What Most of Us Don’t Think About When Staying in Hotel Room

Being prepared in a hotel room isn’t as hard as it might initially seem. Most of us stay in hotels on vacation. Hotels can be over a hundred floors tall in very big cities but in most areas, they top out at four to six floors. This is easily walkable for almost anyone–certainly going down–and reachable for a fire truck ladder.

The first question that comes to mind is “can the fire truck rescue us”? Or, put another way, how many floors can the fire truck reach? In most cases, up to around the sixth floor, depending on how tall each floor is. Many fire companies have 100-foot ladders, but that would be if it was next to the building with the ladder going straight up in the air. That won’t happen in a real-life fire.

Getting Out

The most important thing to know: Locate the closest stairwell and use it in an emergency.

Hotels are just large buildings. Like any building, bad things can happen, including bad luck. Power outages, floods, fire, blizzards, tornadoes, civil unrest, and all manners of other problems can affect your stay, and you need a plan if that happens. The first step is knowing where you are. Every hotel room has a map on the back of the entry door. That map shows your room location and directions to the closest emergency exit as well as the location of the elevator(s), other rooms, vending and ice machines, and anything else on the floor. That emergency route is the reason it is there. The law requires the map so people know how to escape in an emergency and you really should take a minute to look at it.

There may be other stairwells and routes out of the building that is not marked on the map in your room, especially in large hotels that may only show a portion of the floor on your map. Try asking the front desk to show or tell you where they are located. If they don’t know or can’t tell you for some reason, look around and find them or send the kids to find them. Either way, take a few minutes to see where they are.

Look up and see if the stairwells have large banks of glass or skylights. Check if the doors are tricky or sticky to use. Look around to see if there is anything else that might make it either harder or easier to use a particular staircase. Windows and skylights may shatter in an earthquake or tornado but also let in natural light (including moonlight), making it easier to move safely when the lights are out but also more important to wear shoes. Most of us remember where the elevator is and more or less what it looks like because we use it multiple times. Using the stairs a few times will help you remember where the steps are in an emergency but even mentally repeating where they are located in reference to the elevator will help.

In recent decades, high-rise buildings, including hotels, have become increasingly safe in a disaster. Most are now designed to be extremely safe in a fire, which also helps them be extremely safe in other emergencies. Older hotels may have been retrofitted or even entirely gutted to meet modern standards. Old or new, use the stairwells in an emergency. That’s what they are designed for.TIP-

TIP- To read about a family’s experience and to learn the 10 things you shouldn’t do in a hotel fire emergency.

Being prepared

It’s a good idea to have a flashlight nearby in a hotel. If someone in your family has a cell phone or tablet, it almost certainly has a flashlight app that is good enough to help you navigate through the room, down the hall, and down the stairway safely, assuming the battery isn’t dead.

It’s also a good idea to bring a few easy-to-make snacks or meals. My family was once stuck in a hotel at the center of a fairly large power outage, right at dinner time. No restaurants or grocery stores were open because of the power outage (credit card scanners and registers weren’t working) and we needed to eat. Luckily, I had cereal, oatmeal, cup-a-soup, and a few other items that were easy to make with just hot water, and there was hot water on hand for guests to make tea. Problem solved!

At home, you know where you keep things (like your glasses and keys) and can find them easily even half-asleep. Not so in a hotel. It’s a good idea to keep all your important small items together on the nightstand so you can grab them quickly and get out in an emergency. A foldable travel key tray is a great way to do this. Key items include jewelry (wedding bands, especially), room and car keys, wallet, phone, and glasses. If you carry a purse, leave that somewhere you can grab it quickly on the way out, not buried under a pile of coats or bags.

It is important to have a room key so you don’t get locked out. The car key allows you to sit in your car in relative comfort (heating, air conditioning, radio, etc.) until you are allowed back into the hotel or leave to go somewhere else.

Keep a pair of shoes (preferably slip-on) next to the bed and leave jackets somewhere you can grab them easily if it’s cold or wet outside. Even if there is no glass or anything to worry about, no one likes a stubbed toe and the ground outside will probably tough on bare or stockinged feet, so shoes are a must. Even if it’s a false alarm, gravel, mud, damp ground, snow, and oil-slicked puddles are common and would suck to step in/on.

TIP- If you are planning on traveling, you would love to read about how to survive a family road trip!


They panic and try to race out blindly, or they don’t understand the danger and you have to literally drag them out. Either way, most kids don’t make things easier in an emergency, but there are ways to improve that.

The most important thing to keep in mind is that if your child is in school, even preschool, they will have had emergency drills. Adults remember the fire drills of their own youth, but your kids will have other drills (earthquake, tornado, etc.) based on where you live. Doing your own mini-drill at the hotel will not freak them out. It might make them think you are weird, but that will probably happen anyway.

How do you do a mini-drill? Simple: Have everyone put their shoes on, grab their coat and anything else they need, and head down the steps to whatever spot you decide is a good emergency meeting. Ideally, you can do this when you are about to head out for dinner, tourism, or whatever else you were already planning on doing so you can just keep going. As an adult, make sure you remember the car keys, mom’s purse, and dad’s wallet. In a real emergency, you won’t want to be without those. If you aren’t going out again, then the mini-drill is just a little extra walking around.

TIPS- Whether you and the family are traveling to visit relatives, day-tripping to the beach, or going on a once-in-a-lifetime vacation, traveling together can have its ups and downs. You can learn how to tame the chaos with these helpful hints.

The Danger

Most of us have been in a hotel when the alarm went off because someone burnt toast. This happened to us when our eldest was five. I can still remember his determination to drag us out the instant it started. We barely got our shoes on before he was opening the door to rush out. I didn’t even manage to grab my wedding ring before racing after him, although I did get a room key card and the shoes I had near the door. If the shoes and keycard hadn’t been easy to grab as I raced to the door, we could’ve been locked out. It could just easily have been my husband or me that freaked and raced out if there was an actual fire.

Make sure everyone in your family takes the time to pre-place critical items so they are easy to grab on the way out. In an emergency, this could be a lifesaver. In the far more likely event of nothing going wrong, it will make getting going in the morning faster and easier.

This is an excerpt from the upcoming release 26 Mental & Urban Life Skills, second in the series that started with 26 Basic Life Skills