Updated on June 20th, 2022
On my recent trip to St Lucia, I was robbed. I was staying alone in an apartment & an intruder broke in while I was sleeping & stole from me. It was a sickening experience, but I was also very lucky. Here I share some important hotel safety tips I have learned from the whole incident to help keep you safe. I hope you find them useful.”
Soufriere, St Lucia
To reclaim my freedom after 2 years of limited travel opportunities, I decided to head to the Caribbean for a couple of months to reconnect with my free-spirited former self. I started with St Lucia & after a week of enjoying the luxuries of hotel living, I moved into the more sustainable world of a self-catering apartment in an effort to save money.
Unfortunately, the idyllic island vibe I was aiming for was shattered within my first week when I realised my room had been broken into while I was sleeping.
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Yes, you read that right. I was asleep. A guy came into my room & stole some stuff. He clearly wanted to take more stuff but somehow, I awoke from my slumber & scared him off.
I am not writing this to be in any way scaremongering or put you off travelling alone. Or staying in a locally owned apartment rather than the (potential) safety of hotel accommodation. I am writing this because it was the first time in 30 years of independent travel that this has happened to me.”
Of course, I have been robbed before. Many times. However, on all those occasions, I can, with my hand on my heart say it was partly my fault. I took my eye off the ball. I let my guard down & stopped being so vigilant. Interestingly this has happened more often when I have been travelling with friends. You distract each other & lose focus.
And many of you may read this & think that some of the things I did were a bit silly. But we all have lessons to learn. Unfortunately, I have now learned them, so you don’t have to!
But I was also very, very lucky.
A disturbed night
I had confidently been walking around the town of Soufriere in St Lucia for two days. It was my second night at the ground floor apartment & I had been enjoying sitting on the patio outside. It was completely concealed by a wall. I felt safe there.
I don’t like air-conditioning so had left the windows open as I settled down to sleep. They were protected by mosquito grills & had bars on the windows. I had double-locked the door. I had my phone & laptop next to the bed. My other valuables were in the safe in the wardrobe.
It was a wild night, lots of wind & rain which meant I slept lightly. At one point I came to & had a strong feeling that someone else was in the room. But I was sleepy & settled back down again.”
A rude awakening
Then at 5.15am, I woke up & instinctively reached for my phone to see what the time was. It wasn’t there. I quickly came to & saw my laptop was next to the door, resting against the wall. The adrenaline started to pump through my body as I took stock of where everything was & realised that there were subtle differences from how I had left it the night before.
My phone had made it to the table by the door. My handbag was lying in the middle of the floor. On inspection, I found my make-up bag with my jewellery in was open, upside down & inside my handbag but nothing was missing. The purse where I kept a small amount of cash was still there. There was no cash remaining but my credit card was inside.
Then I went to the safe. I had put my other valuables inside (passport, emergency credit cards, all the rest of the cash). However, I had left it unlocked, with the door open & the wardrobe door where it sat was also ajar. Thankfully, everything was still safe inside.
As I looked around the only thing I could see that was missing was my small travel speaker which had been sitting on top of the fridge.
And then my eyes rested on the knife. The big, sharp knife that I had been using to chop my vegetables for dinner the night before sat ominously in the drainer by the sink.
And that’s when I realised how lucky I was!”
What had gone was minimal. Some cash & my little speaker. He clearly had plans to take my laptop & phone, but I can only assume I had woken up & caused him to flee. But everything else was just stuff. It would have been incredibly inconvenient (& costly) to have lost it but my thoughts always kept coming back to that knife…& every time I felt lucky.
Once it became light, I went outside to confirm my suspicions. The door was unlocked. The first thing I saw was the mosquito grill in the flowerbed. And as I turned back it all became clear. He had removed the grill, reached through the window, between the bars & been able to unlock the door with his hand & walk straight in.
I felt sick.
