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Exploring Switzerland and Italy - An Inside Look at Traveling for 21 Days

July 11 2017

Woman in hat, standing in golden field with mountains in the background
Woman in hat, standing in golden field with mountains in the background
Ah, Switzerland! Please take me back right now! What an amazing country! So beautiful! So amazing! Sorry, I know I’m overdoing the exclamation marks, but Switzerland is just that awesome!!!
Okay, on a real note. In this journal post, I’m going to talk about my recent trip to Switzerland and Italy, specifically about our journey through the Swiss Alps and Dolomites. I will cover what we packed, the gear we brought, what we explored, and other basics like food and water. For those of you unfamiliar with the “Dolomites,” they are an extension of the Swiss Alps that runs through Italy.

So, let’s start with Switzerland. We landed in Zurich. We landed around 8:00 a.m. local time. We purposely planned our flight to land at this time so that we could get a full day of exploration, but also to force ourselves to stay awake and start adjusting our sleep schedule. We’re from San Diego, California (my fiancé and I). We scheduled our flight to leave at 8:00 a.m. San Diego time to arrive at 8:00 a.m. Zurich time. Worked like a charm. Arriving so early at ZRH (Zurich’s airport) made getting through customs was a breeze — it was quick because there was barely any other passengers in the airport. I learned very quickly that most Europeans don’t like to wake up very early, especially for morning flights. The airport was like a ghost town; it was very convenient for us.

Before I continue any further, let me just put this out there…Swiss chocolate is sublime, Swiss knives are world renowned, but Swiss food is terrible. Don’t expect stellar food. Don’t even expect average food. Set your expectations very low and anticipate the worst. Personally, I was extremely disappointed. I’m a big foodie. I like my good eats, but there was none to be found in Switzerland, with the expectation of a small-town sausage stand in Lauterbrunnen Valley. Oh, and before I forget, the food is expensive! And I mean very expensive. Everything is so inflated compared to the United States. Sure you’ll get an almost even exchange rate on the dollar to Swiss Franc, but the cost of food in Switzerland is astronomical. For two people to eat comfortably, you will need anywhere from $25 to $40 per person, per meal. And when I say “comfortably,” I don’t mean American comfort; I mean only one small to averaged sized entrée per person. So if you’re doing breakfast, lunch, and dinner for two, you will need anywhere from $150 to $240 per day. I don’t know about you, but for me, that’s a lot of money to spend on lackluster food, especially when they’re also charging you for water with your meal. Yup, you heard me right — they charge you for water! There’s no such thing as free water and you can’t purchase it by the cup; it’s by the liter. We went to one place that charged us $12 for a liter of water. Insane. 

So what did we do? Well, for one, we didn’t have a budget to spend that much on food, so we researched local grocery chains (see “quick tips” further down) and found things in the local markets to snack on. Bread and jam became our best friend. Even though the bread wasn’t that good, the jam certainly made up for what was lacking. We also purchased two cases of water. I can’t stress enough how important this was, especially if you’re going to do any sunrise or sunset hikes. There’s no 7-11 around the corner waiting for you to pick-up a bag of chips and drinks. Everything is closed. Most places won’t even open until 9 a.m. and conversely, everything outside of major cities like Zurich and Geneva will close early (more on the craziness of Geneva later).

