How to make your hotel stay safer

06/20/2014 12:00 AM

06/19/2014 5:24 PM

We all want to feel safe while staying in hotel rooms, but it doesn’t always work that way. I have friends whose laptops were stolen. And I once surprised a burglar rifling through our room on the Las Vegas Strip.

Here are my free and low-cost suggestions for how to make your stay as safe as possible:

• The best and cheapest way to keep your valuables from being stolen in a hotel is don’t bring them with you. Who needs to wear $50,000 in jewelry on vacation? You’re probably never going to see those people again, anyway.
• Make sure your door is completely latched. One reader, April, told me that Vegas has an entire class of burglars known as “door-pushers.” They just walk down the corridor and push doors to see if any of them were not closed properly.
• Consider investing in a slash-proof bag like ones at pacsafe.com. You can tether this to the furniture in your room and thieves cannot open it or take it with them. In fact, check out all the anti-theft items they have at PacSafe, including the slash-proof day packs, if you’re traveling with one. My friend had her backpack slit open on the subway, but that wouldn’t happen with one of these — they’re reinforced with steel mesh.
• The Vegas factor. When I ran into a burglar ransacking my fancy hotel room in Las Vegas, it led to a conversation with a cop that I never forgot, because he was rude and sort of blamed me for chasing the guy down the hall, trying to recover my friend’s camera. He did tell me that Las Vegas is a magnet for thieves, because they know that a lot of people keep wads of cash and jewelry in their rooms. Please keep that in mind when you go there — or other gambling towns like Biloxi or Atlantic City — and work extra hard to secure your possessions. Don’t hide them in obvious places, either. Yeah, he’s gonna look under the mattress.
• Ask for a room between the second and sixth floors. Ground-floor rooms are easier to break into, but higher rooms in a high-rise would be difficult to reach with a ladder in case of fire.
• A small plastic doorstop wedge can be useful to block entry to your room, especially in older hotels that still use metal door keys. This has the added benefit of stopping the hotel maid from entering while you’re walking around undressed.

SAFES

Don’t assume your hotel safe will live up to its name. And watch out for problems like these:

• You can check out and forget the items you locked inside: This happened to me. I locked my wallet in a safe in Vieques, Puerto Rico, and didn’t discover I’d forgotten it until I was heading for the airport.

Luckily, I had a spare driver’s license with me, so I could still get on the plane. And my traveling companion lent me money. The hotel owner found and shipped my wallet to me. But it made me extremely leery of leaving things in a safe after that.

• People can walk off with the safe. If it’s not bolted down, it’s not secure.
• If the safe has a key rather than a keypad, you can’t assume that employees haven’t made copies of the keys. Better to use a safe in which you enter your own personal code. But watch out for the following:
• Combination theft: Clever thieves can leave a thin layer of grease or wax on keypads, so they can tell which numbers you used to set the combination. Wipe it off.
• Some hotels use a default combination such as 00000 so that employees can open the safe if the guest forgets his password. Needless to say, this is not secure. Try it and, if it works, don’t leave your valuables there.
• Your safe might not open. This happened to me in Cancun, and it was quite a hassle. Before you stick your things inside and slam the door, make sure it opens after it’s been locked. There’s a battery inside that can die, or it can just jam.
• The safe door might not close properly. After you close it, make sure it’s latched.
• It’s probably too small for your laptop. Laptops and tablets are among the most frequently stolen travel items. As I mentioned, two of my friends had laptops ripped off, one in a swanky hotel, one in a little motel in the middle of nowhere. Aside from the value of the computer, think about the data you could lose. I suggest buying a metal laptop tether that can’t be cut with a knife, and using it to secure yours in your room.

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