Dr. Jessie Voigts's picture

Ah, Italy! Everyone either longs to go there, or longs to go back. From the food to the history, it is a country that everyone falls in love with. I've recently found an incredible site about traveling to Italy - a complete travel guide, called WhyGoItaly. I was lucky enough to sit down and talk with Jessica Spiegel, their Italy Travel Guide. Here's what she had to say...




WE:  Please tell us about your site, WhyGo Italy.

JS: I like to think of WhyGo Italy as a one-stop travel guide to Italy. What I mean by that is that someone who's planning a trip to Italy should be able to come to the site and do everything they'd need to do in order to make their trip happen - from researching destinations, booking hotels or hostels, buying plane tickets, getting tips on things to do, asking questions of the community, signing up for tours, getting tickets to soccer games - whatever your trip to Italy involves. It's got a long way to go before I'm going to consider it "complete," and in fact I may never feel really "done" with the site in terms of filling it with the information travelers need (I think of this as one of the perks of writing about a country like Italy, in that there's no shortage of stuff to cover). And yet after working on it, refining it, and adding to it for almost two years now I'm really proud of how much great travel information you can find on it.

I also believe that my deep and abiding love for Italy comes through in my writing, which I think makes it much more interesting and engaging for people who are researching trips. I'd like people who come to WhyGo Italy to feel like they're getting travel advice from a friend rather than an impersonal travel guidebook. I particularly love hearing from readers who have specific questions, via email or comments on the site itself - it makes me feel like I'm accomplishing my goal of being an accessible expert on Italy.



WE: What is the site's developmental history?

JS: When I started working at the BootsnAll Travel Network in 2006, I was already a pretty hard-core Italophile. So when BootsnAll started creating location-specific websites like WhyGo Italy in late 2006, I asked them to set one up for Italy. In the beginning, I did it in my "spare time" (such as it was), mainly posting on weekends, just because I loved having an outlet where I could write about Italy and focus entirely on the country and the culture I'd grown to love so much. It wasn't until after about 9-10 months that it became at all part of my job description, and the amount of time I'm spending on WhyGo Italy at work has just increased since then.

As happens with websites, WhyGo Italy has gone through a few design changes in its life, and the most recent one was actually just launched in late October 2008! We're all very excited about the latest changes, because we think it allows us to provide more and better travel content to the folks who come to the site. It still feels a little new and different to me, after working with the last design for so long - at the moment, it feels a bit like I've just moved into a new house and although all the boxes are in the correct rooms, I've not unpacked all of them yet. But even with little changes we all need to get used to, my coworkers and I are really looking forward to continuing to work with the new design and make WhyGo Italy even better.

Above all, for me WhyGo Italy was and remains a labor of love. It's absolute bliss writing about a place I am so endlessly fascinated by. The bonus is that this is the kind of job with which I could work from anywhere - and not only that, BootsnAll is the kind of employer that actually likes that idea! So my goal is to be writing WhyGo Italy while I'm living in Italy eventually. In the meantime, simply writing about Italy (from anywhere) is a pretty good gig in my book.



San Vitale, Ravenna


WE:  Please tell us more about you and Italy - where are your favorite places, things to eat, etc...

JS: This is such a tough question for me to answer... I have a hard time really narrowing down the places I love in Italy, because there's no place I've been that I haven't liked. I know that sounds ridiculous, but it's true. I will admit that I haven't yet fallen in love with Rome. The city just exhausts me. But I'm always willing to give it another chance, and I'm confident one day I'll rhapsodize about it the way some of my friends do.

But back to places I consider my favorites...

Venice is actually at or near the top of that list. I have a crazy affection for Venice, one that I couldn't even adequately put into words until my February 2008 trip there. There's something haunting to me about the city; I'm not sure I could actually stay there very long, though. I really feel like I'd so completely lose myself that I'd forget my own name.

I've grown to really love Milan, perhaps primarily because I have some good friends there now and it's a likely candidate for a city I'd end up living in; it's not your typical tourist city, but it's a real, living, breathing, Italian city. And I like that. I also really like Bologna - it's an especially good place to go if you're even remotely interested in real Italian food, as it's the capital of what's considered to be Italy's primary food region, the Emilia-Romagna. It's not a touristy city at all, but it's got a big university and so feels very youthful and vibrant.

Wait, you asked about other stuff I love about Italy, didn't you? Hmm... How much time do you have?

Seriously, I love the food, the wine, the culture, the soccer, the art, the history, the people, the fashion, the language, the scenery - there's nothing I DON'T like about Italy. I mean that. Someone just asked me the other day why I love Italy and I surprised myself by answering quickly, without missing a beat: "I love the chaos." I'm not a chaos-seeking person - I'm a first-born Type-A personality all the way - so the fact that I love the chaos in Italy is telling to me. It's like Italy lets me explore a side of my personality I didn't know existed before, and I think that's pretty amazing.




