Pickpockets and bag-snatchers operate in most cities, especially in Rome and Naples but including Milan and even Siena, most often in crowded places, stations, buses, or trains. Never put anything valuable in a back pocket or a backpack. On buses and on the subway, it is safer to stand well away from the door if you can’t find a seat; thieves may try to grab something near the door as the train or bus is approaching a stop, and then jump off. The person bumping you may be distracting you so an accomplice can reach into your purse or pocket and remove your wallet, jewelry and other items without you noticing. Someone may block the door on the Metro, so that someone else can snatch something as you’re trying to push past. They are very good at what they do, and you may not realize you’ve been the victim of a crime until you reach for your money hours later. It’s better to miss your stop than to lose your wallet, but usually you will still have time to get off even if you back up first and then exit when the way has been cleared.
Reduce the chances of such petty theft by wearing a money belt under your clothing. Otherwise, men should carry their wallets in their front (not back) pockets, while women should use purses that zipper and have multiple zipped compartments inside. Wear bags or cameras slung across your body to make it harder to snatch them. If possible, carry a security purse with slash-proof straps and wear thief-foiling clothing. When sitting at a café or restaurant, especially outside, don’t simply leave your bag on the ground next to you.
Carry only one credit card and just enough cash for the day. Leave your passport, money, and other important documents in your room, possibly hidden or in a safe. However, you should always carry at least a photocopy of the main page of your passport, because in Italy, as in most of Europe, people are required to show ID on request.
Italy is not a dangerous country. You should feel perfectly safe even in big cities, even at night. But play it safe. Stick to populated streets after dark, and know where the bad neighborhoods are. Women need to take certain precautions and avoid walking alone in dark streets or choosing empty train compartments, especially at night. They should also be prepared for more than their fair share of unwanted attention, including getting complimented, whistled at, pinched, prodded, or propositioned. Eye-to-eye contact is the norm in Italy’s daily flirtatious interplay. However, you’ll probably be physically safer in Italy than you are in most American cities. Stride confidently and purposefully down the street, ignore any comments, catcalls, and whistles, refuse to engage the harassers in so much as eye contact, and firmly fend off all courtiers. If you find yourself molested on a city bus or other crowded place, tell the transgressor firmly “no!,” “alt!,” or “stop!”
Some swindlers hang around by the ticket machines in subway and train stations pushing their assistance to tourists. Just refuse the demand and walk away. What they are trying to do is deprive you of a euro for help that is not wanted or needed.
Probably the biggest safety risk in Italy is traffic. Be careful crossing streets in the congested city centers: it is safer to cross with other people. Keep your eyes peeled for reckless scooters and to the common practices of shooting through gaps and of lane-splitting (riding between lanes of traffic). Even if you cross at zebra crossings, you will find that some Italians will not slow down, although they will try to veer around you. If there is a pedestrian traffic light, you still need to look both ways to be sure it’s safe to cross. Watch your step when walking out as street maintenance can leave a little to be desired; pot holes, broken slabs, and uneven paving are reasonably common.
In Italy, simple medicines like aspirin and cold remedies are sold only in pharmacies—and even in pharmacies, they are usually kept behind a counter: you’ll have to ask the pharmacist if you want something. It helps if you write down the generic name of the medicine, as the brand name may vary from one country to another. If you have an empty container containing the name of the active ingredient, show that to the pharmacist. Antibiotics need a doctor’s prescription. The price of medications like aspirin is not higher in Italy than in the United States—however, a little first aid kit, with band-aids, aspirin, and an antiseptic cleanser is always good to have on hand.
Tap water in Italy is safe. If sometimes it tastes funny, it is because chlorine was added to improve safety. Public fountains run fresh drinking water throughout most cities.
Global Support Services
Harvard Global Support Services (GSS) offers an array of useful information to guide you both as you prepare for your trip and throughout the summer. We strongly encourage you to look through these online resources, which include: