What To Pack For Italy – Must Have Items And Top Packing Tips

I just got back from Italy. I was on a two week long work trip, and was one of the lucky ones to fly in a week after the country opened to travelers after the covid tourism shut down. Italy was as incredible as ever, possibly even more so than usual because there were almost no tourists there.

Enjoying a very empty Venice

The day after I got home I was super lucky to be a guest on my favorite Untold Italy podcast, this time to talk about what to pack for your trip to Italy. It is a really comprehensive episode and we really get into the weeds and address all the questions Katy gets daily on the Italy Travel Planning Facebook page. I get DMs with these same questions on my Corinna Cooke Author facebook page and we also hear the same concerns in the Untold Italy Insiders private members group. So I think it’s fair to say most people have the same concerns when it comes to choosing what to bring to Italy and how to pack! The episode is fantastic and I am sure you will find it really helpful. You can listen to the episode here.

Rather than rehash everything I talk about on the podcast I wanted to give you some links to the game changing products I talk about. Some of these are affiliate links, others aren’t. All the products that are available on Amazon are also linked on my Amazon page: Amazon.com/Shop/CorinnaTravels. I update the Amazon shop page as I discover new travel items and also when things I like become available on Amazon. I don’t know about you but I prefer to be able to get everything in one place.

Luggage

These are the Away Luggage bags I talk about in the episode. Apologies for the blurry photo!

In the episode I talk about the luggage I have been using for years now. I have the Away Medium suitcase, in Sand. My case is really beaten up now because it has been used so much. In my normal pre-pandemic life I was spending several months each year in Europe, bouncing home to New Zealand whenever I could get down there (nowhere near often enough) and flying back and forth across the U.S multiple times per year on makeup jobs. That poor suitcase has been really overworked, yet still other than the cosmetic scrapes I’ve not gotten around to cleaning, is in excellent condition. It has four 360 degree wheels (essential) and is ergonomically designed so that it puts the least amount of stress on your back. It is incredibly sturdy yet is also lightweight.

The Everywhere Bag from Away.

I also talk about the new carry-on bag I bought from Away prior to ths last trip. In the episode I couldn’t remember its name, but it is called The Everywhere Bag. When it first arrived I wasn’t particularly impressed and thought about returning it, but I am so glad I didn’t! This bag is an MVP. It’s small but you can fit so much into it! My carry-on always has 3 changes of clothes (in case my suitcase doesn’t arrive when I do) as well as all my electronics, my camera, phone chargers, adaptors and all the other nonsense I like to have with me on the plane.

Jam packed but still not heavy. It also fits under the seat in front if needed.

I bought the nylon version of the Everywhere bag in the matching sand color to my regular suitcase. I had signed up for Away’s emails so was notified when they had a sale. This bag is normally $165 but I bought it on sale for $115. It has lots of convenient internal and external pockets, has a sleeve that slips over your suitcase handle and also has a hidden compartment underneath where you an stash a travel umbrella.

Using the Everywhere Bag as a camera bag in Bassano del Grappa. I’m wearing the Eddie Bauer Departure Pants and these Adidas sneakers. Both were indispensible travel companions.

I ended up also using this as a camera bag when we went on day trips too, because it’s really strong and sturdy but also very lightweight, much lighter than my normal tote bag.

There is another bag I forgot to mention on the podcast and that is the Paravel Fold Up Duffel. This bag zips into itself and packs down to the size on an iPad. It is great to throw in your suitcase in case you need an extra bag to bring your shopping home. I have it in navy, which I couldn’t photograph well, so am using this Google image. Had it been available in red when I bought mine, I would have chosen that! But that second image with the bag? That’s how small it zips down to! You could either bring it onboard as a carry on, or if you were going to check it as a second bag, I would only put clothing in it, as it is nylon, so breakables will break. This makes a fantastic Christmas present for any travelers. in your life!

How cool is this?? I just wish I had the red one.

