My wife and I took a trip to Italy and I thought I should share my travel experiences with you for a couple of reasons. First, to demonstrate how I handled the protection of my own personal information while traveling but also share some of my observations for those who might be planning a trip to Italy and who might be interested in some travel tips for Italy that I wish I was aware of before my journey there.
From a personal information protection standpoint, I first decided what I really needed to take with me before my trip to Italy, always assuming the theft or loss of that item during the trip. Depending on the travel destination, length, nature and companions, I assess what I need and don’t need during my trips in order to manage the risks of identity theft and fraud. Here are the items that I selected and carried in my trip to Italy, the actions I took and why:
1-Travel belt document holder – As I have previously explained, this is a very good tool to keep all the personal information with you while traveling out of the country as well as the hotel you’re staying at. I normally keep all my important items in this travel belt whenever I venture out of the hotel. As a precaution, this belt is also attached to my jean belt in case its security clip is released. There are also alarm devices that can make a pretty loud noise if the belt leaves your predetermined radius. Although, I did not use this device in my trip to Italy, I’m strongly considering using one in the future.
2-Passports – Obviously we needed our passports for our trip to Italy. In fact, most countries now require passports for traveling.
3-Credit cards – I only took 2 credit cards just in case one is lost or rejected due to system failure. It is not uncommon for one bank’s system to go down and have your card rejected at the point of sale. Also, instead of using our own separate credit cards, my wife and I used the same card issued under separate names to reduce our risks.
4-Cash- I got Euros at the ATM once we arrived at the airport in Rome. I had decided it was not in my financial interest to exchange dollars for Euros so I got Euros from the ATM once in Italy. I miscalculated how expensive Italy was and had to make another trip to the ATM in the middle of our vacation, but I always advocate good faith effort to reduce the number of trips to the cash machines. Some people make daily cash withdrawals and not only this does not make good financial sense as both your bank and ATM charge you for using the machines, it is not a good identity theft prevention habit.
5-Car keys – Since I like my independence, I drive my car to the airport’s long-term parking and take the shuttle to the terminal. Consequently, I get stuck with my car keys during the entire trip. But I don’t mind this small inconvenience in exchange for my freedom and saving the cost of a cab, which would have been double the cost of what I paid for a week’s parking fees.
6-Driver’s license and car insurance – I never drive my car without my driver’s license and car insurance.
7-Cell phone – This one is another small inconvenience to carry around in exchange for a communication tool to and from the airport in case of a car breakdown or flat tire. Car problems can happen and a handy cell phone can save your trip in case you need a quick help with gas or a tow truck.
8-Pens – Have you ever seen people asking for a pen on international flight to fill out their immigration or custom forms? I see them all the time and I hate to bother others and ask for a pen, so I now take 2 of them with me in case one doesn’t work.
9-Calling card data – Before we left for our vacation, I bought a virtual phone card on the Internet. The way it works is you first call a local or 800 number at the country in which you are traveling and with a PIN that is sent to your personal e-mail address, you authenticate yourself and authorize the calls. Once you authenticate yourself, you can dial the number you’d like to call. Also before we left, I downloaded all the local and 800 phone numbers for Italy and kept it with me for a quick call from any public phone. With a virtual calling card, you never carry a plastic calling card with you. The service was pretty good, the lines were never busy and the sound was crystal clear. There are many international calling cards in the market but the one we bought was from Nobelcom.com and it worked well for us.
10-Flight itinerary – I printed our round trip to Italy flight itinerary for a quick reference and access to the airport if needed.
11-Hotel information and reservation confirmation – Hotel address and phone number is necessary in case the cab driver does not recognize the hotel.
12-Over the counter painkillers – You never know when those headaches hit you on the flights and having some over the counter painkillers with you can make you feel better and more alert about your surroundings.
13-Vitamins – On one of my international trips a few years ago, I got really sick at the departing airport, which lasted my entire trip. Since then, I have been taking vitamins before and during all my trips. Again, a sick person is less alert and can be careless which can lead to lost or stolen personal items.
All the items above were in my travel belt and attached to my body during the entire trip to Italy. The only time that the belt was detached from my body was when I was in my hotel room. Now, let’s look at some items that I did not take for this trip to reduce the risk of identity fraud and theft:
1-My company credit card – As this was a personal trip, I did not need to take my company credit card.
2-Birth certificates and passports of my kids – I normally take copies of my kids’ birth certificates to prove they’re my kids. I have heard of cases where relationships have been questioned in certain countries and airports. Since my kids did not travel with me this time, I did not need the extra documents.
3-Marriage certificate – Again, if our kids travel with us, I normally also take a copy of our marriage certificate to prove the relationships if they are questioned.
4-Excess dollars – Since I had decided to get my Euros from the ATMs in Italy, I needed little dollars for this trip to Italy.
5-All other credit cards – As I mentioned, I only took 2 credit cards and left the others behind.
