When you’ve been planning trips to Italy as long as we have, you can bet that one of the most frequently asked questions to frantically pop up in our inboxes is this one: “What the farfalle should I pack for Italy???”
A carry-on? What about shoes? Should I bring my jewelry? My hairdryer? What about…
Oh yes, lovely — we hear you.
Once that plane ticket to Italy has been booked, the planning doesn’t stop (pro tip: our up-to-date city guides make it a whole lot easier), including when you’re staring at your overflowing closet, multiple Samsonite suitcases on the bed, and wanting to haul everything abroad with with you… for a week-long trip.
We can almost feel those anxious vibrations flowing across the keyboards into our inbox in these emails, and we know it’s because our travelers have scoured Google, searched forums and asked their friends for a handy-dandy tell-me-what-to-do guide. But the second guessing continues.
You just want someone to give you the cold, hard parmigiano reggiano facts, prestissimo.
We’re here to give you that clarity. After decades of working, living and vacationing in Italy, we’ve got packing down to an art. Da Vinci himself would be proud!
What to Pack in Italy: The Luggage
Ah, every pro packer’s dilemma: to travel with just a carry-on or a big ol’ suitcase?
Before we share our two cents, know that there are two types of travelers. Those who pack light, and those who wish they did.
Be realistic. How much weight are you willing to lug around? For all the kind strangers who might offer to help, you will still have to handle all your luggage by yourself at some point, so don’t pack more than you can physically and comfortably carry.
The way we see it, you’ve got two reasonable choices:
Option 1: Carry-on Only
We always encourage our people to pack as light as possible, so traveling with just a carry-on is a great way to go. More on that below.
Remember, you can always buy another piece of luggage while you’re there to check on your return flight (it’s very common — our clients do this regularly!).
Why just a carry-on? We dread getting our luggage lost by the airlines. This eliminates that possibility.
Option 2: Checked Luggage.
For this option, travel with a medium-sized suitcase, like this one. Not too little, and not too big, it’ll allow you to pack a little extra if you like to have your bases covered, or to travel with some room for bringing back some special Italian goodies. To clarify, don’t bring two suitcases. Either Option 1 or 2 will ensure you can travel with everything in one hand.
Take it from us — dragging around more than one suitcase (especially up one of Riomaggiore’s never-ending flights of stairs, in the summer heat, in sandals) is a freakin’ nightmare. Between bumping along cobblestoned streets and trying to get onto your train to Florence, a single piece will be all you want to handle.
The Loophole We Love
I’m obsessed with this item: a briefcase-style bag with a loop on the back. The loop can slide over the handle of your luggage, so you can still maneuver everything with one hand — the little hitchhiker on top just gives you more flexibility. Flight attendants and pilots travel with a combination like this. It’s the BEST way to go.
While you’re actually flying, that briefcase-style bag will act as your “purse” and will go under your seat. You’ll have all you need for your long-haul flight and it’ll pass security ‘cause it’s your “personal bag.” Plus, you can stash all your documents and any electronics you’ll want on your flight inside that baby. It’ll make you feel seriously organized. Your actual purse can be packed in your luggage.
The style above is this bag, but there are many less expensive ones around too. I personally carry a seriously functional Samsonite briefcase and I adore my ugly duckling because of all the compartments inside. I travel for work so I need more zips and cord pockets than the average person, but if you prefer practical to pretty, this will do the trick.
Now, let’s dig into that pile of summer shorts and bathing suits currently strewn across your bedroom…
We are huge fans of the mix ‘n’ match, capsule-wardrobe approach to packing. Whether you’re making your way through Rome, Venice, Florence or the Cinque Terre, you can efficiently dress for ‘em all — if you do it right.
The mix ‘n’ match lets you get the most out of the tried-and-true pieces you know you’ll wear, and leaves you with some room to throw in those special extras that you can feel really amazing in (this may inspire you).
For a week-long summer trip to Italy, we recommend mixing up these vacation staples:
- To keep warm — A light sweater or jacket with long sleeves that’s small enough to throw in your day purse so you can enter churches respectfully or keep warm should you run into a (rare) rainy day.
- To stay active — An outfit suitable for hiking (cropped pants/shorts + tank top/t-shirt) if you plan to do any (like in the Cinque Terre).
- To dress up — An outfit or two for dining out. This could be a combination of items to mix and match throughout the week. There’s no right or wrong way to plan what these will be — do what works for you. Try to pick transitional pieces (day to night).
