What to Pack for Italy

Shawn Forno

Whether you’re flitting off to Rome for a long weekend or cruising from Florence to Venice on a Vespa, packing for Italy is surprisingly simple. All you have to do is travel light and look fantastic all the time. No sweat, right?

In all seriousness, I lived in Rome for a year, and I’ve traveled back to Italy several times since then for extended trips from Sicily in the south, to Lago di Como in the north. I’ve driven a rental car through Tuscany, a Vespa across most of the country, I’ve ridden the rails to Pompei, hiked Vesuvius in Sicily, driven over the alps, waded through flooded streets in Venice, hiked Cinque Terra, and of course took my fair share of Leaning Tower of Pisa photo(bomb)s. If there’s one thing that I’ve learned from my many trips to Italy it’s this—less really is more.

Bring the bare minimum you think you’ll need. After a few days, you’ll be grateful you kept your packing list to a carry on.

What to Pack For Italy: Packing Rules

We all know there are no rules, right? Except those applied to the size of your carry on bag by the airline. But if there were rules, and I could write them, there would only be three:

Choose the Right Luggage

And what, pray tell, is the right luggage? I’m glad you ask. Nothing with wheels: Venice threatened to outlaw wheeled luggage a few years ago. They didn’t, but they should have. Nothing bigger than a carry on. I’ve you’ve stepped off a train in Termini Station with a big-ass roller bag, a carry on, and your daypack, you know what I’m talking about. No. Just no. Big, drag around style luggage is not for Italy. It’s just not. Leave it at home. Travel lighter.

A backpack is really the only way to travel in Italy. You’re going to be on and off of trains. You’ll be wandering streets of very beautiful but very roughly paved villages. Packing in a bag that is properly designed to make the weight you’re carrying comfortable, is made of waterproof fabric, and has a sleek, low profile design is going to improve your carry experience immensely. The Outbreaker 45 is perfect for a luxurious trip to Italy with plenty of space left over. If you’re planning to fly around Europe on budget airlines, then the Outbreaker 35 is a better choice.

    Leave Room for Souvenirs

    I’m not a “souvenir” kind of guy, yet every time I visit Italy I bring home a backpack that’s bursting at the seams. Why? Because Italy is amazing. You absolutely don’t want to cram your bag full of your own clothes, because you’re gonna bring stuff home with you. If you don’t, I’m not sure you did Italy right. Leave room in your bag for Italy to fill.

    Worried about packing in a carry on and still having room for souvenirs? Pack the Outbreaker duffle flat and empty inside your carry on and use this as your overflow bag, it’s the perfect size for a personal item on your flight home, so you should still be able to get home without checking a bag.

    If this is your first trip to Italy, you absolutely allocated space for cheesy souvenirs. Buy that apron that makes you look the statue of David. Get that “penne” pasta for your roommate (you know what I’m talking about). Bring back a few bottles of your favorite wine and open them at your next dinner party. You can regale your friends with your best Tuscan sunset story as you bury your nose in the bouquet of tannic flavors.

    Even, if you’ve been to Italy a few times, you’ll still want to bring back mementos of your time there—in fact, you’ll likely bring back even more stuff than a first time tourist. And that’s ok. No matter what time of year you visit, why you’re there, or how many times you go back, Italy is always incredible. You will never get tired of this paradoxical country that’s both firmly rooted in the ancient world yet so hip it almost hurts.

    Bring a Few Pieces of Quality Gear

    A few items of well made gear can transform your travel experience to Italy. I recommend investing in a nice outer layer that keeps you warm without taking up a ton of space, at least one good pair of travel pants, and shoes that you can rely on. If you build your packing list around three or four foundation pieces of travel gear or attire, the rest is easy. Plus, you can cut corners on stuff like t-shirts an tank tops, if you know you’ve got a great jacket for chilly nights, or one pair of travel underwear that can take the place of three budget pairs.

    You don’t have to break the bank, but a few good pieces can go the distance in Italy. Now onto the Italy packing list.

    Italy Carry On Packing List: The Necessities

    Here are a few non-negotiable items that should always find their way into your backpack for practically any Italian excursion.

    Tortuga Daypack ($99)

    Spoiler alert: The theme of this Italy packing list is “You will walk a lot.”

      Every day of your Italian vacation will be a scrambled version of this:

      • Wake up
      • Gather your camera, jacket, money, passport, and snacks into your day bag
      • Walk around for hours
      • Eat
      • Walk
      • Drink
      • Walk
      • Eat
      • Selfie
      • Walk
      • Sit
      • Walk
      • Sleep

      You’ll have your daypack with you most of the time in Italy, and that’s totally ok. A great daypack makes all the difference between a miserable tourist and a competent traveler, so find one that actually fits you, that can take a little rain, and that packs down into your carry on (for traveling on trains etc.).

      Lightweight Jacket or Travel Blazer

      Italians really do look good all the time, and a large part of that is their outer layers. Your performance fleece won’t cut it in Italy, and honestly, the weather is mild enough most of the year that you don’t really need to insulate against extreme conditions. You best bet is a stylishly cut lightweight jacket or travel blazer.