Laundry

In the episode Katy told me about travel laundry detergent sheets. I can’t believe I didn’t already know about these?? Anyway I got right on Amazon and ordered these Travelon Laundry Detergent sheets. I chose Travelon from all the brands available because I’ve bought tons of Travelon travel gadgets over the years and have always been happy with them. Also these come in a small package, ideal for travel.

I also talked about bringing a travel sized wrinkle release product. I normally use Downy, mostly because I like the smell, but there are lots of really good brands. These are a life saver, especially if there isn’t an iron where you’re staying. I just spritz the clothing item, shake it out and let it hang, ideally overnight if there is time. Over the years I’ve done plenty of high speed de-wrinkling though too.

Clothing

For most of us this is the hardest thing to figure out. My three most important tips here are to choose travel friendly fabrics, pack separates to mix and match and plan on wearing each item at least twice. I try to wear each at least 3 times, but I tend to be away longer than most people. My next trip has me away for 2 full months, so everything needs to be really well thought out and will get worn over and over.

Icebreaker Merino wool base layer. Perfect for year round travel.

I talk about merino wool in the podcast. If you are like me wool itches against your skin. Merino doesn’t – it is the absolute magic travel fabric! It is as lightweight as a longsleeve t-shirt and might even take up less space in your suitcase because of the way it packs. I get the 175 weight, which temperature regulates from about -20 degrees F to +75 degrees F. It is perfect for flying as it keeps you warm but doesn’t overheat. It is also great to have in your suitcase if the weather suddenly turns cold. You don’t have to have a heavy chunky sweater to stay warm. Merino also wicks away moisture if you perspire and it has an anti-stinky property that stops it getting smelly if you wear it several days running. In the winter I travel with a merino dress, a merino tshirt and a merino cami. It really does become indispensible. You can see more merino products here.

Another great find is the Eddie Bauer Departure pants. I have them in black and in olive. They’re made from a man made travel fabric that is lightweight, doesn’t crease, and packs dpwn tp nothing. In a pinch you can wash them in the bathroom sink, hany them out and thy’ll be dry and wrinkle free in the morning. These are great staples for any traveler’s wardrobe. Athleta makes a line of pants from a similar fabric too.

I also talk about compression socks and hose. These stop fluids from pooling in your feet and ankles when you fly and have been shown to be instrumental in preventing DVT (Deep Vein Thrombosis). They apply graduating pressure from your feet working upward, which keeps blood and fluids moving. You can read more about Deep Vein Thrombosis and flying here.

Shoes

On the podcast I talk about having a good, lower back supporting sneaker that can still look chic. This past trip I worse this sneaker by Adidas. Not only was it a super comfortable shoe but it also held its shape and looked good with skirts, dresses and pants. I like this two toned shoe by Reebok as well, especially with the olive departure pant. I also talk about sandal I’ve been wering for a few years now called the Mirabella by Sofft. I keep track of the number of steps I do each day and have calculated that I walk 315 miles in each pair of Mirabellas before I replace them! They have great support and the leather is super soft so doesn’t really require breaking in. I swear by them.

Beach Towel

You can’t guarantee your hotel or vacation rental will have beach towels for you, and who wants to travel with something as bulky and heavy as a towel? I normally pack one of these Turkish beach towels when I travel. They’re lightweight and dry you quickly. You can double them up as a scarf or a sarong or any one of a bunch of things, so they are really handy to have with you. Also if you wind up staying somewhere where they only give you one towel (trust me it happens) you’ll be glad you had it with you.

Tech Stuff and Electronics

I always travel with an external phone battery like this one from Mophie. Lots of companies make them and they com at a variety of price points. Make sure you buy one with at least 10,000 mAh so you can fully charge a phone and a tablet from completely dead. Should you get stranded somewhere you’ll be glad you did.

You also need an international power adaptor like this one. It’s not enough to just have an Italian plug fitting, you need to convert their voltage so you don’t fry your hair dryer or curling iron the minute you plug it in. Most of them have several USB ports too, so you can charge phones and tablets while also charging your mophie.

Nano Titanium Travel Hairdryer. This is the best travel dryer I have ever had.

