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Perfect carry on packing for a summer Italian vacation

carry on travel how to pack a carry on italian vacation packing for Italy Packing light packing tips for summer tips for packing travel light travel smart

How can I possibly pack everything I need for a 10-day summer vacation to Italy or other European and Mediterranean vacation in a carry on bag?  It seems impossible, right?  But it's not... really.

If you will be moving around from place to place and possibly traveling on trains or ferries, you will want to have small luggage.  Larger luggage is very heavy and hard to maneuver, so just trust me on this one.  You will be very happy you brought carry on. 

You just need a little planning and strategic packing tips.  I actually took my boys to Italy for 28 days and we took only carry on luggage, so I know it can be done.  

First of all, one of the most important things that you can do is first check with all of the airlines that you will be flying (especially the smaller, regional carriers) to see what their baggage measurement requirements are.  Some of the regional carriers, like Ryan Air and Easy Jet have pretty strict dimension and weight rules.  The measurements include wheels. The airlines don't always check, but you don't want to be at the airport trying to figure it out. This actually happened to us once and they took our bags and threw them onto the plane so we had to wait for them later at baggage claim and then we almost missed our connecting flight.

Also, light luggage is key to stay under the maximum weight requirement.

What to pack:

Once you have the right luggage, then plan to pack items that are light, do not wrinkle easily and can be worn several times.  I like to pack light cotton knits or tencel or jersey.  If something is fast drying that is even better.  You may want to do a quick wash in the sink and hang something to dry overnight and the fast-drying fabrics are so great for this.

Also key is to plan to take items in a neutral color palette with maybe one or two things in a color for pop, such as a bright scarf.  If you pack one belt and a couple of scarves, you can really make an outfit look different.  

Lay out all of your options first on your bed and group them together to see which ones can actually be worn with others.  Then weed out the ones that can only be worn once, or will not be as versatile.  You really don't need as much as you think.  

If you are visiting beach locations, then pack two swimsuits.  One that can be drying after a day at the beach or pool, and rotate wearing them.  If you are taking small bikinis, you probably have room for 3.

Once you have your outfits laid out and have carefully and brutally curated your options, you can decide which underwear you will need for each.  I always pack very light, fast drying panties so that I can wash and line dry them.  This is what the locals do.  It only takes a minute, will save you packing room, and you will feel like you fit right in with the locals!   Hint:  I sometimes actually take my oldest undies and then just leave them and when I come back home from my trip I buy new ones. (or I will purchase new ones there to bring home, which is even more fun!)

Pack one light jacket or sweater for night time or in case you hit some unexpected weather. Depending upon where you are traveling and what month it could be a little chillier in the morning too.  I usually just wear this on the plane to save room in your carry on.  You will most likely need it on the plane anyway.

Scarves:  One scarf on the plane and pack one.  I'm talking about the larger ones that can double as a headscarf or shoulder cover, if needed to sheild from heat, cold, or to pop into a church.  One neutral and one printed or bright. Again, lightweight rayon, lightweight woven cashmere or linen is best!   Hint:  If you are going to the Amalfi Coast or Greece, you can buy beautiful linen scarves there!

Shoes:  Wear your heaviest and biggest shoes on the plane.  I aways wear Sketchers Go Walk because they come on and off easily for security checks, and they are the absolute most comfortable, like walking on a cloud, shoe for walking for me.  And they are cool! And, absolutely do not wear or pack new shoes!  Make sure that they are tried and tested for awhile before trusting that they will not hurt your feet or cause blisters.  Pack a pair of very comfortable (again not new) flat or very, very low sandals.  If you will be walking on cobblestones, or going up and down stairs or hills, you do not want to be wearing heels or wedges.  I have seen many women roll their ankle or take a bad fall just because they wanted to wear their cutest shoes.  Not a good idea.  Again, trust me on this.  

