The upfront costs of vacations are predictable. It’s the little things—airport snacks, cocktails before dinner, tipping a tour guide—that can throw even the most well-planned vacation budget off track. In this new series, we’ll look at the spending patterns of real travelers in popular destinations, so you can estimate what you’ll actually spend.
9:45 a.m. We arrive in Palermo after an incredibly early flight from Bari, Italy. We just finished a lovely week in the south of Italy, so we’re a little tired but excited to start exploring Sicily. We head to Budget to pick up our car. Cost: Pre-paid
11:45 a.m. The one thing we’ve learned so far on this Italian adventure is that life definitely move a little slower here than it does back in America.
After a long line at the car rental agency, we’re on the road and headed to our first stop, Villa Giardinata, a B&B outside of Trapani on the northwestern side of Sicily.
12:30 p.m. Starving and still an hour away from lodging, we decide to stop at a supermarket in a small town on the way. We grab a prosciutto platter, a baguette and some Kinder chocolate and have a small feast in an Italian supermarket parking lot. Cost: $11.65
1:45 p.m. We finally arrive at our B&B, where an innkeeper greets us and serves us orange juice. While we struggle a bit with the language barrier, we delight in a tour of the grounds and the antique-filled property.
3:00 p.m. After we get settled in, we drive to the nearby town of Erice. Located on the top of Mount Erice, this medieval village sits 750m above sea level and is known for its ceramics and artisan, hand-woven rugs. A nausea-inducing drive up a winding road lands us at a parking lot directly outside the town’s walls. We park and head in. Cost: $4.00 for 2 hours
4:30 p.m. We cover a lot of ground in a little under 2 hours, but before leaving I decide I cannot live without a woven rug. I make peace with the fact that, unfortunately for our wallets, Italy produces a lot of beautiful things, and pick out a colorful geometric rug. Cost: $75.00
6:00 p.m. There’s a couscous festival going on in the nearby beach town of San Vito Lo Capo that we’ve heard good things about. Couscous is one of Sicily’s specialties, so we figure this is a great way to test out a few local options. We buy two tickets that include a bowl of couscous, a glass of wine and a dessert for €10 each. Score! Cost: $22.23
8:00 p.m. Getting up at 4 a.m. is starting to really hit us, so we decide to call it an early night and head back to the B&B for much needed rest.
8:00 a.m. We kept our itinerary pretty loose so that we could feel out the island before committing to any activity. Because of this, the Marsala wine tour we hoped to do is sold out. Instead, we head south to Agrigento to see the Valley of the Temples, a park full of ancient Greek ruins. It’s going to be a long day of driving, but at least the Instagram pictures will be great.
11:45 a.m. Our breakfast, while delicious and homemade, is wearing off quickly, so we decide to grab lunch.U
nfortunately, there’s not much in the way of a “quick bite,” but we finally come across a little café in a pretty deserted town. We order two less-than-delicious salami Panini, but at least we’re no longer starving. Cost: $6.75
1:00 p.m. On the way to the ruins, we decide to stop at a beautiful white beach called Scala dei Turchi, situated in Realmonte. When we arrive we realize there’s not a clearly marked path, and so we park the car on the side of the main road and wander a bit to see how we make our way down to the beach. Cost: Free parking
1:30 p.m. We find a small path from the road and start to descend. We soon realize this path is incredibly steep and slippery, and while we’ve passed a few hikers, it’s pretty deserted for a such a large tourist attraction. Nonetheless, we continue on, and after a few necessary panic attacks we finally see the rippled white dunes and water below. We somehow missed the stairs on the other side that takes you directly down to the beach. Oops! Cost: Nearly our lives.
2:45 p.m. After taking a lot of photos and dipping our feet in the water, we each grab an ice cream bar from a little shack next to the beach. We’ve definitely earned it. Cost: $4.50
4:30 p.m. We arrive in Agrigento a little later than we’d hoped, but we still have a few hours until they close. We park in a lot that feels a little too far away (Italy, please get better at signage) and walk about 15 minutes to the entrance. Yep, it was the wrong parking lot. Oh well… exercise! Cost: $5 for parking, $22 for two tickets to the Valley of the Temples
7:00 p.m. Sicily doesn’t play around when it comes to ruins. The Valley of the Temples is a sprawling site that includes seven temples built around 5th century BC by the Greeks. We get to the beautiful Temple of Concordia right at sunset, which makes for some pretty amazing photos. I don’t remember the last time I’ve been this tired, but I can sleep when I’m dead, eh? After a long trek (at least I’m killing it on that step goal) back to the car, we decide we need food and we need it fast.
