Safety Tips for SOHO Travelers

Got a business trip coming up? If you’ll be traveling alone or to an unfamiliar location, it’s important to take extra precautions with the hotel you book.

“Where to?” the cab driver asked, glancing at me over his shoulder.

“Central Park West,” I answered, giving him the address of the hotel where I’d made reservations. He headed off, and soon turned left onto Central Park West. It was mid-afternoon on a sunny fall day, and the local retirees, nannies, and tourists strolled along the sidewalk that skirts the park.

“What street is that hotel near?” the driver asked, as we whizzed passed the Museum of Natural History.

“I don’t know. I just have the address,” I replied. I had gotten the name of the hotel from a discount travel service on the web, and I hadn’t thought to ask for the cross street. I knew there were a number of well-known hotels on Central Park West and was thrilled that I was able to get a room any place in Manhattan that week for less than $325 a night. I had thought about staying with my son, who lives in the city, but he was just returning from Europe the same day I was arriving in Manhattan. So I didn’t think he’d want company.

Many blocks later the cab driver came to a stop near the far end of Central Park. There were no strollers here. In fact, there seemed to be few people outside at all.

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The driver looked at me quizzically as I paid him, and for a moment I was tempted to ask him to drive me back to Broadway to look for another hotel. But I pulled up the handle on my suitcase and wheeled it across the street to the hotel.

I climbed the tired, grimy marble steps leading to the hotel’s entrance, pushed open the heavy old door and stepped into the tiny lobby, which looked like a seedy set from a detective movie from the ’40s. All that was missing was Humphrey Bogart leaning against a pillar, staring at me over a newspaper.

“Oh, stop. How bad could the place be for one night?” I thought to myself.

I gave my name and credit card information to the clerk, marveling at how she deftly filled out the paperwork while arguing with someone on the phone. “Fifth floor. Number 11. Elevators over there on your left,” she said, handing me my key. Then she turned away and rejoined the argument.

The fifth floor hall was narrow, the wall to my right was brick. Real brick – and painted a garish, glossy yellow. Pushing aside thoughts of “The Wizard of Oz,” I aimed down the hall, dragging my suitcase behind.

Number 7. Number 9…

I was just about at the end of the hall. Ahead of me on the wall was an Exit sign with an arrow pointing left – directly at the door to room 11.  I unlocked the door and pushed it open and saw a window curtain billowing in a breeze. The room really was the exit. The open window led to the building fire escape. I took a quick glance at the cheap bed, nightstand and TV, and then pulled my cell phone from my purse and called my son.

“Hi, it’s Mom. Guess who’s coming to dinner?”

Safety first.
Fortunately, the worst thing that happened on that trip was losing the $160 I had paid for the discount hotel room. But I should have known better. As a self-employed individual, when I travel for business, I almost always travel alone, and usually wind up making my own reservations. Over the years, because of a few other unpleasant experiences, I’ve developed some rules I usually follow (but ignored on that trip!) to minimize danger. The first is that peace of mind and safety are far more important than cost. That’s particularly true for a woman traveling alone. If you will be traveling to unfamiliar areas you can steer clear of most dangerous situations by keeping these additional rules in mind:

Stay at well-known hotels. If you can’t afford the full-service accommodations, ask the chain if they have value-priced properties in the same general area you’d like to stay.

Ask your client for hotel recommendations and/or if there are any areas in the city to avoid.

If you are attending a conference, stay at the conference hotel or one in the immediate vicinity. There is safety in numbers. (You also gain by the chance to network with other conference attendees.)

Join a group. If you’re at a conference overnight and want to go out on the town or out for dinner, see if there are sponsored events you can join. You’ll be safer and get to know other attendees.

Plan to arrive during the day if you are driving. It doesn’t matter whether you drive the entire distance or just from the airport to the hotel. There’s nothing worse than getting lost in the bad districts of a city at midnight – particularly if you are a woman driving alone. If you’re flying and must arrive after dark, take a cab from the airport to the hotel if you don’t know your way around the area. You can always make arrangements to pick up the car the next day, or to take cabs for the entire trip.

Carry a cell phone (and a car charger and/or portable battery pack.). Keep the phone with you in an easily accessible place. If a situation arises, you don’t want to be fishing through luggage, a cluttered computer case or purse, or a car trunk to get to the phone to call for to assistance.

Get good directions – and a map – ahead of time.  Yes, your smart phone or rental car may have a GPS, but GPS devices aren’t always accurate. Plus there are those annoying times when there’s no signal available.  So, get directions from the hotel you’ll be staying at, or the contact you plan to visit before you leave – and remember to bring those with you. You also might want to print directions from an online map site and bring those with you.  

Write down the complete name, address and phone number of the place you will be staying. Very often there will be more than one hotel in a big city with the same name. If you have the name with you and you tell the cab driver to take you to the Hilton… and they ask which one, you’ll be able to quickly tell them.

Get phone numbers for cab companies at your destination before you leave home. An internet search for cabs in the city you will be visiting will usually bring up the names and phone numbers of companies and often reviews or info on how much the cab fare might be. Put the preferred numbers in your cell phone, or at least bring it on paper.

Use a passport case or something similar to store the documents you’ll need during your travel. Arrange the documents (ie, boarding pass, car rental reservation, hotel reservation, etc.) in the order you’ll be using them.

Keep the safety latch on the hotel door at all times when you are in the room.

Don’t dress to kill. Visible, expensive jewelry or clothing make you a target for a mugging.

Locate the fire exits before you settle in for the night. Having been in two hotel evacuations for fires, I personally vouch for the importance of locating the fire exits and knowing the hotel’s escape plan for your room and floor.

RELATED: Hotel Security Tips for Small Business Travelers

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