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Best of Italy tour

Hello everyone!

This forum has been such a wonderful source of information. My husband and I have never been to Europe and we are so excited for our BOI tour in October. I have NEVER packed in a carry on for a weekend let alone 3 weeks. But I’m up for the challenge. My specific areas of questioning are the right type of shoes and coats for the trip. I know we need to be prepared for 30 degrees F through 70 degees (checked the historical records). Have you been to Italy in late October? Are waterproof shoes really necessary? What style of coat did you take? So many brands of shoes and coats! But if I have a specific style or some criteria to start with, it would be an easier search. If I were checking my luggage, I would just bring a bunch of coats and shoes. But amount of clothes and weight are key here. Thanks in advance for helping a newbie!

Posted by
9605 posts

I have never owned nor packed waterproof shoes and have traveled all over the world so do not worry about that item.
I take comfortable walking shoes which may be sneakers or running shoes and a dressier pair for dinners, night time wear such as black flats.
You can buy an IceBreaker layer to wear under your clothes to take care of cold temperatures. We wore them above the Arctic Circle. REI has their own brand too. thin, do not take up much space.

Coat- Again layer. Maybe a fleece good to low temps. Look at LL Bean. Or a lined waterproof short coat or a jacket. We have traveled all over the world for up to six weeks a trip with a 22" carryon bag each plus a tote. It is so much easier to travel this way, less luggage to deal with walking to and from hotels.

Posted by
2316 posts

You will love this tour. It was my 3rd one and I went mid-October. The best advice I can give is bring clothes that can do double duty and items that can color coordinate with each other. Layering is your salvation as the weather in October ranges from cold (Dolomites- a light dusting of snow) to Rome where it’s likely to be warmer when you arrive. Make sure each item can go with one or two other outfits. I bring scarves that can brighten up an outfit and change my look. It helps to lessen my boredom with my clothes. Bring a windbreaker in case of rain, I carry a lightweight umbrella. Shoes, at least 2 pairs, that are comfortable and broken in.
There are many packing experts on the forum who I hope will write their comments. Enjoy! It’s a wonderful itinerary.

Posted by
11863 posts

I'm going on this tour the end of Sept. You don't actually have to have just a carry on BUT you have to be able to manage your luggage yourself and may have a walk to get from the bus to your hotel. You also don't have to actually carry your bag onto the airplane, I use a 22" rollaboard but I always check it.

I always travel with a waterproof layer with a hood. My very first RS guide, Trina, who I had on a Heart of Italy tour used a Marmot brand waterproof. I tried them but they are cut too slim for me to layer under it so I've got a Cabela's brand waterproof shell.

Here's what else I'll take:
4 SS tee shirts
1 or 2 LS Drifit quarter zip shirts
1 sun shirt
1 pr jeans (I like Gloria Vanderbilt Amanda with a cotton/poly blend so they dry overnight when I sink wash them)
1 pr travel pants (Costco brand from a long time ago)
1 pr capris (because it will be warm in Rome)
2 pr Altra Lone Peak athletic shoes (these work best for my feet and we will put some mileage in in Florence and Rome, likely)
1 puffy vest (depends on what the weather forecast looks like at the last minute AND if I decide to go somewhere after this tour)
Socks, unders, PJs
1 scarf (because the last time I went to Italy (bought 8 scarves, lol!!)
Toiletries kit

All my tee shirts go with all the bottom layers and the quarter zip shirts.

If you don't have your plane tickets yet, I recommend arriving a day or 2 before the tour start date. That gives you time to get adjusted to jet lag and settle in. I've got reservations at the tour hotel for 2 nights ahead of the tour.

This will be a great tour to get you hooked on Europe!

editing to add: For the 2 nights in Venice. Plan to leave your suitcase on the bus and just take in minimal stuff for those 2 nights. I'll take my tote (which I use for my personal item on the plane) with just a clean shirt, change of unders, pjs, minimal toiletries. I use packing cubes to keep myself organized. I'll put everything that will fit into one cube and leave the rest locked in the luggage bay on the bus. The bridges in Venice (**edited to correct a typo cuz there aren't many bridge issues in Rome, lol!) are actually steps so it means hefting up your suitcase to go up and over each one. Not sure how far our hotel will be from a vaporetto stop. The bus will park at the big bus lot on the mainland and we'll take a vaporetto over to Venice proper. Think about your packing strategy ahead of time.

