When in Rome

This time last year I was busy spending my weeknights scouring the internet, reading all of the articles about what I should and shouldn't bring with me to my semester in Rome. For the most part they all hit the nail on the head, but of course there are areas where no one can get it right because everyone's experience is different. My friend Cecile and I compiled this list one day before our final review, after we had settled in to a coffee shop similar to one you could find back in the US but very different from the typical Italian coffee shop you will find yourself passing on the way to class (Barnum Cafe). Rome Program 2017 students, this list is for you! I hope that others might find some of the information helpful as well. 

Download "MAPS.ME" if you are planning on keeping your phone on airplane mode 95% of the time, and also remember that your phone will always track your location. 

Whether you are on airplane mode or using data, this free app allows you to download some high quality maps for each country and find your location on that map. It isn't great for determining exact directions, which will probably frustrate you the most during a trip to Venice, but you are going to have a better experience by determining your own route and getting lost along the way. 

It's totally possible to pack into one suitcase, but there are advantages to bringing an extra one along for the ride. 

I put in a strong effort the few days before I left to consolidate all of my belongings for one semester into one suitcase, a backpack, and a carry on bag, and I was glad I did. Even in that one suitcase there were items I didn't end up wearing or using. Even if you do successfully pack into one suitcase, I would recommend bringing along a completely empty one to carry back items you pick up along your journey. I picked up a leather duffel during my travels and ended up checking this with souvenirs on the trip home. 

Don't stress too much about an overseas data plan. 

There are many different options and there is no right answer. Some students went to Vodaphone (European cell phone company) and bought an unlimited data plan that also gave them an Italian cell phone number; this is great if you want to be in touch with the world all of the time. Another option is to get your carrier's abroad plan, which strictly limits data usage; these plans are great if you want to only access your data for emergencies. Oftentimes you can still send text messages with these plans without having the data turned on all the time, and you can also still track your location on a map without the data. The people that had unlimited data plans were often depended on for way finding and directions. Pick your battle wisely! 

Bring a comfort item, like a pillow or blanket. 

Quite a few of the girls brought a pillow, blanket, comforter, or towels from home, which I don't blame them for doing. It helps to make the apartment feel a lot more like home, and when the temperature starts to drop you'll be glad you brought your own source of warmth. Some people brought an entire bed set - if this is the difference between you getting a good night's sleep and not sleeping a wink, fill the extra suitcase with the bedding but don't be afraid to leave it behind at the end of the semester! 

Bring earplugs, eye mask and buy a fan. 

Have a soft shell duffel bag for weekend trips. 

As we waited in line to board our flight, I watched many passengers with harder shell bags struggle to fit their carry on into the testing station. A softer shell will be easier to squeeze into those tight spaces. A large backpack works well too! 

If you want to go to a big event such as Oktoberfest, book ahead of time. For everything else, go with the flow! 

It's not secret that I am very type A and like to have everything planned ahead of time, weeks in advance, with itineraries and alternate itineraries set. Europe rid me of this habit completely. There are very few instances that require planning ahead, Oktoberfest being the only one I can call to mind. Some of my favorite trips we booked tickets and accommodations for within 24 hours of leaving Rome. Sometimes it is best to wait until later in the week, as other people begin to finalize plans, and tag along to wherever you might want to go next. 

Accept that you really won't need more than one sketchbook. 

This is not the time to allow your ambitions to be bigger than your reality. Not a big runner already? Don't bring running shoes. Don't watercolor on the daily? Don't bring a watercolor notebook with only watercolor paper. You are already going to be so busy exploring and trying new things that these extra items will only hog weight in your suitcase. The studio space will also be partially stocked with glue, cutting mats, cutting boards, and many smaller items you can find in the art stores in Rome. 

Invest in a comfortable backpack and comfortable walking shoes ahead of time. 

Trust that you will learn to love wine and coffee. 

I remember one day at Gensler the other intern, Gwen, telling me that I would become addicted to coffee over the course of my travels. I didn't believe her, yet now I make my own cappuccino every morning before work. I also didn't know a lot about wine before going - well, I still don't know a lot about wine, but one thing Italy taught me is that it is always time for a glass of wine and a cup of coffee, just not together. 

Accept that a cone of gelato is a perfectly reasonable way to spend 2 euros each day for four months.

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Don't skip on packing sweaters. 

Just like New Orleans, Rome has an incredibly hot season and a moderately cold season. If you don't pack warm clothes you will find yourself desperately searching for some, or arriving in Copenhagen completely unprepared. 

Bring your own toiletries.  

It's true that there are many bathroom essentials that you can find in Rome, but you'll be hard pressed to find your favorite deodorant or face wash. I'm not advising you to go overboard on the bathroom items you insist on bringing from home; be honest with yourself about what you really can't do without. For me, I bought shampoo, conditioner, and soap in Rome, and brought my own facewash. 

Avoid packing delicate clothing. 

Our apartment didn't have a dryer and the washing machine was known to cause a few tears in delicate shirts. If the item is good to air dry, don't bring it. Everything you bring should be something you wouldn't mind living without after your trip. I came home with everything I brought, but I was glad that I originally packed with this strategy in mind. 

Relax, you're going to have an amazing time. 

No amount of research can prepare you for the amazing journey you are about to embark on for four months. You can try to plan ahead, but there is so much merit on bringing what you know you will need and allowing the rest to fall into place. Don't go in with any expectations, remember that everything is temporary, and that this is your time. Those 16 weeks will be over before you know it - whether you are able to travel to a new country every weekend or you choose to stay in Rome, there are lessons and discoveries around every corner so long as you seek them. 

Further readings/recommendations:

Da Enzo, a restuarant

Kinfolk's City Guides, featuring all but Rome

City Secrets: The Essential Insider's Guide