Sometimes trying to figure out what to pack for an Italy trip can seem like a daunting task, and if you’re a procrastinator (like me) it becomes more of a hassle when you’re trying to find out what to bring and it’s the night before your flight.
To help you avoid last-minute packing headaches, here are some tips on what to pack for an Italy trip.
First, a few caveats:
- This isn’t a list that includes how many pairs of underwear to bring. I’m working on the assumption that you can figure out how many articles of clothing to bring for your trip.
- There are season-specific lists (further down this page) that you’ll need to read in addition to this one. This article includes things to consider packing no matter when you go to Italy, but a summer packing list will be different than a winter packing list. Consult this along with these season-specific lists to get the full picture.
- I strongly advocate packing light, and traveling carry-on only if at all possible. This means I’m probably leaving things off this list you might consider must-haves. Just because I use something everyday at home doesn’t mean it’s a must-have for a trip (I’m learning to embrace my hair’s wacky curls, for instance, and leave the flat iron at home). There are some resources to help you pack light at the end of this article.
With that out of the way, here are some of the things I think you should always including on an Italy packing list, no matter when you’re traveling or where you’re going in Italy. Remember to look at the season-specific list for more details, too, including certain questions about what clothing to bring.
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Italy Packing List
- Emergency information – Even when I have my travel information and emergency contacts in a file on my computer or my iPod, I still print out a couple copies just in case technology isn’t being my friend when I need the info. One copy goes in my purse, the other gets buried in my suitcase.
- Passport photocopies – Make copies of the main page of your passport. Leave one at home with someone who’s an emergency contact for you, and tuck a couple more in a couple different corners of your bags. It’s easier to get a replacement passport if you have a copy to show your Embassy.
- Prescription medications – Bring any prescription drugs you’re taking or may need, and leave them in their original bottles (with the prescription on them) if possible. Keep these in your carry-on bag – don’t check them.
- Small supply of OTC medications – You can get pretty much any medication in Italy that you can get at your local drug store, but it’s likely to be more expensive. Also note that painkillers are kept behind the counters in Italian pharmacies, so you’ve got to ask for them.
- Money belt – Keep your airline tickets, Rail Pass, extra cash, and credit cards you don’t plan to use that day in your money belt, and (this part is critical) keep your money belt under your clothing. I swear, the number of people I see wearing money belts outside their pants like fanny packs never ceases to amaze me. It’s meant to stay hidden, folks. Put things in zip-top plastic bags before you put them in the money belt (yes, you’ll sweat through the fabric), and don’t put anything in the belt that you’ll need that day. You shouldn’t need to dig into it in a store to get a credit card to pay your bill. A money belt with a couple pockets (find them on Amazon) is a great option.
- Electric adapter/converter – The easiest way to deal with the different electrical system in Italy is not to bring anything electrical… But that’s not always possible. Luckily there are combination adapter/converter kits now that make bringing the necessary gear less of a space-hog. I like that I can snap the Italy plug onto an adapter that comes in many pieces (find them on Amazon) and then what I’m bringing is very small, but I also have an all-in-one adapter/converter kits (find them on Amazon) that’s good in lots of countries. (There’s one for higher-wattage electronics, too – also found on Amazon.)
- Refillable water bottle – Staying hydrated when you’re on the move as a traveler is important, as is trying to keep your footprint in the places you visit as small as possible. Rather than buying plastic bottle after plastic bottle of water in Italy, bring your own reusable bottle (find them on Amazon) and refill it as you go. Lots of Italian cities have public drinking fountains where the water is cold and delicious, so it’s easy to fill up along the way. And there’s no rule against using your water bottle to carry wine, either, if you’re planning a picnic.
- Zip-top plastic bags – In addition to the TSA-approved quart-sized bag that’s full of liquids, I always bring several extra zip-top baggies with me. You never know when they’ll come in handy, and they take up no room in a suitcase. Bring a few extra sizes – the gallon-sized bags can keep a wet swimsuit away from your dry clothes until you get to the next hotel room to let it hang dry, and the quart-sized bags are perfect for bringing the goodies you bought at the market on your hike.
- Clothesline – I don’t do hard-core laundry in my hotel room sink, but I do wash underwear and socks regularly (using shampoo or hand soap). You can get travel clotheslines (find them on Amazon) – they also come in a kit with a sink stopper and packets of laundry soap (find them on Amazon) – but I’ve used a simple Chinese jumprope (find them on Amazon) for almost 20 years. It’s cheaper, and all you need to do is twist it between the two points where you’re securing it and you’ve got an instant clothesline.
- Safety pins – I don’t usually bring even a travel-sized sewing kit with me, but I do bring a bunch of safety pins. They’re good in a pinch if you lose a button or a seam starts to go until you can ask someone at the hotel desk if they know where you can find a needle and thread, and I end up finding more uses for them as I travel, too. Splinter removal, anyone?
