Italy: Dumb travel mistakes we made (so you don't have to)

Updated: Jan 17

Have you ever heard of Campiglia Marittima, Italy? Neither had we, until we found ourselves running alongside a moving train, banging on its closed doors while yelling for the conductor to stop. It was a race between us and 540 tons accelerating to 300 km/hour. Needless to say, the train won.

We were traveling with our kids and two of their friends back to Rome after a few days visiting the Cinque Terre. Our journey began on the train in Montorosso and we needed to switch to another train in Campiglia Marittima for the final ride to Rome. Easy peasy. My son's friend's ticket had him riding in a different car, and the train car the rest of us were in was hot. Like the-air-conditioning-is-broken-and-it's-June-in-Italy hot. All of us quickly realized that we could never last until it was time to change trains, so we moved up one car and my son went to find his friend in a cooler, less sweat-inducing part of the train. The train was practically empty, so we left our luggage by our original seats and planned to go back to retrieve them when we reached our stop, the small town of Campiglia Marittima.

We bumped along for a while, all of us still super relaxed from our days on the beach in the beautiful seaside towns of the Cinque Terre, until suddenly we realized our stop was approaching...and the doors

were opening.


We quickly scattered back to the unairconditioned car, pulling our luggage from racks, grabbing our carry-ons and loudly reminding one another that we didn't have much time! Unfortunately, we discovered that, while my son was several cars away, his luggage was with us. Our arms were full and none of us could grab his stuff, so we raced through the doors to the platform, and turned to go back to get his bags...but the doors were already closing...closing...closed. And in the battle between two arms and the steel doors of an Italian train, we weren't going to emerge victorious.

We watched as our son's backpack (with his passport and laptop), chugged into the distance without us. This is the point at which I realized that my own carry-on with my passport, my wallet, my laptop and my daughter's passport had also chugged into the distance without me. Enter Lesson #1: Always know how many stops you have until you get off a train so you aren't surprised at the last minute when you realize you're about to miss it. And Lesson #2: Bring your luggage with you when you move to an air-conditioned train car.


Needless to say, we were all freaking out. To put it mildly. But we sprang into action, all six of us running around to find the ticket office where we could talk to someone and have them contact the train conductor about the items we'd left behind. Sounded logical, at the time, and like we could still fix this debacle.


That's when we learned Lesson #3: Don’t get stranded in a small Italian town on a Saturday. The CLOSED sign on the station’s window meant we were left to our own devices. Speaking fluent Italian was not one of them. It was 100 degrees, we had about nine Euros between the six of us. And we were all supposed to be on a plane home from Rome the next day. We decided to find an ATM and get some money, to start. Being stranded is one thing, but being stranded without any cash is another. Only this was a tiny town, as in, there was nothing. We were about as likely to find an ATM as we were to have our luggage appear on the platform next to us.


We all must have looked panicked because a woman approached us. She spoke Romanian and broken English. Her Boyfriend spoke Romanian and Italian. Between the eight of us we hatched a plan to ask the next train’s conductor to contact our original train about the backpack and carry-on. If we were lucky, our luggage would make its way back to us when the train turned around and headed our way again (it had to turn around, right?).


When the next train came along, our new friends told the conductor the situation. That's when we learned Lesson #4: Gypsies. Apparently, Italian trains were full of them, and they liked to help themselves to items left behind by travelers like us. Sure, the conductor would give it his best effort, but even without understanding his words, the look on his face said it all: Good luck with that. At this point, we couldn't do much but cross our fingers. And wait at the tiny train station in the blistering heat. But we did have those last few Euros and we all came to a group decision: We'd spend the last of our cash on beers from the little bar beside the station.


If we were going to have to figure out how to get three new passports in Rome, get the other three of us home on the flight the next day, and deal with all of our missing stuff, at least we'd all be doing it with cold beers in our hands. It was a small consolation during a crazy stressful situation.


We all spent the next three hours under the watchful eye of the old Italian man charging one Euro to use the only bathroom near the train platform (a dirt hole behind a door made from two swinging shutters - seriously, a dirt hole). Finally, we spotted our train returning from the opposite direction and ran to the platform to greet it. We counted the cars and held our breath as we walked toward the car that, we hoped, had everything we'd left behind. This was our last-ditch effort, if our bags weren't there, we'd miss our flight and have to head to the US embassy Monday morning to figure everything out.


When the train stopped we heard a man yell to us. We turned around to see the conductor hanging out of an open door dangling both of our bags in his hand. After a loud whoop to let everyone know our bags were back, we ran to the man, pumping our fists in the air, thrilled at the sight of him.

Our bags had returned, hopefully intact (they were!). It was a miracle, and that man was our lifesaver. We'd make it to Rome and celebrate our luck with a final Italian meal, a few bottles of wine, a limoncello toast, and lots of new lessons under our belts. We did learn one more lesson, though, before we boarded a train for Rome. Lesson #4: Even an Italian train conductor appreciates a grateful hug on a 100-degree day in Campiglia Marittima.


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