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Travel Safe, Not Sorry

Arnie Greenberg

I don’t want to be an alarmist but for people traveling to foreign countries, caution must be observed. We are no longer the welcomed tourists in many places. After 9/11 the world was turned on its ear. Now there are countries where it’s just not safe to go. Travelers from the members of the coalition against Iraq head the list. There is bitter hatred towards, Americans and their allies. To think otherwise is to be naïve. Recently, terrorists targeted Spain. Incidents took place in Turkey and last week a Jewish Elementary School was fire bombed in Montreal. I am nervous traveling to England and Italy, but I go anyways. It is partially because I have a daughter living in London and I have a weakness for Italy. There was a warning to be careful in France but I went there for a month this winter without incident. I saw fewer Americans wearing baseball caps and Yankee jackets. I saw people taking a lower profile. But no matter how much we try, we can’t escape being noticed. Maybe it has something to do with the golf shirts, GAP sweat suits, sunglasses, panama hats, video cameras or telephoto lenses. Or could it be the loud chatter or the over tipping?

In Europe it’s harder for the Japanese to try to disguise themselves. In the Far East, North Americans can be spotted in a second, obviously.

So, if world tourism is changing because of politics, beware.

Now before you start saying that I’m a fear monger, let me say that I do believe in caution and even if there was no political animosity, big city travel can be dangerous in any country. Try New York for example. People get mugged there every day. So be forewarned. Be careful. Follow a few logical rules.

But as I started thinking about what might happen when I go to Italy this summer. I came to realize that certain cities were never safe.

Rome, for example, the Eternal City, was built around seven hills and is filled with history, monuments, ruins, landmarks, famous fountains, squares and people. It’s a city that takes years to really know. It’s a place everyone should visit. But beware. Evil lurks in the narrow streets, on the buses, the metro and in the parks. There is an element in Roma that makes it wicked and I’m not talking about anything political.

Consider the street girls who are openly offered as” very young, very clean”. Consider the ten year old with his hand defiantly in your pocket on the underground metro. Consider the purse-snatchers and pickpockets who travel the number 64 bus from the Vatican to the Central Station, ready to pounce on unsuspecting tourists.

Consider the Gypsy mothers begging with a baby in their arms while their children dig into your purses. Consider the dash across a busy intersection as a light turns green and being jostled by young girls. Chances are, they have been in your purse in a moment.

What about the friendly native who smiles and tells you how much he likes Americans or Canadians etc., while his friend slits your back pocket where you keep your wallet?

Beware of the man who drops a coin between your legs from behind. As he reaches between your legs to retrieve the coin, you are immobilized and sandwiched between two of his accomplices squeezing you from two sides while they pick your pockets.

Rome is a potentially dangerous city as are many others. There are areas to stay away from in any city, especially at night. Some streets are poorly lit and should be approached with caution. Even a Sunday morning market can be a hazard.  You have to live by your wits when you mingle with crowds. Taking a tour or a walk very early in the morning might help. The undesirables are not generally early risers. Later the touts, the hawkers, the girls and the pickpockets look for vulnerable tourists and prey on them.

Now I can just hear Romans reacting to what I’ve just said and I know many tourists who have spent time in Rome without being robbed or hassled, but caution should be your guide. Take heed. Carry very little cash and wear a money belt or body pouch. There are ATM machines everywhere. I even slip my pouch straps into my belt loops. I’ve heard stories of young men on motor scooters who have come up from behind and cut the handbags or pouch straps and scoot away with your precious belongings.

I wear my passport around my neck and under my shirt. I never remove a wad of bills from my pocket in the presence of others. Even my credit cards are secure, I think. I buy pants with zippered pockets and I never carry my wallet in my back pocket. Purses should zip lock and be secured in front of you.

Beware of crowded buses and metros. The nicely dressed gentlemen or cute girl brushing up to you may have designs on your purse or wallet. I’ve even heard of an incident where a lady’s necklace was ripped from her neck just as the metro doors closed. One could see the thief who defiantly smiled on the platform, as the train pulled away from the station. My rule is to leave any precious jewelry at home.

A Japanese tourist had his wallet taken in front of my eyes. The thief immediately handed it to a colleague who handed it to another. By the time the tourist yelled at his assailant, a third culprit was off of the train with the cash.

One has to be aware of the possibilities at all times and it happens in a flash. While I had lunch with a friend at a sidewalk café, someone stole his backpack from under his seat.

Then there are those ‘normal’ things one does in North America that one shouldn’t do in most European cities. A client gave her credit cards and cash to the owner of a tiny hotel in Florence to keep safely in her drawer. The owner locked the drawer with the key she kept around her neck. She failed to tell the client that the other hotel employees also had keys. Everything was lost and we had to make an emergency stop in Milan to obtain new passports.

Luckily enough that went well but I recommend that you carry a photocopy of your passport in a separate place so you have the original number and pertinent information for the consulate or embassy to issue a new one. You cannot return to North America without your passport, so, keep it safe.

So why did I pick on Rome? These things can happen anywhere, even at home. Over the years I found more incidents took place in Rome than any other city. You may have discovered otherwise.

Even in Prague, people are robbed while listening to their guides in a group. It happens everywhere. Someone entered a friend’s condo in the Cayman Islands and emptied his wallet while he slept.

Yes, there are many good reasons to continue to travel to Rome. For 20 centuries or more it was the capital of Western Civilization, art, law and religion. It has some of the most impressive buildings in the world. I can’t imagine going through life without seeing the Piazza Navona and the Bernini statue, or the Spanish Steps, the Fountain of Trevi, the Coliseum or the Pantheon, not to mention the Vatican. But, you don’t want your vacation spoiled or your person violated. Better safe than sorry. Travel wisely. Travel carefully.

Fare attenzione and buona fortuna!

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You can Contact Professor Arnie Greenberg at


Over the past few years, Professor Greenberg has traveled with groups to France, Italy, Spain, Greece, Budapest, Vienna, Salzburg, Prague and both Sorrento and the Bay of Naples plus most of Sicily. His tours traveled to the far reaches of the globe including Italy and most of China (Beijing -Hong Kong) and to Russia where his group cruised the waters from St.Petersburg to Moscow. 

"He took a group to Greece and another to northern Russia. In Nov 07 he took a tour group to much of India and ended his tour groups by revisiting France. He now travels with his wife and friends. They winter in Argentina or San Miguel Mexico.  His newly found spare time is taken up with his painting and writing. "I must write every day." His current work is a cautionary manual for would-be tour leaders..  "So You Want To Be A Tour Leader." 

Arnie now travels with friends. He continues writing Travel articles about unusual places but often concentrates on novel writing. Two books based on French Art will be published this year.  Keep reading his web for travel ideas.  His next novel HELLSTORM'S Folly, will be available this fall. He now lives in British Columbia.

Go to: or contact him directly at

(More about the writer.)


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