Hotel Safety For Women: Being Safe In Your Room When You Travel Solo

The last thing you want to think about while traveling the world on your own is hotel or motel 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…

Hotel safety is better in upmarket hotels
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 @WOTR/Anne Sterck.

PERSONAL HOTEL SAFETY TIPS FOR WOMEN AND HOW TO STAY SAFE IN A HOTEL ROOM ALONE

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 so that how to keep your hotel room safe is less of a worry.

It doesn’t matter. These basic hotel safety precautions will work everywhere. What follows are some tips for staying in a hotel alone, and how to make sure your hotel room is safe:

  • 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. In developing countries, fire engines won’t get much higher than the first (European) or second floor.
  • 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. And once I’m IN the room, I look at the fire escape plan on the back of the door (better yet, snap a picture with your phone).
  • First thing to do for staying safe in a hotel: 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. This may seem obvious, but figuring out how to be safe in a hotel room often DOES require the obvious!
  • 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.
  • Check for peepholes if you’re staying in a particularly downmarket place – it could happen, especially if you’re traveling long term. When I was staying alone in a hotel – well, actually, it was more of a brothel – in Malawi (it was the only room available in the entire town and I was lucky to get it), I spent most of it barricaded behind my door. I simply didn’t feel safe wandering down the halls, for obvious reasons (drunk customers?) 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.
  • Pull your drapes when you leave the room. If anyone looks up, they won’t see an empty room.
  • 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.

HOW TO KNOW IF A HOTEL IS SAFE

If you are going to a hotel alone, knowing if a hotel is safe before even booking it is one way to protect yourself. 

  • Check out the neighborhood. Is it well lit? Well served by public transport? I recently stayed in a Paris hotel that was perfect – during the daytime. The area was full of office buildings, but at night, they were empty and the area was dark and desolate.
  • Read the reviews. If there’s something amiss, you’ll usually spot it in the review – people sleeping in the doorway at night, lights that don’t work, an unattended lobby…

(Speaking of “safe”, are hotel room safes reliable? While this is a slightly different topic, it’s still all about keeping you, and your belongings safe….so keep reading below on how to secure valuables in a hotel room.)

How to protect yourself in a hotel room: FAQs

Here are a few common questions that are often asked about hotel room safety:

What is the safest floor in a hotel?

Floors 2 to 5 are best. The ground floor leaves you within reach of thieves who might try to break in, and upper floors put you beyond the reach of many fire engine ladders. The higher up you are, the harder it will be to escape if an emergency arises.

What is the safest room in a hotel?

In addition to being on one of the safer floors, try to get something as close to the fire exit as possible (NOT the elevator, which is noisy, with a lot of traffic, and in case of fire elevators are the first things to shut down). Once you check in, count the paces and feel the wall to the nearest emergency exit. If there is an emergency, this will be one less thing to think about.

Why should you put a towel under your hotel door?

Some recent articles have implied that putting a towel in the crack of your hotel door is a way to increase security. I can’t see why and they may be only clickbait. The only reason I can think of for doing this is to help block out noise and light – a convenient tip, but nothing to do with your safety in a hotel room. I will include an exception, however. If you’re in a developing country or a private home and the door has a manual old-fashioned key, there is a possibility a thief might be able to slip a newspaper under your door, jiggle the key, and pull it out under the crack once it falls. But the chances of this are remote: First, you wouldn’t leave your key in the lock, right? And second, a towel can easily be pushed in from the outside. So, unless I’m missing something…

HOTEL ROOM SECURITY DEVICES: DON’T USE THE HOTEL SAFE – DO THIS INSTEAD!

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, if you are staying in a hotel by yourself, awareness of dangers and taking action to keep them at bay is, at least to me, a sign of independence.

Applying these hotel room safety tips will only increase your confidence in your travels.

