10 vacation busters for Rome

A When In Rome Tours list of 10 mistakes that can ruin your trip to Italy

Well, it might take more than a raging sunburn to actually ruin your vacation, but below are ten ways in which a perfect trip to Rome can turn into a disaster. Really, I HATE to say "I told you so" and love to see people do their research and avoid finding out what happens as a result of bad planning.

1. Wearing cameras or money belts around your neck.

This seems like common sense, a big no-no, right? Still, I see them every time I get onto the Rome metro. If I had a dime for every time I have seen someone's money and passports tucked neatly into a pouch and worn around the neck or on the outside of their pants, I would not be writing this story because I would be a millionaire sunning my buns on my private yacht. This, my friends, is a Rome gypsy's dream come true. You will neither see nor feel her as she heads off with all your goods.

2. Changing all your foreign currency at the airport.

The money changers at the airport are probably the very worst in Rome. They will give you the worst possible exchange rate and also take a hefty commission on top of it. In our experience, the best way to get access to cash in Rome is by ATM withdrawal, using a debit or credit card.

3. Getting into an unmetered taxi.

As you exit the airport, Termini Station, and other heavily touristed places in Italy, you will be approached by people offering you rides. Nine times out of ten these are unlicensed taxi drivers, and once they get you in their car they will charge you as much as they want for even just a ride around the block. Before taking a taxi, make sure it is a white taxi with a Comune di Roma license on it and that the meter is running. Unfortunately, there are ways even the licensed Rome taxis will try to pull a fast one on you, but you are far more protected with them than with the vultures on the street.

4. Not bargaining with street vendors.

If you stop to admire any of the goods sold on the street (a word of advice, buying knockoff bags in Italy can result in a 1,000 Euro fine to the BUYER, as well as a fine and confiscation of the seller's goods), it is understood that the prices are flexible, more so if you are buying several items. At certain markets with high volume sales and clearly marked prices, the merchant may be unwilling to bargain and this is normal too. When prices are not marked, it is not unusual for a vendor to ask a much higher price from tourists than they would locals. You can usually knock the price down quite a bit by offering half of the asking price. If the vendor is keen to sell, he/she will meet you somewhere in between. If not, don't think twice about walking away.

5. Buying food and drinks from the food carts.

Possibly the worst rip-off in Rome, these four wheeled money-pits are stationed all around the main Rome attractions such as the Vatican museums and Sistine Chapel. They charge about four times the actual worth of bottled water, sandwiches, gelato, and snacks. Head to a bar or alimentari off the main squares and the prices will be much lower.

6. Ordering cappuccino or coffee drinks with lunch.

This is a big no-no which is never done in Italy. There is a scientific order to food in Italy (maybe one of the reasons why Italians are so much thinner), and they WILL be disgusted if/when you violate that order.

7. Sitting down to drink coffee at the bar.

While this not a true hanging offense, you should know that at many Italian bars, especially those located around the main Rome attractions, the price doubles or even triples if your coffee is served to you at the table. Most Italians stand up at the bar and drink their coffee quickly. Sometimes, sightseeing in Rome can be so exhausting that all you really want is to sit and enjoy a nice drink without feeling rushed. When this happens, just be sure to ask what the price will be before you order. If it seems like too much, it probably is.

8. Relying on hotel concierge for all recommendations.

The Hotel concierge in Rome can be a great resource. It is part of their job to know how to help tourists with any and all of their needs while sightseeing in Rome and getting around in the city. A word to the wise, they are usually "on the take" and when they recommend someplace to eat in Rome, a tour, or taxi service, it is usually because they are getting paid a hefty commission to do so. While the services they recommend may be perfectly on the up and up, it does pay to do your own research and rely on other recommendations as well as online research and guidebooks. It pays to be informed!

9. Pictures with Gladiators.

These jolly old posing praetorians who will grab you and strike a funny pose for your pictures are not just doing it for fun. When I first came to Italy about 15 years ago they would charge 5,000 Lire (about 2.50 Euro). That price tag has now risen to 10 Euro, sometimes even 50! They get nasty when you try to barter with them, too. Think twice before you snap that picture for the family album.

10. Not wearing sun block.

You will burn between June and September if you head out unprepared. It only takes a few minutes to apply sun block, and I still see hundreds of frazzled tourists every day in summer.

Published on January 15th, 2010
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