Regardless of your destination, feeling safe when traveling is a major component of a successful trip. When you feel confident and secure, it’s easy to relax and absorb each new environment and experience. As a female traveling in Spain and Italy, there are a few insights and precautions that can help create comfortable safety zones wherever you venture.
Some safety practices for female travelers are universal and seem like common sense, but it never hurts to refresh them in your mind before traveling anywhere in Europe.
From your first step on Spanish or Italian soil, you’ll be keenly aware that you’re a foreigner. Nothing screams “vulnerable tourist” like someone bumping and thumping huge suitcases up stairs and down narrow, crowded European streets or subways. Avoid being an instant target by traveling light! Leaving behind excess clothing and unnecessary baggage will also give you freedom and spontaneity as you travel.
Using an American cellphone abroad used to be expensive and inconvenient, but now most smartphones are well-equipped for international travel. However, you should still download common phrases, hotel confirmations, transportation information and directions ahead of time, and take photographs of your passport, ID and credit cards. Save them in your phone, email copies to trusted friends, and print out copies to keep in your suitcase or hotel.
Equip Your Phone
Purchase a universal (or at least a European) power adapter for your electronics before leaving home, as it will be more difficult and expensive to find one after arriving at your destination. Bring along independent battery-powered chargers as well. To avoid exorbitant roaming fees, make sure you have an international feature on your cell phone that covers Spain and Italy. Most mobile plans allow you to use your phone as you normally would internationally for $10/day. Download free international texting and phone apps such as WhatsApp and Skype.
Keep a Hard Copy of Your Itinerary and Important Phone Numbers
Spain and Italy are some of the most welcoming European countries for travelers and generally provide safe environments. However, large metropolitan areas always have their challenges. Throughout Spain and Italy, the standard European emergency number is 112, though Italy does have additional local numbers as well. Program it into your phone and be prepared to provide your location to the operator. Know the nearest U.S. embassy locations and keep the general telephone number in your contact list. The embassy number in Spain is (34) 91.587.2200, and Italy is (39) 06.46741. Before arriving in either country, be sure to register with the U.S. State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP).
Utilize Travel Apps
The inability to converse in the native language is a major red flag to those who prey on female travelers, so spend some time beforehand learning at least a few basic phrases. You can download language apps that translate anything you type into Spanish or Italian. Do some research and find country-specific travel apps that help you navigate cities confidently, identify safe areas, connect with emergency services, and easily locate tourist attractions.
Be Aware of Your Surroundings
Safety really begins with awareness – awareness of your surroundings, but also awareness of yourself and your behavior in a public place. Be vigilant – establish boundaries, observe your environment, be aware of people around you and above all, trust your intuition.
Public marches and demonstrations are common throughout Spain, especially in Madrid and Barcelona. Political and economic issues can cause volatility, creating unpredictable scenarios as tensions escalate. Getting entangled in crowds can lead to injuries or leave you vulnerable to pickpockets and thieves, so check for protest alerts and avoid the areas. Terrorism is an ongoing threat in both countries, so tune in to local media websites and TV stations for updates.
Theft and Scams
Women tend to be especially targeted by thieves in both Spain and Italy, often because expensive jewelry and purses dangle like low-hanging fruit to would-be pickpockets. Hold your backpack or purse in front of you instead of over your shoulder, and keep the most valuable items (cash, credit cards, IDs and cell phone) in separate zippered money belts. Never travel with expensive jewelry, especially if it has sentimental value. If it’s irreplaceable, leave it safe at home!
Gypsies operate scams in Spanish and Italian cities, in which they offer small gifts such as flowers and then insist on payment, or they divert your attention while a co-conspirator steals your purse or other valuables. Avoid people soliciting signatures or donations for charities, and never hand your passport, ID or money to anyone, even a supposed police officer. Savvy thieves sometimes seek to gain the trust of female travelers by bringing along young children.
Exercise Caution When Going Out at Night
When going out at night, let a friend or hotel desk clerk know your plans. As in any country, female travelers should avoid walking alone on dark streets at night. There is safety in numbers, but taking a licensed taxi is always a viable alternative. Avoid wearing high heels that impede your ability to move quickly and comfortably.
In nightclubs, particularly when alcohol is served, beware of spiked drinks containing date rape drugs or liquid ecstasy. Order your own drinks and DON’T leave them unattended! Most establishments will be more than happy to see patrons proactively removing potential hazards, so they can relax and have a great time.
Be Mindful of Social Customs
Though Italy and Spain are thoroughly modern with major metropolitan cities, both have strong history and ties to Catholicism. This means that some areas lean conservative when it comes to acceptable dress codes. Outside coastal communities and islands, refrain from wearing bikinis or skimpy clothing in public. Dress modestly in nice restaurants and cultural venues.
Don’t be flattered by males asking to take your photo; this can just be a distraction for thieves, or your photo can be used for unsavory purposes. Part of the fun in visiting Italy is the often-carefree adoration of female visitors by Italian men, so there’s no need to be overly rigid or fearful – just be wise, aware and in control of your emotions.
However, if particularly aggressive behavior or cat-calling occurs in either country, or if you feel something is just not right, follow your instincts. Avoid reacting, and walk to a place of safety. You may want to proactively deter unwanted attention by wearing a wedding ring or carrying crime deterrents such as whistles, alarms and sprays.
Whether traveling solo or with other like-minded female globetrotters, exploring Spain and Italy is a rich cultural experience that’s only enhanced by ensuring your own safety. Practice due diligence, be proactive, and then relax while having the time of your life.
Carlos J. Barron
Salus Security Services