How to Not Look Like a Tourist in Rome

trevi fountain rome aavtravelBeing a tourist is one of those things were it has its perks and downsides…let’s be real, some people just don’t like tourists and never will. But, everyone has had their own share of experiences, whether good or bad. When I was a teenager I went on a trip to Quebec City with my family. We went to the shopping mall and I wanted to try on some clothes and see if there were different sizes out back…well, I don’t speak French (which is their primary language), so that led to a lot of hand gestures, frustration and eventually I just gave up and left.

Carrying a DSLR around your neck in a new place does have its perks though, for instances: I was in Philadelphia on a university trip walking downtown with a friend of mine. I had my Canon out taking photos of the skyscrapers, the old architecture and the monuments when I was approached by a woman who asked if I was a tourist, pointing to the “big fancy camera around my neck.” Laughing, I told her yes, I was from out of town. She told me that if I wanted a panoramic view overlooking the entire city to go City Hall before 4 p.m. because they let people up the tower. Sadly, I didn’t make it before City Hall closed, but it was a really nice gesture that I appreciated.

Now, it doesn’t bother me to completely play tourist when I’m in a new place, but others prefer to blend in on vacation. When going to a new place it’s pretty instinctive to research about it first and get to know the basics, such as: language, culture, history and customs. Every place is different, so it’s important to learn about it beforehand.

Viva Italia!
Italy is very well respected for their culture, which differs from what we’re used to. Not only does Rome have a different language from us, they aren’t on a fast-track like we’re used to. Imagine sitting down to eat at a quaint little Italian restaurant and you devour your meal…now imagine the dirty looks you’ll get from the other locals around you who are taking small bites, eating slowly and appreciating their meal. To make your trip go smoothly, follow these tips and etiquette and you’ll be blending in in Rome in no time.

rome colosseum aavtravelCiao! Boungornio and Bounasera
Italian is the official language of Italy and 93 percent of the population are native Italian speakers. Though in bigger cities it won’t be a problem to find someone who speaks English at the hotel. Before you head out on your trip to Rome, start practicing some basic words and phrases in Italian. If you have your trip booked months in advance, start learning the language right away–not only does this get you excited about it, it helps you develop your new language.

  • Grazie — Thank you
  • Prego — You’re welcome
  • Per favore — Yes please
  • Mi scusi — Excuse me/Pardon me
  • Non parlo molto bene italiano — I don’t speak Italian very well
  • Parla inglese? — Do you speak English?
  • Quanto costa/costano? –How much does that cost? (

Tip: First impressions mean everything to Italians. When meeting someone for the first time, don’t greet them with ‘ciao!’….that greeting isn’t used amongst strangers. Shaking hands with a smile is the most appropriate behavior between strangers. Once a relationship develops, air-kissing on both cheeks (starting with the left) is very common.

Do’s and Don’t’s of Table Etiquette
It’s fairly common for tourists to wind up going to the “touristy” places to eat on vacation. Get off the tourist path, be that person who people-watches, and learn where the locals go to eat. That way you’re staying away from tourist-packed restaurants and experiencing something most tourists don’t — all while blending in. Another option is buying local food (if you’re staying at a place that has a kitchenette).

Rome Italy It doesn’t matter whether you’re at an upscale restaurant or having a picnic, Italians take their dining etiquette seriously. If you want to avoid getting dirty looks, glares, and turning waiters into enemies, here are some basic do’s and don’ts that’ll help you fit in on your vacation.

  • Do: Pick up cheese with your knife rather than your fingers.
  • Don’t: Order coffee with or after a meal; it’s seen as a way to digest your food AFTER you eat.
  • Do: Put your napkin on your lap and your hands on the table.
  • Don’t: Eat bread before a meal, it’s used to soak up left-over sauces from your meal, not fill you up beforehand.
  • Do: Wait till everyone else has their food to begin eating.
  • Don’t: Request Parmesan for your pizza or any meal…you don’t want to know what happens…just don’t do it
  • Do: Be polite to your waiter, don’t holler across the room to get his/her attention
  • Don’t: Ask for tap water at a restaurant. Italians always drink bottled water or sparkling water.
  • Do: Ask for the bill. A waiter will not bring it unless it is requested or it’s passed closing hours.

romance wine italy aavtravelDress and Sightseeing
Italy is huge on chic, European fashion and they’ll spend a pretty penny on their wardrobe. Observe the locals and what they wear and try and go with that to not stick out like a sore thumb. Women usually tend to wear feminine attire, such as dresses while men wear also be formal with suits, with and without ties (depending on the occasion). The overall trend is elegant, but conservative;old, dirty and ratty clothes are not appreciated.

love romance italy aavtravelThat goes for being in church as well. There are many churches throughout that have beautiful works of art, but remember it’s a place of worship–you need to dress appropriately. Shorts, tank tops and sleeveless garments are taboo throughout the country, so make sure to bring a sweater to cover up. Also, you can’t bring any food or beverages inside churches, so leave that behind!

