Travel Safety Part III – At the Hotel (Motel, Holiday Inn…)

This is the third post of my travel safety series.  Read on for common sense tips on how to stay safe in your hotel so that you can get a good night’s sleep!

Over the years, I’ve stayed in all kinds of lodging.  Hotels, motels, hostels, guesthouses, B&Bs…some reputable, some not so reputable.  I don’t require much.  A clean bed.  A cleaner bathroom.  Enough plugs for my phone (and iPad, and laptop), hair dryer, and straightener.  And a working wifi connection.

I routinely hang the “Do Not Disturb” sign outside my locked door at night using the deadbolt – and latch or chain if there is one – before (safely) tucking myself in for the night.

Once upon a time I was on a business trip in Wichita, Kansas (long story).  We were put up in an average 3* hotel located near the office.  In the middle of the night someone started pounding on my door.  It sounded like a very angry man who kept shouting the name of a woman (not me).  He attempted to jiggle the handle several times and pushed his weight against the door.  My initial thought was “WTF? Is this really happening?” Once my brain started working again, I dialed the front desk to report the attempted break-in (intrusion?).  I don’t know what happened next, but the banging stopped and I was able to (finally) get to sleep.

rickshaw

Rickshaw ride in Old Delhi, India

Fast forward a few years later, and I had just arrived to my New Delhi hotel.  It was my 4th or 5th visit to India and easily my 3rd stay at a very nice 5* hotel. The staff knew me well since my visits were often 2-3 weeks long, and one in particular had taken a liking to me. He always offered to help me with my luggage upon arrival (usually around 3am).

On this trip, he began appearing at my door without notice to ask if I needed anything.  He also made several unsolicited phone calls to my room to inquire about my day and to offer to take me out on the weekend. Finally, I reminded him that I was a guest at his hotel and that all visits and phone calls needed to end immediately or I’d have to bring this up with the hotel manager. Thankfully, he respected my wishes, but it could have easily gone a different way.

As a solo female business traveler, specifically, I’ve since learned that there are additional precautions that I can take to avoid any unnecessary attention and keep myself safe at night.  However, these tips can be used by anyone – male or female – and will bring additional peace of mind during your stay at your home away from home.

1. Request a higher floor.  Ground floor rooms are easily accessible by other guests, staff, and visitors.  Guess where my room was in Wichita?

2.  Ask that your room be in a heavily trafficked part of the hotel and not isolated.  That way, if something happens, there will be enough people around in the event of an emergency.

3. Throw a rubber door stop in your bag.  Instead of using it to prop the door open, insert it from the inside of the room.  This helps to keep the door closed in the event someone is trying to force entry into your room.  The door stop doesn’t take up much room and it slows down a potential intruder possibly deterring them altogether.

Rubber Door Stops can slow down a potential intruder

4.  DO NOT give your room number to anyone (unless this person is someone you know and trust and you feel comfortable doing so).  If you have to meet someone, arrange to meet in the lobby or breakfast room.

5. Grab an extra business card at check in and carry it with you at all times. If you need to duck into a taxi and cannot communicate in the native language, you can quickly share the hotel information and be on your way.

6. Don’t open the door just because the person on the other side claims that they’re part of the hotel management, room service, etc.  If you didn’t call for service, and feel uneasy about the situation, call down to the front desk and confirm.

7. Don’t let others know that you’re not in your room.  Avoid using the “Please Make Up Room” (or whatever the variant is) when you leave.  This is a clear marker that you’ve left your room and an open invitation to anyone who’s ready and willing.

Part IV will be the last installment of my travel safety series. In this post, I’ll discuss tips for how to stay safe in emergency situations. Things can, and will, go wrong.  The key is being prepared so you know what to do when it does.

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Travel Safety Part II – Around Town

Last week, I shared tips about how to tailor your dress to minimize your risk of becoming an unsuspecting target.  This week, I’ll go over ways to keep yourself safe while you’re out and about playing tourist.   1. Reading … Continue reading

Travel Safety, Part I – Casual Dress

Now that I’ve surely peaked your interest with my introductory post, it’s time to kick off this 4-part series on travel safety!

These tips are suited for travelers of any age to any destination.  My goal is that as you increase your situational awareness, you will be reduce your risk of becoming a target for thieves and pickpockets.  In turn, you will be able to relax more and really enjoy that hard-earned vacation!

This post will focus on how to keep safe by making subtle adjustments to your dress.  Let’s get started!

