstuffs, agricultural products, commercial goods (for sale in country), cash above a certain high amount, and some drugs need to be declared. Amphetamine-type ADD/ADHD drugs and maybe benzos are the drugs that come to mind that you might need a copy of the prescription or a doctor's note. In the case of drugs like that do a bit of research online or call an Italian embassy/consulate for more information.

You probably do not need a voltage converter, just a plug adapter. A local drug store or Radio Shack should have a universal adapter or you'll be able to buy one in Rome. And sometimes hotels will even have sockets that will take US plugs. Many modern consumer electronics like laptop power supplies, phone chargers, camera chargers, will say somewhere 100-240V, 50/60Hz. In that case you're good to go with just a plug adapter. If they are 120V only then you need an actual voltage converter which is more expensive.

Do not bring a 120V only hair dryer. The voltage converter for something with that high a power draw is expensive, heavy, and unnecessary. The hotel probably has hair dryers and if not you can buy one cheaply in Italy.

For long international flights I like to bring earplugs and noise-isolating earbud headphones. An eye-mask, too, if you are light sensitive. Put the earplugs in as soon as you get on the plane to lessen the noise fatigue. Try to get a window seat if at all possible; ask at the gate if they can move you to a window if you ended up in an aisle or especially middle seat. You'll be provided some meals but you might want to skip them to avoid jet lag. Try to sleep if you can but bring enough to keep yourself entertained if you can't sleep. There will probably be a movie showing but you may also have an individual screen where you can select movies and shows to watch.

If things seem scammy they probably are, like tour guides you don't need or things like the ring scam. Keep small bills in your pocket so you don't have to pull out a big wad of cash or your purse/wallet in public, just to buy a bottle of water.

You'll be fine!
posted by 6550 at 1:15 PM on April 25, 2012

Lonely Planet has an Italian phrases app that might ease your discomfort a bit.
posted by lulu68 at 1:18 PM on April 25, 2012

When arranging your travel I'd recommend you spend as much time on the international flight as possible because you normally have a more professional cabin crew and the personal entertainment system etc to help you pass the time.

Liaise with your family in Italy and find out the best way to travel from the airport to the final destination. They'll be able to help you with tips and directions and it will be less stressful than piecing it together on Google.

Don't be afraid of making a connection in Europe if that's the way it works out. Airports are all designed to move people through them efficiently and they do not rely on the traveller speaking the local language. Any of the large European hubs would have signs and announcements in English & local language.

Once you've made your travel arrangements I'd prepare a little plastic wallet with all your travel information - that'd include the ticket confirmation email, the boarding pass (do check-in as early as possible an do not get stuck in the middle of the middle row seats for 8 hrs...), any hotel confirmations (if you're not staying with your family), any further directions for travelling between airport and final destination. This wallet would also contain my passport. Keep this easily accessible in your hand luggage. Do not put it in the back of the seat in front of you on the plane.

I also retain these emails in my email account as well as a scanned copy of my passport. But that's just me.

Normally I don't bother to get foreign currency before I leave and rely on the cash point the other end. But if you are the sort of person who'd rather have some Euros in your pocket by all means get some.

As others have said international air travel works pretty much like domestic air travel, there are simply a couple of extra steps. Just follow everybody else.

Bear in mind that it is a long flight, you'll probably travel over night and arrive very tired and have a long day ahead of you. Consider packing a change of clothes in your hand luggage and some basic toiletries (that comply with liquid restrictions) so you can freshen up when you get off the long haul flight. It will make the world of difference, especially if you have a connection through one of the European hubs and won't get to your hotel/family for many hrs.
posted by koahiatamadl at 1:19 PM on April 25, 2012

Couple of points about customs/immigration:

For US citizens, clearing airport security at home for an international flight is pretty much the same as clearing it for a domestic flight, except you have to show your passport. Usually boarding closes earlier, so be aware of that, but the security lines really don't take any longer - length of time at security is more impacted by the airport, the time of day, and random events than it is by where you are going.

If you are switching flights, make sure your bags are checked through to your final destination. They probably will be, but check.