Keeping your valuables safe in your hotel room

In addition to using the above safety tips for staying in a hotel, keeping valuables safe in hotels is a concern for most of us travelers. Because you DO leave things in your room, right? We all do. So, how do you make your hotel room safe?

We’ve all heard about the hotel security issues, those where valuables go missing from inside a locked room or even from a hotel safe.  

You might have even been one of the unlucky ones to have your stuff stolen and so now you’re on the hunt for some hotel room security devices to keep your stuff safe and secure while you’re traveling, whether you go carryon only or tote along a steamer trunk.

There are some great hotel room security gadgets on the market.  

Some of the best hotel room safety devices include a hotel safe lock, a portable safe box, a portable travel door lock or portable hotel door alarm.  Whilst no single device is a 100% guarantee against theft, using at least one of these travel safety gadgets will go a long way to protecting your valuables.

Are hotel safes safe?

How secure are hotel room safes? They’re there for our safety and convenience – most of us won’t want to drag our paraphernalia around all day, so we stash our laptops and passports and tickets in a safe place.

We put things in a…

…hotel room safe

How many times have we been told this? Even I’ve recommended you use the safe in your hotel room.

But are hotel safes really secure?

Actually – no!

  • Safes can be carried away if they’re not bolted to the ground.
  • Someone in management or staff either has a key or the hotel safe master code.
  • An in-room safe can be broken into much more easily than you think.

So then why do hotels have safes if they don’t guarantee safety!?

At best, hotel room safes are dissuasive. Since most thefts are opportunistic, thieves often won’t take the time, however brief, to break into a locked safe, so there’s that.

Still… this video will show you just how easy it is for a determined robber to lift your (supposedly well-guarded) belongings: Who Can Get Into Your Hotel Safe?

But there’s no need to be concerned: there are some great travel safety items available to show you how to keep belongings safe in a hotel room while you’re out and about and seeing the sights.

DIFFERENT TYPES OF HOTEL ROOM SECURITY DEVICES

So how DO you keep your things safe in your hotel room?

I’ve compiled a range of clever hotel room safety devices which allow you to worry less about what you left in your room and enjoy your surroundings a little more. What is the best hotel security device? Let’s take a look at some of the options.

1. Portable travel locks

Every traveller should at the very least carry a portable travellers security lock. This is basically a long piece of heavy-duty wire which you use to secure something to a permanent fixture in your room – for example a radiator or water pipe.  Portable travel locks for hotel rooms are also useful elsewhere, for example while waiting endlessly at a bus station or securing your bag to a cafe table while you work away. 

Keep reading below to check out some of the best travel locks currently available.

2. Portable safe box

Ever wonder where to hide valuables in a hotel room? A portable travel safe is a safe container that you can take with you and use to store all your valuable documents. Generally travel safes are built like a bag: just put your valuables inside, lock it up and secure it to something solid in your room.

Having a personal travel safe makes it unnecessary to use hotel safes, which aren’t reliable enough. 

Keep reading below to check out some of the best travel safes for hotel rooms currently available.

3. Hotel safe lock

What if you don’t want to take a portable hotel safe with you? Well, you can still use the in room safe – just bring along a travel safe lock.  There are several different types of room safe locks and they all provide an added layer of security by creating a barrier that needs to be unlocked before anyone can get to the safe itself.  This prevents someone with a master key from accessing your valuables.

Of course a hotel safe lock doesn’t prevent someone from running off with the entire safe, but it will deter the occasional dishonest staff member (and thankfully there are few!) from being tempted to use a master key and help themselves to your things.

Keep reading below to check out some of the best travel safe locks available on the market.

4. Portable travel door alarm

There are many door lock types. The best portable door alarm for traveling will prevent any unwanted intruders from getting into your room while you are in it.  While you must of course lock your door as well as you can, you can use the lock in conjunction with an alarm. It will set off a loud wailing sound should anyone have the temerity to try to open the door.

Even at the most basic level, a simple travel door wedge which just gets pushed under the door will help deter someone from entering your hotel room.