As I gathered my thoughts, I made a call to my apartment host. He was devastated & came over immediately. He assured me that this had never happened before. After a quick explanation, he called the police & three of them arrived within 5 minutes. As they all surveyed the area & I explained what had happened it became clearer. He had destroyed the CCTV which was directly outside my room before he came in.
I was obviously shaken. We arranged for the female officer to come back two days later to take a statement & they left. My host said he would call around & find somewhere else for me to stay at their expense. I was back on my own before 8am.
Later that day, my host came round to check on me. There were no other options available, but they offered to move me into another room which was not on the ground floor. I accepted. He had a friend coming to change the locks to something more secure. He showed me the CCTV footage.
The guy had a towel over his head so we couldn’t see his face. He came straight to my room & looked through both windows. Then he destroyed the CCTV camera & came in to join me.
That sick feeling
Once I was settled in my new room, it started to sink in. Had I been being watched? Who was it?
Although I recognised how lucky I had been, I also felt violated. My usual defiance on travelling alone was a thing of the past. Lie low. Don’t go walking around. Don’t stick out.”
And I just couldn’t stop crying. I was exhausted, emotionally & physically. I slept.
My host returned later to see how I was again. He felt terrible & had spoken to a few of his friends locally about what had happened. One of them had offered to deliver a free meal & another, a slap-up breakfast. He made a very good point when he said…
Most people are just lovely & all they want is for you to have an amazing time here & go home & tell everyone. Unfortunately, a few are just ar**holes”.
16 Essential Hotel Safety Tips For Women Travelling Alone
As a result of my experiences, for the rest of my trip, I was extra vigilant about where I stayed & how I acted when I was there. So, here are my top hotel safety tips, learned the hard way. I hope it will help you keep yourself & your stuff safe while you travel. In addition, please check out my 15 Top Safety Tips for Travelling Alone as a Woman for more invaluable tips & tricks.
If safety is a particular concern of yours, then head over to Empowerful via the Solo Female Travel portal, a one-stop-shop of resources for all things female, safety & travel related. On the site are over 30 sessions, involving 35 experts, across 50 hours of content.
There are a few things on this list of hotel safety tips which I always do & on this occasion served me well. I have also included some hard-learned lessons I have adopted since the incident.
1. Leave valuables at home
Don’t take expensive jewellery or anything of great sentimental value on your travels. Although he had rifled through all the jewellery I had with me, he clearly decided there was nothing of value there. Opportunists like him are only interested in items they can sell, & quickly. If it’s of obvious value, then any thief will steal it. If you don’t want to lose it, leave it at home.
2. Avoid ground floor accommodation
This has never bothered me before but being on the ground floor automatically gives greater opportunities for breaking & entering. The same goes for rooms near staircases or emergency exits. Once I was moved upstairs, I felt a whole lot safer. If you are on the ground floor, double-check the distances between doors & windows. If you are not on the ground floor, look for fire escapes or staircases which could make you more accessible.
I have heard that the safest place to stay in hotels is between the 2nd & 6th floor. High enough to avoid break-ins, low enough for easy escape in an emergency.”
3. Check the room
The main questions about room location & access are one thing to check, but as an extra hotel safety tip, go one step further. Check in the wardrobe, under the bed, in the bathroom & behind the curtains. If anyone can get in your room while you are staying there, they can also get in before you arrive. Don’t be shy & look in all the potential hiding places before you accept the room.
4. Split your money
Never keep all your money in one place & only ever have a small amount with you. Split credit cards too, just in case. I only had enough cash for the day in the purse he found, along with the credit card I use when travelling. I was carrying a lot more in local currency & US dollars, but it was in my travel wallet in the safe, along with my passport & emergency credit cards.
5. Lock & double lock doors
Always make the most of all the locks you have. Use any deadlocks & extra safety measures available to you. Clearly, I did this, but it turned out to be easily overcome.
6. Block the door
There are lots of gadgets you can get to help keep you safe. In this case, an important hotel safety hack would be to pack a simple rubber doorstop. You can also buy alarmed versions for even greater hotel security. However, even if you don’t have anything fancy, then a chair against the door with something that will make a noise if moved, will be enough to scare off an intruder.
