The Essential Guide to Hotel Safety While Traveling This Summer

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By the author of Street Survivalism: A Practical Training Guide To Life In The City and The Ultimate Survival Gear Handbook.

It’s almost summer in the northern hemisphere. Most places are open, and tourist destinations everywhere are preparing to welcome travelers again after two and a half long years of restrictions and protocols. Business travel is slowly returning, too. As your family gears up for vacationing, it’s worthwhile to brush up on your hotel safety knowledge once more.

Traveling requires special attention, awareness, and care when visiting places. Even locations considered relatively safe, such as hotels, motels, and resorts all require situational awareness.

My field is more street survival than traveling safety. But these areas are connected, and years ago, I got hired to prepare a guide on urban awareness and safety for executives of a major company who travel frequently.

I wanted to make it more comprehensive and ended up consulting with a couple of hotel safety experts. I also spoke with a lot of hotel security staff. It never ceases to amaze me what people are capable of. We can learn a lot about street smartness and situational awareness in these interviews.

City hotels can be high-population, high-rotation places.

There are all kinds of hotels, sure. Most large hotels have loads of tourists, business people, contractors, staff, and all kinds of people entering, exiting, or just circulating around restaurants, casinos, stores, and other facilities.

This facilitates the infiltration of individuals or even groups looking to take advantage of travelers. There are crooks and criminals specialized in attacking hotels and tourists. Opportunity crime is something to be wary of as well.

High-profile hotels usually have strict vigilance and high-tech security systems. Many keep counter-crime units inside to combat internal and external transgressions, frauds, and scams. This should show you the size of the problem (and level of threat).

But the #1 rule is taking responsibility for our own safety.

Situational awareness and security consciousness 

Tourists travel to change environments and relax. It sucks having to stay alert and aware when all you want is to relax and have a good time away from home. But staying alert to your surroundings is still necessary, especially in this day and age.

Most people lower their guard heavily when traveling, internally or abroad. This is okay for the most part. No one has to maintain high alertness all the time. To do that, learn how to assess your surroundings and adjust your awareness level.

Also, be security-conscious: this will show other people you’re not with your heads on the clouds or overly distracted by the attractions of the place and programs of your trip.

One example of security consciousness is being wary of people around you while you’re providing personal information (checking in or out) or just carrying on conversations. Another is being grey and blending in. “Happy clueless tourists looking lost” are preferred victims because they’re easy to spot.

Finally, never forget to keep your luggage in sight and close at all times. It can be hard to do that when checking in or with all the movement going on around, but it doesn’t matter. It’s your stuff. Find a way, not excuses.

Avoid ground and top floors. 

Ground floor rooms aren’t very common in big cities and large hotels. But they are in beach, country, and road hotels and motels. These rooms are the easiest for crooks to break in and steal stuff from.

Some people make this easier by leaving stuff unattended on the balcony or the external window/door open (or just unlocked). I have seen countless minutes of footage of thieves taking laptops, cameras, and other goods from ground floor balconies and even rooms while the occupants were taking a shower or visiting the ice machine.

Floors above ground level also require the proper key card or some other identification to access by the elevator. But top floors leave no escape if some threat is coming from below. If something like that sounds like a possibility where you’re staying, avoid the top floor.

Online security

Straight up: Be wary of public Wi-Fi networks. Use a VPN. Update your apps and OS before leaving. Also, change your passwords before traveling and again upon return.

Select the most secure settings on your laptop, smartphone, and tablet. Turn off auto Wi-Fi connect on your device. Turn off your Bluetooth unless you need to use it.

Be cautious when providing personal information, whether virtually or in person. When consuming inside the hotel, be cautious of frauds and scams. If something smells fishy, or when in doubt, check with the front desk or hotel administration.

Avoid logging in to any online accounts that require or store sensitive information. When surfing online, make sure the URL of the website you’re visiting starts with HTTPS. The S stands for secure, and data is encrypted.

(Need more information on emergency evacuations? Check out our free QUICKSTART Guide.)

Study the building.

It takes no longer than five or ten minutes to scout the most important areas of almost any hotel and gather critical intel. It can be a life saver, depending on the situation.

Hotel safety

Most hotels have a printed floor plan in every room. Regulation varies, but it’s usually located at the door or entrance and easily visible. I study the floor plan and take a picture of it to keep on my smartphone right after checking in, and then proceed to a quick walk to check the entire floor myself.

