Hotels present specific security challenges that are best addressed with a few simple techniques.
The last thing you want to worry about when you’re on vacation or a business trip is hotel security. But failing to do so may put a damper — or worse — on an otherwise amazing time. While most top hotels and resorts have security programs in place to protect their guests, you still need to be vigilant about your personal security.
Most travelers tend to think of hotel rooms as home, but the harsh truth is that they can be targets of terrorism and crime. Fires are also a major concern, and you need to know how to protect yourself and your family in any of these situations. You could likely fill volumes with advanced hotel-safety tips (and even log into your USCCA Dashboard to read a great deal more about travel safety), but employing proper techniques will help keep you and your family safe and secure while you’re away from home.


Hotel safety starts long before you book a room, so do your homework. Look carefully at the safety and security situation in the country or city you’ll be visiting. Does it have a record of terrorist attacks?
Are tourists regular criminal targets? Are some areas and neighborhoods safer than others? These are all questions you need to ask and answer ahead of time.
Prior to traveling abroad, read the U.S. Department of State’s travel advisory and alerts for the countries you’ll be visiting. Review entry and exit requirements, visas, local laws, customs, medical-care facilities, road safety, and whatever else you can about each of your destinations.
When traveling internationally, write down contact details for the nearest U.S. Embassy or U.S. Consulate and carry those details with you in case of an emergency. Consider enrolling in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), which is the Bureau of Consular Affairs’ free service that allows you to enroll your trip with the nearest U.S. Embassy or U.S. Consulate.
Although most top hotel properties are in safe areas, you still need to check the surroundings before booking. Is it located in an upscale area or active business district? Is it safe? Is there a police station nearby? What kind of fire and EMS response times are you looking at?
Research the hotel’s own security measures prior to booking. What specific actions does it take to protect its guests?
Is the front desk manned 24/7? Does it restrict access to guest-room floors to guests only? Does it have video surveillance cameras in public areas and, if so, are they being monitored? Are there security guards on the premises? In areas where terrorism might be an issue, does the hotel restrict vehicular access? Are vehicles inspected before coming onto the property? Book elsewhere if the hotel can’t or won’t provide specific examples.
Sticking with a major hotel chain or highly rated hotel can help you avoid many issues, as it will generally have procedures in place to protect guests. It will also usually have security staff onsite. Staying in the most modern hotel should mean that you’re protected by equally modern safety features.


Check with your mobile service provider to be certain your cellphone will work throughout your trip. Save essential phone numbers on it ahead of time, such as the direct line to the hotel front desk, 911 and, when traveling abroad, the number of the nearest U.S. Embassy or U.S. Consulate and any relevant national emergency numbers.
Make two copies of all of your important documents, such as your driver’s license, passport, and debit or credit cards. Leave one set with a friend and take the other with you, stored separately from the originals. It is also essential to give a friend or family member your itinerary so he or she can track you down in case of an emergency.
Take only the valuables with you that you absolutely need. Hotel staff is in and out of guest rooms for a variety of reasons, but it’s not just hotel staff that you need to worry about. Doors are often left propped open by staff for convenience during housekeeping, allowing easy access to those rooms by any passersby.


When checking in at the front desk, don’t announce your name in such a way that surrounding persons can overhear it. Instead, simply hand your ID to the agent at the desk; he or she will be asking for it anyway.
Don’t set your credit card on the counter, as it’s too easy for someone nearby to capture the number. And when the front-desk attendant hands it back to you, make certain that it actually is your credit card. You should also stay with your luggage. A hotel lobby is a public place, and you don’t know who might be hanging around. Thieves may take advantage of the distraction of a busy lobby.
As for location, most safety experts recommend a room between the third and sixth floors. It’s high enough to be difficult to break into but still within reach of most fire-engine ladders. That said, some fire-safety experts recommend a room no higher than the second floor, as that enables you to jump to (relative) safety in the event that the fire department can’t reach you in time. If you’re staying in a hotel where the guest-room doors open to the outside instead of a hallway, try to get a room overlooking an interior courtyard rather than the parking lot. And wherever you are, try to book a room near a stairwell in case of a fire.
Make certain that you let your preferences be known while booking. Keep your room number private, and do not let the front-desk attendant announce it publicly. Request another room if he or she does so. While checking in, ask what number you should dial in an emergency. Is there a direct line to hotel security? Should you call 911? Keep these numbers handy in case you need to use them.


