Travel & Hotel Safety Advice
Wherever you travel to and wherever your hotel is located, your safety is paramount. Adventure and backpacking holidays are becoming increasingly popular especially to more remote countries not known for their tourist trade. At the same time, murders, kidnappings, muggings, hotel break-ins and other crimes are also on the increase.
Many hotels in the USA have already taken measures to meet women travellers’ needs. The Pan Pacific San Francisco for example supplies female guests with a personal escort to their room and each room is equipped with an emergency help button to be used in case of attack or emergency.
Some hotels in Australia, the USA and in now in London also set aside ‘networking tables’ in their restaurants for solo travellers who prefer to eat with others. Some hotels also provide business lounges with space for safe, neutral meetings. And in some USA and Japanese hotels, exercise conscious guests can even hire a jogging partner. These running escorts for joggers are sometimes included in exclusive hotels on a complimentary basis and the service includes chilled bottled water, fresh fruit and a plush towel upon return.
It is important that everyone, but especially women, keep in mind the following safety tips while travelling and staying in hotels:
Always purchase travel insurance before heading off. This will give you the added security of knowing that you are only a phone call away from medical, security or travel-related assistance should you require it.
Travel light. Women should wear comfortable, flat shoes so that they can move quickly when they need to.
Always stay alert. If your head is buried in a book or you are walking with earphones on listening to your iPod, you will be unaware of your surroundings and so vulnerable to an attack.
Watch for people brushing against you in crowds. This is often a technique used by pickpockets who frequent airport, train and bus terminals.
Whenever possible, make arrangements to arrive before dark.
If you have arranged for transportation at the airport, instead of having your name on a placard, agree upon an object or password that is known only to you and the driver/company picking you up.
Don’t get into the bad habit of using your business card as a luggage tag. And don’t show off your prestigious credit card or designer tags that provide more information than is absolutely necessary – thieves look for tags they recognise.
Use valet parking whenever possible. Self-park only in well-lit areas. Ask for an escort to your car if valet parking is not available.
Keep some money in an outside pocket to avoid fumbling through your purse or wallet for tips and other expenses.
When you get to your accommodation, request a room on a lower, but not the ground floor in your hotel. Ground floor rooms are easily reached by criminals while rooms above the sixth floor may have a nice view but are too high for most fire fighting equipment to reach.
If you have been out and about and you phone for a taxi, ask the driver to come and find you. Don’t offer your name – wait for the cabby to tell you who he is here to pick up. That way you can be sure he is from the company you called and not a bogus driver. If you do decide to take a taxi, don’t volunteer information about your trip, its duration or its purpose to your driver. It’s nobody’s business but your own. Remember, even in New York City 90% of Yellow Cab drivers are recently arrived immigrants. Have they all been through a Police check? To ensure your safety, ask your hotel’s concierge to recommend a driver or car service. (see further “Bogus Taxi” tips below).
Ideally your hotel room door should have a peephole, dead bolt and chain lock. And make sure it has no connecting door to another room.
Try not to stay in a hotel with ‘hard’ keys. Hotels with security cards are much safer as the cards are destroyed after use. ‘Hard’ keys have a habit of being duplicated and passed around.
Try to select a hotel known for taking extra measures to ensure the personal safety of its guests. If you cannot do this, remember most hotel room locks are not secure. Purchase a small, inexpensive door alarm and use it when travelling. (Most personal attack alarms can be easily converted to door alarms.) You may also want to purchase a rubber door jam. Again, they are inexpensive and will provide you with extra peace of mind.
Once in your room, check where the nearest fire exits are and physically open the fire doors to see where they lead to (if they are not alarmed). They could be blocked or locked or they may lead to a wall ladder – remember, it may be dark and smoky the next time you use it, so check it out and get your bearings.
Take a small torch with you on your trip. Having a torch will make it easier for you to find your way out if the power goes off in the event of an emergency.
Never let anyone who is unidentified into your room. Always confirm who they are through the peephole, if possible. Likewise, if you have to meet people on business, do not invite them to meet you in your room. Meet in a public location, such as the hotel lobby, restaurant or bar.
If you’re expecting take-out food or a package from outside the hotel, have it delivered to the front desk or concierge. Many hotel attacks happen from delivery men.
Ask to have a five-minute warning phone call before room service or other deliveries are sent to your room.
If travelling to a country with a high crime rate (statistics and information are available from the Foreign Office), buy plastic connectors that you can place on your luggage bags when leaving your room. It won’t prevent someone from opening your bags, but it will tell you if someone has opened them and taken something. It will also tell you if someone has opened them to place something in your bags – remember, some countries have a large degree of drug smuggling and single females are ideal targets to hide drugs in their bags.
Don’t advertise that you are a tourist. Wearing a T-shirt with “Scottish And Proud” written on it not only announces your origins but can also attract the wrong kind of attention. Try to look like everyone else.
Always stay aware of your surroundings and the people around you – even when sightseeing. Scams on unsuspecting travellers often begin with someone trying to distract their attention. Be aware that scam artists often work in pairs or groups and use distractions to give them time to pick pocket tourists.
Always keep a clear head. Restrict or avoid drinking alcohol especially if someone buys you a drink. The number of incidents of spiked drinks are on the increase, especially the use of the so called ‘date rape drugs’. (See our “Personal Safety Advice” section.)
Bogus Taxi Drivers
Following an increase in attacks in “taxis”, The Scottish Centre for Personal Safety offers the following advice to avoid bogus taxis;
- Never hail a taxi from the street. You have no idea whether or not the driver is a registered taxi driver or not.
- Take a taxi business card or write down the telephone number of a taxi company you know or have used before in the past. Alternatively, walk to the nearest taxi cab office, don’t just flag one down or pick one up at a taxi rank.
- If you don’t have the number of a taxi company, ask the staff in the pub or club you are in to recommend one.
- Try not to let anyone overhear you ordering a taxi as they may simply leave and come back in again pretending to be your taxi driver.
- If possible, ask for the driver’s name and make and colour of the taxi which will be sent for you and check all of this upon its arrival.
- When the taxi arrives, make sure the driver asks for you by your name. Don’t ask the driver if he is your taxi.
- Check the taxi has a taxi registration plate on the rear bumper.
- If you are suspicious, check that the registration plate matches the license plate of the taxi.
- If the driver does not have his identity badge displayed, ask to see it before getting in.
- Check the destination the driver has been given for you.
- Always sit in the back of the taxi.
- If you chat with your taxi driver, try not to give away any personal details about you “are you single?”, “do you live alone?”, etc.
- If you are at all suspicious about your driver, ask him to stop at a busy or familiar place and get out.
- Have your door keys ready when you arrive at your destination and be prepared to use them as a “weapon” if you are attacked.
Never fall victim of the taxi driver who shouts “Taxi, love?” or “Did someone call a taxi?” These are typical ploys used by bogus taxi drivers.
Also remember that some bogus taxi drivers listen to the radio transmissions of taxi firms and so may know your name and destination. One thing they cannot replicate though is the make, model and colour of the car the taxi firm is sending you – so be sure to ask and ensure it is a real taxi you are getting into.
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