Lodging Safety Tips
Hotel and Lodging Travel Tips
Depending on your destination, housing abroad may be very different from what you're accustomed to at home. Although geared towards more elevated-risk and high-risk travel, the following advice is helpful to keep in mind regardless of your destination. Building codes may not be the same, and countries may have varying standards of safety compliance, construction, and emergency services.
Research and Plan Your Trip
Find out as much as possible about the country, region, and neighborhood you'll be visiting.
- Try to book hotels or hostels in well-traveled, popular areas, near your place of work or study. Business hotels and hotels that cater to tourists are a good bet.
- Read online hotel reviews and, if possible, use Google Earth or Google Streetmaps to scope out the surroundings.
- Research and map out your commute beforehand. If possible, try not to travel through high-crime areas.
- Familiarize yourself with major roads and landmarks in the area, and have an emergency evacuation route.
While traveling, make sure that a colleague, friend, family member, or someone else whom you trust at home and in your destination know where you'll be traveling to and staying. It's extremely important that people know where you are and how to reach you. You should also register your trip in the Harvard Travel Registry so we can better assist you in the event of an emergency.
Arrival and Check-in
Stay with Your Luggage
Stay with your bags from when you pick them up at the airport to when you place them in your room. If you walk into the hotel ahead of your luggage (leaving them with a porter, for example), you run the risk of your luggage getting stolen. Once in the lobby, keep your luggage close. If the hotel is busy, thieves can take advantage of the distraction.
Don’t Stay on the Ground Floor
Rooms on the ground floor are more susceptible to burglary. Ask for a room on the third to the sixth floors. We recommend those floors because they're high enough off of the ground to avoid easy break-ins, but close enough to the ground to allow access by ladders in the event of a fire.
Protect Your Room Number
Most hotels know not to give out names or room numbers, but it has been known to occur. If your room number is compromised (i.e. announced out loud during check-in), you should request to be given another room. Your room number is a matter of personal security and you should guard it as such.
In Your Room
Check for Intruders
If you're staying in an area prone to crime, when you first enter the room, you should block the door open while you search the room. Before closing the door, check the shower, the closet, and behind the curtains.
Secure Your Room
Make sure that all doors can be closed and secured properly. Check the lock on your door to make sure that it functions, and keep it locked whenever you're in the room. It's best if the doors have double locks—a deadbolt and a bar-latch or chain lock to ensure that hotel staff, or others with a key, can't enter unexpectedly. In addition, check the windows to ensure that they're secure and work properly.
You can use a door wedge to further secure the room, especially while you're sleeping or in the shower. Door wedges and other useful safety accessories can be purchased from Walkabout Travel Gear and similar retailers.
Utilize Safety Gadgets for Added Security
A battery-operated portable smoke alarm will alert you in the event of a fire and works independently of your lodging's power grid.
A portable theft-alert alarm helps secure your hotel room by attaching the alarm wire to the door or window and placing the alarm box adjacent to the door or window. It can also be used to protect valuables on your person, by attaching the alarm wire to the item and placing the alarm box inside your pocket or backpack.
Leaving Your Room for the Day
Protect Your Valuables
If possible, valuables should be left in your home country. For valuables that you feel you must take with you, evaluate the risks and protect them accordingly.
At times, leaving valuables in your locked room safe may be the safest option. However, it's possible that your items could be stolen or compromised. While many hotels and hostels offer the option of a room safe, understand that these types of safes are easily accessible to sophisticated criminals. Try not to leave anything in a room safe that contains information of value (like a laptop or passport); if you do, consider the information compromised.
Laptops are high-value targets overseas, as they offer thieves a high resale value, as well as valuable data for hackers. Review the FBI's advice for students traveling abroad, as well as our tips for protecting your data overseas, and plan accordingly.
Inquire about a Hotel Safe
If the safe in your room does not appear to be secure, ask if you can place your valuables in the hotel safe and inquire about the coverage for loss. Most hotels do not accept liability for items left in guestroom safes, but they will for hotel safes. Remember to obtain a receipt for your items.
Report a Lost Room Key
If you lose your hotel room key, report it to the hotel immediately and ask to be moved to another room. Never assume that it was simply “lost.” It may have been stolen with the intent of gaining access to your room.
General Lodging Safety Tips
- Keep your door locked at all times. Meet visitors in the hotel lobby or a well-trafficked area.
- If you're out late at night, let someone know when you expect to return.
- If you're alone, don't get on an elevator if there is a suspicious-looking person inside.
- Know the identity of any visitors before opening the door of your lodging or hotel room.
- Read the fire safety instructions in your hotel room. Know how to report a fire, and be sure you know where the nearest fire exits and alternate exits are located. (Count the doors between your room and the nearest exit; this could be a lifesaver if you have to crawl through a smoke-filled corridor.)
A Note about the Sharing Economy
Airbnb, Craigslist, and similar websites are popular options among travelers. We recommend against using any of these unlicensed lodging vendors. If you must book with an unlicensed vendor, conduct as much research as possible beforehand. Keep in mind that, while generally safe, these unlicensed vendors still pose risks, some of which you can mitigate by reading references and referrals and by adhering to the following safety tips:
Look at the profiles and read the reviews of potential hosts before you book.
Check for verified phone numbers, connected social media accounts, and references. Read the entire listing before booking, including the description, amenities, and house rules, to avoid any surprises.
Try to get referrals from a fellow student or colleague. They can generally provide the best overview of the safety and security of various lodging options. Keep in mind, however, that in order to be relevant information, their trip must have been taken recently. Their advice works best if they are similar in gender, ethnicity, personality, and body type to you. Trust but verify all referrals.
Pay and Communicate on the Site
Using payment and communication methods outside of AirBnb or similar websites puts your information at risk and leaves you vulnerable to fraud and other security issues. Be sure that any communication and payment happens through the official website services.
- Harvard Travel Assist country guides and alerts
- FBI: Safety and security for the business professional traveling abroad
- FBI: Safety and security for students traveling abroad
- Google Earth
- Google Streetmaps
- Walkabout Travel Gear