My 5 Best Tips When Traveling to Italy (Including Packing Carry-on Only)

Seville, Spain

I’m back from my four week trip to Spain and Italy. First we spent one week in Spain and then the Amalfi Coast and we ended up in Tuscany because it was one of my favourite places from when we were there three years ago.

Terreeia and I already spend a lot of time together because we work together, it was fun to be with just my wife and not my VP of Operations and Business Development. It was so amazing to be able to take this kind of bucket list trip together.

My Mom (below) joined us in Positano halfway through to travel with us for the last 12 days. Every time I spend an extended period of time with her, I’m reminded of what an extraordinary human being she is. I felt truly blessed that we could afford to treat her on such a memorable trip. She loved Italy and especially the old villages we explored.

My sweet Mom Hellen

Italy is truly a not-to-be-missed trip in this lifetime.

Here are my 5 best (I bet you haven’t read these anywhere else) tips:

Travel Days

When you are going on a long trip like this, I would work hard to minimize ‘travel days’. Even if you are traveling for only one hour to get to your next destination, hotel or Air B&B, that day still becomes kind of a write-off.

You get up, have breakfast, pack up your stuff, check out, wait for your transportation, then you’re on a car, boat or train for one or more hours, then you arrive, wait for transportation to your accommodation and then either leave your bags at the hotel because it’s too early to check-in and go for lunch, or you check in and now it’s closer to dinner-time.

Also, on travel days I recommend that you check-out immediately after breakfast. You’re just waiting to leave anyway so there’s very little vacationing you can have on a day where you have to move to the next destination, even if it’s a short distance away.

And I don’t know about you, but travel days are stressful, you have to wait in line, traveling in the summertime is hot and sticky and a debate or argument, however small is inevitable, doesn’t matter who you are traveling with.

Conversations that potentially go like this:

What time is the train?

1:00 pm

So I’ll arrange the taxi for 11:00 am?

11:00 am? That’s too early, it’s only going to take an hour to get to the train station?!?!

Ugh, do you have to do everything at the last minute, what if there’s traffic?

In Tuscany? I don’t think so.

Then you get there and you’re looking up at the screen and instead of the destination being Naples (like it says on the ticket) it says Milan.

You say to your spouse: The screen says Milan.

Okay, can you ask someone? I’ll stay here with the luggage.

Hey (you yell so she can hear you, or start impatiently tapping on your phone), ‘What are you doing in that line, our train will leave before you get the question answered, give me the ticket!!!’

You walk over to someone official (who is not behind a long line of people) and inquire “This ticket says Naples, but the screen says Milan, can you help me?”

“Señora, you are looking at the arrivals screen NOT the departure screen.”

OH.

Okay, thanks.

See what I’m saying? If you are on a month long trip and you are going to six different cities like we did, INCLUDING the traveling day or day and a half to get there, and the day to travel home. That’s eight days you might as well subtract from the trip.

My next fantasies of going to Italy involve renting one Villa for the entire time and taking day trips.

What do you think of this plan? Do you agree or disagree?

Mosquitos

No one talks about the bugs in Europe but what you need to know is most of Europe does not have screens on the windows.

The perimeter of the villa we stayed at 3 years ago for one week in Tuscany was regularly sprayed for flying ants (which were rampant when we were there in September).

Terreeia had brought mosquito repellant and as she applied it to her ankles one evening during dinner because she was suddenly getting attacked,  immediately another diner jumped up and asked if she could borrow it. She said they were staying in an Air B&B with no air conditioning and the mosquitoes were eating them alive at night.

So if mosquitoes love you, bring repellent.

Lost Luggage

As some of you know from previous posts and Instagram, the airline lost my luggage one week into the trip when we arrived in Naples to take the boat to Capri where the first part of our Amalfi Coast vacation.

I have lost my luggage many years ago. The lesson I learned from that was to ALWAYS have carry-on luggage and pack EVERYTHING in there you would really hate to lose. And we travel all the time and I do that every. single. time.

Except for this trip.

Everyone said ‘pack light just take one suitcase for those cobblestone streets’. So that’s what we did. We took the next size up from carry-on luggage and packed carefully. And I just threw it all in there thinking “Well what are the odds that this ONE TIME I will lose it.