Another MVP for travel is this tiny travel hair dryer. It is at full professional strength, so even someone with as much hair as I have can blow it out effectively and quickly. PLus it has the whole Nano ionic titanium technology that helps blow your hair out smooth. It’s genius.

You can see how tiny the hairdryer is here.

On my Amazon page (Amazon.com/shop/CorinnaTravels) you can fin everything else I talked about on the podcast, plus more bits and pieces I swear by for trips to Italy. The page is broken up by category to make it easy to find everything you’re looking for.

If you want more insider information about planning your trip to Italy and secret places most travelers don’t even know about (even inside the big cities!) be sure to join my newsletter. Twice each month you’ll get the secrets in your inbox. You can also check out my website here: CorinnaCooke.com

Don’t forget to listen to the Untold Italy Packing For Italy podcast episode here.

10 Fabulous Things You Must Do In Lecce

This week I was supposed to be in Lecce.

I had a Glam Italia Tour booked for 10 days in Puglia and was really looking forward to finally getting back to the heel of Italy’s fabulous boot and showing my group just how completely incredible this region is.

Lecce (pronounced Lech-eh) is a beautiful city down low in the heel of the boot. In the 16th century under Charles V it was an economic powerhouse, the second city of the south after Naples.

Saturday afternoon in Lecce

Built from distinctive Lecce stone it is often referred to as the Florence of the South due to its concentration of beautiful historic buildings. In some ways I can see the comparison. Centuries old golden sandstone buildings and narrow streets that lead into pretty piazzas, but when you look a little closer they really are quite different. The renaissance facades of Florence are replaced with the baroque of southern Italy. Lecce doesn’t get a fraction of the tourism Florence does, so by contrast feels deliciously empty, almost as though you have stumbled upon a secret. Wandering around Lecce I am always stunned that I get to be here in the middle of this visual banquet and have it mostly to myself, with very few tourists around.

An overcast afternoon in Lecce in the late fall

Which brings me to me next point. Lecce is not a city to race around checking items off a list. Although this is a 10 Things You Must Do In Lecce post, I prefer to look at it as things to try and not miss. Lecce is a town to wander and experience at a slow southern Italian pace. You need to breathe it in and savor it. There are museums and plenty of churches but this is a place to take a stroll to burn off a long lazy lunch with an incredible view, before finding a hidden piazza to stop for an early evening aperitivo.

RELATED POST: 10 Reasons You Need To Visit Puglia

10 Things You MUST Do In Lecce

Here are 10 things not to be missed in Lecce. Jut do them all at a leisurely pace.

1. Take Part In Caffe Life

Pasticciotto

The delicious traditional Pasticciotto pastry from Lecce, Puglia, Italy
image via buonissimo.it

Start your day with the most Leccese of pastries, the pasticciotto. This is a custard-like cream filled short crust pastry. Ridiculously delicious (and be warned, very filling) the crust is traditionally made with lard instead of butter, so is both moister and softer than you expect.

Ideally you eat pasticciotto piping hot, fresh out of the oven.

Lecce Coffee

Caffe in ghiaccio con latte di mandorla

Along with your pasticciotto you need to order a coffee specific to Lecce, caffe’ in ghiaccio con latte di mandorla. This is espresso over ice with almond milk. I’m not sure if it’s the Leccese water that makes it so different, but try as you might to replicate it at home it is impossible to capture the exact same taste.

The ideal place to enjoy your pasticciotto and iced coffee is Caffe Alvino in the town’s main square, Piazza Sant’ Oronzo. This piazza is huge and even without its main attraction is a fabulous spot to experience the heart of Lecce. Sit outside and take in the view.

2. The Roman Amphitheater

The Roman amphitheater in piazza Sant’ Oronzo, Lecce

Piazza Sant’ Oronzo’s main attraction is an extremely well preserved Roman amphitheater. For centuries it was buried under buildings here in the heart of the city, only discovered at the beginning of the 1900’s when construction began on a new bank.

Only the lowest floor of the amphitheater remains.
It would have been a multi level construction.

