Hotel Security : The Basics Of Keeping Your Valuables Safe

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12/08/2009 – Hotel Security : The Basics Of Keeping Your Valuables Safe

A few days ago a Saudi Arabian Princess checked into an exclusive hotel in Porto Cervo, Italy. While the Saudi Princess was away from her room for dinner, thieves used a master key from the hotel to enter her room and completely remove the rooms safe from the wall, which was affixed inside the wall with silicon adhesive. The total time the thieves would have spent in the room? Less than 10 minutes…the grand total of what the thieves walked away with? An estimated US$16,000,000 in cash and jewellery.

While the vast majority of Flying With Fish readers probably don’t travel with US$16mil in assets on them, I’m willing to bet that many travel with some valuables they need secured at some point. Photographers in particular are subject to quickly entering a thief’s radar and becoming targets.

In a four-week span at the end of 2008 there appeared to be a rash of hotel thefts I was contacted about by readers. These thefts all occurred at hotels most travellers would feel safe in and included the Mandarin Oriental in London, The W in Manhattan, The Ritz-Carlton in Honolulu and Movenpick in Doha. Although staying in nicer hotels is a significant comfort increase than a US$20 per night motel, and there may be more personal security, but in terms of property security, many travellers merely have a false sense of security.

Thieves who work in, and around, hotels need to be quick and blend in. These thieves need to be able to enter a room and get out immediately. They don’t know when you’ll return, they don’t know when someone else may enter, and they certainly cannot make a commotion. You need to protect yourself from being a potential risk and avoid becoming a target.

The following are some basic tips for reducing your chances of becoming the victim of a hotel thief.

1) Don’t travel with extremely expensive luggage. Flashy luggage, like an entire set of Louis Vuitton baggage or Globe-Trotter Luggage, stands out to thieves. Your baggage needs to be functional, and while a single piece of designer luggage won’t draw attention in a nice hotel, an entire collection of designer luggage does stand out.

2) When in a public area of a hotel never discusses the contents of your bags?

3) If you’re in a profession where you are likely to travelling with expensive items, such as being a photographer, do not discuss your profession or equipment in public areas of a hotel

4) Never write your room number on your key.

5) If your hotel room keys are without a logo, remove them from the sleeve, that way no one knows where you’re staying. Don’t make a thief’s job easier.

6) When traveling always have your serial numbers accessible for high dollar items, such as cameras and lenses. Store this information completely separate from your valuables. I store mine in my Blackberry or the iPhone ‘App’ Packing

7) When storing valuable items in your room, try and use hard to access spot when possible, such as directly under the bed. This cuts down on a thief’s ability to quick access your gear, and hotel thieves need to be quick in-and-out. I have locked my valuables under the bed, behind a toilet, to a high vantage point luggage rack and other challenging locations in a room.

8 ) When leaving valuables in your room, when possible use a hard case, such as a Pelican Case or an anti-theft bag protector. When using a Pelican Case I use dual locks for the two locking points and at least two locking cables for securing the case. If a hard case is not an option, travel with a PacSafe Anti-Theft Bag Protectors. The PacSafe Anti-Theft Bag Protectors full covers your bags with a hard metal mesh, and then cinches off around the bag to keep hands out. I generally lock all the zippers on my bag before placing it in the PacSafe Anti-Theft Bag Protector, and like the Pelican Case I try and lock it to two different places for added security.

In general most thieves do not walk through hotels with bolt cutters. It is very hard to conceal a large set of bolt cutters and they would draw attention.

Be smart, be safe, keep a low profile and chances are you’ll never even pop up on a thief’s radar.

Happy Flying!


  1. Some hotel rooms have safe’s which are only small enough to keep the essential valuables in – passport, cash, ‘phone.

    Do you recommend asking at the front desk of an hotel, to see if they can place your DSLR in a larger safe that they have? Presumably, if this is the case, you’d want some form of written confirmation from the hotel as to what you’ve given them and that they’re in possession of it?

    I’m not a professional photographer, and can’t really afford hard cases etc. but perhaps you can recommend (or not) asking whether the hotel can do this for you, or alternatively whether it’s just safer to use PacSafe equipment to secure things so well in your room a thief would have to take out the supporting wall to get at your possessions?

    Any thoughts?


  2. Steven,

    I’d really like to hear your take on Chris’s question. This is the one area I agonize over every time I travel – what to take – what to leave and do I leave it in the hotel room. Generally when I travel domestically and have a car, anything I have of value goes with me and is locked in the car in as inconspicuous a manner as possible. Maybe not necessarily safer, but I know where it is and might be able to discover its loss sooner than waiting to get back to a hotel room. I’m really curious as to your thoughts on hotel safes in countries outside the US – the safe that supposedly only the manager has access to. Also, have you traveled internationally with one of the PacSafe bag protectors? How does this work with security and customs?

    Thanks for the great travel advice! Looking forward to reading more!


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