Congratulations! You’re going to Rome! But now what? With only a few weeks before touching down in Italy, how do you get ready?
Don’t worry, the hard part is over. The tickets are bought, the flight’s reserved, and you even got your Aunt to watch Caesar the Chihuahua. Lucky for you, we put together a comprehensive guide of everything else you need to know when traveling to Rome. What to wear, which apps to download, and many more travel tips along the way. So, sit back, relax and enjoy the guide.
WHEN IN ROME…DRESS LIKE THE ROMANS DO
Rome is known for many things: great food, beautiful churches, and high fashion. Of course, you don’t need to be Grace Kelly or Cary Grant, but we have some good tips, so you won’t stick out as a tourist.
Things to Avoid
Who doesn’t like flip flops? The Italians. In Italy flip flops are only worn at the pool and at the beach. Unless you’re going to be hanging around the hotel hot tub on your trip, you may as well leave them at home. On a practical note, Rome is a city of cobblestone streets. There is nothing, and we mean nothing, worse than flip flops on cobblestone.
Tank Tops, Spaghetti Straps, and Crop Tops
Not trying to sound like your mom before your sweet sixteen birthday bash. Vatican City, St. Peter’s Basilica, and most other major catholic churches in Rome have a strict dress code. Essentially, everyone has to have their shoulders and torso fully covered. It’s just like the sign says, “Please, in the church with the right clothes”!
Shorts (for guys)
In order to go into St. Peter’s Basilica and most churches, you cannot have exposed kneecaps.
So, if you know you’re going to churches on a given day, don’t wear shorts. Additionally, European men do not typically wear shorts in the city. Shorts will definitely flag you as an American tourist.
Shorts & Skirts (for girls)
Shorts and any kind of skirt or dress is totally acceptable for touring around Rome. However, the same kneecap rule applies for visiting Churches and the Vatican, so pack accordingly.
The British created the Top Hat, the French invented the Beret, and in America we have… the baseball cap. Baseball caps are rarely worn by Italians. When they are worn in Italy, the caps are usually a plain solid color. But if you’re going to wear a baseball cap, make sure it doesn’t have a sports logo on it. The New England Patriot’s mascot is a pretty good clue that you’re not from Sicily.
The Lululemon and Under Armour trend has not quite taken off in Europe. You couldn’t find an Italian caught dead wearing athletic clothes outside of the gym (even for dog walks or grocery runs). While this might seem crazy to you, you might want to skip the athleisure while packing for Rome. If you absolutely have to bring your favorite athletic wear, please leave your NFL jerseys in America.
What to Bring
Hats (For Everyone)
Ok so you left your favorite ballcap. What now? Well a fedora is a great option for both guys and girls year-round. Bigger brim straw fedoras are preferred for the summer, while felt or wool is optimal for winter. If the fedora is too Indiana Jones for you, bakers boy caps, newsboy hats, or panama hats are all great options.
Clothes (For Guys)
Don’t worry, you won’t need a tux. To blend in with the crowd wear solid color T-shirts (black is a popular color in Italy), polos, or button downs (solids or conservative patterns for these). You wouldn’t look out of place with a sports jacket, especially for dinner (though definitely not required). As for pants, pretty much anything goes: jeans, khakis, even linen pants for the summer. If traveling in the winter, make sure to bring some type of jacket for the rain (Rain jackets with zip or snap pockets have the added benefit of being pickpocket proof). Also, nothing yells tourist like having to wear a plastic “I Roma” poncho in the rain.
Shoes (For Guys)
Most Italian men will be wearing dark leather shoes or white sneakers. But honestly, with the amount of walking you’re going to be doing, go for what’s comfortable! As long as you don’t wear glow in the dark, outrageously colored sneakers, you’ll look great.
Clothes (For Girls)
To be perfectly honest, Rome gets hot, (like 90° in Summertime). But the Vatican’s dress code never changes. To get away with wearing spaghetti straps, a wrap or light jacket that you can easily put on and take off is a must.
To blend in with the locals, go for neutrals (black, beige, cream etc.). Italian women very rarely wear bold patterns or clashing pieces. Keep this in mind when planning out different elements of your outfits.
Sundresses, skirts, and shorts are very popular in the Summer months. In the Winter, turtlenecks, scarves, wool coats, and jeans will be in vogue. During anytime of year, you’ll want to pack your favorite pair of sunglasses.
A nice trench coat is good for the spring, fall, and winter. When it rains in Rome, you don’t want to get stuck with an “I Roma” poncho.