The amphitheater is below current ground level. It was built in the 2nd century A.D during the reign of one of my favorite emperors, Hadrian.

Tunnels below the amphitheater seating

You can wander through the passages below the stadium seating, where the amphitheater is still partially buried.

Below the amphitheater in Lecce

Ancient images on the walls tell us this was a place for gladiator fights with bulls, lions, bears and people. It is estimated the amphitheater could hold between 15,000 and 20,000 spectators.

Concerts are still held in the amphitheater. If you are ever lucky enough to be here when the evening light turns everything golden and the orchestra strikes up in the amphitheater, I promise you the memory will be burned into your brain forever.

The Roman Amphitheater in Lecce, ready for a later summer evening concert.

RELATED POST: 10 Things You MUST Do In Matera

3. The Sedile

Next to the Amphitheater is the Sedile, a majestic stone building that was once Lecce’s town hall. Built in 1592 this beautiful cuboid structure is softened with both lower level and upper level arches.

The Sedile in Lecce

At one time the town’s armory was kept on the upper floor and the mayor would hold hearings on the lower floor. The square was called Piazza dei Mecanti at that time and was the heart of Lecce life.

The Sedile by night

Not only the seat of the town hall it was also the hub of local trade, the main stage for the town’s religious processions and the site of riots and military battles, with no one knowing there was an amphitheater hidden below their feet.

Mosaics in piazza Sant’ Oronzo, Lecce

Nearby on top of a 30 foot column Lecce’s patron saint, Sant’ Oronzo (St Orontius) watches over the piazza that was renamed in his honor. Also look for the huge mosaics of Lecce’s coat of arms.

4. Museo Faggiano

I’ve added this one because it is like one of those crazy Italian dreams where you discover ancient ruins under your house. Which is exactly what happened here.

Museo Faggiano, Lecce
image via Atlas Obscura

This was a private home until 2001 when a plumbing problem forced the owner had to dig through the floor. Low and behold they discovered ruins dating back 2500 years!

Museo Faggiano
image via pugliamusei.it

You can do a self guided tour and see underground cisterns, secret passageways, tombs and escape routes. It all dates back to pre-Roman times. Between 1000 and 1200 it was a Knights Templar house, then became a convent for Franciscan nuns until the 1600’s

RELATED POST: THE TRULLI OF ALBEROBELLO

5. Buy Cartapesta

Cartapesta, the art of papier mache is a specialty of Lecce that dates back to the 17th century. The city built all these amazing churches that needed decorating, but there wasn’t the time or the money to make things in marble. So they had to use the products they had access to and came up with this incredible art form.

One of the most famous cartapesta workshops in Lecce is Cartapesta Claudio Riso


This was during a time known as the counter-reformation when Catholicism was under attack by the protestant church. The churches in Lecce needed to keep the congregation faithful by pulling at their heart strings. The artisans were able to create emotion in the faces of their figurines, and then paint them to look as if they were alive.

Cartapesta at Claudio Riso in Lecce


The craft has been passed down through the centuries and today you can still buy handmade cartapesta in Lecce. It really is quite sensational, so you should definitely wander into some of the stores and find yourself a treasure to bring home.

Cartapesta in the Claudio Riso store in Lecce

You can read more about Cartapesta here.

6. The Roman Theater

I discovered this one on my first trip to Lecce while just wandering the narrow streets weaving their way up from the Porta Rudiae. I turned a corner into one of the baroque alleys surrounded by 18th century palazzos and there it was. It was actually quite a shock because I didn’t know it existed. An almost perfectly intact 1st century Roman theater.

the Roman theater in Lecce

This theater is quite small, approximately 40 meters in diameter, but in its time is thought to have held up to 4000 spectators. Fragments of clay decoration dating back to the Augustan period have been found (27 B.C – 14 A.D.) along with marble statues from the Antonine era (96 A.D – 192 A.D) which are now kept in the Roman Theater Museum.

The theater was only discovered in 1929 and really is in remarkable condition. You can view it from the street or go inside from the entrance on via degli Ammirati. I suggest going in the morning due to everything closing for hours each afternoon for siesta, or pisolino as it is known in  southern Italy.

