Now, there are extremes with sharing germs. There are those who sneeze out into the open air on a plane, and there are those who wear masks 24/7.
So, where is the line?
This is an area, especially as a guy and someone who doesn’t get sick often or when I do, I just play hurt, it’s taken me a while to adapt and accept not only the number of germs on the road but how to prevent them becoming close friends with me.
I grew up where we ate dirt and rubbed dirt on anything to make it feel better. We were FAR from GERMaphobes.
But through the years, becoming more health-conscious and traveling so much for business… my tune has definitely changed. From watching people with good and bad health and germ habits to my own research, I’ve learned a ton recently.
I’ve become a big fan of the travel tip site called: Smarter Travel. The site covers a wide range of travel and opinions, but I’ve found some great content on the site and highly recommend it. In fact, it inspired and influenced this episode, so mad kudos to Smarter Travel on this one. Singing your praises for the detailed content.
So, how do we get “more smarter” and “less germier” on the road?
Here are 12 High Germ Zones to Avoid on Business Travel…
Now, the overall locations shouldn’t surprise you considering where we spend the majority of our time on the road, but where the specific germ zone is located should be highly noted.
Let’s start at the airport for the 1st two high germ zones…
1. Touch-Screen Ticket Kiosks
Many still use self-serve kiosks for checking in and printing boarding passes at airports and train stations as potential time savers. Unfortunately, they aren’t health savers, as they are also covered in germs.
An ABC affiliate did a test of public touch screens and found that an Amtrak check-in terminal at Washington, D.C.’s Union Station contained a reading of 3,700 colony-forming bacteria units (CFU) per swab. Aka: germs and gross.
Advice: Wash your hands or use sanitizer after touching the screens or use a digital boarding pass whenever possible.
This advice also holds for ATMs when we’re out on the road and pulling cash.
2. Security Checkpoints
Security checkpoints are the locker rooms of the airport as Smarter Travel put it. This the place where people awkwardly remove clothing in order to prepare for the next activity. And, like locker rooms, security checkpoints are inviting places for fungus and bacteria to jump between hosts, especially when so many people insist on treading the carpets and rubber mats in bare feet.
Don’t want Athlete’s Foot or some other locker-room foot funk to catch a ride on your soles at the airport security checkpoint? Then never go barefoot through airport security. Even if you’re sporting sandals, flip-flops, or some other tropical-destination footwear, you should always have a spare pair of socks handy for security-line stripping.
Advice: TSA Pre-Check or Clear = cleaner and much quicker options. Definitely worth the price of admission.
3. Water Fountains
Which would you rather drink from, a public water fountain, or a public toilet? It turns out that the water fountain may have more bacteria.
A number of studies have shown that public fountains are founts for germs—one study by the National Sanitation Foundation (NSF International) found that the dirtiest spots in public schools are the water fountains.
Think about it: Bathrooms are cleaned multiple times per day, but when was the last time you saw a water fountain being cleaned? Consider that the next time you want to refill a water bottle at a public fountain on your travels.
Advice: More and more airports have water stations where you can fill up water bottles, rather than lap at the shared watering hole. Or bring a small water bottle (or your own pop-up cup) and ask for a fill-up at the nearest cafe. Or simply buy a bottle of water. Cutting down on plastic waste is a noble goal, but sometimes traveler health has to take priority.
My personal suggestion: save the plastic, bring your own aluminum water bottle from Elite Road Warrior!
Now let’s board the plane and find out where are high germ zones are located…
4. Airplane Seat Pockets
This was one that I hadn’t put much thought into, but when I read about it – Yowzers! You know passengers shove used tissues, dirty diapers, banana peels, sunflower-seed shells, and general trash into the seat pockets on a plane.
And that black hole of grossness definitely isn’t deep-cleaned between flights. Smarter Travel and Elite Road Warrior recommend you don’t put anything in that pocket—it’s like storing your stuff inside a public trashcan for the duration of your flight.
Advice: Keep it in your work bag. It’s worth the tiny extra effort to find it.
5. Airplane Tray Tables
Poor tray tables—besides working and eating, how many times have you seen someone sick, put their head down, hack themselves silly, sleep, and wake up when the flight is done only to put up their tray table for the next victim.
With quick flight turnovers, these tray tables aren’t getting sanitized between every trip, either. So think about that before you eat off of one on your next flight. Bring sanitizing wipes and give your tray table a good wipe-down before using it.
Advice: wipe the tray tables down like your life depended on it!
Use Your Wipes (Correctly)
There’s a right way to use disinfecting wipes, and many wrong ways. To do it correctly, Smarter Travel suggests: Wipe down all hard, nonporous surfaces thoroughly. This is Key: Make sure you read and follow the package instructions about how long the surface needs to stay visibly wet. This ranges from about 30 seconds to four minutes.
