The Ultimate Packing List
This is every single item I take when I travel to Italy. (Keep in mind I am actually wearing one set of clothes, including hat, belt, jacket, shoes, etc.). And it all fits into a carry-on sized bag and daypack (to prove it, see a picture of it all packed in the "How to pack it all into a carry-on" tip near the bottom of the page).
What to pack for a trip, how much to bring on your travels, and how to fit it all in a single carry-on with room left over for souvenirs
This is the very same packing list I use before setting off on a trip (well, not the skirt or feminine hygiene stuff).
Whether it's a six-night jaunt or a six-month research trip, I call up this page on my computer and tick off the boxes as I pack.
- Nothing white
- Nothing that wrinkles
- Clothes you can layer
- Lots of pockets
- Very few
Only your immediate traveling companions will know you've been wearing the same outfit for the past three countries.
Urban Europeans dress pretty snappily—not necessarily in the latest Armani suit, but well nonetheless.
While you should travel in whatever wardrobe makes you feel comfortable, you’ll probably be happier fitting in, so save the Bermuda shorts and sleeveless T-shirt for that trip to Hawaii.
Even though Italian churches are filled with naked cherubs and frescoes of nudes (often being tortured in Hell), visitors have to cover up; bring a shawl or wrap to avoid the tissue-paper hospital gown freebies. In the churches of some Catholic countries—Italy, Spain, France—and the mosques of Muslim countries there is a strict dress code that forbids shorts, skirts above the knee, and bare shoulders (and, in mosques, bare heads for women).
From Rome’s St. Peter’s on down, most major churches WILL NOT LET YOU IN if your bare knees and/or bare shoulders are visible.
That means no shorts, no skirts above the knee, and no tank tops, sundresses, or other tops that bare your shoulders.
If all else fails, some churches hand out disposable shawls or smocks made out of heavy-duty tissue paper (see the picture above on the right, which I took in the cathedral of Pisa) —but do not count on this.
- Minimize toiletries spillage disasters by storing everything in resealable plastic baggies.
- Maximize the tiny space inside a bathroom bag/toiletry kit by using sample sizes and by decanting shampoo and detergent into small, screw-top plastic bottles—bonus, this makes them TSA safe.
- I jumble together just enough pills—for pain, allergies, etc.—to last me into a single one of those plastic cylindars of travel-sized ibuprofen or Dramamine to make a personalized, pocket-sized pharmacy.
- Keep all toiletries and cosmetics to a minimum. Perfume or cologne on the road become vain dead weights and spills waiting to happen (imagine everything in your bag drenched with Chanel no. 5).
Documents & Sundries
OK, so I lied. I do often pack one more item: A laptop computer—but only because I have this strange job of "travel writer."
(However, these days I can often get away with just using my iPhone or my Android tablet—I got a Google Nexus 7 for the great value and fact that T-Mobile LTE service works abroad—along with a pocket-sized collapsable keyboard.)
GEAR, CLOTHES, & BAGS
Gear & clothing: REI.com, eBags.com, Backwoods.com, Travelsmith.com, LLBean.com , Magellans.com
Luggage: eBags.com, REI.com, Backwoods.com
Electronic converters: REI.com, Travelsmith.com
- Lay out everything you think you’ll need to take and consider the pile.
- Put away any item that’s not really necessary.
- Take what remains, pack half of it, and leave the rest at home—you won’t need it.
Everything from the photo at the top of the page packed into a carry-on and a daypack (all the clothes are in that pale gray stuffsack).Pack for ultimate mobility, versatility, and necessity. Make travel an exercise in simplifying your material needs.
When in doubt, leave it at home. Whatever you forgot, or discover on the road you need (sunscreen, bathing suit, sandals), you can always simply buy it in Italy—and have a nifty extra souvenir of daily life to bring home. (I often return with odd, foreign brands of toothpaste.)
If, as you travel, you find yourself running out of room, stop at any post office to ship home the personal items you've found you didn't need—or just before flying home, mail your dirty laundry to yourself. This way, you can carry your new purchases instead of entrusting them to the local postal system.
- If it doesn’t all fit in one carry-on sized bag plus a daypack, you have overpacked.
- If you can't lift your bag over your head and hold it there for 10 seconds, you have overpacked.
- If you can't shoulder your load and walk five times around the block without breaking a sweat, you have overpacked (and should probably also hit the gym—all the walking you'll do makes travel in Italy an aerobic workout and you need to be ready).
Trust me, you'll be thankful later when you easily shoulder you bag and zip off to your hotel while the guy who sat next to you on the plane gets a hernia just trying to get his luggage out of the airport.
Keep your all valuables in a moneybelt: one of these large, flat, zippered pouched you wear under your clothes.
- Some bags have zip-away straps and waist belts that convert the pack into a more respectable soft-sided suitcase for waltzing into your hotel lobby.
- To keep the bulk of your bag under the carry-on requirements, layer any thick sweaters and coats and such to wear on the plane (you can strip down once seated).
- Label your bag: Whatever sort of pack or suitcase you choose, be sure to put a slip of paper with your name, home address, and destination inside each piece of luggage as well as attaching a sturdy luggage tag with a concealed address window to the outside (some criminals peruse visible luggage tags at the airport, collecting the addresses of people leaving on vacation).
- Get as many tiny travel locks you have zippered compartments on your pack and daypack. Make sure it is one of the special combination locks that have a red diamond-like symbol meaning they're TSA-friendly (baggage screeners carry a secret code and a special back-door key so they can open the lock if they feel the need to paw through your valuables and dirty undies).
- Note that the TSA is considering once again will allow you carry small knives in your carry-on bag. However THIS RULE HAS NOT YET BEEN PUT INTO EFFECT (despite some early news reports to the contrary). For now, you will still need to pack any knife in your checked luggage. Here are the official TSA regulations.
- Split up your stuff. If you're traveling with others and plan to check your luggage, distribute everybody's stuff throughout all the bags. Have your traveling companion pack some of your clothes and you pack some of his. That way, if the airline loses just one bag, both of you will have something to wear until it turns up.
- Many bags come with zip-off daypacks, which is an excellent idea (or bring a small backpack). Keep in it your first-aid kit, sections of your guidebooks you stripped out for the day's use, tissue packs, water bottle, journal and pen, pocket knife, and umbrella.
- Let's see. Besides a waterproof bathroom bag for the toiletries I think that's it.