One key factor in the success of your vacation or your business trip is the quality and safety aspects of your lodging. This is something that needs to be addressed prior to your departure as well as followed-up on when you arrive at your location. Key in on the following characteristics for any prospective lodging:
-Transport to and from the airport to your lodging
-The quality of the lodging (international chains, travel site ratings, reviews, etc.)
-The security associated with the lodging (website, reviews)
-The area surrounding the lodging – is it safe to move around near your lodging
-A factor that people on a budget often neglected is where the lodging is actually located in respect to the various locations that you will visit during your trip. Specifically, is the location conducive and safe for you to move back and forth to the sights or work locations that you will be visiting on your trip.
If possible stick with reputable hotel chains as you are most likely to experience better security, safety, and comfort. Check the website of the hotel of your choice to determine if they have some of these specific security measures such as a 24-hour staffed front desk, guest-only floors (restricted access), security guards on the premises, and if there are surveillance cameras on the hotel grounds in the public areas. If the website does not provide this level of detail contact them and ask about their security features. This also applies to amenities (Wi-Fi, conference rooms, business center, fitness center, pool, restaurants, or a nightclub) that you want or need for your trip.
Upon arrival, ensure that you get a room of your choosing – not on the ground floor and not any higher than the 6th floor as that is the limit to firefighting ladders. If you are staying at a motel or other lodging where the rooms doors open directly to the outside, ask for a room facing into the courtyard or on the front side closest to the office/lobby area. Keep your room number private – if the desk clerk announces your room number, politely ask for another room and insist that they do not mention the room number for privacy reasons. Also, ask for a business card or two so that you have the address and contact information for the establishment. Keep a card with you when you leave so that when you want to return to your lodging from other parts of the city you can give it to the taxi driver or get directions from a local shop.
General Emergencies Planning
Ask what number you should use to call on your hotel telephone to get emergency assistance – you may find that they have a direct number for hotel security or you may have to call the national emergency number (their version of “911”). When you move from the lobby to your room, look for the posted fire safety plan/exit map. Be sure to take a good look at the map on your floor closest to your room. Take note of your route from the lobby to your room and look for any signs showing the evacuation route and emergency stairwells.
When you arrive in your room, take one minute and memorize where the nearest emergency exit is located as well as the number of doors from your room to this exit. In a fire or other emergency you may have to find your exit in a low visibility situation (the dark or in a smoke-filled environment). Often there is a map on the back of your hotel room door. “Have a Plan B” – look for an alternate exit if the closest one is blocked. Never use an elevator in an emergency!
Keep a flashlight by your bed – at least 50 % of all emergencies occur after dark and if the power goes out you will need a light. Also in some locations, there are no natural light sources, even in the daytime, if the power goes out so you will need your own source of light to navigate. Keep your most valuable items (passport, cell, keys, etc.) in an accessible location so that you can grab them and go in an emergency. Also, you may want to have a set of clothes available in case of an alarm so that you can jump into them and head to the fire exits!!
Hotel Room Security
Ensure that your room’s locks are functional – deadbolt and any auxiliary locking devices (door chain, privacy lock, etc.). You really cannot expect a hotel room door lock to be totally secure as keys are issued to maids, security personnel and guests. Even electronic key cards are easily duplicated. Best to look at these “locks” as access control devices that prevent the general public out of your room. This is why you need to engage a secondary lock when you are actually in your room. As added insurance that you will not end up with an uninvited guest, it recommended that you employ a doorstop. This is a simple triangular device, made of rubber, plastic, or wood which is placed slim side forward under the lock side of an inward swinging door. You then give it a good kick to seat it firmly under the door. This will prevent anyone with a key from opening your door. Some people also use a portable electronic door alarm as well as portable smoke detectors.
Don’t forget to check the windows and balcony to ensure they can be locked. These should be checked every time you enter your room as service staff may inadvertently (or deliberately) leave them unlocked. This goes for any connecting doors. Always keep your doors locked and don’t open your door unless you know who is there. Use the peephole before opening the door. If there is no peephole, talk to them through the door and verify with the front desk if they say they are associated with the hotel (repair, room service, etc.).