If a valet has accompanied you to your room, block the door open while you check the room. Check anywhere that someone could hide before you shut the door or release the valet.
Once you’ve ensured the room is safe, identify fire-escape routes. Many modern hotels will have posted evacuation maps that indicate evacuation routes, though a word of caution when it comes to hotel fire-safety abroad: Although the U.S. has strict fire-safety requirements for hotels, this isn’t always the case in other countries. Many overseas hotels aren’t as fire-resistant as those here in America, and there may be a limited number of exits. Escape routes might not be posted either.
Identify the location of the nearest stairwell and emergency exit immediately upon arriving. You should never use an elevator during an emergency, and you should figure out several evacuation routes in case one is blocked. Be certain that everyone with you knows the evacuation plan.
Next, locate the fire alarm and check the smoke detectors in your room by pushing the “TEST” button. If a smoke detector doesn’t work, have it fixed or get another room. Smoke detectors and sprinkler systems may be nonexistent in some international hotels, so plan ahead and do your research so you don’t end up in a hotel without them.
Check all of the locks on the windows and doors in your room when you arrive, and notify the front desk if any are not functioning. It also pays to recheck these locks whenever you return to the room, as housekeeping personnel may open them and forget to close them or — even worse — compromise them from the inside for an accomplice who will be by to rob you later.
Always lock your door and use the deadbolt and security bar or chain whenever you’re in your room. Don’t forget to keep any door to an adjoining room locked as well. It’s always a good idea to use a door wedge or door jammer to further secure a door, and you should never prop your room door open, even for a moment. And I cannot stress this enough: Never open the door to anyone until you’re certain of his or her identity. If someone claims to be a hotel staff member and you did not specifically call for a hotel staff member to come to your room, call the front desk to verify his or her identity.
As for guest-room safes: They aren’t safe. Virtually all room safes have a backdoor entry method in case hotel staff requires emergency access. Atop that, many room safes aren’t securely fastened down. The safe-deposit box at the front desk is a better option, but dubious characters may have access to it. If you go that route, always get a receipt for all items. Most hotels don’t accept liability for items left in room safes but often will for items secured at the front desk.
Don’t keep your room key in that little cardboard folder they give you at the front desk; it has your room number on it and often your name as well. If you should drop the folder with your key in it, anyone who finds it can access your room. If you lose your room key, immediately report it to hotel staff and request to be moved to another room. Whenever you leave your room, consider putting the “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door and leaving the radio or TV on to give the impression to potential thieves that the room is occupied. Check that all hallways are well-lit, and if a light is out, report it to the hotel staff. And never hesitate to ask a member of the staff to accompany you to your room or vehicle if you feel unsafe.
At night, keep a pair of shoes next to the bed, and keep your room key, wallet, ID, smartphone and flashlight on the nightstand in case you need to leave in a hurry. Most of this will be second nature, but do not forget to keep those shoes handy.
If you experience any crime during your stay, always file a police report; do not just tell the front-desk attendant. Your homeowners insurance policy may cover certain losses while you’re traveling, but the insurance company will need a copy of the police report along with other relevant documentation.


Safety planning isn’t being paranoid; it’s a series of logical steps that are all about preparedness and prevention. Millions of people travel every year without any issues, but you never know when something that could compromise your personal security might occur.


The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) is a free service offered by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs to protect the lives and interests of U.S. citizens traveling abroad. An individual can register with a U.S. Embassy or U.S. Consulate in the country he or she is visiting so that in the event of a natural disaster, civil unrest or family emergency, the embassy or consulate can get in touch with him or her or provide support during a crisis. The program also allows a person to monitor safety conditions in a selected country before traveling there. An individual can sign up to receive email advisories by creating an account online, enrolling in person at an embassy or consulate, or by filling out a paper enrollment form and mailing it to the appropriate embassy or consulate or the Department of State. To register online, select “Create an Account” at the top-right-hand corner of the STEP homepage and fill out the requested information. This program is a great way to add an extra layer of security and to stay informed and connected when traveling abroad.
— Frank Jastrzembski, Contributing Editor
Taking a few simple precautions will help ensure that your trip is trouble-free, and none of what I’ve listed here is particularly expensive or inconvenient. But like everything else in your personal-protection plan, you have to actually commit to integrating these steps into your routine or they will only be of so much use to you.