Travel Safety Part III – At the Hotel (Motel, Holiday Inn…)

This is the third post of my travel safety series.  Read on for common sense tips on how to stay safe in your hotel so that you can get a good night’s sleep!

Over the years, I’ve stayed in all kinds of lodging.  Hotels, motels, hostels, guesthouses, B&Bs…some reputable, some not so reputable.  I don’t require much.  A clean bed.  A cleaner bathroom.  Enough plugs for my phone (and iPad, and laptop), hair dryer, and straightener.  And a working wifi connection.

I routinely hang the “Do Not Disturb” sign outside my locked door at night using the deadbolt – and latch or chain if there is one – before (safely) tucking myself in for the night.

Once upon a time I was on a business trip in Wichita, Kansas (long story).  We were put up in an average 3* hotel located near the office.  In the middle of the night someone started pounding on my door.  It sounded like a very angry man who kept shouting the name of a woman (not me).  He attempted to jiggle the handle several times and pushed his weight against the door.  My initial thought was “WTF? Is this really happening?” Once my brain started working again, I dialed the front desk to report the attempted break-in (intrusion?).  I don’t know what happened next, but the banging stopped and I was able to (finally) get to sleep.

rickshaw

Rickshaw ride in Old Delhi, India

Fast forward a few years later, and I had just arrived to my New Delhi hotel.  It was my 4th or 5th visit to India and easily my 3rd stay at a very nice 5* hotel. The staff knew me well since my visits were often 2-3 weeks long, and one in particular had taken a liking to me. He always offered to help me with my luggage upon arrival (usually around 3am).

On this trip, he began appearing at my door without notice to ask if I needed anything.  He also made several unsolicited phone calls to my room to inquire about my day and to offer to take me out on the weekend. Finally, I reminded him that I was a guest at his hotel and that all visits and phone calls needed to end immediately or I’d have to bring this up with the hotel manager. Thankfully, he respected my wishes, but it could have easily gone a different way.

As a solo female business traveler, specifically, I’ve since learned that there are additional precautions that I can take to avoid any unnecessary attention and keep myself safe at night.  However, these tips can be used by anyone – male or female – and will bring additional peace of mind during your stay at your home away from home.

1. Request a higher floor.  Ground floor rooms are easily accessible by other guests, staff, and visitors.  Guess where my room was in Wichita?

2.  Ask that your room be in a heavily trafficked part of the hotel and not isolated.  That way, if something happens, there will be enough people around in the event of an emergency.

3. Throw a rubber door stop in your bag.  Instead of using it to prop the door open, insert it from the inside of the room.  This helps to keep the door closed in the event someone is trying to force entry into your room.  The door stop doesn’t take up much room and it slows down a potential intruder possibly deterring them altogether.

Rubber Door Stops can slow down a potential intruder

4.  DO NOT give your room number to anyone (unless this person is someone you know and trust and you feel comfortable doing so).  If you have to meet someone, arrange to meet in the lobby or breakfast room.

5. Grab an extra business card at check in and carry it with you at all times. If you need to duck into a taxi and cannot communicate in the native language, you can quickly share the hotel information and be on your way.

6. Don’t open the door just because the person on the other side claims that they’re part of the hotel management, room service, etc.  If you didn’t call for service, and feel uneasy about the situation, call down to the front desk and confirm.

7. Don’t let others know that you’re not in your room.  Avoid using the “Please Make Up Room” (or whatever the variant is) when you leave.  This is a clear marker that you’ve left your room and an open invitation to anyone who’s ready and willing.

Part IV will be the last installment of my travel safety series. In this post, I’ll discuss tips for how to stay safe in emergency situations. Things can, and will, go wrong.  The key is being prepared so you know what to do when it does.

Related Links:

Should I Fly East or West?

Recently, I met a good friend for dinner who wanted some travel guidance before booking her first flight to the land down under (a reference to the 80s hit by ‘Man at Work’ about an Australian traveler).

She is not new to international travel, but this would be her first major long-haul flight (long-haul classically defined as flights lasting more than 7 hours).  She came with very good questions:

  • Is it better to fly east or west for such a long flight?
  • Do I need a visa to visit Australia?
  • I’m considering adding in a short trip to Sydney.  How do I add that in without dramatically increasing costs?

Later, I wondered how many of our clients also wondered about similar questions when planning long-haul flights.  So before you book your next flight, consider the following:

1. Jet lag is harder when going east, but it can be faster with less flight connections

See, your body clock naturally runs longer than 24 hours.  When you travel west you gain hours which makes it easier for the body to adjust because you now have the extra time it wants.  Traveling east, the day is dramatically shortened making it that much harder to adjust because the natural cycle is now limited.