Keep reading below to check out some of the best travel door alarm options now available.

Pacsafe Travelsafe GII Portable Travel Safe

When it comes to travel safety devices, this travel safe by Pacsafe is one of the most popular item travelers use to keep their valuables secure in their rooms (I know, I have one). One of the best hotel security tips is to not rely on room safes and this is a great alternative.  Instead of a hotel room safe lock keeping box, this one is a reliable and safe bag. Just slip your important papers into the bag, fasten it to something solid, and lock it (get a sturdier lock than the one that comes with the safe, however). A highly motivated thief armed with a wire cutter won’t be deterred but most thieves are grab-and-run. If your papers are locked away and hard to access, they’ll quickly move on.

Click here to find out more about the Pacsafe Portable Travel Safe

While a travel safe is an excellent solution, it may not be perfect for you. If that’s the case, consider some of the products below:

OTHER SAFETY TRAVEL ITEMS

In addition to these safety and security items, there are several other possibilities.

You can carry your important things with you in a theft-proof bag (I have two of these), and your money and papers in a money belt or travel pouch or scarf.

And you can ask the front desk to keep things in their main hotel safety deposit box, which is usually much more secure than the one in your room: it is undoubtedly larger, and thieves won’t make it past the front desk as easily as into your empty room.

An important point is that while most hotels aren’t liable for things stolen from hotel room safes, they usually are liable for anything that disappears from the front desk safe. Ask the desk if you’re in doubt.

A FEW MORE HOTEL ROOM SECURITY PRECAUTIONS

Hotel room safety is particularly important to women who travel solo: being on your own means you have to be extra careful – no one else will do it for you.

When you check into a hotel, you may get the feeling that all is safe behind your locked door. And mostly, it is safe but there are exceptions, and you don’t want to be one of them.

Here are some additional safety tips for hotels that you should know about keeping your possessions safe (and a few more that bear repeating).

  • Avoid ground floor rooms: they’re so much easier to break into.
  • How to Secure Luggage in Hotel Room:Lock your luggage. It’s no guarantee but anything that slows down a thief helps. Thieves want to get in and out quickly, not fumble around with locks and cables. The Pacsafe cable will help keep nimble fingers out of your luggage.
  • Use a portable safe. If you don’t want to rely on the safes in hotel rooms, this is a good option. It’s not foolproof but a thief has to be equipped to break into it so it’ll discourage casual theft. Travelers who have used this recommend it highly (I’m considering buying one because I’m tired of lugging everything around with me all day.)
  • Don’t leave anything in full view – temptation is temptation. Anyone can walk off with your laptop while your room door is open during cleaning. And your everyday belongings may be worth someone else’s life savings.
  • If you’re in a hostel or group accommodation, you may have a locker. Use it. If there isn’t one, stash your papers in a money belt or scarf or pouch, as I mentioned above. And if you go for a shower, take your papers with you.
  • Make sure your windows are locked before you leave.  It’s easy to slip in and steal. Keeping windows locked (both while away and when you are there) is a simple example of how to stay safe at a hotel.
  • Leave a light or radio on when you leave the room. Anyone who listens at the door will think you’re either in the room or coming back soon.
  • If you do have expensive gadgets, don’t flash them around where other guests or hotel staff can see them.
  • And don’t leave expensive clothes out to dry or air. A fellow traveler left her high-tech Nike Air-Max trainers on the doorstep in South Africa – irresistible in a poor country. She spent the next few days trekking in her flip-flops.
  • Don’t bring valuables with you when you travel. Period. Even if you lock your valuables in your hotel, that is not a guarantee that they will be safe. If you have a laptop, cellphone and the like that you simply cannot afford to lost, bite the bullet, get a daypack and carry them around with you.

The first rule of the road is if you can’t afford to lose it, don’t take it with you.

But if you must take it with you, try to keep it safe.

— Originally published on 31 July 2011

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