Traveling to Italy is an experience that combines romance, history, and culture all in a tiny package. With so much to see and taste, the last thing you want while you’re there is to be weighed down by a poorly packed, heavy bag. Your final Italy packing checklist will greatly depend on the time of year you’ll be visiting: spring is mild and summer is quite warm; autumn can be rainy and winters get chilly, with chances of snow in the north. Then there’s also region to take into consideration: Milan is notoriously fashion-forward, whereas visitors in Rome or Venice should be more concerned with dressing properly for full days of walking around. Here are our tips on what to pack for Italy to make the most of your Bel Paese getaway.
I have to start off by saying that travel with hand luggage only. Intercontinental or weekend, my bag is always cabin size. I have been traveling this way for years now. It can be done, people. As an example, I attended a wedding overseas, with different rehearsal dinner and ceremony outfits. And said trip also included ttravel to two opposite climates. I managed to make all that fit in a small trolley that slid easily in the overhead bin on the plane.
I’m not asking you to go hand luggage cold turkey, but do consider packing light and keeping it down to 1 suitcase. Not lugging around a mammoth suitcase makes travel so much more enjoyable. Apply the pack light, shop later: so if you take your suitcase one-third empty, you’ll have room for locally purchased clothes and souvenirs. Even if you have some extra space left in your suitcase, it’s wise to bring a packable duffel bag as well.
Bright colors and shorts scream, “Tourist!”, but in the hot Italian summer, bare skin may seem the only way to go. Do bear in mind that Italians are always stylish and like to look good, even in 100 degree weather. Slacks and skirts work well in Italy’s mild climate. Shirts and blouses plus tops with short sleeves and cotton/wool sweaters give you layering flexibility. One good dark cardigan is worth a hundred hoodies.
A reminder: most of the historic churches (think, St Peter’s Basilica in Rome and the stacked cathedrals in Assisi) require that knees and shoulders be covered.
Pack cotton undergarments that can be hand-washed in the hotel/BnB sink using the complementary bubble bath/shampoo. Leave La Perla for another time.
Heading to the beach? Swimwear, sarongs, wide-brimmed straw hats and floral print kaftans will make you blend in with the locals.
Visiting Italy in winter? Pack one good heavy coat, faux fur or parka, plus a scarf, wool beanie and gloves. Bring at least 2 sweaters and a pair of jeans and warm leggings for the ladies, corduroys for the gents. Layer including long johns if you’re planning an Alpine vacation.
Pack two pairs of broken-in, good waterproof walking shoes for the cobblestone streets, ancient, uneven sidewalks and hills that you will find in every major Italian destination. If you plan to hike in Cinque Terre, Amalfi Coast or on Mt Etna, you should consider bringing reliable hiking boots. In summer you can throw in a pair of flats and/or sandals, and one pair of dress shoes for a special evening, but I would leave heels and flipflops at home. Boots go a long way in the colder months. Properly treated uggs can double as après ski.
I always travel with a lightweight backpack in my luggage to carry my camera, water bottle and portable electronics. Stash a mini-umbrella in your suitcase, you’ll never regret it. Most hotels, aibnb’s and guesthouses provide in-room hairdryers; otherwise, pack your hair appliances but remember to pack appropriate outlet adapters and transformers. American electrical current is 110 volts at 60 hertz, while in Italy, it’s 220 volts at 50 hertz. Don’t forget that your cell phone, tablet and camera battery chargers need adapters too.
If you feel you need to secure your cash and documents on your body while sightseeing, consider purchasing a money belt. Other items that will come in handy are a clothesline with pegs, pocket size hand sanitizer, small zip lock bags a mini first-aid kit.
The Italian sunshine is bright and warm, even in the winter. Remember your sunglasses!
I carry a folded, lightweight poncho with a hood in a pouch for unexpected rain in my handbag all year round. In summer a sunhat or a baseball cap are a must. A large lightweight silk/pashmina scarf can serve as neck wear or a head wrap. It doubles as a blanket on planes and trains and covers shoulders on chilly evenings when dining al fresco. Include a raincoat or a puffy vest that reduces to the size of a softball if you’ll be traveling to Italy in the fall.
Toiletries are expensive in Italy and travel minis are not that easy to find, so think ahead and bring your own in a small clear bag that will keep them organized and visible during security checks at the airport. I use a ziploc bag, which protects my other things in case of spills.
Chances are you’ll be doing a lot of walking in Italy. To deal with potential blisters, bring bandages and/or moleskin.
Sunscreen! There’s nothing quite like sunburn to put a dent in your Roman Holiday. If you’re not checking a bag, or think you’ll need more than the carry-on allowed 3 oz, plan to buy some when you arrive at an erboristeria (natural products are better).
Do I need to remind you to remember to pack your passport and other travel papers, including insurance?
The most important item to leave at home is stress.
Don’t stress about traveling and packing. Italy isn’t the wilderness. Almost anything you forget – aside from prescription meds and ID – you can buy here. Plus, hitting up to the local drugstore and department store can be one of the most fun experiences you can have, trust us. No worries, you’re going to Italy!
Eleonora Baldwin is a TV host, freelance food and travel writer, and culinary connoisseur based in Rome, Italy. Her writing appears in several food and travel publications. Her shows “ABCheese” and “Uazz’america” are broadcast on Italian food network Gambero Rosso Channel. Her podcast “iCheese” is recorded live on the Radio Food Live network.