20 Tips for a Safe Hotel Stay

20 Tips for a Safe Hotel Stay

With so many heightened travel alerts in effect, it seems like a good time to review some basic personal security precautions.  It’s very easy to think that once you’re at your hotel that you’re safe.  And you generally are.  However, it’s still wise to take precautions at your hotel — being proactive decreases the likelihood of becoming a victim.

I first wrote these hotel security tips nearly four years ago.  They are just as true today as they were then, and I have included a little updated information.

hotel key

Here are some easy, commonsense tips to protect yourself at your hotel:

  1. When checking in, make sure that the front desk does not say your room number aloud.  If they do, insist on a room change and remind the staff member not to announce the room number.   This practice seems to all but have been eliminated in reality, despite seeing the practice in movies, so it’s rare than you will have it happen.
  2. The new trend toward calling a guest by name has presented some security complications.  When used at check in, or in any public place, you run the risk of other people overhearing it.  Armed with a name, someone can use a house phone to call your room.  I’ve had this happen and have been the recipient of annoying, although not necessarily threatening, phone calls.  The hotel was quick to put a block on my phone, but it still left me feeling a little vulnerable.  It’s nice to feel personally welcome at a hotel, but never at the expense of personal security.  Decide where you weigh in on this practice.
  3. If you’re checking in as part of a larger group, be careful about your lobby or public conversations.  It’s easy to call out and ask a friend what room s/he is in.  And it’s then easy for someone to overhear that information and use it to your detriment.  Watch this kind of conversation outside of meeting rooms, too.  The last thing you need is to have it overheard what time everyone is meeting for dinner.  You have just let others know what time everyone will be out of their rooms.
  4. If I’m traveling alone, I always avoid a room on the ground level.  A higher floor means one less way to enter or leave a room surreptitiously.  When traveling with another person, I love that ground floor on the beach.
  5. If you’re traveling as part of a larger group, request room assignments near fellow travelers.  Make note of who is in which room just in case you need an emergency resource.
  6. When first getting to your hotel room, prop the door open with your luggage and check out the room to make sure no one is in there.  I have been sent to a room that was already occupied, and while they were out of the room at the time I opened the door, I wouldn’t have wanted the door slamming behind me while I tried to figure out what was going on.
  7. And speaking of occupied rooms, if your room has an “occupied” card hanging on the door, return to the front desk, or use a house phone to call the front desk, and ask for another room.   I have actually had a front desk clerk suggest that I go on in because they didn’t think it was really occupied.  Wrong!  It is not up to the guest to verify if someone is actually in the room, or if it is an error.
  8. Don’t hesitate to ask hotel security to escort you to your room, to the parking garage, or to any part of the hotel property.  It’s their job to make sure that guests are safe.
  9. Don’t get into an elevator or stairway with anyone who makes you feel uncomfortable.  If you’re already in the elevator and someone gets on, just get off on that floor.  Mumble an excuse if you feel you have to say something, although you should never feel like you need to say anything.
  10. When you’re in the room, use all locks, including the deadbolt.  Check the windows and sliding doors to the balcony also.
  11. Never open your room door without first verifying who is on the other side.  Use the peephole.  If no one is there, or you can’t get a good visual, ask the person to identify him or herself.  If it’s someone from the hotel staff, and you didn’t request anything, call the front desk to verify why the person is at your door.  In most cases, it is entirely benign, but always, always check.
  12. During a room service delivery, keep the room door ajar.  If there’s a flip latch, you can flip it over so the door doesn’t close all the way.  If there isn’t, try to engage the deadbolt so that it sticks out and won’t allow the door to shut all the way.  I’ve been please to notice that lately the delivery person is doing this as the enter the room.
  13. If you hear a commotion in the hall or a next door room, call the front desk to resolve it.  They can call the room or send up security to deal with it.  Don’t get personally involved — no matter how tempting.
  14. Know where the fire exits are located, and the evacuation route from your room to those exits.  Remember to look for the stairs, not the elevator.  The elevator will be inoperative in a fire, and in other emergencies it could be inoperative or so jammed packed with guests that you’ll need to take the stairs.
  15. Keep your room key in the same place.  ALL the time!  I’ve found the best place is on the nightstand next to the bed, but find what works for you.
  16. If you wear glasses, keep them nearby when you are sleeping.  If you need to evacuate, or leave the room in a hurry, you can easily grab them so you can see to get out the door.  You don’t want to waste precious time looking for them.
  17. When returning to your room, have your key at the ready so you don’t have to fumble around at your door.  Any time you’re fumbling you are vulnerable.
  18. Keep the folder with your room number on it separate from your key card.  That way, if you lose or misplace your key, the person finding it won’t have access to the key and the room number.  If you do lose or misplace a key, ask the front desk to completely re-key the room.  If you’re like me and have a tough time remembering your room, leave a note in cell phone or send yourself a text.  Or, keep the folder in a separate spot from the key.
  19. Leaving the television or radio on is a popular option for hotel guests.  This has become so commonplace, that I’m not convinced that it remains an effective deterrent.  I think it still has value in the evening hours, when someone might reasonably be in the room, but have my doubts about the daytime.  Someone staking out a room may very well call to see if someone is really inside.  If you do decide to leave something on, be sure it isn’t so loud that it disturbs your neighbors.
  20. Another option that has been used for years is leaving the “occupied” card out whenever you leave the room.  Again, I think this is not likely to be effective during the day, but will probably work at night.  I am constantly amazed at how many times I’ve been working in my room during the day and have had housekeeping knock and/or attempt to enter the room.  People just don’t believe the room is occupied any more.

