How to Avoid Germs while Traveling, according To Experts

It is not a good idea to be sick after a vacation. Traveling can pose a risk to your immune system, as we have seen with the Pandemic. Traveling can lead to stress, disrupted sleeping and eating habits, as well as long hours in an airplane or car. But, perhaps most importantly, it exposes you to many new and unfamiliar pathogens.

Germ magnets can include places like hotels, airports and restaurants that receive hundreds of tourists each day. According to one study published in August 2018 in the journal BMC Infectious Diseases, which was conducted at the Helsinki-Vantaa airport in Finland, the plastic trays at the security checkpoint were crawling with more germs than even the bathroom doorknobs and toilet flush buttons. And, while whether COVID-19 can be transmitted from surfaces is still being debated, an analysis of 18 studies, published in the journal Science of The Total Environment in July 2021, found the virus could survive on money, steel, and glass surfaces for up to 21 days.

It can be frightening to hear the list of bacteria that cause disease on hotel bathrooms countertops or subway poles. Yes, germs can get left behind if they are exposed to a large number of people. There are steps you can take that will increase the chances of a safe trip.

John Gobbels, who was a flight nurse, paramedic, chief operating officer for Medjet (a company that specialises in medical transports and safety travel), says, "You cannot always 'not touch’ things." It is possible to reduce transmission by avoiding contact with your nose and eyes and washing them or washing your hands.

Continue reading for tips on how to prevent travel-related germs. Because bringing home a bug is the last thing that you need to worry about while you are away.

It's not always where you think.

Although public bathrooms won't be an ideal place for cleanliness, they are not the only ones that can harbor germs. Pathogens can be picked up anywhere that is touched frequently by strangers. This includes surfaces like subway poles and restaurant menus.

In a study presented to the American Society for Microbiology, a team of researchers investigated the bacteria found on 18 different surfaces in nine hotel rooms in Indiana, South Carolina, and Texas. The researchers found that 81 percent were affected by fecal bacteria in these rooms. Worst culprits were: Television remotes, bathroom sinks, and toilets are all the most dangerous. Telephone, light switch and carpet were all contaminated by potentially dangerous bacteria. Even many cleaning products on the housekeeping carts contained harmful germs. Believe it or not bathroom door handles scored less than those surfaces in terms of contamination.

Keep in mind that the study was performed pre-COVID. The American Hotel and Lodging Association (an industry association that has many large hotel chains as members on its advisory board) released updated cleaning and safety guidelines (PDF).

And one small study isn't a reason for you to skip your vacation, but many experts agree that you're better safe than sorry when it comes to surfaces you know have been touched by many other people.

Gobbels advises that you don't toss clothes or towels onto the floor, and don't then put them on the counter. Avoid touching any surfaces that might be near your face with anything.

Get proactive about your health

Washing your hands frequently is the best way to prevent germs from getting into your body while on vacation. Wash your hands often.

Amanda A. Kostro Miller RD is a Chicago-based nutritionist. She advises that you keep hand sanitizer on hand, but it does not replace proper hand washing. Miller suggests that hotel guests bring antibacterial wipes and look for restaurants and food vendors who use safe food handling methods. Miller advises also to ensure your room is equipped with a refrigerator in case you need to store food later.

Check with the Centers for Disease Control or the World Health Organization to determine if your country requires a vaccination. COVID-19 and yellow fever are some of the most prevalent diseases.

To find out more about ongoing diseases and access to healthcare in other countries, you should check the CDC's Travel Health Notices. According to the CDC, you should ensure that you have all of your COVID-19 shots up to date before travelling to other countries.

How to avoid getting sick on an airplane

Now that you have your shot and are armed with hand sanitizer you can settle down for long flights on an airplane full of other people. For those who are concerned about germs, this can make for a very stressful experience. However, what is really going on up there?

In a study published in March 2018 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, researchers (with funding from Boeing) took 10 transcontinental U.S. flights on single-aisle planes to observe the behavior of passengers and flight attendants. They wanted to calculate, using that behavior, the spread of airborne diseases.

According to the study, "respiratory infection disease" is not likely to spread beyond one meter of an infected passenger. However, if you work as a flight attendant you may put even more people at high risk.

Only one person, among the 1,540 passengers and 41 attendants, was reported to have been coughing. Thanks to the surfaces such as security bins or bathroom door handles, most germ exposure occurs before anyone gets on board a plane.

Antiseptic wipes are often provided by airlines to disinfect airplane seatsbelts, tray tables and armrests. Bring your own wipes if you aren't sure whether your airline offers them.

While most Americans do not wear face covers, some sections of flight travel may require you to cover up. The risk of getting into an accident on a flight is very low because the planes are filtered. But it's not zero, especially if you're sitting in the same row as someone who is COVID-positive, or one row in front of them or behind them, according to a study published in December 2021 in the journal PLoS One. COVID-19 could be present when you check in for your flight or wait in security to get your bags.

The Best Way to Improve Your Immune System before You Travel

The Instagram influencers and self-help gurus have many ideas on how to prepare for your trip. These include detoxing teas and juices as well as vitamin boosting shots. Unfortunately, the majority of these suggestions aren't supported by any research. By the time you get to your vacation, however, it will be too late.

Miller says that while you might think you need to 'load up' with vitamins and minerals such as vitamin C before you go on vacation, it won't help you in the long-term. A diet high in vitamins and minerals is good for your immune system.

To ensure you are healthy and safe while traveling, it is important to get enough sleep, eat well, drink plenty of fluids, take in adequate vitamins, wash your hands frequently, and eat foods high in fiber and omega-3 oils.