Concerts are still held in the Roman Theater.

7. Take A Cooking Class

Silvestro at The Awaiting Table

Lecce is a fabulous place to take a cooking class, especially if you will be here more than one day. My friend Silvestro Silvestori runs an incredible cooking school in Lecce. The Awaiting Table has been written up in major publications all over the world and they have taught classes to guests from 59 countries.

My June Puglia tour was going to be coming here for a half day class and I am so disappointed to have missed it.

The Awaiting Table cooking school in Lecce

The Awaiting Table cooking classes are very unique. You can do a half day class at their place in Lecce or you can do a week long cooking school at their castle. Can you even imagine?

Cooking classes at The Awaiting Table in Lecce

Whichever type of class you choose to take the experience is just magnificent. Pugliese cuisine is divine. Everything you eat grows nearby and for olive oil lovers this is one of the most prolific olive growing regions in all of Italy. The Awaiting Table even make their own olive oil which you can buy at the school or order online, they ship it worldwide.

For a list of their classes, to order olive oil and to look at their gorgeous photo gallery you can check out their website here: The Awaiting Table

If you belong to my newsletter you will be receiving a fabulous recipe from The Awaiting Table later this month. If you are reading this post after June 2020 and missed it just bounce me back an email from any newsletter and I will forward it to you. You can sign up for my free Private Members Newsletter here

Visit The City Gates

Lecce was once a walled city with huge city gates at its entrance points. Three of these gates still exist and are well worth seeing. The historic center of Lecce is inside the city gates, the newer more modern city is outside of them.

Porta Napoli gate on a gorgeous, sunny Lecce afternoon

Porta Napoli is the main gate. It was built in 1548 to celebrate a state visit from Charles V. Just beyond the gate there is an obelisk and then the university.

Porta Rudiae, Lecce

My favorite is the Porta Rudiae, a little further south from Porta Napoli. This is the oldest of the three gates and leads you right in to the historic center of town. In my opinion this is the best gate to arrive through.

Porta San Biagio, Lecce

On the other side of the center is Porta San Biagio, probably the least visited gate but it’s still impressive.

RELATED POST: THE ORANGERIE RETREAT IN BASILICATA

9. Take A Walking Tour

I love taking walking tours with professional, licensed guides. I do them everywhere I go in Italy, even in cities and towns I know really well. No matter how much you think you know about a place, a licensed guide will teach you more. They know all the fascinating stories behind everywhere you go and add so much depth and texture to your entire experience.

On my Glam Italia tours I hire the same guides over and over and even though most of them have been working with me for years, I still learn something new every time. Just be sure to either book a private guide or a small group tour rather than a big group tour.

10. Go For Baroque

Lecce is famous for its spectacular baroque architecture, especially that of its churches. Everything was carved from local Lecce stone, a yellow stone so soft you can carve it with a butter knife. It is also very porous, so in order to harden it they would soak it in a solution of milk and water, which penetrated the pores and created a waterproof layer that has kept the stone preserved for centuries. The milk also hardened the stone and turned it into the gorgeous golden hue it still has today.

There are 22 churches just in the historic center of Lecce. This post tells you about 14 of them, but I just want to draw your attention to 3. Largely because one of the joys of Lecce is turning a corner into a tiny hidden piazza and finding yet another exceptional church. The following 3 churches are in the order I first saw them.

image via wikicommons

San Giovanni Battista

This one is just inside the Rudiae gate and was the first Lecce baroque architecture I saw, so it is the first I show my travelers.

The original church on this site was built for the Dominicans in 1388, replaced by this one in 1691. Designed by Giuseppe Zimbalo it was completed and consecrated in 1728.

I always think this type of baroque architecture, similar to that which you see in the southern Sicilian towns of Noto and Modica, looks like the dreams of a madman, on acid.

It is so busy, your eye flits from place to place and doesn’t know where to land. But in the middle of the madness it is all really quite beautiful.

