The 1,300 members of the Women's Travel Club share their secrets with T&L
It's a sad fact of life that a woman traveling alone faces more danger than a man. To fight the fear, the Women's Travel Club--founded in 1992 by Phyllis Stoller--posts its members' tips on the club's Web site. Here's what they've learned over the years. (As with any advice, some of it may seem overly cautious, but the cliché holds: it's better to be safe than sorry.)
CHOOSING A HOTEL
1. Smaller is smarter: you want the staff to be familiar with guests and with you. The smaller the lobby, the more noticeable the loiterers.
2. Aim for a well-trafficked street (neighborhood restaurants and late-night stores mean traffic, corporate offices mean darkness). Affluent residential areas tend to have more efficient transportation and fewer threatening street people.
3. If you're still concerned about the area, ask a female employee--not one in reservations--whether she walks around at night. (Call the restaurant, for instance.)
4. A reception and concierge desk near the entrance, and/or the elevators, is more likely to deter non-guest undesirables.
5. There should be privacy for guests checking in: no one should be able to overhear a name, room number, or other personal information.
6. Room numbers should be written on the key envelope, not mentioned aloud or inscribed on the key--this way, anyone finding your key won't have access to your room.
7. Look for a parking lot that is well lit and secure. Find out if there's valet parking . . . and if it will be available when you need it.
8. Does the hotel gym have an attendant?Being alone and semi-dressed in the basement is not good for your health.
9. The hotel should have sufficient staff to walk you to your room late at night. Inquire when you book and you'll get an idea of how woman-friendly the hotel is.
10. Request one near the elevators and away from any renovation work. Have your key out when you leave the elevator.
11. You want to be far from emergency exits (which someone might pry open to avoid using the elevators), and on an upper floor away from catwalks and terraces.
12. The door should have double locks--one of which is a dead bolt--and a peephole. Bring along a rubber doorstop for extra security.
13. The please make up this room sign tells everyone you're not there. Call housekeeping instead.
14. Conversely, the do not disturb sign can make the room seem occupied (especially handy if you leave expensive items inside).
15. Put expensive clothing on hangers under other garments. Robbers usually "shop" what they can see.
16. Lock valuables in the front-desk safe.
17. If your bag is stolen from the hotel, recruit management to search for it. Most hotel robberies are committed by the staff, and many properties, especially overseas, don't allow employees to leave with packages; thieves take the money and dump the rest.
18. Stand near the elevator buttons with your back to the wall; if threatened, push all the buttons at once.
19. Study a map before going out; once on the street, use a pocket-size guidebook to avoid looking like a tourist. Your hotel's concierge or a female employee can mark any dangerous areas on your map.
20. Dress down.
21. Avoid jewelry--even a chain that's fake gold can be ripped off your neck. Do consider wearing a wedding ring.
22. Loop a money belt around your belt loops so that if someone cuts it, it won't fall from your waist.
23. Be wary when getting off a bus or train, or riding stairs and escalators; that's when pickpockets tend to strike.
24. Carry just one credit card and photocopies of important documents. Divide money for small and larger purchases so you don't have to expose a wad of bills. (When sharing with friends, keep a kitty for common expenses to make digging for cash in public places unnecessary.) Become familiar with foreign currency before you need to use it.
25. Have gratuities ready for porters and doormen.
26. Use prepaid phone cards instead of carrying your card number.
27. Ask the concierge to make any restaurant reservations, and have him or her say, "Please take care of our guest, she's coming alone and will need a taxi home."
28. Should a car start to follow you, immediately turn and walk the opposite way.
29. If you must ask for directions, approach families or women with children. To be extra safe, say, "Where is the --?I'm meeting my husband there."
30. On sidewalks, keep your handbag and other valuables away from the street side (and on escalators, away from the opposite ramp).
31. If attacked, yell as loud as possible.
32. Use covered luggage tags. Instead of your home address, write that of your office.
33. Lock all suitcases. If you make a lot of purchases on your trip, secure the bag with strong tape.
34. In public rest rooms, use the corner stall.
35. On overnight flights, keep an eye on your valuables. When you go to the lavatory, take your purse with you.
36. Talk to female passengers and flight attendants on the plane about the safety of your destination.
37. In a busy area, if you deposit your belongings on your car's passenger seat, lock the door before walking around to the driver's side.
38. Don't exit a taxi until you're sure you've arrived at your destination. Pay while still in the car so that you can be sure you've gotten the proper change.
39. Stay close to your valuables when passing through airport security.
40. If you place your carry-on bag on the floor when sitting in a restaurant or other public area, put your foot through the strap; don't leave it loose.
41. Tear your name and address off magazines before leaving them on the plane. Why announce to the world that you're away?
42. So you won't get lost when leaving a tricky airport, hire a taxi to lead your rental car to the expressway. Don't use an unmarked taxi; if necessary, take public transportation to a city center.
43. Rent a mobile phone or bring your own. And put the police on speed dial.
44. On the road, if someone tries to get your attention or your car is bumped, don't stop until you arrive at a well-lit and busy area, or lacking that, stay in the car and blow the horn until someone comes to your aid.
45. If suspicious about "phony" police, don't open the window. Instead, hold your license against the glass.
46. In your car, keep items out of sight (especially maps and guidebooks). Hatchbacks leave your luggage in plain view.
47. When possible, park so you won't have to back out. It makes for a speedier departure.
48. Don't just check the weather at your destination; also make a note of when the sun rises and sets.
49. Log onto an Internet chat room to obtain safety info about a place you're planning to visit.
50. If you're the victim of a crime, contact the police and keep the report. Insurance companies require this documentation.
The Women's Travel Club can be reached at 800/480-4448 or 305/936-9669, as well as at www.womenstravelclub.com.