The world is full of wonderful people who will do almost anything to help a stranger in their country. Whether you are visiting a city for a weekend break, a coastal resort for a fortnight’s furlough, or even trekking across a continent, it is often the people you’ll remember just as much as the things you see and do.
Sadly however, there are a small number of criminals who will target the tourist, with your hotel room being near the top of their wishlist. Here are some of the ways you can keep yourself and your belongings safe in your hotel.
Take safety steps before you travel
I love my watch. It was a 40th birthday present from my wife and is an expensive indulgence that gives me pleasure every single time I look at it. However, when I’m travelling I often take a cheap digital watch instead on the theory that flashing a couple of thousand pounds’ worth of jewellery isn’t a sensible thing to do.
Similarly, I change the camera strap from the manufacturer’s one that loudly advertises the model to something more generic and less visible.
Taking these steps before I go means that not only am I less likely to be targeted, if the worst should happen, I won't have lost as much.
Make a backup
We used to travel with a wad of travellers’ cheques but the near universal use of debit and credit cards in even the most remote corners of the globe has made our lives much easier and safer. However, it’s good practise to carry a spare card tucked away somewhere just in case you do lose your wallet or have it stolen.
A photograph of your credit and debit cards, driving licences and passports stored on an online cloud storage folder like Dropbox or Google Drive means you’ll have all the information you need to report a theft and make your way home if you do have them stolen.
Buying food from street vendors
Choose your hotel carefully
Price isn’t everything; cheap hotels probably won’t have great physical security systems but even expensive hotels employ temporary staff who could be a chink in the security of their building. As a consequence, it’s probably better to concentrate on the physical location of your hotel than its star rating: cheap hotels are normally situated in cheaper districts and so might leave you more vulnerable than a hotel that is situated in a busy, well-lit thoroughfare. If in doubt, use Google Street View to reconnoiter the area before booking.
If you are a single woman, it is worth considering making the booking as ‘Mr and Mrs’, or even plain ‘Mr’. Doing this means that any paperwork and room booking diary won’t advertise that you are a single woman travelling alone.
Being safe when travelling alone
When you arrive at the hotel
Try and keep an eye on your luggage as it’s being transferred from the coach or taxi to the lobby as this is a prime time for thieves to strike while everyone is preoccupied with checking in.
If you have a choice then hotel rooms on the ground floor will be more vulnerable than those on higher floors and while bedrooms near the lift might be noisier than those further away, the flow of people does tend to make them a bit safer.
Another great tip is to ask for two business cards when you check-in. If you keep one in your wallet or purse you’ll be able to show the taxi driver where you’re staying. The other should go by the phone in your bedroom; if you need to call the emergency services it’ll be easy to find and you’ll be able to read out your exact location.
Stay safe in your hotel room
Hotel passkeys are widely available and the little electronic credit-card sized passcards are easy to hack. This means your hotel room is nowhere near as safe as you might imagine, so you’ll want to add another layer of security.
This could be as simple as hiding stuff away so it isn’t visible to the casual thief through to asking the hotel to put the odd item in their main safe.
One great tip is to leave the TV turned on and the ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign hanging on your bedroom door as you leave for the day. This will announce to the world that you’re inside, even when you aren’t…
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Are safes in hotel rooms safe?
If there is a safe in your hotel room then you should use it as it is always going to be safer than the alternative. However, there is always a ‘backdoor’ into the safe so the hotel management can open it when a guest forgets their code. This makes the safe vulnerable to attacks from corrupt employees or even knowledgeable criminals.
Despite this vulnerability, I wouldn’t worry too much but if you have a lot of high-value items you could consider carrying a Milockie. This is a simple device that adds an extra layer of security to the hotel’s safe but you’ll probably want to upgrade the padlock to something a bit more substantial…
Lock your belongings up
A lightweight titanium padlock threaded through the zipper handles on your suitcases will deter the casual thief. You could also use a thin bicycle cable lock to chain your bag to the bedframe or another substantial object too.
Neither will stop a dedicated pro but then few things will. Your job is only to make stealing your stuff a little bit harder than stealing the stuff in the room next door. Cynical, but true.
Think like a burglar to avoid break ins
I carry a small, lightweight door wedge with me whenever I travel and I use it to wedge the door closed before I go to sleep. I use the chain too if there is one for belt-and-braces security that allows me to sleep at night knowing that no one can get in unless I let them.
In an emergency
Always check the location of the nearest emergency exit so you’ll know where to go if the alarm goes off in the middle of the night and you’re groggy with sleep.
I also pack a small torch too, just in case the power goes off. I keep it on the bedside table next to the hotel’s business card. If you take life-saving medication this would be a good place to keep it too; if you did need to evacuate the hotel you’d be able to scoop it up on your way out. (Leave everything else in your room though. You won’t have time to rescue your passport, spending money, camera, laptop, phone, wallet, and best shoes…)
If you do have anything stolen despite taking all these precautions, you should always report the matter to the hotel management and the police. This will flag the problem to the people who need to know about it and may well prompt them to upgrade their security. It will also give you a police report number for your insurance claim. (You do have travel insurance, don’t you?)