Travel Safety in Italy: Money Safety & Anti-Pickpocketing Tips


Although your risks of getting into a situation in Italy that’s dangerous to your person are fairly remote, pickpocketing is a very real concern – especially in some cities that are big tourist destinations. There are two main ways to combat pickpocketing – make yourself an unappealing target, and have a solid backup plan.

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Make Yourself an Unappealing Pickpocketing Target

Let’s face it – as tourists, we’re often pretty easy marks for would-be thieves. While we stand gaping in awe at some ruin or monument, glancing from our guidebook to the attraction in question and back again, we’re not paying close enough attention to our bag or wallet. What’s more, if we’ve hastily opened our bag to get out a camera, we may have left ourselves open – literally – to an easy grab-n-go.

The best way to make sure potential pickpockets don’t look at you and hear cash registers ringing is to be aware of your surroundings. Of course, you’re still going to stop and gawk at monuments, and you’re still going to take photos, and get out a map when you’re lost – but when you know your attention will be distracted, make certain your bag is closed up tight, you’re not exposed with your back to a busy sidewalk, and your purse and/or wallet are on the front of your person. It’s little things like this that help make pickpockets choose someone else as a target.

Remember to be especially attentive in busy areas like public markets and train stations, where people are moving quickly and a theft can happen in an instant. Personally, I don’t love walking through places like public markets with a backpack, since I don’t feel like I can keep an eye on it as well as I can with a bag that’s in front of me – but if you’re a backpack person, that’s fine. Just be careful with making sure it’s zipped up tight – and, again, being aware of your surroundings – and that should help quite a bit.

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Another good tip for women or anyone carrying a bag is to make sure your bag isn’t on the street side when you’re walking on the sidewalk. It’s not uncommon in some places for scooter-riding thieves to ride along and quickly cut or simply tear a bag from the shoulders of an unsuspecting person before riding off. You’ll see nothing of them or your bag before you even know what’s going on. Moving your bag to the non-street side of your body helps make this less likely to happen to you.

Guys, even if you’re the wallet-in-the-back-pocket creature of habit, you might want to rethink that for a trip to a popular tourist destination (Italy or anywhere). Carrying your wallet in a front pocket is a good start, but doesn’t dissuade all thieves. You can try things like money clips for just what you need that day (with the rest going in your money belt), and there are some wallets that are designed to be tougher to pull from a pocket (these usually have a sueded outside so there’s more friction than a typical smooth, leather wallet).

When you sit down at a cafe, don’t hang your purse or backpack over the back of your chair. Either keep your bag on your lap, or at your feet, or – if neither of those is comfortable – hang it from a purse hook hung on the edge of your table. These are available at many travel-related shops, and they’re in abundance online in multiple colors and styles. They’re among the things I recommend people pack for Italy trips (and you can find them on Amazon). Guys, don’t be put off by the name “purse hook,” either – some aren’t girly-looking at all, and they can hold quite a bit of weight (i.e. that daypack you’re lugging around).

Finally, don’t advertise wealth. Leave the expensive watches and jewelry at home. Pickpockets are predisposed to assume that where there’s an expensive bauble there’s also a potential payout. Don’t give them a reason to look more closely at you in the first place.

Have a Backup Plan if Your Credit Cards are Stolen

Smart travelers get cash out of bank machines when they travel to get the best exchange rates. The trouble is that you’re often charged a fee for each withdrawal, which encourages taking out larger sums of money than you might expect to use in a day. Rather than carrying all of your cash in your wallet or purse, then, it’s better to keep in your wallet/purse only what you think you’ll need that day, and put the rest in your money belt. And whatever you do, if you should find that you need to get at the cash in your money belt during the day, don’t do it in public.

With regard to credit and debit cards, it’s smart to carry two – and to make sure they’re not connected to the same account. Keep the card you plan to use that day in your wallet/purse, and the other one in your money belt. Stashing an extra credit/debit card in your money belt along with excess cash means that if your purse or wallet does get stolen, you’re not completely without immediate cash or credit options.

Oh, and you know those handy numbers on the back of your credit and debit cards that say what number to call if your card is stolen? Yeah, those won’t be of much use to you if (ahem) your card is stolen. Make a note of these numbers somewhere that isn’t the same place that you keep the cards (perhaps an email to yourself, or a note on your smartphone, or a photocopy you keep in your hotel safe or in your money belt.