Posted by
3738 posts

Disclaimer: I have never been on a RS tour, but usually travel with just a carryon and personal item(which is a Jans Sport school backpack.) My packing philosophy: I don't care that much how I look; I just want to be comfortable and not have to lug a lot of stuff around.

We were in Florence and Rome in mid-Oct 2019 and I think it was in the 60ish to 70ish range. Unless I'm going to Greece or Italy in the summer, I always take LLBean silk long underwear as a light, easy to pack layer. I wear my heaviest pair of shoes and take one other pair-I like LL Bean sport shoes. A style that has now been discontinued kept my feet dry in a downpour at an outdoor museum in Wales. I bought a pair of Mary Janes from Lands End that I intended the use for trips, but they've become go-to shoes at home. I like jackets with inside pockets and/or zip pockets(that I secure with a safety pin through the hole in the zipper) for my phone. I have a crossbody purse, but still have neck issues from when I filled it too full in 2019. I like pants from Rohan(a British company) because they dry more quickly than most pants so I can wash them in my room if I have at least a two night stay. I have a small microfiber towel to get out some of the excess water from clothes that I sink wash.Except in weather over 75, I love merino wool sweaters-Uniglo makes some inexpensive ones.
To save space in your toiletries bag, I use solid shampoo and a makeup stick. I take a list with where everything is located in my luggage and try to discipline myself to adhere to it. And I assume you know about that great invention called packing cubes.

Posted by
5705 posts

Hi Trish, that is a wonderful tour that nicely introduced us to Italy! We went on it in 2006 - loved all of the locations, and we’ve been back to Italy several times since, usually going back to one or two spots among many new ones.

We had a trip that began in the mountains in Switzerland and ended in Rome, so I can help a little with packing ideas. As others mentioned, definitely think of layers. I like the 32 degree thin long-sleeve scoop neck thermal layer as a base layer on cold days; I find them at Costco. I have a black and a maroon one, and I’ve even used one by itself as my top with a nice scarf and black pants for dinner on warmer evenings. I also pack a black nice cardigan sweater and a necklace that can be layered with them for dinner.

On my coldest days, I would wear the thin thermal, a long-sleeve thicker cotton t-shirt (from a race), a lightweight pullover sweater and my black Columbia waist-length raincoat. I added a pair of tights underneath my pants and also added a pair of knee-high trouser socks. I only needed all of that on two days up in the mountains. Oh, also bring a pair of the cheap gloves that don’t take much room. Otherwise, I brought what I normally wear when visiting a city in the US.

Oh, I should mention, other than Lake Como, the Dolomites and Cinque Terre, it’s very convenient to shop for a sweater, etc. if you find you’re cold. Don’t feel like you’re stuck if you get there and need another piece to stay warm. I picked up a lightweight periwinkle blue sweater one year in Verona.

Our first RS tour was in 2003, and I remember also thinking, “How can we just do a carry-on?” Since that trip, I have never checked a bag anywhere unless we’re taking food with us to Hawaii. It becomes so convenient!

Have a great time!

Posted by
23991 posts

I bet you'll love traveling light. For one thing, it won't take you forever to either find the garment you want in the suitcase (if you don't unpack fully at every stop) or get everything unpacked and hung up at each hotel (and then back in the suitcase prior to departure).

I think one of the most important tactics is to have layered outerwear. I prefer to have a warm layer (I use fleece; merino wool is also popular) and a separate waterproof layer. That's a lot more flexible that a lined jacket whose lining can't be used by itself. Since I don't travel during really cold months, I don't take a full-length coat. The last time I bought a rain jacket, I opted for a "Long" even though I'm 5'3"; it covers a bit more of my legs. I suspect a puffer jacket would be overkill in Italy in October, but if you have one that squishes down to nothing, I'd be tempted to use if rather than going out and buying a new garment. Something like a wool blazer would be warm enough, but those things are heavy, and they're a pain to carry around if you no longer need to wear them as the day warms up. On the first of my recent trips, I basically just shopped my closet. There were no disasters, but I did come home and buy a fleece jacket and a waterproof rain jacket. There's nothing like the experience on one trip to teach you what you can do better next time.

