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  • Writer's pictureNathaniel Mellor

What is the Best Luggage for Italy?

Before you take your trusty duffel bag, give me a chance to convince you to consider bringing a different piece of luggage for Italy.

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If you’ve bought your tickets, and you’re getting into the planning and packing stage of your trip, there’s a lot to consider. But the most important factor, before we even get into what clothes to bring, or whether or not you’ll need a travel adapter is, “What bag am I bringing?”

Yellow roller bag in an airport.

If you haven’t bought a ticket, check out my post here about how to find the cheapest flights to Italy.

The choice comes down to three types of bags. The duffel bag, a mainstay favorite of anyone who wants to look suave and timeless, as well as show off any biceps they've been working on

The choice comes down to three types of bags. The duffel bag, a mainstay favorite of anyone who wants to look suave and timeless, as well as show off any biceps they've been working on.

Lastly, a popular option among backpackers, the backpack. Quickly discounted by many, myself included, this bag has earned a place as my go-to for all types of travel.

So, which piece of luggage for Italy is right for you?

The Backpack: The Most Versatile Luggage for Italy

A man in a hiking backpack and hiking poles looks out over mountains and a sunset.
This is not a bad backpack to consider bringing.

First and foremost: Italy is pretty much just cobblestone. Apart from a few roads here and there, all you’re going to find is cobblestones. Not nice, even, well-maintained cobblestones, but broken, uneven, and precarious cobblestones. Cobblestones that have seen thousands of years of skinned knees and twisted ankles, and more recently, broken plastic wheels from roller bags. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people hit a cobblestone (or just a piece of uneven pavement) at an awkward angle and a wheel goes flying off. Now they have to drag/roll their bag the rest of the way.

Having everything on your back means the cobblestones won’t affect you nearly as much, depending on how heavy your bag is. Of course, a misplaced step with a heavy or unsecured bag could be far worse than breaking a roller bag wheel.

Getting to and from a hotel or VRBO is usually more easily done through public transportation, unless you're in a big city with taxis that are trustworthy. Because you might be using public transportation, a backpack is a lot easier to bring down the stairs to the Metro, or up onto a bus.

Another reason, and I talk about this a lot on Medium, to use a backpack is becasue Italy was made for walking and climbing. When my mother-in-law came to visit, I had the opportunity to see Italy through her eyes and it made me realize that we rarely walk on flat land in Italy.

As a whole, Italy is only recently grasping the concept that some people can’t walk as easily as others. This means that sidewalks don’t often have that slight incline that allows you to easily roll something in and out of the street and back onto the sidewalk. And while some spectacularly hilly cities like Perugia and Siena have escalators, those are still unknown in the rest of Italy.

Plus, Italy as a broad, general, over-arching statement, is covered in stairs. Even “flat” cities like Rome (yes, I know it’s the City of Seven Hills, but I don’t think the person who came up with the nickname had actually seen a hill) have staircases. As does Naples and Firenze. Not to mention hilltop towns like Siena and Perugia, where they don't have escalators. Likewise with the Amalfi Coast and Cinque Terre.

In the same vein, Italy doesn’t have ubiquitous elevators. While some apartment buildings have been retrofitted with them (and they’re usually 2ft by 2ft), they are by no means the norm.

In places like the Amalfi Coast, Siena, Firenze, and Cinque Terre, it’s common to have to climb multiple flights of [very narrow] stairs to get to your B&B/VRBO/room.

In cases like this, having a backpack is far and away the best option.

The Roller Bag: The Jet-Setting Luggage for Italy

A beat-up looking yellow roller bagon a street corner.
Somehow, this is the backpacker's version of a sleek roller bag.

In some cases, you might prefer the roller bag. And if I'm being honest, in most cases I prefer a roller bag. I know I was pushing for backpacks up there, but at the ripe age of 28, I feel old sometimes. My back has weird pains, my jaw hurts if I sleep funny, and I can't figure out why my elbow hurts so much (tennis elbow from using a laptop, I already know the answer, but I don't want to be telling people "No, no, this tennis elbow doesn't comes from moving it at all!"). So I really like roller bags. All of the weight is off my back, and the only thing on my back is a backpack with said laptop.

If you’re bringing a number of heavy things, a roller bag is probably for the best. Heavy things here meaning gifts, or you like to bring a lot of lotions and moisturizers, or you're and artist like Darcy and you travel around with a suitcase filled with wooden panels, paint, and linseed oil.

But when it comes to getting around an airport, honestly, a roller bag has no equal. If you have just some money, then you probably won’t be taking public transportation and won’t need to worry about going up and down Metro stairs or on and off the bus. Just hop into a taxi.

Of course, if you have a bad back or hips, a backpack might not always be the best option, even when using the hip straps properly. A backpack can put a lot of unnecessary pressure on joints and ligaments that don't need that extra weight.

My own personal switch from backpack to roller bag came due to two issues. Before this, I used backpacks religiously.

Issue One: I didn’t like the pressure it put on my laptop. When you’re using the space wisely, a backpack can be under a lot of inner pressure, and sticking my fairly fragile laptop in there didn’t seem like the wisest move.

Issue Two: Ease. While using a backpack is easier 90% of the time, if your journey is going to be focused n that 10%, it might be better opting for the roller bag. And that 10% can look like going to and from the train station or to and from the airport.

Ultimately, it comes down to preference. While I urge people to try a backpack, there are a number of pros to using a roller bag.

We’ve found that a mix of both is the perfect answer. A backpack each and a shared roller bag. We can take turns pulling it, and we can both grab a side to haul it up stairs.

The Duffel Bag: The Timeless Luggage for Italy
A leather duffle bag in the middle of a street.
Do not bring this.

No. I cannot suggest you bring something that neither has straps nor wheels. This is asking for punishment. While duffel bags look super cool—I mean, come on, who doesn't want to look debonair while walking the streets of Rome?—they are the worst form of luggage if you have to move quickly, bring a lot of weight, or run through an airport.

So, please, consider one of the other options.



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