This is when the germ-killing magic happens, so you can’t rush it. Note that this means you’re going to be unsettled for a little longer before you can make yourself comfortable. Kidding: Everyone knows you’re not going to be comfortable on the plane. But at least you can maybe emerge illness-free.
Personally, I use the Wet Ones wipes that come in single packs.
6. Airplane Bathrooms
Airplane lavatories may be tiny, but they’re big breeding grounds for germs. The space is so small that flushing the toilet sprays bacteria onto almost every surface in the bathroom, including the sink.
Messy passengers who leave the sink wet are just encouraging germs to breed. Your best bet is to wash your hands, use a paper towel to open the bathroom door and use hand sanitizer when you get back to your seat.
Like a fecal-bacteria hurricane, the high-powered toilet launches swirling germs into the air of the tiny airplane lav with each flush. The situation only gets worse when other passengers do substandard jobs of washing their hands (or simply skip the step) and touch surfaces and the doorknob.
Advice: Wash your hands, use a paper towel to open the door, do your business, use a paper towel to open the door again, and then use hand sanitizer when you get back to your seat.
While washing your hands in the tiny airport bathroom, you may have noticed a little sign by the sink telling you not to drink from the tap. If airplane water isn’t potable, does washing your hands in it really make them any cleaner? Smarter Travel asked an expert to find out.
Hand Sanitizer vs. Hand Washing on a Plane
Janilyn Hutchings, a Certified Professional in Food Safety and food safety specialist of StateFoodsSafety.com, weighs in:
“In general, washing your hands in non-potable water isn’t very effective in cleaning your hands. The three crucial ingredients of good handwashing are using soap, scrubbing for 15 seconds, and rinsing in clean water.
When clean water is available, always wash your hands with soap and water—it’s much more effective in killing germs than using sanitizer. However, if you know for a fact clean water is unavailable, using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer may be your best option.”
If you’re on an aircraft that has potable water, washing your hands thoroughly with soap and water would be the best option. If the water isn’t safe to drink, you’re better off using hand sanitizer after using the restroom.
Don’t forget to use hand sanitizer before you eat on a plane. You’ve likely picked up germs from the seatbelt, armrest, tray table, and tv screen. Using hand sanitizer will give you clean hands without having to get up.
Let’s move from the airport to the hotel…
As much as we’d all like to think that every hotel room we stay in is scrubbed thoroughly by a housekeeping superhero before our arrival, some of the dirtiest surfaces are routinely neglected by cleaning staff. Beware of these four high germ danger zones the second you walk into the room.
7. Hotel Light Switches
What’s one thing that everyone touches in a hotel room, but no one ever cleans? It’s the light switch, and it’s home to lots of germs.
Think about it: People might wash their hands once they get inside the room, but the first thing they touch (after being on germy planes and cars) before reaching the bathroom is the room’s light switch.
A study in NBC NEWS by a University of Houston researcher found that the main light switch was the dirtiest surface in the hotel rooms tested, and often contained high levels of fecal bacteria.
Advice: Use something to turn on the light such as your sleeve, shirt, tissue when you walk in the room then pull out a wet wipe and wipe down any and all light switches. Ideally, you have a wet wipe available to open the door then turn on the light switch.
8. Hotel Remotes
Hotel housekeepers may bleach the bathroom and dust the nightstand, but they rarely clean the TV remote. Studies conducted by microbiologists have found that remote controls have some of the highest levels of bacterial contamination in hotel rooms.
Advice: Smarter Travel suggests using the hotel shower cap over the remote or Use those wet wipes – do you see a pattern here?
9. Hotel Bedspreads
Think twice before you flop down on your freshly made hotel bed. The heavy bedspread on top probably hasn’t been washed in a while.
Most hotels change the sheets between guests but don’t change the top comforter, which could be a nice cozy home for bedbugs and bodily fluids. To avoid the left-behind germs of past guests, remove the top layer of bedding, and sleep with only the washed sheets and blankets.
Advice: Avoid the left-behind germs of past guests, remove the top layer of bedding, and sleep with only the washed sheets and blankets.
10. Hotel Pools
Pink eye. Giardia. Skin viruses. Turns out vacationers aren’t the only ones splashing around in hotel pools. Warm swimming pools are perfect breeding grounds for all sorts of bacteria and viruses. Since chlorination doesn’t kill all bacteria, even the most regularly maintained pool can host all sorts of things you can’t towel off.
Advice: Rinse off before—and soap up after—a plunge in the pool. And please, please keep your mouth closed—you don’t want to accidentally swallow a bacteria brew.
Handrails may steady your progress, but they definitely won’t do your health any favors.
