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Therese Iknoian

Traveler | Photographer at HI Travel Tales
Little did her parents know that a short trip to Europe in high school would launch a lifetime love of travel, languages and cultures. Trained as a news journalist, Therese Iknoian spent a decade as a daily newspaper journalist before launching a freelance writing career specializing in outdoor, fitness and training. All the while trotting the globe, her focus finally turned to travel. Fluent in German, Therese runs a translation business ( working primarily with companies in the outdoor/sports/retail industry. Also a French speaker, she loves to learn a bit of the language wherever she goes -- gdje je kupaonica? Мне нужна помощь! -- often embarrassing herself in the quest for cross-cultural communication and the search for great travel discoveries.
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Staying healthy and ready for whatever travel adventure beckons is vital. Who wants to be sick in a hotel bed when the Roman Coliseum or the Great Wall are nearby begging to be seen? That makes fighting germs in public places No. 1 on your to-do list when traveling since you can’t avoid public places!

There are the obvious tips: Wash your hands as often as possible, try not to touch your hands to your mouth or eyes, 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 tips.

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.

Fighting germs with hand sanitizer and wipes.

Stay hydrated – First and foremost, stay hydrated. That means drinking plenty of fluids (non-alcoholic). Medical experts also recommend keeping your nasal passages moist with frequent spritzing with a saline spray, pictured above. Big bad bugs are less likely to lodge in moist nasal and sinus passages.

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 anti-bacterial wet wipes, and wipe down armrests, tables, buttons and controls, window shades, and any remote controls or screens you many handle. You may look a bit obsessive to others, but it’s your health, and fighting germs will let you keep it.

Fighting germs by wiping down the airplane seats.

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.

HITT Tip: When boarding, immediately take out wipes and hand sanitizer from your carry-on to keep them within reach and ready for use.

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!

Fighting germs in public toilets is a challenge.

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 it 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 using the bathroom so one of you can hold both of your 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 they can be absorbed and spread by the paper. 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, experts say.

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 the other rules, above, about fighting germs in public places 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 anti-bacterial wet wipes to work again, and wipe it all down before you settle in.

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 pole or grip prior to you? A whole heck of a lot. Avoid using your hand to hang on, if possible. Try to hold on with the crook of your elbow or forearm to keep yourself from falling over or in guiding yourself into a seat.

Fighting germs by not touching train posts or handles.

HITT Tip: Since hand sanitizer is your friend, get a small travel-size bottle in a case that will clip somewhere convenient. If it is handy, you will be more likely to use it.

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!

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.

HITT Tip: Keep a pen close at hand – perhaps clipped to an inside pocket or in a quick-access pocket of a bag – so you use it for signing.

Buttons and handrails – When using elevators use a knuckle to push a button. On escalators or stairs, if you feel secure enough, try to avoid using your hand to grab the handrails (misnomer of a name, yes?) and instead try touching them lightly with an elbow or forearm. If holding on with your hand is most secure, then don’t forget that hand sanitizer afterward.

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 don’t get too crazy about it. Do the best you can – it takes practice to transform these tips into habit in combating germs in public places.

We would of course love to hear your tips and travel hacks on fighting germs to stay healthy when traveling.

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