Do you dare to shed your tourist aura? Get out of your comfort zone–learn a new language, learn from the locals, it’ll enrich your vacation in a way you never thought possible.
stephanie jellett aavtravel

Stephanie Jellett is interning as a travel writer and social media manager at AAV Travel. You can contact her at


in conjunction with AAV Travel’s Italy Expert
stefanie pichonnat aavtravel

Stefanie Pichonnat is the Italy Specialist at AAV Travel, a boutique travel firm specialized in creating and customizing personalized travel itineraries. You can contact her at


Chichen Itza, Dzibilchatun & Ek Balam — Mayan Ruins in the Yucatán Peninsula

The Yucatán Peninsula is home to some of the most beautiful, well preserved Mayan ruins. The Mesoamerican civilization built temples, pyramids and ceremonial sites that are still in great condition–even after thousands of years! The Mayans covered a lot of territory throughout their prime (250 – 900 AD) which spanned across Mexico, Belize, Guatemala and Honduras. When visiting the Yucatán Peninsula it’s a must-do to learn interesting facts about the civilization and explore the amazing Mayan ruins.

yucatan, chichen itza, maya, mexcio, world heritate site, unescoChichén Itzá
The most important city during the Mayan culture also happens to be the most popular site for tourists to visit. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Chichén Itzá is only a 45 minute drive from Valladolid. Tours from Cancun as well as cruise passengers docked in Progreso bring thousands of visitors daily. If you want to experience the full grandeur of this ancient city it is best to beat the masses by arriving early, around 8 a.m. Not only does that guarantee the picture perfect photo, but you also avoid the fairly aggressive souvenir vendors that are selling souvenirs throughout the site during the day. If you arrive early morning, when the gates to Chitchén Itza open, you arrive at the same time, the vendors are allowed in. At that point, they haven’t had the time to setup yet, meaning you can roam freely without being interrupted. Also, we found it really interesting to watch them setup and see how they were organized. In order to avoid having to get up at 4 a.m. you will want to stay in the area. There are good options in Valladolid as well as Izamal, and some touristy hotels, right by the site.

ChichenItzaMap aavtravelKukulkan’s Pyramid is the best-known construction on site. The square-based, stepped pyramid is about 75 ft tall and served for astronomical purposes. During the vernal equinox (March 20) and the autumnal equinox (September 21) around 3 p.m. the sun hits the western balustrade on the main stairway. Seven isosceles triangles form, which imitates a 37 ft long body of a serpent that creeps to join the serpent head carved at the bottom of the staircase.Chichen Itza aavtravel

Other buildings on site includes the Great Ball Court, where the Mayas played “Juego de Pelota,” The Temple of the Warriors, The Cenote Sagrado, which was used to perform sacrifices, and El Caracol, a rare round building which is believed to be used for astronomical purposes.

CenoteChichenItza aavtravelOpen daily and the entrance fee is about 10 USD. For more detailed information and opening hours refer to the official site. Because this site is so popular and large, it is best to stay nearby so you can really explore and see all the buildings rather than rush. Keep in mind: is it a very hot and sunny location, so make sure to bring lots of water, wear a hat and pack sunscreen!

Pronounced “Ts’iibil Cháaltun,” it is a smaller ruins site located about 10 miles north of Mérida. It is extremely north of the Maya Region and not too far from the Gulf of Mexico. Dzibilchaltun was the longest functioning city in the Mayan World and had a peak population of 20,000, though it declided with the rise of Chitchén Itzá.

Dzibilchatun aavtravelThe most famous attraction is the Templo de las Siete Muñecas (Temple of the Seven Dolls), aptly named for the seven dolls that are located inside. The temple was discovered in the 1950s under the ruins of another larger temple–building temples over top each other was common practice with the Maya. The dolls were found in the smaller temple, but now are located in the museum. During the spring and fall equinoxes, a spectacular feature happens at the temple: the doorways were created to capture light of the rising sun on those days and as the sun rises, it is visible directly through one door of the temple to the other. On these days the site opens at 5:30 a.m. so visitors can experience this phenomenon.

Dzibilchatun Cenote aavtravelThe park site is open regularly from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. while museum hours are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. There is a small entrance fee, but that allows you entrance to the ruins and grounds, museum, cenote (swimming) and the church. There is also a restaurant on site, gift shop, parking, handicapped facilities and restrooms.

Ek Balam and Temozon
About an hour from the Cancun airport, Ek Balam was abandoned by the Mayans and the jungle has now engulfed the ruins. After some restoration it is now a tourist attraction when visiting the Yucatán. Ek Balam is a more natural site to see the Mayan Ruins and not overrun with tourist like Chichén Itzá. Also, you are free to roam and can climb all the structures.

The Acropolis is the largest restored building standing at 104 feet tall. Make sure to bring a pair of sneakers if you want to climb up the steps! On the way up, you can see the entrance that resembles the mouth of a monster. There are lots of sculptures of humans and animals as well, so make sure to pay close attention to detail. Climbing Ek Balam

The view from the top is absolutely stunning, you can see all of the Yucatec horizon.