Bacteria, viruses, and other choice germs linger longer on nonporous materials like plastic, making handrails—especially in high-traffic places like airports and hotels—ubiquitous transfer stations for germs.
And while handrails are vital for those with mobility issues and novel for the countless children who use them as mini jungle gyms, they’re best avoided by everyone else, especially travelers trying to stay healthy.
Advice: If you don’t need to use a handrail, then simply keep your hands to yourself and avoid contact whenever possible. If you do need to steady yourself, make sure to wash your hands or use hand sanitizer as soon as you can afterward.
Buffets are convenient, fast, and often affordable. They’re also the perfect forums for borderline food safety and swapping germs with strangers.
Outbreaks of salmonella, E. coli, shigella, and other illnesses have been linked to buffets, and norovirus outbreaks on cruise ships are spread through contaminated food and water.
Buffets essentially add all your fellow diners to the food-handling chain. So if the guy in front of you in line is coming back for seconds after licking BBQ sauce off his fingers, he may as well have just licked the tongs you’re about to grab.
Advice: Wash your hands. The CDC calls handwashing a do-it-yourself vaccine and says that you should lather and scrub for 20 seconds (the length of two rounds of the “Happy Birthday” song) before rinsing.
Wash hands before you get in the buffet line (to prevent you from spreading germs). Wash them again after you get your food but before you eat it (to prevent you from digesting whatever germs were on the shared serving utensils).
Smarter Travel advises to steer clear of foods left out without some kind of cover or sneeze guard, foods that should be hot but are only lukewarm, and foods that should be cold but are room temperature or warm.
Bonus Germ Danger Zone: Elevator Buttons
Just think of the number of fingers that touch those buttons! I use my knuckle every time I need to touch an elevator button and have even taught my kids to do the same. But do you know an even better solution?
Take the stairs! They are never busy/great for exercise and getting that heart rate up. But wait there’s more. They are germ-free.
I know, I give and I give…
Smarter Travel gave three Tips to Avoid Getting Sick After Flying
1. Stay hydrated.
It turns out that drinking plenty of water will not only counter the overall dehydrating effects of air travel, which can lead to headaches, stomach problems, cramps, fatigue, and more but can actually fortify your preemptive natural immune mechanisms to function considerably better.
Of course, this is the case in normal daily life—when exercising, during prolonged sun exposure, etc. However, in an airplane, where your nose and throat are on the front lines with exceedingly dry air, these are the first places to suffer. Sipping water regularly throughout the flight may be more effective than drinking a lot of water at one time before or during the flight; this will keep your protective system from long dry spells. (And I do mean to single out water here—alcohol and caffeinated drinks such as coffee or sodas are less hydrating.)
Nasal mists have been found to be very effective in keeping this system working in your nose. (I like the ones from Ayr.)
Additionally, hot drinks are a good way to keep your protective mucous membranes working—first, to assist in keeping you generally hydrated; second, by triggering the system into gear; and third, by directly providing moisture in the form of steam. Note that this is not a treatment per se. Rather, it just keeps your defenses strong and functioning to prevent you from getting sick after flying.
2. Keep your hands clean.
Your hands are the most consistent point of first contact with cold, flu, and other germs on planes and elsewhere. It is a direct line from armrest/seatback to fingers to fork to mouth to full-blown fever a few days later. Scientists report that the viruses that cause colds and flu can survive for hours on your skin or on solid objects and surfaces.
According to Travelmath, the dirtiest surfaces on airplanes include tray tables, overhead air vents, lavatory flush buttons, and seatbelt buckles. Fortunately, the simple act of washing your hands with hot water and soap is a formidable rampart against this transfer of harmful microorganisms.
If possible, wash your hands before any in-flight meals, and after your flight as well. Keep in mind that the water on planes isn’t typically potable, so you might want to combine hand washing with hand sanitizer, such as this travel-size option from Purell.
Given that tray tables are known to carry a high volume of germs, you might want to wipe yours down with a sanitizing cloth before any meal or snack.
3. Take your vitamins.
The rapid response effect of vitamins is unproven, but many travelers swear by them.
Charles Westover, a retired VP of fleet management for a major shipping company, starts taking vitamins two days before flying. “I have no idea if it helps at all, but of the hundreds or thousands of flights I have taken, I rarely get colds,” he said. “I just take a standard multivitamin, and it has never let me down.”
The NIH concurs, sort of, stating that no conclusive data has shown that large doses of vitamin C will prevent colds, although it may reduce the severity or duration of symptoms. The recirculated air and the presence of constant coughing and sneezing of passengers on planes can make flights breeding grounds for colds. Fight back against the germs by arming yourself with a dose of vitamin C.
Recommended: Airborne Vitamin C tablets
You Got This!
Am I Becoming a Germaphobe or What?