How can I pack as lightly as possible for a ten-day trip to Italy?
June 1, 2010 1:10 PM   Subscribe

I need advice on how to pack as lightly as possible for a ten-day trip to Italy in late June.

I'll be flying into Rome, and visiting to Florence and the Amalfi Coast. I already have the North Face's awesome Heckler backpack, and I'll be taking a Kindle in lieu of heavy guidebooks, and have downgraded my DSLR to a point-and-shoot.

Things I still need recommendations on:

- Extremely comfortable, attractive walking shoes: I've bought Danskos in the past, but I'd like something a bit cuter. (Maybe top-siders? They need to be EXTREMELY comfortable, though.)
- Good clothing to bring. I know it will be hot, which helps with packing light, but any particularly useful/packable brand recommendations would be awesome. (Think simple, Hepburn, cashmere-and-pearls. I would like to avoid 'travel clothing' like this.
- A VERY comfortable day bag/purse. Again, would like it to be cute. I was considering getting the Chrome Metro Mini, but I think that might get heavy (and is cool for San Francisco, where I live, but maybe not so much for Italy).
- Any other handy packing-light tips you may have.

Thanks, Mefites!
posted by timoni to Travel & Transportation around Italy (28 answers total) 49 users marked this as a favorite
I pack 3 days worth of clothes and take little single wash foil packets of Woolite and one of those braided rubber stretchy clotheslines with loops on the end. I wash clothes every night in the sink and hang them up to dry.
posted by QIbHom at 1:22 PM on June 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

Here is a recent article on packing tips from a flight attendant. Not necessarily packing lightly, but packing smarter.

As for shoes, how about some Merrells or Keens? Both come in varying degrees of clompiness, but they're pretty good; I've had good results with the Keen Presidio while walking (San Francisco, so lots of hills!) and they're darn good.
posted by Madamina at 1:23 PM on June 1, 2010

Top-siders? No. Get running/light hiking shoes. Top-siders for miles will kill you.

Clothes: 2 pairs underthings, shirt, pants, 2 pairs of socks. Maybe a swimsuit? You're done!

No purse. No mini mess bag and a backpack, just a backpack. Bring a wallet. Bring pants with pockets.

Don't forget copies of your passport, hidden cash for emergencies, stuff like that. minimize your toilet bag.

I know what you're thinking and you think I suck, but after the 10th day, you will thank me. When you're not tired and cranky and sore, you will love the sights and sounds around you. You will not care you are not fashionable.
posted by alex_skazat at 1:24 PM on June 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

- Good clothing to bring.

It depends on what you're doing, but if it's nothing too strenuous I like to bring day dresses (cotton or something informal and simple.) They stay cool, look good, and take up little room. I guess this isn't for everyone but it works for me.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 1:25 PM on June 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh, and though it's a little conservative/skewed toward people like my mom, Norm Thompson has travel-ready clothes that are a bit more stylish than the shirt linked above. A twinset or cardigan at the very least will be a great asset.
posted by Madamina at 1:26 PM on June 1, 2010

The definitive online source about packing light is One Bag. Really useful stuff.
posted by Dr. Wu at 1:30 PM on June 1, 2010

Response by poster: Oh yes, I"ll definitely be doing laundry on the trip. I think I'll be bringing two outfits, tops.
posted by timoni at 1:31 PM on June 1, 2010

Totally understand the impulse to look good in Italy and you should absolutely do that! If you like the look of Audrey Hepburn you'll be miserable otherwise. I spent a week in Italy wearing a swimsuit, a little black sundress that was supposed to be wrinkled, and a short-sleeved cardigan. Plus a LeSportsac purse and a ton of jewelry I had been dragging all around Europe.

