Mr. Points Traveler and I survived the first year of marriage, and to celebrate we decided to spend a night together in NYC. We started off by seeing Cinderella on Broadway, followed by a delicious Cuban dinner and sangria before heading back to our Times Square hotel. Before heading to bed, I peeked out the window and “checked in” on Foursquare and Instagramed a photo of the view from the room.
Like most bloggers, I’m pretty active on social media and always have been. I use Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram daily, and I set up a Foursquare account a few years ago in order to “unlock” some Foursquare/AmEx offers. I pop into Foursquare every now and then to “check in”. I sometimes link my Foursquare account to Twitter and Facebook as well. It’s all innocent.
At around 1 in the morning, my room phone rang. I was in a sleepy haze. On the other line was someone who introduced themselves as a hotel front desk employee responding to a “noise complaint” coming from one of the rooms nearby. He asked to verify my room number (which I didn’t), and when I told him “we’re sleeping”, he responded “who is ‘we’? Aren’t you alone?”. At that point I was uncomfortable, and I told him that my husband’s name was already added to the reservation; if he wanted to further talk about this, then he could send security to the room. The caller then made some dirty and offensive comments, and I knew I had been pranked.
I immediately called the front desk, and I was told that they had transferred an outside call to my room. A part of me was a little ticked off about that, because in the past, when I’ve received an outside call to my room, I had a hotel employee say “so and so called and asked to be connected to your room, do you accept?”. I have since learned that many hotels do not screen outside calls, period. I think this is a policy that should be changed given how easy it is to find someone nowadays.
As a woman who frequently travels alone and with friends, what happened last night was disturbing to me. What’s even more unsettling is this is not the first time something like this has happened to me.
I rarely share this story, partially because I am embarrassed that I did not tell security when it happened, but I figured this fits right into the tone of this post.
A few years ago, I was staying at a popular Los Angeles hotel and enjoying myself with tapas in the lobby. After paying my tab, a well dressed gentleman tried to talk to me on my way to the elevator. He then gets in and says, “I’m thinking about staying here tonight, how are the rooms?” I politely said, “they’re fine.”
He then asks me if I could take him to my room to “show him”. I said no, and immediately pressed a button to a floor that was not mine. I stopped talking to him, and he then says “look, you need to loosen up, I am going to give you a shoulder rub. Right here.” He moved in closer to me. Thankfully the doors opened at that point, and I darted back into the lobby.
I should have told security, but I didn’t.
After the creepy phone call last night, I reminded myself of the Los Angeles creeper. Traveling alone is one of my favorite things to do because it is both liberating and comforting, but it’s important to take precautions and learn lessons from my mistakes.
Like most bloggers, I am so used to candidly sharing my whereabouts. And I know this has happened to some other BA bloggers as well. Flying With Fish blogged about a similar situation last year, and because of his incident, he stopped using Foursquare all together. I also recall something like this happening to Lucky (One Mile at a Time).
I’ve spent some time thinking of ways to prevent these types of things from happening again, and I hope these tips can help someone else in the future.
Learn from my mistakes:
- Be cautious with how you use social media: From now on, I will be more cautious when it comes to “checking in”. In the past I have “checked in” to a hotel if I was with friends at the lobby bar (sometimes that even unlocks drink specials), but never again will I share my actual hotel location.
- Refrain from using your real name: In general, I am a happy-go-lucky person, and I like to believe that the world is my best friend. I use my first and last name on my social media accounts because I’ve never had an issue like this before. Now, I think it would be best to avoid doing that so liberally.
- Tell the hotel to deny calls to your room from outside callers: In this day in age, it’s very easy to stay connected to friends and family as it is, so calling hotel rooms seems to be on the brink of extinction. I’ll tell the people I care about to contact me in other ways instead of via my hotel room.
- Designate a code word or pseudonym: If you don’t want to deny outside callers, provide the front desk with one of these that a caller must say in order to get connected to you.
- Hang up and call back: If someone calls your room claiming to be a hotel employee, say that you’d love to hang up and call them back directly to continue talking.
- Toss away your room key sleeve: As soon as you check in, take your keys and discard your room card sleeve that often contains your last name and room number.
- Disable “geotagging”: Did you know that when you post on social media, your location information is often shared publicly? For example, on Instagram, your photos get stored on a “map” where anyone can zoom in and see exactly where photos were taken.
- Better to be safe than sorry: If something doesn’t feel right, don’t feel bad calling security.
Have any other tips you can share? I’d love to hear if anyone else has been in a situation like this before. How did you handle it? Have you changed any of your habits since the incident?