Traveling the world has never been so easy or accessible. Whether for business or pleasure, a few clicks can book a flight, hotel, and rental car. However, despite the ease with which we can make travel plans, it is important to take proper safety precautions, especially at hotels.
How many of us have heard of or experienced travel security nightmares? Stolen passports, lost personal items, identity theft, even hotel room break-ins. Perhaps most frustrating is that in many cases these security nightmares could have been avoided with proper precautions. Whether you are a frequent flyer or vacation only every few years, it is important not to be lax about security.
Here are 5 potential security issues that can arise when staying at a hotel, with tips for avoiding them and staying safe.
The American Hotel and Lodging Association reports that fraudulent hotel bookings cost American consumers $3.9 billion a year. If you do not want to contribute to that statistic, it is up to you to do your due diligence and don’t get taken by something fraudulent. While some hotel scams are unpredictable and unavoidable, telltale signs should trigger warning bells in your head.
A ridiculously low price is one of those signs. If the price of a hotel room is significantly less than most you have seen online, your radar should go up. Business Insider cites the example of booking rooms in New York City, Paris, and Tokyo. In all these cities, a hotel room usually costs $200+ a night. So, if you find a room for $80, it is either a scam or awful accommodations. Do your homework before booking online and remember that if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
It goes without saying that if you book a hotel online, make sure the site is secure. You can do this by looking for the small lock icon next to the URL – click on it to see the site’s SSL certificate.
Lost or Stolen Passport
Approximately 300,000 American passports are lost or stolen each year, with different schools of thought as to prevention. Some say you should request an in-room hotel safe and leave it in there. However, hotel safes are not actually 100% secure, which makes travelers question whether they should make use of it or not. Others recommend always carrying your passport with you. However, the downside of this approach is that it can be much easier to lose your passport, and if you are traversing a new city, the chances of recovering it are very low.
So what is a traveler to do? Alex Butler of Lonely Planet recommends using the in-room hotel safe, but with two caveats: First, make sure the administrator password has been changed from its factory setting; second, choose a code that is not a simple 0000 or 1234. Choose a complicated one and save it in your phone so YOU remember it. On your phone, don’t save it as “Safe Code” but something less obvious, like the name of the city you’re visiting.
Lost/Stolen Personal Items
Losing valuables or important personal items when traveling can be a disaster, trumped only by having them stolen. To prevent the loss or theft of valuable (or invaluable) personal items, keep them in the hotel safe (if you have determined that it is secure). However, you cannot leave a wallet, camera, phone, or keys in a safe when you need them during the day. Therefore, it is important to have a practical system in place. If you keep these items in a bag, make sure the bag never leaves your side. If you keep these things in your pocket, make sure a zipper or button prevents items from falling out (or someone from reaching in). There are many places where pickpockets abound, so pickpocket-proof clothes and accessories are a good idea.
We take for granted that hotel Wi-Fi is secure, but that is not always the case. Even if a hotel requires a password to connect, you do not know if all the security features are enabled. This means you are at risk for stolen financial information, identity theft, and malware attacks.
When using hotel Wi-Fi, it is recommended to use a VPN (as you would in any public place). If you don’t have one, stay away from sensitive online accounts.
Hotel Room Break-Ins
You do not hear much about hotel room break-ins, mainly because hotel staff are loath to talk about it. Most visitors do not report break-ins to the police. However, hotel break-ins occur more frequently than thought. And while there is not much you can do to prevent them, there are certain precautions you can take, like keeping valuable items in the hotel safe (if it meets your security standards) or in the hotel’s safety deposit box. Be sure to report a break-in to the police, even if the hotel staff discourages it.
Always Get Travel Insurance
Whether for business or pleasure, your overall hotel experience should be positive. Therefore, it is important to take proper safety precautions. That said, most important thing you can do to protect yourself is purchase travel insurance. You’ll be covered if something is lost or stolen. There are different types of travel insurance, so make sure to choose what’s right for you and read the fine print. While it can be tempting to forego the extra expense, it can be worthwhile in the long run.
Extra pro-tip: When at a hotel and charging meals to the room or dining out in general, always take the customer receipt with you. You can toss it as soon as you leave the venue but it signals to anyone looking to inflate the gratuity that this is a customer who may match up expenses to their credit card statement or hotel bill.
For additional resources and guidance, the Interfor team is here to help.