By Sharyn Alden
I love hotels. Not all hotels, of course, but the many, many hotels that stick in my memory not because of their size or room rate, or where they’re located, but because they’re extensions of the world around them. Some represent far-flung cultures and world history, but all really good hotels are opportunities in waiting. They’re intersections where travelers can connect with people from all over the globe.
What these hotels and their somewhat lesser compatriots have in common are the mundane things: check-in, check-out, front desk … and some guests that don’t know the first things about safe hotel behavior.
Here’s what I mean.
I’ve seen this scene over and over again at hotel front desks around the globe: A traveler approaches the desk and says, “Hello, I’m Marge Smith from Atlanta; I just flew in from Madrid and you have a room reserved for me on the ground floor.”
The front desk attendant verbally confirms that Marge has room 101 and asks if she’ll be using the same credit card she used to reserve the room.
“Instead of the Visa, I’ll use my MasterCard,” she says.
Marge then slips her card onto the counter and excuses herself to make a phone call. She steps away from the desk while the hotel employee runs the paperwork. Marge has left one large piece of luggage and her carry-on bag by the front desk. A small handbag is strung over her shoulder while she initiates a side conversation. A porter is standing near the desk waiting to take her bags to her room.
What’s wrong with this scene? It’s like looking at one of those old find-what’s-missing pictures from Highlights For Children. In no particular order:
- Marge gave her name out loud and told everyone around her where her room was located. Tip: When you book your room, don’t be gender-specific. Just say you’re booking it under M. Smith, not Marge Smith.
- The front desk attendant compromised this fictional traveler’s safety by verbally confirming her room’s location and number. If your hotel does this, ask for another room. A good hotel will give you the written room number, not broadcast it to everyone within earshot.
- Don’t stay on the ground floor. You’re more of a target for a break-in than on upper floors. And don’t book rooms in isolated corners of the hotel.
- Don’t leave a credit card on a counter and walk away.
- Never ever leave your bags by the desk and assume someone else isn’t eying them while you make a personal phone call or get distracted by a grand, scene-stealing lobby.
That last point? That was me at the fabulous Hotel Bretagne on Syntagma Square in Athens. The sumptuous hotel, built in 1842 next to the king’s palace (now the parliament building), is an extraordinary, 320-room luxury hotel.
Seasoned travelers who think of world-class hotels would probably put the Bretagne near the top of their list for its gilded beauty and improbable history. For instance, after Athens fell to the Germans in 1941 and for three years thereafter, it was the headquarters of the Third Reich. Nazis lived in the Bretagne.
Today, the Bretagne is a stopping point for kings and queens, international leaders, and lucky travelers like me. And on one visit, after the hotel had undergone an extensive renovation, I was mesmerized.
Just like Marge, I plopped my bags down by the desk and walked away to take a quick peek at the grandiose lobby, which adheres to a standard of elegance not often seen in the Western hemisphere.
You guessed it. After I turned my back, one of my bags disappeared. Fortunately, I had all my most crucial valuables with me, including my passport, wallet and cash. Getting caught up in the moment and admiring the décor cost me a bag, but it taught me an important never-do-it-again lesson.
If you’re heading to your room with a valet, don’t go inside and shut the outer door leaving both of you inside the room. This actually happens more than you might think. It’s an easy mistake, even when no mischief was intended. You walk in, the door automatically shuts behind you, and there you are with a stranger in your room.
Don’t inspect your room this way. Instead, open the door, and use something like your suitcase as a wedge to keep it open. Then inspect the closets and shower before saying goodbye to the valet.
The first thing I do when I settle in is to check the locks. Make sure your room has a deadbolt. Use it whenever you’re in the room.
Never ever let anyone in your room who says they need to repair something or needs to drop off something inside your room. If someone knocks on your door and says they are from hotel maintenance and they need to get in to repair the refrigerator or whatever, play it safe.
Look through the door’s peephole to get their description. Ask their name and what they want, then call the front desk to verify they were sent to your room. In the interim, I tell the door knocker to go away since I wasn’t expecting their visit.
In my experience, most hotels don’t send maintenance people to your room unless you’ve reported some problem or you’ve been alerted by the hotel that repair is necessary during your stay. If the latter is the case, and unless the need is critical – for instance, if the water or electrical isn’t working — tell them to repair it after you check out.
Other Tips to Keep You Safe
- Before you leave the front desk, ask for two hotel business cards, even if you’re traveling alone. Take one with you when you’re out and about in case you get lost and need directions back. Leave the other card by your bed so you have the hotel’s exact name and location if you need to call for help.
- Bring along a rubber door wedge, flashlight and night light. The wedge may not avert every possible danger, but it can be a deterrent.
- Put the flashlight by your bed. Some hotel rooms have very heavy drapes which do a great job blocking outside lights at night — not bad for sleeping, but not good for walking around your room if you need to get up in the middle of the night.
- Put your valuables in your room safe (but don’t leave your passport) and avoid using a key safe.
- If your room has a key safe (this type is easier to compromise than the digital version where you type in a password) and another type of safe is not available, use the front desk’s safe. Only leave valuables there if they give you a written receipt
- If you lose your room key, ask to be moved to another room. Yes, really. It’s an inconvenience, but who knows who has the lost key? You’ll sleep better when you don’t have to worry about it.
Sharyn Alden is a long-time travel writer with a media-relations business, Sharyn Alden Communications, Inc., based in Madison, Wis. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.