Updated July 2021
There are certain items you should always carry when traveling around Italy.
Ranging from practical things that you’ll need on your trip to items of convenience, everything on this list will make your time in Italy much more pleasant.
I’ve also included a few bonus items that apply to certain cities and travelers.
Table of Contents
Six items you should always carry when traveling in Italy
A small bag
I’m starting with this because I think it serves two purposes: one, it’s lightweight and therefore won’t make you uncomfortable, and two, it’s good to have a small bag in crowded areas where there might be pickpockets.
In some of the Italy travel groups I’m in on Facebook, I’ve noticed that many people are reeeeeally worried about getting pickpocketed in Italy. Of course, it’s a concern, but if you’re aware of that and keep your belongings close to you, you shouldn’t have any problems.
Many people in these groups suggest deterrents such as “blending in” and “looking like a local,” followed by “wearing a money belt” and “keeping your backpack in front of you” or “putting your purse under your clothing.” Spoiler alert, the vast majority of locals do none of those things. In fact, I think that doing any of those things might make you stand out more. I’m afraid you can’t look like a local while wearing a money belt.
It’s for this reason that I suggest carrying a small bag that you can put in front of you when you’re in a crowded place where there might be pickpockets (the two most common places are around major monuments and on the public transportation lines that stop at them).
I carry a little bag for the reasons above, and also because I basically gave myself scoliosis from carrying a giant messenger bag as a tween (one of the many fashion regrets I have from my tween years, which also include wearing wide-leg skater pants that had an extra foot of material on them [disclosure: I did not skateboard] and glitter up to my eyebrows when I was feeling fancy [disclosure: I felt fancy a lot]).
Sometimes, I just carry my little bag in my hand if I’m on an exceptionally full metro. I have also put my backpack on my front if I’m in a really crowded spot, especially if I have valuables in it, like my computer. Yes, it might make me stand out a bit, but it also might keep me from having my computer stolen.
I’d discourage you from actually carrying things in your pockets, especially the back ones. Pickpockets are gentle and lightning fast. When my dad had euro stolen out of his pocket while getting onto a crowded bus in Rome, he said he felt nothing more than a feather-light touch.
I’d also discourage you from carrying a large bag, a point which I will illustrate below with anecdotal evidence that some may take as gospel (this is the internet, after all).
- I had a few things stolen out of a large purse near the Colosseum once, simply because I couldn’t feel that someone had gotten their hand into the back of my bag and was reaching around in it until it was too late. That said, it was an old purse with a wonky zipper that I definitely shouldn’t have been carrying. Luckily, the bastard only made off with my old iPod and digital camera, which were both on the fritz. I hope he enjoyed looking at my “artistic” photos of ladybugs and listening to Blink-182.
- A girl in my study abroad program had her large purse cut open from behind while waiting for the metro at Stazione Termini (it was a Longchamp, one of those large canvassy numbers with a zipper at the top and a leather flap). Like my sitch at the Colosseum, the thief had made off with her wallet, phone, and camera before she was even aware that anything had happened.
The moral of these stories is that a large bag makes it more difficult to notice or feel if someone is tugging on it or cutting it open.
I hope I’m not freaking anyone out about being pickpocketed. Remember that squillions of locals walk the streets of Italian cities every day without incident. It’s good to know that there might be pickpockets around, but don’t let the fear of them keep you from enjoying the beautiful sights!
Do you need a small bag for your trip? Travelon makes great anti-theft ones. Check out this one that has a slash-resistant strap and an internal locking compartment, or this one that has the same features but is a bit smaller and less expensive.
Cash and coins
Although it’s becoming more common to pay with credit/debit cards in Italy (this is especially true since the pandemic), there are some transactions that are still done in cash. It’s good to have a small amount with you just in case.
For small purchases, it’s generally best to use small bills or exact change. This is complicated by the fact that ATMs give 50s and 20s. If, for example, you’re trying to buy a bottle of water at a convenience store or a bar with a 20 (don’t even try with a 50), they might refuse you.