As for waterproof shoes, I think that's an individual decision. By the time October rolls around, the northern part of Italy could be getting cool and wet--not every day, but occasionally. If you get that combination, having cold, wet feet won't be fun. If the trip were ending in September, I'd not consider waterproof shoes necessary. October to me is a close call. I will say that I've run into the unpleasantly-cold-and-wet-combo several times: in Zagreb during the second week of October, north of Nice in May, in northern Andalucia the second week of April. I travel a lot, so there were definitely other cool and wet days; those were the ones I remember as being unpleasant.

I find having water-shedding slacks goes a long way toward keeping me reasonably comfortable. I'm talking about the 97% nylon things sold by PrAna, Eddie Bauer, Columbia and others. When I'm traveling in wet areas, I also take a pair of long johns (preferably merino wool). I find those, paired with the nylon slacks, keep me from getting totally soaked unless I'm caught in the rain for quite a long time.

Posted by
2955 posts

I take two pairs of my comfortable walking shoes and just use a waterproof spray- haven't had wet toes yet.

Also, I take a knee-length packable raincoat. I just don't like getting my pants wet when there's a downpour with wind. I'm not sure how folks survive with a rain jacket that is only hip length. Sometimes I take my golf rain pants, which also add warmth.

As has been stated, layers are the key. Often in the shoulder seasons there are 30 degrees difference between morning and midday. I have started with a packable down jacket in the morning and am down to a sweater by lunch.

In order to shop and use carry-on luggage, I usually throw clothes out at the end of the trip. I save items all year long that I'm ready to donate, but then keep them for the trip. I usually throw all all my underwear, sleep items [old yoga clothes], and 1-2 tops. This makes room for some shopping.

Have a great trip - safe and healthy travels!

Posted by
13 posts

I am overwhelmed by all of the kind responses and great advice. Suki, Judy B, Pam, cala, Jean, acraven and Pat - I took a great tip or two from each of you. I have my base layer and a longish cheap waterproof and lightly lined coat. I’m bummed that I am allergic to wool because everyone talks about how great merino wool is. Your assistance is just invaluable. And shopping in Italy. Duh, how could have passed over that! I’ll be looking for a light jacket and gloves before I go. And more shoes.

My husband commented how nice and enthusiastic everyone is on this forum. I guess that’s just the Rick Steves way. Thank you all!

Posted by
225 posts

As my RS tour guide said "she doesn't even pack carryon." A carryon bag is not required-- just be able to schlep your bag along cobblestones, and stair cases.

I will suggest a blog called Travel Fashion Girl that provides excellent insight on packing and clothing ideas. They have a Facebook page filled with so many helpful ideas and hints.

You really don't need alot of clothes. Even if you check a bag. Don't overpack! Seriously--10 pieces can create dozens of looks. Especially in cooler weather. Save your suitcase space for fun momentos and treasures.

I am planning for our RS trip this fall. Isn't it fun to start planning?! I'm collecting clothing ideas and then a week out, knowing the specific weather, will create a capsule wardrobe.

I am a big fan of Jack Wolfskin-- I discovered them on a RS tour in Munich and fabulous outerwear for all types of conditions. The brand is now available in the US.

As for Shoes, I will bring Hoka's for walking, and a recent discovery, Dr Martens. wow. I love them! they look cool plus they are walkable. (for me). I got the Mary Janes and when I wear them, I have women asking me where I got them, which is how I discovered them--asking a woman what kind of shoes she was wearing while waiting to board a plane. It's smart to think about footwear-- it's so important to be comfortable.

Posted by
11863 posts

I tried for years to convince myself I was not allergic to Merino wool.

It’s different from regular wool, they said!

It won’t make you itch, they said!

Well, “they” were wrong. The tee shirts made my back itch. The merino long undies made my legs itch. I can wear merino wool socks but they have to be low-cut running socks that end below my ankle.

The plus about merino is you can literally wear it for days and it won’t smell. No kidding, I wore one merino tee shirt in a Paris heatwave for 6 days and no smell. I only washed it because it was grossing me out, lol. I was traveling solo and wanted to see how long I could go with that shirt. I would have been embarrassed to do that if I were traveling with someone, lol.

