Safe travels: How to Enjoy a Hassle-free Italian Holiday

Italy, as we all know by now, is one of the world’s most delightful holiday destinations; its popularity a clear testament of all this marvellous country has to offer. But be aware… Italian holidays can also spell disaster for the uninitiated (and unprepared) tourist.

There are many reasons why Italy is often considered the pick-pocketing capital of Europe. It has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for the tremendous number of refugees it has welcomed onto its shores, yet the government does very little to support them once they arrive, giving birth to a whole new social class of financially strapped, desperate semi-Italians. In order to survive, they soon turn professional scammers and thieves, ready to part you with your hard earned holiday funds.

Do not become a victim of this vicious circle. Be alert (but not totally paranoid), prepared and know which scams are popular where and you can enjoy a wonderful and hassle-free vacation. Following are our hot tips to ensure your Italian holiday is one you’ll remember for all the right reasons.

To blend or not to blend…that is the question

Crowded markets are a pick-pocket’s dream. (Courtesy of Andrew Wood)

Trying to blend in with the locals is usually a futile exercise, no matter where it is you’re coming from. You may even get the ‘look’ down pact by tying your sweater around your shoulders (oh so Italian) but the illusion will soon be shattered when you order a cappuccino with your lunch (so NOT Italian). Don’t fuss about it…you may not be Italian, but the point here is not to look like a tourist. Italy is fast emerging as a very multi-cultural country, and if there’s no way of knowing if you live there, or are merely visiting (with a bag-full of cash), you’ll be in a much safer position.

Don’t get picked on!

Pick-pockets are really good at what they do, especially in the most touristy places. Where there’s a crowd of tourists, there’s a guaranteed crowd of pick-pockets, so do be extra careful about your belongings.

WOMEN: now would be a good time to leave your handbag behind! Handbags attract thieves like a flame attracts moths…little slippery hands can spot them a mile away. Wear a money belt which you access ONLY inside the privacy of say, a shop restroom, and if you must carry a purse make sure it is a shoulder cross-over bag. Make it small, and containing only a few bills and if you do get picked it won’t ruin your holiday. Leave your most beloved jewels at home, and try not to advertise your wealth. You’ll see local Italian women will leave the house wearing only their wedding ring. They do this for a reason!

Another very important reason women should leave handbags behind is that in Italy it is common to have your bag snatched by Vespa riding thugs; which often results in physical injury for the victim. Be suspicious of slow-riding Vespas near footpaths, or in the middle of a crowd of tourists, and get as far away from them as possible. Better still…don-t have anything hanging from your shoulders!

MEN: do not keep your wallet in your trouser’s back pockets, or anywhere else from where it can easily slip away. Trust us when we tell you, these guys are super-fast and super-smooth, so keep it safe in a zipped pocket or under a shirt from where it can be easily accessed by you, but not by anyone else. Walking around with your expensive camera hanging from your neck is also a sure-fire way of attracting all the wrong attention. Small point and shoot cameras nowadays are infinitely better than they used to be, and they can create some great souvenir pics, so consider leaving your triple-lens SLR at home.

don’t get so carried away by impressive sites that you become careless. Always be aware of your surroundings. (Courtesy of Konrad Zielinski)

Pick-pockets work in groups, so do be aware of your surroundings. Should you catch a sly-looking fellow looking you up and down, be assured he’s trying to figure out where you have your wallet stashed. Never leave your luggage unattended, and pay special attention if you happen to arrive in a city by train. Train stations are notorious hangouts for opportunistic thieves, especially in popular hubs like Milan, Naples or Rome. If you’ve missed a connection, or are not quite sure where to go, head for a populated restaurant or ‘bar’(coffee shop) and take your belongings inside. Shop owners will be more than happy to call you a taxi.

A popular scam involves a bunch of unwashed children approaching you with a piece of cardboard with writing on it. Should this happen, do not be distracted! It’s a ploy to get your attention away from your belongings. Do shoo them away (like all Italians do) and make sure to keep a safe distance,. Do not open your wallet to donate to beggars; most of the time it is another scam…someone close by will be watching you, to see where you have your wallet hidden.

If, by now, you’re starting to re-think your Italian holiday, rest assured that you can enjoy a superlative Italalian holiday; as long as you follow some necessary precautions. Be alert, but not alarmed; know what to look for, and you can avoid having your holiday spoiled by an unfortunate encounter.

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