WE: Your site is chock-full of great information - how do you fill it so completely? Do other writers help with the content? Are you full-time on the site?

JS: Thank you so much, that's such a great compliment! I try really hard to pack the site with great basic travel information as well as travel inspiration, my own observations, cultural notes, news from Italy, and the like, so I'm glad to hear that you think I'm accomplishing that.

I'm a full-time writer at BootsnAll, and I have lots of other writing responsibilities for the company besides the Italy site. So no, I'm not full-time just on WhyGo Italy. I started writing on the site in early 2007, and since then I've had a number of guest articles sent in by other people - but other than that, I've been responsible for the content. I'm always interested in hearing from other Italophiles who are interesting in contributing to the site, especially if they notice a gap in my coverage that their experience could help fill.

I'm also lucky to have a stellar team of people at BootsnAll to work with so that I don't have to think about anything BUT the content. The designers and developers make the site beautiful and user-friendly, and they're also very kind about putting up with my silly questions. So I feel really blessed to have those folks to help turn WhyGo Italy into the great site it is now.




WE:  What is the community like?

JS: There's something about writing that feels like a very lonesome occupation, so I sometimes have to remind myself that there is a lovely community of people out there that's reading what I write. Many of my visitors clearly come to the site and find what they're looking for, so I don't hear from everyone, but I've got lots of regular readers who comment on posts, and also people who email me  or leave comments on the site to ask questions about their upcoming trips to Italy or what have you. I love getting those questions - I don't always know the answer right away, but I like doing the research, and I like knowing I'm helping someone plan a great trip. In fact, I've got a series of posts I do called "Italy Q&A"  where I answer the questions people send me.

I've even had help from readers with some of what's gone up on the site - for instance, I had posted a list of my favorite Italian swear words, and then the community responded by adding their own favorites... So I did another post with their suggestions!


WE: How can travelers find out more about the intercultural aspects of traveling to Italy?

JS: I think it's really important for travelers to learn at least the very basics about the history of wherever they're going, because it really helps put what you're seeing into perspective. That can be challenging with a country like Italy that has enough history to fill a whole college career, but if you can break it down into the cities or regions you'll be visiting, or a particular aspect of your trip that interests you (music, art, ruins), that can make learning Italian history a little more manageable.

Now, while much of Italian history is pretty ancient, much of it also influences Italian culture to this day - and when you start getting into more recent history, you can start understanding why Italians think and behave the way they do. I've tried to offer a quick overview of Italian history on WhyGo Italy, and I've also listed a couple other resources at the bottom of that page if people want to do a bit more offline reading.

Beyond Italian history, I think another great resource for learning about the culture of any location is the series of "Culture Shock" books - I've got the Italy one on my bookshelf, and I find it to be a useful resource and also just generally interesting. It discusses all kinds of Italian customs and cultural norms so that people traveling to Italy aren't surprised when they see, for instance, a man grab his crotch for no apparent reason (it's a gesture meant to ward off bad luck) or when their waiter seems to ignore them after delivering the meal (it's a sign of disrespect to hurry a diner out of a restaurant in Italy).

For anyone who's really into Italy and wants to go beyond the typical rosy picture that's painted by some people who write about Tuscany, I highly recommend Tobias Jones' "The Dark Heart of Italy." It combines history with modern-day life in way that's really readable and very informative.


Ponte Vecchio

Ponte Vecchio, Florence 


WE:  Is there anything else you'd like to share with us?

JS: Well, there are a few things on WhyGo Italy that I'd like to mention, especially as they're new with the new design and - most importantly - because they help people take care of all their travel needs in one place. On the right side of the homepage, there's now a list of the latest and best deals on Italy travel that we're finding online. Also on the homepage, just underneath the Italy photographs, there's a search tool that people can use to hunt for the best prices on a tailor-made trip or a package tour. We've also got a huge section of listings for Italy hotels in just about every city, town, and village in the country.

I mention these things in particular because, in addition to being really useful tools when you're vacation planning, when people use these tools it helps to support WhyGo Italy - which allows us to continue focusing more time and energy on filling every little nook and cranny with excellent travel information!

I also want to reiterate that I love hearing from people about WhyGo Italy - whether someone has a suggestion for improving the site, learned a great travel tip they want to share, has a question about their trip planning, found an error that needs correcting, wants to submit a guest article, or whatever - so I encourage people to send me emails for any of those reasons (and any others I might have missed).

Grazie mille, Jessie, for giving me a chance to talk about the website and country I love so much!


WE: Thanks, Jessica, for sharing your site with us. Talking with you, I feel like booking tickets to Italy right now! You're such a vibrant ambassador for Italy.



Why Go Italy



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