I missed my Colosseum tour in Rome because of these 3 rookie travel mistakes

Sep 14, 2022

I am a planner. Container Store? Yes please. Separate day planners for work and personal life? Check. Paralyzing fear of committing to any engagement both too far in advance and too last minute? Guilty. 

So you can imagine my horror when I was running around Rome (sweating, hungry, and frustrated) and realized there was no way I was going to make the tour that I pre-booked and paid for to go inside the Colosseum and the Roman Forum on my 2nd day in the city.

No cliffhanger here- I didn’t make it, I didn’t get a refund, and I didn’t even ask because it was 100% my fault. 

Before I tell you what happened, it’s important to note that you can’t just show up in Rome, walk to the Colosseum, and buy a ticket to go inside. Even if you don’t book a private, guided tour, you need to buy a ticket in advance to go inside.

But to reserve a date/time that worked in my itinerary and get the most out of the experience, I booked a private tour with Get Your Guide. While I prefer to book activities through Airbnb experiences to support local and be with a much smaller group, I couldn’t find an Airbnb experience with exactly what I wanted during my dates in Rome.

Why use something like Get Your Guide or AirBnb? At the time of publishing (September 2022), most if not all of the popular historical sites and art galleries in Italy are impossible to just walk up to and purchase a ticket for a same-day visit. I like the *idea of spontaneity on vacation as much as the next person, but it’s impractical for certain activities. And you don’t want to miss out on something you really wanted to see because you’ve assumed that you can just walk in. Plus, one of the most valuable benefits of booking a private, guided tour for this was skipping the line. Even if you bought a ticket in advance (with “timed” entry), you were staring down a 1+ hour wait outside in the Roman summer if you weren’t with a private tour. 

After I missed the tour completely, I did what any reasonable person would do: wandered down an alley, found a cafe, drank 3 glasses of a local vino frizzante, had some cacio e pepe, and went back to the Colosseum for plan b. 

Plan b, born from the liquid courage of the vino frizzante, was to physically walk up to the leader of every other group that appeared to be about to embark on a tour inside the Colosseum and literally beg them to add me, a party of 1, to their group. This was my literal “when in Rome” moment- I was not going to leave Rome without going inside the Colosseum and the Roman Forum. After 6-7 rejections, I finally got a yes! It definitely helps being a party of 1, and I knew I was going to be at the mercy of whatever price they wanted because I wasn’t in a position to shop around in my situation. More than triple the cost of my original tour later, I was on an outstanding 4-hour tour of both the Colosseum and the Roman forum.

So while I definitely don’t recommend missing your planned tour, losing your money, and having to beg to join one of unknown price with no prior research, it actually worked out for me this time.

Avoid these common travel mistakes on your trip to Italy

  1. I booked back to back tours– this was an overly ambitious mistake. I gave myself about an hour between a tour I had been on in the morning and the one that I missed. While I did map where the morning tour ended to the Colosseum, it was obviously NOT enough time.

  2. I didn’t know precisely where to meet and the language barrier made it hard to get help. I should have treated this like college (where I know I’m not the only one that physically walked to each and every one of my new classrooms on campus before the start of the semester). I didn’t know the exact meeting spot for the tour that I missed- I just knew it was outside the Colosseum. The Colosseum isn’t that big, and with this vague idea, I thought I could head that way and figure it out pretty easily. It turns out the meeting spot was on a side street AND up some stairs, which wasn’t clear from the map. I found the meeting point like 20 minutes after the tour time and it was too late.

  3. I counted on having service or the internet to help me. Just because you’re paying for data in a major metropolitan city, don’t forget that you’re in another country and things happen. Do not assume your data and internet are going to work! Always screenshot emails, maps, and websites that have important information so that you can view it in your photos instead of relying on the internet connection to access that info.

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