Practical Italy: …And How To Pack It

Not Just Another "Dolce Vita"This is the sequel to my previous post Practical Italy: What to Pack… , so go check it out before you continue reading this one.

Ok, now that you’re up to speed on what to pack, I’m going to let you in on a few secrets about how to pack for your trip to Italy (or anywhere, really). I’d never try to convince you that I’m some sort of packing guru, but I have learned a few things over the years which have helped me with my travels.

Rule #1: If you can’t manage your luggage on your own, you can’t bring it. 

That means you, little girl with the suitcase that’s taller than you are. That means you, old lady with the dog carrier, two suitcases, three carry-ons, and oversized purse. That means you, kind sir, with the two backpacks (why do people think this is EVER a good idea?), the golf clubs, the briefcase, the rolly carry on and the suit bag.

Why am I so convinced that this is a good rule? Ve lo spiego subito! (I’ll explain it to you right away).

Lots of places in Italy don’t have elevators. Are you going to carry all your stuff up 5 flights of stairs to get to your hotel/hostel/relative’s house/b&b? Ahh, you’re going to make 5 separate trips, are you? Yes. Excellent plan. Leave half your luggage down on the street for someone to pick through while you’re heaving suitcase number 3 up the stairs. Good idea.

And who is going to help you get your luggage on the train? Many trains in Italy have steps to get into them. Nearly vertical steps, not gradually inclined steps. That’ll be nice to try to pull Fluffy’s dog carrier, your golf clubs and your 5 bags up there. Oh, the conductor will help you, will he? Ah yes, the disinterested guy who only pays attention to you when he’s giving you a fine for not validating your ticket before boarding the train? He’s going to take time out of his day to lug your stuff aboard? Well, that’s nice of him. (And highly unlikely).

And even if you somehow, by some miracle, manage to get everything on the train, who’s going to help you get it all back off in time for you to actually get off the train with it and not be stranded with half your luggage on the platform and the other half whizzing towards Unidentified Italian Hill Town #1573.

You think I’m exaggerating.

I might be.

But only slightly.

The fewer bags you have, the fewer things you have to keep safe from the fast-fingered ladri (thieves) and borseggiatori (pickpockets). Plus, it also means fewer things you have to remember to take with you while going places. The last thing you want to do is leave a piece of your luggage somewhere because you’ve just got too darn much of it to keep track of.

Rule #2: All liquids go in Ziploc bags. Always. 

Note: If my mom were writing this post, she’d say that everything goes in a Ziploc bag. Always. And while I always stick by Ziplocs for liquids and gels, having every bloody thing in your luggage in a separate Ziploc bag makes finding things a touch difficult. Why? Well, within your luggage, if all you can feel is plastic bags, you start pulling at random until you’ve undone your pro packing job and have a mess of Ziplocs all over. But, I digress…

Even liquids that are hardly liquids (gels, creams) go in Ziploc bags, or else they explode and go all over your most expensive shirt. Those are the only two choices of things that will happen if you pack liquids. Murphy’s Law of Travelling With Liquids says so. Liquids in breakable or pressurized canisters get two bags, just in case.

That said, I never carry many liquids across the ocean. I can get the shampoo, toothpaste, hair mousse, and nail polish remover that I want in Italy, and often in more travel-friendly sizes. That way, there’s no risk of explosion in the cargo hold and I save weight and space in my luggage on the flight and while I’m travelling around. I highly recommend doing this, unless you’re extremely picky about your brands of toiletries. Italy’s not a 3rd world country though, so brands like Pantene and Garnier and Herbal Essences are all findable here too.

Rule #3: Leave space in your luggage for souvenirs or be prepared to throw things out. 

You’re going to shop, right? So when you’re packing to come to Italy, be sure to leave a little room somewhere for the great purse you find at the Florentine leather market, or the fine Italian suit that you buy in Milano or the bottles of wine you can’t wait to share with your friends at home. (They go in plastic bags too, you know).

Rule #4: Split up your money. 

If you took a look at my Practical Italy post on Money, you’ll remember that I said cash is the easiest way to pay for things in Italy (and Europe in general). That said, do you want to be carrying thousands of Euros in cash on you at all times during your trip? No, didn’t think so. I would certainly be uneasy about it. But it does make sense if you bring a good bit of cash from home to get you started, having already converted it to Euros, of course. Some people choose to wear a money belt, which I certainly have done. But if money belts aren’t your style, I’d suggest splitting up your money and packing it in different spots. Some in your wallet, some rolled up in a pair of socks, some in the lining of your suitcase, some in your backpack, some in your suit bag, some in your bra (for the womenfolk) etc. Because, if you lose something or something gets stolen (carry-on, suitcase, etc.) you don’t want to lose all your money with it. Make sense? Sure it does…

Rule #5: Lock it up. 

Some people feel more comfortable locking their suitcases when the travel, especially when they fly. I feel the need to lock my bags most when I’m on the train. I don’t feel the need to do it so much when I fly, because the Transit Safety Authority (TSA) can open the locks to do random checks of your baggage.

Don’t be horrified, I’ve never found anything missing from my luggage but, it does present one small problem if things go awry. If you don’t use a TSA approved lock, they may cut it off. They may have a key that opens it. But if they handle it roughly, you might not be able to get it unlocked at the other end. I’m not kidding. It just happened to one of the students I escorted around Italy. We had to get the maintenance guy at the hotel to cut the thing off (it wasn’t TSA approved), but we couldn’t get ahold of him until a day later. Poor girl was without access to her stuff for more than 24 hours. Moral of the story: use TSA approved locks on all your baggage. 

Also, be sure to lock up your backpack if you’re intent on wearing it around. The thing that unnerves me most when travelling is the idea that I could be walking around with a loaded backpack and some thief could be rifling through it while it’s on my back.

Happy Packing!

2 thoughts on “Practical Italy: …And How To Pack It

  1. Backpacks may be convenient for the user, but for everyone else they’re a pain. Backpacker’s swing around and whack you…not realizing their baggage is bigger than their own “footprint.” Don’t wear a backpack in crowded circumstances…vaporetto, etc., it’s just rude.

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