Is a hotel-room safe safe?

This article appears on page 38 of the January 2018 issue.

Miyako Storch of Santa Barbara, California, described her concerns about hotel-room safes in the September 2017 issue (page 50). ITN then asked other subscribers to share their experiences, suggestions and comments regarding hotel-room safes and their general levels of security. Here are responses received.


During a tour of Peru in February 2007, I stayed in a hotel in downtown Cusco. In my room was a standard hotel room safe, but it didn’t work, and the desk staff were too busy to help.

This hotel was in the process of being renovated (painted, etc.). A tour member asked one of the workers for help, and he instantly opened the safe with a screwdriver. Yes, it was a larger, blade-shaped tool, but it took two seconds.

So it goes.

Helen Paulus
Underwood, WA

 

In Costa Rica in 2013, a member of our tour discovered $400 missing from his room safe. He always counted his money when he put it in and when he left.

The hotel called the safe company’s representative. After looking at the safe log, he saw that the safe had been entered on the previous day when we all were out touring. The hotel reimbursed our tour member. 

The rep used a simple code when opening the digital electronic safe, and the tour member had watched him and remembered the code. At our next hotel, he tried this code on his room safe. The code opened that safe and every hotel safe in his rooms on the rest of the tour. 

None of us used our room safes for the rest of the tour.

Marcia Bower
Durham, NC

 

My husband and I were burglarized twice at different safari camps in Tanzania’s Ruaha National Park, once in November 2014 and again in November 2016. The camps are located 15 minutes apart, and each theft happened while we were on a game drive. 

Thieves opened our locked luggage by forcing the lock or zippers, taking cash and a cell phone the first time and cash the second time.

In 2014, a manager “put out the word” that bad things would happen if the items weren’t returned, and they reappeared in the staff office within hours. In 2016 (when we were the camp’s only guests), we were reimbursed by staff, as no one came forward to admit anything. 

We rarely use safes and have had just these two problems in over 50 years of travel. Generally, we rely on strong locks and zips, and we divide our cash between us and in multiple odd locations to reduce any loss.

Safari tents and remote lodge rooms are typically unlocked, so guests are encouraged to use safes for valuables. We didn’t use a safe either time. The irony this last time was that the manager had advised us NOT to rely on safes, either in our tent or the camp office. She’d learned the hard way that some models have a reset button allowing easy entry for emptying contents! The theft may be undiscovered for days, reducing recovery. 

We’ll keep using money belts and creative hiding spots!

Diane Powell Ferguson
Scottsdale, AZ

 

I have found my hotel room safe unlocked on occasion, so I purchased a Milockie safe lock to attach to the external surface of the safe’s door.

The Milockie has a plasticized fabric belt about an inch wide attached to a magnetic metal plate, or anchor. You put the anchor on an inside wall of the safe and hold the belt out as you close the door of the safe on it. Then you pull the belt tight and feed it into the Milockie casing. After rolling up the belt into the Milockie, you put a cover unit over the Milockie and clamp it all together with an eyebolt. 

An external lock is then used to lock the eyebolt so it can’t be undone. I use a high-quality, 4-dial, combination Master-brand lock instead of the cheap TSA lock provided with the Milockie.

Someone could get into the lock box with force, as it’s plastic or something similar, though it looks like metal. The belt does tend to fray, but I adjust it so the same section is not always in the door jamb. 

The whole device is pretty cheap, but it’s better than nothing and is the best solution I’ve found. I’ve used this strap/lock combo about 20 times, most recently in Iran in September 2017 on a delightful trip with MIR Corp.

The Milockie is sold on Amazon.com for about $50. 

Gary LeClair
Springfield, OR

 

Packing cube with its two zippers locked together. Photo by Nili Olay

My husband and I have learned, over our travels, that hotel safes are not always safe. 

I collect coins for eight grandkids and two brothers, so when traveling, I try to get 10 of each denomination from each country. I keep a list so I know what I’m still looking for. The coins get heavy, so I leave them in the safe while touring.  

In a hotel in Portugal in 2007, when I went to add coins to the stash, I found that some euro coins were missing. The thief obviously didn’t realize that I would be counting coins. It then occurred to me that housekeeping or management anywhere could easily peel off a few 20s from the cash in guests’ room safes, and most people wouldn’t realize it.  

Our solution is to travel with a small packing cube that has a zipper on which two zipper pulls meet in the middle. We put a combination lock and a keyed lock through both zipper-pulls. If there is a safe thief, he or she could either take the whole cube, which would be obvious, or find easier pickings in another room.

Hope this helps.

Nili Olay
New York, NY