Today I spent time looking at a second apartment...I put in an application for an apartment in Hyattsville. It's a nice enough place, I suppose, but not knowing the city and the areas I should avoid during the day, I went mostly by online research and asking locals.
To find out what an area's really like, ask locals. Ask them where they live, what kinds of crime they deal with. I had a very nice gentleman explain that he preferred dealing with the crime from illegals versus other ethnic groups, because other ethnic groups usually had violent crime (murder and rapes) versus your garden-variety crime (theft.) Despite having lived in the country the past few years, I did grow up in Denver, and I thank God that my ex was a dispatcher. I wound up learning a lot about the seedier side of life from him.
A lot of crime isn't what the ordinary person sees...that perfectly nice house down the street could house a meth lab during the summer, that nice neighbor who walks your dog could be a pedophile. At the same time, being paranoid about that sort of thing means most of the time you wind up hiding in your house with the door locked 99% of the time.
That being said, there are a few things a woman should look for in an apartment if she's in a strange city, and precautions she should take if she's alone. You can't prevent crime, and if someone really wants to mug you, he or she will. The trick is not looking vulnerable or weak. As for apartment tips...here's what I've found works best, having lived alone and being sent on contract a number of strange cities by myself.
1. Do not get a ground floor unit. It's way too easy for someone to kick in a ground-level window, bars or not. A second or third floor apartment may be a pain for hauling groceries, but it makes it harder for someone to come in other than the front door.
2. Lock your door when you're inside, and keep it locked even if you only go down for a minute. Someone can slip inside an unlocked or open door in seconds, and then you are trapped inside with them when you return.
3. Park your car somewhere with light, lock it and make it someplace preferably where you can see it from a window of your apartment.
4. Try to get a unit with laundry inside it. Besides being convenient, it prevents you from having to go alone to the laundry room at what might be odd hours of the night (if you procrastinate like I do) and make sure you stay with your clothes if you do go to a laundry room...people will steal the weirdest things. I had some very nice VS underwear stolen one time.
5. If you want to get an idea of whether a neighborhood is decent, look at the houses that surround the area. Are they kept up? Are their lawns mowed? Do folks have flowers and such planted? If it is obvious people take care of their property, there's a good chance they care if their kids are safe playing outside.
6. When you're out to make friends, be polite, but don't volunteer vital information. Especially don't volunteer things like the area you live, what kind of car you drive or anything else that indicates your income. You don't know who is overhearing your conversation and might follow you home to steal that nice car or mug you for your purse.
Another thing that is often-ignored is the gut feel you get from an apartment. If your gut feels uneasy about a place, no matter how minuscule, don't write it off. We are more perceptive than we give ourselves credit for, and my gut has NEVER steered me wrong when it comes to house-hunting.
When you live in a hotel for any length of time, eating gets expensive. If you can, get a room that has a fridge and a microwave (sometimes called a suite.) Those will save you umpteen amounts on your budget, because you'll be able to bring groceries back to your room to eat. I brought back my first groceries, and it included sandwich fixings, cereal and milk, a few snacks and a gallon of drinking water. I have silverware and plastic cups and plates I bought for the apartment, so some dish soap and sponges are a lot cheaper than paper cups and plates.
Leave your "Do Not Disturb" sign out all the time. Have the room cleaned when you are there and can watch the cleaning process. As a single woman traveling alone, the less people who are in your room without your knowledge, the better.
Ditto goes for your apartment...maintenance people should always call ahead before maintenance is done, and they should ALWAYS call before they enter your unit. If they do not, complain to the office.
Safety and living cheaply while in transit is important. But most important is safety, before all else. I hope these tips help folks who may not have traveled alone.