Updated: May 24th, 2018
In the criminal justice system, thievery-based offenses are considered especially heinous (if you ask me). In Rome, Italy, the irritated detectives who pretend to investigate these vicious felonies are members of a second-rate squad known as the Annoying Victims Unit (⇠ what I bet the Polizia call themselves at office parties). These are their stories.
Everyone’s heard the cautionary tales of petty theft in Europe–why else would money belts and fanny packs still be so prolific? It’s sure as hell not because of looks or comfort or the need to carry your young in your belly pouch. I don’t care how well it pairs with your jorts. Off! Now!
These tales of getting robbed abroad usually include a list of outlandish scams (Throwing a baby at you? What on earth?) and the infinite ways you’ll be pick-pocketed, ripped off, and stolen from in Europe’s largest cities. This is why I swore I would never let it happen to me. I swore I would never allow myself to be a victim of such petty pettiness. I do not need a money belt, goddammit! Stop pressuring me! And then I left myself exposed to the rats for ten freaking minutes and proved everyone right.
GETTING ROBBED ABROAD
I had just spent a couple of days in Nettuno, Italy–Never heard of it? There’s a reason; it’s a dump. Fuggedaboutit–and was taking the train back to Rome, about an hour’s ride north. I traveled solo and carried one purse, one backpack, and one purple leopard print pillow with black fringe tassels. I was doe-eyed and smiling at strangers–THIS WOULD BE MY DOWNFALL. Curse you Southern charm!
The trip was your average inter-Italy train ride. Uneventful. Sweaty. Full of people who absolutely refuse to make eye contact with one another. (Would it kill you? Really? It’s like commuting with robots.) Towards the end of the trip, between the early hour and the tedious landscape, I was bored. I went face-down on my purple pillow and closed my eyes.
Your Honor, let the record state that I was awake the entire time.
Bored with that, I sat up and reached for my backpack in the seat next to me… and IT WAS GONE. I can’t describe to you the sinking feeling of realizing something valuable of yours has been stolen. If you had a hot boyfriend in high school then you probably already know. You have to personally experience getting robbed abroad to understand the soul-suck. It churns your stomach and makes you ache for your stupidity. You want to barf, and cry, and slap the sh*t out of someone all at the same time. But mostly, you want to slap yourself.
Getting robbed abroad hurts your brain. A million scenarios simultaneously flood your hippcampus you almost can’t handle it. What ifs and shoulda, woulda, couldas. The yearning to turn back time for just a half hour. (Is that so much to ask, Universe? I bet if you took a poll the majority of Earthlings would happily agree.) HOW COULD YOU BE SO STUPID? But suddenly the flight-or-fight response takes over and you do what you’ve gotta do, regardless of how idiotic you look. And you’re about to look straight up nuts.
Also, getting robbed abroad destroys your makeup.
GETTING ROBBED ABROAD | BREAKING IT DOWN…
WHAT SHOULD I HAVE DONE TO PREVENT GETTING ROBBED ABROAD?
I will never blame anyone but myself for getting robbed abroad. The same goes for every time I decide to try bangs. I knew the threat. I know there are bad people out there ready and willing to screw me over given the opportunity. I don’t blame the thief–he was just trying to make a living and I made it as easy as possible for him (or her, I’m not ruling out girl-on-girl hate). I know it’s up to me alone to protect myself when I travel and, sadly, I failed. I’m embarrassed, ashamed, and rrrreally pissed off. I’m also never cutting my bangs again. Damn that Zooey Deschanel for making it look like it could actually work.
HERE IS WHAT I SHOULD HAVE DONE TO PREVENT GETTING ROBBED ABROAD:
DON’T SIT NEAR AN EXIT. (Or the bathroom for that matter–yikes!) I boarded the train and took the first row of seats nearest the door. Huge, lazy mistake. I’m quite certain the thief saw the opportunity and, right before the doors closed, grabbed my bag and jumped off, leaving me no way of chasing him/her had I even seen this happen. And behind this Southern charm boils a hot Southern temper so chase the bastard I would have.
MAINTAIN PHYSICAL CONTACT WITH ANYTHING YOU DON’T WANT TO LOSE. Every. other. time. I travel I strap the bag to my seat. Wrap it around my arm or leg. Or under my butt. I feel my uber-paranoia to be one of my strengths and never let my guard down. No one has ever thrown me a successful surprise party.