EkBalam Mexico aavtravel Other buildings on the site include the Palace, which has six different levels and it’s thought where the governors and upper class lived. There’s also the ball court and observatory. The site is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily and there is a 122 pesos entrance fee for foreigners. There’s one washroom on site, but no place to buy refreshments, so make sure to pack a lunch!

When visiting Ek Balam make sure to also visit the close by Cenote. X’Canche. The sacred waterhole is located about a mile from the Ek Balam site and you can either walk or rent a bike to get there. Bike rental cost is negotiable. We found ourselves all on our own, swimming in the sacred waterhole surrounded by little black fish and a very mythical setting.

ek balam, cenote, mayaThe Ek Balam site is not very developed so you won’t find a restaurant there. However, this works out in your favor because you should absolutely take the time to stop in nearby Temozon and try some of their famous smoked meat.

Temozon is located on the Timizin highway, between Valladolid and Ek Balam.  They are famous for their traditional carne ahumada recipe–or to us, smoked meat–it’s a stop you can’t afford to miss!

EkBalam Mexico If you decide to venture off the beaten path and visit those less touristy sites make sure to carry some Mexican pesos as using foreign money or credit cards gets harder. If you plan on renting a car to explore the reason check out our El Mundo Maya post for additional information and tips.

If you are intrigued by the Yucatán and want to see more pictures, check out our Facebook page!

Stefanie Pichonnat is the Yucatan Peninsula Specialist at AAV Travel, a boutique travel firm specialized in creating and customizing personalized travel itineraries. You can contact her at


She co-wrote the article with

Stephanie Jellett travel writer AAV Travel

Stephanie Jellett is interning as a travel writer and social media manager at AAV Travel. You can contact her at

What are the main reasons you travel?

All right folks, I’m sure you’ve been waiting on the answer from last weeks travel trivia question to: how cold on average does it get in the Bahamas? And the answer is…drum roll please!….70 degrees! The cold season in the Bahamas lasts from December 9 to March 19.

This week’s poll question is: what are the main reasons your travel? If you don’t see an option that best suits you, go ahead and leave a comment!

The Yucatán Peninsula – El Mundo Maya

Located in the south-eastern part of Mexico, the Yucatán Peninsula was home to the Maya civilization before it was taken over by the Spanish in the 16th century. The Maya and Spanish heritage created the new culture of Yucatán. The Mexican states of Campeche, Yucatán and Quintana Roo make up the peninsula. Quintana Roo was the gateway into the Maya world–between 300 and 900 AD,  the Mayans built various cities in the Yucatán. There are seventeen sites that have been restored and opened to the public, the most famous ancient Maya ruins being Chichén Itzá, Uxmal and Ek Balam.Early mornin at Chichen ItzaThe Legend of Yucatán
Francisco Hernández de Córdova, a Spanish Conquistador, arrived on the coast of Yucatán in 1517 to explore the shores of southern Mexico. The legend goes that Córdova, asked the natives what the land they had just discovered was called. They replied in their native tongue “I don’t understand you.”  Because Córdova thought their answer sounded like the word Yucatán, he gave that name to the region.

Closest airports
Cancun International (CUN) welcomes numerous flights daily from all over the world. It  is one of the airports where a window seat is particularly rewarding. The approach boasts beautiful views of turquoise blue water and white sandy beaches! Cancun is a great starting point to explore the Yucatana. However, depending on where exactly you want to go you might prefer Merida (MER). Flying into Cancun International airport

To rent or not to rent a car in the Yucatan?
Renting a car is really inexpensive and allows you to get wherever you want. These are a few suggestions when it comes to renting and driving in the area:

  • Stick to the well known rental companies: Hertz, Sixt, Avis…they are reliable, well represented, and you know what you can expect.
  • Don’t skimp on insurance. Protect your vehicle and yourself. I am a great advocate for insurance. It might cost a little but the peace of mind when something happens is priceless.
  • Remember, Cancun is notorious for time-share sales. Airport, resorts wherever. You will likely also find them at your rental car company so be warned and steer clear.
  • Check-points: Likely you will come across several police security checkpoints. They will check your paperwork and might make you get out of the car to search it (with dog or without). It’s not a big deal just be polite, have your stuff in order and you will be on your way in no time.
  • Speed limits: Nobody wants to get pulled over and have their passport confiscated so please, just respect them.
  • Gas: There are numerous Pemex gas stations along the way. Make sure to carry cash as some do not accept credit cards. You can usually use US Dollars, but it is better to have Mexican Pesos. Also, don’t forget to tip as all gas stations are serviced and the attendants will fill up your tank, likely even clean your windows.

Area Guide
Visit Mexico publishes a wonderful guide covering the Yucatan Peninsula.

Stefanie Pichonnat AAV Travel

Stefanie Pichonnat is the Yucatan Peninsula Specialist at AAV Travel, a boutique travel firm specialized in creating and customizing personalized travel itineraries. You can contact her at


She co-wrote the article with

Stephanie Jellett travel writer AAV Travel


Stephanie Jellett is interning as a travel writer and social media manager at AAV Travel. You can contact her at



Travel Trivia Question!

Try your luck at guessing today’s travel trivia question! We’ll post the answer next week and have a new trivia question for you!