I would like to share additional insights about our trip to Italy as I observed them for those who might be interested and planning to make a trip to Italy soon:
1-Rome was full of ancient history and reminder of a great country that Italy still is. During our trip to Italy and while in Rome, we visited the Colosseum, the Vatican, The Spanish Steps or “Scalinata di Trinità dei Monti” in Italian, and the shopping district on and around the Via del Corso street near the piazza Venezia. One important note for those who are interested to visit the Vatican, get on a guided tour of the Vatican. No matter how expensive they might be, the tour price is well worth the long lines and access to areas only dedicated to paid tours. I was first hesitant to go on a tour but I was glad I did after I saw the one-mile line for those individuals who did not have reservations.
2-Florence in particular was extremely beautiful in our entire trip to Italy and a red double decker bus right outside the train station at 20 Euros was a great bargain to visit Florence. Both blue and green lines of the tour are included in the price and last 3 hours combined (one hour for the blue tour and 2 hours for the green tour). The ticket is valid for 24 hours if you want to get off at certain stations for sight seeing or lunch. Buses continue to show up every 30 minutes for the blue line and every hour for the green line at each station in their respective routes. The green tour, which takes you to Fiesole, is particularly astonishing, offering panoramic views over Florence.
3-Every thing rounds up or down, depending on the combination of your purchase. A 2.60 Euros sandwich is 3 Euros while a 3.20 Euros sandwich is also 3 Euros. At one point during our trip to Italy, I purchased one of each and the total receipt consisted of 2 sandwiches at 3 Euros each. This is not a big deal and may have been an isolated case but it got my attention.
4-Double-check the answers to your questions. Our hotel receptionist had answers for all of our questions. Although, we felt good that all of our questions were answered, at one point a bus number that we were supposed to select was completely off, and in another case we were told a certain cab ride will cost 19 Euros but at the time the cab picked us up, the meter was already reading 27 Euros because they start the meter when the cab leaves to pick the passengers, from wherever they might be. More on this below.
5-Don’t let acts fool you, always be alert, and carry enough change to pay the exact amount due. Continuing on the topic above in our trip to Italy, one morning at 6am, a cab showed up to take us to another location for a tour of the Vatican in our trip to Italy. It was dark and he showed up angry, yelling at the hotel receptionist and said he was expecting 6 people but agreed to take just the 2 of us. I was thinking to myself what difference does it make? Upon arrival to destination, the total fare was 42 Euros (I was told by the receptionist the fare should be about 19 Euros). Anyway, I handed a 50 Euros bill in the darkness of the early morning, and whether he was asking for change or more money, he was showing me a 10 Euros bill while speaking in Italian. I handed another 50 Euros bill thinking I only gave him a 10 Euro bill and he gave me the 10 Euro back. The whole cab ride costs us 90 Euros or $135 for a 20-minute ride. Unless he was expecting a 48 Euros tip, on a 42 Euros ride, which should have really cost 19 Euros according to the hotel, he cheated us and the whole thing from the beginning, him being angry and expecting 6 people instead of 2 was just an act.
6-The hotel name, address and phone number came in handy one night when the cab drivers did not know where the hotel was. Since our hotel was 30 minutes outside of Rome, the drivers either did not know its location or pretended to not know it. Some cab drivers after looking at the address still didn’t know where it was but another recognized and agreed to take us. He later told us cab drivers hate to go outside of Rome and risk coming back without a paying ride and that's why they pretend not to recognize the hotel.
7-“I’m tired and I’m going home” means I don’t want to drive you there. This is what one cab driver told us and I was thinking if he wants to go home, why did he stop for us? Maybe because if our destination was on his way home, he would have driven us. This kind of excuse to deny taxi service sounded like a NY or Chicago cab driver.
8-Suggested tipping is not %15-18 like in the USA. Although, in America, tipping is discretionary, it may seem almost mandatory even if we don’t like the service because that’s how waiters make their living. But in Italy, a service charge is either added or built into the price. My observation of local Italians during my trip to Italy was that they did not leave huge tips behind if at all.
9-Don’t assume stores are open according to your expectations. Throughout our trip to Italy, we came across many items we wanted to purchase but we decided to wait and buy them at the end of out trip on Monday. Once we showed up at pre-visited stores, we realized they were closed on Mondays. Luckily, some of them opened the stores at 4pm on Monday and we were able to buy most of the pre-selected items. The lesson learned was to not assume stores would be open at the time of our choosing.
10-Don't assume that restaurant prices are comparable even on the same street block. On our last day of trip to Italy, we discovered that a restaurant right next to another we had previously visited a day or two before, was 30% to 50% cheaper on food and beverage items while offering the same or better quality food and environment. We discovered this on our last day because we had assumed all along that prices must be comparable at least on the same street block.
11- Also don't assume what beverage prices might be in a given restaurant in your trip to Italy. The menus for the most part include food prices only. We later discovered that beverage prices were extremely high when compared to food prices. For example, a large bottle of water was 6 Euros while a large pizza was 8 Euros. My guess is food is priced low to attract customers in and then make money on high margin water, coffee and other beverages. Do your due diligence and know what the prices are for the items that you plan to consume and don't assume unpublished prices will be reasonable.