These lowlifes do this because they can get away with it. If they sense even the slightest that they’ll get caught, it will deter them. And it’s not just criminals; it’s all of us. How often do we do things because we know we can get away with them? Eating an entire bag of Oreos in one sitting. Looking at the answers in the back of the book. Running a stop sign. Blaming it all on PMS. I don’t blame my thief. It’s human nature. Don’t make it so easy for them! And put down the Oreos for crying out loud. (I’m talking to myself, just FYI.)
DON’T CLOSE YOUR EYES. Especially when traveling alone. Regardless of how often you travel solo or how comfortable you are doing it, maintaining awareness of your surroundings at all times is crucial
to sidestepping an unsolicited birthday party. Stay vigilant people!
TRUST NO ONE. ESPECIALLY ITALIANS. Oooh, I’m gonna get some hate for this one but if researching my article on 2 Days in Rome taught me anything, it’s that Italians are not to be trusted. (this is a joke, please don’t egg my house) And also that speed-walking is a hilarious yet cut-throat sport.
(Full disclosure: No, I’m not positive he/she was Italian so cool your jets. I’m just being facetious. Disclosure #2: I had no idea how to spell facetious until just now…)
KNOW THAT GETTING ROBBED ABROAD CAN HAPPEN TO YOU. As someone who is hyper-aware to a fault, the fact that this happened to me tells me one thing: when given the opportunity, the bad guy will take it. I left my window of vulnerability open for a measly ten minutes and, lo and behold, there was someone there to take advantage. What else does that tell me? That thieves are a-plenty and they lurk among us. Maybe they’re old. Maybe they’re handsome. Maybe they’re rocking some killer bangs. What they aren’t though is wearing Hamburglar masks for easy identification, despite the fact that this was a legit train caper.
WHAT DID I DO RIGHT BEFORE GETTING ABROAD?
I HAD INSURANCE. The summer I spent in Italy, I still paid rent on my apartment in Florida. Upon moving to the Sunshine State, and before I was allowed to sign my lease, they forced me to get renter’s insurance–something I’d managed to avoid the previous ten years because I was poor and stubborn (an excuse I use a lot). This was the BIGGEST blessing in disguise.
It wasn’t until after I’d returned from Italy and told my friend about getting robbed abroad that she suggested I talk to my renter’s insurance company. I thought she was bananas but there it was in my contract. My personal belongings were covered anywhere in the world. By my Florida renter’s insurance. What kind of operation is this?! I thought it was just in case of flooding or if I accidentally tear down a load-bearing wall while trying to hang an Ikea shelf.
Who knew? Did y’all know? The total monetary value of what was taken was $3,000+ … and with a renter’s insurance policy that only cost $110 a year? Small price to pay for the only peace of mind I could get at that point.
WHAT DID I DO WRONG BEFORE GETTING ROBBED ABROAD?
I NEVER BACKED UP. One of the things in my stolen backpack was my MacBook Pro. My life was on that computer. Every photo I’d taken in the last ten years–including all the photos from my three months in Italy. Months of wedding planning. Years of college coursework. Important documents (I assume…).
And I never backed any of it up. It was all gone foreverrr. Even after six years, that’s the wound that hasn’t healed. When I told people what happened I always got the same response: “Well you have the Cloud, right?” WHAT IS THIS CLOUD YOU SPEAK OF? No, I don’t have “the Cloud!”
Do I backup now? OH HELL MOTHER F’N YEAH.
I GOT TOO COMFORTABLE. I’d been living and traveling in Italy, mostly solo, for three months. I was comfortable. Train and bus travel was second nature to me and I hadn’t experienced even an inkling of threat. Hordes of people who hadn’t showered in weeks? Yes. But criminal threat? No. Because of this, and without even realizing it, I let my guard down.
GETTING ROBBED ABROAD | THE AFTERMATH…
WHAT DID I DO RIGHT AFTER GETTING ROBBED ABROAD?
Getting robbed abroad is traumatic enough but add in the fact of being alone. It all happened too fast–I didn’t know what to do. I hadn’t prepared for this. And even if I had my notes would have been on my dadgum MacBook. OH, THE IRONY!
Thankfully, we all have these little things called adrenal glands sitting on top of our kidneys squirting out adrenaline when we need it the most (and a lot of times when we really don’t. But I won’t go into what happens when my own hair brushes my arm and an arachnophobia-induced freak-out ensues.)
I remember the moment after I came to terms with getting robbed abroad when I realized I was just plain screwed. What happened next surprised even me and I actually remember thinking, “How on Earth did I know to do this?” ⇠ Blame it on the a-a-a-a-adrenaline!