Dresses and skirts:  Anything lightweight and unconstructed is good.  Maxi dresses are wonderful for lounging and day wear at a resort, as a pool or beach coverup.  I would not recommend wearing a full length dress or skirt for walking anywhere up and down stairs, however, so plan accordingly.  Skirts with elastic waist or drawstring are great.  They are comfortable and if you eat too much pasta or gelato, they expand.  I always pack one shorter length skirt.  Mine has is a thing cotton blend knit with a drawstring that I also use over my swimsuit.  Double duty.  You can find some gorgeous travel dresses by Lovestitch and Muche et Muchette in the shop.

Hats:  You will want at least one hat.  I like to pack a "packable" or "crushable" hat.  It saves space in your luggage and you will not have to worry that you will ruin your favorite hat.  Or you can always just buy one at your destination.

Pants:  I usually take 2 pair of linen pants (white and black).  They are the exception to my "no wrinkle" rule.  Linen in summer is always a good idea!   You can take one pair of lightweight jeans to wear at night.  I own linen drawstring pants and also one with elastic that are actually really cute.  I also always take a pair of "lounge" pants or the popular upgraded track pants, the kind with the elastic at the ankle.  They look nicer than sweats and if they are woven and not knit you can dress them up nicely.

Tops:  Pack neutral, interchangeable tops.  One or two off shoulder.  One or two cute t shirts.  One long sleeve tee.  Two or three tank tops.  Loose fitting is best to stay cool in hot weather. One or two nicer, dressier tops for going out at night.  Shop at cactusandolives.com for cute choices.

Jumpsuit/romper:  If you really like these then by all means pack one!  A full length jumpsuit is nice for evening.  Just be very clear about where you will be going, as using the toilette is more difficult and less private if you have to take it all off.

Pack one go-with-everything swimsuit cover up and one beach bag.  I like the lightweight poncho tops that I can wear as a top or use as a cover up.

Handbags:  Try to use your beach bag, if it is large, as your carry on purse for the flight. Then pack a smaller, thin crossbody bag if you will be doing a lot of walking and shopping in a city like Rome.  Either neutral tan, off white or black leather, or nylon.  You may want a small clutch also for going out to dinner or to a club at night.  I have a lovely hand painted made in Italy clutch and crossbody to add a pop of color to your neutrals in the shop now @ cactusandolives.com

Jewelry:  Pack only inexpensive, replacement items in case they are lost or stolen and keep them with you (not in your luggage) at all times during travel.  If you are carrying on and you are sure that the airlines will not take your luggage and check it, then you can put it in there.  I always bring minimal jewelry and keep it in my personal bag.  Better yet, or in addition to, wear a few temporary tattoos.  I do, and everywhere I go, people comment on them.  They are so much fun and just a little sassy!  Flash Tattoos are in 3 styles in the shop now.

Sunglasses and readers:  Always take at least one pair of each.  You can always buy another pair of sunglasses there.  Again, keep these with you though if you need them or if the sunglasses are expensive.

Electrical equipment: Phone charger; Power/outlet converter (check online to make sure you have the correct one for the countries you will be visiting) not all hotels need them, and not all will supply them to you, so bring this in case!;  if you must:  travel size curling iron

Toiletries and makeup:  Since you will be carrying on, these must all be in the appropriate size to meet the TSA security standards, so decant your favorites ahead of time.  If you are staying in a hotel you will not need shampoo and body wash.  But they do not always provide hair conditioner, so you may want to take that.  Take a toothpaste, facial sunscreen for sure. You can always buy what you need there.  Makeup:  minimal and small! Lotions/moisturizers:  take "sample" packs if you can, or travel size and look for a multiple function.  

Feminine products:  These are available at the local Farmacias, but again, they are not always open.  Take some just in case.  Trust me on this one girls.  I learned the hard way once and will never do that again.

Medications:  Pack these in your travel purse and keep with you at all times.  Refill any Rx's ahead of time.  Good idea to take some ibuprofen if you use it.  The Farmacias in Italy are great and have everything.  But, word ... in small towns there is not always one to be found and sometimes they are only open once or twice a week.   Here's my cardinal rule about meds:  If it's something you have to have in order to live, pack it!  If you can live without it, literally, buy it there. 

Misc.:  Bug repellent.  If you are bothered by mosquitoes, as I am, then pack some disposable repellent wipes!  La Fresh makes some wonderful natural peppermint oil packets, and Off has some stronger chemical ones if you need heavier protection.  La Fresh also has excellent travel packs for other needs and I highly recommend them.  Been a fan for years.

