Are you going to Italy and want to know what to pack? This is a list of the things I found useful during my own trips to Italy, as well as tips about what to leave at home
Castel Sant’Angelo, Rome © Miwok
It’s easy to believe that Italy has it all – cities that look like museums, over 2,000 years of historic culture, a highly-evolved food culture, and stunning landscapes and coastlines. There are so many reasons to fall deeply in love. Here is my comprehensive packing list to help you get the most from your Italian affair.
Preparing For Your Trip To Italy
Some of the most crucial things you need for an Italian adventure won’t be in your luggage. These are the essentials to sort before you even think of packing.
- Flight Ticket – Book all of your flights well in advance of your chosen departure. Print out all tickets – you might be asked to show a return ticket at the airport. Ticket prices tend to cost more closer to departure date, so it’s best to compare flights with a site like Skyscanner and book about three months in advance.
- Bus and Train Tickets – If you want to travel around the country, you can also save money by booking buses and coaches (or boats) in advance.
- The Trainline is a reliable service for both trains and coaches in Italy. You can do pretty much everything you need on the phone app too.
- For more ambitious travel, consider Interrail Passes for EU nationals or the non-EU visitors equivalent.
- Major routes for coaches are covered by the Italy Pass or the Eurolines Pass if you want to cross over into other countries.
- Accommodation – The same rules apply to getting somewhere to stay as buying a flight – prices and availability will be cheaper if you book in advance. Booking.com can help you find the best prices.
- Passport – Check your passport doesn’t expire for at least six months and has plenty of blank pages. A passport cover will protect it from wear and tear – a friend of mine recently damaged the chip in his. It’s also useful to keep key documents to hand whilst in transit.
- Do I Need A Visa For Italy? – EU citizens, Americans, Australians, and Canadians do NOT need a visa for less than 90 days in Italy. Go to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs visa page for full details and other nationalities.
What Do You Need To Pack For Italy?
You can get pretty much anything you need in Italian shops and markets, for prices similar to the UK or the USA, so the best advice is to always pack less. You’ll never be far away from big supermarket chains like Carrefour, which are open 24 hours in the bigger cities, as well as on Sundays and public holidays.
- You Won’t Need Toiletries – You can get everything like tampons, deodorant, toothpaste, shampoo, soap, razors, condoms, and loo roll in a branch of deSpar or Upim, or anywhere with a ‘farmacia’ sign outside. You should be relatively untroubled by travel illness like diarrhoea, but treatments for this are also easily available over the counter – see section below.
What Clothes To Pack For Italy
Stretching from the Alpine north down to the centre of the balmy Mediterranean, the weather and climate in Italy will depend very much on where you are and the time of year you travel. Pack clothes accordingly.
The best strategy is to use layers in preparation for the unexpected. If you’re travelling for a week or longer, bring at least four day’s worth of clothing. You can do laundry twice a week and always have a spare outfit in reserve. Clothes are a big part of Italian culture, so it’s very easy to replace anything you’ve forgotten to pack or if you want something to dress up in.
- Lower Body – Get some good-quality shorts, trousers, or skirts, that can cope with everyday travel and frequent washing. Go lightweight options from May to September, or if you’re travelling exclusively from Rome southwards. Choose warmer materials for trips north of Rome, from autumn through to spring.
- If you plan to spend time in the countryside during the summer, pack a pair of light-weight trousers to protect against tick-borne diseases.
- Shorts with sturdy zipper pockets help protect valuables.
- Simple, durable and comfortable clothing is best for colder times of year. Pack a pair or two of jeans is the most versatile solution.
- Upper body – Layers will help you improvise around different temperatures and weather conditions.
- A few light t-shirts are all you’ll need for the sweltering summers, then add a couple of light long-sleeved tops for when things turn chilly. Under Armor t-shirts stay dry and light. Cover your arms if you’re in the country during the summer.
- A warm, waterproof coat or jacket is essential during the winter. Wear it on the plane to cut down on packing.
- Base layer tops and thermal tights will keep you warm for trips to northern cities like Milan in the colder months. Try Duofold’s crew neck base layer tops for men. Duofold also makes thermal shirts for women that don’t add too much bulk to an outfit.
- Underwear – Under Armor underwear, while expensive, is a great way to keep cool in the heat , especially recommended if you’re doing a lot of physical activity. Another tip for chafing is to apply lubricant jelly, like KY Jelly, to your tender zones.
- Footwear – Bring good footwear to keep your feet comfortable and in good condition. Scan Amazon for the best deals on men’s walking shoes and quality hiking footwear for women.
- Get socks that give your toes plenty of protective padding.
- Consider some lightweight, breathable Keen CNX hiking shoes for summer. They feel better than sandals and offer more protection.
