The Ugly American: How to Get Killed on Vacation

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The other day as I checked into a Best Western, the desk clerk asked me to recite, out loud, my phone number, the model and color of my car and my birthdate before giving me my key and bellowing my room number loud enough for it to be bounced off the walls of the reception area and into the ear drums of every masturbating pick-ax killer lurking in the lobby.

There are a million things wrong with this scenario, and you hardly have to be a paranoid, safety-obsessed, Forensic Files marathon-watching bottom fish like me to point them out.

First, don’t recite personal information like phone numbers, birth dates and car models out loud in front of strangers even if the hotel clerk is idiot enough to ask for it. If you don’t think this practice can endanger a woman traveling alone with two teenage daughters, let me refer you to the case of serial killer Cary Stayner, who, in Yosemite, California, gained access to the hotel room of a mother and two teenage girls by calling their phone and saying, “This is the front desk, we’re sending someone over with extra towels,” for example, or by knocking on their hotel-room door and citing certain identifying markers, like, “Is your car a red Nissan Sentra? It’s about to be towed,” etc. Whatever the case, one of the victims was persuaded to open the door and, boom!, days later the charred remains of the mom and one of the teenagers was found in the trunk of her incinerated Pontiac, and then later the third girl was found dead in the woods with her throat cut.

So, yeah. It matters. Personally, whenever I encounter a clueless desk clerk who endangers my safety, I usually refrain from admonishing her and instead opt for the more passive aggressive approach, which is to lie like a divorce lawyer: My phone number? [Insert ex-boyfriend’s number here.] My car? Ford Model Fucking T. My birth date? Whatever the date is that is exactly 21 years ago today. They usually never check or even look up from their keyboards, so bent are they on filling in blanks in order to get to the next screen. If they do ask me to validate anything I say, that’s when I turn from passive aggressive to just plain aggressive and start bitching at them for risking my life.

Second, don’t accept a key from a reception clerk who has announced your number out loud and/or has written your room number on the key card. Why? Because one, you are a woman traveling alone and/or with kids and the hotel clerk just broadcasted to every rapist within earshot your damn room number. And two, what if the key card was lost? Now the psychopathic crack addict who finds it not only knows which hotel but also the exact room number and he has a key. Hotel clerks are not supposed to write the hotel number on the key card! If they do it’s because they are a perfect example of someone who is damn bad at their job. And if you tolerate it you’re a perfect example of how to get killed on vacation.

Hollis Gillespie writes a weekly travel column for Paste. She is a writing instructor, travel expert and author of We Will be Crashing Shortly, coming out in June. Follow her on Twitter.