Well, that’s exactly what happened.

Here’s what happens when you lose your luggage:

First, depending on where you’ve landed and certainly, if you are in small villages in Italy, it’s pretty hard to replace what you have brought in your luggage.

Think about all the little things you have with you, they are impossible to replace on a vacation. If you truly tried to replace most of what you brought, all you would be doing is shopping. It would become like a job. Not something you want to do on a dream trip to Italy.

So the first couple days you hope that your luggage will arrive at any moment so you buy a few things to get you through, but you’re waiting and praying that it just gets delivered.

After 4 days, you resign yourself to that you probably won’t see it on this trip and that’s when I ended up in the ONLY store in Praiano which was stuffed with everything from underwear to bathing suits.

If you are traveling to Europe in the summer, it’s generally HOT.  Anyone who wants to take a 3 or 4 week trip with just carry on luggage, what you need to understand is that you get really sick of wearing the same thing all the time, but if you’re up for it, here’s the list of what you need, now that I’ve actually done it myself:

1 pair of beige linen pants with an elastic waist. That’s all that was available in the little shop and it turned out they are super comfortable and makes any top you are wearing look smooth. I wore these constantly, every morning we’d go down for breakfast and I’d throw them on, and they also worked well at night when it cooled down for dinner.

Also, an elastic waist is perfect because you’ll be eating more bread and gelato than usual, haha.

Two sleeveless linen tops (mine were blue and white). Here’s what I’ve discovered about linen, anyone who thinks it’s too wrinkly and doesn’t like the look has not worn a linen top COMBINED with linen pants, shorts or a skirt. Linen looks fabulous but as it turns out when you wear it together!

Terreeia brought two pairs of linen pants and a bunch of linen tops with her and she looked so great every day!

Hellen (Mom) and Terreeia

1 white sleeveless cotton blouse. It’s dressier than a t-shirt and good for when you don’t feel like wearing linen which can be a little scratchy.

2 Linen Dresses  Everyone wears linen in Italy. Even the men.

The first trip we took, I brought a pair of denim shorts (below) which I just assume are perfect for hot weather. When I look back now at those pictures, I got really tired of seeing those denim shorts.

I only brought one pair of white denim shorts on this trip and then they were lost after the first week, I didn’t wear shorts at all in Italy. And really, they are just not necessary (unless you don’t wear dresses). I could tell the tourists that were in Italy the first time because they looked just like me the first time. Shorts and a t-shirt. There’s nothing wrong with that of course but I’m just giving you the hot tip on how not to look like a complete tourist.

Our first trip 3 years ago

I wore the dresses almost every day because they are the coolest item of clothing when the temperatures hit above 25 degrees Celsius.

Because linen wrinkles so much, it’s important that you choose a dress that has a zipper at the waist so that it still has shape when it wrinkles (below), also make sure it is a little longer.

A short linen dress is not as pretty and feminine. The second dress I bought was a little shorter and looked like a sack on me once it wrinkled. I left it behind.

Sunglasses

A hat

Contact Lenses

Makeup and sunscreen

Underwear

Toothbrush

Glasses (if you wear them)

Probably the item I’m most upset about are the tortoiseshell prescription glasses that were lost in my luggage. This shape is really unusual (see the photo on the right) but also I loved that they were cream and black so they matched my hair and went with literally everything.

I bought them in a little shop in Florence when we were there 3 years ago and they were a no-name brand so unfortunately, that’s not helpful at all.

I also love the shape of my blue glasses that I was wearing so I was happy they weren’t lost (below left) but that shape is also VERY DIFFICULT to find, and they are Guess and were formerly sunglasses.

If anyone knows where I could find either shape in the colouring on the RIGHT I would be so grateful!

Black cashmere wrap

This is a MUST for any traveler, it’s like a blanket on a plane, light as a feather and so easy to throw into your bag when you go out for dinner at night in case it gets cool.

This was the only one I could find online (below) and it is long gone, if anyone knows where I can find this I would appreciate it. Mine has holes in it that I’ve sewn and I would love to replace it. Also, if you don’t have one, you need one in your life. I have had this wrap for something like 15 years and wear it to death, every time I travel.