- Make sure your trainers or sneakers are well ventilated, otherwise you’ll get blisters, heat rash, and smelly feet.
- Waterproof Jacket – Make sure yourjacket or coat is fully waterproofed, essential if you travel during the colder, wetter times of year. I carry a convenient ‘cag in a bag’ in case of sudden downpour.
- Summer Accessories – If you’re travelling in the hottest months and areas, get some decent sunglasses to screen out harmful rays. Look for quality sunglasses listed on Amazon to avoid spending too much. A cap is useful for keeping cool.
- Winter Accessories – Pack a scarf or two for winter months, at least one pair of gloves, and a nice warm hat.
- Swimwear – Italy has some gorgeous beaches and lakes. If you want to make a splash, make sure you pack good quality bikinis or trunks.
Health And Grooming Items To Pack For Italy
- Quick Dry Towel – Most accommodation with a shower will supply you with at least one towel, but it’s a good idea to bring your own, especially if you plan to swim or are staying in hostels. These towels are very lightweight and non-bulky, to minimise your travel load. I recommend Sunland towels – they are small enough to fit into luggage, reasonably priced, and very effective.
- Refillable Water Bottle – You should always stay hydrated while travelling, especially in the hot, dry south of Naples and Sicily. Fill up a water bottle so you always have a refreshing drink on hand. The Nalgene OTF is a great choice, with a clever lid technology for easy filling.
- Sunscreen and Insect Repellent – The Italian summer can be brutally hot, even in Rome. Make sure you use sunscreen at the first sign of the sun. Neutrogena SPF 45 Drytouch Sunscreen is water resistant for up to 80 minutes and absorbs into your skin instantly. Get some insect repellent from the city if you’re going to be out in the country or on the coast.
- Tissues – Keep some tissues within easy reach, for sneezes or mopping up a mess – gelato melts quickly in the heat. Hand sanitiser is surprisingly valuable too.
- Antihistamine tablets – I highly recommend antihistamines If you suffer from a pollen allergy or have a generally sensitive nose. I’ve found taking an antihistamine before a long flight also stops allergy symptoms brought on by recycled canned air. They are cheap and available without prescription.
- Moisturiser – Using face moisturiser on long flights – and generally whilst travelling – can do wonders for reviving your spirits at the end of a long day. I’ve started using posh brands like CeraVe Moisturizing Lotion and Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Cream. These genuinely feel better to me, though you may beg to differ.
- Ear Plugs – Ear plugs are essential for plane, train and bus journeys, or sharing a dorm room with a snorer – which can totally wreck a holiday.Moldex ear plugs are excellent and very cheap.
Electronic Devices To Pack For Italy
- Plug Adaptors – Most things I need to power have a USB cable. If there’s one within reach, you can pick a Koppla 3-port USB charger from a Italian branch of IKEA. Really handy.
- Italy mainly uses the same plug with two rounded pins as other European countries like Germany. Known as a ‘Type F’, it has grounding pins on the side. It shares the same 230V / 50 Hz power as the UK but if you’re travelling from the US, you might need an adaptor with a build-in voltage converter for things like hairdryers. Italy also uses the flatter, 3-pin plug, known as ‘Type L’, but these also fit the round, Type F sockets.
- The simplest solution is to get a universal power adaptor, preferably with surge protection.
- Cellphone – See below for bringing your phone to Italy. A few other things to consider:
- A strong, rugged phone case will save you from the inevitable rough and tumble of travel. Otterbox makes a range of Defender cases which withstand the damage so your mobile won’t have to.
- You’re less likely to be around a power source as you travel, so keep a fully-charged power bank in your day bag. My current favourite travel tool is RAVPower’s clever FileHub Plus. It’s an external battery, a wifi signal booster, and an over-the-air media/file server, when you hook it up to an SD card or USB drive.
- Make absolutely sure your travel insurance has comprehensive coverage for smartphone loss or damage. Travel insurance, by default, often only pays a certain limit for high-value items. World Nomads will let you pay a bit extra to insure specific items to their full value.
- Make sure you have cloud access to backup your photos and data. You could also copy valuable material to an SD or similar, then keep it somewhere safe. Or back everything up to a laptop if you have one with you.
- Don’t forget your phone charger!
- If your current handset is still locked to a provider, you could buy a cheap phone especially for the trip.
- Noise-cancelling headphones – As a more musical alternative to earplugs, get yourself a pair of noise-cancelling headphones. They cost a bit more but are worth it for long flights and bus journeys.
- Camera – If you’re looking to take a lot of photos and don’t want to overtax your phone’s battery, I’d recommend the Canon Powershot range which are compact, easy to use, and quite competitively priced.
