Travel Is A Germaphobe's Nightmare: 12 Tips From Experts

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There is a reason people get sick while traveling: Not only are your sleep and typical healthy habits disrupted, but you are usually in high-trafficked areas and therefore surrounded by plenty of germs. This might send germaphobes into an all-out panic, but really it's just about being mindful of certain, and often unexpected, spots. Then it's about regularly washing hands, having disinfectants on hand, and stocking up on immune-boosters. So here are the worst offenders and how to keep the germs at bay.

Airports and planes

Fill up water at a restaurant, not the water fountain. We've talked before about bringing your own reusable bottle o the airport so you can effortlessly refill, without buying plastic options. Your best bet at that refill? See if you can stop by a restaurant to use their water, as airport public fountains are crawling with germs. According to data collected from Travelmath, water fountains in the airport had over 1,200 colony-forming units per square inch. For extra protection, buy a water bottle with a filter so you can trust tap no matter where you are.

Wipe down your seat, tray table, seat belt, and air vent. The dirtiest places on the plane ride are all in your seat area: the buckle, air vent, and tray. According to the data from Travelmath, the buckle had 230 CFUs, the air vent had 285 CFUs, and the tray had a shocking 2,155 CFUs, all per square inch. Bring disinfecting wipes (CleanWell Travel-Size Hand Sanitizing Wipes are a great natural option) and wipe down prior to using any of these. This includes the air vent, as that's an oft forgotten spot to wipe down—or better yet, don't use it. Also, if you plan to use your tray, make sure all your food stays on a napkin and does not spill on the tray itself: "The problem is they are heavily used but they are hardly ever wiped down," says microbiologist Charles P. Gerba, Ph.D., who teaches microbiology and environmental sciences, professor of public health (EHS) at the University of Arizona.

Be mindful of handles in the bathroom. While the bathroom had, perhaps shockingly, fewer germ-infected areas according to the report, there were a few areas that you should watch out for: the flushing handle or button and the lock. It's an easy fix: Sanitize your hands after using the restroom and use a paper towel to touch any surface.

Use a spray to fight the plane's dry air. "Our immune system starts with our nose. The purpose of the nose is to filter, warm, and moisten air before it enters our body. Each nasal breath draws nitric oxide from our sinuses and carries it into our lungs. Nitric oxide is our natural immune protection against respiratory infection as it kills virus, bacteria, and fungus," says Steven Olmos, DDS, who is board-certified in chronic pain and sleep-related breathing disorders. When our noses dry out, like during flight, we might switch to breathing through our mouths, especially during sleep. Using a natural nasal spray, like Xlear, will keep your nose hydrated during flight. Another option to boost your system: a propolis spray, like Beekeeper's Naturals Propolis Throat Spray, which is taken orally and a natural germ-fighter and antioxidant. "It can take a major load off our immune systems and supports the natural strength of your body's defense systems—whether you're fighting off a cold or just trying to stay healthy in the face of stress," says founder Carly Stein.

Hotels

Wipe down the remote control and any switches. The American Society of Microbiology showed in research two of the most contaminated areas of the hotel rooms were the remote and the light switches, most notably being the bedside lamp. Simply make sure to wipe it down upon arrival with one of your disinfecting wipes. Remotes are the worst, apparently: "They are hard to disinfect because of all the buttons, which are hard to get around. We also found that phones have the same issue, but hardly anyone uses those anymore," says Gerba.

Any glass or container in the restroom. It's not uncommon for glassware and other items, like ice buckets, to be stored in the restroom at hotels (there's only so much space!), so wash those before use. As one study famously showed, flushing the toilet can spread airborne particles around the restroom.

If you're really concerned, consider upgrading hotels. "With our research, we really did find that more expensive hotels fared better than the cheaper ones," says Gerber. "We assume it is because the cleaning materials are higher quality and they might spend more time in each room."

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Sightseeing

Sanitize after using an ATM. As a highly used item that gets little cleaning, this is ripe for germs. "The enter button is the worst, since that gets used the most," says Gerba. Also worth noting: The setting may affect how dirty it is. "They are the worst on the East Coast because they are often inside, have overcast skies, or humidity, which all help germs grow faster. We found that if it's outside in dry heat, like on the West Coast, it's usually baking in the sun."

Put on your own lid, or better yet: Bring your own clean cup. While out-and-about you might want to stumble into a coffee shop for pick-me-up matcha or ice coffee. Ideally you'd have your own reusable cup, but if you don't and need to use a plastic or paper option, Gerba recommends handling the lid and straw yourself—since those items will be in contact with your mouth. "If you can, use your own hands with those items. We've found they actually carry a lot of germs since the baristas are handling sponges and a lot of other items that can carry germs."

Clean the high chairs yourself. When you stop into a restaurant for a bite, first make sure you have washed your hands before eating anything. Then, if you have kids, "Our studies have shown that high chairs in most restaurants are pretty bad, so make sure to wipe it down with your own disinfectant," says Gerba, since the restaurant might not be doing it adequately. "In our research we even asked a waiter to come wipe down our table as a test, and all it did was spread the germs around since it was just a rag and apparently not enough disinfectants."

Wash your reusable bags and totes—all of them. Maybe you're on a beach vacation and you need to transfer snacks, sandals, and extra clothes to and from the hotel: Be mindful of what you are using your reusable bags for. Never mix and match, wash regularly, and keep food separate. "I've seen people use the same tote for shoes that they then use for carrying things like food and groceries, which can transfer a lot of germs to the food," says Gerba.

And in the end, enjoy your vacation—you deserve to relax, recharge, and have fun. So even if germs bug you out, don't let them too much. It is vacation, after all.

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