Pick A Hotel That Holds Your Safety In High Regard.
Time and time again, it has been proven in the security industry that the human element is the weakest link when it comes to our safety, security and privacy.
This is no different in the hospitality industry.
If your hotel clerk clearly says your room number or any other personally identifiable information (PII) that can let someone across the lobby know who you are and what room you are in, that is not ok. Kindly remind them that discretion is a key part of a safe stay, and ask for another room. Then notify a manager so that the best practices of the hotel can be updated.
I once stayed at a hotel where the manager reminded the concierge to slide my room number to me without announcing it. Out of curiosity I asked why and she said “in case you are being followed or stalked, so that no one can overhear your room number.” (This is a hotel I will be revisiting and recommending!)
Choosing A Room.
In true spy-geek fashion, I give a nod to Michael Westen from Burn Notice. In the pilot, he asks for a hotel room – “I don’t want a view. Facing a wall, something with no windows, if you have it. Far from the elevators, close to the exits – if you have it.”
In my experience, these criteria are unrealistic – who doesn’t want a window?! And what client doesn’t want a view? But I digress… There are a few nuggets of information here so lets boil it down.
1. No view. What is he trying to protect against?
If he has a view from his room, it is likely that someone has a view of his room, and could see him, gain positive ID, determine when and where he is, etc. If his room had a balcony, that also provides an avenue for someone to enter the room surreptitiously.
Real world solution: Be conscious of your view and what information it gives to other people. Pull your shades whenever possible to prevent giving away your own information about your activities.
Historical note – the templar knights did not have balconies on their outward facing walls, as they recognized it was a major security risk, allowing an enemy to scale and gain entry to their buildings.
2. Far from the elevators, close to the exits. When traveling with kids, or simply a huge amount of luggage, minimizing the amount of walking can be enticing. However, for several reasons, being close to the elevators does not give you much advantage. If anything, it handicaps you in an emergency.
Real world solution: Getting a room that is close to the stairs is a great option. Most guests do not use the stairs, meaning that your room will likely be quieter because it is away from the majority of the foot traffic. Also, in the event of a fire or evacuation, the elevators will be out of service, but its your lucky day because you’re right next to the stairwell!
Adding to Michael Westen’s criteria…
3. Floors 3-5 are best. Most fire trucks only have a ladder of 120′, which roughly translates to the 5th floor. Anything above that and you are going to have to find your own way down from a burning building.
The first and second floors are most easily accessible to burglaries and breaking and entering.
In light of these facts and statistics, it’s best to stick to floors 3-5 ( floors 2-4 in Europe).
(Fun fact: the ground floor in Europe is not ‘1’ but ‘0’.)
Once you get your room, its time to get familiar with the hotel layout.
After you get your room key, take a lap around the lobby. Learn where the amenities are. Make a map in your mind of where the pool, spa, breakfast bar and business rooms are – and while doing so, note the stair wells, exits and emergency equipment. End your lap with the elevator to your room.
Once you get to your room, set your bag down but before you lay down and let out a big sigh of relief, turn yourself around and face the door. There you should find a schematic showing the emergency escape route, with all exits, extinguishers and other emergency equipment marked. Take a photo with your phone for reference if you like.
Armed with this knowledge, it’s time to go for a walk and locate each one of the following elements on your floor:
1. Closest stairwell
2. Second closest stairwell
3. Which stairwell has roof access
4. Confirm placement of fire extinguishers
5. Note any service elevators and service stairwells
Some buildings have stairwells that lead through employees only sections prior to going outside. Others lead right into the lobby. Before the stairs become your only option, take a trip up and down them so you know where they lead to.
Inspecting Your Room.
Now that you’re familiar with your floor, its time to check out your room.
Check that your room has:
1. A working lock
2. Functioning lights
3. Functioning phone
4. Sprinkler head
5. Smoke alarm
6. Room safe
7. Windows (Do they open?)
8. Balcony (Is it a shared balcony? Can someone feasibly enter from a neighboring room?)
9. Door to a neighboring suite. (Does it lock properly from your side?)
Insuring Your Privacy
Insuring Your Privacy
Here are some low-tech and low-cost ways to insure the privacy of your room.
1. Get a rubber door wedge. These things are cheap, light weight, and there is nothing illegal or concerning about them.
– Placing the wedge against the floor and your door will stop any unwanted access while you are sleeping. –
2. Checking for hidden cameras. Close the curtains and turn the lights off in your hotel room. If there are hidden cameras, they will likely switch to infrared at this time, due to the lower ambient light. Now, using your selfie camera, scan the room over your shoulder, looking for any light sources that are not visible to your naked eye. (To make sure this works with your phone, face the TV remote at your camera and hold a button down. You should see a red light on your phone screen where the remote’s IR transmitter is.)
And you may ask, “But should you check for other more sophisticated bugs?” What if someone is listening in on us?
My short answer to that is – “No.” I don’t personally recommend using any sort of scanner to check for listening devices. If you are caught doing so by the listening party, especially when traveling in a foreign country, it will be assumed first that you are a spy. In their eyes, why else would you be using sophisticated tech to insure a clean room?
Looking for a camera is easily done with a phone and explainable. Looking for an audio bug – not so much. If you are concerned, just operate as though someone is listening and act accordingly.
In the real world, the ideal hotel may be hard to find. Having a set of criteria to look for will help you pick the best available option.
To keep it really simple, learn the building layout, bring a door stop, and take the stairs.
Now get out there and explore. Safe travels and stay vigilant!