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I ask this question because I frequently go on lengthy trips, and we bring a lot of stuff.

For this reason, we use Do Not Disturb signs. But when we get back to the hotel rooms after exploring a city, it still seems like someone has been through our room. For one thing, the smell of the room seems different, and some stuff seems to have moved around.

In any case, is there a good and reliable way to tell if someone's been through my stuff? I noted we bring a lot of stuff because it occurs to me that if someone from the cleaning/hotel staff took just one thing, it'd be very hard to notice.

Since I no longer trust Do Not Disturb Signs, especially after having $25 disappear from my luggage, what can I do to tell if someone's been in our hotel room?

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    I don't trust "do not steal" and "do not do illegal stuff" signs either. If only posting a sign was all it took to stop crime ... – hippietrail Sep 2 '14 at 6:20
  • I wonder if there is a kind of spy camera on the market with built-in motion detector for just this job. I bet there is! – hippietrail Sep 2 '14 at 6:21
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    What is your specific goal? Simply knowing if someone has entered the room, so you can complain to management? Or detecting actual theft/tampering of your things? Or preventing these from occurring? – Flimzy Sep 2 '14 at 10:09
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    I'd have thought it was quite likely that cleaners will have been in the room? As Mark Mayo says, the hair-on-the-door trick could work (on a cupboard door or drawer), or carefully arrange your stuff in a known pattern, perhaps with a photo, so you can tell if it has been disturbed? e.g. rest the left-hand zipper pull of a bag on top of the right-hand one in such a way that it will fall off if the bag is moved? A casual thief wouldn't notice that... – Nick C Sep 2 '14 at 12:27
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    Some hotels have guest safety rules which mean they want to enter the room to check, no matter the Do Not Disturb sign. I once found security and hotel management outside my room, about to enter when returning very late from work having accidentally left a "Do Not Disturb" sign on the door and a spare key in the light when leaving that morning – Gagravarr Sep 2 '14 at 14:27
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Random paper pieces security system:

When I feel the need (varies) I place all material that I wish not to be accessed either in a cupboard or a pile in a corner, place a blanket or similar over it all, tuck in the edges, then tear a sheet of paper in random pieces and scatter them over the heap and take a photo. I frame the photo in such a way that I can replicate it subsequently. On return to my room I take another photo and compare the two. Care needs to be taken that drafts from air conditioning, windows or opening a door will not disturb the paper.

The odds of anyone being able to disturb and replace all the paper pieces in their original position is essentially zero except if they take a photo and then carefully remove pieces systematically and restore them using the photo. ie a professional 'spy' or dedicated thief may be able to do it but the odds are minimal.

Updated: I just came across this example in my photos. Not as orderly as sometimes - and a confident person could risk feeling with their hand at bottom right - but it would be a risk and if they disturbed it there is no undoing it. And even the wrinkles in the blanket cover are part of the image available for checking.

enter image description here


I have used the same method once where I had reason to doubt the security of a locker. In that case I meandered a long piece of twine over the top of goods in the locker.

Twine in locker. Purpose obvious enough to the discerning. Very quick and basic but, without a camera no way to put it back accurately enough. Even taking a photo would make replacement extremely challenging. Note that camera position and framing is important for ease of comparison.

enter image description here

In no case has my paper or twine ever appeared to have been disturbed.

Pushed paper:

I sometimes use a version of the hair tell-tale. I place something either on the floor or against a door in such a way that it must be moved when the door is opened. The super observant intruder could look for such things but it's unlikely.


Motion triggered camera:

I have not (yet) tried this but it is among the more useful methods. Some cameras offer the ability to trigger on motion and to take video and/or stills according to a program.
While the cost of a new camera that does this may be high, there is a low cost and highly effective way to do it.
The free Canon SDK software allows many Canon A series cameras to have this facility. Triggering can be on motion in a selected area of the image.
Suitable used cameras can be obtained at low cost (from about $10 up in NZ) and programmed for this and many other purposes. (I used one to do 10 second time lapse journey footage and sunset footage in Australia with great success.) For longer periods you may need an external battery or a mains power supply. (A small cheap sealed lead acid 6V battery would work in many cases.

Bonus: If the camera vanishes you know that there has been an intruder.


Related:

Sometimes I really really do not want cleaning staff to access my room or I want them to only access the bathroom. Usually this is because I have an immense mess in the room with papers and/or equipment arranged to suit me and do not want them disturbed or damaged. In such cases I have on occasion strung a string across the room at the "no intrusion" boundary and hung one or several relevant signs on it. These may not say any more than the sign on the door says but vividly convey how serious I am. It seems to work. It's useful to be able to get the bathroom cleaned without the rest of the room being touched.

On occasions I have had 'helpful' cleaners take material that was NOT in a bin or similar and that was NOT rubbish. If there is a risk of this and it matter suitable care needs to be taken.

