Traveling solo is great. It offers an opportunity to develop confidence in yourself, as well as travel the way you want to, without making compromises to please someone else. But when you travel alone, you need to be more aware of your surroundings and take some extra precautions to keep yourself safe, even within your accommodation. Here are some of my best hotel safety & hygiene tips for solo travelers.
BEFORE YOU BOOK
First and foremost, you should always research your hotel options. Even if you prefer not to book in advance, you still want to have an idea of what your best options are. Try to look up hotels on a third-party website and read both the good and bad reviews.
I like to use Booking.com too look at reviews since only those who have booked and stayed at the property can leave reviews, and I use TripAdvisor to look at photos as it usually has more user-submitted pictures than promotional ones.
Questions you should ask before booking:
- Is the area safe?
- Will my room have a phone?
- Will my room have a safe?
- Do the reviews hint at a lack of cleanliness, service, or safety?
- Will I be sharing any areas of the accommodation?
- Does the hotel have 24-hour reception?
- Do they have on-site security?
For maximum hotel safety, try to request a room on the 3rd or 4th floor, as this gives you less risk of a break-in than lower levels, and an easier evacuation in the event of a fire than higher floors.
When I was working as a flight attendant, we were encouraged to always do a quick hotel safety check immediately upon entering our room. This consisted of looking inside the bathroom, large closets, under the bed, and behind the curtains.
It may seem a bit paranoid, but we had to be extra careful while working as crew. I've stayed in the habit of doing this when traveling on my own, as it only takes about 30 seconds for an average hotel room, and you really can't be too careful.
CHECK THE DOOR
- Does the lock work?
- Is the peephole unobstructed?
It's a good idea to always keep the door locked while in your room, as hotels are not always as secure as they may seem. I had someone enter my room once in Moscow in the middle of the night, and although nothing bad happened, it was a pretty scary experience. Many hotel staff have the ability to access your room, and it's also possible for mix-ups to happen. I've heard stories of colleagues being accidentally given the key to an already-booked room - people and computer systems can make mistakes.
For extra hotel safety, consider investing in a simple rubber doorstop to wedge under the door while you sleep. This is actually more effective than most common hotel locks.
CHECK THE FIRE ESCAPE ROUTE
This is usually posted on the door of your room. Make sure you know where the nearest stairs are. Also make sure there's a fire/smoke alarm in your room. Every hotel room should have one. You should also know where the flashlight is, if there is one in your room.
CHECK THE WINDOWS
If they open, make sure they lock securely. If you're on the 1st or 2nd floor, or if your room has a balcony, it's a good idea to keep the windows closed when you're out or sleeping.
CHECK THE PHONE
Test that it works by calling reception and make sure you know how to make an outside call. It's also a good idea to write down the local emergency number and keep it by the phone if it isn't already saved on a speed dial.
If you don't plan on traveling with a local or worldwide sim card in your mobile, I recommend making sure you book a hotel room with a phone. Some countries don't allow emergency calls without a sim card, and you don't want to be unable to call for help in the event of an emergency.
BED BUG CHECK
Bed bugs are a common problem in hotels all around the world, and once they get into your stuff, it's very hard to get rid of them. To make sure your room is clear of bed bugs, pull up each layer of sheets on your bed right down to the mattress. I like to use my room keycard to lift up the folds of the mattress, as this is most likely where bed bugs will hide and my iPhone flashlight to help me see into dark areas.
You should also check for small brown and reddish spots, as this can be a trace of bed bugs. I usually check 3 corners of the bed before I'm satisfied. Its a bit of an inconvenience, but absolutely worth it. If you do find evidence of bed bugs, report it to the hotel immediately and request a room change. The hotel will most likely do their own inspection and bring in professionals to deal with the problem so it doesn't spread to other rooms.