Consider that most thieves are opportunists. They are not there to cause harm but to take what they can & sell it on quickly. Make it difficult for them & they will not stay around to see what you have.”
7. Close the windows
If there is one big thing I have changed it’s appreciating air conditioning, or using fans to get the air circulating. I will never open the windows at night again. Or only if I’m sure that there is no way of this incident being repeated. If there isn’t any air conditioning or a fan, then again, the higher your room, the better for both safety reasons & access to a cooling breeze.
And lock it even if you are in the room! If there is not a safe available, then it is worth investing in a couple of locks. I often keep my valuables in my backpack, lock the zips together & then attach it to an immovable object in the room. The more difficult & awkward your locking system is, the more likely that an intruder will leave it alone.
9. Travel safety accessories
No round-up of hotel safety tips would be complete without discussing a few gadgets that can help. I have already mentioned how valuable locks can be. Many travellers swear by the use of money belts, neck wallets or money pouches to keep their cash safe while out & about. I carried a travel wallet with me which I kept in the safe & away from my more obvious handbag. I also use an old-fashioned crossbody handbag. I carry it in the front & keep my purse in a zip pocket inside. Ideally, it will fasten with a zip & even better if it’s a concealed one.
10. Have a torch (flashlight) by your bed
If I had been awake enough when I clearly scared off my intruder, having a torch close by could have helped even further. It may have distracted him from taking the few items that he did. I did have my phone but clearly, this had already been moved away so having access to a less desirable light would have been an advantage.
This is especially true when you are not in the room, by cutting down the opportunities for potential intruders to see what you have. Breaking in while I was there, was a big risk, even though I was asleep. Breaking in when you are not in your hotel room is a much safer option. With the curtains closed & even the TV on low volume, it would be a bold thief who would try his luck.
12. Avoid door signs
Another big hotel safety hack is to not leave the signs out on your door. Inconvenient though this may be for getting your room serviced, or ordering breakfast, it is the safer option. A “Please make up my room” card clearly displays that you are not there. A room service breakfast card not only shows your room number but also how many of you are there. If you require either of these then it is better to phone reception & make your request, just in case.
13. Go incognito
Don’t advertise your presence & what expensive objects you have with you. I could have been better with this. I am a confident traveller & never like to shy away from an opportunity to explore. If I had caught anyone’s attention, then it was probably likely that they noticed I was always on my own. When you are asked, make it clear that you are meeting someone later. Maybe your “husband” is not feeling well back in the room?
In addition, always keep any valuable items like your laptop hidden when you are in public. I used mine on the patio, but it was behind a wall & a high hedge. But you never know who may have been watching from the upstairs rooms opposite.
Once something like this happens, it makes you paranoid. After the incident I made it a habit to go from my room to the car & back again. I didn’t walk around the town alone again. I hated it for that”
14. Don’t answer the door
If anyone knocks, make sure you are comfortable with who they are before you open the door. Just in case.
15. Befriend everyone
In my example, there were only a couple of people who were associated with my accommodation to befriend. Befriending them meant they went out of their way to make me feel comfortable & even got me a couple of free meals. But in a larger hotel, the more people who know you, the more will be looking out for you & making sure you are safe.
16. Trust your gut
Finally, I want to express that my biggest hotel safety tip is to trust your gut. Don’t panic & be scared, just aware. As with anything in life, if it feels wrong, stop. Ask for help. Don’t move your stuff in. Request another room. Your comfort & safety is the most important thing & if your accommodation choice doesn’t have this at the forefront of their mind, then do you really want to give them your custom?
To reiterate, this is the first time in 30 years of travel this has happened to me. It could have been a lot worse. I hope that through sharing my story & the hotel safety hacks I have learned, you can avoid this happening to you. Don’t be scared, just aware. And most of all, stay safe.
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