Wearing backpacks in Italy

My wife and I are going to Rome, Florence, and Venice for 10 days in January. We got some backpacks to wear when we are sightseeing. I wanted to carry along our guide books, maps, camera, snacks, etc as well as carrying around any souveniers we buy. I know that it is important to cary our cash, credit cards, and passport in a money pouch on us and not in the backpack. Is there anything I should worry about when wearing a backpack other than sticking out as an obvious tourist?

Posted by donna
cranberry twp, PA, United States
3046 posts

I wouldn't put anything of value in a backpack including a camera. Backpacks make you an easy target especially when in crowded situations. I would suggest a messenger bag instead of a back pack. You can put the bag in front of you with your arm across it when in crowds and you won't be tempted to over load it like people do with back packs. Personally, I've never found the need to carry much during the day. A guide book and a map will fit in a small bag and the camera you'll want to keep handy. Donna

Posted by Lexma
568 posts

Quite a few museums and some churches (San Marco's in Venice) do not allow backpacks - you'll need to check them. Bring a small bag that you can transfer your necessary items into while your backpack(s) are checked. Also, when wearing a backpack, be careful when you turn from side to side, to make sure you don't hit people near you. Do you really need two backpacks? You might consider whether you need something that large, especially if you don't want to keep checking it. I have a small-ish Eagle Creek convertible bag, they don't make them any more, but it's primarily a shoulder bag or cross-body bag. It can also convert into a backpack, which I don't usually do unless I'm in the countryside. It's small enough that I'm only required to check it about 1/2 the time (and sometimes I choose to check it). But big enough for everything our family needs - umbrellas, a water bottle, multiple guide books, map, camera, any souveniers. We buy our snacks and then immediately eat them! Actually, we trade off who gets to carry it (it definitely doesn't look like a purse).

Posted by Loretta
Cartersville, GA, USA
101 posts

Hi Brandon, Aside from the obvious "I'm a tourist" appearance you mentioned, I can think of 3 possible drawbacks to wearing backpacks (and they might be of no account to you): 1) You will almost certainly have to check said backpacks in the cloak room at pretty much every museum you visit (unless they are small "day packs"). A minor inconvenience and takes a small bit of time, but nevertheless... 2) Backpacks are relatively easily pickpocketed in crowded areas, standing in lines, etc. As you said, if your cash, passports, etc. are in a money belt on your body and not in the pack, then that may be a non-issue. 3) To each his own, but backpacks get heavy in a hurry. I can/would/do: rip the necessary pages out of my guidebook rather than taking the whole (heavy) thing; use a pocket-size map or simply a paper tourist map from the hotel; use a pocket-size digital camera that fits easily in hubby's front shirt pocket (always accessible) or inside my "long-strap across the body" small purse; make sure I have a hotel room in the center of town so I can go back and drop off souvenirs I have purchased and don't have to carry too many souvenirs too far or for too long; usually don't carry around snacks unless it is a granola/energy bar or something like that--flat and small. I try to drink water when I buy it rather than carrying heavy water bottles around with me, too. I know lots of people fill and refill the same bottles and keep with them all the time, but I just don't--water is heavy. I'm not really against backpacks, I guess I just don't need much extra "storage" space when I am out and about. As I said, to each his own. Enjoy Italy!

Posted by Loretta
Cartersville, GA, USA
101 posts

ooooooh..............Just thought of possible drawback #4.........if you are going in January, you will already probably be wearing a pretty hefty winter coat. Maybe you should give it all a trial run and put it all on? Big thick wooly sweater, winter coat, backpack with xxx number of anticipated pounds of stuff you intend to carry. And I agree with PP who asked if you think you can maybe get along with just one backpack for the 2 of you.

Posted by Steve
Gaston, Oregon, USA
902 posts

My wife won't tour anywhere without taking a backpak. When we were in Spain this June she had one, and it is the same thing no matter where we go. To remedy the theft thing, I bought her a PacSafe one, but she gave it away, and went back to her old standby. Now I just walk behind her, and have her carry it in front when she is on a crowded bus/train, etc. When we were in Portugal I caught a guy, who came up behind her, and was going to slit open her back pack. That was interesting. If you want to use a backpak, just take one only, and have someone follow and watch it closely. Keep your money and valuables in a money belt, neck purse, etc. PS In Paris everyone had one.

Posted by Frank
Tresana, Highlands Ranch, CO, USA
12681 posts

Are you asking about true backpack or just a day bag? Many people carry some form of a day bag which could be a small backpack but more likely a book bag, a messenger bag, etc. that can be easily managed by wearing on one shoulder, swing to the front when in a crowd, or dropped to the floor when in a bus or subway car. Just match the bag to your needs. Don't use a bag that is three times bigger than you need.

Posted by Michael
Seattle, WA, USA
6472 posts

As mentioned, some places will not let you in with anything that's in backpack style, even if small, while allowing in shoulder bags of the same size or larger. It happened to us at the Duomo in Bologna. We tried to point out to the guard the inconsistency, but with no luck.

Posted by Otariidae
Catadupa Alamere, CA
515 posts

In January there might be some rainy days. If your pack is not rainproof then will it fit under your rain gear? If you take photos then stowing the camera in the pack while walking around will make taking a photo a mini unpacking fire drill. Don't worry about looking like a tourist. There is nothing you can or should do to avoid it. Every culture in it's home base recognizes the "vibe" of a non local. For example in Southern Italy tourists from Milan stand out and vice versa in Milan. I try realy hard to blend in as a pretend non American. It works. The Italians introduce themselves to me in German or French. Then there is laughter all round.