The Duomo

Cattedrale Santa Maria Assunta is the cathedral of Lecce. It is fascinating on many levels. If you think of the cathedrals in most major Italian cities such as Florence, Rome and Milan, the cathedral dominates the heart of the city, and the city radiates out from it. The cathedral is a shining beacon, calling you into its center. Here in Lecce if you didn’t know where to find it you would miss it.

Piazza Duomo, Lecce

On my first trip to Lecce I had been wandering via Vittorio Emanuele looking at cartapesta, turned down a little side street and the piazza Duomo exploded out in front of me. If you make this walk you will see what I mean, the arteries leading into it are quite small and narrow and piazza is enormous, so the effect is fantastic.

The Duomo, Lecce

Another oddity here is that the cathedral isn’t centered with the piazza emanating from its core, instead the cathedral feels like an after-thought, tucked into the corner.

The original structure was built in 1144 but the current facelift happened in 1659, again helmed by Giuseppe Zimbalo. The Duomo is in the southeast corner of the piazza with the main entrance facing (north) out into the piazza. This north facing façade is considered a masterpiece in baroque architecture.

Basilica Santa Croce

I love bringing people here toward the end of the day. Of course it is beautiful at any time but there is pure magic in the apricot light that bathes the building and everything that surrounds it in the late afternoon. From piazza Sant’ Oronzo you walk along via Templari just a few meters and then the church explodes out in front of you. I love the way Lecce does this to you over and over. Even when you’ve been here before and know exactly what you are about to see it still shocks your senses.

Basilica Santa Croce in Lecce.
image is not my own

My first time here is indelibly printed in my mind. An old man had biked up with a piano attached to his bike, he parked it in the piazza opposite that church, put a black vest on over his white shirt, planted a fedora on his head, and sat down and played gorgeous music. The entire episode was mesmerizing, from this fantastic church to the light to the music – I don’t think I moved for an hour.

The façade of the church is Lecce’s piece de resistance, baroque architecture teeming with detail. Lecce baroque is deeply counter reformation – a celebration of the Roman Catholic Church against its protestant enemies. It is also defiantly exuberant.

Detail of Basilica Santa Croce in Lecce
image via Italia Turismo

The first Italian writer to come here, Marquise Grimaldi wrote that the façade of Santa Croce is like the nightmare of a lunatic, realized in stone. Another writer compared it to the frenzied crowdedness of a Hieronymus Bosch painting with the intensity of a fever dream.

Detail of Basilica Santa Croce facade
image via Chiese Lecce

It is just fantastic, you really don’t know quite where to look first. Construction began in 1549 and wasn’t completed until 1646. When you step back to look at it it’s is hard to imagine they could complete all of this in 100 years!

Another blog with some fabulous photos of Lecce is Two Days In Italy. The link to the Lecce post is here

Do you belong to my Private Members Newsletter? Twice each month I send out information on super cool places the tour buses don’t go, foods you need to try and specialized tips to plan your trip. You can join this private group here.

Colleen Rothschild Beauty

What To Do In Lecce
What To Eat Drink And Do In Lecce Italt

What You Need To Know Before Hiring A Driver In Italy

If you are planning a trip to Italy you need to read this post. It pertains to your safety, and after what I witnessed this past month (September 2019) I think it is extremely important.

Your Italian Driver Sorrento Italy
NCC licensed commercial passenger vehicle on the Amalfi Coast. (I have been using this company for years)

This year I spent a lot of time on the Amalfi Coast with my tours. I have a company who handle all of my Naples-Sorrento driving transfers as well as day trips on the Amalfi Coast, both for my tours and also for my personal trips.

While on the coast road on two separate occasions last month I witnessed drivers with a car load of tourists make some pretty stupid and very dangerous moves. One in particular was really hair raising.

My own driver, who is a professional, commercially licensed and authorized driver pointed out to me that these were non-licensed drivers who had no legal right to be driving tourists.

This got me thinking about the danger these tourists had been in without even knowing it. It also got me thinking about how you as a consumer can protect yourself when traveling and be sure to only hire fully licensed professional drivers, wherever it is you are traveling.

