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What to be leery of at your hotel

Every hotel guest should be armed with a degree of awareness of his or her surroundings.
A mother and child bed bug, unwanted guests in any hotel room, too often find a way in. Reading online reviews can let you know which hotels the insects call home.Tim Mccoy / This photo provided by Virginia
/ Source: Independent Traveler

Home is where the heart is, but your hotel is a place where you should definitely use your head — and, perhaps, a black light.

The purpose of this piece is not to strike fear into the hearts of happy-go-lucky vacationers. But every hotel guest should be armed with a degree of awareness of his or her surroundings. Hotel hazards, from falling windows to sky-high hidden fees, lurk beyond the lobby. And a bit of prevention can stop something calamitous from ruining your trip.

Below are five things you shouldn't do at your hotel.

Don't lean on the window
Assorted tales of unsafe hotel windows have appeared in the news lately. In June, a 2-year-old girl fell two stories from a hotel window in Hinckley, Minn. The tot survived, but was taken to the hospital in critical condition. The same week, the W Hotel in Austin shut down for a few days after several of the hotel's glass balcony panels dropped and shattered. Four people were injured, reported The Austin American-Statesman. In another W Hotel incident, two women fell through the glass window in a hotel room at the W Atlanta Midtown, and one of them died.

I don't have any aggregate statistics on raining hotel windows or deaths due to unsound panes of glass, but a thorough Google News search of "hotel window fall" turns up enough results to verify my theory that one shouldn't lean on the hotel window. Ever. This tenet applies at any high-rise building, but it's especially pressing in a place where alcohol flows freely from the minibar.

Don't jumble the minibar
I'm a budget traveler who places the minibar in the same category as the hotel bedspread: there's absolutely no way I'm going to use it. However, sometimes I'm tempted to nose around in that tiny fridge and see what's on offer for the well-heeled other half. (I'm never tempted to nose around the bedspread, mind you.) A $4 Snickers bar? Fantastic. But my curiosity could result in an unintended extra expense.

In Hidden hotel fees, Sarah Schlichter writes, "Picking up an item and putting it back can trigger the minibar's sensors, immediately adding the price of the item to your bill. On sensitive machines, even jostling minibar items as you add your own food to the fridge can incur a charge. And if you try to avoid the hassle entirely by calling ahead and asking the minibar to be emptied before your arrival, beware — you could be charged a 'restocking' fee."

Don't drink from the glassware
To the germaphobic guest, a hotel is a hotbed of micro-organisms left behind by "hosts" (other travelers). The remote, the bedspread and the light switches are likely to emit a telltale glow under a black light wielded by an obsessive traveler. Many a brave guest touches the remote sans Lysol or rubber gloves and lives to speak about it. But there's one part of the hotel room of which even less-fastidious travelers should be suspicious: the glasses. After all, they touch your mouth.

I wrote about hotel glassware in How to find a clean hotel room: "It's the law in both Missouri and Kansas that hotel room glasses and cups must be sanitized. Kansas' law goes even further to state that washing of glassware must take place outside of the room. ... In most hotels, however, there's no guarantee that your room glasses and mugs aren't simply rinsed off under the tap by the cleaning staff." An easy way to deal with this problem is by running the glasses under hot water for a few minutes.

Don't reveal your room number
We provide a wealth of practical advice in our Guide to hotel safety, and there's one simple tip we mention to which all guests, especially women and those traveling alone, should adhere. Sarah Schlichter writes, "Don't let the front desk attendant publicize your room number. If he or she announces it out loud when giving you your key, ask for a different room." Anyone standing near the front desk in the lobby — including criminals — can learn exactly where you're spending the night if the attendant sounds off your room number.

Don't ignore the reviews
Every year, TripAdvisor rolls out its Dirtiest hotels roundup, listing the worst offenders in Asia, Europe, India and the U.S. and proving hotel reviews can be as shocking as an episode of "Fear Factor." Browsing reviews with titles like "It's an awesome place, but you have to love squalor!" and "I apologized to my family!!!!" is a guilty pleasure.

As much as I enjoy perusing the scarier reviews, I'll never cease to be amazed that travelers continue to stay at the dirtiest hotels. Read a few reviews and it becomes clear that, for most guests, a filthy property's budget price did not make up for its prodigious supply of bed bugs or cockroaches. Blood-sucking bed bugs are perhaps the worst kind of grubby surprise to turn up in one's hotel room, simply because it's easy to take them home and end up with a lasting infestation where you live.

Check out TripAdvisor's traveler photos of this one-star gem, New York City's Hotel Carter. In between photos of cockroach-chewed candy bags, actual bed bugs lurking on moldy walls and other "bedroom wildlife," there are snapshots of travelers' arms, legs and necks covered in bed bug bites.

This isn't the first year that Hotel Carter has appeared on TripAdvisor's Dirtiest Hotels list. It's my guess that travelers who continue to stay at the hotel, which ranked No. 4 out of the dirtiest hotels in the U.S., either didn't have time to read the reviews or hoped that their particular room would be spared the Plagues of Carter. (By the looks of it, most rooms weren't.)

That boutique hotel you're considering for your next trip probably isn't on TripAdvisor's dirtiest list. But beg bugs infest 5-euro-a-night hostels and Ritz-Carltons indiscriminately, and a traveler should always be on the alert for possible infestations. One of the best ways to avoid bed bugs while traveling is to take a good look at what travelers are saying about the property online. If there are recent reports of an infestation, rethink that reservation. For more tips on avoiding bed bugs in hotels, read How to find a clean hotel room.