You will not necessarily have to through customs and immigration if you are changing planes in a third country, even if it's non-Schengen. When I went to Rome, I flew through Dublin (non-Schengen), and all I had to do was go through a little security checkpoint where they scanned my carry-on and checked my passport and boarding pass. The security checkpoint was there just for people who were transferring, and not in the main terminal area. Nobody stamped anything or looked in my bags. Not all countries have "sterile areas" like this (the US doesn't), but I think most European ones do.
posted by breakin' the law at 1:37 PM on April 25, 2012

I flew cross-country (San Francisco to Philadelphia) a few months ago when my grandmother was dying. There were no bereavement fares; when my mother called about this (because she flies more often than I do and is therefore better able to navigate the air travel bureaucracy) she was politely laughed at.

I have actually flown US Air Philadelphia to Rome, a couple years ago; it was a pretty nice flight. There were entertainment centers in the backs of the seat, which is something I miss now that I fly PHL-SFO a couple times a year. But don't take too much advantage of this on the eastbound flight; try to sleep on the plane. (The westbound flight is probably during the day; enjoy it.)

Also, because I would have appreciated knowing: when you get to Rome, the area where you're supposed to wait for customs is just a giant holding pen. It is not organized at all. This may be intensely disorienting, especially if you have not slept well on the plane.
posted by madcaptenor at 1:45 PM on April 25, 2012

I'm sorry for your loss.

Take a deep breath, and remember: Italians are people too. Do things at your own pace, don't be rushed, be prepared to do a bit of watching to see what the lie of the land is, and don't be afraid to ask questions if you feel you're on the wrong track. Information booths and a winning manner are your friends.

You will lose some money and get disoriented. Somebody will rip you off, piss you off and something will be way more expensive than it is back home. Accept this and don't get too worried about it. Today's misfortunes are tomorrow's hilarious anecdotes. You'll also meet some lovely genuine people who will amaze you with acts of kindness.

Ultimately, remember that as long as you have, in this order: your life, your underpants, your passport and your wallet, everything else can be bought or replaced easily. So look after yourself, bring a reasonable supply of clean underwear and keep your wallet and your passport close and concealed as much as possible. Trust your instincts. Be prepared to step into the unknown, but if you feel uncomfortable go back to your comfort zone.

I travelled a lot on my own intercontinentally from the age of 14. Amazingly (now) I did it with about $10 in my pocket and no phone or email or credit card [Thanks parents!]. I say this not as a boast, but to make the point that if you don't fear things before they happen then you've jumped past the biggest issue.

If it helps with the packing, then work out what you'd take on a similar trip back home and take that. Rome will sell anything else you need.

Enjoy yourself as much as you can in the circumstances. Good luck.
posted by MuffinMan at 1:54 PM on April 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

Some people here are making this much more confusing than it needs to be.

You do not need a phrasebook. Rome has been a tourist destination for literally over a thousand years. They are set up to accommodate you. Everyone you are likely to encounter will have enough English to get along.

Immigration is easy. You do not need a visa. You are a tourist and are there for a funeral. They will stamp you and wave you through.

Customs is easy. Don't bring over $10K cash or any fruit with you. On the form when they ask you about value of goods to declare, write Zero.

Rome can be sticky hot in the spring/summer so pack light fabrics and shoes you can walk in comfortably.

You can take a cab from the airport to your hotel; or if you want to save some money and are staying in the city center, you can take a train to Termini (the central train station) and then cab from there.

I'm sorry for your loss.
posted by fingersandtoes at 2:13 PM on April 25, 2012 [4 favorites]

In the international terminal of the Philadelphia airport they have currency exchange booths. It is ok to change a little money there but don't change a lot, they charge you too much. I usually just get a little money there (enough for a cab and a meal) and then get euros from an ATM in the Rome airport.

As for customs, as others have said you just show your passport. I flew to Venice from Philadelphia a few years ago and it was easier getting into Italy than back into the US. In Italy they just glanced at my passport and waved me through while in Philly they asked many annoying and somewhat offensive questions.