Are You Going To Hire A Driver While You’re In Italy?

There are several reasons you might end up hiring a professional driver during your trip to Italy.

Glam Italia Tour in Naples
Glam Italia Tour group arriving to Naples train station from Sorrento with our officially licensed NCC driver. We had been to Pompeii and a winery on the way.

*The first is to handle airport and train station transfers, for example Sorrento/Positano/Amalfi to Naples train station or airport. Or maybe you are just doing a transfer from your hotel in Rome to the airport.

*The second is for events such as day tours and winery tours.

*Sometimes it can be much easier and more expeditious to hire a driver to move you from one city to another, especially when one is remote or doesn’t have great train service. If you are on the Amalfi Coast and want to go to Matera for example, you might find it quicker and easier to have a driver take you and your luggage rather than deal with the regional trains.

Moving between cities with a private driver also opens up the opportunity to visit some little towns along the way, your luggage being safely stored with your driver.

*Another reason you may hire a driver is to spend a few days doing your own private tour.

Whatever the reason you hire someone it is imperative that you only book someone who is properly licensed.

RELATED POST: 16 THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT DRIVING IN ITALY

What Is The Official License?

NCC licensed driver in Tuscany Luca Benfaremo
The professional driver who handles my Glam Italia Tours in Tuscany. NCC Licensed, authorized, fully insured for commercial passengers.

There is actually an enormous amount involved in becoming a professional driver in Italy. The official license is called the Licenza NCC and is the same all over the country. (In Italy it is called an Authorization. The U.S equivalent is extremely rigid licensing.)

*Beyond regular driving licenses, professional drivers have to have a commercial license/authorization and be on a regional professional driver register, which involves another series of complex and difficult exams. Drivers must have the authorization of the city hall where they are licensed.

*They have to pass difficult exams on local geography and history in the foreign language of their choice. This means they are fluent in at least one other language. Many of them speak multiple languages. They are also able to tell you about the area you are in, what you are seeing out the window and all manner of interesting things, in your language.

Should something go wrong, from finding you have left something at the hotel to finding yourself in a medical emergency, a professional driver will help you or get you help in your own language.

*The cost of this license/authorization is high and they have to adhere to very strict rules, with the loss of this very expensive license as just one of the penalties for violating the rules.

*Professional drivers have a zero alcohol limit. That can mean no drinking the night before a job as well as no alcohol the day of.

*Not only are they randomly alcohol tested, they are also randomly drug tested with toxicology tests that show drug use up to a year prior.

*They must carry full commercial passenger insurance.

*The vehicle must be cleaned in between services.

*Professional vehicles have to go through hard moT testing every year. This testing looks at everything from tires to lights to brackets to brakes and much more.

There are a huge number of rules for professional drivers, all either pertaining to your safety or to the quality of your experience.

Non Professional Drivers

You put yourself into a world of risk if you hire a non-professional driver, wherever you are in the country. At home you wouldn’t get into the car of some random stranger or someone’s crazy uncle – the same applies here.

Apart from the fact that these illegal drivers aren’t properly licensed they don’t have adequate insurance, which could be catastrophic for you should they get into an accident. Their cars aren’t properly tested or regulated, and can be unsafe.

Not being registered and regulated by a governing board, these fools drive as erratically as they want. The ones I watched last month were driving like maniacs. With their cars full of tourists.

There is nothing to stop them from having drugs and/or alcohol in their system.

If they are an illegal driver your safety is the last thing on their mind. Making money is all they care about.

RELATED POST: 8 CRUCIAL THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT TRAVEL INSURANCE

Don’t Assume – Be Specific And Ask.

Don’t assume that your hotel or Airbnb will automatically order you a licensed driver and vehicle. They may be getting you their cousin or a friend who needs extra cash and they may be making extra money themselves by referring work to sketchy companies. You can be certain that whatever discounts are happening are not making their way to you – you are still paying the same as you would with a properly licensed, fully regulated driver.