See how without the arms it’s long like a blanket? That’s why it’s so awesome for the plane. But yet so wearable and warm in the evening when the weather gets cooler.

Can you tell I love this sweater, ha!

Denim Jacket (I wore this mostly on travel days, and the cashmere wrap the rest of the time, it was lighter, yet warm and easy to carry with me)

Bathing Suit (smart advice from one of my readers who said always pack your bathing suit in the carry-on because a great fitting bathing suit is hard to replace on a trip).

A black (or any colour really) easy to wear, jersey dress for dinners out

1 maxi dress, so easy and comfy to throw on for breakfast or dinner.

A t-shirt and chinos for travel days (they are generally more comfortable than a dress or shorts for traveling and sitting)

Flip flops

2 pairs of dressier sandals

1 pair of comfortable traveling shoes

Another great packing tip someone posted was to pack half your stuff in your spouse’s luggage, this way one person isn’t totally stranded without clothes if you do lose your luggage.

Use the bank machine when you need cash

The first time we went to Italy, I exchanged money in those touristy exchange places and paid something like 24% without realizing it.

In this world where bank machines are everywhere, that’s all you need for cash. This way you are never carrying too much with you and you don’t get gouged when you exchange it after you arrive at your destination.

You definitely need cash in Italy. Everyone wants cash there and they are not ashamed to ask and insist upon it as a form of payment.

Most taxi drivers insist on cash, the porter when transferring your luggage (you can drag it from the top of Positano down or up all those stairs to your hotel but they will deliver it for 6 euros each) wants cash and well, every time you turn around you need to tip someone (especially if you’re staying in hotels).

How not to get gouged by taxi drivers

Ask IN ADVANCE and have exact change.

Taxi drivers are the worst, the same thing happens in Mexico if you are not a savvy traveler.

When we arrived in Naples. We were able to jump into a van with a bunch of other people to get from the boat to the train station (the line for the taxi was around the block) and we were charged 10 euros each (total of 30) which is extortion for a 10 minute drive in a van with 12 people.

Then at the end of our trip, the hotel told us that the ride to the airport was 25 euros, when we arrived, the cab driver actually repeated that the trip was in fact 25 euros but when I handed him 50 (because that’s all I had) he gave me 15 back? When I said, “What? You said 25, he replied, “It’s 35 euros because it was 3 people”. However, if I had the exact change, this would not have happened.

Read this if nothing else!

And there’s something way more important than any of this that I want to share with you today!

My Mom noticed that the eczema on her finger immediately went away when she arrived in Italy. She also noticed that she could eat anything and not get sick. At home, especially with sweets, if they are not totally organic, she wakes up with a pain in her spine. Sometimes she’ll just be really tired all day and right away she’ll take it back to something she ate the day before.

In Italy, she didn’t have any pain at all and no eczema. When she arrived home and had a bath, it immediately started flaring up again.

And that brings me to a very important conversation about water.

I clicked on this link today on a blog that I read and cried for 20 minutes as I watched the video and immediately became a monthly contributor.

I was most impressed that 100% of all contributions funds clean water!

It makes all our first world problems like losing luggage seem very small indeed!

I’m happy to be home my lovelies, and I hope you enjoyed my recap! Let me know what’s your favourite!

Related posts:

There’s no Subway Tile in Spain

Italy Loves a Good Rainshower (But I would change one little thing)

The Timeless Flooring Everywhere in Italy

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  1. Maria, we got a full house water filter system plus water softener(I never knew they were two different things!). My son’s eczema has been much better since. Definitely worth doing for your mom!

