Once you have determined if you will be in the city or rural, and how close to
usual tourism, you will know how much language training you will need.
I highly recommend finding an immersion day for travelers before you arrive. You can pick up tips from your fellow travelers (I learned it was a wise investment to buy a compass for traveling in the countryside!).
You may wish to supplement this with CD courses or classroom courses. If you buy a small iPod, you can bring your language courses with you, and listen in country, where you will be more motivated! And your iPod doubles as a personal radio, alarm, and a disk drive, so you can take files on it to the internet cafes instead of bringing your laptop, if you are traveling with one.
And HarperCollins’ Language Survival Guide, Italy, is very handy to read and have along. It has a small dictionary at the back, and is filled with useful travel phrases and situations. Tuck an Italian/English dictionary in your bag, too, before you close it!
For those who are serious and considering long term stays, check out language schools. La Universita per Stranieri de Perugia has one, two and three month immersion courses at all levels. You will study for 20 hours a week, and the three month intensive currently costs around 800 Euro. The University works with a rental agency, and can help you find housing.
Siena also has an excellent language school. Check with your local Italian Consulate in your home country. Many consulates maintain a list of language schools for whom they grant extended study visas.