Updated: 2 days ago
Always Pack Tissues shares the time her entire family chased down some thieves in Rome, and some pretty helpful tips to avoid the same from happening to you.
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The Cautionary Tale
Back in the late '90s we were really green travelers. I was still only around 10 years old and my world wasn't much bigger than my friend circle and the boy band of the week.
The whole gang of us packed our giant suitcases and headed to Europe - my parents, my brother and my aunt, who often joined on our 2-week European adventures back then. We were just like the Griswolds - really plucky, very American, and super happy about life. I have to imagine we stuck out like a sore thumb.
One fateful evening after the inevitable pasta and gelato dinner, we journeyed back to our hotel on the subway. Dad, the patriarch with hands securely in his pockets to protect our wealth, stood stout, dark-haired and confident that his Italian heritage made him blend in. I'm sure in reality with all of us in jeans, white sneakers and above the ankle socks, we screamed "rob us!"
The train jostled for only a moment as we sped through a dark tunnel underground and smoothed out as we entered the next station. Piles of people started filing off as Dad patted those protected pockets and said,
"My wallet is gone!!....Get him!!"
The family sprang into action, leaping off the train towards the man Dad had seen bump into him in the dark moments earlier. As for myself, ten-ish and completely out of it, I wondered what the fuss was and where did everybody go?
The train doors literally started to close and someone came back for me and screamed, "Maria, get OFF the train!!"
Upset and shaken that I'd nearly just ended up somewhere half way to Termini station on my own in the big city (with no cell phones might I add and no clue where we were staying), I was still lagging behind, trying to understand WTF was happening.
Meanwhile, I saw the family split in two directions. Dad and my brother raced off to the right after the man dad had seen, my mom and aunt off in the other direction, chasing a man they had seen running as if he was in fear of getting caught.
Honestly my role at this point is completely irrelevant as I don't recall what I did next, but I remember being at my dad and brother's side. Dad had caught the bastard and with a two hand grip on his tshirt shoved him against the wall.
He was yelling for his wallet back as the man threw his hands in the air, emptied his pockets and pleaded that he was surely not the man we wanted. He gestured the other direction where Mom and my aunt had gone, indicating that that was the guy we were after. The little bugger had passed it off to a buddy in the chaos! We had the wrong guy!
Mom and my aunt ran like the dickens and, before he knew what hit him, the second guy was also pinned to the wall! Don't mess with this family!!! The charade was the same, emptying pockets, "I don't have it I don't have it" and ultimately they got away.
Dad sat in shame the whole night when we returned to our hotel. I sat in tears, still stupidly not understanding a thing. How could people be so mean, I thought? As a kid I didn't understand the ramifications.
We had traveler's checks (which are non-existent today), had to call the credit card companies and shut down the cards, and ended up using my aunt's money for the next few days until things were sorted out.
Although we got wiser over time, just years later we were robbed in Spain at a gas station. Dad was at the pump, back turned away from the car to watch the pump numbers rise, and the rest of us were inside using the bathrooms.
With only minutes of opportunity, someone slinked in through the back seat, grabbed my coveted CD player (and my favorite New Found Glory CD!) and slinked right back out again unseen. I yelled, screamed and hit my brother for an hour after we had left the gas station, certain that he'd hidden it as a prank before we realized what had happened.
Lessons to be learned here are numerous. You HAVE to be a smart traveler. I literally haven't had an issue since these events. Here's some tips.
How to Avoid Getting Mugged in Rome:
Pickpocket proof clothing and accessories. Check out our review of SCOTTeVEST gear - perfect to ward off pickpocketers!
Spread out the wealth. Give the majority of your money to mom. Everyone thinks Dad is the money bags.
Multiple credit card numbers per travel group - this is important. Let's say mom and dad each have a credit card with the same card number and Dad's gets stolen. Mom's is now dead in the water too. Always have at least two cards with different card numbers amongst you. Practice smart money management!
Distribute your money around different bags. Keep a stash in your toiletries bag, your purse or backpack and your luggage.
Don't go out touring for the day with all of your stuff. Leave your passport, important docs, and 2/3 of your cash at the hotel, preferably in the safe.
Wear a cross-body bag and wear it tight. When I was in Vietnam a girl traveling with me was mugged by a motorcyclist driving by. He grabbed the bag off her in seconds, and it was a cross-body bag.
Notify your cards (ATM and credit) before you travel. If something suspicious pops up, they will cancel the card for you.
Lock your car doors at gas stations.
Put your important cards and IDs in a phone pocket - I like the sticker style that sticks to the back of your phone case, or buy a built in kind.
If you are in a crowded place, keep a hand on your purse, backpack, etc.
If traveling as a group, look out for each other!
Leave your flashy and expensive jewelry at home. It's marks you as a target for thieves. Instead, bring fakes like CZ or silver, or silicone wedding rings like these from Amazon:
Never leave any of your stuff for a moment - to go to the counter to grab a coffee, to run to the garbage pail, etc. And NEVER trust a kind stranger to watch it for you.
What to do if you are Mugged:
Call your card companies. With the internet, finding these numbers is easy if you've lost them.
Cancel everything. You don't want anyone to have access to your info.
If you lost a passport, contact the local US embassy. Official searchable list for US locations abroad:
Use your emergency stash until you can get to an ATM or find other means of money.
Play It Safe
Just remember to follow these tips and play it safe so as not to be a cautionary tale yourself! You don't want to get mugged in Rome on your honeymoon, or ruin your spring break in Santorini. Be smart, blend in, and understand how not to stand out as a tourist. Understanding different customs in your destination is key to this. Whether understanding the etiquette in Asian countries like Japan, or navigating some of the differences in Europe, being aware is key to staying safe.