When you book a hotel while traveling near home or far abroad, it’s reasonable to expect hotels to look out for your safety. Unfortunately, not all do, and you should expect to be your own security guard in certain ways. Valuables can be placed into hotel safes; you can’t fit into a safe, and even safes aren’t always safe. Below are 33 tips to help make your next stay at a hotel a safer one.
1. Research the area you plan to visit before you book a hotel. Is the hotel located in a high-crime area? This is particularly relevant when you travel abroad since, in other countries, hotel security may be quite different from the modern security you may be accustomed to in the U.S. For example, doors may not have deadbolt locks, and old style metal keys with room numbers embossed on them will be standard. Such keys are easy to duplicate and can get into the wrong hands.
2. Affordable lodging and safety are not always mutually exclusive. Being on a budget doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll sacrifice safety. You don’t always need to stay at a four or five-star place. What matters is that the property uses and maintains modern locks on doors and windows, not to mention takes the privacy of guests seriously. A few good signs: they don’t issue new key cards without verifying identity; they have strict policies on guest confidentiality; they have a strong background and training in security.
3. The best way to prevent someone stealing from your hotel safe is not to bring valuables along in the first place. Leave expensive jewelry at home. Keep your passport on your person in a money belt or neck stash. Photocopy all important documents and upload them to a cloud storage system.
4. If you must carry valuables, storing them in your room safe may mean you won’t be insured. Most hotels will only insure your valuables if you store them in the lobby safe. Both room safes and lobby safes offer some protection but also a degree of risk.
Safes which let you make your own combination are better than safes which require a key (hotel employees can get a hold of master keys and steal your valuables). If you must store valuables, the lobby safe is probably a better bet than a room safe (at least you’ll have some insurance if something does get stolen).
5. Keep a watchful eye on your luggage. Be especially careful in a crowded hotel lobby at check-in time. When arriving at the hotel and checking in, you’re often tired, hungry, and stressed from your trip, which can make you vulnerable. Thieves, rapists, and others know this and count on you being less alert so they can take advantage.
7. When you register, if you’re a woman alone who wants to take extra safety precautions, say you’re traveling with a man. Sign the register “Mr. and Mrs. Jones” or “The Joneses.” Failing that, leave your gender ambiguous, and sign your first initial and last name only.
8. Ask the hotel clerk to write down or point to your room number and not to say it out loud; you never know who might overhear. You really shouldn’t have to remind hotel employees of confidentiality, but it doesn’t hurt.
At most reputable hotels, it is actually against company policy to announce your room number or reveal what floor you’re staying on. If a hotel breaches this confidence, ask for another room or go to a different hotel if you can. Also, tell the desk clerk not to disclose to anyone any information about you. Advise them to contact you if someone inquires about you.
9. Be careful with your credit card at the front desk (and everywhere). Don’t set the card down or let it out of your sight for a second. Make sure the clerk gives you back the right credit card after the transaction.
10. Get an escort to accompany you to your room if that makes you feel more comfortable. If you’re a woman, see if you can get a female escort. Ask the escort to go into the room and search it to make sure no one is hiding under the bed, in the closet, in the shower, and in any other places where someone could hide.
11. Buy and use luggage locks, especially if you don’t intend to use the room safe or hotel lobby safe. Never leave your luggage unlocked when you’re out of your room. Keep the luggage hidden in a closet or under the bed to reduce the risk of someone rifling through your stuff. For your Laptop, You might consider getting a Kensington lock to secure your laptop when you leave your hotel. Use it at airports or in any public places where someone could grab your laptop.
12. Always place your room key, a flashlight, and your phone in the same place (preferably on a night table next to your bed). In an emergency like a power outage or a fire, you’ll be able to see where you’re going and won’t be fumbling in the dark for your things.
13. Check the peephole on the door before you go into your room. Most of the time, peepholes will be loose and easy to remove; if someone should remove the peephole, you can forget about your privacy.
Some travelers are now buying Reverse Peephole Viewers, spy gadgets that let anyone see inside of your room without your knowledge (and some may video or photograph what they see). Consider the case of Erin Andrews.
You can buy a peephole cover (Privacy Logic makes a good one) to protect your privacy and prevent all types of peephole tampering. Short of that, you can make your own peephole cover out of duct tape or adhesive bandage that you can place over the peephole and remove as needed.
14. Door and lock security. How modern are your room doors and locks? The most secure doors are solid-core wood or metal, with self-closing and self-locking features.
The most secure type of room lock is the electronic key card. Most of these cards automatically change the lock combination with each new guest. Thus, it’s unlikely anyone will have a duplicate key to your room. Electronic locks are good at preventing former guests and employees from getting into your room.
15. In addition to a doorknob lock, a deadbolt lock and a wide-angle peephole are essential. To assure privacy, cover up the peephole with a piece of duct tape or stuff or tape a little piece of paper in the peephole (you can always peel it back when you need to use the peephole). If you notice signs of wear on any of your locks, try to get a different room or don’t stay at the hotel.
16. Don’t stay in an adjoining room. For obvious reasons.
17. Windows and sliding doors should be tested for security, especially if the only room you can get is located on the lower levels of a hotel. Balconies create additional risk for an easy intrusion when your windows and sliding doors are not secured. If windows and sliding doors do not have secure, functioning locks and you can’t get another room, find a different hotel if you can.
