Tips for Improving Personal Hotel Safety
Updated: Nov 7, 2018
I LOVE staying in hotels. There’s just something about being away from home, no matter how far you are from your house, which gives hotels this zing of adventure that just excites me. At the same time if you’re like me, you’ve checked into your hotel room, closed the door and realized that somewhere, out there, someone has access to a master key for your room. And, if like me, you may find yourself in a slight moment of worry in those moments (I just don't want housekeeping walking in on me while I'm on the toilet, you know?). But below are a few tips I use that could help you increase your own sense of personal safety when traveling.
Lock all the locks
While your hotel door locks when it closes, all it takes is access to the key to open it. But most resort doors have deadbolts, if nothing else. Many have those chain door locks as well. Lock them both. If I’m in my room, I make sure to have these locked. Also double check alternative locations. An example – recently my mom and I stayed at an all-inclusive that had a “secret room” – a little compartment where room service could be left – but it was big enough a person could have crawled through. There was a latched lock on the door, so we made sure to keep it locked. Keep balcony doors locked and windows as well.
If you’re a backpacker, locks take on a whole new meaning. Ensure that you bring locks for lockers or storage compartments that are provided (often under the beds) and purchase locks that you can use to keep the zipper on your bag closed.
On one trip to Mexico, my mom and I stayed at a resort that used wristbands. While we could have taken them off we chose not to – we really liked them! They were woven, not plastic, a very pretty blue. But we decided to go into Playa Del Carmen and a man approached us. “Hey! Remember me? I was your waiter at XYZ Resort”. Boom. Our wristband gave us away. Luckily my mom was having none of it and he left us alone pretty quickly.
Other examples include your hotel key. Today’s keys are cards so you don’t carry around a physical key any more. BUT, those cards are branded. So leaving it out is like saying “Hey, I’m staying at the Delta”. And when out and about and in conversation with people, refrain from talking about where you are staying, or what room you are staying in. It may seem like friendly conversation, but it could be more.
Also, during check in, if the front desk announces your room number out loud, consider asking them to change your room, and write down your room number instead. Many hotels now are putting keys in card pockets and writing the number to avoid this potential security risk.
Use the room’s safe
Many rooms these days come with safes. Big enough for a laptop, this is a great place to keep your passports, wallets, electronics, and valuable items for when you’re not in the room. I worked for a time as a housekeeper at a hotel and while we were told not to touch personal items (i.e. if you left your laptop on your bed, your bed didn’t get made that day), not every hotel has the same policy and not every staff member will follow said policy.
If there is no safe in the room, hotels often have a house safe you can place your items in. Usually room safes they will accept no liability for, but the house safe they do. Be sure to ask before assuming the hotel will accept fault if your item(s) go missing.
Consider the “Women’s Only” Floor
More and more hotels are creating women’s only floors, accessible only with key card. In a town in Alberta the city was finding a high number of attacks in hotels against women, so the women's only floor was a way to create safety for guests. If you identify as a woman or female concerned about safety, consider staying at a hotel with one of these floors. I recently stayed on such a floor and while it’s no guarantee (my group did see a gentleman on our floor who accompanied a woman), the risk of random men present with intent to harm decreases.
Double check reviews or chat with your Travel Professional (hey, that’s me!)
I remember during my backpacking days that when I was looking at hostel reviews, I was wondering about breakfast, cleanliness and whether it was close to attractions. I mean, I considered the “safety” rating on the hostel booking sites, but I didn’t think much of it. But now, it’s very important to me (both for personal safety and for my clients) to find reviews that talk about the area of town the hotel is in, and whether it’s a safe area to stay in.
Take the hotel’s business card
You’re out, you want to have fun, maybe have some drinks. But what happens when you’re on the street, looking for a cab and realize you don’t know the language, or the address of where you’re staying? Or perhaps you had too much to drink and you don’t remember. Taking the hotel’s card and being able to hand it to the driver could save you a whole lot of trouble. I have also heard the tip of grabbing a second business card that you leave by the telephone in your room so you have information ready in the event of calling for an emergency.
And, speaking of drinking, be hyper vigilant with your drink. Do not leave it with strangers. I sometimes place my hand on the top of the glass if I'm looking away from a drink, say, while sitting at a bar during conversation with a friend. Some people I know take their drink with them to the bathroom or get a new drink when they return. I had friends return to their hotel room after having some drinks only to find men on the other side of the door trying to get in - they called the front desk, barricaded the door and that's when they started to feel it - their drinks had been spiked. They were lucky that night...not everyone is.
Use reputable transportation
If you’re going to use local transportation, such as a taxi, do some research to make sure you know which companies are licensed and how to spot a licensed vehicle from an unlicensed one. Many hotels have contracts with taxi companies, so have front desk call.
My first trip to Mexico was with a group of friends who were content to lay by the pool longer than I was. I wanted to go shopping in Ixtapa but no one wanted to go with me. The hotel called me a cab, so I knew he was reputable. Turns out he spoke English AND had lived in Montreal for a bit and as we pulled into the city, he asked if I would like it for him to come pick me up. Knowing he was vetted (and we shared a love of Canada) I enthusiastically said yes and we agreed on a pick up time and place.
Cover the peep hole
While rare, there have been times that folks staying in hotels have realized that their peep hole to help them see whose knocking on their door is actually facing inward. I’ve noticed an increasing number of hotels with a little plate that covers the peep, but if your hotel doesn’t have one, consider getting a McGyver Crafting 101 Session going to block anyone from seeing inside. Sticky tack, post its or tape are helpful tools.
If your door has no peep hole, consider asking who it is prior to opening the door.
Ask staff their names
Ordering room service? Having maintenance coming up to fix the air conditioner? Make sure to grab the name of the employee, along with a quick glance at their name tag, who enters your room. No name tag, no entry. You can also ask the hotel when you order the service to provide you the name of the employee who will be coming to your door. If you have concerns being alone in the room with staff who may have extended work to do, excuse yourself to somewhere more public, such as the lobby, while work is being done or prop your room door open until they’re finished. And of course, don't leave valuables out.
Request a room on floors 3-6 if able
Safety experts recommend staying in rooms high enough to avoid break ins but low enough that fire engine ladders can reach. Ground floor rooms are the riskiest. Plus rooms a bit higher up often have better views!
The reality is that anything can happen anywhere. Jamaica is in travel news a lot lately due to some attacks over the years of guests (more often by employees of hotels than outsiders, which blows my mind), but safety and security is not limited to any one country. Many of these tips require low effort or time and regardless of who you are (your gender, your age, your sexuality, your ethnicity) security is something everyone should be diligent about. While not all crimes are preventable, we can reduce risk by heightening our awareness and taking an offensive instead of defensive approach to our own safety.
If you find yourself the victim of a crime while traveling, if safe to do so, please report it. Both to the hotel (if it was at the hotel) and to the local authorities. Reporting it to your Travel Professional can also help. Not only can I apply pressure to a supplier if it happened during your time on property or during their time with you (such as on an excursion), but I also have a network of agents at my finger tips that I can inform so that they can then inform their clients as well or cease promotion of a supplier. It also allows me the ability to support you and assist you in seeking justice. Do not sign legal paperwork without legal representation to guide you. Some hotels have been known to try and bribe victims through things like free nights or comping their stay, but they have to sign away their right to hold the hotel liable. And there is no shame in seeking support when you come home either - whether medical or psychological. Things can happen to anyone and anywhere. Staying safe is not just about physical safety.