Maybe bring two dresses instead of one, or possibly nice jeans and a short-sleeved black shirt. Definitely something that won't look dirty after a day, or won't wrinkle easily, and is very comfortable. Maybe a jersey dress? Some kind of nylon purse that can fit all your day stuff. Bring jewelry (but just ONE combination) or buy it there.
posted by acidic at 1:47 PM on June 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

Everyone will tell you only to bring 2-3 outfits, but take more socks and underwear. They take up almost no space and if you've been hot and sweaty from walking around all day is a godsend.
posted by aspo at 1:53 PM on June 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

Also, I can't speak to the quality of their travel line, and their styling is iffy, but you may be interested in Chico's. Particularly this dress.

Oh and don't forget that one outfit has to be not sleeveless and below the knee, if you want to visit the Vatican.
posted by acidic at 1:55 PM on June 1, 2010

I recently just bought this Ex Officio shirt (in white) and really love it. It's cooling, wrinkle-free, fast-drying and goes with anything. I also think you could dress it up or down depending on what you were doing that day. I definitely agree that you should minimize your toiletries...this is one area that I really have to restrain myself and remember that I can always buy (or borrow) things in an emergency.

Regarding shoes...I definitely wouldn't do Topsiders...they have NO support to speak of and take a long time to break in. You'd be in blister heaven pretty quick. How about something like this mary jane like shoe.

Anyway, it sounds like fun...have a great time!
posted by victoriab at 1:58 PM on June 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

I lived in sandals when I was in Italy -- good, leather strap, adorable Chacos -- and my terrible flat feet didn't bother me a bit. Walking all over the cobblestones was no problem. I still can't manage the heels-on-cobblestones look many Roman women sport, but they were cute enough.
On the other hand, my family and I had the dubious distinction of being perhaps the only people ever to pack too light for 2 weeks in Italy. We had a clothes washing mishap in our first couple of days and each lost one item of clothing, leaving us scrambling for the rest of the trip.
Remember to bring something to cover your shoulders with if you go into one of the big churches. The cathedral in Cefalu had some people handing out pashminas to use if you didn't have a covering, but at St. Peter's they'd just turn you away. No shorts allowed, either, although a knee-length skirt is more than okay. A cardigan is great for this.
posted by katemonster at 1:59 PM on June 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

To agree with victoriab, anything Ex Officio is pretty awesome. Also, the best travel advice I ever got was from a guy who wouldn't even take a carry-on on his week-long trips to Europe:
"You know they sell clothes there, right?"
posted by Etrigan at 2:04 PM on June 1, 2010

Jersey dress(es) definitely. They can be balled up really small, are light, appropriate at the beach or in the city, and don't wrinkle.

I have yet to solve the super comfortable but not hideous shoe conundrum.
posted by grapesaresour at 2:20 PM on June 1, 2010

Having returned fairly recently from a very, very extended trip where I only had three outfits, I'd definitely suggest something like the following:

*1 knee-length skirt in black (my Patagonia vitali skirt held up really well for nearly 2 months on the road)

*1 pair of very well-fitting black pants in non-cotton fabric (I had these from REI, they fit well and looked nice enough for good restaurants in cities, plus had hidden pockets to tuck in money when I didn't want to lug my shoulder bag to dinner)

*1 tank top + 1 short-sleeve v-neck shirt in solid, non-black colors (I had really great luck with Smartwool microweight tees, of all things--they breathed well, dried very quickly when I washed in the sink, and they NEVER STANK, even after I wore the same shirt three days in a row. It's a miracle fabric, seriously, in terms of never picking up stink.)

*1 pair comfortable walking sandals in black that look good with both the pants and the skirt (like Chaco hipthongs, or maybe some Keen calistogas). Alternatively, if you must do closed-toe, look for something that will look good with your skirt, like ballet flats made by a hiking shoe company.

*1 lightweight cashmere or lightweight wool cardigan or v-neck sweater in light gray that can be thrown over either the pants or the skirt in the evenings, or when the weather is a bit chilly

*At least 4 pairs of non-cotton underwear (it's great to think that you'll just wash and re-wear as you go--and you will!--but it's a huge pain to have to wash your underwear every other day when you're moving from hotel to hotel)

The key is to make sure that every single top goes with every single bottom, which is a lot easier if you just stick to a very basic, very neutral color palette throughout. You want everything to be black/gray except for one piece of clothing per outfit; for me that was easiest if everything below the waist was black and my shirt was blue or green. Bring scarves and/or funky jewelry to accessorize.