- Cross-body bag – This is primarily for the ladies, but if you’re a guy who’s carrying around a messenger-style bag instead of a backpack this applies to you, too. Any bag that can be easily grabbed off your shoulder by a passing scooter or person running isn’t a good travel bag, as far as I’m concerned. I always wear a purse flat across my body when I’m in an unfamiliar place (and I prefer bags that have zip closures rather than snaps). There are lots of versions of a cross-body bag out there, from nice leather bags (find them on Amazon) to more utilitarian bags (find them on Amazon).
- Purse hook – Don’t hang your bag over the back of your chair, which opens the door to having it get stolen, or sit uncomfortably with a bag on your feet or lap as you eat. I bring a purse hook (find them on Amazon) everywhere these days; many of them will hold the weight of a small backpack, so they’re great for travelers (and not just women).
- iPod Touch – I love multi-tasking travel tools, and although I’m not a member of the i-Thing cult I do appreciate the many uses of my iPod Touch (find them on Amazon) when I’m traveling. It’s an alarm clock and a flashlight as well as a currency converter, phrase book, and entertainment device – and with an iPod, I’m never freaking out about whether I accidentally left the phone in roaming mode. Many smart phones can stand in as flashlights and alarm clocks, so check to see if yours will (just remember to turn the phone part off) – and if not, a mini-flashlight is a good thing to bring with you.
- Corkscrew – Yes, a corkscrew. This is for those of you who (a) are absolutely checking a bag (it’s a no-no in your carry-on bag) and (b) plan to do lots of picnics with wine. I know people who don’t go to Italy without a corkscrew, or make it a point to buy one as soon as possible after arriving. If you’re going to be doing lots of picnicking, consider bringing a multitool like these from Gerber (find them on Amazon) or Leatherman (find them on Amazon) that have a corkscrew built in. (Again, do not try to bring this through airport security…)
- Spare bags – You never know when a spare tote bag will come in handy on a trip – at the market, it means you aren’t accumulating extra bags (extra points for being more eco-friendly); at your hotel, it’s a handy way to carry your laundry to the local laundromat; and at the airport, it’s an emergency extra bag if you just can’t fit everything into your carry-on. I absolutely love Flip & Tumble bags (find them on Amazon) for their compactness and how easily they scrunch into themselves.
Seasonal Packing Lists for Italy
What Not to Bring to Italy
Again, this is the kind of list that will be very different for each person, depending on the kind of trip you’re taking and the sort of traveler you are – but there are a few things that most of us will never have any use for, and which (in some cases) could cause problems if you did bring them.
- Valuable jewelry – Wearing expensive jewelry (watches in particular) is an invitation to theives, no matter what part of the world you’re in, and it’s just smarter to leave them at home. If you absolutely can’t travel without a spare set of diamond studs, don’t put them in your checked luggage, whatever you do.
- Fancy clothes – Unless your itinerary includes state dinners, chances are good that you’ll be able to get by without a tuxedo or evening gown. If you’re planning to go to the theatre or out to lots of fancy dinners, then bring travel-friendly clothes that look nice (slacks with a jacket and a few different ties for the men, a packable little black dress and a few different scarves for the women) – travel-friendly duds mean you won’t have to be as fussy with them or worry about ironing, etc.
- High heels – This sort of goes with “fancy clothes,” but it merits its own point because I know it’s tempting to think, “Oh, the Italian women look so glamorous in their high heels, I want to look like that!” The truth is Italian women are born with some gene that allows them to walk effortlessly in high heels on cobblestons without spraining an ankle. The rest of us don’t have this gene. Not only that, fancy shoes lead to sore feet – and sore feet lead to unhappy travelers. If you (like me) have a serious weakness for shoes, take advantage of the opportunity to buy yourself a gorgeous pair in Italy, but don’t plan on wearing them until you get home.
Tips for Traveling Carry-On Only to Italy
The idea of packing for a two-week trip to Italy in a bag you can fit in the overhead bin scares some people, but others pack for far longer than that in the same amount of space. It can be done, and you don’t have to wear the same thing for your entire trip, either.
Packing light means you’re schlepping around less stuff, which makes getting on and off trains easier, and it can also save you money. Checking one bag on international flights is still free in most cases, but there’s no telling whether airlines will start charging for that soon – and they already charge for overweight bags.
Here are some resources to help you learn to pack lighter:
- 7 of the Best Carry-On Bags for Under $70 – I own the last bag on this list, the eBags Mother Lode, and I can’t say enough good things about it.
- How to Travel Very Lightly – The author of this article is an extreme light packer, and I don’t know that everyone can do what she does… But she has some valuable tips if you want to even meet her partway.
- No Extra Baggage: How Traveling Lightly Changed My Life – This author offers even more tips on how to travel lightly, and why it’s a good idea.
- TSA Rules: Outsmart Security with Non-Liquid Alternatives to Ordinary Toiletries – The liquids rule is one that makes many people think they need to check a bag, but there are non-liquid options for most of the things you’d want to bring with you.
- Rick Steves’ Packing List – Rick travels very lightly when he’s in Europe, and this is his master packing list. There’s a link for a list that’s geared more toward women, too.
- OneBag.com – The folks behind OneBag.com are all about teaching you to pack light.