HERE’S WHAT I DID RIGHT:
FIRST THINGS FIRST, SUSPECT EVERYONE. After realizing my backpack was gone, I immediately jumped out of my seat and ran up and down the train car looking in everyone’s lap, above their seats, and under their feets. I yelled, “Did anyone see anything?!” as I ran through the train looking through every row, crying all the while. Did anyone act like this was not part of their usual morning train ride? NO! Everyone remained still in their seats, facing straight ahead LIKE I DIDN’T EXIST. I’m telling you… robots! Thinking back, this should have freaked me the hell out.
I knew they saw what happened. All other seats faced mine/the exit and their eyes were open. Clearly, they just didn’t want to get involved (and admit what horrible members of the human race they are by not alerting me, a lone female traveler, to the fact that I was getting robbed). No one on that train would even make eye contact with me… except for one man who, because of this, I obviously assumed he dunnit.
As if someone would rob me and then go back to their seat a few rows from me. As if I would know what to do with the information should someone have been able to give me a description. Sure, this effort was fruitless but it was necessary at the time.
IMMEDIATELY MAKE A LIST OF WHAT WAS STOLEN. This is how I surprised even myself. After I sat back down I immediately took out a pen and an old envelope (I still had my purse–thank God) and proceeded to write down every single thing I knew to be in my backpack. Laptop, iPod, eyeglasses (you son of a bitch), cosmetics, tampons (how dare you!), stash of Victoria’s Secret thong panties–you’re welcome, freak!*
How did I know to do that? How did I remember everything in my backpack during a crisis? ADRENALINE! My favorite hormone–it’s never let me down. That list was used in my police report and later in my insurance claim where I would get it all back in the form of monetary compensation. This is my number one piece of advice for after getting robbed abroad. The only time you will remember all of this is immediately afterwards. I can’t stress the importance of this enough.
*The actual list was wayyy longer than that.
CRY PUBLICLY AND DON’T GIVE TWO SH*TS ABOUT IT. Cry loud and cry hard. During a time when there is nothing to be done, giving in to your emotions is the only thing that feels good. Let it all out. Don’t suppress them. Don’t care what everyone around thinks of you. They suck. Don’t try to “stay calm.” Let it go. Just freak the f*ck out–it terrifies people.
FIRST STOP: POLICE STATION. Don’t do it in hopes of catching the bad guy–he’s long gone. Do it so you can submit an insurance claim later. And do it because you were taught from an early age that the police are your friends and you can’t think of anything else to do at the time. Yes, getting robbed abroad turns you into a toddler lost at the mall.
Besides, you’d be better off with 1983 Inspector Gadget spearheading your investigation. (Appropriately enough Inspector Gadget was created by an Italian cartoonist. I wonder where he got the idea for a bumbling fool of a detective? Hmm…)
REMAIN ASSERTIVE IN YOUR PURSUIT OF JUSTICE. Those polizia bastards may laugh at you and send you on a wild goose chase through Rome’s Termini station looking for the police office, but don’t give up. That’s what they want and probably why a number of petty crimes go unreported.
LET THE POLICE CHIEF EMBRACE YOU. You’ve had a sh*tty, sh*tty day. You’re all alone. You’ve just been given the literal runaround through one of Europe’s largest train stations by the people who are supposed to help you–the police. You’ve finally filled out the police report and then watch as the officer takes it from you, laughs, then throws it into a pile on a desk and walks away.
YOU. ARE. FURIOUS. Don’t get me wrong; I completely understand how “petty” my ordeal is and how his days are chock full of crying fools like myself. But to not show even a bit of empathy? Why are you a cop?!! It’s because of the uniform, isn’t it? I knew it.
I stood there crying, knowing I was about to have to take another solo 2-hour train ride back to my apartment in Tuscany (ok, first world problems I get it). Just then, the police chief, a tall, kick-ass woman, appeared and laid into the jerk officer who just laughed at me. She apologized profusely for his behavior. Then, in contrast to everyone else I’d come into contact with that day, she opened her arms and hugged me.
REMEMBER IMPORTANT NAMES/PLACES/NUMBERS/PASSWORDS. I wouldn’t be seeing my husband for a couple days after that and not only was talking to him the only thing I wanted to do, it was also hella necessary. The police chief asked if there was anyone she could call for me and, miracle of all miracles, I remembered the name of my husband’s hotel in Nettuno. She called for me and I was able to talk to him, a small gesture but worth its weight in MacBooks.
