What Do I Pack For My Trip to Italy?

If you’re traveling to Italy, figuring out what to pack can be daunting. After years of traveling and living in Italy, here are our tips for what not to forget and what to leave at home — beyond the passport and undies. (But don’t forget those, either!).

Bring

You might want a flashlight... if you find yourself down here!

Small flashlight: Not strictly necessary, but handy, whether for fiddling with the impossible-to-figure-out lock of your bed and breakfast or looking at a map at night, or for peering into a crevice in a catacomb. Bonus: They make these small and powerful these days, so there aren’t any space issues.

Wrap or cardigan, even in summer, for women: Crucial for getting into churches, since some, like St. Peter’s Basilica, adhere strictly to the no-shoulders, no-short skirts dress code in even the hottest months.

A few pieces of tissue… that can double as toilet paper: You don’t really need to bring this from home, of course — Italy does have toilet paper! — but it’s a smart thing for ladies, particularly, to throw in their purses before leaving the hotel in the morning. Why? Well, while 95% of the bathrooms you’ll use at cafes or restaurants are perfectly well-stocked, some are… not. Enough said — so just keep it in mind. (Along those lines, also consider bringing hand sanitizer).

Student ID/E.U. ID card: Although you generally have to be an E.U. citizen to get student or senior discounts, we’ve encountered a number of places across Italy, most notably the (expensive!) Vatican museums, where that’s not the case. So always ask. And if you are a European citizen, then don’t make the mistake of leaving your I.D. in the hotel: Nearly every site and museum gives child, student, and senior-citizen discounts.

Digital versions: Of what, you might ask? Well, of everything. If you’re traveling for a couple of weeks, don’t lug five books with you — consider buying a digital reading device, like a Nook or a Kindle, and load your books up ahead of time. And an iPod, of course, is an instant entertainment system; download not just music, but, if you’re feeling ambitious, even some lectures and podcasts about the sites you’re going to be seeing!

The right shoes: You’ll be doing a lot of walking in Italy. Especially if that’s not something you’re used to, make sure you have the right footwear! What that comfy pair is is different for everyone, and doesn’t necessarily have to be gym sneakers; comfy sandals, cute flats, and, in winter, leather boots can all work, too. Just make sure that, whatever the pair is, they’re broken in — and give them a “dry run” by walking in them for three or four straight hours first.

What to pack if you're going for a hike traveling in Italy

If you're planning on anything like this, then don't forget the backpack!

Empty backpack: You shouldn’t really need a backpack walking around, say, Venice. But a backpack can come in handy if you wind up hiking some of Italy’s spectacular countryside, if you head to the beach, or if you’re buying groceries (lots of Italian grocery stores charge for plastic bags now, and it’s more comfortable to carry groceries on your back, anyway). Most of all, though, that backpack can come in handy at the end of your trip. When all those gifts and souvenirs make it impossible to zip your checked bag closed, just pop extra (non-liquid) detritus into the empty backpack and make it your new carry-on.

Plug adapter: Unless you’re bringing a hairdryer (see below!), you probably won’t need the whole heavy voltage converter. But to plug in, say, a laptop, a cell phone, or a charger for your camera batteries, you will need an adapter that lets you use plugs from your home country in Italy’s outlets.

Your cell phone: Maybe. Here’s more on whether to bring your own mobile phone to Italy (and how to use it when you’re here).

With some great accessories, you don’t need a whole new outfit just for dinner

Emergency numbers and meeting point info for your tours: If you’re planning on taking a tour (with us or not!), please, on behalf of tour operators everywhere, don’t forget to print out your meeting point info and map… and to jot down the phone number you should call if you get lost! Otherwise, you might wind up getting to your tour late, stressed out, and having already annoyed the other clients in your group who had to wait for you — or, worse, not making it to your tour at all.

Some dressy accessories: Italians tend to dress up a bit more for dinner, and in general, than Americans, Brits and others do back home. That doesn’t mean you need a cocktail dress or a dinner jacket; instead, well-dressed Italians agree the devil’s in the details. A statement necklace, pretty silk scarf, or nice leather shoes and belt can do the work of a complete outfit… for a quarter of the packing space.