Also: shoes are usually the ugliest part of any traveller's wardrobe, and in most cases I think this isn't necessary, ESPECIALLY for people who already live in walkable cities. If you currently live in San Francisco, I have to imagine you spend at least some days just walking around the city; any shoe that would work for a Saturday where you're downtown and doing stuff should be fine in a foreign country. If your shoes are even somewhat sensible (no heels, no rubbing straps), then you will run out of energy and your legs will get sore long before your shoes become the limiting factor in how much you can sightsee.
posted by iminurmefi at 2:26 PM on June 1, 2010 [7 favorites]

I suspect that if you find Danskos very comfortable, you are going to have a hard time finding another shoe that's as comfortable. Also, since clogs are in style right now, you might find they're less hideous than you think. Maybe.

In any case, there are some cute-ish styles out you might like, if you're going to buy some new shoes anyway. (Caveat: I think those topsiders are pretty fugly.)

My two outfit recommendations are one pair of black pants (or long shorts or capris or whatever you like to wear), one black skirt or dress, plus one short-sleeved top in a bright/light color, plus one longer-sleeved lightweight top in a light/bright color. Then one or two lightweight summery scarves if that's your thing. And one light sweater.
posted by bluedaisy at 2:41 PM on June 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

I would rethink the Kindle. You will need to bring batteries/charging equipment and voltage converters. Not to mention the problems with theft, breakage, etc.

I would instead recommend getting one good guidebook and cut the binding so that you can take out the parts for where you will be visiting. You can then rebind them with duct tape. After you finish with each section you can toss it. This should be just as light weight as a Kindle.
posted by nestor_makhno at 2:47 PM on June 1, 2010

Response by poster: nestor_makhno, I will also be reading books on the trains. :) so I'll definitely be bringing the Kindle.

Thanks, everybody! These recommendations are great!
posted by timoni at 2:57 PM on June 1, 2010

I took capris and sundresses to Italy and wore sandals for comfort. Good, walking sandals are exellent for June in Italy--it's quite hot in Rome and on the Amalfi Coast. A light sweater for evenings in a neutral color and you are good to go with your bag or backpack.
posted by misha at 2:57 PM on June 1, 2010

I've gone on 3 week trips out of 1 carry-on bag. Traveling light is awesome.

Start with a great haircut that doesn't need blow dry or curling iron. Add ponytail holders or a headband if you need them. There is not greater time saver when traveling than a really good haircut.

Limit your palette. Pick a light neutral, a dark neutral and one coordinating color (maybe two). Everything you pack should match that palette. My colors are usually light beige, navy blue, rose pink. Add in white tee shirts.

Pick a few great workhorse items. Select items that are polished that can work on their own or as layers. For tee shirts, pick ones that are fitted with nicely finished collars and hems. A refined white tee shirt can stand on it's own without looking sloppy. Try to find clothing that's fitted and not boxy. Fitted looks a bit more polished and will layer better. Too many boxy layers and you tattered. Stay clear of 100 cotton which takes ages to dry and wrinkles. Instead look for dri-fit/travel clothing.

For a ten day trip I'd pack:
1 cream dress, 1 navy dress - simple shape, sleeveless.
1 deep pink cardigan twinset, 1 navy cardigan
1 skirt If you're doing a lot of hiking. you might trade off the skirt for shorts.
1 pair of light capri pants (these are tricky. Lots of capris look horrible.)
2 white tees
1 pink tee
2 wraps (it's a scarf, it's an obi, it's an evening wrap, it covers your head in a church.)
1 purse with a very adjustable strap. (Coach has bags with straps that can be worn across the body or doubled to carry like a normal purse. Not a huge fan of Coach bags, but that feature is very useful.)
1 small evening bag (use this as your cosmetic bag during the trip. This one would almost work, but it's a bit big.
1 pair of super comfy Merrells (wear on plane). And 1 pair of slightly dressier, but extremely comfy wedges.
1 pair of shoe clips if I had to really dress up the wedges. They take up zero space, but if there's no chance you'll need them don't bother.