BUT, something else to consider when booking long-haul flights is how many connections you will have to reach your final destination.  The risk of missed or lost bags (and missed flights) increases with the number of connections you have.

Lastly, consider that flying east – albeit harder on the body – is often faster than flying west because of the extra oopmh planes get from the jet stream.

I checked the price from Dulles to Perth, Australia and the difference to fly west (via LAX with 2 connections and flight time of 38 hours) versus east (via Doha with 1 connection and flight time of 31 hours) was $100.

I’d fly through Doha.

2. Do I need a visa?

The U.S. State Department keeps an updated list of country-specific entry & exit requirements.  This is a great place to start your research.  If you still have questions about specific requirements or need assistance in processing your visa paperwork, please feel free to contact me.

3. Why are multi-leg tickets sometimes way more expensive?

Does anything regarding airfare pricing make sense?
Honestly, it depends.

Let’s pretend you have the following itinerary:
IAD>PERTH>SYDNEY>IAD

To price the flight as one itinerary with all stops is called “multi-leg.”  This routing will generally be much more expensive because it includes numerous one-way legs forming a “closed loop.”

Instead, I’d recommend “open jaw” tickets where the traveler books a trip into Perth and departs from Sydney.  Open jaw tickets provide greater flexibility for the traveler and are less expensive than purchasing individual one-way tickets. In this example, there are a number of regional, low-fare airlines that the traveler can choose to get them from Perth to Sydney.

I often book open jaw tickets when traveling to Europe using trains or other low-fare airlines to get me around while on the continent.

(I don’t profess to fully understand all the ins and outs related to airfare pricing, so this may vary depending on destinations, time of year, etc.)

Leave a comment and let me know:

Would you fly east or west?
Do those factors mean more than price?

Bill Bryson says…

“…[T]here are always people who don’t want to go anywhere and I think that’s a great pity because two things happen when you travel – you find out there are other ways of doing things, and that sometimes they are better; and sometimes they’re not done half as well. But it gives you a much greater appreciation for what you’ve got at home, or how you might improve it.” Why people wouldn’t want to do that is a mystery to me.”

Bill Bryson, a travel writing icon (legend?), when asked in a recent interview on why some people have no interest in traveling.

Why Is My Flight Cancelled?

Because “the Cancellator” said so, that’s why.

So dubbed by American Airlines employees, it’s a computer system comprised of programs and predictive models that manages which planes take off and which are grounded.  Bill Saporito of Time magazine said that factors include “…who’s flying, where they’re going, where are the jets, and where are the pilots.”

Who’s less likely to be a victim of the Cancellator? Those flying internationally, or domestic flights with crews connecting to an international flight.

Flights with no connections or those flying to major hubs are more likely to be grounded by the Cancellator because of the ability to rebook those flights.

You really can’t make this stuff up!

Check out the original story on Yahoo! Travel News here.

How to Travel with Your Pets

We recently adopted a second dog.  She’s a Treeing Walker Coonhound named Moonshine.  She’s everything our Rat Terrier, Kaiser, is not. We love to be around our dogs and wish we could take them everywhere with us on our travels.  As avid travelers, the length of the long-haul flights coupled with quarantine requirements (for some countries) outweigh the benefits of bringing our pets with us.

A few years ago, we took Kaiser with us on a short road trip.  He failed his first hotel stay miserably.  He was on high-alert the whole night barking at everyone that passed by our door. No one slept and we needed a vacation from the vacation after that experiment.

After that experience, we opted to board our dog at doggy day care, and now sign up for in-home overnights from local business Alpha Pets, Inc., to ease the anxiety on everyone.  Our pets are happy, and we’re happy.  It’s a win-win for everyone.

But for over 50% of Americans, your furbabies are right in tow along with your neck pillow and 3 oz. of liquids.  Just as you take care and caution in traveling with small children or breakables in your luggage, the same kind of thought and care should apply when traveling with your pets.

If you are considering bringing your pet along with you on your next vacation, here are some great tips to keep in mind to make your trip as comfortable as possible for both you and them.

1. Do Your Homework — Airline regulations vary in terms of what breeds are allowed, how much the dog can weigh and whether the dog can fly in the cabin or as cargo, the type of carriers that are allowed, and the fees that are involved.  Additionally, the USDA requires the following with all carriers: food and water dishes, “Live Animal” stickers, upright arrows and bedding  It is also critical that you check the pet incident records for the specific airline.  These reports will tell you how many were lost, died, or injured in recent years.

