Travel hacks for fighting germs in public spaces – updated March 2020
Staying healthy and ready for whatever travel adventure beckons is vital. Who wants to be sick in a hotel bed, or a hospital, when the Roman Coliseum or the Great Wall are nearby begging to be seen? That makes fighting germs (like the new coronavirus) No. 1 on your to-do list when traveling since you can’t avoid public places!
There are the obvious travel hacks for fighting germs: Wash your hands as often as possible, try not to touch your hands to your mouth or eyes, don’t shake hands of others (fist bumps are better) and carry hand sanitizer (and use it!). But there are also a few other tips to keep in mind in fighting germs in public places. Remember that many of these germ-fighting hacks for fending off bugs and bacteria and staying healthy cross over, so take the concepts and run with them! And of course, there are a million ways to protect yourself from germs. These are just a few of the top ones.
Getting there: Fighting germs in airplanes
Think about all those people traveling together in that relatively small space, often for many hours at a time. If every adult averages 2-3 colds a year (and children many more) according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, your chances are good that a few of the folks you are traveling with are sick.
Plane cleaning isn’t what it appears – Spend a few moments cleaning up your seat area on the plane before you settle in since the cleaners ripping through an aircraft between flights can’t and don’t do it all. Carry sanitizing wipes, and wipe down armrests, tables, buttons and controls, window shades, and any remote controls or screens you many handle (if you are wiping down your seat, be sure the surface dries before you sit down otherwise you might end up with staining on your clothing). You may look a bit obsessive to others, but it’s your health, and fighting germs will let you keep it.
Handling cups and glasses – Every time I take a cup from a flight attendant who has been handing cups back and forth to dozens of other passengers, I wonder what germs are going along for the ride and getting passed back and forth. Hand sanitizer is your best friend. Like we said before, take it – and use it — to stay healthy.
Airplane bathrooms – Now that is the total ick factor, especially if it is a longer-haul flight. You know that wet or sticky stuff on the floor? That ain’t water, my friend! Do NOT go shoe-less into the bathroom space. For longer haul flights, consider carrying an extra pair of socks to pull over your shoe-less feet (slipper substitutes), and then bag them and into the laundry they go asap afterward. See below for more on public bathrooms.
Blankets and pillows – Do not use them unless they are in a sealed bag (or they are just going behind your back perhaps). Those pillows and blankets are harboring all kinds of germs from others. If you get cold, take a light jacket, and bring your own neck pillow.
Stay hydrated – Be sure you stay well hydrated. Also, we recommend using a saline spray for your nose as we have pictured above. By keeping the nasal passages moist (extra challenging in the dry air of an airplane) you make it harder for germs to find a home.
Smart ways to avoid germs in public bathrooms
I used to think my mother was ridiculous when she used the paper towel from drying her hands to open the door when leaving the bathroom. Ah, mom was smart! Especially since studies find that only 5 percent of people wash their hands the right way after using the bathroom, and in fact only two of three use soap! Since COVID-19 swept across the globe, however, we suspect the number of people washing hands has gone up significantly. In fact, Michael has noticed seriously obsessive hand washing taking place in most public men’s bathrooms as we’ve been traveling.
Door latches and handles carry germs – Go with the paper towel trick from my mom when exiting. And that handle from the stall? No hands washed yet by anyone, so use a piece of TP or just be sure to wash really well afterward.
Stowing a bag or purse – Do not even consider putting it on the floor. Hang on a hook, if available. If not available, do the best juggle you can with a shoulder or hand to keep it off the floor. If traveling with a companion, take turns waiting outside the bathroom so one of you can hold both bags.
Flush with your foot – Use your foot to flush – or a piece of TP if you aren’t that flexible.
To use a toilet seat cover or not? – Research shows they do not help and in fact may transmit more bacteria since it can be absorbed and spread. Best is to “hover,” i.e. not plant your behind on the seat. In the end, getting a bug from the toilet seat is actually highly unlikely.
Close the lid before flushing – Indeed, one super-smart technique for fighting germs in public bathrooms is to close the lid prior to flushing. Studies show that a fine mist spreads upon flushing – one you don’t really perceive – and it can contain germs and even fecal matter.
Lodging logic: How to fight germs in hotels and pensions
Turns out even a super clean hotel can get you sick. All travel hacks for fighting germs and viruses in public places we covered above apply of course. There are a couple of additional vital points:
Bed bugs aren’t a myth – Refer to our story on “Tips to avoid bed bugs when traveling.” Be on the lookout.
Coffee pot handles, remotes and co. – The top places that germs hide in hotel rooms are telephone keypads, remote controls, coffee pot handles and light switches. Put those sanitizing wipes or a sanitizing spray to work again, and wipe it all down before you settle in.
You may also want to read 10 top tips to help you sleep better in hotels
Getting around: Germ warfare on public transit
In addition to the tips about keypads, try these on for size:
Handles and grips – How many hands have held onto that post or grip prior to you? A whole heck of a lot. Avoid using your hand to hang on. Try to hold one with the crook of your elbow or forearm, if at all possible, to keep yourself from falling over or guiding yourself into a seat.
Automatic door buttons – Same as above. Thousands of people are on and off. Use a knuckle if you can, preferably one on your less-dominant hand. Or be a bit of a sneak and gallantly let somebody else push the button and get off first!
Eating out and shopping: Germ warfare continues
Serving yourself at meal buffets – Remember, all those ladles, spoons and serving forks have been handled by many others. Hand sanitizer to the rescue!
You may also want to read How to avoid getting traveler’s diarrhea or food poisoning
Signing your name – Whether to verify a check-in or a purchase with a credit card, you will be asked to sign. Assuming the writing utensil is not one of those special keypad ones, keep your own pen handy and pull it out to sign on that dotted line.
Buttons and handrails – When using elevators use a knuckle to push a button. On escalators, if you feel secure enough, try to avoid grabbing the handrails with your hand (misnomer of a name, yes?) and instead try leaning with an elbow or forearm. If holding on with your hand is most secure, then don’t forget that hand sanitizer once you disembark.
To read more from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on fighting germs, click here.
All these tips may sound obsessive, but if the coronavirus pandemic has taught us anything, it is to learn to take care of the basic things and make a habit of doing everything that protects your health and the health of those around you.
You will also want to read Travel after the COVID-19 pandemic: 5 things to pack to travel safely
We would of course love to hear your tips and travel hacks on fighting germs to stay healthy when traveling.