What Most of Us Don’t Think About When Staying in a Hotel Room

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hotel room safety

When I used to travel on business, as a woman and alone, it often crossed my mind what I would do in an emergency situation, especially hotel room safety. Hotels are generally safe for women travellers, but I always took precautions to learn about the surrounding neighborhood. Once when I was in Baltimore staying at a beautiful waterfront hotel, we were warned to not go out alone after dark. Naturally, I took that advice to heart!

While there’s no need to pack a fully equipped, hard core survival bag for a family vacation or business trip, it’s smart to think ahead to possible emergencies that could occur and be ready for them.

Getting out of a hotel in an emergency

Hotels are just large buildings. Like any building, bad things can happen, including bad luck. Power outages, floods, fire, blizzards, tornadoes, civil unrest, and all manners of other problems can affect your stay, and you need a plan if that happens. Hotel room safety doesn’t happen by accident, no pun intended.

The first step is knowing where you are. Every hotel room has a map on the back of the entry door. That map shows your room location and directions to the closest emergency exit as well as the location of the elevators, other rooms, vending and ice machines, and anything else on the floor, but the main purpose of the map is to show the emergency exit route.

When you check into the room, take a quick glance at the chart to see where the nearest stairwell is, since that will likely be the safest escape route, especially in a hotel fire scenario.

In very lage hotels, there may be other stairwells and routes out of the building that are not marked on the map in your room. Ask the front desk to show or tell you where they are located. If they don’t know or can’t tell you for some reason, look around and find them or send the kids to find them. Either way, take a few minutes to see where they are and then actually poke your head through the stairwell door and take a quick look around.

A few things to notice when checking out stairwells:

  • Does the stairwells have large banks of glass or skylights? In certain types of disasters, this glass could shatter and create an even greater hazard. Exiting your room with shoes on would be absolutely necessary.
  • Windows and skylights may shatter in an earthquake or tornado but also let in natural light (including moonlight), making it easier to move safely when the lights are out.
  • Is the stairwell door tricky or sticky to use?
  • Look around to see if there is anything else that might make it either harder or easier to use a particular staircase.

Most of us remember where the elevator is because we use it multiple times. Using the stairs a few times will help you remember where the steps are in an emergency but even mentally repeating where they are located in reference to the elevator will help.

If you have a handicapped loved one with you, it’s even more important to think and plan ahead how you would evacuate in case of an emergency. Hotel management should have those plans in place, so don’t be afraid to ask for a manager, explain your circumstances, and then get their advice for planning. Staying on the ground floor might be the best bet.

Hotel room safety in a fire

One of the first dangers that comes to mind is a hotel fire. More than 4,000 occur every year, causing injuries, deaths, and massive property losses.

In recent decades, high-rise buildings, including hotels, have become increasingly safe in a disaster. Most are now designed to be extremely safe in a fire, which also helps them be extremely safe in other emergencies. Older hotels may have been retrofitted or even entirely gutted to meet modern standards. Old or new, use the stairwells in an emergency. That’s what they are designed for.

TIP: To read about a family’s experience and to learn the 10 things you shouldn’t do in a hotel fire emergency.

One question that comes to mind is “Could the fire truck rescue us”? Or, put another way, how many floors can the fire truck ladders reach? In most cases, that would be up to around the sixth floor, depending on how tall each floor is. Many fire companies have 100-foot ladders, but that would be if it was next to the building with the ladder going straight up in the air. That won’t happen in a real-life fire.

Hotels can be over a hundred floors tall in very big cities but in most areas, they top out at four to six floors. This is easily walkable for almost anyone–certainly going down–and reachable for a fire truck ladder. A basic hotel safety tip then is to request a room on the ground floor, or no higher than the third floor.

The most important thing to know: Locate the closest stairwell and use it in an emergency.

Being prepared for hotel safety

There isn’t a need to check in to a hotel fully loaded with your survival pack, but over the years, I’ve found that having a few emergency type items can come in handy for hotel safety.

It’s a good idea to have a flashlight with you. A cell phone or tablet will almost certainly have a flashlight app that is good enough to help you navigate through the room, down the hall, and down the stairway safely, assuming the battery isn’t dead, but I like to have 1 or 2 small LED flashlights tucked in my purse, a backpack, or even my toiletries bag. They just give off a wider and brighter beam. If you have kids who would become very fearful in a hotel power outage or nighttime evacuation, these flashlights would be priceless, and since they are so inexpensive, it makes sense to always have a few with you.

It’s also a good idea to bring a few easy-to-make snacks or meals. My family was once stuck in a hotel at the center of a fairly large power outage, right at dinner time. No restaurants or grocery stores were open because of the power outage (credit card scanners and registers weren’t working) and we needed to eat. Luckily, I had cereal, oatmeal, cup-a-soup, and a few other items that were easy to make with just hot water, and there was hot water on hand for guests to make tea. Problem solved!