From that you could do a ton of outfits - elegant dinner? Navy dress+wrap+evening bag. Museum? Dress+cardigan. Lots of walking? Capis+sweater set. There are few events I couldn't dress for out of that combination of clothing.
posted by 26.2 at 3:03 PM on June 1, 2010 [3 favorites]

By the way, you might like the blog Barking Dog Shoes, which reviews comfortable shoes. Some of them are really ugly, but some are less so, and if you're going to find comfy shoes that you like anywhere, it's probably at that blog.
posted by bluedaisy at 3:18 PM on June 1, 2010 [2 favorites]

I went on a two-week trip to Italy last October (Sicilian countryside). For what it's worth, here's what I wish I had done:

-Everything in one bag. I almost achieved this. Next time I definitely would try harder.

-Insect repellent if you'll be in the outdoors (country) at all.

-3oz. containers that SAID "3 oz." on them somewhere -- I had mine confiscated at the airport because they were the right size but didn't have their size printed anywhere on them.

-Some string or twine with hooks on the end for a clothesline. Some people do this with rubber bands. The idea is that you can do simple laundry tasks in whatever room you're staying in, and hang-dry.

-Super lightweight towels. I stayed one night in a motel that had these and MAN was I jealous. Definitely worth it.

-Camera: I should have brought a mini tripod. So many beautiful evening shots, and that's just when P&S cameras start to get really blurry without a tripod.

BTW I am really glad that I looked for grocery stores everywhere I went, rather than eating at restaurants. I saved a lot on food and was glad to have the leftover money for more expensive day trips.

Enjoy your trip!
posted by circular at 3:31 PM on June 1, 2010

Definitely bring a lightweight shawl or a cardigan to cover your shoulders if you are wearing a tank top/sleeveless dress and want to go into a church.

Generally if I'm travelling light during the summer, I just bring a bunch of floppy jersey-or-similar sundresses, a pair of jeans, a couple of t-shirts and a selection of cardigans. They roll up pretty compactly and you can dress them up or down depending on the occasion.
posted by superquail at 4:12 PM on June 1, 2010

Jezebel has ideas.
posted by wocka wocka wocka at 4:26 PM on June 1, 2010

I am no expert by any means; my wife on the other hand, tells everyone to pack silks.
Easy to wear and easy to wash.
Packs nice; if wrinkled, just run some steam in the bathroom.
posted by Drasher at 5:29 PM on June 1, 2010

Don't walk around all day in Top-Siders. They are not supportive at all.

Also, don't bring jeans if you plan to do your own laundry in the hotel room. They take forever to hang dry.
posted by twblalock at 5:56 PM on June 1, 2010

I forgot to mention:

I walked all over the place on vacation with a Chrome Vega bag and it was very comfortable and durable. I used it to hold maps, some water, and stuff I bought when I was walking around.
posted by twblalock at 5:57 PM on June 1, 2010

I spent 4 weeks in Europe living out of my high school bookbag. I took seven thin, solid-colored t-shirts and a couple of tank tops, two light knee-length skirts, seven pair of underwear and socks, a few bras, some nice-ish sneakers (a pair of kind of sleek-looking Diesels which I wore on planes so I didn't have to pack them) and a pair of leather mary janes I ended up wearing very seldom. I took no electronics, and bought and discarded books as I went. I took Woolite packets and did laundry a few times over the course of the trip, and also at least once I went to a laundromat, and once had my hotel do my washing for a fee.

Don't bring pants. It'll be hot. You won't need them. I brought a pair of jeans and only wore them on the plane there and back. Definitely considered abandoning them a few times, but they were a really nice shade of grey I knew I wouldn't find again.
posted by little light-giver at 7:28 PM on June 1, 2010

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