  2. I love to travel and don’t mind moving locations, hotels, etc. That’s half the fun! You see new things, meet lots of people and have new adventures. Some of the best times we’ve had while travelling were while in transit – either in a rental car or a train. Of course I’m retired and that makes all the difference, Maria. When my husband and I were still in the work force it made perfect sense to do the resort thing because let’s do face it, all we wanted to do was veg when we earned vacation time. Now that we’re retired, we plan ‘veg time’ in our daily routine.
    As for the Mosquitos, we discovered an amazing device here in Australia. It’s called a “Mozzigear” and I picked up a couple at the local pharmacy. It fits in the palm of your hand and gives off a high frequency noise that repels the “mozzies” within a 3-meter range. It has a built in timer and there’s even a clip on the back so you can clip it to your clothing, book or in our case our night table lamps. There are no screens on the apartment we rent here and the first few nights we were bitten like crazy while we’d slept. But not any more. You should be able to buy them online if they’re not available in the shops – well worth the $13 I paid here (probably a lot less at home in Canada). Hope you check them out.
    PS – I love all your blog posts!

  3. Great advice as usual, Maria. (We always pack one change of clothes on carry on after a travel fiasco on the way home from California. There was a dust storm when we were to change planes in Dallas and we couldnt get home for 3 days. They had to rebook 700 flights. I figured – why worry about carry on when you are flying HOME? Who cares if the luggage gets lost. Big mistake.)

    For eyeglass frames – try warbyparker.com I need progressive lenses but I have purchased online frames from them and had the lenses made at Costco. The Olive, Haley, Maeve and Upton frames look similar. (They have many physical storefronts but not in BC). And wonderful service and warranty.

  4. Loved hearing about your trip! We’ve been several times and definitely want to go back. And thank you for the travel tips. After breaking my foot the 3rd day of a 2 week vacation in Spain, I could only wear one pair of pants that would fit over my cast and the one dress I brought. Made me realize I could pack much lighter!
    Wonderful your mother could enjoy Italy without the symptoms she experiences here. I sympathize with her and have to share my experience. When I am in Italy I can eat pizza, pasta, etc, and I have no problems with eczema. Not so at home unless it is gluten free. For me it is because the wheat used in Italy is different from the wheat used in the US. I was also very tired most of my life needing naps and going to bed early. My doctor explained the gluten levels in the wheat here are different than in Italy. It was a huge adjustment but I gave up wheat products about 15 years ago. It changed my life! Your mother may want to try it. Initially it’s not easy but so worth it to feel great!

    • I have a good friend who’s experienced the same thing. She has terrible eczema due to gluten and is gluten free. She was astounded a couple of years ago to learn that Italian wheat does not do the same thing. There are some varieties sold in the US that are grown in Italy and she buys that kind of pasta successfully. Really interesting, doing something wrong over here!

  5. We have enjoyed renting villas in Europe, and a car as well, eliminating some of the stress of ’travel days’ and taking short day trips to special destinations (usually alternating with rest days). Most of all, we enjoy living like a local person. We go to farmers’ markets, have simple meals in, and get a real sense of what day to day life is like in the country we are staying in. We have rented in England, Scotland, France, Italy and Sweden, staying in apartments in Paris and London and country homes or villas in the countryside. It is a more leisurely, in-depth kind of travel that you might enjoy, and I know you would love mentally redecorating the houses as well. Glad you had such a wonderful trip, and best luck for any future adventures!

  6. Loved reading the suggestions about Barcelona since we’re going in October.

    I’ve never lost luggage traveling, but it’s a good reminder to at least put some of my stuff in my husband’s bag and vice versa.

    Completely agree about not moving cities too often. Our minimum is 3-4 nights in one place, but we usually find 5-7 nights to be perfect.

  7. First of all Maria, so glad you gals had a wonderful holiday and made it home safely. Having once worked for a major airline; don’t give up hope on your luggage quite yet as unless it was stolen it could very well turn up. (Speaking from experience luggage has been known to literally travel the world and arrive a year later … that’s the truth!) As for the tortoise shell eyeglasses; you might wish to web search — the outnet.com PRISMS MOSCOW tortoise shell sunglasses as they appear to resemble yours and are made in Italy. (List price $222.00, style Cats Eye .) Regarding the travel tips you gave; excellent and can relate to what you say about taxi fares reason why if/when staying in a specific spot it doesn’t hurt to pack a few goodies/treats as tokens of appreciation to drivers or for that matter housekeeping staff. -Brenda-
    Footnote: I often pack a few (quality) key chains and as a result, have had taxi’s wait (without the meter running) while exploring a tourist site then giving me their contact info for additional service. As for house keeping staff; a box of chocolates or in some cases even items that you are planning on to discard are often much appreciated but ensure you include a note of confirmation that they are a gift. -Brenda-
    Footnote: When in Cuba I promised our housekeeper that I would leave a decorated miniature tabletop, artificial Xmas Tree that brought tears to her eyes for my thoughtfulness as to her, it was a luxury. Whereas, when my daughter had a destination wedding in Jamaica; I let those who cleaned our rooms choose from an assortment of sunglasses and beach towels which in return encouraged one of the gardeners at the hotel to offer and pick fresh flowers for the men’s lapels and invited my husband and myself to his home for a traditional Jamaican dinner which was delicious BTW. I can give you more examples … but I’ve been long winded enough …. ☺.

