Exploring Rome with a Pocket Full of Pennies

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I have never been to Rome, yet have heard so much about it and I was excited to check it out.

Our hosts at Carnival Cruise paid for our (my teen and I) excursion fee, which consisted of a tour called “Rome on Your Own”. Basically, it was the hour ride from the port of Civitavecchia into the city of Rome. We did get some tips from our guide along the way, but what you pay for is really the comfort of the transportation to and from the port. Turns out that you can also just take the metro for as little as 5 euros per person. (Check out this great resource on Trip Advisor for different commuting options from Civitavecchia to Rome.) One important thing to note, however, is that the train terminal isn’t right off the boat. You have to walk about 20 minutes to the train terminal if the cruise line doesn’t offer a shuttle service to it.

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We arrived to Rome with a long list of things to do. Our first stop: the Colosseum. It was the one place my teen wanted to explore more than anything on this trip. We immediately left the tour group and made our way towards the area. It was early in the morning and there were no lines. I reached into my purse for my wallet to buy the tickets only to discover I didn’t have my wallet and we had absolutely no money with us.

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I made several rookie mistakes here:

1) I changed pursues minutes before heading out on the excursion.

2) I didn’t purchase tickets online, which not only avoids standing in line, but would’ve also meant easy ticket pick up (I had my passport for ID, so it would’ve worked).

3) I didn’t consider getting a Rome Pass, that would’ve allowed for not only entry into the Colosseum, but also into other attractions and sites.

It is probably the most unprepared I have ever been for anything and it made me sad because I felt I let my teen down. I tried to show a brave face, even though we were scheduled to be in Rome for 8 hours and had no money for water or food, let alone museum admissions.

I saw the disappointment in my teen’s eyes and worried this would turn out to be the worst trip ever.

But as we started walking around and came across the various archeological sites, like that surrounding the Foro di Traino, we realized that Rome wasn’t the kind of place that can only be appreciated through museums and tourists attractions. The city is a work of art and we were easily able to turn our situation around because of it.

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Emotions were positively high by the time we reached the Trevi Fountain, open to all and free to access. My teen had 0.20 euros in his pocket. We laughed and made fun of all the things we could (not) buy with it.

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“Make a wish,” my son said.

“No. Let’s just use it to give thanks, because how awesome is it that we are here?” I responded.

My son kissed the coin and tossed it, our small coin of gratitude with no expectations of anything in turn attached to it. We sat and had our photo taken and admired the massive crowds around the fountain and its plaza, by far the most crowded area we saw during our entire day there (Vatican City leads in the amount of crowds too – and it’s a smart choice to purchase tickets online and add the extra fee to skip the line if you are going there).

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We also had the fortune of being online friends with The Dapper Dad, who gave us tips on places to see and even provided an entire day long itinerary of sites to check out when in Rome. Aside from the awesome food spots, we focused on this as our guide for the day.

We only had a day in Rome, which is an insane way to visit, but if you find yourself with the same time constraints, a hop on, hop off bus is also a great way to cover a lot of area. Another wonderful way to explore Rome on a budget, is to sign up for one of the popular Free Rome Tours offered daily. These licensed walking tours are free (though it is highly encouraged you prepare to tip the guide) and have gotten a lot of rave reviews from people who have participated in them. Definitely worth checking out on your next visit.

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We found a drinking fountain at the Piazza del Popolo, where we also relaxed away from the sun and people watched. We reached the Villa Midici, at the top of the Spanish steps and admired the roof tops of Rome from one of the scenic points along the park at the top of the hill. It took us all day to walk around and back, till finally, a bit hungry and tired, we rested our feet at one of the plazas.

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Rome_girlgonetravelThere we met a woman, who lives in Rome, and engaged in friendly conversation about Italy in general, Rome in particular, and her love for New York City. I am not sure that we would’ve taken the time to connect with her and the few other locals that we did during our visit if we hadn’t been in the position to just walk around and observe.

You ask my teen what his favorite place to visit was during our Mediterranean tour and without hesitation he will tell you Rome because of the energy of the city and because of all there is to see. The one place during our trip where we were in a situation that would’ve ruined our day, and instead it turned out to be one of the most enriching, even for my teen.

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I have to say that of all the things I saw and learned while in Rome, getting the chance to see that side of my son, the kind of traveler he has become, really made me proud. Though there is no doubt that we must return to this wonderful city and spend more than a day to see it all, I feel our Rome experience gave us a great gift that we will cherish forever.

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Rome_girlgonetravelOn a side note, so many people – including the tour guide – warned us about the dangers of Rome, and the problem they have with thieves picking your pocket. This is a true problem in the city, but it isn’t a “Rome” thing. I would describe it as a dilemma faced in many high tourist areas around the world. There was a girl who encountered a problem when in Rome. Her tour guide stopped the crime, the thief ran away, and nothing was stolen. But the girl was also walking around taking photos, with her purse wide open, and her attention diverted from her belongings and her surroundings. I was surprised by the constant messages of warnings and it is unfortunate that any tourist would arrive to any city fearful in this way. My general advice to travelers, whether in Rome or in NYC or any highly populated area, is to use common sense and carry your belongings close to your person and in a way that is not easily accessible by others. There is no need to be “afraid” but it is important to be aware and travel smart. I loved Rome, met some really friendly people there, and never once felt in danger. I would hate that to be an impression that defines this wonderful city. I encourage you to visit, travel smart, and if our adventure proved anything, it is that it is possible to enjoy Rome with only pennies in your pocket.

All photos are property of Girl Gone Travel and may not be used with permission from the publisher. To see more photos check our or Mediterranean adventure through photos on Storify or follow our Instagram for future adventures.

Disclosure: My teen and I were guests on the Carnival Cruise Sunshine during their Mediterranean voyage. This was one of our stops. All opinions expressed here are my own.

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Carol Cain

Carol is her happiest when on an adventure, either close to home or farther away. She's the mom to three fun boys and wife to a handsome Irish/Scot. She lives in New Jersey with her happy crew, but will always be a girl from Brooklyn. You can read her full profile here.

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4 Responses to Exploring Rome with a Pocket Full of Pennies

  1. Barbara says:

    Wonderful post — and we found the same thing in Rome — I came to it frightened by the stories and my husband had to convince me to go! It turned out to be one of my favorite places in Italy – and we never had any problem at all. Thank you again — your travels are bringing back so many wonderful memories for me – and you are giving such fabulous tips :).

    • caincarol says:

      Thanks Barbara! Yeah, I know it was a safety measure, but the constant warnings was alarming and coming from a big city myself, I thought maybe even a bit over the top…until I heard the girl almost got robbed, which can happen anywhere if you don't travel smart. Thanks again so much for reading! Glad to being back such happy memories!

  2. Fanny says:

    Carol what a wonderful blog on your 8 hours in Rome…I have visited Rome so many times and cannot get enough of the Eternal City..your photos are excellent and thank you again for sharing with us..I will forward this blog on to my group who will be traveling with me to Rome, in November for the first time..Continue to keep us informed..

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