9:00 p.m. Did I mention Sicily is pretty remote? We finally find a well-reviewed restaurant on TripAdvisor, Ristorante Capadà, that’s on the way back home. Set in a completely empty town, it ends up being one of the best meals we’ve had in Italy. We order shrimp pasta, eggplant Parmesan and bolognese, and leave more satisfied than we’d expected. Cost: $42.56
8:00 a.m. We wake up and scarf down the free breakfast at the B&B and hop in the car to drive to Trapani. We really want to head to Favignana, the largest of the Aegadian Islands off the western coast of Sicily. One teeny, tiny problem: every ferry is sold out. Maybe we can get lucky if we go beg a ticket agent in person.
9:30 a.m. At the ticket booth we find out there are spots on a 12:30 p.m. ferry over to the island, but we won’t be able to book our return trip until we land in Favignana.
It’s risky (what if we get stranded on a Sicilian island?), but we decide to throw caution to the wind and take our chances. We buy two one-way tickets on a hydrofoil ferry. Cost: $22.75
10:30 a.m. We kill time in a café and try to quell our fears of being stranded in Favignana. Two café au laits later, we’re still pretty anxious. Cost: $3.33
1:00 p.m. The hydrofoil is an incredibly quick (an incredibly nauseating) ride. We stand by the door as we approach the island, gunning to be the first ones to buy our return tickets.
1:25 p.m. Crisis averted! There are tickets on the return ferry, so we thank the Italian gods looking over us and buy two for the 7 p.m. ride back. Cost: $15.08
2:00 p.m. We don’t want to waste any of our precious time, but we’re starving – so we pop into a café and grab a caprese salad to share and two beers, because vacation. Cost: $12.55
2:45 p.m. The best way to get around Favignana is by bike or scooter. Since I’m too much of a wuss to attempt my very first motorcycle ride, we rent two bikes for the day.
Bonus: we can burn off all the gelato we plan to eat. Cost: $13.44
3:00 p.m. I really, really love Favignana already. So many charming streets, beautiful coves and secluded, crystal clear beaches. Since so many people ride bikes or scooters, there are few cars on the road. After an hour or so of mindless riding, we land at Cala Rossa, a rocky beach area with water clearer than New York City tap.
4:30 p.m. On the way to the next beach, we stop at a street-side stand and order a half-lemon, half-orange granita, which is basically a lemon and orange slushy. Heaven really can be bought. Cost: $4.25
6:00 p.m. A few hours of riding around later, and we’ve covered about half the island. We’ll definitely have to make a trip back someday.
6:30 p.m. We stop at a popular cocktail bar to grab a drink before our ferry departs. Monique Bar is a hit with both locals and tourists alike, but we still score a seat outside. I order a mojito and my boyfriend orders a margarita. The drinks come with “snacks,” which ends up being a fairly large platter of treats like tuna salad and mini baguette sandwiches. We sip our drinks while scrolling through Sicilian real estate, because dreams can come true. Cost: $18.50
7:30 p.m. Our ferry departs and we watch the lights of Favignana from the window. This beautiful island is undeniably my favorite part of Italy so far.
8:30 p.m. We land in Trapani and depart on a quest to find food before heading back to our B&B. Trapani is a foodie destination, so most places are fully booked (spontaneity isn’t so romantic when you’re starving), but we find a cute seafood restaurant with a very friendly owner. We order a few plates of pasta and some white wine recommended by the chef. Cost: 38.43
10:00 p.m. I’m ready to fall into bed, but first we have to make a quick stop at a popular gelato shop called Bar Royale in a town near our B&B. We both get a Sicilian specialty: gelato served in a brioche bun (yes, ice cream in bread) and devour it before rushing back home. Cost: $7.23
9:00 a.m. Today we’re driving east to our last stop in Sicily, a popular seaside resort town called Cefalu. I pinned so many photos of beautiful Cefalu before our trip, so my expectations are high. We eat the free breakfast our B&B and bid our kind hostess goodbye.
12:00 p.m. We arrive at our hotel, check in early and drive straight into town. Cost: Pre-paid
1:00 p.m. Cefalu definitely lives up to the hype.
As we descend the beautiful cobbled streets, we pop into ceramic stores to browse the brightly colored pieces. I still haven’t bought any Italian ceramics and I know that I cannot leave without a few pieces to take home. But a delicious street food stand is calling our name, so we buy two arancini balls (rice balls filled with goodies like meat and cheese) and gobble them on the street. Cost: $3.34
2:30 p.m. An hour of window shopping and “should-I-buy-this-or-should-I-not” shopping later, we decide to grab a coffee and a marzipan pastry (a Cefalu favorite) from a shop right next to the Duomo. Cost: $9.47
4:00 p.m. We decided to pop back to the hotel to rest before heading out to dinner. Our hotel, Baia del Capitano, has a great pool and garden area, so I take a nap in the sun.
7:00 p.m. Dinner is at Ristorante Le Chat Noir, a popular restaurant on a cobblestone street in town. We arrive to find that all the tables outside are reserved in advance, so we’re seated inside the bustling restaurant.