    • OM goodness; something I forgot to also include was also a tip for wearing flip-flops (mules or slides) which can be a challenge when navigating certain surfaces (like cobblestone streets, one with an incline etc.) — starting just a bit in from the heel apply to the insole, two side-by-side pieces of ‘double sided clear’ (Scotch) tape about 3″ – 4″ in length that will prevent your foot from slipping/shifting or the shoe from flopping. Turn back the tape just a wee bit at one end so it will give you something to grip on to when removing it. This works on foam or leather and even for shoes that might be a tad too large. -Brenda-
      P.S.: Promise, I won’t bother you any more …. ☺.

    • We always leave a tip for the house keeper but I should have left a note on the dress I left behind, darn. Otherwise I guess it just sits in lost and found! Thanks Brenda! Maria

  8. Please say more about your mother and the water issue. You mean the water in her home is the culprit, and water in Italy was better?

    • Yes I assume it was the chlorine in our water, I think my mother needs to install a filter for the entire house, we have looked into it and a filter that strictly removes chlorine is only around $500. Hope that helps, Maria

  9. Love your taste Maria, but…Funny story about linen outfit. Visiting my father in the nursing home in my oh so sharp linen skirt with linen top many years ago. A resident said, “You’re outfit is all wrinkled. I guess wrinkled clothes are popular.” Hmmmm. The emperor’s clothes.

  10. Great tips. We are taking our two teens to Rome for a week at the end of May. It’s our first time to Italy if anyone has suggestions. We plan on staying in Rome but taking a long day trip to Pompeii/Positano. Laughing a bit at 25 Celsius being “hot” enough for linen; it will be 34-37C (94-99F) here in Dallas this week.

    • Well I met above 25C, haha we were lucky that we didn’t have extreme temps there this year as last year it was apparently around 34C straight through until the Fall! Maria

  11. Love that you had a great trip! Looks amazing. While scrolling through the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale I found some items that might fit the bill for your replacements (at least until you get your bags back). It doesn’t look like I can post pictures (and the links are crazy long) so search for these two items: Kyoto 51mm Cat Eye Sunglasses & Gibson Convertible Cozy Fleece Wrap Cardigan – I know it’s not cashmere, but the style looks very similar. Love your blog!!

  12. What a fantastic collection of very specific, very practical travel tips, between your post and the many comments from experience travelers! Love the info that ‘linen looks good with linen’…I have several linen tops that have been hanging in my closet for years, and have struggled with how to wear them–so I love this tip. Do Italians iron their linen or just it drip dry and wear ‘as is’?

    Exploitative cabbies are in the US too–was traveling alone (leisure trip so not in professional attire) to Philadelphia 2012, as a 50-something woman. I’m sure the cabbie regretted choosing me as his target for fraud that day.

    I knew the exact route from the airport to my hotel in Cherry Hill, NJ, having stayed there the previous year, and had, fortuitously, checked the current approximate cab fare just prior to travel. The cabbie pulled the dirty trick of driving several miles past the correct turnoff for my hotel then circling back, while all the while I yelled at him to stop.

    I refused to pay more than the approximate correct fare (carried exact change as you suggest), and caused enough of a kerfuffle outside the hotel that the bell captain came outside to investigate…and supported my case. The tip went to the bell captain, of course.

    There was just too much going on for me to stop and photograph the license of the cab, alas, though might’ve felt a bit fearful/pointless doing so. Curious to know how other travelers have handled this type of situation.