At a minimum, take note of exits. The ones signaled for an emergency, but also the ones used by the staff, and any other that might be used in case of necessity (including the windows). Large hotels have lots of staff rooms on every floor. It’s harder to get lost or confused if you know where those rooms and exits are in advance.

I often think about how I’d escape the room and the building in case of fire or a terrorist attack. Some might call me paranoid, but this mental visualization might help me gain a few seconds during an emergency or avoid panic and brain freezing in critical moments.

I also take a quick walk around the lobby, the bar, the restaurant, and the garages. It only takes a few minutes, but a lot of information can be gathered from these that could help save time and trouble in case something happens.

Study the surroundings.

It’s all fine and good to research the surroundings of the hotel for scenery, attractions, and facilities as most tourists do. But don’t forget about safety. Be aware of the dangers by performing previous research on the surroundings of your hotel (or other “staying place”).

Hotel safety

This doesn’t have to be anything too detailed. Do some research on statistics for crime and other kinds of social unrest. Look for information on drug trafficking and consumption hotspots in the area you’re staying. Ask locals about the best and worse times to go out, places to avoid, and so on.

Also, take a bird’s eye view of the main avenues and other landmarks. It’s useful to know about train and metro stations, the closest police and fire stations, embassies and foreign representations, and mass gathering places like stadiums and others.

Know where your car is.

Some hotels have outdoor parking. Others have indoors. Some are auto-parking, and others have valet service. I like to know where my car is parked, and this information should be provided by the staff.

If not, I go check it out after checking in. At the very least, I look up the garage floor and where the key is deposited. Also, I ask the staff to keep me updated if the car has been moved and the reason for it (that’s security consciousness).

But be discreet: try not to sound like a paranoid prepper or crazy tin-foil hatter. Just say something silly or innocent as an excuse as to why you’re keeping track of where your car is. You know, like you will have to put something back in it once mail gets in. Or it belongs to a crazy paranoid cousin or something.

Keep OPSEC when traveling.

Don’t post on social media. At the very least, avoid posting about specifics. If you can’t avoid it, leave that for after you check out and take off. Never, ever, post your room number, not even the floor number. Heck, don’t flaunt your hotel.

Don’t show your valuables in photos. I’ve been told countless stories of couples getting attacked in the street after leaving the hotel for dinner or a city walk. It’s clear from the footage and the victims’ accounts that the thugs knew what they had of value on them prior to the attack.

There are criminals and gangs specialized in monitoring social media near hotels and tourist attractions. Not just that: even the staff can be involved in scams. Information is power. If you provide criminals with information, you’re helping them. Keep OPSEC when traveling.

Keep the door locked.

Different hotels have different door latching systems. Some are electronic, using card keys, biometrics, sensors, whatever. Others use regular keys. It doesn’t matter: never rely 100% on the system, whichever that may be.

Always ensure the door is shut, latched, and locked whether you’re in or out of the room. It doesn’t matter if it’s just a quick trip to the ice machine right down the hall: criminals only need a few seconds to take stuff from unattended rooms if the door is open.

Keep the window or balcony door locked.

Always check before leaving the room, even for short periods. Oftentimes, the crooks and gangs acting in these places have inside information or are former employees themselves.

They might know the place inside out, the staff routines and times, and the habits of typical occupants. They will detect and take advantage of any weakness or slip to act. If they perceive attention, awareness, and care on the part of the traveler, they’ll move elsewhere.

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Room safety

If staying in a hotel located in a suspect or dangerous area, take a doorstop and use it when inside the room. Keep the blinds closed, and leave the “do not disturb” card on the door at all times. You may keep the TV on while going out to give the impression that there’s someone in the room. Security experts say these measures work.

Hotel safety

Never, ever carry the key or card in the complimentary hotel envelope. This usually contains the room number, and in case both get lost together, whoever finds it can enter the hotel and your room. It may sound obvious, but I’ve been shown ample evidence it’s not for a great number of travelers and tourists.

Hotel room safes: to use, or not?

It’s quite a controversial issue, really. Some experts told me they should be used, while others provided some arguments against it. The majority of hotel room safes are actually quite easy to break into. It’s a fact.