Okay, so I can already tell this post is going to be painfully long if I don’t start being more concise. Let me start by doing this. I’ll make a couple lists below with short intros for clarifications…
We did not check-in baggage at the airport. We traveled with only (1) one carry-on bag per person and (1) one backpack per person. Since I traveled with my fiancé, I will break-up our list into “male,” “female,” “shared items,” and “gear” we packed. Keep in mind that we did laundry multiple times while traveling. Also, keep in mind that this list isn’t for everyone, but it should help give a general idea of how we survived for 21-days.
□ Passport
□ Driver’s License
□ International Driver’s Permit
□ Credit Cards
□ Cell Phone Charger
□ Underwear (8)
□ Hiking Socks (3)
□ Regular Socks (5)
□ Rain Jacket (1)
□ Long-Sleeve Fleece (1)
□ Jeans (1)
□ Shorts (3)
□ Shirts (4)
□ Paper Copy of Passport, Credit Cards, and Driver’s License
□ Hiking Boots
□ Tooth Brush
□ Deodorant
□ Passport
□ Driver’s License
□ Credit Cards
□ Cell Phone Charger
□ Rain jacket
□ Pants (3)
□ Tops (4)
□ Dresses (2)
□ Underwear (8)
□ Hiking Socks (3)
□ Regular Socks (5)
□ Beanie
□ Paper Copy of Passport, Credit Cards, and Driver’s License
□ Tooth Brush
□ Deodorant
□ Moisturizer
□ Carmex
□ Tweezers
□ Hair Ties
□ Ear Buds
□ Lotion
□ Razor
□ Hair Comb
□ Hair Straightener
□ Bare Minerals Foundation
□ Concealer
□ Translucent Powder + Brush
□ Blush/Bronzer + Brush
□ Mascara
□ Mini Compact Scissors
□ Nail Clipper + File
□ Hand Sanitizer
□ Converse Sneakers
□ Comfortable Sandals
□ Hiking Boots
□ No Jewelry
□ Tooth Paste
□ Floss
□ Baby Wipes
□ Soap Bar
□ Motrin
□ Allegra
□ Dramamine
□ Neosporin + Bandages
□ Q-tips
□ Power Converter
□ RFID Wallet
□ Euros
□ Swiss Franc
□ Sony A7RII w/ FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM Lens (1)
□ Panasonic Lumix GH5 w/ Micro Four-Thirds Lens Kit (1)
□ 32GB San Disk Extreme Cards (10)
□ 64GB San Disk Extreme Pro (1)
□ 128GB San Disk Extreme Pro (5)
□ SD Card Pelican Case (2)
□ MeFOTO GlobeTrotter Tripod (1)
□ Sony NP-FW50 Batteries (6)
□ Battery Charger (1)
□ BESTEK 300W Power Inverter DC 12V to 110V AC Car Inverter (1)
□ WD 3TB My Passport Wireless Pro External Hard Drive (1)
□ B+W Neutral Density Filters & Polarizer Kit (1)
□ Sony L-Plate (1)
□ Beast28 Packable Technical Backpack (a life saver. Hands down one the best backpacks we’ve ever owned — a must for every trip)
□ Matador Droplet XL Dry Bag
□ NanoDry Shower Towel (Large)
□ Pocket Blanket 2.0
I hope the lists above help give you a general idea of what you might want to pack for your trip. Next, I will outline our itinerary of places we traveled. Again, I will be concise and to the point. We traveled through Switzerland and Italy by car. I did my bookings through (for both the hotel and car rentals). It was easy, fast, and hassle-free.

· Zurich (great view of the city from “Lindenhof”)
· Lake Seealpsee (do a sunrise hike — it’s very doable).
· Gasthaus Aescher-Wildkirchli (eat at the restaurant).
· Zermatt (stay at Hotel Testa Grigia — highly recommended)
· Lake Emosson (on the border of France)
· Geneva (skip this city — more details below as to why)
· Montreux (check out Chillion Castle)
· Lauterbrunnen Valley (an absolute must-visit — incredible)
· Venice (eat pasta at Bigoi)
· Dolomites (driving through here is amazing)
· Lago di Braies (book a room at Hotel Pragser Wildsee. Email hotel.)
· Rome (Tour the Vatican. Book tickets in advance.)
• There are a ton of roundabouts in both countries, so be prepared for them mentally.

• Research the road signs and speed limits.

• Beware of camera speed traps everywhere. You can get hit with a massive speeding fine mailed to the U.S. by the rental car company if caught speeding. DON’T SPEED!