This article about what to do if your credit cards and ID are stolen is really useful, to help you avoid the worst problems associated with identity theft in addition to lost money.

photos by LWY, muertiz


13 thoughts on “Travel Safety in Italy: Money Safety & Anti-Pickpocketing Tips

  • Katja

    In Catania, it’s not just pedestrians that get targeted. A common MO here is for thieves to work in pairs in a modern version of highway robbery. One, on a moped, stops in front of your car, blocking your way forward. His partner then opens the passenger door, swipes everything from the front passenger seat, and leaps onto the back of the moped which then disappears back up the street. All over and done with in the space of about 30 seconds, leaving the driver (in this case, me) open-mouthed with shock and (later) thanking her lucky stars that her phone, cards and cash were in a different bag.

  • Arina

    I wish I knew Italy, Rome in particular, was such a place to get pick-pocketed. I wish I knew no one was safe from it, even if one tried.
    My iPhone magically disappeared from my front pocket (with a closure) while I was as vigilant as I could, was holding my bag tightly, and even looking at my reflection in a subway window, just to make sure nothing I wasn’t aware of was happening. Alas, 10 minutes later I realized my pocket was open and the phone gone. Magic. Luckily, my wallet and my passport remained on me.
    Also, I think I was targeted when I was being asked directions once. Do not be so naive and mind the Gypsy.

  • Nishka

    Hi Jessica…
    I will be travelling to Rome and Venice for a week long vacation with my husband and a toddler. It does give me the creeps to know what a suitable target I make… To add to my worries, the B&B we have booked in Rome has demanded that we pay the entire amount for our stay on arrival. N as a booking confirmation have taken our passport copies (no advance )… I’ve been quite unsure of this procedure.Please advice.
    And keep up the good work on your website. Its a treasure trove of info for so many Italian holiday seekers like me..
    Thanks and regards,
    Nishka

    • Jessica Post author

      I wouldn’t worry so much that you spoil your trip – yes, you’re a target, but so is every other tourist in Italy’s big cities. Be careful and mind the tips above and you’ll stand a much better chance of looking like a less-appealing target overall.

      As for the B&B, some smaller places (like B&Bs, often) aren’t really run like hotels. They ask for cash, and they ask for the whole amount up front. It’s not terribly unusual. With hotels, you’re asked to surrender your passport to the front desk so they can make copies, and you often don’t get it back for several hours, so it’s also not surprising that the B&B has asked for a copy of your passport in advance. If you’re that uncomfortable with it, however, you can change your plans to stay somewhere else that seems more “official.”

  • Ken

    Watch the Gypsies, Albanians, Romanians, North Africans, etc.
    Such a beautiful country and these people try hard to spoil your visit. Price of the tolerance.

  • enzo

    going to Rome or Milan is like going to any other big town in the world there is not an emergency with thieves, just dont be naive like those people who live in small towns on mountains which go to Rome wearing big golden watches or staying all the time with a 2000€ camera in their hands

  • andy

    I am planning for Rome trip next month.Will surely keep all the above tips in mind.Hoping for a safe vaccation.Love Italy,love piza,love its culture.Only -ves are these fraud activities n that also by outsiders.

  • Oscar

    My wife and I took a trip to company trip to Italy on a months notice. I didn’t really prepare for the trip. Luckily my wife throught about it more than I did. She bought a small tumi cross body bag to keep our money in when we went out. Its a well made bag so it’ll be pretty hard for some one to rip it off your body. We just made sure it was always infront of us with our arm over the top of it. The only time we were worried was at the duomo in Milan. Beware of the people trying to give you bracelets etc. they surround you 10 at a time. If you do want to visit the duomo we suggest you avoid the plaza area infront of the duomo. You can walk along the shops on the side and avoid all the people. Or another thing you can do is have a cheap yarn bracelet already on and just show it to them with out stopping to get them to leave you alone. We were in Modena which isn’t a very big tourist town. Very lovely place. We traveled by train to florence and Milan. Maybe we were paranoid but we never spoke English in public. We spoke Spanish. We didn’t take Italian dictionary,but I was lucky my wife took 3 yrs of Italian in high school. If it wasn’t for her i have been been lost. And last but not least driving in Italy was extremely confusing to me. The round abouts were were I got lost. Please do your self a favor and get a navigation unit. We had one but I was in such a rush that I didn’t let it calibrate itself. It took a good 10 min to calibrate and by that time I was already on the wrong highway out of bologna. But it was a very fun trip. We didn’t plan anything. Just woke up took the train somewhere.

  • Paige

    In four trips to Italy, I have never had any problem with pickpocketers. I keep my valuables in my BRA. I have a wallet the size of a business card that tucks in there perfectly, stays put and holds folded cash, credit cards, tickets, etc. The other cup can hold my phone/camera.

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