I don’t know if you do, but packing is something I hate about travel. Unpacking is a nightmare.
Many years ago, I would start to make piles of “maybe this stuff” before I went on a trip. I’d then go through the piles every day, adding or removing items. Because there are always things that go in my bag no matter what time of year or destination, I am much more capable of packing quickly.
This article will share the nine essentials I take to Italy.
You can find more information about packing, including tips on clothing, in my How to Pack for an Italy trip guide.
This is not a list that you should copy item by item. It’s intended to inspire you to create your own “stuff that always goes inside my bag” list. Some items have been with me since my first trip to Italy. Others are newer additions. This list is constantly changing as my travel needs change and the realities of traveling in post-9/11 times change.
Your version of this list would be greatly appreciated! If you have a favorite item, please leave a comment below. Maybe you will give me an idea for a new item to add to my list.
Note on the links: Some are affiliate links. This means that if you click through and purchase something, I get a small commission. You don’t pay any more.
Drapey Maternity Cardigan
This is my newest must-have item. I came across it accidentally after a friend gave her maternity cardigan to me while she was nursing her baby. Although I was initially a bit confused as to why a maternity-style cardigan would work for me, it turned out that the drapey portion was what was too large.
It turns out that this is the perfect plane ride.
A cardigan that has wings large enough to double as a blanket is a great choice for someone like me who suffers from cold easily. The material of the cardigan I have can withstand a lot of abuse (e.g. It can be carried in a bag or wrapped up in it. This makes it ideal for carrying around while sightseeing.
It’s great to have a friend who is pregnant or nursing and has a maternity cardigan that they are willing to give you. This was the Liz Lange collection from Target. It is no longer in stock. However, there are plenty of options online.
It keeps me warm on cold planes and doubles up as a scarf for my trips to Italy in the winter and fall. Although I have an almost embarrassingly large selection of pashminas, I prefer to travel with scarves that I don’t like (lest it get lost) or that aren’t in light colors (lest something get spilled).
If it’s warmer, since I have the above maternity cardigan, I won’t be bringing a pashmina scarf. However, if I’m traveling in cooler temperatures, they will both be with me.
You might also consider carrying a pashmina, if you prefer it to a cardigan, in order to cover your shoulders when entering a church.
Cheap Paper Fan
However, being too cold on an aircraft can also mean being too hot on – such as the Milan Metro. I was gifted a paper fan by a friend at an Italian flea marketplace in May. It has been a lifesaver and I have it with me on every subsequent trip.
It is possible that you are aware of the superstition held by many Italians about air conditioning. This superstition combined with the high cost electricity means that A/C isn’t as common as you might think in a country that can get devilishly hot and humid. In the summer, and on public transport. Although it’s not as convenient as having portable A/C, it does help.
Since they are susceptible to breaking down after a few trips, I buy multiple fans each time. You might find them at an Asian market if you live near one.
Every time I visit Florence, my first priority is to browse the leather markets and then eventually buy at least one purse. Sometimes, I bring home several. When I travel (in Italy or elsewhere), I use a particular type of purse – a crossbody purse.
A purse worn across the chest is a good way to protect your travel safety. Cross-body bags make it more difficult for thieves to grab your bag and run. Your valuables won’t be as easily stolen if the bag closes tightly at the top. A cross-body purse is a great way to carry a scarf or coat while you are walking around museums.
You don’t have to choose what type of bag you buy – some bags come with RFID-blocking material or slash-proof straps. However, I wouldn’t recommend getting too large. It should be large enough to hold the essentials and a map or guidebook, as well as a water bottle.
I have used a number of travel purses over time, and the one I currently use is from Goodwill. There are many options online in all colors and price ranges. Don’t worry guys, a front pocket wallet will make it less easy for pickpockets to steal your money.
Unfortunately, I have a weak immune system and travel can cause me to be ill if I don’t take care. Since I was a child, my routine has been to be careful as soon as I board a plane.
Always keep a pack of disinfectant wipes under my seat. I then wipe down anything that might be touched during the flight. I wipe down the arm rests, seat belt, pockets in front of my face, head rest, touch screen, light and air controls, as well as both sides of the tray table and the lock.
(Yes, I do occasionally get an odd look from my seatmate, who is trying to figure out where Adrian Monk will be for the next seven hour, but they aren’t my concern.
I keep the wet wipes in my bag throughout a trip. You should also keep a pack of tissues handy, as they may not contain toilet paper. You can find a small travel-sized pack of wet wipes in any grocery or drugstore. They are often found in the baby section.
Reusable water bottle
It can be exhausting to travel. It is dehydrating to travel by plane. It is hot in Italy. Most people don’t drink enough water. It is a good idea to take a water bottle with you when you travel.
Now, make it an environmentally-friendly idea with a bottle you bring from home and reuse.
A few collapsible water containers are my favorite. They take up almost no space when empty and seem intelligent in theory. They almost always leak and don’t seem to have enough water. (If you find one that is large enough to suit your needs and doesn’t leak let me know.
Since years, I have used a water bottle made of metal to which I attach a carabiner ( the one already has a carabiner). If I don’t have a place for the bottle, this allows me to attach it to my bag or backpack. It is strong enough to withstand being dropped several times. (I have the dents to prove this).
It is usually filled up at security and returned to me by the flight attendant. Then, I have it ready to go for long days of sightseeing.
I am going to guess most people have earbuds/headphones of some kind on their travel list. If only to be able to plug in during long flights, then it is likely. The same goes for me. When I go on solo trips, I keep my earbuds in my pocket. They are a great way to avoid any unwanted hassling.
When I travel alone, I find it easier to pay attention to the world around me and listen to what is happening. It’s always interesting to hear the cacophony in languages. Paying attention to your surroundings with your ears is a great way to keep your ears open. I use my earbuds, which are not connected to any external device, to be able to hear and still appear to pushy hawkers.
No one will notice that you have the plug in your pocket or purse. You might be accused of being too aggressive with salesmen, but it’s worth the effort.
Plus? Earbuds are invariably better than the ones you get on walking tours.
Get a Purse Hook
These are also known as “purse hooks” and “handbag hangers”, but they are strong enough to hold your laptop bag or backpack. This isn’t just for women to have.
There are many options for purse hooks. However, the basic idea is that one piece sits flat on top and the hook hangs below. Putting your purse/backpack/camera bag/whatever on the hook anchors the gadget to the table.
A purse hook is safer than tying your handbag to the back of a chair at a cafe. You don’t have to carry your purse around while you eat or worry about it getting smashed on the ground. You can place your bag under the table, in an area that is not accessible to others. This will allow you to dine in peace.
Moreover, many purse hooks have an alarm that you can activate when your bag is hung. Although I believe I set the alarm by myself, I was unable to remember to turn it off before standing up, this feature could be worth looking for if you need extra security.
You are not crazy,
Italian markets no longer charge for each bag. Customers bring their own bags from home. Because I prefer to live in apartments that have a kitchen, I don’t go to Italy without visiting a grocery or outdoor market at least once per week.
I always have a reusable grocery bags in my purse.
I have several colors of Flip & Twist bags that I use at home so I always grab one to put in my bag before I go. These bags fold up and take up very little space. You can also use them as shopping bags to hold your items.
These bags are great for carrying around all the things you need to make an Italian vacation.