What to Pack When You're Traveling in Italy, According to Experts
Consider this your ultimate packing list for living la dolce vita.
Ah, Italy. Whether you’ve imagined wandering around Rome, hiking the Italian Alps, or sunbathing on the Amalfi Coast, you’ve probably pictured yourself enjoying la dolce vita in one of the country’s many different regions. But if you’ve finally decided to visit bella Italia for the first time, you might be stuck pondering an age-old question that’s long haunted philosophers and laymen alike: what the heck should you pack? Well, my friend, you’ve come to the right place—because I spoke to a bunch of expert Italy buffs and travelers to compile the ultimate Italy packing list for the best vacation ever.
Bringing the right gear is the key to enjoying your time in Italy, so it’s important to put thought into what makes sense for you. Luggage should be easy to carry, even on cobbled streets, and not too heavy or full (unless you don’t want any souvenirs). Shoes should be comfortable enough for lots of walking, and sun protection will be key no matter where in the country you go. When it comes to clothing, don’t let the TikTok girlies talk you into trying to cosplay as a local. Manny Salorio of Go Ask A Local, who’s spent a lot of time in Italy, offers this piece of advice: “For Americans, just get over it. Everyone will know you’re American whether you’re rocking white New Balances with your dad jeans or wearing Ferragamo loafers and Zegna pants. Italians like tourists and they don’t much care how you look!”
Regardless of whether you're visiting Sicily or Lake Como, these items have all been recommended by experts as must-haves for any traveler who wants to enjoy Italy properly. Read on for little-known essentials that will make your trip so much better, the best type of gear to buy right now, and all the items you should never, ever forget to pack.
“Because of all of the cobblestones, stairs, and uneven surfaces, roller bags aren’t ideal,” advises Tuscany-based Candice Criscione, founder of TheTuscanMom.com and MomInItaly.com. “ But, you can use them sometimes and I know that carrying a backpack isn’t for everyone. Combo bags (roller bags that can also be carried as a backpack) are ideal and give you options.” Criscione especially likes luggage by Eagle Creek, and recommends this convertible rolling duffle as a great choice for traveling in Italy.
The duffle is a truly versatile piece of luggage, and the right size to carry onto most planes. You can use it as a duffle bag, roller bag (it has wheels and a telescoping handle), or backpack (it has zip-away straps), plus it has a detachable daypack you can remove and use for shorter adventures. All these options mean you’ll never get stranded without a decent way to carry the bag, no matter how rough the cobblestones may be.
Salorio offers similar luggage advice to Criscione, suggesting travelers bring “a rolling duffel with soft sides” that aren’t too floppy for convenient packing. “Unless you’re fabulously wealthy and will be taking a car to the front door of your hotel in every city,” he explains, “you want something that you can pick up, toss around, and maybe even sling over your shoulder in places.”
Salorio prefers a crossbody bag to a backpack for daily excursions, especially if you want to “avoid awful back sweat.” Unlike a backpack, you can also wear the bag in front, so you have an eye on your belongings at all times. This bag from The North Face is an especially versatile pick that’s easy enough to shove into your suitcase. It comes in a handful of different colors and patterns and has an adjustable shoulder strap. It has a reasonably roomy main compartment with a padded tablet sleeve and a smaller outer pocket, both of which zip closed. And the recycled polyester fabric has a water-resistant finish, so your belongings stay protected from any potential light exposure to moisture.
Rome-based Molly Fitzpatrick, who blogs at Luggage and Life, is on the same page with Salorio when it comes to bags. "Many travelers visiting Italy are concerned about pickpockets, and rightly so - they can be an issue," she explains. "If you carry a purse or bag, it’s best to bring a small one that you can wear across your body and keep in front of you, especially on public transportation or in crowded areas."
If you can get over the irony of bringing a Florence-made Italian leather bag back to its motherland, this Quince crossbody bag is a great alternative to the North Face bag for anyone who wants to feel a little more put together. Available in seven different colors, it features a removable strap and gold hardware, including the zipper on the main compartment. Inside the main compartment, there's a small zip pocket for your valuables. According to reviewers, it's ideal if you don't plan to carry too much stuff; as one customer put it, "There's room for a small makeup bag, a small wallet, hand sanitizer & an iPhone."