At home, you know where you keep things (like your glasses and keys) and can find them easily even half-asleep. Not so in a hotel. It’s a good idea to keep all your important small items together on the nightstand so you can grab them quickly and get out in an emergency. A foldable travel key tray is a great way to do this.

Some hotel rooms, especially mini-suites with small kitchens, will have a large, decorative bowl or tray in the entry area. That becomes a perfect repository for key items, such as room and car keys, wallets, phones, sunglasses, and the like.

If you carry a purse, leave that somewhere you can grab it quickly on the way out, not buried under a pile of coats or bags.

It is important to have a room key so you don’t get locked out. The car key allows you to sit in your car in relative comfort (heating, air conditioning, radio, etc.) until you are allowed back into the hotel or leave to go somewhere else.

Keep a pair of shoes (preferably slip-on) next to the bed and leave jackets somewhere you can grab them easily if it’s cold or wet outside. Even if there is no glass or anything to worry about, no one likes a stubbed toe and the ground outside will probably tough on bare or stockinged feet, so shoes are a must. Even if it’s a false alarm, gravel, mud, damp ground, snow, and oil-slicked puddles are common and would suck to step in/on.

TIP: If you are planning on traveling, you would love to read about how to survive a family road trip!

Kids and hotel room safety

It’s natural for kids to panic when faced with a scary and sudden event. At a hotel, if a fire alarm should go off, for example, most kids would panic and try to race out blindly, or, in some cases, they wouldn’t understand the danger and might need to be dragged away from danger. Either way, most kids don’t make things easier in an emergency, but there are ways to improve that.

The most important thing to keep in mind is that if your child is in school, even preschool, they will have had emergency drills. Adults remember the fire drills of their own youth, but your kids may have had other drills (earthquake, tornado, etc.) based on where you live. Doing your own mini-drill at the hotel will not freak them out. It might make them think you are weird, but that will probably happen anyway.

How do you do a mini-drill? Simple. Have everyone put their shoes on, grab their coat and anything else they need, and head down the steps to whatever spot you decide is a good emergency meeting. Ideally, you can do this when you are about to head out for dinner, tourism, or whatever else you were already planning on doing so you can just keep going. As an adult, make sure you remember the car keys, purse, and wallet. In a real emergency, you won’t want to be without those. If you aren’t going out again, then the mini-drill is just a little extra walking around.

TIPS: This article has some excellent suggestions for conducting family emergency drills.

The Danger

Most of us have been in a hotel when the alarm went off because someone burnt toast. This happened to us when our eldest was five. I can still remember his determination to drag us out the instant it started. We barely got our shoes on before he was opening the door to rush out. I didn’t even manage to grab my wedding ring before racing after him, although I did get a room key card and the shoes I had near the door. If the shoes and keycard hadn’t been easy to grab as I raced to the door, we could’ve been locked out. It could just easily have been my husband or me that freaked and raced out if there was an actual fire.

Make sure everyone in your family takes the time to pre-place critical items so they are easy to grab on the way out. In an emergency, this could be a lifesaver. In the far more likely event of nothing going wrong, it will make getting going in the morning faster and easier.

Some of this article is excerpted from the upcoming release 26 Mental & Urban Life Skills, second in the series that started with 26 Basic Life Skills

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Bethanne is an eclectic writer who lives in the exurbs (that's what comes after the suburbs) with her husband, sons, and cats. She has been writing for The Survival Mom since 2010. You can learn more about her books, including the "Survival Skills for All Ages" series, at BethanneKim.com.

2 thoughts on “What Most of Us Don’t Think About When Staying in a Hotel Room”

  1. A number of years ago, we stayed in a hotel that was part of a high end mall. We were getting ready to go to dinner when the lights went out. We could hear an announcement in the hallway, opened the doors and heard that we were to evacuate the hotel immediately. Changed my shoes for sneakers, grabbed my purse and found the stairway. 33 floors later… we caught our breath and walked two blocks to Harrah’s casino. Reflecting on the experience, I wish I had thought to pack one of the small, foldable back packs in my suitcase. We always have some snacks in the room, but what if it had been in the middle of the night. A back pack would hold a set of clothing, the snacks, water bottles, etc. and could have been quickly put together. This was just a 6 hour fixable power outage, but what if it had been an EMP, a terrorist attack, a sunami, a riot. I will never again be unprepared for unexpected emergencies. My thanks to blogs like yours who shake us out of our complacency.

  2. Thanks for this article! I love that foldable travel key tray; so much easier than searching for loose items in a panic! It looks like it would easily fit in a suitcase, and give me peace of mind. Even when travelling in an RV, it is good to be prepared for the unexpected.

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