Wednesday, June 9, 2010

How to Pack for a Month in Italy

1. Check passport for expiration. Notice the passport photo. Scream in terror. Sit quietly until hyperventilation subsides. Then remember that, if you really looked as bad as the photo would indicate, you’d be too sick to travel anyway.

2. Check the exchange rate. Laugh sadistically as the Euro continues its slow descent into oblivion.

3. Check the weather forecasts. Let’s see, RDU:

Thursday: 92° and insufferably muggy

Friday: 92° and insufferably muggy

Saturday: 92° and insufferably muggy

Sunday: 92° and insufferably muggy

Monday (cold snap): 90° and painfully muggy

Ok, ok, let’s try Agropoli:

Thursday: 82° with low humidity and a sea breeze

Friday: 82° with low humidity and a sea breeze

Saturday: 81° with low humidity and a sea breeze

Sunday: 78° with low humidity and a sea breeze

Monday: 76° with low humidity and a sea breeze

Sweet Jesse, get me out of here!

4. Check exchange rate again. Chortle derisively.

5. Pack bags. There are two basic systems, the Dave system and the Sandy system. The Dave system is based on the theory that you can’t haul enough for a month so you needn’t even try, plus there’s a remote chance that there’s a laundromat somewhere in Italy south of Rome. Pack four pairs shorts, seven polo shirts, one button-down shirt, one pair of jeans, a lightweight sweater, a lightweight poncho, deck shoes, seven pairs of underwear, four pairs of athletic socks, one pair dress socks. Neatly fold and roll up each item, and then pack it in the bag vertically. This has three advantages. First, it takes less room. Second, if you will be living out of your suitcase, so to speak, you’ll easily be able to identify each item to co-ordinate your outfits. Third, if you do it carefully, the clothes come out virtually wrinkle-free. You will wear on the flight a pair of khakis, a polo, a belt, sneakers. Sneakers are much better for hiking through airports. Screw fashion. Your only essential fashion element—and hear me well, it is absolutely essential— is a money belt, to be worn under your skivvies, on the theory that, even at your advanced level of decrepitude, if someone sticks his or her hand in your underwear, you’re probably going to notice. You will leave all other ID and credit cards at home except your driver’s license and one debit or credit card, both of which you will keep in your money belt at all times except during use. You will also store here the bulk of your cash, except as much as you think you can afford to lose without spoiling your whole day. I have walked the streets of Rome at 1 am with my wife and daughter and felt perfectly safe, but petty crime is rampant almost everywhere in Italy, even in churches. Lots of people there want your money; the legitimate ones are called the tourist industry, Italy’s second largest industry, and God bless ‘em. The illicit ones are various pickpockets and purse snatchers. And, by the way, Italians adore ATMs, so don’t feel that you have to bring a money vault or travelers’ checks. Just be sure your ATM card is linked to several of the major international systems such as Interlink and Plus.

Don’t forget toiletries, including OTC medications still in their blister packs, but don’t go crazy; there’s a farmacia on every corner in Italy (look for the green neon cross), and most pharmacists when queried will insists they can barely speak English and then proceed to speak it better than you. Furthermore, remember that in Italy pharmacists are your physicians of first and second resort and can prescribe for you all but the most serious of prescription drugs.

Take a good but not expensive camera; Sandy and I have been shutterbugs for 30+ years, and these new little cameras with their microchips make better pictures in more challenging circumstances than we were ever able to do with the best SLR cameras and a world of calculation. Humiliating, but true. Take your laptop, absolutely yes, but remember to take an adapter for your charger. The laptop is essential for communication with home, for uploading pictures when your camera is full (Italy is a gorgeous country; trust me, it’ll be full after two days), and for keeping a journal. Take your cell phone. Much as I despise the accursed things, they are essential in foreign countries where the landlines are unreliable and operators incomprehensible. Either sign up for an international plan which you will cancel a month after you return home, or buy a cheap prepaid in Italy. Don’t forget to check on roaming charges; I recently heard of an Aussie couple that was so enchanted by the GPS capabilities of their cell phone while here in the States that they used it everywhere in Europe (they made the loop to get back home). When they received their bill they had over $3,000 in roaming fees.

The Sandy system is based on the theory that you can’t possibly pack for a month, but, by God, you’re gonna try anyway. In fairness I will allow her to detail the particulars, but let me just say that this system does involve the packing of rollers (not the portable kind, the clunky box) and a small microwave oven. Good luck with that 55 pound weight limit.

6. Check the Euro. Giggle fiendishly.

7. Decide on the dreaded blowdryer issue. Remember, if you take your own, there is a 100% likelihood that it will blow the circuits in your room and then you will be dark and wet at the same time. You may prefer to use the Italian blowdryer provided in almost all hotels, in which case you may expect all the turbulence of a fairy’s sigh or a butterfly’s wing. But you will not be in the dark, and in a couple of days your hair will be dry.

8. Don’t forget to take your positive attitude for the flight over. You’ll need it. There are going to be travel glitches, it’s a dead certainty. Especially if you travel Air France and/or go through any of the New York-area airports. You can either drive yourself nuts or roll with the punches and consider it part of the adventure.

9. Take a small carryon with a change of underwear, small bottles of contact solution, etc. (don’t forget the 2 oz limit) and a toothbrush and toothpaste. Remember you’ll probably be in transit the better part of a day, what with the time difference (Italy is six hours ahead), so prepare to clean up a bit. Nothing makes a weary traveler feel better.

10. Check the exchange rate. Begin to chuckle, but then remember that, as the Euro goes, so goes your retirement portfolio. Screw it, you won’t need retirement money for a few more years. Go ahead and chuckle.


  1. Advice from a seasoned International traveler:
    1) Make a color copy of your passport ans stow it somewhere in your luggage. If you ever loose your original, this will greatly speed up the replacement process.
    2) Take a change of underwear, toothbrush & shaver on the plane with you. If (or in the case of Italy - when) your luggage is lost, you can at least get by for the first day.

  2. Have a wonderful trip. We'll be following for details and pictures.

    Ann McCann