      I’ve been rocking the Bluffworks Slim Fit Gramercy Travel Blazer ($295), and it’s pretty much the perfect Italian travel jacket.

      Stylish enough for happy hour, it’s still functional with pockets for my passport, and sunglasses. If that’s too rich for your blood, Uniqlo makes a great ultralight down jacket ($69) that packs into a little easy carry sack. If you’re lucky you can even snag one on sale from time to time for $9.

      A good coat or blazer with a few good pockets can replace your day bag when you’re strolling the cobblestone streets of the Old World, and honestly, it’s nice to ditch the backpack every now and then feel like a local. Toss your copy of The Unbearable Lightness of Being in one pocket and head down to the cafe for an afternoon of coffee, Aperol, and authentic Italian life. You’ll be glad you did.

      Ladies, the same goes for you, a well cut tailored jacket will make you feel like Sophia Lauren. A stylish jean jacket, or lightweight leather (keep reading) will take you from sightseeing to dinner and beyond.

      Comfy, (yet fashionable) Shoes

      You will walk in Italy. A lot. One of the best parts of visiting Italy is roaming the streets and exploring out of the way cafes and bistros. When I lived in Rome I routinely walked over the Tiber River from St. Peter’s Basilica to the Colosseum several times a week instead of taking the 12 minute subway ride. Did it take an hour? Yup. Was it worth every second? Absolutely.

      Pack a pair of shoes that fit well, match most of what you’ve packed, and can take a pounding on cobblestones. Seriously, the streets are rough. A nice pair of flat sneakers is a great choice, and boat shoes look and perform well. As comfortable as they are, espadrilles (aka “Toms”) and sandals don’t travel particular well in Italy. Get something with a little sturdier sole.

      Bluffworks Chino Travel Pants ($125)

      Obviously you don’t need to pack five pairs of pants for a trip to Rome in July, but you should always pack at least one, preferably two pairs, of nice travel pants for any Italian trip. Italians dress well when they go out for dinner, drinks, or even just grocery shopping.

      A nice pair of slim fit travel pants, like Bluffworks Travel Chino (Harvest Gold looks so dang fresh) can seamlessly transition from a museum tour to sophisticated happy drinks and dinner without having to head back to your hostel or hotel to change. Spontaneity is the name of the game in Italy. If you always look good and feel comfortable, you’ll be prepared for your plans to change at a moments notice. And they will.

      The same goes for my female friends. Pack that pair of pants that makes you feel like you belong in Italy. Or, pack a long, elegant skirt that can be dressed up or dressed down. The power of the classics isn’t lost on Italy. Elegant will blend right in.

      Travel Shorts

      That being said, pants aren’t always the way to go when you’re walking around town. A nice light pair of travel shorts, complete with stash pockets, is essential. I honestly never buy shorts. I just wait til Uniqlo jeggings go on sale, then I cut them into shorts. They’re amazing. If that’s not your speed, find a pair of shorts with at least one zippered pocket, because Italy is crazy about its coins.

      Ministry of Culture Hip Pouch ($35)

      Most American wallets and purses aren’t equipped to deal with coins, but Italy runs on coins. You’ll get used to the the constant small transactions with coins, from cappuccinos in the morning, to Aperol in the afternoon and wine at night. Get used to carrying coins, because you won’t be able to use large bills (and by large, I mean €20 bills) all that often. Slap your coins onto that wacky little curved plastic plate thing at the counter and look like an Italian, if only for a few seconds.

      Italy packing list

      I started traveling with this little hip pouch that cyclists use to keep things handy that are a little too big for your pocket. It’s surprisingly useful, and juuuuuuust misses looking like a fanny pack, which is crucial. Seriously, I don’t travel without this thing anymore.

      Italy Packing List: Summer

      Despite the Mediterranean breeze, Italy gets hot in the summer. In fact, I don’t recommend that people visit in July and August, but hey—that’s just me. If you plan a trip to Italy in the summer, make sure you’re prepared for the elements or you’ll be worn out before you see even a tenth of what you planned.

      Sun Bum SPF 70 Sunscreen ($9)

      If there’s one thing you should take away from this packing list, it’s that you will walk a lot in Italy. You’ll walk through museums, ancient ruins. You’ll walk to get lunch. Then dinner. Or drinks. And coffee. And gelato. Walking is the national pastime, so be prepared for the summer heat. Slap a little SPF 70 on your nose, forehead, neck, and shoulders before you leave every morning and you’ll be in great shape. Sun Bum makes a great TSA friendly travel tube that you can toss in your day bag for reapplication on the go.

      Buff Scarf ($16)

      If you really insist on visiting Italy in the summer, pack a Buff neck scarf. This versatile little accessory transforms into literally dozens of configurations that can be worn as a scarf, headband, hair tie, hat, beanie, bracelet, eye mask and more. In the summer I dip my Buff in the water fountains and numerous spigots that dot the streets of cities like Rome and Florence. A damp neckerchief will do a lot to keep you cool on sweltering summer days.

