Join the harvest in Italy

Have a cotton-picking (or, more likely, olive-picking) good time by offering to help harvest in Italy

Harvest season brings out the farmhands, and they're usually happy to let nutball tourists who doesn't seem to realize it's hard work pitch in for an afternoon.

I've picked grapes and olives—both of which are a lot harder on your fingers and, in the case of grapes, your back, than you may imagine.

But it's fun, it's different, and there's nothing like having a sun-raisined old farmer wave you over during a break, divide his sandwich, and hand half of it to you along with the communal wine jug.

If you're looking for a more formal opportunity to do some agricultural work, check out WWOOFing and other short-term farmhand gigs.

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Book ahead

While for some activities you can just show up, this is one travel item you really should try to reserve in advance.

Popular activities like cooking classes can sell out.

Many are available only on certain days of the week, so it pays to know that you'll have to set aside, say, Tuesday morning for that guided market walk with a local cookbook author.

Many of the best activities are available by advance booking or appointment only—particularly wineries. Some vineyards welcome walk-ins, true, but many more will give you a cellar tour and wine tasting only if you call ahead a few days (and those tend to be the ones most liberal with the free samples).

If you have your heart set on dining in a particular restaurant, go ahead and call ahead,even if it's just earlier on the same day—though a day ahead is preferable. I have found that a corrollary of Muphy's Law applies to this aspect of travel. Any restaurant I am particularly keen on but blithely assume I can just waltz into will inevitably be filled to the brim: no tables available. However, half the time when I do book a table in advance I'll end up being the only guy in the place (nor near enough for my advance booking to feel like overkill). Still, better safe than sorry. Reserving a table is quick and painless; getting turned away at the door can be crushing.

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