Affording Italy: Camping Vacations
By Drew Colenbrander and Sarah Wiley
There are so many places to stay in inexpensive rural settings
From campsites in Italy we’ve watched Mt. Vesuvius looming across the Bay of Naples and the church domes and tile roofs of Florence fill the Arno Valley below us. We’ve shopped with local Italians for the
freshest regional specialties at local farmers markets and grocery stores. And, we’ve experienced Italy on a remarkably affordable budget.
Travel in Italy is not cheap since the conversion to the Euro. Rooms under $100 are becoming rare in Rome, Florence, and Venice, and the relative scarcity of hostels throughout Italy means expensive beds for independent budget travelers. So why not consider
camping? Italy’s campeggios offer huge savings in costs, easy access to popular destinations, tranquil surroundings, and unique opportunities to experience local culture.
Budget Travel Relief in Italy
The cost difference between tent and hotel room is astounding. With a campsite as our room for the night, our total daily expenses plummeted to about $50-$60 a day for two. When we stayed in hotels, our overall budget
Nearly all Italian campgrounds are privately owned, so rates can vary rather widely. Not surprisingly, urban campgrounds are usually the most expensive. Our favorite campground in Rome, Camping Roma, charges about
$35-40, adjusted seasonally, for a tent site for two people and our small rental car. At more rural locations, such as Camping Santa Fortunata near Sorrento, we pay about $30-40 a night, adjusted seasonally.
The cost of the campground usually doesn’t affect our level of comfort: nearly all Italian campeggios offer hot showers, very clean and modern restroom facilities, and laundry and dish washing rooms.
Dining In or Dining Out
It’s easy to enjoy Italy’s great food with minimal effort. Grocery stores, whether tiny family shops or huge superstores, offer fresh bread, pastas, sauces, the highest quality meats, including sausages, and many varieties of cheese. Not to mention a
selection of Italy’s wonderfully affordable wines. We also shop in farmer’s markets where you can find incredible produce and regional specialties, such as fresh truffles in Umbria or buffalo-milk mozzarella in Campagna. The result is that
we can enjoy gourmet picnics for $10-$20 depending on our hunger, or our own campground dinners for $15-$25, made from the finest local ingredients. Not only have we typically saved two-thirds the cost of a restaurant meal, we’ve had the experience of shopping
with Italian families and the fun of chatting with vendors and shopkeepers who rarely encounter tourists.
Location and Access
The central location of many campeggios and nearby public transportation give campers easy access to cities and sights. In the city of Florence you can camp at Campeggio Michelangelo, a 10-minute walk across the Arno
River from the heart of the old city, or ride city bus 20 minutes into the hill town of Fiesole, where Campeggio Panoramico overlooks the red-tile roofs of Florence and the Arno valley. A city bus stops at Camping Roma. A pleasant stroll
or bus ride from one of Sorrento’s beautifully sited campgrounds can connect you to either the local train, which can take you to Pompeii and the Gulf of Naples shoreline, or the marina, where ferries depart for Capri or Naples.
Except perhaps in the busiest summer months, you can simply show up and be guaranteed a place to sleep. We’ve never been turned away by a full campground and have never made an advance reservation.
Getting Around in Italy
We have camped by train, which is practical if you plan to camp near major cities. This method, while sacrificing a certain level of comfort and flexibility, can make for a very low-cost trip.
Car camping, which can be cheaper than train travel for two or more travelers, has become our favorite method of travel in Italy. Car rental, with complete insurance, typically runs $40-$50 per day, but if you stay
three weeks or longer you can lease a car for far less daily. Campgrounds, even urban ones, are easily accessible by main roads and don’t require driving into larger cities.
Your transportation choice will affect what equipment you bring from home and what you pick up in Italy. Whether traveling by train or by car, we bring from home basic essentials—such as a backpacking tent, bedding,
sleeping pads, and cooking equipment. For cooking, we carry one or two small Swedish Trangia stoves, which use easily-found denatured alcohol (you won’t find Coleman fuel or propane in Europe), a set of pots, and lightweight cups,
bowls, and utensils. Everything, including our clothing and other items, fits into two travel packs and a duffel bag.
Once in Italy, if we have a car, we immediately start supplementing our larder with inexpensive extras. We buy pans, a colander, or anything that looks useful or fun, often for very low cost. Even larger items can
be boxed up for our return flight or given to other campers at the end of the trip.
Camping in Italy means more than simply saving money. There’s something about the tranquil, open environment of a campground to stimulate conversation, and we’ve made a number of lifelong friends. Most
of all, we’ve experienced Italy. At the end of a long hot day in Florence, after taking the bus to Fiesole and picking up our dinner groceries in the local market, we stroll to our campsite, admire the tremendous view, and wonder
why we would ever want to travel any other way.
For More Info on Camping in Italy
The following websites list Italian campeggios, with contact information and location maps, in English translation: www.camping.it, www.camping-italy.net.
Let’s Go, Rough Guides, and Lonely Planet guidebooks to Italy also include information on Italian campgrounds. In Italy, you
can purchase Campeggi e Villaggi Turistici, which has up-to-date listings of Italian camping sites.
The Man in Seat 61 offers train travel tips and schedules in Italy.
Major international car rental companies operate out of all major Italian airports. AutoEurope offers economical leasing options for longer trips, but often the main global rental agencies have decent deals if you rent a smaller car and can drive manual transmissions (automatics are available but are more expensive).
Recreational Equipment Incorporated (REI) and Eastern Mountain Sports both offer
a wide selection of lightweight camping equipment suitable for international travel.
DREW COLENBRANDER teaches English and SARAH WILEY teaches English at Delta College in Michigan. Together they have camped throughout Europe and have led groups of travelers to Greece,
Italy, France, and England. Drew has published articles on group travel in Transitions Abroad.