1. Stay off the beaten path, but not too far off.
The Amalfi Coast is a dream in summer, but the price of lodging can be a nightmare. One solution: Instead of staying in the midst of the tourist throng in Amalfi or Positano, book a room in nearby Salerno. It's a laidback college town with easy access to the whole region by bus, and ferries to the famous coastal islands -- Ischia and Capri -- stop here. Plus, the city has its own sights, including a charming old town and a gorgeous cathedral.
2. Send back the bread.
A warning on this one. This move will make you look like a major tourist, but to save yourself 2-5 Euro at each meal, it's worth it. In Italy, when a waiter puts down a basket of bread at the beginning of a meal, it's not free. Usually it's included in a charge on your bill called pane e coperto. To get around this, immediately refuse the bread when the waiter brings it. If you leave it on the table and don't eat it, you'll still get charged for it, so be firm.
3. Fly local.
Italy has a couple of inexpensive local air carriers that make domestic travel in the country a piece of cake. Airlines such as Meridiana and WindJet have made every corner of the country accessible and inexpensive to reach. Consider that a ferry from Rome to Palermo costs about 45 Euro each way and takes 10-12 hours. To fly takes an hour -- and costs the same amount, or often less.
4. Do it as a daytrip.
Seeing Pisa and its famous leaning tower for the first time? Don't stay in town. You can see everything there is to see -- including the tower, the nearby duomo and surrounding museums -- in a day or even less. Places such as Pompeii, Siena, the island of Capri, and Padua are all compact, fast to see, and easy to reach from major Italian cities.
5. Go in shoulder season.
The beaches in the south of Italy are sill packed in September and October. You'll still need sunblock on a cruise departing out of Rome in May or June. Consider these months to see Italy, when the crowds are fewer and the bargains are easier to come by. Dying to stay at a luxe villa? Do it in March or April for half the price. You won't be able to swim, but cooler weather doesn't make the scenery any less beautiful, or the pasta any less delicious.
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