For long unders I use Hot totties that are poly and work well. Had them on today when I was walking in windy conditions. Your need for a base layer may alsomdepend on where you live and how cold tolerant you are.

Posted by
1733 posts

I'm going to chime in with what I believe to be kind of a "silent majority" opinion...

It's OK to check a bag! It's your vacation, it's your choice! (It's also then your responsibility!)

"Only Carry-on" has a following that can read like a fanatical religion. Sure, I value my higher power in my life, but worship is not the purpose of my life.

I like to think I pack carefully and smartly. Sometimes I carry on only. And sometimes having more options relieves a stressor that is greater than waiting at the carousel.

Additionally, on trips like a tour, I like to have a larger-than-necessary suitcase that is not crammed full. When I'm repacking every day or two I want to just "toss and zip" before that 7am bus, rather than have an engineering exercise to get the bag closed.

All with the crucial caveat of remembering that the bags are mine to haul down cobbled streets.

Posted by
308 posts

To save $$ with rain jackets consider a cheap plastic poncho that takes no room or weight and a small umbrella. Easy to carry and can be used in cold or hot weather in a rain storm. I used them over my layers in unexpected snow in Plitviza sp?In May 2019 tour. My water proof shoes are my golf shoes. Prior to getting them I followed others suggestions to use waterproof spray on clean shoes, wind breaker and even my day pack. A black plastic bag is used to cover my rolling suitcase. Lots of dineros can be spent on waterproof stuff for a trip that is truly waterproof and packably light/small.

Posted by
5705 posts

Trish, if you’ve never packed a carry-on, another change to think about is your toiletry kit & TSA quart-size liquids bag through security. I’ve really pared down what I need to bring and don’t even fill up a quart size bag for a 3-4 week trip. For example, a Clinique sample jar (about the size of 5-quarters stacked) easily holds enough liquid foundation, some stores have a 3oz. tube of toothpaste, hair products can usually be put into tiny containers, hotels supply shampoo but you usually need to bring conditioner. Sarah Murdoch, a former RS guide, recommends putting conditioner in an open container to allow some of the water to evaporate for a week to make it more concentrated. I’ve brought a tiny tube of concentrated conditioner from a haircolor package. You can see that it becomes a fun game after awhile of seeing something in the grocery store or hair salon and thinking, “that would be perfect!” I admit to shopping for regular clothes and in the back of my mind I am thinking, “will this dry quickly for travel, too?” ; )

Posted by
170 posts

My wife and I are going on the BOI in early September followed by a Best of South Italy Tour. These will be our 3rd and 4th RS tours. We will get to Italy a few days before the tour starts and stay on Ischia for five days at the end of the BOSI tour. With that said, we plan to live out of our carry-ons. There are multiple advantages for doing this and it is fairly easy to do if you follow the advice of the packing experts on the RS site. You can find them on YouTube too. Sarah Murdoch does some of the best.

Posted by
10 posts

Thanks to all who commented! I will be taking the Best of Italy 17 Day Tour in mid-September. I am planning to bring only a carry-on. This is my first trip to Europe so I am also interested in learning how others pack.

Posted by
13 posts

Love all these suggestions and tips! I also love Sarah Murdoch’s videos and Travel Fashion Girl. I feel so much more confident after reading your posts. The main reason for the carry on is so the airlines don’t lose your luggage. We plan on staying in Milan a couple of nights and then moving to Varenna for the night before the tour starts. It’s so fun doing all the planning for our dream trip. I hope all of you traveling this year have fabulous trips as well.

Posted by
47 posts

We are booked for the BOI tour the end of September and are so excited!! We are flying into Milan two days early so we can see the Last Supper and staying one extra day in Rome.

Posted by
2316 posts

I did just what you are planning: flew into Milan, spent 2 nights there exploring the city, took the train to Varenna. You will love this tour, I went in mid- October 2016. It covers a lot of ground and a wide variety of places and activities!

Posted by
1059 posts

The Best of Italy tour was the best vacation I have taken. I have posted two YouTube slide shows of our trip. I think it would be help to watch to see all the sites you will be going to. If you have any specific questions, send me a Personal Message and I will try and answer them. I hope you enjoy the tour as much as we did.

Turn of the sound. The music will help set the mood.

Posted by
13 posts

@yosemite1 thank you for sharing your videos! They are beautiful and loved the music too.