Also, if you intend to fly with Fido or Fluffy, book them early.  Each plane is allowed a maximum of in-cabin or cargo animals and waiting until the last minute means they may not be able to come after all.

2. Assess Pet Health — Just because your pet can fly, doesn’t mean they should.  Older dogs, or those in poor health, are probably better left at home.  Some dogs, such as pugs which are prone to breathing problems, are mostly prohibited from flying in cargo and may not be allowed at all.

3. Carry copies of your pet records in your carry-on — This should include copies showing that your pet is current on its vaccinations, whether your pet is micro-chipped, and any other entry/quarantine documents that may be required if you are traveling outside of the U.S.

4. Tags and Collars – Ensure that your pet is wearing its collar with you contact information.  Make sure that your contact information is also prominently displayed on the pet carrier itself as well.

Courtesy of southbridge.olx.com

5. Exercise before the flight — this will not only help you, but it will greatly soothe your animal before the long flight.  Whether in the main cabin in or in cargo, you are not allowed to take the pet out until you reach your destination (unless you have great seatmates and a pet-lover for a flight attendant).  Exercise can help to tired out your animal and make it easier for them to sleep for the whole flight.

6. Book Pet-Friendly Hotels — websites such as www.pet-friendly-hotels.net or http://www.petswelcome.com can help you select a hotel that has pet-friendly policies and rates for your four-legged friend.

For those of you travelers that take to the road more often than the friendly skies, tips 2-5 are still very applicable.  I would also add that road travelers should safely secure their pets in a carrier or modified seat belt to reduce the risk of injury to your pet in the event of an accident.  Paws and their head should be kept in the car to limit risk of lung and ear damage for your pets!

Also,make sure to plan enough pit stops for your pets to take care of business, move their legs, and to hydrate.  Not a bad idea for their humans, either!

Do you travel with your pets?
What has been your experience and what other tips would you recommend?

How to Behave on the Subway

The Tokyo Metro system has been reminding passengers on its crowded public transportation system how to behave since 1974.

The campaign got a facelift last year and continues to remind riders to turn off their cell phones, shake their umbrellas before boarding, not to play loud music, and give priority seats to pregnant women with a series of adorable posters.

Tokyo Metro poster

See the whole collection here.

Travel Headline Roundup

I was skimming the travel headlines today and came across a few jewels in the rough that haven’t gotten mainstream press (yet).  Here are my favorites:

 The shocker story.

Passengers using free wifi at a major Canadian airport were tracked by for a week afterwards by Canada’s version of the NSA as their phones and laptops plugged into other wifi spots across the continent.  In coordination with the NSA.

Why should this concern you?   

Because it’s illegal.  And because it begs the question who else can monitor you wanted to check your email between flights.  I’m working under the assumption that my readers are not part of some illicit organization whose movements maybe should be tracked, but it does act as a reminder to think twice about the types of wifi networks we use when traveling and that when possible, to use a secure network over an unsecured one.

 The funny story.

For the first time since…ever…the state of Louisiana is releasing advertisement

to encourage tourists to visit for Mardi Gras.  The Governor of Louisiana says its meant to draw tourist to other parts of the state.

Let’s be honest, if you’re going to go to Louisiana for Mardi Gras, you’re probably (in all honesty) going to New Orleans.  Last I checked, NOLA didn’t need any help drawing a crowd even when it’s NOT Mardi Gras!

The not so disappointing story.

Ryanair’s CEO has ruled out low-cost transatlantic flights because competing airlines, such as Etihad and Emirates, are driving long-haul aircraft prices up because of the amount of planes they’re buying [to meet their expansionist objectives].

I don’t mind.  Honestly.

Even if he could drop transatlantic prices to half of what they are now, Ryanair boasts some of the most expensive baggage fees and airport check in fees of all the airlines. Thank goodness you can still use the toilet for free!

And finally, the absolutely ridiculous story. 

Japan’s new ANA ad launched with the intent of  appealing to non-Japanese travelers as it launches new international routes.  Two pilots talk about their new destinations: Hanoi and Vancouver.  One says to the other, “Let’s change the image of the Japanese.”  The other responds – now dressed in a blonde wig and a long pointy nose – “Of course.”

The ad was pulled after it was criticized as being racist.

Was it?
You tell me.