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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Travel Safety Refresher

So I've blogged before about travel safety but today we are all getting a refresher as a result of my monitoring trip yesterday. I've easily been to Denver 20+ times in the last 2 years for business so I'm very comfortable getting around in the airport, on the highways, and to my favorite restaurants. The point of this blog is that I may have gotten too comfortable and let my travel safety guard down. I was visiting a new site in a different part of the city I have never been to so I decided to try a new hotel. I didn't really research the hotel since I am familiar with the brand and have a certain level of pre-set expectation (mistake #1 - always read reviews on a travel site to make sure the hotel isn't too dodgey). I didn't actually even print my itinerary or write down the address because I always travel with my iPhone and GPS. Mistake # 2 - Long story short the GPS 'couldn't get better accuracy from the satellites' and I got lost in a not-so-nice neighborhood and I regret not having brought my trusty paper google maps print-outs. I pulled over in a safe place and got back on track and arrived at my destination using the iPhone. It was all really unsettling.

Rewind to earlier in the day, after work at the site I went out to the car and realized the battery in the key fob was dead. I could have tested this at the car rental place but it didn't occur to me as the car only had 11K miles on it (Mistake #3). I had rented a new Nissan Maxima so there is no key, just a black plastic stick thing. After fumbling around next to my car for several minutes and whipping out the phone to call Roadside Assistance I realized there was a tiny button on the back of the fob that released an emergency key and I was able to get in the car (maybe this is obvious to everyone else in America but I was confused and tired and wasted a lot of time messing around with it). Luckily I was in a very safe location because I was not paying attention to my surroundings at all and I was just focused on getting in the rental car. This was pretty upsetting to me because it was clumsy to open the car for the rest of the trip and I no longer had the panic button function which is an important safety feature.

The hotel lobby scene can be fun and
inviting but for a single female business
traveler it is more safe to just dine alone
in your room.  You can get some work
done or unwind and feel secure.
I stopped in to a restaurant and grabbed some take away food to enjoy back at the hotel that night. It was still daylight but I had to park far away from the entrance. I decided I would be comfortable with that whereas at night I would have insisted on a valet (Mistake #4 - no valet at this hotel). I hopped out of the car and started walking toward the lobby. Mi stake #5 - I had seen lots of pedestrians in and around the hotel when I drove in but I did not even bother to look around to see who might be loitering near the vehicle or in the area before I got out. I cannot impress this upon you enough, you must always be aware of your surroundings. As I stepped on to the sidewalk a voice to my right called out "How are you doing today?". My initial instinct was to turn to the speaker and smile (I'm from the South - we're polite) but something kicked in and I realized the safest course of action was to keep walking to the left and pretend I had not heard the caller. The man started following me and he was calling, "ma'am, ma'am?". Maybe he was a beggar or just a senile old guy, or a complete prick (who approaches a single female traveler and scares the crap out of them like that?!). I will never know because I did not scope things out before I had gotten out of the car so I could never identify this man. I used the reflection of the hotel glass to check his distance and he slowed his pace as I came within eyesight of the lobby. I would not have gotten on the elevator with anyone else at that point but luckily the ride up to my room was uneventful. I did not report the incident to the hotel. I didn't have much of an appetite at that point but it was good to lock the door and take a deep breath because the whole interaction had been really scary for me. I will NEVER be comfortable staying in this hotel again.

I have a real affinity for hotel points and status. I will stay in a different hotel every night just so I can qualify for status quickly but I have another reason, too. A trusted monitor I know told me a story about a CRA friend of hers who was raped in her hotel room. The lady was all settled in the room, showered, watching TV, when the man just appeared out of nowhere. Maybe he had been in the closet or under the bed but he knew she had been staying there alone for several nights and had somehow gotten access to her room. The story is especially creepy because he had been watching her for up to an hour before he attacked. It is just such a disturbing story. I will never stay in a hotel for more than one night because of this story my friend told me. I also check under the bed, behind the curtains, in the shower, and in the closet before I deadbolt the door. I know I must sound crazy but I am not willing to get hurt for this job and I take every precaution I think is appropriate.

I haven't traveled for business in a while so maybe I am especially paranoid on this trip, or perhaps it is because I recently acquired an expensive piece of jewelry that I am not entirely comfortable wearing yet, or maybe I just have instincts that are spot on. OK, I am off to the airport now and I will be paying attention and traveling safely. I invite you to comment on the post if you found it interesting or helpful, if you have your own story to tell, or if you just can't stop laughing at me right now for over-dramatizing.