Packing & Luggage on Trains
There are porters at some stations who can be hired to help passengers with luggage. Porters can be hired at Roma Termini, Milano Centrale, Bologna Centrale, and Firenze SMN.
These porters will typically lift your bags onto your train, and often they'll stow them for you in the baggage storage section of your car. Unless you're traveling to a station with a similar service—and enough time to locate a porter while the train is stopped—you'll be responsible for getting your bags off the train at your destination.
Traveling by train in Italy means always traveling with carry-on luggage - you'll carry on board everything you have with you. It's your responsibility to bring your bags on board and stow them properly, which is a great incentive to pack light.
There's no fee to bring luggage on the train, nor do you need a special ticket to carry luggage on board. The limit on bags each passenger may carry on board is technically three pieces of luggage - but the limit is rarely if ever enforced. Still, it's a good idea to keep bags at a minimum to ease the loading and unloading process.
The on-board luggage storage options differ depending on the type of train. On the newer high-speed trains there are storage areas at one end of each train car, often across from the toilet, which are available for anyone in that car to use for their larger bags.
On the older trains, the only real storage areas are overhead shelves above the seats. Sometimes there is room to stow medium or small bags in the space created when two seats are situated back-to-back. Smaller bags—backpacks, purses, briefcases—can be slid underneath your seat.
Trenitalia isn't responsible for lost bags, so it's your responsibility to keep an eye on luggage even if it's stowed at the end of the train car. There is, however, insurance against bag theft that applies to most Trenitalia passengers. If a bag is taken from the storage compartment at the end of the car of a Frecce or InterCity train, the insurance maximum is €300 for a single bag and €600 per customer. The maximums for other trains are lower, and the rules for filing an insurance claim are strict.
There is a door-to-door option for sending your bags from point to point rather than carrying it with you. It's called Bagaglio Facile, and the costs start at €20 for the first bag and €15 for the second. It's available to all travelers on Frecce trains, or anyone who has a CartaFreccia card.
Bagaglio Facile is only available Monday-Friday (it only operates on weekends in the cities of Milan, Rome, Florence, Venice, Turin, Bologna, Naples, Salerno, and Bari). Arrangements for Bagaglio Facile must be made by phone at least 24 hours in advance of your departure time.
If you're stopping midway on your journey and want to do some sightseeing before your next train departs, many stations offer some kind of luggage storage service. Luggage lockers are no longer the norm for security reasons, but there are often offices with staff where you can leave your bags for a period of time for a fee.
The dilemma of what to pack for a trip to Italy faces every traveler, but there are some specific things you might want to consider if you're packing for a train trip in Italy.
Everything is a Carry-On Bag
Whereas you might have checked an oversized suitcase on your flight to Rome, once you're taking the train all over Italy you'll be carrying your luggage on and off train cars yourself. There are some door-to-door luggage transport options, but they're limited to only the high-speed Frecce trains and only certain cities. The safest thing to do is assume that you will be responsible for carrying your bags on Italian trains at all times.
Traveling with a bag that is considered "carry-on size" by airlines, then, makes the task of climbing into and out of train cars much less physically taxing. Maneuvering smaller bags through crowded train stations and narrow train aisles is easier, too.
Maximize Luggage Space
When you limit yourself to traveling only with carry-on sized bags, you definitely have space restrictions that you don't have with full-sized luggage. The truth is that most travelers need far less than they actually bring—you can get away with wearing the same few outfits over and over (washing them periodically, of course), since no one will see you enough times to notice—so try to be ruthless when you're packing.
Leave bulky items at home, or plan to wear them on the plane so they don't take up space in your bags. Kindles, iPads or other e-readers are wonderful space savers for book lovers. Travel-sized toiletries may run out during your trip, but Italy has things like shampoo and toothpaste, too.
Carry a backpack or messenger bag (this can easily be your "personal item" on the plane) that's large enough to hold your valuables, any prescription medication, and maybe even a few items you picked up at the market for your on-board picnic. With this as your second bag, getting on and off trains is still easier than with a full-sized bag and you can keep all your valuables nearby even if you're stowing your luggage at one end of the train car.
Ship Souvenirs Home
Travelers who plan to shop while in Italy may start with excess room in an oversized suitcase, with the intention of filling it with souvenirs to bring home. There's nothing wrong with that, except the aforementioned issues with hauling heaving oversized bags on and off of trains.
Consider boxing up your goodies and shipping them from Italy to your home so you don't have to carry them or pack them. Some shops will take care of the shipping for you—especially if you're buying something large or expensive, such as wine or ceramics—so you won't even have to find a Mail Boxes Etc. in Florence.
Another option is to pack a duffel bag or another collapsible bag inside your suitcase—lay it flat and it shouldn't take up much room. You can expand into that bag as needed. It might make getting on and off of trains a bit more cumbersome with three bags (including that "personal item" bag), but some stations have trolleys you can pay to use.