- Kindle – A Kindle reading device can save you from boredom during inevitable delays in places like airports. They hold thousands of books on a lightweight device and won’t strain your eyes. Don’t forget your charger and cable!
Other Things To Pack For Italy
- Italian Phrasebook – English is widely spoken in Italian cities, but you will often find situations where people do not. Carry a phrasebook like the excellent ’Lonely Planet Italian Phrasebook’ to help you out, and be sure to learn at least a smattering of basic greetings and other useful phrases.
- Journal – I have a detailed journal from my first visit in Rome and Siena in 1993, stuffed with photos, descriptions, and other odds and ends. Any old journal will do – and Italians make some very nice stationery – but I love using Leuchtturm1917. They’re quite pricey but I think they’re worth the extra.
Other Documents To Prepare For A Visit To Italy
- Student Card – If you’re a student, under 30, or a teacher get an International Student Identity Card. This will give you a discount to many galleries and museums, as well as entitle you to other including guidebooks and STA travel.
- Driving Licence – You can use a foreign driving licence in Italy, as long as you are over 18 with insurance, registration, and passport. See the RAC website for details of additional items you’ll need in the vehicle.
- Document Scans – Take photos of your passport, credit cards, insurance, and any other important documents, then save them as JPEGs to an online account like Gmail, iCloud, or Dropbox. If you lose them, you’ll have copies on your phone or via an internet connection. Also keep a contacts list on your phone and in the cloud of things you may need in an emergency, like banks.
Luggage For A Visit To Italy
- Backpack or Suitcase – A comfortable backpack brand like Osprey will hold all your stuff without crippling you. See Amazon for bargain priced backpacks. You need to make sure the harness will support what you’re carrying – the weight should be on your hips rather than your shoulders – so it might be wise to try one in a shop before you buy.
- Travel Cubes – Investing in some travel cubes will save you time and hassle. By grouping all your luggage into three or four cubes, you can rapidly find what you’re looking for, rather than emptying a mess of clothes on the floor. You can do the same with Ziploc or even carrier bags. Get different colours to tell them apart.
- Wash Bag – A dedicated waterproof pack for your toiletries is invaluable. A well-designed one will give you access to exactly what you need rather than having to root through everything. Check it’s durable enough to contain any leakage if your toothpaste decides to explode. The Magictodoor travel kit is inexpensive and thoughtfully designed.
- Since airlines usually have a 100 mL limit on liquids, stash larger bottles in your hold luggage or transfer them into smaller containers and a transparent bag, to take on the plane.
- Luggage Locks – This inexpensive purchase is useful to keep your bags firmly safe from opportunistic meddling. If you are travelling from the USA, make sure they are TSA-approved locks.
- Travel Wallet – A good quality travel wallet helps keep your cash, cards, and important items tucked away. The Lewis N. Clark RFID Security Wallet is big enough for your passport and other essentials, but small enough to fit comfortably beneath your clothing.
Preparing Your Cellphone For Italy
Since 2017, EU citizens can, by law, use their existing phone and data plan in Italy. A quick call your phone provider will verify that your handset is ready for roaming and to find out what is considered fair usage or if there are any extra charges to avoid.
The situation for non-EU visitors is a bit harder to fathom, due to the dizzying array of packages and lack of clarity (or information in English). The main providers are TIM and Vodafone, with Wind and 3 (Tre) in the process of merging.
TIM generally has the best offers for tourists, with good, reliable 4G coverage. Over the last 12 months, I’ve heard people pay €10 for 10GB of data and a generous (but not unlimited) amount of domestic and international minutes – valid for 28 days. However, TIM’s confusing site is currently offering a much stingier 4GB for €20.
The best advice is to take your passport and unlocked phone into a TIM reseller and ask for their recommendations. You can find a TIM store using the map on their site. There is a completely different set of packages designed specifically for tourists, so make sure you understand what you have signed up for and don’t leave the shop until the phone is set up and working to your satisfaction. You may be charged a set-up fee. If this seems expensive, try to bargain or shop around first.
Italy's Ministries for Economic Development and for Culture recently launched an app to help people find wifi with a single login. The access points are still largely confined to the northern half of the country, but it’s a welcome move all the same. Full details, including download links, at the app’s official website.
The bigger cities all have an Apple store but the other international mainstay of free wifi Starbucks was still planning to open its first outlet in the home of coffee at time of writing.
Travel Insurance For Italy
It’s vital to full health coverage as part of your travel insurance, as well as the full range of activities you’ll be taking part in, and all expensive items like phones and cameras. Lonely Planet recommends World Nomads travel insurance, which can be bought immediately online.