Don’t let fear paralyze you from enjoying a travel experience.  This list might seem overwhelming, but start putting them into action and they’ll soon become routine.

It can be a cold, cruel world out there, but you don’t have to let it ruin your trip.  You can have happy, and safe, travels!

Photo credit:  SXC



Mary Jo Manzanares is a traveler, travel blogger, and podcaster. In addition to her blog, Traveling with MJ, she hosts the Where Else to Go podcast, and is the founder and the editor-in-chief of The Traveler’s Way, an online travel magazine. Her travel ethos is value luxury - luxury for real people - and her goal is to help travelers know when to splurge and when to save. Mary Jo has been a speaker at various industry events around the world. When she’s not traveling, Mary Jo likes lingering over a cup of coffee, wandering in a museum, sipping wine at a cafe, and sharing it all with friends and readers. Her most recent travels were to Stockholm, a Baltic cruise, and Universal Orlando Resort.

7 Responses to “20 Tips for a Safe Hotel Stay”

  1. March 23, 2010 at 11:45 am #

    Lots of useful suggestions… My favorite is the end, MJ, when you smartly remind people to enjoy their trips and not be ruled by fear. 🙂

    • March 24, 2010 at 4:10 am #


      Thanks Jen. I’m a big believer in using commonsense to make travel easier and more fun, and NOT to turn fear into a reason not to travel.

  2. May 15, 2010 at 9:22 pm #

    Thank you for sharing. Thumb up in stumble for this page.

  3. June 2, 2010 at 12:05 pm #

    Lot of paranoia evident in these comments. People are more likely to be attacked by someone they know at home than while traveling unless they go to a Middle Eastern country like Iran or Israel and try to take pictures.

    What is missed is that if there is a fire in any hotel in any country it makes a big difference in survival to be on one of the first few floors and not be dependent upon elevators or many flights of stairs. I have been in US hotels where the only way to get to the first floor was via an elevator and had there been a fire I would have gone up in smoke. In many cities even in the USA the extension ladders of the fire trucks only go up to the 8th floor so if you are trapped on a higher floor you options are to die of smoke inhalation or by jumping out a window.

    In the US and other countries there are clubs where the fire exits are blocked. I make a point of sitting near a usable fire exit at any club or restaurant. The older I get the slower I move and I want to be one of the “lucky” ones that make it out of a burning building.

    • June 2, 2010 at 12:11 pm #


      I don’t think there’s any paranoia in the comments at all, rather they are focused on using a little common sense when it comes to a safe hotel stay. And nothing in this list should be construed to be directed at terrorism either.

      Staying on a lower floor, in the event of a fire, is a concern that many people share. Most firefighters that I know will not stay above the 6th floor. However, since many people like a view from a higher floor and there’s not enough lower floors to accommodate everyone, using common sense while on a higher floor is important.

      People worry about hotel safety. I think taking some common sense precautions will keep people safe and eliminate a fear that gets in the way of people traveling.

  4. September 19, 2012 at 9:30 am #

    Having spent time as a hotel bartender, I’d like to offer another tip, especially for women traveling alone.

    If you’re getting a drink to take back to your room, get two drinks. That subtly communicates that there’s someone with you and may make you seem less vulnerable.

    Plus, it’ll save you a second trip to the lounge!


  1. ten links for today | Travel On The Dollar - May 13, 2010

    […] 8. 20 Tips for a Safe Hotel Stay […]

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