Multiple experts insist that a scarf or wrap is an absolute necessity for traveling in Italy. Fitzpatrick explains that it’s important for any time of year. “In the winter, you’ll need it to protect yourself from the cold, and in the summer, you might need it to cover your shoulders or knees when entering certain churches or religious buildings,” she says. “That’s right, some of Italy’s most famous churches, including Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome, have a dress code. Anyone entering should be prepared to cover their shoulders and knees.” Salorio offers the additional tip that your scarf should fit in your bag, so can stash it away when it’s not needed, and Criscione suggests an additional use for a scarf: an impromptu picnic blanket.
For use as a summer cover-up, this scarf is made from a lightweight, breathable blend of cotton and linen. It’s large enough to offer a lot of coverage or act as a picnic blanket, measuring 75 by 43 inches, but thin enough to fold up small in your bag. Choose from several different color options.
“You’ll love having [a scarf] in winter here - the wind can be fierce!” Criscione advises. A warmer scarf can also come in handy if you’ll be in the mountains, even in warmer times of year. I personally own this inexpensive shawl, and it’s come in handy countless times during European vacations. It’s made from a cotton-poly blend, but it truly does feel soft like cashmere, and can stand up to some heavy use without obvious pilling. It’s not the warmest scarf ever, but it’s comfortably toasty, and big enough to wrap around your neck a few times in especially chilly weather. And it’s thin enough that it’s not hard to shove into a bag.
All of our experts agree that you need comfortable shoes you can walk in all day every day. And sneakers are a top pick, since even cities will have cobblestones that render heels or flip flops a hazard to ankles everywhere. Salorio says these Ecco sneakers have become a go-to when he’s guiding in Italy, since “they go well with jeans, chinos, linen trousers, and in a pinch [if the light is low] can even go with a pair of slacks.”
Nikki Taylor of La Dolce Vita, who’s been living in Italy for more than 10 years, recommends Birkenstocks for “a long day of exploring” Italy when the weather is warm. The brand’s Arizona Essentials sandals are an ideal option, since they’re made from molded EVA foam that’s supportive and comfortable. The sandals are also waterproof, which Global Grasshopper’s Becky Moore, a many-time visitor to Italy, especially recommends for a comfortable trip to Lake Como.
The Arizona Essentials come in several colors in both women’s and men’s sizes, and can look a bit more polished than traditional Birkenstocks, since they skip the cork and suede footbed in favor of a smooth monochrome aesthetic.
“The Italian summer sun can be extremely strong,” warns Fitzpatrick, before listing a sun hat as a must-have, especially for those thinking of hitting the beach. Of course, any old hat will do for an active day, but a packable straw sun hat offers thorough sun protection that won’t make you feel too goofy if everyone around you is more focused on style. Try this wide-brimmed UPF 50+ hat by Lanzom if you like the look, or try Lanzom’s foldable fedora for something a slightly smaller brim that’s oriented towards male customers. Both styles can pack away without suffering too much damage.
Italy uses two or three-pronged outlets that aren’t compatible with American plugs, so if you’ll need an adaptor that works with Type L, F, or C outlets if you want to plug in American electronics during your stay. And while you can purchase what you need in Italy, Criscione still recommends buying them before your trip. As she puts it, “Yes, you can find them here, but who wants to spend precious vacation time hunting down electronics accessories?”
This Tessan Type C adaptor is a great choice for most people, since it’ll work in most European countries and allows you to use a two- or three-pronged American plug along with two USB cables. If you want your devices to feel a bit more secure, you could also try these three-pronged Type L adaptors, which are grounded but less versatile since they won’t work in two-prong sockets.