CHECK BED CLEANLINESS
This can be done at the same time as the bed bug check. Sadly, hotels do not always change the bedsheets (even 5-star hotels), and while it's often hard to tell without a uv light, it's a good idea to see if they at least look clean.
Make sure there are no stains or hairs on the sheets and pillowcases, and inspect the quilt cover as well - this is usually only changed if it looks dirty. If the cleanliness is questionable, you can always request that housekeeping change the sheets. It's also a good idea to make sure the towels in the bathroom are clean.
CHECK IF YOU CAN DRINK THE WATER
If it isn't safe to drink in the city you're in, it probably won't be safe to drink from the hotel tap, even in a 5-star hotel. Usually in these places, the hotel will provide you with free bottles of mineral water. Some may also offer bottles for sale - these are usually larger bottles or more premium brands and can be quite expensive, so make sure there's no price on the bottle before you open it.
Always check that the seals on the bottle aren't broken, and if they are, request a new bottle from reception. If the seal comes off with the cap without breaking, don't trust it. Someone may have just refilled it with tap water. This goes for minibar items too.
CHECK THE KETTLE
Ensure that it looks and smells clean, as some people use hotel kettles to make cheap meals. Better yet, don't use the kettle in your room as there have been news reports of people using them to clean their underwear. You can usually request hot water from room service, or better yet, get out into the city and enjoy some local tea or coffee!
DON'T TOUCH THE REMOTE
Studies have shown that the tv remote is the dirtiest thing in a hotel room. If you want to watch tv, I suggest cleaning the remote off with a disinfecting wipe first.
OTHER HOTEL TIPS
DON'T SHARE YOUR ROOM NUMBER
I heard a colleague once say that he mentioned his room number to a bartender while chatting at the hotel bar and got back to find some money gone. Don't give anyone an opportunity to steal your stuff. It's also not a good idea to share your specific location on social media when traveling alone, unless it's only to close friends and family.
KEEP THE 'DO NOT DISTURB' SIGN UP
I recommend leaving the Do Not Disturb sign up at all times, even if you're just taking a quick trip to the pool or gym. Keeping the tv or radio on when you're away is also a good idea. Though many hotel staff are very trustworthy, there are some that will enter your room "by mistake" to scope it out, and this is less likely to happen if they think you might be inside.
If you do want housekeeping to come, try to be around when they're cleaning to make sure none of your belongings go missing. Otherwise, you can always request extra items like soap and toilet paper to be sent up as you need it.
SCREEN YOUR GUESTS
Whenever someone comes to the door, look through the peephole before unlocking and opening it. This is a good habit to get into, even if you're expecting room service or housekeeping. If you feel uneasy or unsafe about whoever is at the door, call reception and ask for a member of the security staff to come up and meet them instead.
When you let in room service staff, it's best to stand at the open door as they bring in your food and pay or sign for your order once they're back in the hallway.
CHECK THE SAFE
If your hotel room has a safe, it's always a good idea to check it. Look inside to make sure no one has left anything - if they have, report it to the hotel reception. Also check the lock, as there have been reports of hotel safes being accessible with a default code set by the manufacturer as a backup.
Many hotels will change this to a code known only by management, but some hotels don't. Make sure it doesn't open when you put in the code 999999, 000000 or 111111, or the 4-digit versions of those numbers.
TAKE A BUSINESS CARD
Before leaving the hotel to explore, try to grab a business card from the front desk. This is especially useful if you don't speak the local language as you can show it around if you get lost, or to a cab driver if you need to get a ride back.
Make sure you don't keep it in the same place as anything with your room number. If the sleeve of your keycard has your room number, don't bring it with you.
Last, but not least - Enjoy your trip!
Don't be paranoid that everyone's out to get you - they're not. Just be careful and use these hotel safety tips, as well as common sense, to avoid any potential bad situations. Traveling solo is freeing and fun, and most hotel staff will do whatever they can to make your stay as comfortable and safe as possible. As they say, plan for the worst but expect the best. And have fun!
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