Unless you’re a super jaded traveler, there’s always something kind of magical and romantic about checking into a room you don’t have to clean yourself – especially in an exotic setting!
And whether it’s a regular hotel or a quaint Airbnb somewhere, you expect to be appropriately looked after, if not downright pampered. There’s an implicit understanding that as a guest, your wellbeing is important – and that includes your privacy.
But in a world where things aren’t always as they seem, you might want to perform just a little due diligence – especially if you’re a solo female traveler or are in an environment where you could potentially be situationally vulnerable. People don’t always have your best interests at heart, and even if you’re not the target of hardcore thieves or traffickers, you could still be vulnerable to voyeurs and others who profit from watching or filming you.
So – here are some simple tips and guidelines to consider next time you’re out of town!
Inspect for Hidden Cameras, Obvs
Hidden cameras can be incredibly small and discreet, making them difficult to spot. To ensure your privacy, conduct a thorough inspection of your hotel room when you first arrive. Look for any unusual or out-of-place objects that could potentially hide a camera. Common places to check include:
Smoke detectors: This is a favorite because it’s usually out of reach, has slots or apertures, and doesn’t usually even get noticed.
Electrical outlets: Check for any anomalies around electrical outlets or switches. A common ploy is to hide a pinhole camera or video feed inside a “fixture” type plug, like a surge protection plug for example. If in doubt, just cover the plug (or wall socket) with a piece of paper while you’re there.
Wall decorations: Look closely at paintings, mirrors, or decorative items on the walls or shelves. Look for unusual bumps, protrusions, or attachments. Also check for holes or piercings, even if they’re literally the size of a pinhead.
Air vents: Inspect air vents for tiny camera lenses. Use a flashlight if necessary, to see deeper into vents – because a camera may be situated just beyond the line of normal sight but still be able to zoom in through the vent apertures.
Air conditioner: This is a popular choice among the bad guys, because it’s also a “hidden in plain sight” appliance most commonly situated in a bedroom.
Alarm clocks: Check digital alarm clocks for unusual LED lights or hidden cameras.
Electronic devices: Be wary of any unfamiliar electronic devices in the room. Humidifiers, timers, TV accessories or attachments, and cable connection boxes are particularly important. If in doubt, obscure the potential line of sight with a taped-on piece of paper, or use a spare pillow case to cover the item. (However – be careful not to cover anything that could heat up or be a potential fire hazard!)
- Light fixtures: Examine light fixtures for any unusual attachments or irregularities. This includes overhead lights as well as table or bedside lamps.
It’s especially important to do a careful inspection of bathrooms – a voyeur favorite for pretty obvious reasons.
Important Note: Always RECORD What You Find
If you do find anything suspicious, notify hotel management or your host immediately and request a room change. However, be sure to first record what you’ve found and mail the video to yourself – if the video file size is too large to mail, use WeTransfer.
This is essential, because if there’s a denial or coverup, you will be able to provide proof of what you’ve uncovered. Also be aware that if you do actually discover a camera or other irregularity, it could lead to escalated hostility by the person concerned and possibly even personal physical danger – so take recordings and let someone close to you know before you confront the hotel manager or guest house host.
If you're not sure, or in a situation where your physical safety might potentially be at risk, then just leave. Go directly to the police and let them take up the matter.
So, apart from searching for hidden cameras, what else should you be aware of?
Here are some additional safety measures for you to deploy:
Spy Trick: Sweep the Room with a Smartphone App
Several smartphone apps are available that can help you detect hidden cameras and microphones in your hotel room. These apps use the phone's camera and sensors to locate electromagnetic signals emitted by electronic devices. While not foolproof, they can provide an additional layer of security. Some popular options include Hidden Camera Detector (for Android devices) and DontSpy (for Apple devices).
Internet Privacy: Beware of Unsecured Wi-Fi Networks
Hotel Wi-Fi networks are super convenient, but they can also pose a security risk. Hackers may set up fake Wi-Fi networks with names similar to the hotel's official network to intercept your internet traffic.
To protect yourself:
Verify the official hotel Wi-Fi network with the front desk.
Avoid connecting to open or unsecured networks.
- Use a VPN to encrypt your internet traffic and protect your online activities from prying eyes. A VPN is particularly essential if you have to perform online banking anywhere other than your own home.
Look for Hidden Microphones
Hidden microphones can be just as invasive as hidden cameras. Obviously, sound recording isn’t about catching footage of you in the shower – but it’s potentially even more dangerous, because somebody could be listening in on your conversations to establish your plans and movements. This could easily be the first step in a potential abduction or trafficking scenario, so be extremely aware of the stakes here.
