Don’t Trust the Hotel Safe, and Other Surprising Rules to Protect Your Stuff on Vacation

Updated: Mar. 13, 2024

Your hotel might not be as secure as you think.

During vacation, you’re dragging your belongings to unfamiliar places. If you’re staying in a hotel (put luggage in the hotel bathroom, here’s the reason why), your two options are to take your things with you or leave them in your room. But don’t be too trusting of your hotel room. “Even though you’re issued a hotel key, that’s not really a guarantee of safety,” says Chris McGoey, CPP, CSP, CAM, president of McGoey Security Consulting.

Hotel employees often have access to rooms, even when they’re locked, and people from outside the company can come in while housekeepers are cleaning and act like it’s their room, says Kevin Coffey, founder of Corporate Travel Safety, a site that sells anti-theft products and maintains a travel security information blog. Some thieves are opportunists tempted by belongings left in plain sight, while others dig around for items to steal, he says. Some of the common places they’ll check are inside suitcases and drawers, and under the mattress, he says.

As a rule of thumb, never leave anything unprotected in your room if you can’t afford to lose it, McGoey says. Ask yourself: “What would ruin your day or week if you lost it?” he says. That means items like your phone, wallet, and passport should always come with you. Better yet, make sure you know these 22 tips for a safe hotel stay before you go.

But what if you don’t have room to drag all of your important belongings along? Using a hotel safe is a better option than leaving property out in the open, but it might not be as secure as you’d think. “All you have to do is ask the front desk, and they can open it in a matter of seconds,” McGoey says. “People out there have keys or the access code. It’s not something to protect something.”

One alternative is to buy a portable travel safe.  One model, for example, has stainless steel mesh wire between two layers of canvas. The top can be closed with a drawstring-like cable that can be locked around a fixed item in a hotel room. “The only way to get something out is with a decent set of steel cutters,” Coffey says.

If you don’t want to buy a new product and a larger item like a laptop won’t fit in the hotel safe, make your property as secure as possible. Lock your suitcase, and use a small chain to secure it to a piece of furniture. “Locks are made to keep honest people honest,” Coffey says. “They’re easy to break open. But if it’s an internal employee, they won’t want to leave evidence behind.” You could also leave your luggage with the front desk if you’re concerned.

To prepare for the worst-case scenario, have a backup plan to recover from theft. Print out a copy of your credit card, driver’s license, and plane ticket and leave in an envelope with a family member, or scan a copy to the cloud—just make sure it’s encrypted or password-protected, McGoey says. “Just having a plan makes the loss less tough,” he says. But you shouldn’t lose this awareness once you leave the hotel—stay safe throughout your entire vacation by knowing these ways hackers get you when you travel.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest