Here are some of the things I did well, and some things I’ll do differently next time:
Go to the bank. Bypass the ATM and talk to a teller. Find out if your ATM card or credit cards waive the transaction fee(s). I ordered $100 worth of Euros at the bank, and it was so nice not having to worry about exchange rates when I was landed. Having enough cash on hand to get a train ticket and a snack made a big difference.
The packing bags that allow you to flatten your clothes by pushing out the air are amazing! I purchased a set of three compression bags from the Rick Steves store and took two of the medium-sized bags with me to Italy. They really maximized the space on my carry-on, and I used one for dirty clothes on the way home.
Don’t pack extra shoes. Seriously, just don’t. Everything they say about how great the shopping is in Italy is 100 percent true (especially in Florence). If you need more than one pair of shoes, buy them there. You’ll have a great pair of shoes and a nice memory to go with it.
Plan to arrive a day or two before your tour starts. It was a better deal for me to fly roundtrip in and out of Rome, so I booked a hotel in Rome and took the Trenitalia express train to Venice the next day.
Crowdsource “must see” places to go, and then create your own itinerary, leaving some flexibility to explore. I spent a few weeks on the Rick Steves Italy forum site reading tips and asking questions. I also asked friends on social media what they most enjoyed while visiting Venice, Florence, and Rome. I did a little research (ok, a lot, but I like doing research) and made some reservations before my trip, to ensure I could have the experiences I wanted to have.
Plan, but be flexible. Life isn’t perfect, reservations can get lost, travel can get messy. You’re on vacation in a beautiful country - be open and have an adventure!
If you don’t speak Italian, bring a small notebook, Post-Its and a pen to help illustrate what you’re looking for. In my experience, people were very kind and wanted to help, and me being able to draw what I was looking for helped more than a few times.