We all go on vacation for different reasons. Some of us like to play golf, others like to tan, and most of us like to catch up on sleep. Even though vacation goals differ, we can all agree that no one wants to come back from our holiday sick from being bombarded by not-so-everyday viruses and bacteria. Unfortunately, most of us are unknowingly putting ourselves at high risk when we hit the road for fun and relaxation. Studies show that planes are teeming with bacteria, and hotel rooms are even worse—infested with more icky stuff than planes, homes, and even schools. The good news is that with a little knowledge and a little more care, you can protect yourself from the microscopic beasts that can make you and your loved ones ill while you’re trying to live it up. Here are the top ways you can protect yourself while you’re away from home.
1. So Fresh and So…Clean?
We know baths can be relaxing and make for the perfect end to a sightseeing-packed or sandy beach day, but unless your idea of relaxation includes immersing yourself in a big bowl of bacterial and chemicals, we suggest you avoid hotel bathtubs altogether. A 2012 study published by the American Society for Microbiology found that a hotel housekeeper’s cleaning implements (e.g., sponges, mops, and rags) had the highest level of contamination of any objects or areas in the hotel industry. The same objects are used on all different fixtures in your hotel bathroom, including the tub, toilet bowl, sink, and even the tile floors. This means germs from all those high-traffic places are spread from surface to surface and between hotel guests. (Do you really want to think about who used your hotel bathroom before you?) Additionally, experts say the surfaces of tubs are regularly covered in a biofilm, a visually undetectable layer of bacteria that has to be tackled with an abrasive brush or sponge and soap. Unless you commit to spending precious vacation time cleaning, this film will be keeping you (unwanted) company while you bathe.
2. Reality Check
Think the only place you can catch a nasty foot virus is at a sweaty gym or public pool? Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Stand in line at the airport for 20 minutes, and you’ll be able to count hundreds of people waiting without their shoes on. Imagine how many people are standing in those spots—shoeless—in a typical day, week, or month. The floors of the security line withstand constant traffic and aren’t cleaned often or well, leaving the bacteria, fungi, and viruses of all an airport’s travelers to reside happily beneath your soles too. From athlete’s foot to plantar warts and worse, it’s in your best interest to be footwear free for the shortest time possible and to avoid ever being barefoot. In this situation, socks are your first line of defense. Think you’re safe once you arrive at your destination and make it to your hotel room? Guess again. Sanitation experts warn that although the soft carpet may feel wonderful beneath your feet, it’s a breeding ground for unwelcome organisms that can cause infection. Be sure to keep slippers or socks on as you walk around your hotel room.
3. Think before you drink.
It’s no secret that a quick junket to some other countries can leave you pounds lighter, dehydrated, and sore from belly pains. Why does this happen? It’s severe gastrointestinal distress. When you drink local water or eat local fruits and veggies, you leave yourself vulnerable to contaminants that live in the untreated or less-treated water of some areas. The water can contain bacteria, parasites, and viruses that can cause serious illness. Experts at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition suggest that you avoid eating raw fruits and vegetables; raw or undercooked meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs; unpasteurized milk and milk products; and food sold by street vendors when vacationing abroad. Avoid sink and tap water as well, since it is usually connected to municipal stores that can contain further contaminants such as lead, excessive chlorine, and E. coli. Stick with bottled water when abroad, and if you know in advance that you’ll be drinking tap water, bring along a travel purifier.
4. Good Circulation
Most people think that the air circulated around planes is filled with germs and bacteria, but it’s actually the surfaces on planes that people come in contact with that harbor the most harmful microorganisms. When you fly, keep yourself safe by avoiding contact with too many surfaces. While on the plane, keep your hands away from your face and keep the vent over your airplane seat open. This air vent creates a current that blows germs away from you—keeping you healthier.
5. The Dirty Truth Contained in Those Security Bins
Everyone’s “everything” gets thrown in a security bin during airport security—bags, shoes, phones, laptops, jackets. Ever notice anyone cleaning the insides of the bins? We haven’t either. Just imagine—by placing your phone in a bin, you’re exposing yourself to whatever germs were on the bottoms of the shoes that came out of that same bin just minutes ago. A study done by TODAY involved swabbing two random bins used at security. Dangerous levels of bacteria and high levels of fecal matter were found in the bins. We know that you don’t have a choice when you fly, but you can protect yourself and your belongings by using antibacterial hand sanitizer and wipes to disinfect your valuables after making it through security.
6. Skip the chip.
So you pull up by the pool to relax and chat with the new friends you’ve made while sharing a bowl of snacks. Little do you know, you’re sharing more than just conversation with your newfound chums. You’re mixing in with your chips or popcorn whatever germs you’ve all got on your hands from using the bathroom, sneezing, or holding on to the subway pole. When you’re in this atmosphere, it’s best to stick to your personal drink and skip the communal snacks.
7. Cleanliness is key.
It may seem really convenient to have a computer available for your use at the hotel cafe or business center, but when you sign on to the internet, you may be signing up for more than you bargained for. Studies show that the average shared desk can have up to 400 times more bacteria than a recently flushed toilet. In terms of everyday office items, keyboards and telephones fared the worst. The reason keyboards are so dirty is that they’re either not cleaned well or not cleaned at all. This is a problem because viruses can survive up to three days on computer keyboards. Considering that the average person touches their face once every three minutes, the probability of these germs getting on you (or in you) is pretty high.
8. Bottoms Up
You may be saving the environment by refilling your water bottle at a public water fountain, but apparently you’re not doing much for your stomach or your health. A study conducted by the Toronto Star involved randomly testing 20 public water fountains around Toronto, Canada. It found that half of the spouts tested contained bacteria levels that were “too high to count.” E. coli and legionella are just two of the many harmful microorganisms that were found on the fountains and are known to cause serious gastrointestinal problems and pneumonia-like symptoms. Experts warn that pregnant women, children, and people with compromised immune systems are most vulnerable.
9. Coffee Break(down)
While coffee in your hotel room may sound like a perfect start to your morning, unfortunately, brewing your morning joe in the machine that’s provided may leave you with a day of bellyaches instead of vacation fun. ABC News investigated the coffee devices provided in hotel rooms and found that the machines were improperly cleaned, allowing bacteria to build up and leach into your coffee as it’s dispensed.