You can get a converter at Target. CVS or Walgreens usually have them too. I usually just don't bring a hair dryer or anything that needs one. Hotels everywhere have hair dryers.
posted by interplanetjanet at 2:16 PM on April 25, 2012

Oh about power - you may need a power converter for appliances, if you are bringing any (unless your hair dryer has a dual voltage setting.) Modern laptops and chargers, like for a digital camera, do NOT require a power converter; but will require a plug converter (a smallish thing that just makes the plug the right shape but doesn't mess with the voltage.) Italian plugs have two round prongs instead of the vertical ones we have. You can find these anywhere that sells electronics - radio shack, probably Target, etc.
posted by fingersandtoes at 2:19 PM on April 25, 2012

Based on my trips to Germany, these days, if you are thinking of bringing anything along that requires a voltage converter, you will be better served to just buy a local version when you get there [hair dryer, alarm clock, waffle iron, etc.] You will likely spend more on the voltage converter than it would cost to buy a hair dryer in Rome and then give it away when you leave.
posted by chazlarson at 2:27 PM on April 25, 2012

You should call your bank to make sure they know you'll be travelling internationally, otherwise your bank card might get flagged as suspicious and frozen after the first ATM transaction.
posted by tivalasvegas at 3:10 PM on April 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have flown to Rome from Philly; it is a long but easy flight. It's also fairly easy to fly out of NYC (Amtrak to New York, subway to JFK train, JFK train, boom.) As an added bonus there are actually pretty good food options, including some nice nut and fruit and snack places, if you want something else for the train. Pack lightly and check the weather before you go, it's usually warmer and drier though the plane flight will probably be cold and if you're flying straight, it really can be a long flight. Be prepared to take off all of your outer layers and your shoes at the airport. If you like to read hard copies of books, you may want to pick up some cheap used paperbacks, which you can then donate to your hotel or leave on the plane. Radio Shack has had every kind of converter that I've needed; this is somewhat easier than dealing with the airport terminal dash. If you can, stick with a carry-on, which will allow you to get through Fiumicino much more easily as you clear final customs after baggage claim. There should be ATMs at the airport so that you can just get euros on arrival.

Your local branch of the PFL or suburban library will undoubtedly have a Rome guidebook or two, along with phrasebooks; you can either check them out and (carefully) take them with you or photocopy the most relevant phrases and street map around your hotel. If you have photocopies or google map printouts they will be slightly more inconspicuous than a guidebook for marking you as a tourist. Be as careful of your wallet as you would in any major city, and just watch out for suspicious moves or attempts to get you to sign petitions. Don't bring any American cards or keys that you won't need, and yes, definitely remember to inform your bank(s) that you'll be out of the country. Everyone will speak passable English in the tourist sector, though learning a few basic phrases will probably help. Lonely Planet has a whole series now of sort of mini guidebooks that are quite brief, often city-specific, and perfect for an emergency quick trip. If you have internet access, Google Translate and Word Reference are great for quick phrases or word checks. There's also a cheap Italian for Dummies app for the iPhone, which I flick through from time to time to stay in shape on conjugation. If you are planning to make phone calls while there, this is very phone/budget specific though of course Skype will work if you have internet access. If you happen to be on the Main Line I have a British pay-as-you-go-phone you could borrow; it would just need a new sim chip.

I'm so sorry for your loss.
posted by jetlagaddict at 4:05 PM on April 25, 2012

Any chance that you are a student, under 26 or a teacher? STA can be a great option in situations like this.

When are you leaving? I just found one ticket for $775 on, leaving on Monday. But I was just playing around with dates. They sometimes have decent deals - make sure to select the +/- 3 day flexibility option.
posted by barnone at 8:28 PM on April 25, 2012 has one from Washington DC - Rome, April 30 - May 7 for $750 round trip. It looks like NYC is often cheaper than Philly. Is there a train from Philly to NYC?
posted by barnone at 8:37 PM on April 25, 2012 - has one from JFK to Rome, April 28-May 5 for $944 with taxes. Good luck!
posted by barnone at 8:40 PM on April 25, 2012

Will there be any family that are already there or will be headed over there too? They could help with travel and accommodation too, as well as advice and moral support. I'm sorry for your loss.
posted by divabat at 11:11 PM on July 1, 2012

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