18. Phones. Make sure the phone in your room allows for outside dialing. Get the phone number for local police and place it next to the landline and program it into your cell phone. Keep your cell phone right next to your bed. Having these numbers close and convenient should make you feel safer.
19. Guest phones in hallways and common areas shouldn’t allow direct room dialing. The safest phone policy in a hotel requires the caller to ask for a room by the guest’s name and not by the room number. Find out how good a job your hotel is doing to protect your privacy: pick up a guest phone and ask the operator what room you are staying in. The operator should say, “I’ll connect you” and not give you the room number.
20. If you order room service, call the hotel staff directly with your order. Don’t use the pre-order menu since it hangs on your door and broadcasts to passersby how many people are in your room. Also, tell room service to knock on your door when they deliver your order and to place the tray outside the door if you don’t want them coming into your room.
21. Tell family and friends where you are. Your family and friends may already know that you’re traveling. If you’re on a trip alone and feel skittish about staying in a strange place, agree to phone or text your friend or family member at an agreed-upon time. Tell them that if they don’t hear from you or can’t reach you by the prearranged time, they should call the police.
22. Carry or create a weapon and keep it in bed with you or next to the bed within reach in case of a hotel room intrusion. You may already carry a gun or other self-defense product(s); make sure you know how to use any weapons you carry. Maybe you keep a baseball bat in your car or carry pepper spray on your person. Grizzly bear spray is exceptional because you can use it on people from a distance. However, it may not be legal where you’re going; be sure to check the laws at your destination before you go.
23. Remember that elbows are the sharpest point on the body. When it comes to self-defense, elbow strikes are highly effective no matter what your size. At least you don’t have to remember to “pack” elbows, and they can’t be taken from you and used against you.
24. Learn the layout of the hotel and create an escape route in case of emergency. Get a map of the layout and walk around to get a sense of where the emergency exits are in case or fire or some other threat to your well-being.
25. The higher the floor of your room, the less vulnerable you may be from criminals who might gain access to the building from the outside. Ground-floor rooms are easy to exploit and paths of less resistance for criminals. Avoid the room at the end of a hallway or the one next to the stairwell. Try to get a room between the fourth and sixth floors, which tend to be safer. If you’re above the sixth floor, you may be at a disadvantage in case of fire or other needs to evacuate.
26. Make your room appear occupied at all times. Potential intruders can be diverted if there are signs of activity in your room. Hang the Do-Not-Disturb sign on the doorknob and leave the television on so it’s audible from outside the door.
Also, leave at least one light on in the room since you may be out for the whole day and returning to your room after dark; having a light under the doorway effect can make it look like someone’s in the room. If you’re traveling alone and feel nervous during the night, leave the light and the television on all night. Be sure to shift the television so it’s facing the door; it will look as if people are up and around.
27. Travel with a door stopper. Wedge the stopper in the door when you retire for the night. You can even get door stoppers with alarms in them (120 dB should be plenty loud to wake you and scare off any intruder).
28. Rig a booby trap for your room door to supplement your locks. Push a heavy object/piece of furniture in front of the door. You really need to wedge the object directly under the door handle. Then, put some coins in a container of some kind (bottle, can, cup). Next, stack the container on top of the object that’s blocking the door. Although a determined person might still gain entry, at least you’d have warning and would wake up as these traps would make quite a racket.
This suggestion is a double-edged sword since doing this will slow YOU down if you need to evacuate the room in case of fire or another emergency.
29. Get to know the hotel staff. When you travel, it can be comforting to develop relationships with those who could become potential allies if something goes wrong for you. If you have questions or fears about the neighborhood, have a friendly conversation with the hotel staff and try to get information from them.
30. Find out if the front desk is staffed around the clock. Ask if they have on-call security personnel. Do they provide escorts to rooms and to cars?
31. Parking structures, hallways, common areas, and grounds should be well lit. A safe hotel layout will have elevators that lead from the parking garage to the lobby only, not directly to guest floors.
Even when areas are brightly lit, if you’d feel safer or have any doubts, call the front desk and ask for an escort to your room. If valet service is available, use it and avoid parking structures altogether, especially after dark.
32. Don’t open the door to an unannounced visitor. Many room invasions could have been averted by not trusting people who visit unannounced.
A common ploy, and a devious one, used by rapists, thieves, and others, is to impersonate someone else (e.g. a maintenance person, bellman, housekeeper, room server). Some even go through the trouble of dressing the part.
If someone shows up and asks to get into your room, phone the front desk to confirm that the person is legitimate. Don’t speak to anyone and count on the door chain to keep you safe. Speak to everyone through the door, and look through the peephole.
33. If you’re a woman alone or feel vulnerable, tell the front desk to have the person come back to your room later, at a designated time (when you won’t be in the room). When you return to your room, have a security person escort you if you feel safer that way. Ask them to go into the room and inspect it for you before you go back in (someone could be hiding in the closet or the shower or something). Many hotels have been sued because of inept security; insist on having someone watch out for you.
Hotels are responsible for protecting you. It’s your right, and you’re paying dearly for it. Although chances are good that your hotel will do its job in keeping you safe, it can’t hurt to add a layer of protection–and be your own security guard.
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