If I had to choose one of the most frequently asked questions we receive at The Beehive, at the top of the list would be those regarding safety. Is Rome safe? Is our neighborhood safe?
Guidebooks can paint a grim picture of Rome as a city ruled by pickpockets and lawlessness. However, as a long time resident of Rome, I have always felt secure here. Since guns are illegal the thought has never crossed my mind that I would be the victim of an armed hold-up or on the wrong end of someone’s mental instability or bad day. As a woman and a mother of three daughters, I don’t take matters of safety lightly.
Rome is still a big city though with big city problems and there are some crimes & scams that you should be aware of and look out for:
1. Petty theft and pickpockets
Keep an eye out for men & women and groups of young children (who should be in school), called baby gangs because of their youth, loitering near any area where there is a large concentration of tourists: the train station, on crowded metros and buses, popular tourist attractions and/or holding pieces of cardboard – many of these people are indeed gypsies, but I will stress here that not all gypsies are thieves. However, if you want to try to get tourist information from the two girls holding the piece of cardboard in the picture above – be my guest.
The reality is that you may encounter people throughout the city who come up to you offering to help you with your luggage or buying a train ticket or asking for money and they need to be kept at a distance. The general rule is that when you’re somewhere that’s very crowded and you could be easily distracted, you need to be hyper aware of your belongings and the people around you. Don’t get so immersed in what’s on your iPhone that you become oblivious. Don’t put your handbag on the back of your chair or resting beside you on a bench. These are just a few of many common sense approaches to take when being in a city anywhere in the world.
2. The outsiders
Around Termini train station and throughout the city, you will often see scenes like those above. I have never had nor heard of anyone who has had a negative encounter with these people. They either simply just sit there and ask for money as you walk by like the begging woman in the top photo or are too wrapped up in a cloud of drink or drugs and their own suffering to do much of anything else like the person in the bottom photo. Many people visiting Rome are shocked by these scenes as their fantasy images of what Rome is like clash with what the reality is actually like for any large urban center, and Rome is no exception.
3. Cars & scooters
I can’t stress enough – BE CAREFUL when crossing the street! The statistic is that an average of 7 pedestrians a day are hit while crossing streets in Rome and personally, I have been witness to tourists getting hit by a car while they were on the crosswalk. The problem is exacerbated by crosswalks and corners being used as parking spaces making it difficult for cars to see you. Please don’t assume that if you are on the crosswalk cars will stop for you. Be vigilant and be fast when crossing the street!
There’s a good rule of thumb that I know you’ve heard before: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. There are some scams that play out in Rome everyday many of them preying on people’s sense of an almost childlike gullibility when traveling to a foreign place. Here are some scams you may encounter:
Scam #1: Someone approaches and motions to you to extend your finger or who says they have a “regalo” (gift) for you. They will make a “friendship” bracelet or offer some sort of cheap trinket and then you will be expected to pay for it. Best not to extend your finger or shake hands with anyone. They will and can get nasty if you refuse to pay.
Scam #2: You’re walking down the street and a man in a car with a map on the front seat pulls up next to you and says he is lost. He will say he works for Valentino, Armani, Gucci or any known designer. He will ask if you can help him with gas money and will trade you one of the “expensive” sample leather or suede jackets he has in his backseat for the low price of between €20-€50. The “leather” or “suede” jacket turns out to be an extremely cheap, smelly, PVC jacket not worth €5. It’s an elaborate scheme, but the guy is persistent. Just walk away.
Scam #3: Guys beware! This one also is a bit of an elaborate scheme and I don’t know how common it is, but I’ve heard about it more than a few times over the years and there are different variations, but the gist of it is like this: A man walks up to you “looking lost” who says he is an Italian-American from New York. He says he is looking for a particular pub and cannot find the street on the map he is carrying and could you help him. Once you have found the street for him he asks if he can buy you a beer at that bar. Apparently when you arrive there is a big bouncer guy at the door and upon entering you notice it’s a pub/strip club type place. Girls are issued to your table to sit with you, than the waiter brings a bottle of sparkling wine and asks if you would like to buy the girls drinks. When you get the bill, you’ve been charged an exorbitant amount of money with big bouncer guy making sure you don’t skip out on the bill. Beware of girls in g-strings “baring” gifts.
5. Bill padding at restaurants
Excessive and outrageous bill padding by bars and restaurants has recently made the news on several different occasions including a recent event where a bar/gelateria charged around €64 (about US$84) for 4 ice creams. Many bars in the center charge triple for sitting at a table outside (go to a coffee bar outside the historic center and this isn’t the case) and always check prices before ordering. At restaurants, there’s a thing called “coperto” that actually by law you are not obligated to pay that restaurants say is to cover the costs of the bread basket they bring out. To be honest, I can’t bother to squabble over the coperto, but then I also don’t tip especially when the coperto is added. Paying the coperto is a hell of a lot cheaper than paying a tip of 15-20% of the bill. I only add on a bit more if I liked the food & service, but tipping is not mandatory here (that’s another blog post!) That said, note prices when you order and before they take away the menu and don’t accept a bill with just one price scrawled onto a piece of paper. It’s not quaint or charming. Ask for an itemized bill.
6. Taxi drivers
There are official taxis in Rome – usually marked on the side with their cooperatives phone number and/or “SPQR Comune di Roma” and then there are private car companies that do airport transfers, called NCC (usually these are black-car sedans and vans). The white city taxis have the rates posted to the airport on the side and a card inside the taxi that explains the fare and any additional charges. Taxis start the meter at €2.80, Mon-Sat, 7am-10pm and at €5.80 from 10pm to 7am. Sundays and holidays from 7am-10pm the meter starts at €4.00. NB: If you call a taxi rather than picking it up from a taxi stand, the meter starts from when the call was made and not from when it actually arrived and picked you up. NCC drivers are hired for a flat fee and don’t go by meter.
My warning to you when taking a white city taxi is to make sure the meter is set to “Tariffa 1” and not “Tariffa 2” – many taxi drivers are notorious for putting it on “2” or switching it to “2” sometime during the journey. I’m sure there are plenty of honest taxi drivers, but unfortunately, we have had this happen one too many times and feel compelled to warn others. In every taxi there should be a price list in several languages. Taxi drivers at the train station and the airports are notorious for overcharging (despite set rates from the airport) so keep an eye out in any taxi you get into.
Please note that if you happen to leave a camera, phone or other items in a city taxi – unless you remember the name of the taxi driver and his driver number (listed on a panel attached to the doors in the back) as well as the taxi cooperative that he/she belongs to (this number is on the outside of the taxi), it truly is impossible for us to help you recover your lost item. There are many drivers and many taxi cooperatives out there and not one central line.
Sometimes, despite precautions, bad things can happen. We’ve known people who have had their iPhone snatched out of their hand in the middle of the day, and when we first moved to Rome, I had my purse stolen right out from under my feet in a restaurant. Be cautious, but there is only so much you can do if you don’t want to walk around in a constant state of fear and paranoia. That’s no fun either and will prevent you from experiencing fully the place you are visiting or being open to new experiences.
When traveling, for maximum peace of mind – purchase travel insurance. Not only will it cover the cost of theft (if you have proof of purchase of your items), but it’ll cover your tickets if you miss a flight, cover medical expenses and much more. You may or may not end up needing it, but the cost is low compared to what you could potentially lose.
We are proud to have recently started a partnership with World Nomads since we have always encouraged our guests to consider travel insurance. We use this insurance ourselves when we travel and as a family of 5, we think it’s well worth it. Having a back-up plan and something that can help take the sting out of a bad experience will be worth every penny.