Take care of your passport and other important documents. Keep them protected – put them in a zip lock type bag (prevents any water damage) and carry them on your person in some type of travel pouch. As for your other valuables, follow the mantra, “Never tempt them”! Keep your valuables locked up in the room safe, the hotel security box, or in your locked suitcase. Room safes are a convenience and should be thought of as a method to prevent casual theft but not something that will stop a determined thief.
If the room safe is small and is not secured to something it may not provide much security. Smaller laptops will fit in most room safes but if you have any items of extreme sensitivity or value, plan to keep them on your person or with you rather than risk leaving them behind in the room. Most hotels will not cover loses for expensive electronics or other valuables. You may want to contact your insurance agent to see if these items can be put on your home owner’s policy for replacement if stolen.
Some common anti-theft strategies include leaving your TV on when you are gone and using the “Do Not Disturb” sign on your door. This may help with casual theft but determined thieves know about these strategies. Do not hesitate to report any security issues with the front desk and if you experience a theft have the hotel contact the local police so that the issue is investigated and you can request a police report (very useful with your insurance company). If you lose your room key or electronic key, immediately report this to the hotel and possibly change rooms.
If possible use a taxi service called by your hotel so that they can document the license plate and driver information. Hotel provided taxi services, while most likely the most secure, are often the most expensive. Make use of the hotel staff and concierge services for advice on local happenings, safety issues, and precautions, and for recommendations on restaurants, and other sightseeing spots.
Fire is a major concern in the overseas environment as many countries do not have the fire safety standards that we have in the US. Fire alarms, smoke detectors, and working fire escapes are specific areas that we take for granted in the US but are often viewed as “expenses” in developing countries. Crime is also a factor as areas where there is significant criminal activity the lodging sites often “overly secure” their doors (read lock the fire escapes) which can be a serious/deadly problem in a fire. There are numerous cases where lodgers have died due to locked fire exits. Additionally, the fire escape stairwells are sometimes used as auxiliary storage areas – causing a serious obstruction problem during a fire when large numbers of people are trying to funnel down these stairwells.
If you hear a fire alarm, GET OUT, STAY OUT and CALL 9-1-1 or your local emergency phone number. The following are some general fire safety procedures:
- When approaching a closed door, use the back of your hand or fingers to feel the lower, middle or upper part of the door for heat.
- If the closed door or door handles are warm, do not open them – try to use a secondary exit. If the closed door is NOT hot, open slowly and ensure fire/smoke is not blocking your escape route. If there is smoke, crawl low to stay beneath it.
- If the route is blocked, use an alternative route.
- If smoke, heat or flames block your exit routes, stay in the room with doors closed. Immediately contact the front desk or dial the national emergency number to alert authorities to your location.
- Shut off the air conditioner or fans and stuff wet towels under the door to help prevent smoke from entering your room. Place a wet towel under the door and open a window and use a flashlight or wave a brightly colored cloth from your window to signal for help.
- If your clothing catches on fire you should immediately, “Stop, Drop, and Roll”! Specifically, you need to “Stop” where you are, “Drop” to the ground, and “Roll” over and over until the fire is out. It may be prudent to know where any firefighting equipment is located (fire extinguisher, fire hoses, fire ax, etc.) especially if you are familiar with the use of this type of equipment. If possible learn basic operation of a fire extinguisher – you can contact your local fire department for guidance.
In some areas of the world earthquakes are a significant threat and if you decide to travel to one of these locations some basic understanding of safety actions is warranted. There are several schools of thought on earthquake survival but here is some general guidance:
- Drop: down onto your hands and knees before the earthquake knocks you down. This position protects you from falling but still allows you to move if necessary.
- Cover: your head and neck (and your entire body if possible) under the shelter of a sturdy table or desk.
- Hold On: to your shelter (or to your head and neck) until the shaking stops. Be prepared to move with your shelter if the shaking shifts it around.
If there is no shelter nearby, get down near an interior wall or next to low-lying furniture that won’t fall on you, and cover your head and neck with your arms and hands. (Triangle of Life)
Try to stay clear of windows or glass that could shatter or objects that could fall on you. Do not stand in a doorway. You are safer.
