Rome on a Budget, or Rome on a Spree?

Rome on a Budget, or Rome on a Spree?

Rome has something for everyone regardless of gender, socio-economic status, hairstyle, taste in music or preference in gelato receptacle.  Whether you’re hawking that proverbial shoestring, or you’re looking to jumpstart the Italian economy through personal expenditure, there’s a side of Rome to fit your budget.

Come one, come all! Whether you’re a student, a pensioner, a hippie, a monk, a victim of recession, a hedge fund manager, a celebrity, a lotto winner, an irresponsible trust fund beneficiary or just an average tourist, Rome will keep your head dry, your belly full and your insatiable yearning for adventure…I’ll say stimulated.

Before breaking into The List, here’s a little background on the terms:


The internet is a little confused on the origin, but let’s assume it means that all you’ve got to bargain with is a shoestring. Since you’re traveling you probably have at least one shoe to go with it, but if you’re on a shoestring budget you’re going to be keeping track of every penny you spend, and maybe keeping an eye out for pennies that others drop.


I’m not referring to illicit drugs or fusion club-staurants; I’m talking about the softly dogmatic Buddhist concept that advises nirvana-seekers to live in the “middle way.” If you want a lengthier interpretation or you want to see Keanu Reeves dressed up like Jodie Marsh, check out Bertolucci’s Little Buddha.


Houston’s Troy Birklett (Lil Troy) is most likely responsible for bringing this term from the ‘hood to the Hamptons via his 1999 single “Wanna Be a Baller.”  Paraphrasing Birklett’s lyrics, a “Baller” is someone who can afford expensive car wheels, copulates regularly, and throws diamonds at people.

1. Accommodation

Shoestring: Squat, the verb!  Abandoned buildings abound in Rome (not including the roofless Coliseum) and if you’ve got underground connections or punk scene cred, you’ve got an easy in for a cheap stay.

Buddha: Rent an apartment.  Stay in homelike comfort for a fraction of hotel prices, and bring as many friends with you as you want.  You won’t get room service, but you won’t have to wear earplugs to drown out your neighbor’s TV, either.

Baller: Crash with Francis.  You’re not allowed to stay in Vatican City unless you’re a personal guest of The Pope, but the sovereign of a city-state known for hoarding gold probably wouldn’t turn down an appropriately sized donation to the church.

2. Transportation

Shoestring: Walk or roll.  Whatever your go-to means of personal transportation, you can use it to get some serious sightseeing done.  Rome is fairly compact, and you can cover most of the central districts while staying within half an hours’ schlep of home.

Buddha: Public Transportation. Go from Monte Mario to Aquasanta Golf Course for about the price of an espresso.  Passes for single rides, full days, or longer can be bought in any metro station and grant you access to all public modes of transport.

Baller: Rent a Ferrari.  It’s easier than bringing your own, right?

3. Orientation 

Shoestring: Print a map. You can also pick up the standard ad-bejeweled visitors’ maps at most hotels, hostels and tourist sites.

Buddha: Take a Tour. Walk, bus or Segway through your choice of hundreds of city tours.  Once you have your bearings, leave the fold and roam free with confidence.

Baller: Take a Helicopter Tour. What better way to orient yourself than to get a bird’s eye view? Things will look different when you’re back on the ground, but if you tip the pilot you might be able to get a hotel drop-off (literally).

4. Mastication

Shoestring: Go shopping.  Rome has plenty of food markets where you can trade your shoelaces for a hearty lunch. Testaccio’s market is far enough from the tourist mainstays to allow for sincere pricing.

Buddha: Do lunch.  Rome’s many unostentatious trattorias will fill your stomach nicely, but even pricier restaurants often slash their prices around midday to compete.  Dinner at the same places may double the price without much difference in faire.

Baller: Learn to cook. Maybe not what you’d expect to read here, but in some circles education is either a jewel to place in your crown, or, like Lil Troy’s diamonds, something to be “sprayed.”

5. Culture-ation

Shoestring: Check the schedule. The squares and parks of Rome are hosts to a cornucopia of free concerts, performances and film screenings, especially in the warm months. Lots of the city’s legendary sights are free of charge as well.

Buddha: Shoestring advice applies here too, but if you want the whole package with paid-entry museums, and you’re willing to do some serious sightseeing to get your money’s worth, try the Roma Pass (you can purchase online, download an app, or get one at any Tourist Info Point in town).

Baller: Buy the Band. Well, borrow it at least.  Enjoy world-class sopranos, string ensembles or aerial burlesques (awesome?) without ever leaving your room.