Many people are concerned about their safety when they travel. The good news is that violent crime in the United States has been on a downward trend for over 20 years. The national average has plummeted from 758 offenses per 100,000 people in 1991 to just 387 in 2012 (the last year with full reporting). Of course, that’s just the average. According to studies, the most common hotel crimes involve property: burglary and theft. Violent crimes like robbery and assault are much less common but can still happen. While it is impossible to prevent every crime (even in your own home), experts agree that some simple precautions can definitely help.
If, during your personal or business travels, you end up staying in a place where you feel you could use a little extra safety, here are some steps you can take to give yourself some added peace of mind:
Before You Travel
Room selection: Ground-floor rooms are much more likely to be burglarized than upper-floor rooms. If the hotel you are staying in has two or three floors, request a room on the highest floor possible. If the hotel is a high-rise, ask for a room on floors three, four, or five. This is more about fire safety than about crime: most fire truck ladders can’t reach above the fifth floor.
Need-to-know: Don’t use social media to broadcast where you are going or where you’ll be staying. For example, don’t post this on Facebook: “Just landed in Portland, checking in to the Hotel Monaco!” This is actually more about preventing crime at home, since a post like this lets everybody know that your house is probably empty.
Around the Hotel
Keep eyes open: You don’t have to be paranoid—just cautious. Be on the lookout for anyone showing unusual interest in what you are doing or anyone who just doesn’t seem to belong. If a stranger makes you feel uncomfortable, quietly notify a member of the hotel staff.
Other facilities: Pay attention to your room key and other belongings while you are using the pool, hot tub, exercise facility, breakfast room, or any other hotel amenity. If you’re concerned about being able to keep an eye on your room key, you can always have the front desk hold it for you while you’re swimming or working out.
In Your Room
Check your locks: When you enter your room, make sure the door latches securely behind you. (Some doors may require a tug on the inner handle.) Use all locking mechanisms provided: the latch or chain as well as the deadbolt. If your room has a pass-through door, make sure it is latched and locked. Double-check the locks on windows and balcony doors—especially if you are on the first or second floor. Also, it is never a good idea to prop open your door when leaving your room, even if it is just to run down the hall to grab some ice.
Draw those curtains: If you have a nice view from your room, great! Enjoy the scenery and take in the view. But when you’re ready to settle in for the night, draw your shades, curtains, or blinds. Don’t count on the height of an upper-floor room to give you privacy.
Answering the door: If anyone knocks on your door, always be sure to identify that person before opening up. If you’re not expecting anyone, don’t open the door. If the person claims to be a member of hotel staff, use the room phone to call the front desk and verify the person’s identity.
Be ready to leave: You shouldn’t have to feel “on edge” while you are in your room. But that doesn’t mean you can’t be prepared just in case. Keep your wallet, room key, and cell phone next to your bed so you can grab them in case of an emergency.
The right network: If you use the hotel Wi-Fi, make sure you are using the correct wireless network. Most hotel networks require a login and password and ask you to agree to their terms of service. It’s easy enough for a hacker to set up a confusingly similar network to lure you in, so if you’re not certain, call and ask the front desk.
Lock down your data: Use a VPN connection while you are online, or at least enable your laptop’s firewall and disable file sharing. If your laptop or device asks what type of connection you are using, make sure you identify it as “public.”
Limit your activity: Resist the urge to do your shopping or banking over an unprotected network. Save that stuff for later when you know your connection is secure. Your cellular network is a good option while traveling, since it’s more secure than a public Wi-Fi network.
While You Are Away
Don’t tempt sticky fingers: The best solution to avoid theft is to not leave anything valuable in your room. Take electronic devices with you. If you have to leave valuables in your room, invest in a theft-deterrent system. A slash-proof bag with a locking cable attached to a large piece of furniture can help you hold on to your stuff.
Recovery options: Whether you are traveling or not, consider protecting your laptop, tablet, and/or smart phone with a theft-deterrent system such as LoJack for laptops or GadgetTrak. This will help you recover your valuable electronics if someone walks away with them.
Keep it safe: Many hotels offer in-room safes, though some charge extra for their use. Another option is to leave valuables in the hotel’s main safe. Make sure to get a receipt for anything you store there.
Leaving the Hotel
Take your stuff: When you check out, be certain you take all of your belongings. According to studies, the items most frequently left behind in hotel rooms include cell phone chargers, clothes (hanging or in drawers), toiletries, car and house keys, and (oddly enough) glasses, dentures, and hearing aids.
Be parking-aware: Sometimes thieves and predators take advantage of dark parking lots or isolated underground garages to victimize hotel guests. If you’re uncomfortable walking to your car by yourself, you can always ask a hotel employee to accompany you. Or better yet—use the valet and have them bring your car to you.
If you end up the victim of a hotel crime, the first thing you should do is notify the hotel management. If the crime is serious enough, notify the local police. Once those important steps are out of the way, you might contact your insurance agent to determine whether you need to file a claim.
Concerns about hotel safety don’t need to spoil a vacation or business trip. If you follow the hotel safety tips above, you are much less likely to run into troubles.