• Don’t stay in Geneva, Switzerland! In fact, don’t even waste your time visiting the city. It’s dirty, crazy busy, and can be pretty ghetto. You’ll find hookers everywhere at night on the streets (I’m not joking) offering their goods to anyone and everyone who walks by. Not to mention, there’s just a bunch of shady-looking cats at night.

• When in Rome or Rimini, Italy, be sure to stop by “Gelateria La Romana.” The gelato is out of this world. I highly recommend the “Pesto di pistacchio” flavor. Second place is the “Biscotto della nonna al latte.”

• Popular grocery stores in Switzerland are “Coop” and “Migros.” Coop is one of Switzerland's largest retail and wholesale company — it can also be found in Italy. In Italy, “Conad” is a popular grocery chain.

• When in Zermatt, if you plan on doing the “5-Seenweg” hike, be prepared for an all-day journey. The trailhead starting point isn’t close by foot, it a few hours hiking. There is a shuttle, however, that will take you from Zermatt to the start of the trailhead but it doesn’t open until 8 a.m. and the last return shuttle is around 5 p.m. That means in order to do sunrise or sunset, you either need to get there the day before by shuttle and camp overnight or wake up super early to do hours of hiking in the dark. I suggest taking the shuttle and camping overnight.

• Food in Italy is good but doesn’t live up to all the hype. Don’t get me wrong, it’s very good, but being from San Diego, I’ve been spoiled by “Little Italy,” which boasts a large community of Italians that know how to do it better. I bet New Yorkers would also say the same thing. I will say that food is much more reasonably priced in Italy vs.Switzerland. You can eat like royalty for the same amount you would spend in Switzerland.

• Be sure to purchase yourself a really good power converter (not adapter). Don’t go cheap on this either. Buy a really good one or I promise you will regret.

• Parking can be very expensive in some cities. Bring cash. 

• Driving in Switzerland isn’t that difficult. It just takes some getting used to (about 2-days) to adjust. And no, they do not drive on the opposite side of the road. Only the UK, Ireland, and Australia do that.

• Avoid driving in Italy, if possible. For one, Italians aren’t the best drivers — they like to play “Pacman” on the road a lot. Second, some cities have extremely narrow streets and crazy drivers…like Tijuana, Mexico. I only recommend driving to the Dolomites because it’s like driving in Switzerland (so much easier).

• Bring flip-flops or slippers to walk around the hotel room.
I hope this journal post has proven helpful for you. I know I didn’t cover everything, but I’m already at 1,856 words at this point in the journal, so I will end it with this… “Ciao.”

Be sure to follow Dustin’s work on Instagram: @dustinkahia
In addition, to being an adventure, travel, and lifestyle photographer, Dustin is also an avid filmmaker. He has written, directed, and produced both short and feature films. His films have been featured in publications, such as the Los Angeles Times, MovieMaker Magazine, and others. To learn more about his motion picture pursuits, you can visit his website:


  • linda glorioso: May 15, 2018
    Author's avatar image

    I totally agree with your comments on Zurich. Buy the chocolate skip the country .
    Italy however has great food and I’m an Italian New Yorker just go where you see locals skip the tourist traps.
    Definitely see the Vatican ( advance tickets are a must) and the Trivi Fountain and the Coliseum
    Try to avoid the summer months for crowds and heat.
    Finally stay in Venice and Tuscany it’s life changing

  • Nick Lobeck: July 17, 2017
    Author's avatar image

    Glad you’ve enjoyed Switzerland.
    One important note though: Water is usually free in restaurants. Ask for “Hahnenwasser”/“tap water”.
    There is absolutely no need to buy bottled water in Switzerland. Bring a refillable bottle, buy a SIGG or refill your plastic bottles on the tap or almost any public fountain for free. The tap water quality exceeds the one of most cheaper bottled water.

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