How to Protect Yourself and Your Valuables While Staying in a Motel Or Hotel

One place people occasionally become crime victims, is while staying in hotels-motels. When planning your trip, consider the location of the hotel/motel where you will be staying. Obviously you want to avoid staying in locations in the "bad" part of town, which you would be more likely to find in the larger cities. Check with your travel agent if you aren't sure. Or you can try calling the police department in the city you will be visiting and asking for someone in crime prevention or community services. Frequently the police will be hesitant to recommend a specific hotel, but they should be able to tell you which location they would feel safe staying in if they were on vacation in that city.

When you make your reservation, request a room near the elevator. Often hotels will book rooms starting in the far corners of each floor, and working in. You probably don't want to be stuck in the farthest corner. Your room may be more likely to be burglarized the farther it is away from the central area. By taking a room near the elevator, there will be more activity past your room day and night. The theory is that a burglar may be reluctant to break into your room, or enter with a key, if there is a chance that the elevator door will pop open any second and he'll be caught in the act.

Here is where police and fire personnel disagree. Firemen will tell you to take a room on the ground floor, so in case of fire it will be easy for you to escape out a window. That also means it will be relatively easy for a criminal to break into your room and rape, rob or kill you. For that reason, police advise against taking a room on the main floor. So maybe you can compromise. When you reserve your room, take one on the second floor. That way it will be harder for a burglar to get in, and it won't be so far for you to jump, and easier for fire personnel to reach you, in case of a fire. Obviously you don't want to be carrying valuables with you when you are traveling. But if you are, consider checking them into the hotel safe. If there is no hotel safe, you may be better off leaving them locked securely in the trunk of your car, then having them hidden in your hotel room.

Of course a better plan is to leave your valuables safely at home. Carry traveler's checks – if they are lost or stolen, they can be replaced. If your cash is stolen, it's pretty much gone.

When you check into your hotel, have a bell-boy or other employee accompany you to your room, to make sure its unoccupied (guests have been embarrassed, robbed or worse when they are surprised by someone already in their room), and to make sure you know how to use the phone to dial help including police and fire. If you have someone breaking into your room you want to be able to call the police for help, not just room service.

If you stay at a hotel where they still actually have metal keys, beware. Locks with metal keys are harder to change than the keys that look like credit cards. If your hotel is using metal keys there is a good chance they haven't changed their locks in years, which means there are probably hundreds of keys floating around out there for your room. If you have the option, I would recommend staying at a hotel where they use the newer style plastic credit card type keys. These have a magnetic strip that can be changed after each guest checks out, which would make them theoretically more secure.

When you leave your room, to discourage someone from entering your room with a key, or by breaking in, make your room appear occupied, just like when you leave home. Hang out the "do not disturb" sign on your doorknob, and leave a light on and the TV or radio on. When you are in your room, use all the auxiliary locks and deadbolts that are on the doors. These generally will help prevent someone from entering your room with a key. There are several "portable deadbolts" or "travel locks" available on the market from locksmiths, that help keep your door secured from the inside. The drawback is they don't help keep your door locked when you aren't in your room, and they may make it harder for you to get out in case of a fire. There is also a door brace that works on the same principal as tilting and shoving a chair up under the doorknob. This will help secure your door from the inside, and in case of fire, it only takes one kick to knock it out of the way.

To give you a little more peace of mind, consider using a "personal alarm." These are about $20 to $30, and about the size of a garage door opener. They are battery operated, and when you pull the pin they emit a shriek or siren of 100 decibels or more. Some come with a door contact attachment. You stuff that into the crack between your door, and door frame. If the door is opened, the alarm goes off, hopefully scaring away the intruder, bringing help, and giving you time to react. Look for these in the smoke alarm section of major department stores, or via mail order. A cheaper method is just to lean a folding chair up against the door, so if the door is opened the chair will tip, making noise, again hopefully scaring away the intruder, and giving you time to react. Certainly not as effective as 100 decibels, but better than nothing.

When you are checking into your hotel, if the desk clerk blurts out something like "Here's your key, room 222!" beware. Most hotels will instead write down your room assignment and hand it to you, so no one but you knows what room you are staying in. Why is that important? If the clerk calls out "room 222" and a bad guy hears this, he thinks, "hmmm, there's a single lady, traveling alone, looks like an easy mark." He waits a while, then goes to one of the house phones on the wall and calls room 222. He says "this is the front desk, we've noticed a problem with the air conditioner in the room above yours, so were sending a maintenance man to your room to make sure it isn't leaking in." You say "Okay." Five minutes later you get a knock on your door. When you open it, POW you get robbed or worse.

If you get such a call from someone claiming to be calling from the front desk, call the lobby to verify they are sending someone up. If they aren't, tell them to call security and the police because someone said they were on the way to your room. Never open your door to anyone you didn't invite, including room service, maid service, building maintenance, pizza delivery or anyone else, without verifying their identity first.

Before you leave the hotel, especially in the larger cities, and you are going out shopping or exploring, take a minute and ask the bellman or concierge guy if it is safe to go where you are going, and when. For instance, the Capital Mall in Washington D.C. seems to be a pretty safe place during the day, when all the tourists are around. But in the evening it may be another story.

And since we're on the topic of hotels/motels here's the latest scam. You have just checked into your hotel room when the phone rings. The "Front Desk" needs your credit card number because the room charge didn't go through the first time. Don't fall for it. According to the Better Business Bureau, a real hotel clerk would simply ask you to come back to the front desk. This is just another attempt to get your credit card number for illegal purposes.


Sgt. Mark Buschena is a veteran police officer with 31 years experience. He is the author of "The Naked Truth About Personal Protection!" How to protect your life, family and property. Simple ways to protect yourself from thieves, muggers, rapists, robbers, burglars, con-artists, pick-pockets and other scum-of-the-earth! For more information, hurry on over to

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