Shoes (For Girls)
While flipflops and heals can be tough on cobblestones, slip-ons, sandals, and sneakers are a great choice. You’re going to be doing a lot of walking on this trip, so go for utility over style.
Why should you care?
Ok, so why does any of this matter? You may be saying, I’m just a tourist, nobody’s looking at me. Well that’s not exactly true. Pickpockets, scammers, and tourist trap restaurateurs are watching you constantly. The less your outfit screams “AMERICA”, the better. Also, don’t you want to look good for your Instagram (and your mom’s Facebook)?
I CAME, I SAW…I PACKED THE RIGHT STUFF
Did you ever show up to class without a pen? Even if you did, there was always some smart kid who had 50 pens in all different colors. Unfortunately, when you show up in Italy, there probably won’t be a generous tourist who has extras of all the things you forgot to pack. Lucky for you we made a checklist so you can have the best trip to Rome ever.
Make sure you have a power adapter for Italian (type C) outlets. Amazon sells one for about $13.
Italian restaurants do not give you tap water, only bottled water. So, if you want more water with lunch or dinner, better have cash ready. Luckily, Rome has dozens of safe public water fountains. It’s key to bring your favorite refillable water bottle for this trip.
This one may seem obvious, but you need cash for some smaller cafes or street vendors, who won’t take plastic. The currency of Italy is the Euro. At the time this article was written €1.00 (Euro) is worth $1.08 (U.S. Dollar). This rate fluctuates all of the time but, so you can keep track of it here. The important thing is to compare rates when exchanging money. Don’t convert all of your cash at the hotel, airport, or first booth you see (look for bad rates and additional fees). If you know how much cash you want to spend, it is usually better to convert your money at your local bank before leaving America. Bank branches typically give you the raw conversion rate and charge no fees.
Google Maps App
Rome is a great walking city. But unlike New York City (or any other American city), the streets follow no coherent pattern. Without a grid structure, it’s easy to get turned around. The Google Maps app will help you determine where locations are and the quickest walking routes. Additionally, the app lets you download your maps so that you won’t need to use roaming in the city.
Another benefit of Google Maps is the ability to check hours. In America, we assume businesses and restaurants are open seven days a week, 9-5. In Italy, Restaurants are typically closed on Mondays (and sometimes Tuesdays). Most business open around 10 AM, close from 12 PM to 1 PM, and then close for the day around 5PM.
If you want to go to a specific restaurant or shop, check Google Maps for the hours of operation.
Time Shifter App
To those who aren’t morning people, this app is a must. Time shifter is an app that astronauts use to avoid getting jet lagged when they go to space.
You fill in your itinerary, weight, age, sleeping patterns etc. The app then generates a personalized plan for you to not avoid the effects of jet lag. Using cutting edge science, the plan will tell you minute by minute when to eat, take melatonin, get light exposure, have coffee and so on. If you adhere to the plan, you can hop right off the plane and go straight to the Vatican.
When you gotta go, you gotta go. This app is like Google Maps, but points out where all of the public bathrooms are in a geographic area.
Google Translate app
Google Translate has come a long way from being a webpage that lazy students use to write their Spanish essay to something no traveler can be without.
The Google Translate app lets you download an entire language so you can use this app without any internet connection. The app has audio sensing, so it can listen to what an Italian is saying to you and have the app translate it to English. One of the coolest features is the photo translation. Essentially, you can take a picture of an Italian sign or menu and the app translates it to English.
BEWARE OF ROMANS BEARING SCAMS
Just like anywhere else on the planet, there are people in Rome who want to separate you from your money. It’s better for you to know what to watch for before you go than to find out while you’re there. So, here are some tips and tricks to beat the scammers at their own game!
The Bracelet Handoff
This is the most common scam in all of Europe, but it’s especially bad in Rome. Essentially here’s how it works. While you’re looking at the Coliseum, a guy approaches you, asking you whether you like his country. Being a polite and friendly American traveler, you say of course you love his country. He then proceeds to slip a bracelet on your wrist which he claims is from his country. Ok so now being the friendly person you are, you thank the man and turn to walk away. Spinning around, you realize that the bracelet man’s eight best friends have decided to join you. Now that you’re surrounded, the original bracelet man pulls out a picture of a little girl (supposedly his daughter) and asks you for money. Five Euros is the typical amount they’re going to ask for, but it could be more.
