How to keep yourself (and your stuff) safe in a hotel or Airbnb
When you're out of town, you shouldn't feel like you left your sense of security behind. To keep yourself and your possessions safe from theft and other dangers when staying at a hotel or Airbnb, here are some helpful tips:
- Limit valuables
- Take precautions before you leave
- Check for cameras
- Keep your belongings out of sight
- Lock away what you can
- Protect yourself while out and about
1. Limit valuables
Even before you set out, pack modestly. Keep expensive jewelry, electronics, and other items to a minimum, and consider keeping your clothes and accessories pretty casual where you can. Your appearance could tip off potential thieves if you dress up to the nines daily, but don’t let that deter you from bringing a couple of nice evening outfits.
2. Take precautions before you leave
To minimize risks before you’re even out the door, attach AirTags or similar tracking devices to your keys, bags, or other items so you can recover them more easily if they’re lost. And if you haven’t already, take a minute to research local safety tips as well. Scout out which streets and areas are safest, and check for advice from locals on online forums and social media pages. For international travel, the U.S. Department of State has compiled a list of travel advisory news.
For more distant, longer, or more expensive trips, consider travel insurance. Depending on your coverage, you can be reimbursed for unexpected cancellations, medical costs, and lost items. Some homeowners insurance can also cover valuables lost while you’re away from home. For example, if you lose a diamond ring while exploring the city or local areas, you may be covered—as long as you file a police report. So give your homeowners' insurance policy a quick check a few weeks before your trip to see what it covers.
3. Check for cameras
Once you’ve made it to your destination and into your hotel room or Airbnb, take a minute to ensure there aren’t any hidden cameras. Any reliable lodging will give you a list of disclosed cameras if there are any inside your reserved area. But whether there’s a list or not, it doesn’t hurt to check for unexpected surveillance—preferably before you unpack your belongings.
When you arrive, check any odd or out-of-place objects. After dark, turn the lights off and scan the room with a flashlight. Look for the glint of a lens in the light to track down any errant cameras. And if you see any loose vents, suspicious gaps, or false electrical outlets, spare a minute to search them if you sense something’s off.
You can also use a network scanner app, like Network Scanner by First Row or iNet, to sniff out cameras. Connect to the property’s Wi-Fi, then use the app to sift through the network for connected devices. If there are any cameras in the network, you should see them listed.
Vacation rentals do often have privacy rules to follow, but Airbnb, for example, allows cameras in common areas, such as kitchens, living rooms, and other open areas. (1) Cameras in bedrooms, bathrooms, and similarly private areas are strictly prohibited—but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t check for them anyway.
Should you spot a camera in your Airbnb that doesn’t belong, don’t just remove or ignore it—get in touch with both Arbnb and the host. You can also choose to file a police report if the state allows it, as laws can vary between states.
4. Keep your belongings out of sight
Whether the property has cameras or not, don’t leave your valuables and other items out in the open. Tuck them away whenever you leave your hotel room or rental. Put your valuables in safe places, and take note of where everything is.
If you’re particularly concerned with hotel employees or rental hosts accessing your things without permission, you can bring a small, easy-to-install security camera with you. Place it wherever you can see your belongings clearly, and if it has an app, set up notifications for any tracked movement.
5. Lock away what you can
Take advantage of locks and portable lock boxes. Lock up your luggage whenever you’re away from it with a combination lock or padlock, and store your most valuable items and paperwork in a portable lock box within your luggage. Avoid hotel safes, as they can be pretty easy for others to get into with simple backup codes. In rare cases, they can be completely removed from the room with all your items still inside.
If you’d like an extra layer of security, bring along a portable door lock to secure any door you choose, whether it’s your bedroom door or an exterior door.
6. Protect yourself while out and about
Travel safety doesn’t end with your rental or hotel room. Be sure to protect yourself, your things, and your card information while you're out on the town. Invest in a personal safety alarm or other defensive tools, and bring along a theft-proof purse or bag to deter theft.
To keep your financial information secure, slip an RFID-blocking tag into your wallet or purse. Even though chip cards are more secure than stripe-only cards, thieves can still use RFID scanners to digitally pickpocket. The scanners trick chip cards into thinking they’re making a purchase, and you may end up “paying” a thief without realizing it. With an RFID-blocking tag, you can avoid this entirely.
Radio frequency identification (RFID) is a way for digital information to be transmitted through radio waves. It's used in many applications, such as credit cards, hotel keys, inventory management systems, and vehicle access tags.
Play it safe while abroad
With a few safety precautions, you can ensure you and your things are secure from theft and other nefarious intentions. Enjoy the museums, the shows, and the beaches without worrying about your valuables or financial information. Explore freely, and stay safe out there.
To take that carefree feeling a step further, take some time to secure your home before you leave—if you haven’t already.
Laura West is an editorial expert with a specialty in simplifying concepts, software, and tech for the everyday person. She’s worked in a variety of topics, including solar, home security, and B2B finance software, and she’s passionate about providing clear, concise answers in the most useful ways. In her free time, Laura writes creatively and rants about her current TV obsessions—usually with a steady stream of coffee.
Eric Paulsen is a writer, editor, and strategist who has been creating content in the B2B, healthcare, FinTech, home security, and government sectors for more than five years. He holds an MFA in creative writing and lets everyone in his life hang that over his head. When he doesn’t have his hands deep in some piece of content, he’s either watching baseball or praying for the offseason to end quickly.
Endnotes and sources
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1. “Use of cameras and recording devices,” Airbnb. Accessed 26 October 2022.