Budget Travel: How Low Can You Go?

How Low Can You Go? Florence, Italy

When given the assignment to take an adventure trip on the cheap, I was nervous, I have to admit. I'm seven months pregnant, flying is not so much fun and my cohorts had taken up all the Spanish-speaking places I would have loved to have visited. The big boss said "go to Europe!" -- and since the dollar is doing so well there (not!), how could I say no?

It turns out I could travel to Europe -- Italy of all places -- and not break the bank. Florence was my destination of choice. My producer, Courtney, thought we should try out "designer hostels." We had to save money on something. Now, I've stayed in hostels in developing nations. They're not so nice. They rarely have hot water and you usually have to share everything with everyone. I'm 34 years old, and I've since stayed at places nicer than hostels. I wasn't sure what a designer hostel, even in a posh city like Florence, would have to offer.

VIDEO: Low-cost "designer" hostel, complete with bar, pool and private room.
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Click here to find out where Marysol stayed, what she ate and what she did in Florence, Italy.

The best hot shower ever -- that's what! Plus the hostel in Florence had a swimming pool, a bar and lounge, clean bedsheets and a private bath and bedroom. Granted, we had bunk beds, but Courtney agreed to take the top bunk. Thanks, Court! For 30 euros a night, it wasn't bad. Dare I say it was nice.

In 48 hours, I managed to do a lot. I knew there was a lot of art to take in and food to digest. This would require a lot of euros too--or so I thought. It turns out for every museum that costs from eight to 20 euros, there are piazzas and gardens boasting the same beautiful artwork for free. Yeah, I missed the Ufizzi Museum, but I got to see Neptune in all his glory, a church Michaelangelo built with his own hands, endless statues, sculptures and architecture. And I saw it all for free.

The one place I did shell out some cash: The Duomo. This church is spectacular, and I had to go to the top. Some eight euros and 463 steps later, I made it to the top of one of the oldest structures in Europe. And the view from the top left me breathless (although that could have been all those steps as well). When you're up there looking out at Florence, it feels like you're living in a painting. And seeing the majesty of the city from on high reminded me of how incredibly young our country is and how incredibly older, and in some ways wiser, Italy is.

Food was a big part of the trip. Turns out I could get some delicious Florentine dishes for dirt cheap and, in some cases, for free. When eating breakfast or lunch at an Italian café, order and eat at the bar. There is no service charge. I had a cappucino and chocolate croissant for two euros -- you can't get that at Starbucks. I also had the pleasure of talking to the funny bartender, who politely told me to speak English when I tried conversing in Italian. Hey, at least I tried.

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