Millions of people have entirely safe vacations in Italy every year. Rejoice in the wonderfulness!
That said, consider the fact that Italy’s pickpockets are usually numero uno or due in the world, usually just behind Barcelona. They are good at it. They get a lot of practice There are a lot of them hanging out in tourist cities.
Pickpockets and purse snatchers ply their trade anywhere tourists gather, like train stations in Rome and Naples, sites like the Coliseum, and crowded metro cars. These are easy places to grab things. You’d fare best when wearing your money and important documents in a pouch that hangs from your neck, like this one
A bit less safe is the money belt, like this popular model
But beyond “what can I buy to save me from the dirty, rotten thieves of Italy?” there is something more important that you can change for free.
Your Mindset and Travel Safety
A very interesting study was done many years ago. Researchers set up cameras to watch the reactions of men and women as they walked past questionable characters on a typical downtown street. After they had studied the videos for a very long time, they came up with an interesting conclusion. When approached from the other direction, men looked the character right in the eye. The behavior was typically male: “I’m watching you, don’t do anything stupid”, right out of the wild west testosterone playbook.
Women, on the other hand, tended to look away in droves, like the shy schoolmarm. This gave a purse snatcher all he needs to know. “She won’t recognize me, so it’s safe to loop back around her and grab her purse.” And wouldn’t you know it, this is a strategy employed by the cream of the crop purse snatchers.
I’ve witnessed this happen at the La Spezia train station on a Sunday. The train was not scheduled to depart for 15 minutes, but a man jumps on the train, bumps a woman who tries to get out of his way, and quickly heads off to exit the train car—with her wallet, carefully extracted from a zipped pocket in her small bag.
I treat all idiotic behaviors by immediately turning to face the idiot. A man shoves me, screw him—and I’m going to turn and give him a look that will melt his underwear. But the important part is that I see him. Then, on Monday, when the train police return from their weekend at the beach I might have a chance at identifying the lout.
Yes, thieves in Italy take notice of things like the lack of Police on Sunday at a station that is the major train station for access to the Cinque Terre. That’s why they’re as successful as they are.
So take heed. Don’t just look: see!
And when you see something that’s not right, say you’re approached by a gaggle of cute if dirty kids who stick a piece of cardboard covered with gibberish at the level of your belt buckle, just tell yourself, “Within milliseconds someone will have extracted from me all I’m carrying.” Bat that cardboard away, yell, and don’t worry about beeing taken as a fool, because nobody cares.
None of these safety tips and warnings are guaranteed to make your vacation entirely safe. Just be aware of your surroundings. React to things that confuse you by backing away.
And ignore the advice to “dress like an Italian.” I mean, really, they know you are a tourist and you’re fooling yourself to think you can fool them. Dress how you wish, except without a big, floppy purse or a wallet stuffed in your back pocket.
More on Travel Safety in Italy
If you need to spend a great deal of time on the Internet, see our advice on using a VPN, a sort of Internet condom for your devices.
And, just in case, here’s how to replace a stolen or lost Passport.