Leave at home

Your hairdryer: You’ve probably heard it a million times, and you’ll hear it again — it’s just not worth it! If you’re coming from the States, the voltage will be different than in Italy, meaning you’ll need to lug a big electrical converter with you to even use it (and even that can still go wrong). Plus, if you’re staying at a hotel, they’ll probably have one for you already.

That super-expensive watch/necklace/pair of earrings that you would hate to lose: Not so much because you’ll get mugged if you’re wearing a Rolex, but because, well, even worrying about getting mugged for your Rolex is a pain. Not to mention that you don’t want to worry about leaving it in your hotel room. Or about how to pack it, since lost luggage is a fact of life for travelers.

Traveler’s cheques: No longer necessary. Plus, they’re a hassle to get, a hassle to change, and there are always extra fees. The best (and cheapest) way to get euros is once you’re over here: Use your normal ATM card to withdraw funds from your bank. (Just clear your trip with your bank first, so they don’t lock your account for security reasons when they see an Italy withdrawal). And, even though you’ll find many establishments in Italy don’t accept credit cards, it’s useful to have at least one card that’s activated for international withdrawals.

Water bottle: Some guides advise bringing one with you from home. But plastic water bottles work just as well, and they’re sold in every cafe in Italy. Buy one when you’re here and just keep refilling it at the fountains you’ll see everywhere.

If you're bringing all of this... then make sure you can carry it on your own!

Whatever weighs you down!: Here’s a rule of thumb: If you can’t carry it yourself, don’t bring it. This recently was brought home to us when, for the second time in the same number of weeks, we saw someone struggle with their wheely bag on an escalator. The bag went tumbling… and the resulting pile-up at the bottom almost resulted in a pile-up of people (and a couple of hospital visits). But bringing only what you can carry isn’t just a safety issue. It’ll make your entire trip much more enjoyable. That’s especially true in Italy, where there tends to be lots of unexpected luggage-lugging (many old palazzos, like the kind that have B&Bs and apartments, don’t have elevators, and not all train and metro stations have escalators or elevators, either). Keep it light, and you’ll arrive at your destination much, much happier (and less sweaty!).

Still Under Debate

Money pouch: Lots of travelers swear by them, and they’re definitely one of the most secure ways to stash your cash (just remember to keep the pouch hidden underneath your shirt!). That said, you’ll never see an Italian walking around Rome or Florence with one, and every time you go to take out your money, you have to unbutton your shirt to do it. What we prefer? A money belt, which is slim and worn around your waist, making it much more discreet (and safe!). Stash your passport and some of your cash in it, leave the rest of the money in your hotel room’s safe, and you’re good to go.

Zip-off pants: They can come in handy, particularly for men — if, say, it’s so hot you just have to wear shorts, but to get into that church, you need to have pants. But do they come in handy enough to shell out $40 (or more) for trousers you’ll only wear while traveling? It’s debatable.

Jean shorts, flip-flops, backpacks, white gym sneakers, fanny packs, Uggs, baseball hats, college hoodies, track pants…: People often ask what clothing items they should leave at home in order to look “Italian” — these are just some. It’s worth noting, though, that no matter how you dress, as soon as someone hears your accent or sees you pull out a guidebook, they’ll know you’re a tourist… and that’s okay!

The most important thing to leave at home?

You're in Italy -- relax!

Stress! And we mean that not just in the sense of “hey, you’re on vacation” — but also in terms of stressing about traveling. And that includes packing. Italy isn’t the wilderness; almost anything you forget (prescription meds and passport aside!), you can buy here. (Not to mention, we think going to the local pharmacy or department store can be one of the most interesting “authentic” experiences you can have!). So relax — and don’t overthink it or worry. After all, you’re going to Italy!

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8 Responses to What Do I Pack For My Trip to Italy?