Journal/Notebook and Pen:  I always take a small journal and a pen.  You think that you will remember everything, but you won't remember the details, names, addresses, thoughts, emotions, etc.  Plus I just love writing it all down and re reading it later to relive it.  I have three of my favorites in my shop now... Trust Your Crazy Ideas, Live Inspired, and What If? in my shop.  They are small, lightweight and gorgeous.

Small wallet/change purse:  You will not want or need your regular, at-home, everyday wallet, but you will need somewhere to put your Euro, ATM card, etc. to keep it organized and readily available in your handbag.  I have a lovely small leather one by Stitch and Tickles, that I adore!  It is the perfect size and fits easily inside even my smallest crossbody bag.  I will be carrying these in my shop soon.

Extra carry on bag:  Pack one extra collapsible carry on bag in the bottom of your suitcase.  I like a heavier weight nylon bag.  It folds up to nothing and I can either put my soiled laundry in it to bring home and make room in my actual suitcase for new purchases. I carry Bric's luggage, so for me, it was a no-brainer to get the matching Bric's foldable satchel.  Somehow you will always come home with more than you left with and you will need more packing space. Again, trust me on this.

Things you will not need to pack:

Blow drier (confirm with your hotels, villa or apartment that they are provided); umbrella (if it rains, and you are in a city, people will magically appear, selling them.  If you are in a small town, you can either buy one or just duck into a cute shop, wine bar or restaurant and wait it out).  Shampoo, body wash.  Heavy coat.  Anything bulky or heavy.

Do not pack flip flops, they are not supportive enough and may be a hazard when walking.

Recommended method of packing: 

So, the actual packing.  Ughh!  How am I going to fit this all in?  If you followed all of my previous steps and tips, then it will all fit.  If not, you will need to edit so more.

Just a little back story...

On a trip to Italy with my hubby I decided to just go all out and take two suitcases, one larger and one small and check them instead of carrying on.  I did not put any change of clothes in my carry on bag.  When we arrived he got his one bag and NEITHER of my check bags arrived!  Non buona!  I arrived at my destination on a Sunday in a small town and no stores were in open, the ones that were already had the next season clothing for sale (it was September and 90 degreed outside).  They were selling Fall clothes only and no swimsuits either.  I had no change of underwear, no make up and no toiletries.  Luckily hubby had toothpaste, but I did not even have a toothbrush.  We had to spend almost the whole day looking and searching that small town for essentials.  I learned to live in my same little black tank dress with a belt and scarf and wash my undergarments.  I had to go swimming in those undergarments.  My bags and I were finally reunited after 5 days. I learned to live light and pack light.  So, moral of the story is take a carry on and pack light! And always keep a few extra essentials (underwear, one bikini, toothbrush) in your handbag.  You never know.

So, let's get to packing:

Pack your heaviest items at the bottom of your bag.  This is where I put my toiletries bag and my shoes.  If you are packing a belt, wrap it around the inside edges of the bag.  Now, for the best part... Roll all of your clothing.  Heaviest first.  If you are taking a pair of jeans, those at the bottom.  Stuff your undies and swim suits into shoes, or gaps.  I roll t shirts and other small items to also fill gaps.  Keep rolling and packing until everything goes in.  Make sure that you can easily zip and unzip without anything falling out or getting caught because TSA may/will open your bag.  You don't want to lose anything or have is snagged.

Phew!  Are you ready to go?  Hope this all helped.  Please let me know if you have questions or comments.  Always happy to help my fellow traveler.

Now go have a fantastic adventure!

Buon viaggio!

Terri xoxo


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  • Lisa DeNunzio on

    Years ago I learned how to pack like a sailor – i.e. roll all your clothes. It has worked and I swear by this method. www.cacalecrete.com

  • teresa levin on

    Great ideas…wish I had read this before our recent trip. Just ended up with too many clothes but had a wonderful time in spite it! Thanks.

  • Mandy Bowkett on

    This will be very helpful for my trip next month! Thanks for the useful tips!


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