Some basic precautions work both overseas and within the US. Starting with keeping your Wi-Fi off on your mobile devices until you want to use it. This will prevent them from automatically connecting to public Wi-Fi networks that often are unsafe due to the unrestricted nature of these networks which leaves all transactional data open to interception. Whenever possible, install and use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) on your mobile devices. VPNs are encrypted pipelines that allow us to connect to sites without as much of a risk of interception. A VPN client encrypts traffic between your device and the VPN server, which means it’s much more difficult for a would-be intruder to sniff your data. These are especially important when we do financial transactions and when we transmit sensitive personal data (tax records, confidential work material, etc.).
Avoid using any public charging stations. The new term, “Juice Jacking” is a way to steal the data on your device via the USB charging cable. The hackers have figured out a way to get access to your data via the USB port on your device. Charge your devices in secure locations or use a power bank.
One excellent piece of electronics gear is an Ethernet cable. By connecting to the internet via the Ethernet cable we avoid the Wi-Fi and prevent most “through the air” attacks. You will often find that you will get an increase in the speed of your connections as you are tapping into the internet via cables and therefore you avoid fighting for bandwidth on overloaded Wi-Fi emitters. Another option, albeit an often more expensive one, is to use a personal hotspot. These devices can protect your online activities and encrypt your data ensuring that your activities are secure.
Some additional tips include encrypting your sensitive emails and files, monitor your Bluetooth connections (keep them off until you need them), and avoid downloading or installing apps or other programs while traveling. Also, only install and use apps that are encrypted and are well rated in your app store. Some apps may contain holes allowing hackers to access personal and private information found on your wireless device. Finally, review your locational services and apps that may transmit your location – is this the type of information you want out in the public domain?
If you absolutely need to use a public Wi-Fi, make sure your “sharing settings” are turned off. This will make it more difficult for hackers to get to your data. Be sure you are using the legitimate network of the location – check with the staff or signage before connecting.
If you just use the “Free Wi-Fi” network it may be a hacker’s own site where they are doing a “man-in-the-middle attack. Also make sure your firewall is on, that you are using strong passwords for your websites, email servers, etc. Finally, make sure you log off from any websites or services that you signed into and then go to your Wi-Fi settings and tell your device to “forget” the network to prevent it automatically signing on again.
Use a checklist to prevent forgetting your stuff, have a system for packing and unpacking (what and where). Make full use of complimentary hotel amenities such as shampoo, lotion, coffee, tea, etc. If they supply them, you don’t have to pack them! For the best maid service, tip your maid when you arrive not when you leave. This guarantees that you capitalize on your goodwill and is especially useful if you need and use a lot of their services. Carry a small cloth or plastic laundry bag for dirty laundry.
One way to keep healthy while traveling is to avoid drinking or using local water as in many foreign locations the water purification systems may not be sufficiently effective for your intestinal system. Drink bottled water and use it in the bathroom when you brush your teeth, etc. You may want to pack your own medical kit to help you deal with any illnesses. Pepto-Bismol, Imodium (and other anti-diarrhea meds), and pain/fever reducers like Ibuprofen and Aspirin are good items to keep in your toiletry kit.
If possible use the B.I.T. principle (Buy It There) for all the smaller amenities that can be easily purchased at your destination. Reduce your luggage by using electronic and audiobooks with the caveat that some electronic readers are not so good in the sun (they often overheat). Don’t forget your electrical plug adaptors and try to limit the number of cords you have to keep track of by using a multi-cord that will fit most of your electronics. Worst case scenario, if your electronics can work with a USB, most modern TVs have a USB plug which will charge your device. To avoid the souvenir trap, collect postcards and have your hotel mail them for you to family and friends. If you want to go green, bring your own reusable water/coffee bottle, and a cloth bag for laundry, for carrying groceries and other items.
Following these recommendations will help you find a suitable hotel with the security and amenities you require and prepare you for the most likely emergencies. All this will help you have a safe and productive trip. They will also help you keep these items secure while you are traveling, increase your safety when you are at your hotel and help you deal with any likely emergency situations that may occur while you are staying in a hotel overseas.