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What Solo Travelers Can Do About Hotel Safety
The last thing a woman wants to think about while traveling the world on her own is hotel safety. Once you're in your room, you should be able to relax. And you usually can.
Traveling solo just means adding that one extra drop of caution.
Your hotel safety precautions will depend on the type of hotel you're visiting.
If you're in a five-star hotel, with room phones, smoke detectors and 24-hour guards, your security worries will be a lot less than if you're staying in a hostel or inexpensive guesthouse.
In Dar-es-Salaam I stayed in a six-floor guesthouse and the owners locked it down completely at night to prevent theft. In a fire, we would have burned like bacon - every window was grated, every door locked.
So sometimes, to tip the balance, I stay in places like this...
Staying at an upmarket palace will be far safer than a rickety guest house in some parts of the world but basic safety precautions are essential wherever you go. Photo Anne Sterck.
Personal Hotel Safety Tips for Women
Younger (or younger at heart) travelers often prefer cheap hostel beds because they're less expensive and more sociable than a hotel.
Other travelers prefer the relative luxury of a comfortable hotel room with privacy and amenities, an Airbnb or a housesit.
It doesn't matter: these basic hotel safety precautions will work everywhere:
- Don't publicize your room number. You don't want the world to know you're on your own, and that you're in Room 1210. That also means keeping your voice down if you're discussing your whereabouts on your cellphone.
- Try to get a room far from the street - facing a courtyard is better, especially if you're on a low floor.
- A low floor is good - it's easier to escape if there's an emergency or fire.
- Look for the fire exits. The first thing I do when I check in is to count the steps from my room to the nearest fire exit, and memorize the left and right turns. In an emergency, I probably wouldn't be thinking straight.
- First thing in, check out your room - and that means bathroom, behind the curtain, inside any closets and behind doors. Leave the room door open - if you find anything you'll want to make a run for it. Just prop it open with a chair or your bag.
- Make sure your door lock works, and lock it from the inside. If there's an old-fashioned key, leave it in the lock when you sleep, but twist it sideways so no one can push it out and slip it back under the door.
- If for some reason the door won't lock, put an item - like a chair - against it and balance something noisy on it. If someone tries to get in, you'll wake up. A small rubber doorstop also comes in handy to keep people out.
- Lock your windows at night if you're near the street or if there is a balcony. If you think you'll be too hot with the window closed or if there's no fan, make sure you're above the second floor (but preferably no higher than the fourth or fifth in case of fire) so you can sleep with your windows open.
- Never open your door unless you know the person behind it. Once a stranger is in, it's difficult to empty your room again.
- Avoid being seen entering and leaving your hotel alone. Wait for a group and just walk out with them. No one will know you don't belong.
- Always sleep with a flashlight next to your bed. I keep mine in my shoe. It's the first thing my foot will touch if I have to get up in the middle of the night.
- If you're staying in a particularly downmarket place - it could happen, especially if you're traveling long term - check for peepholes. I stayed for a week in a brothel in Malawi (it was the only room available in the entire town and I was lucky to get it) and I spent most of it barricaded behind my door. I simply didn't feel safe wandering down the halls, for obvious reasons, and took showers early in the afternoon, when most clients had either gone or not come in yet. You probably won't be in this situation but it's always good to know what can happen.
- If you're going out, leave a little note with your plan or route on the night table or desk. If something should happen, it might provide precious clues about where you were headed.
- When you leave your hotel, carry the hotel's card or address with you. In Zanzibar's Stone Town, most guest houses give you a card with a map - the town is built like a labyrinth and you could wander all night trying to find your way back.
- Above all, trust your instincts. If the guesthouse or hotel doesn't 'feel right', and this especially happens towards the lower end of the scale, just leave. Plenty of others are vying for your business.
Your personal safety comes first - but keeping your belongings safe in a hotel room is a good idea too.
And remember, none of this is about being a victim or being so scared you won't leave the hotel.
On the contrary, awareness of dangers and taking action to keep them at bay is, at least to me, a sign of independence.