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    That is a seriously awesome answer, so many useful tips. I've never thought of the take a picture of the scene and compare later -- so simple! (And "if the camera vanishes you know that there has been an intruder" -- brilliant. +1 for that alone). – SpaceDog Sep 2 '14 at 13:06
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    If this whole answer didn't deserve to be upvoted, I'd do it anyway for: "Bonus: If the camera vanishes you know that there has been an intruder." :D – Shokhet Feb 2 '15 at 5:42
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    Question: Let's say you detect something has been moved. What exactly do you do? Do you go shout at the hotel manager for moving your stuff? How do you prove someone moved it? Basically, what's the point of detection? Can you do anything about it? – Mehrdad Oct 25 '16 at 9:10
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    @Mehrdad (1) I have had property PROBABLY accessed and POSSIBLY stolen from in the past. Knowing that it hasn't happened provides reassurance to me. If that would mot reassure you the method may not suit you. (2) Rooms are often accessed for cleaning ect by staff. Knowing that they do not look through your property is valuable to some. (3) The method is liable to be a deterrent to staff - not necessarily so to intruders - but, maybe them to. (4) Knowing it has happened and proving it are somewhat orthogonal. Any manager who does not understand the method when explained should be fired..... – Russell McMahon Oct 25 '16 at 15:57
  • @Mehrdad ... and manager who does not believe you should be checked out on, as you go to visit the police. (5) Since I wrote this I had a probable partial intrusion. Some edge papers were disturbed bu the main ones were not. I suspect they started to uncover i, realised what was being done and stopped. I left an oblique note that would only make sense to someone who understood what had happened. – Russell McMahon Oct 25 '16 at 16:05
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I have made an android app called Opened which allows you to know if someone has opened your drawer, or your closet, or your room or any other container. You simply turn off the screen then put your phone inside your drawer, then close it and make sure it's dark inside, and once someone opens the drawer, the app will start an alarm, or silently take a picture and send it to you by Email.

Edit: somebody reported the app is no longer available.

  • I like this approach! – RoflcoptrException Nov 20 '15 at 16:07
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    That's great, but what if you need your phone on you while you're out ? – blackbird Nov 20 '15 at 16:55
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    @blackbird57 In that case you will need to use an other phone, such an older one that you don't use anymore. – Tafayor Dev Nov 20 '15 at 17:59
  • @TafayorDev I like it. And, if the phone is missing you know ... :-). Does not work for James Bond. In one story there is a light switch activated camera. A full fight scene occurs in the dark and the room is rearranged and then 're-entered' so the film shows an innocuous entry. [ :-) ] – Russell McMahon Jul 17 '17 at 19:33
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If your hotel uses access / swipe cards, and you really believe someone has been through it, you could report it to the front desk / security office. They'll have a log of who has used which card for any given room, and would tell you if someone has entered.

Alternatively, if you're the paranoid type and really want to go to extremes, or if there's no swipe card, just a key, you could consider the hair on the door trick.

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Although I really like the answer above, I like to share my low-tech solution, where I work with my hair. I just tie my luggage and closets with a piece of hair. If I return and the hairs are intact, no one messed with my stuff. If a or all hairs are broken, you know someone went through your room.

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    My hair isn't long enough for this, unfortunately :P – Shokhet Feb 2 '15 at 5:41
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Invisible thread available at magicians supply stores instead of hair trick. Secure ends by wrapping a small object like a bead with candle wax adhesive. Store by wrapping around a card having razor cut slits for the purpose. Invisible beyond about 4 inches with normal vision. Only the beads or such can be seen if you know where to look.

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MY TECHNIQUES:

  1. If your door opens inwards into the room, tape a cocktail stick to the door frame inside the room, on the side next to the handle. Shut the door. When the door opens, the cocktail stick gets hit by the door [If done correctly]. If when you get back to your room the stick is snapped or missing, someone has definitely entered and you can report it.

  2. A camera. Pretty self explanatory, put it in a roof corner near the door slightly angled down and switch it on when you leave. Make sure it can record video for long periods of time, or use a sound recorder instead. When you get back, stop the recording and check it. You will both tell if someone entered, and get a glimpse of their looks to report.

  3. Put a thin line of any powder [Talcum powder, flour etc.) on the door handles on the inside and outside sides of the door. If anyone has entered, the powder will be disturbed.

  4. Put things inside your rooms such as clothes in an extremely accurate pattern that is unlikely to be recognized. You could simply put your socks in a certain position, or something more advanced. If anyone has touched them, the pattern will be disturbed.

  5. This is more for checking if cleaners have entered, but it's good. Make an extreme mess in the center of a room that you don't want people cleaning. If it is cleaned when you are back, you know cleaners entered.

I hope these tips helped!

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