Travel Safety in Italy

Rome Metro || creative commons photo by Nicola

Rome Metro || creative commons photo by Nicola

Travel safety is an important thing to think about before any trip, if for no other reason than the fact that we’re treading unfamiliar ground. Although Italy is generally a safe place to visit, it’s still good to take some precautions before you leave home – as well as know about some common travel scams to avoid once you’re there.

Don’t be concerned that taking travel safety measures on an Italy trip will detract from your experience. The things I recommend aren’t outlandish, and once you get used to them (if you’re not already) you’ll hardly notice you’re taking precautions at all.

Travel Insurance

Some people never leave home without buying travel insurance. Some people never buy it. My own history is mixed, and when it comes to Italy I’ve only bought travel insurance when I’ve spent more than a week or so in the country (in case of medical issues). You can do your own research on the merits of travel insurance – I think it’s quite affordable, and if it gives you peace of mind then it’s worth it. Getting a quote is free.

Generally speaking, travel insurance is a good idea if you’re planning to do any adventure sports or activities (skiing, hang gliding, rock climbing, etc.), if you’ve paid up front for tours or cruises that may be cancelled (check the insurance policy to make sure you’ll get refunded for cancellations of any kind, including weather or “acts of God”), or if you’ve got medical insurance at home that does not cover you outside your home country.

Safety Tips in Italy

Big Italian cities are no strangers to pickpockets and petty thieves, but they’re just like big cities in any other part of the world that way. This is partly due to the fact that with so many travelers, there are lots of easy targets.

When we’re in unfamiliar territory, it’s easy to forget to be diligent about closing your purse after you take out your camera. It’s easy to get swept away by a majestic view and forget that your backpack is slightly open. It’s easy to fall into the old habit of putting your wallet in your back pocket. My thought process when I travel is that there is always going to be someone who looks like an easy mark in a crowd – your job is to make sure it’s not you.

Some important safety tips for Italy travel:

  • Don’t advertise wealth. When you leave the hotel wearing a Rolex or expensive baubles, you’re a neon sign to a thief. Leave the expensive stuff at home, and don’t wear accessories that make you look like you’re worth enough to steal from.
  • Be aware of your surroundings at all times. This should be your rule of thumb anywhere, but especially when you’re in a foreign place. If you’re getting bad vibes from a neighborhood, leave. And if you don’t know where the “bad neighborhoods” might be, ask at the tourist information office if there’s any place you shouldn’t go without a guide.
  • Be especially aware in busy markets and on public transportation. Busy places are particularly rife with pickpockets. You think you’ll feel someone trying to grab your wallet, but you’re wrong. You won’t feel it until it’s gone.
  • Make your purse hard to grab. Make your travel bag a small cross-body purse, or (at the very least) make sure the shoulder on which you’re carrying your bag isn’t right next to the street. That way it’s not easy for a passing thief on a scooter to grab your bag and keep motoring.
  • Carry your wallet in your front pocket. Guys, I know it will feel weird for most of you, but trust me on this one. Slim down your wallet to only the bare essentials, and consider an even-slimmer money clip instead.
  • Use a money belt. Get a money belt and know how to use it. That way, even if your wallet or purse is nicked they won’t get everything.
  • Use a purse hook. I swear by purse hooks when I travel. Throwing a bag over the back of your chair at an outdoor cafe is an open invitation to a thief.

Tourist Scams in Italy

There are travel scams in pretty much every touristed place in the world, although there aren’t as many common to Italy as there are in some other countries. Still, it pays to know about them before you go, and remain skeptical of offers that seem too good to be true.

Read more about tourist scams in Italy, including details of common scams and some helpful photographs.

What to Do if Something is Stolen

Even if you take all the necessary precautions, you may still be the unlucky victim of some kind of theft. If you assume that will happen, you’ll do a few things before you leave home to make dealing with the aftermath a little less painful.

Before you travel, make photocopies of the signature/photo page of your passport, and keep them in different places than your actual passport. You’ll need all that information in order to get an emergency replacement, and a photocopy makes it go more quickly. Also, write down the “in case of emergency” phone numbers on the back of your credit cards. If the cards are stolen, you can’t very well dial the number on the back of a card you no longer have.

It’s a good idea to carry two credit cards (one in your wallet, one in your money belt) just in case one is taken. It’s also smart to carry most of your cash in your money belt rather than your wallet, so you’ll still have some cash if your purse is stolen.

If you find your credit card has been stolen:

  • Call your bank(s) immediately. You’ve cleverly photocopied the cards, or written down the pertinent information (card number and phone numbers on the back) so you can do that easily even if the card is gone. Most cards have a number customers can dial collect from overseas in case of emergency.
  • Call debit card banks first. It’s much easier to dispute charges on a credit card than direct withdrawals from your bank account, so it’s imperative that you cancel any cards connected to your bank account as quickly as possible.
  • Report the theft to the police and get a police report. They may say there’s nothing they can do about it, or imply that it’s not a “police report” level offense, but be persistent (bring a translator if needed). If you have problems with identity theft later on, you may need that police report.
  • Call one of the credit reporting agencies to file a fraud report. You don’t need to call all of them (they share information).

There’s even more detailed information in this article about what to do if your wallet/purse is stolen (it applies whether you’re at home or abroad).

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