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JC Lightcap, Travel-Safer.com | January 12, 2016
Travelers have multiple choices when it comes to choosing hotels overseas, and many base their final pick on the advertised star rating. After a lot of time on the road, I learned that hotel star ratings indicate more than just luxury. You may shy away from five-star hotels due to the price, but consider this: When you pay for more stars, you are paying for not just the luxury, but also more security, especially in less developed countries. A higher star rating means more security measures, luggage scanners, full body scanners, vehicle checkpoints at the entrance, plus more and better-equipped security staff. So while you might be expecting more of the finer touches, remember that you are also getting a safer experience.
That said, just choosing a nicer, more secure hotel is not the end of your responsibility to your own personal safety once you check in. Let’s say you chose a nice hotel and arrive after a long international flight filled with layovers, screaming babies, and potentially lost luggage. The hotel seems the obvious place to let your guard down and just relax the moment you walk in the door. The decisions you make within the first few moments of arriving, however, can prove to be the most important. For the world traveler, hotel life can be second nature, but even the savviest of globe trotters can slip up when facing jet lag and the strong desire to just clean up and take a nap.
Set up your own check-in routine and follow the ten rules below during your next hotel stay to make it a safer one.
1. The person at the front desk should not announce your room number as they hand you the room key. Eavesdroppers will know where you’ll be for the duration of your stay. Ask for a different room and request they not broadcast the room number if you feel someone in the lobby is overly interested.
2. Never stay on the first floor; it’s accessible by anyone on the street.
3. Conversely, avoid staying above the seventh floor in less developed countries. The hotel may be a skyscraper, but their fire department may not have a ladder that can reach past lucky number seven.
4. Most hotels overseas will request to make a copy of your passport when you check in. This is normal and allows local police can keep tabs on visitors; it also provides visitor data for the ministry of tourism. But make sure you get your passport back; do not let the hotel keep or hold on to the passport.
5. Explore the hotel when you arrive so that you know at least two ways to exit the building and where the exit stairs kick you out once you’re at street level. Exiting the building in an emergency can be disorienting, so knowing where to go once you hit the street is essential.
6. In the event of an emergency, the hotel bathroom provides more protection than other rooms due to the metal pipes, wiring, and additional wooden beams in the walls.
7. Do not respond to knocks at the door, especially if you’re not expecting anyone. Responding lets whoever is outside know that the room is occupied. If you’re overseas, it also indicates your nationality and potential value as a hostage.
8. Do not use the in-room breakfast ordering door tag option if you’re traveling alone. The breakfast menu you hang on the door tells anyone passing by how many people are in the room.
9. Some overseas hotels will provide you with a room key attached to a giant key fob, making it unwieldy to carry around town. Avoid the temptation to leave it at the front counter. It will typically hang on the wall and is a visible indicator of your absence for the day to anyone walking past. Remove the key from the keyring and hold onto it while exploring.
10. The room safe is not safe. Keeping valuables out of sight is typically protection enough against theft. While traveling with expensive jewelry is never recommended (since marks you as a target), I would consider investing in a lightweight, portable safe if you’re traveling with an item that is truly irreplaceable. Additionally, some hotels offer the use of the hotel safe, which is typically under camera surveillance, requires identification plus two keys to access, and covered by the hotel insurance in case of theft – much like a bank safety deposit box.
Choose the right hotel, create your own check-in procedure, and take responsibility for your personal safety while traveling, and you will ensure that no matter what the conditions are of your arrival, your first few moments at the hotel will set you up for a safer experience overall.
JC Lightcap is a travel safety consultant, author and serial traveler. He provides business travelers, study abroad students and families with the tools to focus on their travel goals, raise their awareness overseas and come home safely. JC has been quoted in the Washington Post, featured in the Liberty Project and is a member of the International Ecotourism Society. He currently lives with his well-traveled wife and two dogs in Denver, Colorado where he snowboards, camps and hikes 14ers.