I admit to using them on occasion, based on my own assessment of the conditions and other factors. It can be better than trying to hide it inside bags or under the mattress, some of the most obvious places ever, according to the experts I consulted with.

I’ve also used all sorts of tactics to conceal passports, cash, ID, and other valuable stuff hidden in the room while traveling. One is to put inside a zipper-lock bag and put in the toilet tank or taped to the shower curtain upper corner (or some other place). These are just ideas. You can look for places to hide important stuff. Use your creativity to take advantage of the room’s features.

Most hotels offer a central safe for valuables. This can be a good and safe option. Depending on the hotel policy, it can be insured. Either way, it tends to be safer than room options.

You can’t afford to be clueless about hotel safety.

These are just some tips and advice to improve safety while staying in and around hotels. There are others, as the quantity and variety of scams that can be perpetrated against tourists are endless.

The main takeaway is to keep the importance of safety and awareness always in mind when traveling. Most people tend to think that hotels, especially large and upscale ones, are inherently safe.

They might be, for the most part. But predators and danger exist everywhere, and it’s our duty to make their life as hard as possible. There are other risks as well, and there’s always a lot we can do to prepare and mitigate those.

Do you have any hotel safety tips we didn’t mention here? Any experiences from which you learned? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

About Fabian

Fabian Ommar is a 50-year-old middle-class worker living in São Paulo, Brazil. Far from being the super-tactical or highly trained military survivor type, he is the average joe who since his youth has been involved with self-reliance and outdoor activities and the practical side of balancing life between a big city and rural/wilderness settings. Since the 2008 world economic crisis, he has been training and helping others in his area to become better prepared for the “constant, slow-burning SHTF” of living in a 3rd world country.

Fabian’s ebook, Street Survivalism: A Practical Training Guide To Life In The City , is a practical training method for common city dwellers based on the lifestyle of the homeless (real-life survivors) to be more psychologically, mentally, and physically prepared to deal with the harsh reality of the streets during normal or difficult times. He’s also the author of The Ultimate Survival Gear Handbook.

You can follow Fabian on Instagram @stoicsurvivor

The Essential Guide to Hotel Safety While Traveling This Summer
Fabian Ommar

Fabian Ommar

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  • Many years ago I was traveling in the DC area for a business conference. When I went to leave my room in the morning, I noticed that the door had closed but I didn’t hear the usual “click” of the lock in place. Upon investigation, I found a heavy paper coaster jammed into the lock. With that in place, it was very easy to open the door to my room without the key. Anyone could have entered while I was gone and stolen whatever they wished. I removed the coaster and reported it to management, and kept my stuff simply for noticing one small detail. A healthy paranoia can be just that!

    And then there was the guy on his bike, who rode past me several times on the street looking me over. I met and held his gaze. He rode elsewhere. Again, simple situation awareness saves an awful problem later.

  • If there is an emergency and you are on an upper floor, the elevator(s) may not work. Know where the exit stairs are. With many exit stairs, you can enter without restriction, but when you are inside the stairway, the stairway door to each floor may be locked so you are unable to go back into a hallway. You will have to continue to the bottom of the stairway and can exit there.
    Know where the fire alarm pull stations are. They should be within 5 feet of the entrance to an exit.
    If the electricity go off, can you find you way to an exit? Carry you flashlight!

  • This topic is much wider than just hotels. I have personally encountered multiple situations where either there was no lock on the doors or not even a latch (let alone a lock) on compartments for one’s personal belongings.

    Friends of mine have sadly had to deal with the no-locks-on-doors problem in both assisted living facilities (ALF) and nursing homes. Both are notorious for personal belongings being stolen frequently until their families learn not to provide them with items that dishonest employees would like to steal.

    I have personally had to deal with hospital-mandated rehab facilities with no locks on resident doors and had some of my clothing deliberately destroyed Whether it was a racial thing or just plain vandalism I’ll never know.

    I’ve had a go-around with a B&B (bed and Breakfast) that was scheduled to host an extensive family reunion where I am the de facto genealogist. I learned online from one reviewer to beware of their no-locks-on-resident-doors problem. When I phoned to confirm or deny that allegation, the owner told me her business did not use locks on resident doors, all her employees were honest, and asked why I inquired. When I explained that I had clothes destroyed in another facility with no door locks, she said then that I might be expecting some similar at her business and therefore I was not welcome to stay there. That was one hardcore attitude that did not recognize the long standing saying in rural America that “good fences make good neighbors.”

