The last thing you want to consider while traveling the world on your own is motel or 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 lunch 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 completely at night to prevent theft. We could have burned like bacon in a fire – 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. Still, 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.
However, where you stay doesn’t matter. These basic hotel safety precautions will work everywhere. What follows are some hotel safety hacks for staying in a hotel alone, even if it’s your first time, 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 in Room 1210. That also means keeping your voice down if you’re discussing your whereabouts on your cell phone. Even the most safe hotel won’t remain, so if anyone can find you in your room.
- 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 in case of a hotel fire. 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. 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?). I 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
One of the top tips for finding out if it is safe to stay in a hotel alone as a woman comes before even booking the hotel. If you are going to a hotel alone you need to know these main points.
- 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 –. You can find out potential hotel dangers like 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?
In my opinion, floors 2 to 5 are the 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. Elevators are 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 explained how to secure hotel room door with a towel. They have also implied that putting a towel in the crack of your hotel door is a way to increase security.
The only reason I can think of for doing this related to your safety in a hotel room is to keep out deadly fumes in the event of a fire.
I will include an exception, however. If you’re in a remote 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. This is becoming less of an issue as even the cheapest hotels upgrade their locks in the face of poor reviews and customer complaints.
Even with an old-fashioned lock, this would be rare: First, you wouldn’t leave your key in the lock, right? And second, a towel can easily be pushed back into the room 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.
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 hotel security issues, where valuables go missing from inside a locked room or a hotel safe.
You might have even been one of the unlucky ones to have your stuff stolen, 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 carry on 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 a 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 security in hotels. 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.
- In-room safes 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 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 your 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 traveler should at the very least carry a portable travelers 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. You can also use them 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 available travel safes for hotel rooms.
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? 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 types of hotel door safety locks. This portable door alarm will significantly up your safety in hotel rooms and prevent unwanted intruders from entering 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 available travel door alarm options.
Recommended travel and hotel room safety devices
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:
When it comes to travel safety devices, this Pacsafe Travelsafe GII Portable Travel Safe is one of the most popular items 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.
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 THREE, like your money and papers. Another tip outside of how to keep your hotel room safe is to carry your cash in a money belt, travel pouch, or travel scarf with pockets.
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 also 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 feel 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 about how to stay safe in a hotel alone that you should know. These include tips on keeping your possessions safe (and a few more that bear repeating).
- Avoid ground floor rooms: they’re so much easier to break into.
- The only way to secure luggage in a hotel room: is to lock your bags or use a cable to fasten them to something immobile, like a radiator. 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. This is a good option if you don’t want to rely on the safes in hotel rooms. It’s not foolproof, but a thief has to be equipped to break into it so it’ll discourage casual theft. I have one of these and use it for “medium” valuables – things I don’t want to lose but that aren’t trip-breakers. I carry my passport and cards and cash with me (that’s just my preference, not a solution for everyone), and I leave other papers, photocopies of my documents, important medication – anything else I’d rather not lose – in the portable safe.
- 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.
- You may have a locker if you’re in a hostel or group accommodation. Use it. If there isn’t one, stash your papers in a money belt, scarf, or pouch, as I mentioned above. And if you go for a shower, take your documents 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.
- Don’t flash expensive gadgets 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 developing 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 lose, bite the bullet, get a daypack and carry any valuables with you.
The first rule of the road and how to make your hotel room safe 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.
A final word: I don’t mean to instill fear into you with all these recommendations. Most trips will be perfectly safe and you won’t have to worry about safety. But if the situation DOES warrant some worry, then these tips will help you take steps to protect yourself and your belongings.
— Originally published on 31 July 2011