I am no fashionista and you’re probably not going to ask me what’s the most stylish thing to wear. So this is not a ‘how to look like a celebrity’ packing guide, but practical advice on what you really should take to Italy for your comfort, convenience and peace of mind. In no particular order of importance, here they are!
1. Pack Light!
This is not a thing, but a way of doing. Sure, you’ve heard it before, but I can’t emphasize it enough for Italy. Whether you are hopping on and off trains or sailing into a port, you do not want to lug a heavy suitcase. Cobblestone streets wreak havoc on even the best suitcase wheels and you’ll end up dragging or carrying that bag.
In Venice, unless you are staying on a canal, you will have to haul your luggage over numerous staircases and through streets barely wide enough for a large suitcase. It’s a great workout, I’ll give it that! Try it at 6am as you’re racing to your train, and it won’t be a laughing matter.
Headed to Sorrento or the Amalfi Coast from Naples via train? You will be on the Circumvesuviana commuter line, which unlike the national train systems, has no luggage storage. It’s basically like riding the Chicago L or NYC subway. I saw a few poor travelers, forced to stand with their baggage, looking pretty miserable.
Consider your travel companions too. Can everyone carry their own bag? If not, you’ll need multiple trips, or someone is going to become the party’s pack mule. (This is personal experience talking…)
Wherever you’re going, it’s just no fun to struggle with big bags! This is vacation, so don’t arrive to your destination with pulled muscles and a headache.
2. Water Bottle
Pack a reusable water bottle and stay hydrated! Italy can get pretty hot. Cities have multiple water fountains all around, and you’re encouraged to use them. It’s free, and the water is completely safe. Plus, when you consider bottled water costs more than wine, why waste your money?
The water fountains often look like this one, so don’t be a bad tourist and try to drink out of an actual fountain, i.e. the Trevi and others. 😉
3. Good Shoes
I packed a sensible pair of comfy Borne sandals and pair of ballet flats. My husband ended up buying me a pair of tennis shoes in Rome anyway. I have small feet, size 5.5, and walking the widely spaced cobblestones in Rome had my foot sliding and slipping in the sandals, and I caught the toe of my ballet flats in the cracks, leaving a shoe behind several times.
In Pompeii, I had my sandals, but almost didn’t make it up, or down, the stone hill into the ruins. The shoes had no traction and I literally felt like I would go flying, or rolling down that hill, at any point. I had to hang on to my dad’s arm, and we laughed that it was I who it was helping my ‘decrepit old daddy’ up and down the incline.
4. Anti-Theft Purse or Backpack
Using common sense in the city is great, but for an extra layer of caution, I recommend an anti-theft bag. The schemes of petty criminals are pretty impressive, so it’s easy to be caught off guard. Bag slashing, when the thief slices the bag’s strap and runs with it, is not uncommon, and RFID credit fraud is possible too, especially with the new RFID enabled credit cards.
I purchased the Travelon crossbody bag, and my husband the sling backpack. They have cable enforced straps (good luck slicing that), and RFID blocking card slots. As an added feature, both have a water bottle slot, and my purse came with a detachable light. The backpack is large enough to fit a DSLR camera, umbrella and a few random items, but small enough that it passes bag checkpoints at the major sites. Almost all the famous sites in the major cities require bag check, or simply don’t allow bags at all. My husband’s backpack was small enough to get through without issue. The bags are available on Amazon. I recommend them from experience, but am not receiving any referral benefit.
5. A Scarf
Small and easy to pack, scarfs not only diversify your wardrobe (same dress, new look), but are helpful when visiting churches, the Vatican or other religious sites in Italy. Women must have their shoulders and knees covered when entering, while men must remove their hat and have knees covered.
When visiting in the warm months, it’s common to have sleeves or strapless tops. The scarf allows you to quickly cover your shoulders, and then re-don it or stuff it in your bag after you leave the religious site. I used this silk shawl, wearing it off one shoulder when I was out and about, and pulling it over for full coverage when entering a church.
6. Euros and ATMs
Many US banks will issue euros upon withdrawal. Check their exchange rate and any fees, but mine was very fair. It saves time when you arrive at your destination, so you aren’t searching for an ATM or exchange booth.
Related to this, don’t use any old ATM in Italy, or anywhere for that matter. Open units, be it in the train station, piazza or so on, can be tampered with. Just to be safe, stick to ones in a bank location, or in a secured building. Several I saw in Venice, for example, are in little private rooms and are locked after a certain hour.
7. Power Converter
I started to exclude this, since it covers all international travel, not just travel to Italy. However, it is a must so how could I leave it out, especially when it’s in my featured image?? I’ve been pleased with my multi- country converter. They all vary, but I recommend one with multi uses, especially if you’re traveling between different European countries. For example, Ireland and the United Kingdom have a different plug than main land Europe. Grab one with a USB input as well, so you can simultaneously use the converter with two inputs.
For first time European travelers, it’s important to note the converters simply refit the plug, but do not alter the voltage. The US runs on 110 volts, but Europe runs on 220. Most items these days are dual voltage, but check your item before you stick in the wall! On one of my first European trips, jet lagged and silly, I plugged my 110 sound machine into the 220 outlet and hit On. It didn’t spark or blow up, nothing dramatic, it just fried it. Lesson learned! Your laptop and phone are probably fine, but other items may not be (like that sound machine!), so double check!
I hope this lists helps as you prepare for Italy, happy travels!