Travel Tip Tuesday: How NOT to Get Robbed in Rome


Travel Tip Tuesday

In honor of Rome Week here at My Bella Vita, this week’s Travel Tip Tuesday is all about holding on to your dough in the Eternal City. With more than three million residents and 20 million annual visitors, it is easy to see how those rough Roman Gladiators got so tough.

Saint Peters Basilica, Vatican City

Rome, with its decaying walls, ancient ruins and magnificent churches is one of the most popular cities in the world and is easily in my Top Five … but it can be rough.

A recent guest at our B&B learned this the hard way. Here is her story.

“My husband and I had just arrived in Rome Termini and had a few minutes before we caught our train. I went to the bank and withdrew money and tucked the small coin purse I had exchanged for my over-sized wallet into my shoulder bag.

I met my husband and bought a large bottle of water for our trip. My bag wouldn’t zip.

A few minutes later we loaded the train and were instantly surrounded by a group of three 20-something aged girls. They pressed closed to us, one with a baby strapped across her chest. They piled into our cabin and seemed anxious for us to move or sit down.

One of them tapped me on my shoulder. When I turned, she moved.

Red lights were flashing around me, yet I couldn’t pinpoint the problem. I finally insisted my husband and I search for a different cabin.

A few minutes after we were seated I saw the girls walk by our window-outside the train.

Then it hit me.

I’d been robbed.

Unfortunately, this wasn’t an isolated incident. Although our guest had done a smart thing when she swapped out her large wallet for a small coin purse … she didn’t do quite enough. Thieves in Rome-as in most large cities-are good … they are experienced … and they are quick.

Here are four tips to help you hold on to your euros in Rome.

1. Zip it Up
Your purse or bag should have either a zipper or clasp to keep it closed and secured. Use it. I know it can be tempting to leave your bag unzipped while you take a quick pic but it is important for you to get into the habit of closing your bag-every single time.

2. Hold the Knot

Speaking of zippers, many purses have a leather strap or decoration that hangs from the zipper. Keep this end on the inside so thieves can’t sneak behind you and unzip your purse when you aren’t watching. On the subways, I use my free hand to pull the zipper latch closer to me and cover the zipper area.

3. Split it Up
I’ve mentioned this with other travel tips in the past, but it is always wise to divide your money and credit cards and put them in various zippers and pockets. My husband and I always split cash and cards between us for added safety.

4. Build a Wall
I know it is easier to talk to your travel partner if your bags are on your outside arm, but this is another invitation for thieves to get to your dough. Always carry you purse or bag on the inside arm, sandwiched between you and your travel partner. This protects your bag and gives you a better visual.

5. Be Aware
Be on the look out for groups of people who seem to pushing toward you for no apparent reason. Many thieves work in pairs or groups, so if you are getting crowded, pay extra attention to your wallet and bags. On a related note, you will likely feel safer if you stay in pairs and don’t go out alone at night in an unfamiliar neighborhood.

I’d like to point out that in all of the times I’ve visited Rome, I’ve never felt threatened or afraid. But Rome is a city and like many big places, vultures are all-too-willing to relieve tired, over-extended or careless tourists of their big bucks … and that could damper your vacay.

What other tips do you have for holding on to your dough when traveling in big cities like Rome?

Until next time … Buon Viaggio!

And on a side note … Happy Cinco de Mayo!

12 Responses
  1. It’s amazing (KNOCK ON WOOD) but we’ve never been robbed. Really, amazing. With all our kid crap and total chaos that surrounds us you’d think we would be a giant target. Maybe the thieves don’t want animal crackers and diapers?

    About the train though, same thing happened to my mom and her group of friends. A group got on the train and when it went through a tunnel they jostled around bumping into them. When they got off my mom’s friend realized they had slit her purse in two with a knife and taken her wallet! Yipes. I should note, my Mom said they were AMERICAN 20 somethings… not a band of gypsies.
    “They don’t animal crackers and diapers!” lol That is priceless. That is strange about your mom’s experience. I’ve never heard of a group of Americans pulling those moves in Italy. With our B&B guests, they were gypsies-she just didn’t “get it” at the time.
    South of Rome’s last blog post..My Growing Stash

  2. When I studied in Florence (a million years ago) someone actually unzipped my backpack while I was on the bus back to Fiesole while it was on my back. I was chatting with some friends and dd not even notice (nor did my friends) that the person standing behind me was unzipping my bag. Luckily my wallet was in my pocket so all he found was a brown paper bag with some food and my school books.