So what can you do if you need to break a big bill? A supermarket might be your best bet. You can also save your cash to break for souvenir shopping, when you might be spending a bit more.
Coins are also good to have, especially when buying things like bus tickets. The ticket machines in Rome don’t give more than 6 euro change, and recently, I’ve seen a few that only accept coins.
Fun fact: You can now use your credit card (or plastic water bottles in certain stations!) to get on the metro in Rome.
I’ve heard that it’s illegal to not carry an ID with you in Italy, because you have to be able to identify yourself in case you’re asked to. I did some research on this topic, and this doesn’t actually appear to be true; however, it is recommended. What is illegal is not providing truthful information regarding your identity if asked. In my mind, it’s much easier to just carry an ID to avoid ambiguity and confusion.
Many people don’t like to carry their passports around, and rightly so. Just make a copy of it and keep it on you at all times (this will also be handy if you lose it, or it gets stolen).
I hate hand sanitizer. I hate the sticky feeling it leaves and the sickly smell. The scent of the alcohol reminds me of a hospital, so much so that I an almost feel the prick of a needle in my arm when it hits my nose. Blech. That said, it comes in really handy when traveling in Italy, because as every traveler knows, bathrooms aren’t always equipped with soap, towels, or toilet paper.
In Italy, it’s also pretty common to find a toilet with no seat for reasons unknown. I’ve heard that it’s because they’re taxed, or that it’s because they get broken and never replaced. I’m not sure what events lead up to a toilet seat breaking, nor am I sure I want to know, but just know that they’re not always available.
You might also like to know that squatty potties are also a thing in Italy, especially in Veneto. I actually prefer them, because they take the quadricep-spasm inducing balancing act that’s necessary when dealing with a pee-soaked toilet bowl rim out of the equation.
Anyway, hand sanitizer is a good thing to have if you happen to encounter one of Italy’s not-so-nice bathrooms.
Did you guess that this one was coming?! Tissues are also key in the not-so-nice bathroom equation in case there’s no toilet paper. They’re also good for making friends in a line, because not everyone will be as prepared as you are.
In order to enter certain churches, you have to have your shoulders covered. A scarf is an easy way to cover up if you’re here during the summer and wearing a sundress or a tank top.
It’s important to know that short shorts/dresses/skirts are not allowed either. If you have a t-shirt on, you can wrap the scarf around your waist to cover your knees instead of putting it over your shoulders.
If you’re wearing a short skirt/shorts/dress AND you have your shoulders uncovered aaaaand you didn’t read this post so you don’t know you should always have a scarf, you still might be ok: many churches sell these kind of papery, hospital-gownish things for a euro or two. They are not particularly fetching, but they’re cheap and allow you to visit the sites you want.
This is a new addition for 2021 for obvious reasons. Masks are required in indoor spaces and crowded areas. The rules on masks outdoors change according to which color zone you’re in, so double check to make sure you don’t get caught without one.
BONUS ITEM 1: A student or teacher ID
Students or teachers of architecture, conservation, literature or art history can sometimes get free or discounted entrance into certain museums, even if you’re not from the EU. This won’t apply in all places, but it’s worth a shot! Bring a letter or certificate of employment or enrollment and show it at the ticket counter.
If you are from the EU, definitely carry a teacher or student ID. Discounts apply much more broadly to EU citizens.
BONUS ITEM 2: A water bottle for people visiting Rome
Rome is full of drinking fountains for you to fill up a bottle at. Of course, bringing a water bottle is a great way to reduce your single-use plastic consumption. They’re also really convenient if you’re out for a long walk or a run – I always stop for a sip at the fountain near my house when I’m
feeling like I’m going to die while jogging.
Fontanelle.org has a map of all the fountains in Rome, so you can find the closest one to you.
Is there anything else you always carry when traveling in Italy? Let me know in the comments!
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