- To stroll — Put together a daytime cruisin’ outfit for each day you’ll be away. Include a bathing suit (or two), sunglasses, hat and small beach towel for coastal vacations.
And let’s not forget le scarpe (aka how many shoes you really need)…
- For daytime — A pair that you can walk in comfortably for the day (sandals with a good cushion, casual sneakers, leather loafers, whatever your common sense and personal style dictate).
- For evenings — Bring a pair that you’ll love wearing out to dinner, like flats, low heels, or sandals. Word to the wise: Know where you’re going. You’ll find you won’t be as tempted to wear very high heels and overly fancy shoes as you think you will before you leave.
- For the home base — Flip flops/thongs for the beach and hotel.
The Essentials – Beyond Carry-On
Do not leave home without these four things and reading through this additional guide. Yes, they’re the *boring* ones, but your trip can turn sour quickly if you overlook any of them.
1. Your passport
Make sure the expiration date is at least six months after your departure date. Photocopy your passport twice, bring one copy with you, and leave one copy at home with a friend or family member.
2. Medical insurance
Purchase or ensure you have medical insurance coverage for the time you’ll be outside your country of residence. We know you’re thinking, “How risky could lying on the beach in Cinque Terre be?” But don’t be that person who decided to wing it.
3. Two credit cards
Carry one credit card as a backup (if possible) that you leave at your hotel, and a bank card or two for ATM withdrawal. Avoid any purchasing hassles by calling your bank before you leave to let them know you’re traveling (sometimes credit card companies will suspend usage if they see international transactions, which can seem suspicious).
We don’t want to see you sobbing into that vintage Valentino handbag you discovered in Venice, swearing that your credit card is legit when it keeps getting declined by a huffy storekeeper.
Importante: Buy a two-prong continental European adaptor for any electronics you bring with you, and make sure your gadgets are dual voltage. You’ll need a power converter too for the ones that aren’t.
Avoid weighing yourself down with a hairdryer, if possible. All hotels in Italy have them.
Bringing your cell phone? Get an international data plan instead of relying on wifi — it can be oh so spotty. Bring a portable modem if you’re a control freak and will panic if you have no interwebs (I have two, which gives you an idea of how chill I am about being unexpectedly disconnected).
The Secret Helpers and Packing Buzzkills
If there’s anything that will elevate you to pro-packing status, it’s these accoutrements:
- Day bag: Imagine the type of bag that you’ll want to carry around all day. Is it a daypack or a lightweight cloth shoulder bag? Whatever your personal style dictates, make sure it’s roomy enough to be a versatile “carry all” for day hikes, toting gear to the beach, or shopping in the city. There are lots of packable options out there, so opt for something light and throw it in your luggage before you leave. In a pinch you can even use this as a second checked luggage on the way home, ‘cause, yeah, you shopped.
- Packing cubes: Seriously, they will revolutionize the way you pack. They keep everything in your bag organized, easy to access and best of all, compressed. (More space for those vintage Italian market finds!) I don’t leave home without mine.
- A folding garment bag: If you’re allergic to wrinkles, these are super handy. And there’s a law in Italy that won’t allow irons in hotel rooms, so it’ll save you begging the staff to press your things.
- Empty space: For special treasures you’ll be dying to take home, like a jar of pesto for your best friend, or a 2006 Chianti for your next dinner party. If you can’t get the zipper closed before you’ve even left home, you’ll need to rethink your packing.
And items you absolutely do not need to pack with you in Italy are:
- Heavy, impractical shoes — Leave the chunky wedges and the very high heels at home, and opt for simple, timeless styles that are comfortable and pretty.
- Anything that isn’t fully replaceable — You could lose anything, at any time. Make sure everything you bring is replaceable with money. In other words, no family heirlooms.
More suggestions on what to leave at home here.
At the end of the day, it’s not what goes in your carry-on that really matters — it’s your attitude. No amount of packing tips can cure a crappy outlook, and don’t be whining about packing either! You’re lucky you are able to do this at all — not everyone can.
Need more tips on how to prepare before your vacation to Italy? Check out
Now, over to you.
Tell us the one thing that’s been keeping you up at night while you’ve been Googling about what to pack for Italy?
Share your most pressing packing questions in the comments below and we’ll help you out.
Are you interested in travelling Italy with us on a day trip?
We’d love to meet you!