Posted by Miguel
Pembroke Pines, FL, USA
264 posts

Checking a backpack in some places is a pain (waiting in another line in the EU on vacation is a pain). Someone opening it to take something out of it is another. I use a Satchel style bag in EU. Sling it over my neck and cover my left pocket. My small amount of cash is usually in that pocket and the rest in my money pouch. I can get everything you're bringing and then some in my bag. I do bring one of those cheaper nylon backpacks with ropes, in case we do buy souvenirs. Usually that backpack goes unused. Don't worry about sticking out as a tourist, they are pretty good on figuring out if you're a tourist or not. But try as much as you can to blend in.

Posted by Chani
Tel Aviv
4934 posts

I travel solo for the most part and I always use a backpack, even at home, instead of a purse. I guess I started in my bike-riding days and got used to it. I find that the straps over both shoulders make it much more comfortable than anything that's single shoulder. If I'm in a "dicey" spot, I will slip it off one shoulder and use my arm to protect it. I rarely put my camera in it, but usually my binoculars (also great to have for seeing church details up close). I have also used little suitcase locks when I have something valuable inside. I carry a canvas tote bag to transfer everything I need when I have to check the bag. Checking generally takes a short time and has never bothered me. Often, it's nice to dump the weight for a while :-) I carry a rain poncho when needed. It covers me wearing the backpack, and compared to an umbrella - leaves both hands free for photos, weighs nothing, and can be put into a plastic bag and back in the backpack when wet. I carry passport, etc, in a money BELT - never a pouch. I keep enough cash in a front jeans pocket for the day's needs along with a credit card if I know I'm going to need it. I also keep my driver's license in my pocket - handy when photo id is needed (like for audio guides). When I stop in a cafe or some-such, I put the backpack on the floor with my foot through one of the straps. Never hang it on the back of a chair!

Posted by John
Narragansett, RI
61 posts

I have travelled to Italy several times and have worn a backpack the entire time for every trip with no issue. I have found the following while utilizing the back up. 1) I have never had a delay in checking my back pack and I always travel during the summer, a very busy time. 2) Some places it is actually a plus to check your back pack as you get in quicker. (See St Marks in RS Italy guide book) 3) When I am in busy places, train stations, etc I do have one the of the people I am traveling with stay behind me to make sure I have no issues. For me, back pack every time!

Posted by Ellen
Centennial, CO, USA
1500 posts

We always take one backpack on our trips. Just one for both of us. My husband usually carries it, I use a smaller PacSafe shoulder bag that carries smaller items, like chapstick, guide book, my camera. The daypack/backpack is for carry on for the plane over, and stuff we need when sightseeing like rain jackets, stuff we buy, etc. I recommend taking just one. You are a tourist, no way around that, you will stand out in any case, so don't stress over having a pack with you. I'd keep the camera across your body, having in the pack negates the use of it. if you have have stop and take it out of the pack every time you want to take a photo, that's not fun! As other posters have stated, just make sure when you are in a crowded situation, like buses/trains/metros, you take the pack off and have it in front of you, hold on to it, and watch it. you will have to check it in some locations, churches, etc (some don't allow something that large in the buildings)

Posted by david
13 posts

I agree it will be fine- I took only a backpack (40L) for a trip longer than yours but tended to carry no bag when sightseeing. It shouldn't be an issue though other than a bit of hassle as mentioned above. One thought: if it has zippers, get little (tiny) S clips similar to carabiners to connect two zippers. It eliminates the casual unzip by a theif or a "zip dump" where a thief lets it all fall and snatches something. It's still easy for you to deal with- I added them on my 40L bag. You can get at REI and it's a mild deterrent. Paying attention and using the advice above is even better!

Posted by Mimi
Morrison, CO, USA
468 posts

For our daily adventures we use my RS Civita Day Bag. It carries the guide book, travel umbrella, water bottle & map. If we are traveling in colder weather, our wind jackets have an inside pocket that we keep the camera in. The jacket is zipped & the pocket has velcro. Money, credit cards, and passport are in the money belt/neck wallet. I carry a copy of his passport & credit cards & he carries mine in the neck wallet. We have never lost anything to a thief. The last trip in Rome on a bus, my husband felt a hand in his pocket & reached down and caught it. The man said acted innocent and an Italian businessman on the bus chewed him out. The would be thief got off at the next stop. The only thing in my husbands pocket was a few coins and a few Euros and we lost neither. Have a great trip!

Posted by Karen
Santa Rosa, CA
757 posts

I was undecided as to whether to take a small day pack or purse/messendger bag to carry stuff for the day (camera, water, Kindle, ipodtouch, guide books, snacks, pen, Toilet paper, etc). I found a Victorinox Swiss Army Flex Packpack/shoulder bag combo with a water bottle holder. You just clip the straps together for a shoulder bag, or to the bag for a backpack. It worked beautifully. If we were riding a busy train/in crowds, museums, I'd wear as a shoulder bag so I could keep in front of me. If we were out walking/hiking in the countryside, or small uncrowded areas, either myself or my husband would wear as a back pack. Also worked great on the plane to keep all those things you want easy access to without taking up your leg room. To get through security I put in one of our larger carry on backpacks. I'd ordered a Paksafe 100 first, but it was too small and I returned it. Below is the link. http://www.rei.com/product/800524/victorinox-swiss-army-flex-pack