      Bonus: If you rent a Vespa in Florence (and you should), your Buff makes a GREAT road scarf to cover your mouth. Trust me.

      Any Hat (Except a Fedora)

      You need to cover up when you’re out in the sun all day. I’m not gonna tell you what hat to wear, because you’re an adult, and everyone’s head is different, but if you can pull it off, wear a hat. Not a fedora, though. Never a fedora.

      Tank Tops

      People think layers are just for the winter, but I like layering for a sweaty, hot days as well. If you wear a tank top as your base layer followed by a light t-shirt or linen button up shirt, you can adjust for colder museums and dining throughout the day. Italy can be a little conservative at times, so I don’t recommend a tank top for all occasions, but tank tops are my preferred top for walking tours and long hikes.

      Linen Shirt

      I just mentioned a linen shirt, but it’s worth repeating. Linen shirts travel well, breathe in the heat, and look great—an Italian trifecta. You can find a men’s short sleeve linen shirts at H&M for as little as $9, and women’s linen shirts for $13. Linen rules.

      Lightweight, Basic T-Shirts

      T-shirts with basic patterns, simple stripes, or solid colors are the best way to blend in in Italy. Lightweight cotton blends and V-necks pack well and look great. I always pack a few generic basic t-shirts to wear during the trip, and leave behind if I find any great souvenirs. You want a little flexibility in your pack, and a great way to do that is with disposable t-shirts.

      Italy Packing List: Winter

      Italy can get cold, ask Hannibal. However, snow isn’t especially common outside of the northern mountain ranges near Lake Como and the Dolomites, so you don’t need to pack for the snowpocalypse if you’re visiting Italy in autumn or winter. Here are a few great items for the Italian winter.

      Wool Cap

      A fashionable woolen cap (beanie, toque) is all you need to stay warm and look hip as hell. I always pack a wool cap to use as an blackout curtain/eye mask on flights, but it’s great for chilly windy days walking the streets of Rome.

      J. Crew Lightweight Puffy Coat ($180)

      This lightweight puffer jacket is one of the pieces of “quality gear” I recommend. I swear by this little travel jacket. It’s incredibly light, yet keeps me warm even here in New York City winters. It’s water resistant, packs down to nothing, and the zip up pockets (including a handy chest zipper pocket) are great for keeping your gloves and hat organized when you step into a cafe to get out of the winter weather.

      Chukka Boots

      A trip to Italy during the winter is one of the few times that I would ever recommend a pair of lightweight boots. Let me be clear; I never recommend hiking boots, especially not in Italy. However, a stylish pair of chukka boots will keep your socks dry during the occasional drizzle, yet they’re light enough and comfortable enough for a day of exploring.

      North Coast “Shacket” 2.0 ($150)

      If you’re not hip to the “shacket” crazy, don’t panic. This hybrid travel/outdoor clothing is just what it sounds like—a shirt that’s thick enough, and warm enough to stand-in as a jacket. Shirt-jackets are usually quilted or lined with some type of smartwool fabric, which makes them perfect for fall/winter travel to Italy.

      Outlier OG Climbers ($198)

      I’m a rock climber, biker, and hiker, so even though I’m a huge fan of city life in Italy, I like to get out there and mix it up a little bit. These travel pants are comfortable enough for all day walking tours, stretchy enough for bouldering in the Dolomites, and yet still fashionable enough for drinks and dancing.

      Seriously, these are great sturdy pants for winter travel in the city or the country.

      For more travel pants, including budget options, see the full travel pants review.

      Italian Carry On Packing List: Things You Can Buy in Italy

      Don’t be scared off by the Euro exchange rate. Italy is a shopper’s paradise. You can buy everything from quality leather jackets to convincing knock off designer bags and name brand sunglasses all for a reasonable price in Rome, Florence, and Milan. I dare you not to try on a leather jacket and think, “I can pull this off.” I double dare you.

      Sunglasses

      Don’t pack your own shades. Sunglass stands are everywhere, and they’re super cheap. You can get a pair of “Ray-Bans” for €2 at any street vendor.

      Leather Jacket

      Seriously. Buy a leather jacket. You’ll never wear it once you get back home, but everyone has to make this mistake at least once.

      Sunscreen

      If you don’t opt for a travel sized sunscreen tube, pop into any farmacia (the shop with the illuminated green cross sign) and pick up some sunscreen for a few euro.

      Leather Boots

      See: Leather Jacket

      TL;DR

      The key to the perfect Italian vacation is a light, simple, functional carry on bag. Pack clothes that mix and match well and that layer for cool days and heat waves. As long as you look good, you’ll be more than ready for anything Italy can throw your way.

      • Clean and simple is always best
      • A good pair of travel pants goes a long way
      • Wear comfortable shoes—you’re gonna need ’em!
      • Get a day bag that actually want to use
      • Leave room for souvenirs—you can buy anything you need once you get to Italy