Tips for Travel

Below are travel preparation tips for participants in the NCSAC Florence Spring 2011 program. Note that an additional list of frequently asked questions and their responses is available at the following link:

The AIFS offices also provide a hard copy of following Student Guide for students once enrolled. Click on this LINK.

You may also find the following website useful for local recommendations:

These website are also handy for currency conversion, electrical outlet and time zone information (Rome and Florence are the same time zone):

This website is useful for updated weather information (worldwide but also Florence specifically). Check this prior to departure: WEATHER LINK


LUGGAGE: Choose luggage that is sturdy without contributing significantly to its own weight (as does hard shell luggage). Keep in mind that all airlines have different luggage weight limits, and you should check with your airline to determine their limit; exceeding a luggage weight limit may result in a fee. It is better to distribute the weight of your items amongst multiple bags that individually do not exceed the weight limit than it is to try and fit everything in one large heavy bag. Bags with metal frames and nylon bodies are a good option for durability and weight, and luggage with wheels is handy.

BOOKS: You must bring the books required for each of your classes. Make sure you know exactly what books are required for all of your classes and buy and pack them before your trip. The book or reader titles will all be made available by late fall, and registered students will be able to purchase most materials at their last informational meeting prior to departure. Unlike your regular school experiences, you will not be able to drop by the campus bookstore after the Spring semester has commenced!
Your required school books will take up luggage room, but you can save space by purchasing any travel guides, Italian dictionaries / language books in their digital form. Many travel guides and language “books” are available as audio cds, MP3 downloads or other digital formats.

CLOTHES: Select clothes you really like as you will be wearing them repeatedly. Keep in mind that the seasons will change while in Florence. February will still be chilly, but Spring will emerge during your semester. Try to choose clothing that can be layered and is versatile. While many of you native Californians may not have warm winter sweaters or coats, there is no need to spend a great deal of money on clothes for your time abroad. Visit your local used clothing stores (call ahead to make sure they have winter clothes in stock), and you should be able to find very affordable, appealing options. To get a sense of the seasons of our semester, this link lists average monthly Florence temperatures: LINK
Plan to have at least one “dress” outfit should the appropriate occasion present itself. Note that certain dress codes should be respected while in Italy. It is inappropriate, for example, to visit churches (and some churches are effectively museums) in shorts, miniskirts, tank tops or undershirts as outerwear. Note that Italians are generally much less casual than the typical California college student, and they are much more attentive to presenting themselves well in public.

SHOES: Packing the right shoes can make all the difference in your time abroad. It’s advisable to take shoes that are both comfortable and versatile. You will walk a great deal in Florence both for leisure and school activities, and it is important that you wear shoes that provide support and comfort and put a spring in your step. At the same time, Italy is the land of la bella figura, and it’s both culturally respectful and good sense to have a pair of dress shoes for certain events.
Keep in mind that you'll sometimes walk on uneven surfaces (cobblestone or otherwise), and choose shoes with sturdy heels. You may also consider inserts to provide support. Whatever shoes or inserts you choose to bring, test them out by walking a good distance in them before your trip.
As noted in the clothing section, the season will change from Winter to Spring during your stay. Shoes should be selected accordingly.

BACKPACK / MESSENGER BAG: A backpack, book or messenger bag will be invaluable for transporting day-to-day school books and supplies, for field trips and for personal exploration. You can also use it on your flight for those flight essentials you want to have handy in non-checked luggage. When choosing what you'll take, consider how you will be using the bag (transporting a laptop, books, camera, water bottle, etc.) and the advantages of blending in with the locals (black is always a safe bet, and messenger bags are more prevalent than backpacks for urban Italians).

WATER BOTTLE: While this is by no means necessary, if you like to stay hydrated give some thought to bringing your own refillable, environmentally friendly, leach-free water bottle. Bottled water has become ubiquitous, and the bottled water industry is a matter of political and environmental concerns too complex to outline here. Suffice it to say that there are environmental concerns associated with the cheap plastic bottles of water that are so tempting to consume regularly, and there are health concerns associated with reusing such bottles. You should never reuse the cheap plastic bottles in which water is sold. These plastics leach into your drinking water and are only intended for one time use. It’s advisable to invest in a BPA-free bottle that can be refilled. This can be placed in your backpack so you have easy access to water when on field trips or away from your apartment for long stretches. To save space when packing a reusable water bottle, pack other small items inside the bottle (socks). The same space saving tip applies to shoes.

TIMEPIECE: Bring a watch or some portable timepiece (your cell phone, ipod or some other device with an inbuilt clock). You will frequently need to know the time to make sure you’re punctual for classes and events, or to pace yourself for timed assignments, and not all Italian public clocks are as accurate as the one at the venerable Palazzo Vecchio.

LAPTOP: If you have a laptop, by all means bring it (along with an electrical converter and adapter). Though the school does have a limited number of computers on site, you may find that a laptop will greatly assist you in completing school assignments, and you can use it to communicate via e-mail (a much more affordable option than cell phone usage while abroad).

PASSPORT: Your Orientation materials will remind you of this all important document, but for those who need to apply for or renew a passport, this LINK is useful.

CELL PHONE: Your cell phone may not be as convenient or affordable as you'd like, and for that reason you may want to purchase a temporary cell phone abroad and rely more on e-mail as your primary mode of communication with friends and family back home.

Though your cell phone will most likely work fine abroad, you may discover that the roaming charges you accrue for incoming and outgoing calls are not worth it. This is true even if you have an "international plan." Check with your service provider and make sure you understand the costs before you use your cell phone abroad. Providers vary, but they all impose high costs if you take a U.S. cell phone out of the U.S. Note that if your phone is a GSM phone, you can purchase a SIM card with which you can use your phone, be assigned a new, temporary number and pay as you go (a "schede pre-pagate" system) for the length of your stay abroad.

If your phone is not a GSM type and you think you will want a cell phone during your stay, it's recommended that you purchase a cheap (50 euros) Italian cell phone, a SIM card and a little bit of credit. You may purchase credit as you go. There is a modest charge for local calls within Italy, and to receive incoming calls - even from the U.S. - it is completely free (for you, but not the caller).

* Note that you can use your phone to access some useful APPS for your time abroad:

Apps for Android phones:

Florence Travel Guide Triposo (free)
MapDroyd (offline maps) (free)
Adobe Reader (PDF file viewer) (free)

Apps for iPhone:

City Maps 2Go (offline maps) ($1.99)
OpenMaps (offline maps) (free)

As is true in U.S. classrooms, cell phone use for calls and texting is completely forbidden in the classroom.

A more affordable option than cell phone communications is skype. With your laptop and a (free) skype account, you can communicate with family and friends through internet-based video chats. LINK

MONEY: It is advisable to bring a few euros with you so that you have some cash upon arrival.

ADAPTOR / CONVERTER:Bring an adaptor and converter appropriate to Italy. These can be found at any travel store and many electronics stores. Note that some adaptors are 3 prong (grounded) and some are 2 prong. It can't hurt to have both.

LA DOLCE VITA: Wish to enjoy Florence after school ends? If you are interested in extending your stay after the semester concludes, there are a number of short or long-term housing options available. The following links provide a variety of excellent housing options and helpful English-speaking staff.

Florence Video

View testimonials from former students in the Florence Program: