The country is special in more ways than one. It is totally surrounded by a city, it is smaller than all 197 others and it receives more visitors per capita than any other. It certainly helps that less than a thousand people live in the Vatican, but we are nevertheless talking about 3.9 million tourists every year. That is almost 11,000 visitors per day – to a country the size of five Pentagons. Yet, virtually none of these stay the night. Not because they don’t won’t to, there simply is no accommodation open to the public. So unless you know Pope Francis better than most or you are a head of state or similar, you will never get to stay in a bed in the Vatican. Some of those important people will be invited to stay in a Vatican guest house, but normal people like you and I aren’t able to book a holiday there.
So, what is the travel hack to legally stay overnight in the Pope’s den? You have to accept a total lack of facilities and not mind sleeping directly on a marble floor. Unless you are clever and bring your own mattress or piece of cardboard, that is. It isn’t illegal to be homeless, and the guards of the Vatican will not kick you out. Unless you unsuccessfully try to hide inside the fences that is. Outside the outer fence, measuring less than a meter in height, you will be left alone by security. Then again, you will not have much space at your disposal, Italy is only 1-3 meters away, depending on where you set up your temporary “bed”. Some people have also managed to hide inside buildings or the Vatican garden, but you’re then trespassing and technically breaking the law. Which would make your entire country visit void, according to many country collector clubs. The Vatican is officially closed between 23:00 and 07:00. You can easily enter between those hours, thanks to the low fence, but you may then be told to leave on short notice. Both the Swiss Guard and Italian police patrol the premises.
I stayed overnight in the Vatican in late November, and it sure was freezing! Six layers and a plane blanket borrowed from Scandinavian Airlines just about helped me cope throughout the night, I even managed to get some sleep. Although in the morning it took me a few good hours to regain normal body temperature. How I avoided third degree pneumonia is beyond belief.
In the middle of the night, one of the guards actually came over and greeted me. I guess the Swiss Guard recognizes a newcomer when he sees one. There were a few homeless people sleeping next to the fence, just like me, but to them it seemed routine. And the guards probably knew all about them. So, did this experience make me a homeless, or a hobo, as someone called me? I was, but by choice. That makes me lucky and privileged.
But why? The nearest hotel is less than 10 meters away from the Vatican. Well, if something seems impossible, it poses a challenge. It’s like managing to find a beer in a dry country. Or ordering meat in a vegan restaurant. I like challenges. Although this one was particularly cold.