Travel isn’t always just sunshine, swimming and summit photos. Bad things can happen while travelling too, and we experienced this for the first time a couple of years ago. The experience left us with not much more than the clothes on our back.

Arriving in Italy

Our flight from Reykjavik (via London) got into Rome Fiumicino a little late. Immigration was chaos, so by the time we got through to the rental car area, it was already 10.30pm. Lucky we had booked a place to stay very close to the airport!

Renting the car was straightforward, although we had to sign off on a little disclaimer that drivers needed to be especially careful about leaving luggage in their vehicle in the high-risk area of Palermo. Well, we weren’t going there, so no problem. So we thought.

Thinking ahead

After leaving our cute B&B in the outskirts of Fiumicino, we decided to do a few errands before leaving the area. In a few days time, it would be the International Workers Day holiday and it was likely that a lot of shops would soon be closed for it. We had a bad experience during our UK to Turkey road trip a few years back when almost everything was shut in Italy for a week due to the Assumption Day holiday. Food was a necessity as we were heading to stay in a rented castle for a week (self-catered). We also needed basics like toothpaste and shampoo since we had flown to Italy with hand luggage.

The initial wonder of Auchan

Driving around and around the many roundabouts of Fiumicino, we were almost about to give up hope of finding a large grocery store. And then we spotted Auchan.

Auchan, for the uninitiated, is a huge supermarket (a hypermarket even!) selling food, clothes and household accessories. The food was the important bit for us. Aisles and aisles of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, prosecco, cheese, dried meat and freshly baked bread. It was incredible (though admittedly not quite as good as a proper Italian farmers market). We went a little crazy. Leaving Auchan with five bulging bags of our favourite Italian food and drinks, we were excited about the lunch we would compile from our fresh groceries. Our food high didn’t last long.

Robbed

Arriving at the car, JR opened the boot to put the groceries in. It was completely empty. The two backpacks that had been sat there only an hour before, had disappeared. The clean interior of the rental car made the realisation even starker.

Checking the front of the car, there were just a few items of clothing thrown around the seats. Whirling around, we looked around in a panic to see if the offenders were still around. They, of course, were long gone. We split up and looked around the car park to see if our backpacks had been dumped nearby. It wouldn’t be much consolation to have the bags back, but at least it would be something.

A week after being robbed in Fiumicino 

Reflecting

With no luck finding any sign of our backpacks, the shock finally wore off and I burst into tears. There are people out there who are strong and stoic in these situations (such as JR), but I personally just felt so sad and defeated. To be right at the start of a trip and go from such a high (a stopover in Iceland! Arriving in Italy! Finding Auchan!) to such a terrible low was incredibly upsetting. The tone of our long-awaited Europe trip had changed so much, so quickly.

Evaluating our losses, we discovered we had lost our camera, laptop, JR’s driving license, my wallet, my mobile phone, 80% of our clothes, gifts and all of our printed travel plans. Thankfully, we both had carried our passports on us so luckily had averted a potentially huge problem. The biggest kick in the teeth was losing the camera since it had all of our unsaved Canadian Rockies and Iceland photos on it.

Luckily, we did buy the photos from our snorkelling tour so at least we have some photos from Iceland

Completing a police report

The rest of the afternoon was a bit of a blur, though it felt painfully slow at the time. The security at Auchan wouldn’t help us without the police involved. After a slightly confusing drive around town, we finally found the police who said they couldn’t do much other than complete a police report.

By this point, we really just wanted to leave Fiumicino and put the experience behind us, literally and figuratively. Increasingly deflated by the minute, we couldn’t leave quite yet as we needed to find somewhere to go online. I had to cancel my credit cards, find the address of our next destination and also let them know we would be much later than planned. So many things to do after an action that only took a few minutes at the most.

Our Tuscan AirBnB 

Making the most of it

We eventually made it to our AirBnB accommodation at 8.30pm. Our journey had been further delayed by several stops to get essentials like toothbrushes and underwear. We’d also tried to find some clothes. Everything we did find was incredibly expensive and we figured we weren’t that desperate. Yet! Our AirBnB cottage, high in the Tuscan hills, lived up to its dreamy listing. Sadly, we weren’t able to enjoy it the way we had planned since it was almost dark and the vegetarian restaurant on site was already fully booked. The one good thing? We had a lot of great food to eat and wine to drink!

The next day, we tried to put it behind us. We found some more reasonable clothes stores in Perugia and then shortly after, we arrived at our rented 14th-century castle in Umbria. Staying in such an amazing converted castle with friends and plenty of prosecco for a week definitely made the situation a whole lot better!

The aforementioned 14th-century castle in Umbria

Lessons learned

  • It’s very easy to get distracted by the excitement of landing in a new country and not taking the same precautions you would at home. Losing our camera was especially frustrating as when travelling around Canada on our 2014 road trip, I always brought it into shops (with my wallet in a side pocket) to keep it safe.
  • Don’t move your belongings around in public. This sounds weird, but it is also the reason we think we were targeted. Before arriving at the supermarket car park, our bags were just sitting on the backseat. After parking, we moved them to the boot. We believe that it is very possible that the thieves were nearby and saw us doing this.
  • Carrying our passports on our person was the right thing to do in this instance. This situation would have been SO much worse if our passports would have been stolen too. As it was, my Canadian Permanent Residency card was taken and that was hassle enough.
  • No-one died; things are just things and can be replaced. I’d like to think we’re not super materialistic people in the first place but this experience did teach me to care less about ‘stuff.’ I am so thankful that we were safe even though all of our belongings were gone.
  • Insurance can help! In this case, we did not have baggage insurance, just medical coverage. We opted out of the baggage insurance due to cost. I’m still not that regrettable about it as the basic cover would have only saved us around $200 anyway (our electronics wouldn’t have been covered due to value). But it would been nice to have the assurance of insurance to pay out for anything that was stolen!

What is your worst travel experience?

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Gemma
Author

One half of a Canadian/British couple currently living in Penticton, British Columbia. Gemma is happiest with a paddle in her hand, on the trail or planning the next big adventure.

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