If you have been reading blogs about visiting Italy, you may have come across warnings about pickpockets, scams and other crimes. In our experience, we have found that Italy is actually no different from any other metropolitan area. Any city can be dangerous for tourists if you aren’t careful. The best way to avoid looking like an easy target is to simply try and blend in.
Here are our tips for staying safe and feeling more at home when you visit the beautiful country of Italy.
Dress Like You Belong
We know we will never actually pass for locals, but we have found that dressing more European helps us to enjoy the splendor of Italy unbothered. The easiest way to spot an American is by looking for jean shorts, t-shirts or spandex leggings. Our recommended travel outfits? Sundresses for women and casual button downs for men. A maxi dress will also ensure you can enter all of the beautiful churches and cathedrals.
Know How Much Cash You Need
Some of the best local cafes and restaurants aren’t set up to take credit cards. This means you will need to have some cash handy. We don’t advise exchanging large amounts of money in advance because the fees will add up quickly. Usually, the easiest thing to do is pull cash from a local ATM as needed. Your banks transaction fee is typically less expensive then the ones charged by third parties.
Once you have cash in hand, you will need to be smart about how you carry it. Although money belts can be useful for important documents or back up credit cards, you should not use them to store everything. Finding a nonchalant place to reach into your money belt throughout the day is almost impossible and it will only draw attention to you. Instead, we recommend limiting the amount of cash you carry and spreading it out in different secure places; small coins in a safe pocket, larger bills in your wallet, etc. This system also prevents you from having to pull out a large wad of cash when you actually just need a few Euros.
Look at Your Map Ahead of Time
Some countries seem to have Wi-Fi everywhere. Italy is not one of those places. To make matters more difficult, European cities are built on ancient streets. Unlike the navigable grid systems of Manhattan and San Francisco, Italian cities tend to be circular in shape, with winding streets.
Nothing screams tourist like walking in circles while staring at your phone as it loads Google Maps. Instead, take advantage of secure Wi-Fi at your Airbnb or hotel and get your bearings before venturing out. We also recommend asking friendly looking people for directions. Locals are usually happy to assist and will even point you in a new direction if they think you are missing out on a must see.
Know Your Food
When in Rome, do as the Romans do. Don’t order cappuccino after 11 am and don’t trust a restaurant that serves meat with their pasta (i.e. chicken fettuccine), that simply isn’t the Italian way! Instead, opt for an espresso in the afternoon and look for menus that offer “primi” pasta plates and “secondi” meat dishes. Ordering coffee during your meal is also a big no-no! That is to be savored separately.
Dining rules aside, the most important thing to do is enjoy the food! Italy is famous for its culinary excellence. Make the most of your trip by trying all the regional dishes Italy has to offer. It may be tempting to order pizza everywhere you go, but pizza is only a specialty in Naples. Try the pesto in Liguria and the spaghetti carbonara in Rome!
Pro Tip: Want to tell your server that your meal was delicious? Don’t kiss your fingers like a Muppet chef! Press your pointer finger into your cheek and give it a twist while looking happy.
Learn a Few Key Words
Most people you meet in Europe can speak English. Even so, a few key phrases go a long way! Try remembering these:
- Buongiorno – “Good Morning”
- Per favore – “Please”
- Grazie – “Thank you”
- Salute – “Cheers!”
- Bagno- “Bathroom“
Or our personal favorite:
Due bicchieri di vino rosso, per favore! – “Two glasses of red wine, please!”
Whatever it is you say, or attempt to say, your new Italian friends will be happy you tried.
Take Your Time
Most importantly, take your time! There is so much to see in Italy you will find yourself rushing from place to place just to get a glimpse of it all. Although this can feel exhilarating, hasty sightseeing increases your chances of making novice travel mistakes. Take your time putting your wallet back in a secure place after each purchase, staying aware of your surroundings and keeping track of your belongings.
Taking your time will also help you savor each moment. After all, Rome wasn’t built in a day!