If you have never been to Italy but have lived in California, the one very similar aspect is the climate and even some of the landscape. Italy has a Mediterranean climate much like California - winters are cold and wet, summers dry and hot. They also share another thing in common: high gas prices.
As of May 2022 are at record highs, about 2 euros per liter, so per gallon this would be around 6-7 euros, which at the current exchange rate hovers at $6-7 a gallon! That is about the same as it is in California.
Taking a train maybe cheaper or not, depending on the distance and fuel economy of the car. For instance, traveling from Milan to Reggio Emilia by train is $40 round trip and takes 45 min. The distance is 95 miles. By car, it will take 2.5 hrs. with no mishaps. You car will consume at least three gallons or $21 in fuel. Like all travel, getting there is way faster by train but costs twice as much!
Travelling by Car
Buying gas in Italy is just another Italian experience that is a challenge. The first thing to know is that unlike in the US, there seems to be very little uniformity in regulated gas prices. Prices vary from has high as 10 cents more per liter in the gas station across the street. As in the US, most gas stations have an automatic 24\7 method in purchase and if you use a credit\debit card that is accepted, you must provide a PIN number. Without a PIN, there is no gas. Be prepared to pay more due to exchange rates and bank fees, which can make the price of a liter go from 2 euros to 3-4 euros. Using cash is fine except one does not receive change. This forces you to know how many liters (there are 3 liters to a gallon) to pump before you insert the cash. If you fill the tank, know how many liters it holds.
Most gas stations seem to be unmanned, but this does vary. If there is an attendant, then you can get change. If there no one, the machine will print out a slip giving you credit the next time you refuel but only at that same station! If it is, enter the code. Some stations will have an attendant greet you and pump the gas for you etc., like the old days in the US, but this will increase the price of gas per liter by as much as 20 cents!
It is important to note that the gas stations along the four lane highways (strada) usually have attendants. But, again, if they pump the gas for you, the 20 cent surcharge will occur plus fuel costs are almost always higher per liter, like around 2.3 euros or more per liter.
Gas stations seem to have different procedures in Italy. At times, it resembles the US using a card or paying cash (if there is a person there). Other times, the sequence is different. For example, if no attendant is there, you insert your card, once validated, enter how many liters you want, pump the gas. Other times, you pay the attendant first before you pump a specified amount of gas.
Travel by Train
Using the train in Italy is very popular. They are fast and clean, except for the bathrooms. Most everyone books their tickets on the national train website called trenitalia (dot) com. It is in both English and Italian. Quite easy to use. The price quoted is one way not round trip. So, if you are returning, make sure you click on the Return trip. The website will given you all available options and indicate the cheapest fare. You can also buy a ticket at the kiosk in the rail station or via the attendant there.
Once you have your ticket in hand, you MUST validate it! If you fail to validate it and get on the train, the train attendant will see you did not validate it and fine you a hefty amount on the spot. Validation machines are spotted at the station. They are small devices. Just insert the ticket into the machine and you will hear a typewriter sound indicating it is validating on your ticket.
Next, look for the loading area for your train (called Bin). Proceed to this area and wait for the train. The Bin may not appear on the arrival\departures board until 15 minutes beforehand. Another thing to know is that the train number on the arrival\departure board is the train's final stop, if your stop is before this, you will not see it. So, you need to know your train number. Have a good idea how long it will take to reach your stop destination. This will help you not miss your "get off" point as it approaches.
Once the train arrives, just get on, much like a subway and find your seat quickly. When you arrive at your destination, look for the word " Uscita" or Exit, after leaving the train to leave the train station.
Either travel method in Italy is fun. A train provides sweeping vistas of the Italian countryside without worry. By car, one gets to deal with crazy Italian drivers and you can go to places a train cannot. Renting a car is doable, but expensive.