  1. For my male readers – where you typically stash your wallet? If you answered your back pocket, you’re not alone.  Don’t give pickpockets a chance to nab your wallet by “bumping” into you in the middle of a crowd (or crowded bus, train, etc.).  Put your wallet in your front pocket instead.  Also, try not to pat at it too often.  That’s a dead giveaway to anyone who might be watching that there’s something valuable in those pockets.
  2. For ladies – I always recommend that women opt for a cross-body bag when playing tourist. Shoulder bags can be easily knocked off and it’ll be gone before you know it.  The cross-body deters thieves because they would have to cut the strap (which you would notice).
  3. Keep a low profile and try not to draw any unnecessary attention to yourself.  Avoid wearing expensive (or expensive-looking) jewelry. Doing so gives an impression you may have something to offer, whether you intend to or not.
  4. If you’re in a foreign location, do your best to blend in.  Europeans, for example, don’t often go out wearing basketball shorts, t-shirts, and athletic shoes.  This screams American.  It also screams that you’re a tourist and you might have money.  Thieves prey on this stuff.  Don’t be the prey.
  5. Taking #4 one step further, if you are traveling to a location where more modest dress is the norm (as in many parts of the Middle East), do your best to not draw unnecessary attention to yourself by avoiding clothing that is too tight or revealing.
  6. Leave the fanny pack at home (and if you still have one, promptly throw it away!).  One slit with a knife and all of your valuables are now in someone else’s hands. While I’m on the subject of things holding valuables, I also detest those over the neck pouches that is meant to hold your travel documents.  Practical?  Yes.  But thieves will see the cord and know right away you’re a tourist.  Who has money and something to steal.  Don’t give them that luxury.

 

Check back next Friday for Part II where I’ll go over tips to keep you safe when you’re out and about.

And Now a Word About Travel Safety

I remember my first trip to Afghanistan in October 2010.

At the time, I was supporting a large-scale renovation project in Mazar-e-Sharif.  The building that was under renovation was an old hotel that had fallen into disrepair over the years.  The hotel was best remembered among the locals for its pool

AFG pic

Mazar-e-Sharif

that was used by the local kids during the summer months. The U.S. Government leased the land from the Afghans with plans to turn the building into a consulate (they later abandoned this idea some $80M later...).

Mazar is the 4th largest Afghan city, and it is located in the north of the country near the Uzbek, Tajik, and Kyrgyz borders.  It was the first city “to fall” once the U.S. began their military efforts after 9/11 with the Taliban being all but driven out of the city.  This didn’t mean that the city was safe; however, relatively speaking, it felt safer than Kabul or many of the southern cities like Kandahar.  As I wrote in an email dated 10 October 2010:

Mazar is a fairly liberal and tolerant city in a fairly liberal and tolerant province of Afghanistan.  The local government here is not oppressive, allows female education, injects tons of money into the local community to rebuild and beautify all that was wrecked by the Taliban, and yet the women continue to cover themselves with the burqua.  There is no mandate to be fully covered here, in fact, I’ve seen lots of women on the streets without the burqua.  Moreover, it seems like women choose to cover themselves.  

mazar st

Driving past an ad hoc street market, Mazar, October 2010

Before I could book my flight to Mazar (via Kabul), my company required me to participate in an all-day international travel safety and awareness course which was geared towards travelers to high-risk areas.  Even though I considered myself an experienced traveler and was comfortable traveling on my own, I will be the first to admit I often took my own safety for granted.  I never really considered the vulnerability of being a female traveler.

Alone.
In a foreign country.

I knew enough to lock my doors at night, keep track of my personal effects (except that one time when my wallet was stolen at night while changing trains in Poland), and I avoided being out alone after dark (except that time – or was it more than once? –  in Berlin when I walked home from Potsdamer Platz to my apartment in Mitte after midnight).  All very common-sense things.  Who knew that small changes in my travel behavior would keep me safer – and alive – if the security situation changed?

Most leisure travelers are not traveling to regions of the world where wearing body armor is required (unless you’re into that kind of thing).

Security detail outside my vehicle. Body armor and scarf were required outside the compound.

Security detail outside my vehicle. Body armor and scarf were required outside the compound.

However, it is important that all travelers today understand (and accept) that “safe” is a very relative term; threats exist even in places where they didn’t before.  A travel consultant who only focuses on packaging the right travel services together for clients –without any emphasis on travel safety – has missed the mark entirely.

So where does Curious Tourist differ?

I ensure that my clients have the right products in place in the event of an emergency (e.g. travel insurance) prior to departure. Plans and options vary by destination and I help clients choose the one that fits their particular situation without fluff and riders they don’t need.  I also provide clients with a pre-departure checklist which includes a section on general travel safety tips that are appropriate whether visiting Seattle or Machu Picchu.

This post is my introduction to a 4-part series on travel safety where I will discuss useful safety tips to help you become a smarter – and safer – traveler.  They are compiled from a combination of what was learned during that 8-hour travel safety class and from my many years bouncing around the world.

Vacations are meant to be relaxing and fun, but it is not so fun when the pickpocket runs off with your wallet or when you are harassed because your clothes are not modest enough to fit in with the local style.

If you have any safety tips or personal stories you would like me to share as part of this series, send them to me at melissa@thecurioustourist.com so I can include it!