To detect potential listening devices:
Turn off all electronic devices in the room, including phones and TVs.
Stay silent and listen for any unusual noises, such as buzzing or clicking.
- Consider habitually using a white noise generator or a smartphone app to create background noise, which can make it harder for hidden microphones to pick up conversations.
Secure Your Devices
Remember that any halfway competent hacker can get into your devices within minutes.
Before using any of your electronic devices:
Disable voice recognition features on smart devices.
- Disconnect or cover the camera on your laptop, tablet, or smartphone when not in use.
- Log out of your accounts on hotel-provided devices, and again, try to avoid using them altogether for sensitive tasks like online banking.
Zoom Out From Your Room
Not every attempt at watching you takes place from inside your room, either. An unscrupulous party may arrange things so that you can still be spied on the old-fashioned way:
- Look for places where someone could gain a view into your room or bathroom – so be aware of curtains that can’t fully close, or blinds that are “sticky”, etc.
- Be aware of external security cameras – either on the building you’re in, or on a neighboring building – that are “accidentally” aimed at your room or windows.
- Also take a look out of your windows and check whether there are nearby windows, balconies, or other vantage points where someone could spy on you in real time using binoculars or a zoom lens.
Add a Few Smart Physical Security Measures
Lastly, there’s always the possibility of someone physically gaining entry while you’re asleep, in the shower, or otherwise vulnerable. Consider some commonsense physical security measures to protect your privacy in your hotel room:
- Use a doorstop or wedge to reinforce your room door's security. Even a piece of tightly folded cardboard can work – but we recommend you carry a rubber wedge with you at all times when you’re traveling.
- Consider a portable door lock or security bar for an extra layer of protection. If you have a door with a lever-type handle, it’s a good idea to wedge something like a chair, broom, or ironing board under the handle, especially at night. It’s a movie cliché, but it actually works.
- If your door has a peephole, cover it. A voyeur or potential kidnapper can easily place a reverse peephole viewer on the outside – and see exactly what you’re doing.
- When you turn in to sleep, place something in front of your door that will make a noise if it’s knocked over. You can improvise here – any kind of metal container with something inside (like some coins), or an improvised rattle hanging from the door handle. Carrying a short length of string or paracord with you when you travel is an outstanding idea, because it weighs nothing and can be used to quickly set up an early warning system, secure a loose window latch, foil pickpockets, or even be transformed into a highly effective improvised weapon.
Despite your best precautions, bad things can sometimes happen to good people. I shouldn’t need to say this, but carry a weapon with you at all times. Obviously, depending on where you are, you might not be able to carry an orthodox weapon – but even an improvised weapon can be a game changer.
In a worst-case scenario, you might encounter an intruder in your room - someone seeking to assault you, abduct you for ransom or profit, or worse.
When you go to sleep at night, have a weapon readily at hand. Put it under your pillow. It should be a tactical pen, a small screwdriver, knife, or similar stabbing implement, because if someone does gain access to your room, you’ll need to deal with them at extremely close quarters. Here, a bladed or stabbing weapon is best, because it’s fast, silent, highly efficient, and can be used to absolutely deadly effect - along with a huge element of surprise! - if necessary. It also requires minimal training and is a truly superb force multiplier in a crisis.
Keep Your Personal Information Secure
Lastly, it’s incredibly important to protect your personal information in any out-of-home environment.
3 key points to remember:
- Don't leave sensitive documents like passports, credit cards, or travel documents out in the open.
- A hotel safe is not as secure as you think it is. Be judicious about what you leave in there.
- When entering personal information into any digital device, be very aware of who might be watching you or standing nearby.
Hotels and Guest Houses are Points of Inflection
A point of inflection is any environment or situation where your movements can be controlled or predicted - and exploited.
In an everyday sense, criminals will use inflection points to approach or intercept you when you’re distracted, forced to pause, deliberately misdirected, or just unsure of what to prioritize. (In a military context, this is the classic "kill zone" used to ambush an enemy.)
When you’re in your home environment, points of inflection can include mall parking lots, your own driveway at home, bumper-to-bumper traffic, or public restrooms, to name just a few. It’s at those points that you should be hyper-vigilant – and when you’re in an unfamiliar environment like a hotel or guest house, that risk multiplies.
You don’t have to be paranoid, but exercise healthy caution. Remember that an unfamiliar place – to you – is an extremely familiar place to those who might want to exploit you.
So be street smart.