My sister, Susan, and I frequently travel to Rome, Italy. On our most recent trip we stayed a few days in Rome before taking the train to Sicily. We have both traveled to Rome more times than either of us can count.
For the first time in all those trips spread over so many years, we failed to follow our own advice and Susan had her wallet stolen while getting on a train at Termini train station.
Here’s what we did wrong:
- Too Tired: Having arrived in Italy only a few days before we were both tired so we were not as alert as we normally would be
- Too Obvious: We both walked the length of the train on the platform so we gave the thieves ample opportunity to observe their targets (us). One of us should have walked the length of the platform to look for our train car while the other stayed with our luggage.
- Trust Your Instincts: I saw the three girls standing in the door of the train, but did not trust my instincts that they were thieves. We had been in Termini so many times and no one ever bothered us before.
- No Planning: Both of us pack light with only carry-on luggage but I have more upper body strength and can lift my suitcase with relative ease on to the train. Susan has more trouble with her suitcase and in fairness; the steps are high so you have to be able to lift your suitcase up to shoulder level. We should have discussed a strategy before getting on the train. Susan should have gotten on the train first with my help or I should have gotten on first and she should have waited for me to come back to help her
- They Separated Us: Our three thieves got between us and made sure that we were separated quickly and definitively. There was no way I could get back to Susan because one of the thieves was right on my heels. When I pushed her back she came forward again making sure we were separated.
- They were Fast: Unburdened by anything but a plastic doll used
to make us think they were carrying a baby, they were much more mobile
than we were.
- They were Smart: They took advantage of all our weaknesses; we were tired, burdened by luggage and my sister had a zipper purse she wore outside of her clothes so it was easy to reach her wallet.
But, we did a few things right:
- Small Purse: I don’t like money belts, especially when I will be on a train for a long time. They can be uncomfortable. But there are a number of other options. I have a very small purse that has a clasp and a zipper compartment. It is almost flat even when it has my passport, cash and credit cards in it. Most importantly I can strap it across my body with the clasp and zipper sitting on my hip. It is small enough and flat enough to fit under jackets, sweaters or t-shirts. Even if I do not wear it under my clothes it is difficult to open. I felt
one of our thieves try to open my purse but she was unsuccessful and most importantly, by this time I was suspicious.
• Go Cellular: Susan rented an international cell phone from PlanetFone and it was a life saver. For a weekly fee and a per call charge she had a cell phone which she used to call her husband. He was able to cancel their credit cards before the thieves were able to use them. A new credit card was mailed before the end of our trip so shopping was able to continue
• Passport was Safe and Sound: All the thieves got were Susan’s credit cards and some cash. She was smart and kept her passport separate from her wallet. And she had a copy of her passport so if it had been stolen it would have been easier to replace.
• Know your credit card numbers: I don’t have a husband to call in such an emergency so I give a trusted friend (in my case my nephew) a list of my credit card numbers with the phone number to call in the event they are lost or stolen. Most credit card companies subscribe to a service you can purchase where they will cancel your credit cards for you. In this case you only have to make one call. I don’t have this service but I only carry two credit cards (which I keep separately) and one ATM card.
• Limit your Cash: Keep a stash of cash separate from your credit cards, but most importantly carry a limited amount of cash. You have limited liability on your credit cards (in most cases $50 which you may or may not be charged) but once you lose your cash it is gone for good and cannot be recovered. ATM’s may not be called ATM’s in every country but they are everywhere in Europe.
• No Jewels: Neither Susan nor I were wearing anything of value. I wear an old watch and Susan is the queen of Swatch’s, all of our earrings, rings, etc. were of little value to us and were of less value to thieves.
• Use your hotel safe: We were moving on to a new hotel so using a hotel safe was not an option for us. Most hotels have a little room safe where you can put a passport, cash and credit cards. They may not be perfect but they are more secure than carrying everything with you or leaving your things out in the open in a hotel room.
The most important thing we did right was to not let this little incident ruin our trip. We were mad for 30 minutes and then moved on, literally, since the theft had been timed to coincide with our train’s departure from the station.
My sister was lucky because I was traveling with her and was able to loan her money. Talk about power, I now had the right of refusal on all purchases, something most younger sisters can only dream of. But, even if Susan had been alone she would have been okay.
The credit card company mailed her a new card before the end of our trip and in an emergency, money could have been wired to her at a bank or hotel to cover her expenses until a new card arrived.
Our recent misadventures while traveling in Rome, Italy has not dampened our love for the city and we will be back as soon as time and finances allow.