    Another long-standing institution with a hard-core resistance to reason is the nationwide VA medical system which refuses to allow even latches (let along locks) to protect patient clothes or personal possessions. In contrast to every civilian hospital I’ve experienced that graciously use locks for patient personal possessions even for day-only outpatient procedures, both the VA hospitals and their day-only out-patient facilities insist on remaining lockless. My most recent day-surgery encounter (in the nation’s 2nd largest such facility) involved someone out of my sight literally changing the combination on my combination lockable attache case that had my glasses, prescriptions, and other personal items inside. While fortunately nothing was missing, the message I got was that the VA insists on the ability to ransack through my stuff — whether to search for contraband or something worth stealing — and there’s zero recourse for me.

    There are probably other such institutions that have similar and well-established outrages in place — well beyond just hotels.

    –Lewis

    • I really appreciate you sharing this. When I lived in apartments, more than one landlord/staff would come in without notice. I had things missing. I finally bought a fire proof locking file cabinet to use to store my more valuable possessions. That helped. My in laws were living in an assisted community. When they passed we had to go through their belongings. The important papers and jewelry were placed in the trunk of their vehicle and we always took the keys with us when we had to go out. It is disgusting that the VA, etc offers people zero ways to protect their belongings. I hope someone comes up with an idea that punishes (without killing) the losers who do this sort of thing.

  • Security on the street also includes knowing where you are, how to return to your lodging, and how to restore contact with your tour group. Your cell phone camera is essential. Photograph the hotel front, street signs (corner of Thirty-Fourth and Vine), and both the front and back of the tour bus. When you eventually end up lost or disoriented, these photos will help you get the assistance you need.

  • If you call for a cab, keep in mind that when the request goes out on the radio any cab driver in the vicinity may take the call and not notify the dispatcher even though another cab driver may have officially accepted the job. This happened to me and the driver took me through a deserted, wooded area past an abandoned cement factory. The driver kept looking at me in his rear view mirror. I was terrified so I called my son’s voice-mail and gave him the cab company name, the cab number and the cab driver’s name and told him if I wasn’t back at the hotel in 10 minutes to call the police. I also told him that we had just passed an old cement factory. That did the trick! I now do that every time I get into a cab.

  • Great article thank you. I would add that there is a device on Amazon “Addalock” that you can put on the door when you are actually in the room. I would also say really trust your intuition especially if it’s an Air bnb or smaller accommodation. If you get there and just get an inexplicable bad feeling listen to it and take action .

  • Bring a security camera (or 2) for your room.
    Don’t use Airbnb if you can avoid it it.
    Bring your firearm and carry it.
    Don’t be friendly to strangers who approach you, be wary.
    Look those strangers in the eye and in your mind say “One wrong step and I’ll take you down” with confidence.
    If someone acts like you are more attractive than normal, shut that down immediately.
    Befriend the staff and ask how their day is going. Sometimes they help the friendly people. Plus, why not be nice to them instead of rude or disinterested?

  • Make sure your door closes! We stayed in a nice hotel near Cape Canaveral a few weeks ago. The family and I decided to go to dinner. We left, my wife taking the aft position.

    She let the door close behind her. I was walking down the hall ahead of my kids and heard the door close, but it didn’t sound right. I asked, “Did the door close?” My wife said that she thought it did, and turned back to check.

    Sure enough it hadn’t closed all the way. It took a touch of effort, but it closed and locked with no problem with a pull. I mentioned it at the desk as we left. The manager said, “It’s the climate. Some doors need adjustment. I’ll put yours in the log.”

  • I try not to get a room beyond third floor. If fire alarm goes off (and it’s happened to me twice: one real fire and one false alarm), you don’t want to have to walk down 15 flights of stairs, especially if you have kids or elderly.

    Also, one time I checked into a resort. They gave me the room key. Upon entering “my” room, I saw clothes and personal items. I also heard someone in the shower. Yeah, mistakes happen.

  • When checking into a hotel with a friend or relative on a separate line for a separate room- never speak out loud to tell the other person what your floor n room number is. It could alert actors

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