(She also offered to buy me a train ticket to help me get back home. Whoever this woman is, she’s a full-on angel in my book. There should be paintings of her on the ceilings of Roman churches. Maybe someday there will be.)
Talking to my husband helped me calm down but it also served a greater purpose. The perp had just stolen my laptop… where I saved all my passwords and account numbers. To my bank accounts, my emails, my social medias, my Apple accounts, and every single other place where you need a password to get in or an account number to move money. I had to act fast–my computer had already been gone an hour. I was able to tell my husband all of my account logins and passwords so he could change them all from where he was, potentially saving me a load of hassle.
LEARN FROM THIS. Learn from your mistakes so you don’t make them again. It’s really the only good that can come from getting robbed abroad.
WHAT DID I DO WRONG AFTER GETTING ROBBED ABROAD?
DON’T ASSUME STRANGERS WANT TO HELP YOU. Being from the American South is sometimes quite a disadvantage. Your instinct may be to seek help or comfort–don’t bother. Rely only on your own judgment, the ticking clock, and that hefty adrenaline supply.
DON’T ASSUME THE POLICE WILL CARE. All the rumors you’ve heard are true; this kind of crime happens ALL THE TIME. And because of this, the police simply don’t care anymore. (The argument of whether they ever cared in the first place is a valid one that I’d be willing to discuss with you.) While I was filling out my report, two other groups of people came in to also report getting robbed. Unfortunately, you’re not a special case. Don’t expect sympathy, just concentrate on filling out the proper paperwork for insurance purposes and plotting your revenge. I hear Annalise Keating is taking on new clients…
DON’T SCARE THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS OUT OF YOUR HUSBAND. When the police chief offered to help contact my husband, I should have told her to not say who was calling. Instead, the hotel manager found my husband in the hotel’s lobby and alerted him to the fact that the police were on the phone and they had me at the station in Rome. Aaaand of course at the sound of his voice I began crying again. I can only imagine the scenarios that flew through his mind. Oops!
WAYS YOU CAN PREPARE FOR / PREVENT GETTING ROBBED ABROAD:
- It helps to come from a bad neighborhood and spend your life hyper-paranoid. Keep those guards up, y’all!
- Keep a (color) photocopy of your passport in your luggage. Thankfully my passport was in my purse so I didn’t have to deal with that nightmare.
- Keep a list of important phone numbers, hotel names, addresses, types of cheeses in a safe spot.
- Keep copies of all your prescriptions handy. ⇠I’m specifically referring to the fact that my glasses were in my stolen backpack and, being legally blind at the time, I had to get new ones made while in Italy. Getting my prescription sent to me in Italy from the U.S. was a real pain in the buttocks, not helped by the fact that the Italian optometrist took one look at my over-the-top prescription and thought surely it was mistake. Did she not see me being led down the street by my arms?
- Backup your computer constantly. Throughout this whole ordeal I kept saying to myself, “It could have been worse. It’s just stuff. They’re just things. At least I wasn’t hurt.” And while yes, it really was just stuff that was stolen, most of it immediately replaced, it’s what was on the computer that continues to upset me. Photos, memories, sentimentality, videos to possibly blackmail your friends later, and do you have any idea how hard it is to get Apple to give you back your iTunes purchases? Like pulling freakin’ teeth. You’d honestly think I was demanding military secrets. I still don’t really know what the Cloud is, but I do own these two external hard drives now and I think you should too:
- Know beforehand the many ways you can potentially get robbed while traveling. This may include any number of friendship bracelet/bird seed/corn scams, getting pick-pocketed in crowds, thinking those are real Prada bags, or even getting robbed of your dignity by wearing a fanny pack over your hammer pants. Thievery takes many forms!
- Invest in theft-proof bags. I realize my entire bag got stolen, but petty theft takes many forms. Pacsafe makes a ton of theft-proof bags that include lockable zippers, slash-proof materials, and straps you can straight-up clip around a train car armrest. Check out:
But most importantly, TRAVEL WITH INSURANCE. Had I not been forced to have insurance like the irresponsible pseudo-adult that I was, the pain of getting robbed abroad would have been so much worse. I mean, six years later, I’m still working from the replacement MacBook Pro I was able to buy with my insurance reimbursement. Such a blessing!
Travel insurance is not expensive and even the simplest plans cover a great deal. Peace of mind before, during, and after a trip is worth the small price BELIEVE YOU ME. I can’t stress enough how necessary travel insurance is. Get a quote here for your next trip and see what kind of coverage you can get for such a justifiable price ⇣⇣⇣
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