Road Warrior


By Sheila J. Kittle

March 25, 2004 -- In my last column I offered several tips on safety and security for air travel. Based on the amount of E-mail I received, it's clear this is still a very hot topic. So this column will focus on tips for hotel stays, car rentals and other facets of modern business travel.

Here are some basic and practical suggestions for dealing with hotels.

To protect your privacy, don't use your home tele-phone number or address when completing a hotel registration form. Always list your company contact information instead. The same is true of your luggage tags, although you may want to include your cell phone number in case the bags are misplaced. Women may also want to use a first initial rather than their full name.

Keep your cell phone ready and charged at all times and consider purchasing a spare battery. In an emergency, don't rely on hotel phones to be operating or available. For my own safety and convenience, I program the emergency-assistance numbers of my airline, hotel and rental-car firm into my phone's memory. It's something that's easy to do while you're sitting on the plane waiting to push back from the gate.

It's convenient to order a room-service breakfast by using the door hangar form, but those tags also require you to note the number of guests. If you're traveling alone, especially if you're a woman, this could alert those that may wish to do you harm. And don't signal anyone when you're out of your room. If you can live without housekeeping during your stay, keep the Do Not Disturb sign on your door at all times. You can always call for fresh towels when you return to your room. Leaving the television or radio on can also give the illusion that your room is occupied.

Pack a small flashlight in case there's a blackout at the hotel. (It's also a wise idea to travel with the flashlight while you're in your rental car.) Most major hotels have a dead bolt or other security device on their doors, buy carry an inexpensive rubber doorstop just in case. And although it may seem quirky, I always carry a 25-foot telephone cord. Some hotels have only one phone and the cord is a simple way to make the phone "portable."

Travis Poppell, associate director of sales for the Wyndham Westshore hotel in Tampa, recently sent me an invaluable link for safety tips for women travelers. It's Wyndham's Women On Their Way page. I highly recommend it.

Now let's tackle the often-overlooked area of safety and security in the rental-car arena.

Spend a few minutes in the car-rental parking lot to familiarize yourself with the safety features and controls of the car you'll be using. Adjust seat, mirrors and other devices before leaving the lot. Accidents can happen when renters aren't familiar with the gadgetry and wait until they're going 70 miles per hour on the Interstate to try to tune the radio.

Business travelers are always in a hurry and they don't take the time to get complete driving instructions, even to get out of the airport. So here's a simple enough suggestion: Know where you're going before you start the car. It's also important to have a map and written instructions in large print. This is crucial if you're driving alone and have to navigate at the same time.

Make sure you rent from companies that offer 24-hour roadside assistance. It seems like 24-hour assistance would be offered by every company since they want to protect their expensive property, but you'll be surprised at the limitations in most rental-car agreements. As an example, most rental companies do not take responsibility for flat tires. Check the fine print or specifically ask what's not covered at the time of rental. Keep the roadside assistance number handy or program it into your cell phone for quick access. Also, pack a disposable camera and keep it in the glove compartment in case you're in an accident. You'll want your own photo records to deal with the car-rental and/or the insurance company.

If your car is bumped from behind, be sure to drive to a safe and populated location before pulling over. Call for police assistance and do not leave your vehicle. Why? The engineered rear-end "accident" has become a favorite scam of criminals.

And here are two general tips that have served me well on the road.

First, when I'm headed for the airport, I always place a few single dollars for gratuities, my driver's license and my itinerary in the airline ticket jacket. Why? You don't want to be fumbling for cash or ID while loaded down with bags and briefcases. Not only is it a timesaver, it avoids the opportunity for a thief to grab your wallet while you're juggling your belongings. Lately, I've even added the frequent-travel and car-rental cards that I'm using on a particular trip to the ticket jacket. That makes them more accessible when I need them. Just make sure to keep the ticket jacket in a secure place at all times.

Second, most of us now carry cell phones and/or PDAs programmed with our contacts. But it's wise to have a hard-copy backup of your contact file tucked away in a purse or briefcase. If one of those electronic devices break or are left behind, you'll still have your telephone and account numbers available the old-fashioned way.

Finally, an update on my suggestion in my previous column to use cable ties on checked luggage. A few readers wrote to ask how to remove the ties once they arrived at their destination. I take along nail clippers. Unlike scissors, nail clippers are an acceptable carry-on item. They'll do the job on the thin plastic cable ties. Alternately, you can ask your hotel's front-desk clerk to snip the ties upon check-in.

Marcy Schackne, vice president of marketing for Travelpro Luggage, says that Travelpro had worked with the Department of Homeland Security to develop a TSA-accepted locking mechanism that now comes standard on the company's new luggage. A quick Internet search shows that individual TSA-approved locks are also available at a variety of retailers for use on your existing luggage. Be sure to look for the special Travel Sentry logo (a diamond-shaped box). At least theoretically, airport-screening personnel are aware of these locks and can then open them with compatible tools if necessary.

This column originally appeared at

Copyright 1993-2004 by Sheila J. Kittle. All rights reserved.