A reader sent me an email a few weeks ago asking about safety in Rome. I realized, after scanning over the posts in my blog, that I never really wrote about this before. In my opinion, Rome is a pretty safe place to be as a traveler, even for those of us that like traveling alone. Having gone to Rome dozens of times now and usually on my own, I never feel threatened or unsafe, but it is always prudent to exercise caution.
Here are some general safety tips for traveling in the Eternal City:
- If you’re traveling alone and you’re out at night, use common sense. Stick to well lit streets and avoid “short cuts”, parks and other wooded areas where there is a potential for unsavory characters to lie in wait. If you’re unsure of where you are, make use of a taxi to get back to your hotel or hostel. Even during the day, be vigilant. Read this piece about safety in Rome, and see #6 about the Dutch couple. Empty fields and piazzas should be avoided and stick to main thoroughfares.
- Always carry a paper map of the city with you. Don’t rely solely on smartphones and tablets — these devices have limited supplies of power, and you don’t want to be lost in a strange city relying solely on an electronic device to find your way home. Leave devices switched off until you need them, if possible.
- In bars and clubs, watch your drink and never leave your drink(s) unattended!
- While on buses and trains, watch your purses, wallets and valuables. Leave them in your front pocket and do not leave your wallet/purse in a backpack or carry bag. Pickpockets go where the tourists go, and several of the bus/metro lines are popular with the pickpockets and thieves. Not all pickpockets are adults — children are often the culprits and work in small and large groups to distract you while they make off with your goods. This is common on trains and buses or even while sitting down at a cafe, where you are often asked to buy flowers or other trinkets. If you’re pick-pocketed, contact the police right away — you probably won’t recover your stolen items, but you will need the police report for any insurance claim(s) you wish to file. Don’t expect much sympathy or assistance from the authorities with regards to “petty” crime. If you’re driving, avoid stopping to help those stranded on the side of the road. This is a common trick that robbers use, playing on the victims’ compassion.
- Dress comfortably while in Rome, but try not to look too much like a tourist. Carry only the things that you absolutely need to have with you. Large backpacks, fanny packs, cameras around your neck, and walking around and reading a map are distractions that thieves can make use of. If you need to consult your map, do so discretely and not in the middle of the sidewalk where you are more of a target. Try to avoid carrying “supplies” with you unless necessary — there are stores and shops all over Rome. Purchase your water and snacks on the go — this will lighten your load and make you more agile.
- When using ATM machines in Rome, make a quick examination of the machine. If the machine looks as if it has been tampered with, find another one. Criminals have been known to tamper with card readers and can steal valuable personal information as you use your card. Use the same caution and prudence you would use as if you were using an ATM in your home town.
- Definitely make copies of your passport. Consider scanning your passport and emailing it to yourself as a backup in case your copies are lost/stolen. Leave valuables in the hotel safe (avoiding traveling with them if you can). If you’re country has an embassy in Rome, know where it is in case you need their services. The American embassy in Rome is located in Via Vittorio Veneto, 121 — you can reach them on the metro via Linea A. Get off at the Barberini/Fontana di Trevi stop (fermata). It also might be helpful to keep a list of phone numbers for your credit card companies in case your wallet is lost/stolen. Having this information prepared in advance can save you a lot of headache. Before calling the authorities, be sure to cancel your cards with your bank(s) since the likelihood of recovering your stolen goods will be pretty slim.
- If a stranger starts to bother you while you wait for the bus/train/taxi, stay calm. If you don’t know the language, it’s possible that they just want to know the time or when the next bus/train is coming. Keep your guard up! Let them know you don’t speak Italian, either by saying so in English or by responding in Italian: Mi scusi – non parlo italiano. If they refuse to leave you alone, find a policeman, alert the driver on the public transport, or simply get out of the situation. Considering bringing a whistle with you — they can help attract attention and aid you in summoning help. Avoid direct confrontations with possible assailants since they are often armed. Discretion is (always) the better part of valor!
If you have any other safety tips, please leave a comment!