With terrorist attacks and hotel security issues having become a very real concern around the world, it’s crucial you do what you can to ensure your safety while traveling in a foreign country.
We’ve put together a list of tips for doing just that, consulting Anthony Melchiorri, host of Travel Channel’s “Hotel Impossible”; John Rose, an aviation and terrorism expert and COO of travel risk management companyiJET; Daniel Durazo, the director of communications for Allianz Global Assistance USA; and Daniel Smith, a security researcher at Radware.
From what to do if you get arrested abroad to mistakes you shouldn’t be making at a hotel, here’s how to make sure you stay safe on your next trip.
Grab an extra business card from the front desk of your hotel.
- Robert Kneschke/Shutterstock
The information on a business card will come in handy if you’re ever lost or need to contact someone.
If you’re in a place where you don’t speak the local language, you can at least ensure that you have your hotel’s address and phone number.
Consider travel insurance for cruises.
According to Durazo, while cruise ships have an infirmary to take care of guests when they get seasick or have the flu, they don’t have a full hospital that can treat more serious injuries like broken bones or heart attacks.
If one of those injuries does happen, the cruise ship will disembark at the closest port, but the type of hospital you end up in might not always be suited for your care.
Having a travel insurance provider helps alleviate costs and provides additional assistance for issues like language barriers or medical discrepancies. It’ll especially come in handy if you end up requiring an evacuation back to the US.
Use your phone to test the front desk when you get to your hotel room.
To see how safe hotels keep your information, Melchiorri recommends that you use your cell phone to call the front desk and ask if you can speak to yourself.
If the staff gives you your room number, that’s a red flag. The response you want is: “Let me connect you.”
Ask to contact the US Embassy if you’re arrested.
If you happen to get arrested while overseas, ask to contact the US Embassy immediately. According to Durazo, they can work with you to obtain an attorney and ensure that your rights aren’t being violated.
They can also contact your family, friends, or employer, as well as help family and friends transfer funds to you when permissible under the prison’s regulations.
Avoid writing your name on hotel door hangers.
- Flickr/Johnny Vulkan
Some hotels offer door hangers where guests can put in food or cleaning requests, but you should avoid leaving your name on them.
It’s an easy way for people to identify each guest by name.
Study up on the airline you’ll be flying with.
When planning your flight, it’s good to consider the safety record of both the airline and the airports you’ll be flying in and out of.
“I would stick to American-based airlines or their partners because you know that they are flying with certain safety and security standards,” Durazo told us.
Visit tourist attractions at off-peak hours.
- iStock/Maxim Zarya
Rose suggests visiting tourist attractions at their off-peak hours instead of during their most popular times, as crowded public areas are often a common target for attacks.
“Throughout history, it is the larger public areas that get attacked because they want to achieve maximum impact,” Rose said.
This is especially the case when using public transportation, which is why Rose also recommends that travelers avoid going into crowded cars on the subway.
Enroll in STEP.
- US Department of State
The US State Department’s Smart Traveller Enrollment Program (STEP) allows for travelers to receive information regarding safety conditions in a particular destination.
In addition to providing updates and alerts, the program allows for both the US Embassy and your family or friends to contact you in the case of an emergency.
Stay on floors four to six of a hotel.
- Flickr/Kris Arnold
Staying on floors four, five, or six can make getting assistance easier in the event of a fire.
According to Melchiorri, these are typically the highest floors a ladder truck can reach during a fire. You can also ask for a room that is close to a stairwell for added protection.
Know what items you should avoid flaunting.
- REUTERS/Tim Wimborne
It’s important to know what items are popular with thieves in your destination.
For example, Durazo told us that his son was advised not to keep his Apple products in plain sight when traveling through Argentina, since these are a hot target for thieves in the country.
Pay attention to flight stopovers.
- Flickr/Bob Dass
While it’s important to consider the airports you’ll be flying in and out of, it’s also crucial to look into the safety regulations of places where you might have a layover.
Durazo recommends that travelers be wary of stopovers in destinations known to be terrorist hotspots, and advises that you consult a travel agent if you’re planning a complex itinerary and need help.
Carry your valuables in your front pocket.
While travelers will often place their valuables in their purse, backpack, or back pocket, the front pocket is usually a safer bet.
Not only does it give you a more visible line of sight in the case of pickpocketing, but it also ensures that you don’t lose your valuables if you happen to leave your purse or backpack behind somewhere.
Don’t use your first name when checking in to a hotel.
One of the easiest ways to keep your information private is to avoid using your first name when checking in.
Give the front desk your first initial and last name. For women who are traveling alone, Melchiorri suggests using “Mrs.” to give the impression that you’re traveling with at least one other person.
Have an essential safety app on your phone.
- Flickr/Daria Nepriakhina
Having a safety app on your phone can help you both stay aware of your surroundings and reach assistance in the case of an emergency.
Both iJET and Allianz have apps – iJET’s Worldcue Mobile app provides a quick connection to global hotlines and the precise location of people at risk, while Allianz’s TravelSmart app tells you what hospitals are nearby and what numbers to dial in case of emergencies.
There’s also the SirenGPS app, which helps first responders to identify you and your location. Users can also list information they’d like shared with first responders, like their medical history or emergency contacts.
Monitor your credit card activity.
- REUTERS/Jason Reed
Durazo recommends that travelers monitor their credit cards at least once a day while abroad so that they can be aware of any fraudulent activity.
Cover the peephole on your room door.
Peepholes have become an easy way for people to get a glimpse inside your hotel room. To avoid this, simply put a bandage on the peephole of your door.
Stay at hotels that offer restricted access.
- Akama Resort, Hervey Bay/Facebook
When deciding on a hotel, Melchiorri recommends looking for properties that have restricted access.
This includes hotels that block access to guest floors unless you have a key to insert in the elevator, as well as those that have one-way stairwells.
Use a VPN when connecting to public Wi-Fi.
- Leo Leung/Flickr
Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and public USB ports have become common ways for hackers to access your personal information.
To combat this, Smith recommends travelers use a virtual private network (VPN) when connecting to public Wi-Fi, in order to keep the IP address and data hidden.
Apps like Hotspot Shield VPN allow users to route their web traffic through a secure network so that they can get around blocked websites. The app also doesn’t track or keep logs of user activity to ensure privacy.