Reviews rave about everything on the menu, so we indulge in meatballs, eggplant caponata and ragu with beef. Each dish is divine. Cost: $41.44
9:30 p.m. A quick stroll by the water later, we’re ready for bed. I can’t believe we only have one full day left in Italy.
10:00 a.m. Since Cefalu is a relatively small town and we covered a lot of ground yesterday, we decide to spend the morning by the pool. The free hotel breakfast tides us over until we make our way into town.
2:00 p.m. First on our agenda is to pick up souvenir ceramics for ourselves and our friends back home. We pick up a few small bowls, a platter and some miscellaneous trinkets from la Maga Ceramics.
The pieces are gorgeous and the prices aren’t too bad either. Cost: $78.45 for 7 pieces
3:45 p.m. We decide to head to the beach for a few hours to kill some time before dinner. Along the boardwalk merchants are selling beautiful Turkish beach towels that back in America would cost triple the price. We grab an orange one and a red one. Cost: $12.00
6:00 p.m. Two hours of sun is enough for us, so we find a bathroom and ditch our wet suits in the car nearby. It’s our last night in Italy, so what else is there to do at 6:00 p.m. other than to grab a Campari and a cookie? We indulge maybe a little too much. Cost: $21.56
8:00 p.m. We head to dinner, a little place tucked away on a dark street called Il Normanno. We order an antipasto platter, pork meatballs and seafood couscous to share. Unfortunately, the food takes way too long to come out – and when it does, it’s pretty bland and somewhat cold, and our server could not care less. We begrudgingly eat it, but decide to go elsewhere for dessert.It is our last night, after all. Cost: $55.43
9:30 p.m. We swing past Ristorante Le Chat Noir, where we had dinner last night, and ask if we can sit just for dessert. We order a tiramisu and panna cotta and instantly forget our mediocre dinner. Cost: $16.74
11:00 p.m. Back home and already dreading our flight tomorrow.
9:40 a.m. After a quick breakfast at the hotel, we check out and head to Palermo airport. Our flight is at 12:45 p.m., but traffic is really, really bad. Panic sets in.
10:00 a.m. We stop at a gas station and fill the car up. Gas is surprisingly cheap for Europe. Cost: $41.37
11:00 p.m. Whew! We make it past the gridlocked traffic and to the airport in time. We’re a little frantic, and as we approach the gate we’re not quite sure we’re reading the information sign correctly.
Canceled? What? Oh, no.
2:00 p.m. Three hours and about 200 people in line ahead of us later, we talk to an agent and find out that there are no flights from Palermo to NYC today. We’re booked on a flight to Naples tomorrow and from Naples to JFK later that afternoon. Maybe we wished to stay in Italy a little too hard. The airline provides a free hotel, so we wait with the other stranded passengers for a bus over. Cost: A little bit of our sanity
4:00 p.m. The hotel the airline paid for is Citta del Mare, a resort known primarily for its slide that goes directly into the ocean. Our room is a good 30-minute walk from check-in and it’s pretty rundown and dirty. But its free and we’re trying to make the best of it, so we quickly change into our suits and head to the bar for a late lunch.
4:30 p.m. I guess they’re right when they say there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Our airline-paid lunch is bad. There’s still the slide, though. Cost: Free
6:00 p.m. The slide is pretty cool. It’s almost at a 90-degree angle, but after some liquid courage in the form of a Campari Spritz, I decide to take the plunge.
I may have coughed up a gallon of the ocean water that flew up my nose, but totally worth it to say I did it. Cost: $7.00 for a drink of bravery
8:00 p.m. Dinner is a free buffet provided by the hotel. Again, it’s not the best food we’ve ever eaten (okay, it’s pretty terrible), but it’s free and the hotel is not near any other options, so we pile our plates with tepid rice balls and pasta and chat with a few fellow stranded passengers. Cost: Free
9:00 p.m. Somehow there’s no Wi-Fi anywhere in the hotel except on a children’s playground that’s loudly blasting The Little Mermaid soundtrack in Italian. Since I have a bit of work to finish up before our flight tomorrow, I become the oldest person on this Sicilian playground. Things are getting weird.
10:00 p.m. An hour of “In fondo al mar” (better known in the U.S. as Under the Sea) is all I can take so I retire to the room and set my alarm for our 6 a.m. flight.
6:00 a.m. The flight to Naples is thankfully uneventful. We arrive in Naples with 5 hours to kill until our next flight.
10:00 a.m. Is breakfast Bolognese a thing? Because it really should be. We order lunch at an airport restaurant and wait until take off. Cost: $27.34 but should be covered by our travel insurance
12:30 p.m. Our plane is here and ready for boarding! While I will desperately miss Italy, I cannot wait to get home to my warm bed and indulge in Pad Thai and Netflix.
Until next time, Italy!
Parking and gas: (not including car rental): $101.64