    When I got off the bus the guy who had been sitting across from us came up to me and told me what had happened…I hadn’t even realized…
    Wow. That is crazy. Why didn’t the guy speak up sooner? Jeez!
    Paola’s last blog post..Organize to Exercise

  3. I say don’t even bother with a purse or shoulder bag at all…for money stashing at least. I always travel with a money belt under my pants or one that hangs under my shirt…and I’ve stood in front of many an ATM taking up precious time just to make sure I put that money inside that, instead of my exposed bag. Then all I keep within easy reach is 5euros or so to grab quickly.
    Definitely smart travel tips! I carry a bag b/c I need my camera, notebook, pen, lipstick … i know. I am horrible! lol
    erin :: the olive notes’s last blog popular demand : italy overview

  4. Great tips, Cherrye. Warning, I saw a team of guys working on my parents once here on the Ligne 1 metro in Paris — the pickpockets’ favorite because of all the tourists. The guy who I literally SAW trying to get his hands in my mom’s purse was dressed in a suit and tie!! (Funny enough, for traveling she favors these fabric bags that she buys at a craft fair in Arkansas . . .but their closure system (a couple of bars of wood) definitely keeps people OUT!

    In a kind of lucky way, I was far enough from my mom in the metro car that I saw what the guy was doing. I gave him an arch look, and he responded by twiddling his fingers off her bag with a “Who, me???” look on his face. At the moment I was content that I’d kept him from robbing my mom, but on later reflection, I was disappointed that I didn’t yell THIEF and confront him so that everyone in the car would have known to be aware (of course he got off at the next stop).

    The other guy, who tried (and very nearly succeeded) to get my Dad’s wallet out of his back pocket, was dressed in a track suit or some such, but not gypsy-like, looked like a French guy coming back from a workout or something.

    I think of ourselves as vigilant, but that taught us a lesson. It’s so important to remember as it can make the difference between a wonderful vacation and a bitter memory of a frustrating experience.
    Wow. I was always lucky in Paris. That is horrible.
    Kim B.’s last blog post..Okay, I admit it. I’m a tea snob.

  5. Knock wood I’ve been lucky. I have purses but make sure that they are zipped and in front of me (if I get on a crowded bus/subway.)

    Leave the backpacks at home. I’m stunned by how many tourists walk around with these things. You have no idea what someone is doing behind you.

    Ignore the women who walk up to you begging with a baby. I know it seems cruel but it’s a scam. I noticed it in Florence. A woman was talking to me trying to distract me and I could see her co-thief standing guard.
    I saw that in Florence, too but she didn’t think anyone was watching and tucked the plastic baby under her arm while she drank some water! You are right-it is better to ignore them.
    nyc/caribbean ragazza’s last blog post..Italian Driving School Diaries – Day one of learning to drive stick.

  6. Great tips as usual Cherrye! Totally agree about keeping some money and some credit cards in different pockets, or even in a safe in the hotel room.

    Maybe something’s up with the French metro system (as Kim B tells), but I also read a story recently of a pickpocketing in Paris: the woman was moving through the turnstile, and as soon as it clicked and she was through, the person behind her grabbed her wallet (or maybe purse) and ran. She was stuck behind the turnstile and couldn’t chase him, even though she saw the whole thing. I made a mental “travel note” about that one – never heard that before.
    Oh that is bad. Thanks for mentioning it!
    Madeline’s last blog post..Italy’s Best Bridges, Part I

  7. Ciao from America!

    My tips are general: do not carry one single thing you do not desperately need (I carried a laptop or notebook through years of international work, would never carry it now)
    and specific: when someone id crowding you, bothering you, making you suspicious, get LOUD. Learn and practice phrases like “Via! Va Via!” “Aiuto!” (I realized quickly that my instinct was to say help and no one would understand) Get over your fear of making an embarrassing scene. It isn’t you, it’s them! These people consider this their career (and are frequently not Italian) and your only defense is to make them conspicuous.
    A couple of Gypsy kids came at me on my way into a supermarket and tried to lift my watch. On my way out of the store they tried again! I yelled at them and they were all confused at my anger, “perche’, perche’?” They don’t even see you as a human, just a mark.
    Wow. Seriously that asked you “why” you were mad? I just don’t get it!
    Judith in Umbria’s last blog post..Shopping America

  8. I was sure I left a comment on here last night!!!

    I don’t carry much money with me, my visa card is on me..not in my bag, my metro ticket is not in my bag either..each day before we went out and about in Paris, the metro ticket was put in our safe, instead of fiddling about with your bag and purse..!
    Great idea abotu keeping your Metro ticket out. I love that you pointed that out.
    Anne’s last blog post..St Eustache….

  9. john olesky



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