  1. Anne Golembeski July 1, 2011 at 11:56 pm #

    As soon as I hit Italy in May I purchased a small hairdryer. It’s 220v and lightweight. I was going to leave it somewhere but just decided to keep it for my next trip. The hotel hairdryers are not powerful enough to dry hair.

    Washcloth. Most European hotels do not provide washcloths. It’s a must have for me to wash my face so I bring a couple along with plastic ziplock bags to put them in.

    Don’t take dressy pieces! Buy them there! I bought shoes and jewelry for a wedding we were attending. My husband bought a tie and shoes. Why lug your stuff back and forth when you can buy new and have a great reminder of your visit?

  2. Terri July 4, 2011 at 7:55 pm #

    My daughter and I went to Italy in 2007 for two weeks. I went to a local “how to pack lightly” workshop given by a lady who jumps the pond quite often for business. Daughter and I took one carry-on each, our purses, and one empty duffel for carrying home gifts and souvenirs. It worked out great! Tips for others:
    1) Remember you can wash clothes. Remember that you won’t be seeing the same people. Bring a few outfits and leave the rest at home. You may get tired of wearing the same thing, but you didn’t come for that reason, did you? Concentrate on the scenery and the people.
    2) Handkerchiefs. I will never travel again without at least three of them. They are good for so many things: wiping sweat, wrapping stuff, tying things together, washcloth, clean-up rag, bandage. I even saw a man tie knots in the corners and make himself a hat to protect himself from the sunshing at St. Peter’s.
    3) Buy clothing that coordinates. You can get by with fewer pieces.
    4) Europeans don’t wear their gym shoes for everyday walking. We went in the summer, and I took a pair of sandals, some flip-flops for communal shower areas and beaches, and that was about it.
    5) Buy extra memory chips for your camera. Then you won’t feel constrained in your photo taking.
    6) My daughter and I brought along a travel Scrabble game. We ended up using that game more than I thought I would. Usually at airports or on the plane.
    7) If you’re looking at a long plane flight, search the travel catalogs (I like Magellan) for items. I found a blow-up cushion (not many breaths needed) for my back. Since I was stuck in a bad seat on a 10 hour flight, that back cushion saved my life! And since it was inflatable, it packed neatly into my one carry-on.

    There are other tips I learned, but that’s enough to get your started! Bon voyage!

  3. Alicia March 26, 2013 at 8:24 pm #

    Where is the above beach/water picture taken? We really want to go to the beach, but our travel agent said there aren’t any great beaches. Obviously they are mistaken as that photo looks fabulous!

    THANK YOU!
    Alicia

    • walksofitaly March 27, 2013 at 4:59 pm #

      Hi Alicia,
      Haha—that’s too funny! The picture here was taken in Puglia, at a small cove right outside (within walking distance of) the town of Monopoli. Puglia is just one area of Italy famous for its coastline; Calabria, Sardinia and Sicily are, as well. That said, what your travel agent may be thinking of is that some regions in Italy that foreigners *think* have great beaches, like the Amalfi coast, actually don’t—the beaches tend to be very small and rocky. So head to Puglia instead!
      Let us know if you have any other questions!

  4. Laura April 8, 2013 at 1:04 am #

    I just got back from my first trip to Italy, and can add a couple of ideas. I would recommend bringing a nylon raincoat that you can wear as a regular jacket or coat. I wore mine for my whole trip and it was perfect with a scarf for cooler days and also when it rained, of course, which was almost every day. (I was there in early April.) Also, a purse-sized container of Tums was very welcome several times, and I’m not sure how easy it would be to find such a thing at a shop there. One thing I wish I had brought was a travel alarm clock since my cell phone didn’t work there for the time as I thought it might. Also, bring thousands and thousands of dollars to buy all the cool leather goods and other things you’ll find. Well, I wish I had been able to do that one, also! :-)

  5. Charlie Kelly April 14, 2014 at 4:35 pm #

    More importantly, you have to pack your sense of adventure! Come on! This is what traveling is all about.

    I agree. Leave the stress at home. You can find it everywhere you go, so do your best to leave that behind.

    We love Italy. We love travel. But most importantly, we have to love ourselves and just make these adventures happen!

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