Travel Advice: Adjusting to a new time zone and culture
Blog written by Jake DeCarli
Jake studied at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania and has a Bachelor of Arts in Italian studies and international studies. He has a passion for the Italian language, traveling, and European politics. He is currently living in Matera, Italy as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in two technical schools.
Traveling abroad for the first time is an exciting time, and Italy is a great country for Americans to visit on their first international journey. The thrill and amazement that a tourist experiences in Italy outweighs the challenges that one endures while abroad. However, high expectations for a “perfect” vacation often cloud our judgment of the real experiences of tiredness, anxiety, and confusion that occur in our everyday lives. I have a different experience as someone living in Italy for the year, but during my first time in Italy as a tourist I remember feeling guilty for being tired and frustrated during my travels. It’s important to recognize that these feelings are normal to have while abroad for the first, second, or 100th time in your life. Throughout my Italian travels, I have applied various techniques to overcome any feelings that may hinder the exciting moments of exploring all of Italy’s treasures.
Before landing in Italy: (See my previous blog, “Italy Packing Essentials”, to learn more on necessary preparations before traveling to the airport). The plane ride to Italy from the east coast is about 8 to 9 hours (depending on where you fly out of). Usually, planes leave around 6:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, so by the time you land in Italy, it will be about 8:00 a.m. Central European Time. Your body will be extremely confused by this change of time, and you will feel like it’s 2:00 or 3:00 a.m. by the time you land in Italy. While on the plane, it’s important to try and sleep at least for two hours of the trip (I’ve never succeeded in sleeping more than an hour, so every time I get to Italy I’m always super tired). It is tempting to watch movies during the whole flight, but cut down on your screen time and give your eyes a rest. Bring a comfortable eye mask to block out any blue light from adjacent screens. Additionally, avoid any caffeine before your flight and during your flight. Stick to water, juice, or even a glass of wine (if that will help you sleep better). Arrive in Rome feeling slightly rested, at least to the point where you can navigate through the airport, grab your luggage, and find your Curata Travel guides.
Your arrival in Italy: You will feel more tired than usual during your first day in Italy. Your body is trying to adjust to the dramatic change in time, plus you didn’t have your normal night of sleep. However, being in Italy for the first time is so exciting, and you may want to go out and do as many things as possible or you may want to unpack and take a short rest at the hotel. Curata Travel builds in the free-time the first day for you to be able to choose what is best for you. We will check into our hotel in the early afternoon, after having our first bite of food together. Then you can rest, unpack, or explore until we meet again for aperitivo or dinner. If you are not traveling on one of our tours, plan out in advance of what sights are near your lodging / hotel. That way, you can head to your hotel, check-in (or at least drop off your bags if you can’t check-in right away), and head out into the city to explore. I recommend getting something to eat before immediately seeing any sights, but it depends on how hungry you will be upon arrival (airplane food isn’t as delectable as Italian cuisine!). After a long, first-day of exploring, you may be extremely exhausted, and it will be tempting to go to bed before dinner. However, do not do this! During a Curata Travel tour, we try to schedule our first dinner together to start a little early (well… "early" for Italy standards) and close to the hotel, so those of you who feel like they need to turn in a little early have that option. However, try to stay awake until your normal bed-time (for me, 11:00 p.m.). I made this mistake when I arrived in Italy for the first time. I fell asleep at 8:00 a.m., and then I woke up at 2:00 a.m. thinking it was the morning. Now, I wait to fall asleep, and right before bed I take a melatonin gummy to help me fall asleep faster.
During your trip: Moments of stress, anxiety, and/or exhaustion: Now that you’ve adjusted to the time difference between the U.S. and Italy, you feel well rested and ready to explore. Make sure to keep up healthy habits. Eat breakfast, drink water throughout the day, wear sunscreen, and take a break if you feel any discomfort while walking between sights. Depending on your travel itinerary, you may be moving a lot through different cities to see the main attractions of Italy. The constant movement, walking, and navigating a different culture / language can be a difficult adjustment. It’s not unusual to feel a bit of culture shock while traveling. Just keep your mind open and learn to appreciate the different ways Italians live day-to-day. During moments of feeling overwhelmed or anxious, I found it best to take a pause in my travels. Whether I go to a cafe for an hour, spend some time in my hotel room reading, or even just taking a light walk around a particular piazza, I try to do some low-risk activity that will help me regroup my thoughts/lower my stress levels. After a long morning or a long day, head back to your hotel and try to relax. Do some breathing exercises to calm any stress or anxiety. Clear your head with some light meditation or yoga in your hotel room. Participate in the classic after-lunch Italian activity by relaxing or taking a nap mid-afternoon. At the minimum, you need to take a pause from your sight-seeing trip. Curata Travel has built in this time for you each day. After lunch, we usually head back to the hotel so that, again, you can decide if you’d like to rest, read, refresh for dinner or go back out and explore the city we are staying in. Remember, it’s a vacation, and you deserve to feel as comfortable as possible. Don’t let “FOMO” (the Fear of Missing Out) affect your mental health during your travels.
Final Thoughts: Traveling to Italy will be a wonderful memory that you will cherish for the rest of your life. Make the most of it by taking care of yourself during your trip. Prepare for the long plane ride to Europe, stick to a normal sleep schedule to combat jet lag, and utilize moments of pause in-between activities to relax and recharge for the next adventure. Most importantly, take lots of photos during your trip!
Note: All thoughts expressed are my own and are based on my own traveling experiences.