19 July 2017

Really useful travel stuff - packing for Italy

Planning what to pack

I travel often, and my Italy trips fall into a limited number of categories. For example: "islands in summer", "ten days touring" or "winter in Venice".

A few years ago I created a ‘master’ packing list on my computer and now I simply amend it for specific occasions, and save each one with a name which will help me refer to it in future, e.g. "Venice July 2017". Next time I travel in summer I’ll probably use this one as a base. There are apps which will help with this kind of thing, but I find a simple document is quick and easy to use. I print it out and tick off the items as I pack them. I also take the piece of paper with me and scribble any notes for future reference on items I might have missed out, or things that proved unnecessary. It can become a geeky obsession as I start thinking of more methods for cross-referencing or feeding in different types of requirement (e.g. rental flats, beach trips)… but spending extra time on this might defeat the object of making travel easier.

I create a table dividing the page into four, as my packing falls into four basic categories:
1. Essential stuff - passport, documents, devices
2. Accessories and bits and pieces: bag, sunglasses, scarf, kitchen or beach stuff when needed
3. Clothes and shoes
4 Washkit and toiletries

The only section which changes much is the third: clothes and shoes will vary according to season, weather forecast, destination and length of stay. Most of the other items listed are constants. This makes planning and packing a straightforward process which takes very little time. Because the list stays the same and I've packed it scores of times, I also have a good idea of what will fit in.

> Sample packing list - this is a packing list I used on my last trip - although other travellers' needs and strategies will vary, some might find this a useful starting point.

Packing cubes & cabin-sized suitcase. They did fit in!

Basic essentials

What are the essentials for a trip to Italy? Or anywhere, really? Obviously certain items you can't do without – passport, cash, travel tickets and confirmations.  There are essentials which you can generally buy on arrival even if you forget to pack them: toothbrush, pants, sunglasses. Then there are whole categories of item which make travel easier, which could save you in a tricky situation, or which solve problems.
Over the years I've been travelling in Italy I've built up a collection of useful travel accessories and devices. I think they make life much easier.

> My article about packing, on the Italy Heaven website

Here are some of my ideas and packing tips:
- Toiletry bottles. Funnels are your friend. Decant, decant, decant, and use as small a bottle as you can. I never carry more toiletries than I'm likely to use over the duration of my trip. I refill and reuse the same miniature bottles of shampoo, conditioner and shower gel. Decanting sun-protection into a small spray bottle makes it much more portable for beaches and excursions. In the UK Boots and Superdrug both sell decent small bottles - squeezy, spray and other variants
- Plastic bags are also your friend. I buy self-seal sandwich bags from Poundland. They're useful for separating and protecting toiletries, packing food, making picnics, collecting together receipts, shells and pebbles, carrying sun lotions around, keeping cheese in the hotel fridge, waterproofing small valuables, packing pesto in my suitcase...
- Jiffy bags for cameras. Instead of carrying a bulky camera case I often stick my larger camera into a jiffy bag for protection. It'll then fit inside a shoulder bag or rucksack, and won't be obvious to thieves.
- Travel insurance and card details. As well as your insurance documents, keep a list of the cards you have with you and the emergency phone numbers to call in case you lose them. I try to keep copies of my passport and insurance details in a couple of different places in my baggage, and accessible online.

- Waterproofing. I keep a plastic rucksack cover permanently in the side pocket of my travel rucksack, and a clear plastic bin-liner in the front panel of my fabric suitcase. The bin-liner has a rough hole in it to accommodate the suitcase handle, and when it rains I simply pull the bin-liner on over the top of the case. It's a rough and ready solution but has kept my case dry on many occasions.

- Strategic packing. Ideally you should carry overnight essentials in your hand luggage. If your case goes missing, the airline should provide a basic overnight kit - but this is fairly limited. Keep medications, an umbrella and valuables on your person and not in your hold luggage. If you are travelling with a companion, split your belongings between your suitcases so that if one case gets lost, you'll both have some clothes and kit with you.

- Photograph your case. I read this tip somewhere, and now I keep a photo of my suitcase on my phone. It could come in handy for describing your luggage if it goes astray. Possibly photographing the contents would be a good idea for travel insurance purposes too, though I've never had to put this to the test.

- Identify your case. People really do leave the airport with the wrong luggage. Tie a bright ribbon onto your suitcase so that (a) you can spot it easily and (b) to deter another traveller from walking off with it.

Useful travel stuff - shopping links

Note that if you shop through the Amazon links, they'll pay a small amount of commission to Italy Heaven to support the website.

I've recently switched from compression bags to these packing cubes and I'm impressed. They keep stuff separate, and make it easy to unpack and repack - and you can leave your clothes in them and use them as storage during your holiday. They're not waterproof so I pack them in my case with the net window facing inwards. By moving the different sizes and shapes around, it is surprisingly easy to fit everything in your suitcase. They'd be great if you're travelling together and want to keep your clothing separate while dividing it between suitcases. I sometimes use a small one in a rucksack for organisation too. They're expensive, but I reckon I'll be using them for a long time.

I replace my platypus occasionally, but I've used these folding bottles for years. They'll fold up in a pocket or handbag, take up the minimum space for the water within them, and are useful for refilling at water fountains. Take them through airport security empty, then fill them at a drinking tap before boarding.

In a hotel room where you can't find the light switch, on an island with no street lights, or in an emergency situation, a torch is really useful.

The only sensible way to take toiletries on holiday, small travel bottles minimise the amount of space that lotions, gels and creams will take up.

A hanging wash bag is invaluable in hotel bathrooms with limited surface space. I've had a sturdy Lifeventure bag for at least ten years now; my travel toiletries reside in it permanently ready for the next journey.

Tiny Swiss Army Knife with tweezers and scissors, this fits within the blade length limits for security screening at most airports, so I travel with it in my hand luggage. Once or twice it's been examined and I have snapped off the longest tool to be on the safe side. Really useful if you're flying hand luggage only or need scissors during your journey.

This lightweight titanium travel cutlery is great for preparing and eating light meals and picnics in your hotel room or on the beach. A pricier but better alternative to a plastic spork.

Doing some washing by hand means you can travel that much lighter. Swimwear, microfibre undies and specialist outdoor gear usually dry very quickly.

Plastic carrier bags do the job ok but proper shoe bags pack more neatly and protect shoes better.

These are the best cheap ear plugs I've found. I never travel without them - useful for hotel room and also if you have noisy neighbours on the plane.

> More about packing for Italy
> Sample packing list

Two packing strategies: Sheldon Cooper and Mr Bean

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