TikTokers are boobytrapping their hotel rooms in the name of safety

TikTokers are boobytrapping their hotel rooms in the name of safety

The premise of the video on TikTok sounds simple: Stay safe in your hotel room using some “handy items.” Ten steps later, the door is barricaded with towels, hangers, an alarm-equipped door stop, ironing board and heavy furniture — and a wireless security camera watches over it all.

Welcome to the world of social media travel safety tips, where some creators are going viral with elaborate, “Home Alone”-style demonstrations. Sometimes there’s background music, sometimes there are odd wardrobe choices and often there are comments from people who suggest the posters never leave home if they’re so worried.

“You forgot to string up the paint bucket that swings down when the door opens,” one person wrote on a video posted Monday featuring nine safety tips to follow after checking in. The woman featured in that and several other viral safety videos — one of which has received more than 2 million likes — did not respond to an email.

What’s behind the trend

It’s not clear why such videos are gaining popularity. Hotel-specific crime statistics are hard to come by, but violent crime in the United States declined in 2022 and last year after killings climbed the previous two years, according to available data.

“Murder sells,” said Tracy Walder, a former CIA officer and FBI agent. For people consuming a steady diet of true-crime content, safety hacks could be the calming countermeasure, selling the promise that “if I do these things that are in these videos, I will be safe.” She thinks that some safety content is “feeding off of people’s anxiety and fear.”

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Tips to make you feel safer if you’re staying somewhere alone: 1. Keep someone on the phone with you while you check under beds, behind shower curtains, any potential hiding spots each time you enter your room • 2. Check to make sure all the locks work and use all of them • 3. Close off any key holes, peepholes, cracks under the door • 4. Keep window blinds/curtains drawn unless otherwise needed to limit anyone from seeing your comings and goings • 5. Push something heavy against the door + something that will make noise if moved if you are going to bed, taking a shower, etc. • 6. Note any potential access points and what’s around the location of your room (busy areas, quiet areas, are you in a hidden corner or near the staircase, etc) • 7. Look up reviews of the hotel to see if anyone’s experienced anything weird or unsafe while there • 8. Kind of obvi but check for cameras in the room • 9. Check in with someone trusted periodically and make sure they know the address you’re staying at and your schedule • 10. Always always always be aware of your surroundings! 🫡 #hotelsecurity #hotelsafety #safetytips #traffickingawarenes #womenssafety #businesstrip #traveltok #traveltips

♬ I Got 5 On It – Tethered Mix from US – Michael Abels & Luniz

Walder, an author and adjunct professor of criminal justice who is active on TikTok, has also posted safety tips for traveling — with no booby-trapping or 10-step processes.

“For some reason, folks think that if you really complicate your safety routine that makes you safer,” she said. Her approach is to make security cheap, easy and quick — and not to add anxiety to your life because of the routine. “I’ve lived in some of the most dangerous countries in the world, period. It’s just not this complicated.”

Safety experts say travelers should be aware of their surroundings and take measures to stay safe, even if they don’t need to go overboard.

Nichelle Laus, a former police officer who owns an emergency services supply store, posts safety tips on TikTok, including recommendations for a door stop alarm and portable door lock while traveling. She said in an email that people generally have an attitude of “‘it won’t happen to me’ … until it does and then it’s too late.”

She added, “So although these videos seem fearmongering, they really are an exaggerated way to remind people to not allow complacency to blind their judgment.”

The American Hotel and Lodging Association did not address hotel safety videos, but pointed to a safety and security program it unveiled in 2018, in the wake of the Las Vegas mass shooting from a hotel room and amid the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment and abuse. The association also provides safety tips — in a PDF, not social media video.

Kevin Coffey, a retired police officer who investigated crimes against travelers and now trains business travelers how to be smart on the road, said just a small percent of travelers deal with violent crime. But some people who feel extra vulnerable or might find themself in a situation where their safety is at risk could incorporate extra security measures.

He has recommended an ironing board against the door, for example, if a traveler were alone and there was no secondary door lock. And at a home sharing accommodation without the security of a front desk, Coffey said a secondary door lock could make sense on a front door or bedroom door. He advises travelers to use the safe and never leave their laptop laying out in the room because of the potential for theft.

One tip for solo travelers he picked up from his wife: If a hotel employee comes to the door, say something like “Honey, room service is here, I’m going to shut the bathroom door” and then shut the door to make it seem like someone else is in the room.

During trainings, Coffey said he asks attendees if anyone has ever walked into their hotel room while they were there. He said roughly 20 to 30 percent of people say yes. During a trip to the Dominican Republic recently, he and his wife went to their room with a bellman, who knocked and opened the door — only to find a man standing inside with a towel around his waist.

“We all just looked at each other,” he said.

The hotel association urges guests to check that sliding glass doors, windows and connecting doors are locked, keep their room keys on them at all times and check with the front desk if someone comes to the room claiming to be an employee.

Walder said her safety considerations start with where in the hotel she’s staying; she avoids the first floor as a rule because it’s easier to break into and busier with foot traffic. She prefers to stay between the third and sixth floors so she’s not too high up if there’s an emergency and she needs to get out quickly. She uses all available locks as soon as she gets into her room and jams a rubber stop under the door.

When Marissa Williams started traveling alone, she decided to get more vigilant about her safety in hotels.

Now, the 33-year-old consultant and business owner has her routine down pat: She covers the peephole, slips a doorstop with an alarm under the room door and connecting door, if there is one, and plugs in her portable carbon monoxide alarm. The final step was prompted by the 2022 death of three Americans at a resort in the Bahamas due to carbon monoxide poisoning.

“It’s almost muscle memory now,” said Williams, who lives in the Chicago area. She has picked up some tips from other solo travelers as well, including asking for two keys at check-in even if she’s traveling alone; asking for a different room if the front desk worker says her room number out loud in a busy lobby and meeting a third-party food delivery service like Uber Eats in the lobby instead of at her room.

An avid user of social media, where she creates business and travel content, Williams posted a video of some of her tips on TikTok and Instagram last year and watched them take off: more than 900,000 views on TikTok, over 1 million on Instagram. Like other creators, she provides Amazon links to the products she uses and gets a tiny percentage of their sales.

She said a friend asked for the link to the door stopper so she could buy it for a trip to the Caribbean for a wedding. During the trip, Williams said, someone tried to enter the friend’s room and set the alarm off. She said that experience served as a wake-up call.

“That made me think ‘Okay, don’t get lax, because it happens,’” she said.