This brilliant idea comes from Criscione, who advises, “Summer in Italy is a perfect time to picnic. If you’re checking a bag, throw in a corkscrew or Swiss Army knife - they’ll come in handy!” No matter what kind of trip you’re planning, this Opinel folding knife will make quick work of cured meats, cheeses, and Amalfi citrus — and it will help you open bottles of wine so you can enjoy them wherever the view is best. Like most of the French brand’s iconic knives, this one features a smooth wooden handle and a stainless steel blade that folds away when you’re not using it. If you care more about functionality and price than aesthetic, you could also opt for this Victorinox Swiss army knife, which includes several tools in addition to the blade and corkscrew, for about half the price.
Fitzpatrick also warns that “well-stocked public bathrooms are few and far between” in Italy, making hand sanitizer an especially important item to pack on your trip. I’ve found that Touchland’s Power Mist hand sanitizers are especially great for travel, since they come in a flat bottle that fits easily into a pocket or bag. Unlike many other sanitizers I’ve used, I’ve never had issues with leaking, they don’t dry out my hands, and the spray nozzle makes it easy to spritz your hands without overdoing it. Touchland’s products also smell incredible, and I feel secure knowing that the 70% USP-grade ethyl alcohol should kill 99.99% of most germs. Also, this 1-ounce bottle should be fine to bring on the plane even if you’re not checking a bag; the TSA currently allows passengers to carry on a liquid hand sanitizer bottle of up to 12 ounces.
According to Fitzpatrick, it’s a good idea to bring a KN95 face mask to Italy. “KN95 masks are still required to ride public transportation, including trains, in Italy,” she explains. To be more specific, FFP2 masks (fairly comparable to N95s and KN95s) are mandatory on many of the country’s buses, trains, and ferries at the time of this article’s publication. That said, Italy’s requirements and restrictions are rapidly changing, so it’s best to check the country’s official tourism site for the latest updates.
If you do decide to bring KN95 masks with you on your trip, these Powecom masks from Bona Fide Masks are my absolute favorites. The nose piece is comfortable, the ear loops are effective without being tight, and they don’t cause my glasses to fog up. My partner has a bigger head than I do, but we both find them very comfortable. I like the black color with the ear loops for a slightly less medical vibe and easy on/off, but these are also available in a few different colors, and can be purchased with loops that go around the back of your head if you don’t like ear loops.
Katy Clarke, founder and editor at Untold Italy, suggests that you pack a water bottle, “so you can refill at the many drinking water fountains in each Italian city and town.” It’s hard to go wrong with a classic Nalgene, but if you’re willing to add a little extra weight to your bag, I’m a big fan of my 18-ounce Welly Traveler bottle, which features double-walled vacuum insulation so it keeps your cold drinks cold and your hot drinks hot for hours. The design is sleek and attractive (it comes in a bunch of prints and solid colors, all with bamboo details), the lid has a handle that makes it easy to carry around, and I’ve never experienced a leak. Also, it comes with a removable infuser insert, if you want to brew tea or stick a few lemon slices in there.
“Italy is all about food, and it’s tempting to bring home olive oil, wine, vinegars, and honey home as gifts and souvenirs,” says Amy Siegal of Valerie Wilson Travel, a Frosch Company. “There are bottle protectors available that pack flat in your suitcase, but will insulate and protect your bottles for the trip home.” This four-pack of reusable bottle protectors is an ideal choice for any bottles you want to bring home from Italy, since each protector is big enough to fit a standard-sized 1-liter wine bottle. Air bubble cushioning with an exterior layer of durable PVC combine to keep the glass intact, even when transit gets bumpy. Dual zipper seals and a hook and loop closure work to contain any potential spills. And yes, these do pack flat when they’re not filled with tasty, tasty souvenirs.
Because of the strength of the Italian sun (and the amount of time you’ll want to spend soaking it in), Fitzpatrick says you’ll definitely need to protect yourself with sunscreen. Supergoop’s Play sunscreen is a widely-loved choice for any sort of outdoor adventure, since the SPF 50 formula is hydrating but not overly greasy, has a pleasant smell, and can resist water and sweat for up to 80 minutes. You can also buy it in a few different sizes, perfect if you need something small enough to go in your carry-on, or a larger bottle for a longer trip.