Health Considerations For A Visit To Italy
- Medical Insurance – It’s absolutely vital that your insurance includes comprehensive medical cover. Additionally, EU citizens should apply online for a free European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). This gives holders exactly the same access to the health service (SSN) as an Italian citizen – reduced or free state-provided healthcare – and should take care of any immediate bureaucracy. The EHIC smartphone app which will guide you through the whole process.
- Non-EU travellers should have contact details of your insurance provider (such as World Nomads) and understand what they require of you before leaving for Italy. Contact them as soon as possible for advice and keep any receipts to claim against.
- For all medical emergencies, call 112 or 118 for an ambulance.
- Vaccinations – Italy is a safe country and it is generally enough to be up to date with your routine vaccinations and an annual flu shot. Get your doctor or nurse to give you the all clear about 6 weeks before travelling.
- If you are planning to hike or camp in the forest, you should also consider vaccination against tick-borne diseases, which carry a higher risk during the summer in rural areas. Prevention is the best cure, so be sure to cover exposed skin. Be sure to check the FitForTravel website for the latest travel advice.
- Prescription Medicines – Have a full supply of any prescription medicines you need, in the original packaging with prescription label and sealed, if possible. Or take written documentation to present at customs.
- Non-Prescription Medicines – Italian pharmacies are very good for non-prescription medication and are easily found (look for ‘farmacia’). The pharmacists are helpful, highly skilled, and often speak English. Medicines and painkillers, such as cold remedies and aspirins can be bought over the counter. This handy overview includes a number of medical brand names and local terms for common items you may need.
- Allergy Card – If you have any allergies or don’t eat certain foods, carry a translated statement you can show to food vendors and restaurants. Select Wisely sells downloadable cards for most major food and drug allergies in a huge variety of languages.
Money For Visiting Italy
Italy is a member of the European Union and uses the Euro. There are advantages to bringing a small amount of cash then using ATMs – which exchange money at the market rate – once you arrive. As one of the world’s major currencies, you should be able to get a competitive exchange rate before you leave home. Shop around for the best deal and buy about €100 in advance. This serves as backup for places that are cash only – which is truer in Italy than most other European countries – or in case of emergencies. Avoid changing money once you’ve arrived, especially at airports and other tourist locations.
ATMs are easy to find, all banks and post offices have them – look for the word ‘bancomat’. There should be no mystery on how to use one, as most let you change the language to English. Stick to a major bank like UniCredit, if possible, as they generally won’t charge a withdrawal fee. You’ll need a four-digit PIN. Take out large sums to reduce the amount of extra overhead – the maximum withdrawal is usually €300. Always choose the EUR rate, if offered, rather than to withdraw in your own currency.
If you’re having problems with your plastic, try a few different banks, then call the number on the back of the card to get it unfrozen. It’s also wise to carry a back-up card from a different account.
Inform your bank before you leave and confirm your cards will work overseas. They can also tell you whether your bank is partnered with an Italian equivalent – there are local branches of Barclays and Santander, as these might not charge any extra local fees. Italy is still relatively cash-based but you can also use debit and credit cards to pay for things in many places.
The Best Time To Visit Italy
Due to the diversity of climates and the range of different reasons to visit, Italy has something to offer throughout the year. Though you may want to avoid Rome at the extreme temperature peaks – it can be sweaty in summer and downright chilly during the winter months, but these can be ideal times to visit other parts of the country. On the other hand, with so much culture to be had, you might take a chance on rainy March and spend all day in galleries and restaurants.
My advice is to get a guidebook and do some research for one of two strategies. The first is to decide the kind of activities that interest you the most or pick particular areas you’d like to visit, then use these to work out the best time to visit. If you’ve always wanted to dreamed of Venice in Carnival, you’ll plan your travel for February. Foodies might head to Tuscany during the autumn harvests.
The other option is to let your budget or fixed holiday dates help you pick a destination. You can find some hotel bargains in August when Romans flee the heat of the city and head to the coast. Away from ski resorts, January is also a great time to keep your costs down. If you have to travel in April, Florence might be the place to go.
Planning What To Do And Where To Go In Italy
- Italy Guidebook – A guidebook is still a nifty way to get an overview of a country before you travel. Buy something a few months in advance so you can highlight everything you’re interested in.
- ’Lonely Planet Italy’ is my preference, but there is plenty of choice, for specific cities and regions. I always mark up my guidebook with notes, which doubles as a journal and is good for recommendations to friends.
- Italian Maps – Most Italian hotels and tourist information centres will have free maps. The coverage is quite selective, so collect a few and cross reference.
- You should also consider using Google Maps. You can download maps when you’ve access to free wifi for offline use, saving data when you’re out and about.