I’ve even seen some Airbnbs that offer for the husband to pick you up at the airport for a fee. Remember, you don’t know this guy, you don’t know if he’s been drinking, if he’s a safe driver or if his vehicle is safe. What you do know is that he is not a professional driver and doesn’t carry the right insurance.

Tell them upfront you want an official NCC driver. No exceptions.

How Can You Tell If Your Driver Is A Professional?

Official NCC authorization on a passengeer vehicle
The shield to the right of the license plate indicates the driver is professionally licensed and authorized to transport you.

Professional drivers in Italy are required to have what is called a Licenza NCC. This is easy to identify – there will be a metal plaque beside the license plate at the back of the vehicle, normally in the shape of a shield.

NCC Shield next to rear license plat on prefessional vehicle in Italy
The shape and color of the NCC plaque can change from city to city. What doesn’t change are the letters NCC and the proximity to the back license plate.

Both the front and rear windshield will have either an NCC or Noleggio sticker prominently displayed.

NCC official driver in Italy
Either the NCC or Noleggio sticker must be clearly visible on both front and rear windshields

There are no exceptions. No other stickers. No other licensing.

If your driver tells you he doesn’t have that type of identification on his vehicle because it’s not required where he is from, or because he is licensed elsewhere, it is straight up B.S.

Don’t get in that car.

If the police pull over a driver who does not carry a professional license you can be left on the side of the road, literally. The car/van can be impounded and the driver arrested.

Illegal drivers will normally try to tell police that you are their cousins from America/family friends or some other nonsense. Be very, very careful. Should you go along with the lie you could find yourself in a world of trouble in a foreign country.

Driver Networks

Most professional drivers in any given area know each other. They help one another out with everything from alerting each other to trouble on the road ahead to covering for each other if bookings run late or overlap. With a professional driver you have multiple layers of benefit.

They also all know at a glance if another driver is illegal.

ftdriver.com
NCC licensed driver and car in Piemonte

It Happened To Me

It seems as though everything I have learned, I have learned the hard way!

One time in Rome several years ago I asked my landlord to organize a transfer to the airport for me. At the time I wasn’t dialed into the system and really didn’t know how to find a driver on my own. The various landlords I rented from always set it up for me and I had never had a problem.

RELATED POST: HOW TO GET FROM THE AIRPORT INTO ROME

This time I had a 7 am flight back to the USA and had a super early pick up. I knew as soon as he pulled up that the driver wasn’t legit. He was a surly Russian who spoke no English. In hindsight he had probably been drinking. The car was decent but as we were en route I realized he was just moonlighting as a professional driver. Real drivers don’t show up looking disheveled and moody – real drivers carry themselves like professionals.

I was somewhat stuck as it was dark out and I had to get to the airport. The apartment I had been renting wasn’t close to a busy street where I could have found a taxi, and the 6 digit local taxi number didn’t work from my international phone.

Once I got to the airport I talked to the drivers parked nearby (who told me I’d been driven by a non-licensed driver), got some business cards and developed my own network of commercially licensed professional drivers who do airport transfers in Rome.

What You Can Do

There are a few things you can do to secure your safety when booking a driver in Italy. If you are a member of my newsletter you can bounce me back an email, and if I have drivers in an area you are traveling to I will happily share them with you.

If you are not a member yet you can join the newsletter here

Love it or hate it, Trip Advisor is the gold standard for finding quality travel referrals. Research drivers in the areas you need them and then look at their reviews. Most of the legitimate professional drivers are going to have loads of reviews. When you reach out to them be sure to ask if they are a Licenza NCC driver. When you go to their website look for Licenza NCC shield or wording to indicate they are professionally licensed.

If you are having your hotel or Airbnb secure a driver for you be sure to tell them up front you want an NCC licensed driver. Remember, if they get you an illegal driver they are pocketing the extra money. I would back that up by saying you have read about it on trip advisor. No hotel concierge wants a trip advisor review saying he referred an unlicensed driver.

If there is no NCC plaque next to the rear license plate and if either NCC or Noleggio stickers are not prominently displayed on both windshields do not get in that car.