I’ve outlined the most common scenario here, but this scam comes in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes, guys with stacks of roses go up to women offering “flowers for the beautiful lady”. If these flower guys find an open purse, pocket, or hand they will stick the flowers in and ask for about 20 Euros. Nowadays, the bracelet guys will throw the bracelets at you. If you instinctively catch it, they’ll come looking for cash.
HOW TO BEAT IT: If you see a bunch of guys loitering around with bracelets in a crowded tourist area, avoid them. Walk to the other side of the street or get around them, if at all possible. If you literally cannot avoid them, put your hands in your pockets, cross your arms, just make sure your arms are not out. These guys will grab your arm and slip a bracelet on if they can. If you accidentally find yourself chatting with one of these guys (it happens) say the word “polizia”. The cops in Italy have been cracking down on these guys in recent years (for some good entertainment value you can actually watch the scammers go into a full sprint when they see cops coming on patrol).
Do you remember going around the neighborhood asking for signatures so you could get your scouting merit badge? No, well neither do these guys.
A guy with a clipboard is standing on the corner asking for signatures to fight human trafficking. The petition looks legitimate. Its already half signed. The paper has a very professional logo and the “petitioner” even has a name tag from the same “organization”. You listen intently to the elevator pitch about human rights. Being the mindful citizen of the world that you are, you naturally want to sign the petition. Once you have the pen and board in hand, one of two things will happen.
In one version, you sign and then the “petitioner” asks for money. He will keep hounding you and even shame you for not giving to this worthy cause. Of course, there is no organization, no petition, this is a scam.
In the second (and more dangerous) version, while both your hands are occupied with a pen and clipboard, the “petitioner’s” friend sneaks up and takes your phone, wallet, or purse. While the clipboard guy pretends to empathize with you, he’s going to rejoin the pickpocket later and split the loot.
HOW TO BEAT IT: This one is super easy to spot and avoid. No legitimate person is walking around tourist sites with a clipboard. So, if they have a clipboard, it’s a scam. When you see the clipboard guys, ignore them and quickly walk away. Be polite, but do not hesitate to forcibly say “no”. These scammers typically work alone or in small groups so you’re not going to get surrounded. If for some reason you accidentally find yourself talking with one of these guys, remember, NEVER take the clipboard.
The Gladiators and Centurions
Just pretend you’re an ancient Carthaginian or Gaul. If you see the Roman legions coming, it’s probably time to retreat.
Ok, you’re going to visit the Roman Forum today. As you approach the ancient ruins you see three Roman soldiers in full uniforms. With the plumes, helmets, swords, they look like they could be in Gladiator. These guys rush up, put a helmet on your head, and jump in your selfie. You think this is pretty cool. Then they give you a sword to “duel” with one of them while the third guy uses your phone to take a picture. Very cool.
After your photo shoot is over, the three soldiers demand 40 Euros (sometimes more). You say that’s ridiculous. But they still have your phone…
This scam takes many shapes and sizes. Sometimes they jump in your selfie, other times they jump in your family photos, still other times they just start by grabbing your phone. No matter what, it always ends with them asking for a lot of money.
HOW TO BEAT IT: When you see the Roman soldiers, avoid them. These guys usually split up the tourist sites into “territories”. If you’re far enough away, they’re not going to leave their “territory” to risk making a competitor angry.
Another trick is to put all phones and cameras away when you see the soldiers. If they see a phone, they might go for it.
If one of them jumps into your picture, you may not be able to avoid a confrontation. Here’s when the police come in handy. This whole scam has actually been outlawed in Rome. If the cops see the scam happening they will arrest the “Roman Soldiers”. So, if you’re in a tight spot, yell “polizia” or call 113 (its Italian 911).
In general, if anyone approaches you, be suspicious. There are reports of fake “helpers” unwittingly tricking American tourists at railway stations into buying faulty tickets to nowhere (Is there anything worse than getting thrown off of a train because you bought a fake ticket?).
Just like in any major city, watch your pockets in crowded areas. The good news is that pickpocketing isn’t as bad in Rome as it is in other European cities (we’re looking at you Paris). Nevertheless, snap or zip pockets and money belts come in handy here.
Always watch your backpacks and purses. Slicing through a backpack with a blade is a lot easier than you think. If you still want to bring a bag, Amazon sells a theft proof bag for $35.
ALL ROADS LEAD TO ROME
If you’ve made it this far, you’re all ready for your trip to Rome! Get excited. Rome is a truly magical place and if you follow our guide, you’re about to have the journey of a lifetime.
From all of us at Verso Ministries, buon viaggio!
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