Want more expert tips and vacation inspiration? Subscribe to SmarterTravel on YouTube!
You’ve got questions, we’ve got answers. In this month’s edition of our travel advice column, Check Your Baggage, we reveal if hotel bathtubs are clean, offer flying hacks for short people, talk group-trip financial dynamics, and give you the lowdown on the relationship between Global Entry and TSA PreCheck.
Are Hotel Bathtubs Clean?
Q. “Sometimes I hesitate to soak in a hotel tub even if it looks inviting. I can’t help thinking of all the people that have been in there before me! Are hotel bathtubs really clean?”—CS
A. Considering that everything from hotel room remotes to in-room drinking glasses have been called out for their filthiness, it makes sense that the hotel bathtub would seem suspicious. But I don’t bring along a blacklight or germ culture kit when I travel (yet), so I did the next best thing and asked the experts.
Rob Dunn, Professor of Applied Ecology at NC State University, reassured me. “Your chances of encountering a microbe that will make you sick in the bathtub while bathing aren’t very high,” he said. “They are far higher from shaking the hand of the person at the front desk than from lounging in the tub. In short, lounge in the tub and don’t worry about it. But wash your hands with soap and water (though never antimicrobial soap) after shaking hands.”
Erica Marie Hartmann, Assistant Professor at Northwestern University, notes that even if you do encounter some microbes in your hotel bathtub, they’re unlikely to cause any problems for a healthy person—and you may be more likely to find microbes in your hotel showerhead than in the bathtub anyway.
Both professors agree—don’t drink the tub water, and you’ll be fine.
Short People Struggle on Flights Too
Q. “I’d like to see some suggestions for the shorter people, whose feet don’t touch the floor for an entire 14-hour flight, besides ‘get up every 2 hours and walk around.’ What about ideas and tips for those of us who are not ‘standard size’?” —JP
A. Coach seats benefit no one, neither the tall traveler nor the short flyer. Until airlines decide to give us all lie-flat seats, there is a device that can help more petite people be comfortable on the plane. This travel foot hammock may look a little weird, but it will help solve the problem of your feet not touching the floor, plus give you some leg and lower back support. It’s incredibly easy to use and adjustable.
Q. “I have a group of friends that does an epic girls’ trip every year. However, we always end up fighting over who pays what bill! Do you have any suggestions for making group travel payments painless?” —AL
A. Group trips are all fun and games until it’s time for the struggle over splitting checks and fighting over who paid for the Uber last time. When I travel with friends, we use the app Splitwise, which makes it super easy to keep track of who owes what. You can quickly add shared expenses to the app, and designate if items are being split equally or not and which members of your group are involved in the cost. Then at the end of the trip, the app calculates who owes what, making it painless to settle up.
Is it Safe to Travel?
Q. “I try to not be overly alarmist about travel, but sometimes I hear news reports about a destination that make me leery. Any advice on how to decide if a place is safe to visit?” —RA
A. If you listened to the internet (or your mom), you might never travel anywhere again. I like to start by checking the U.S. Department of State’s travel advisory for a destination I’m considering. However, these can lean a little on the alarmist side, so I try to get a more balanced picture by also checking the Canadian government’s travel advice and advisories page and the United Kingdom’s Foreign travel advice site.
Where’s My PreCheck?
Q. “I have Global Entry, but on a recent flight I didn’t get TSA PreCheck on my boarding pass. What gives?” —KT
A. Once you go PreCheck, it’s hard to go back to the sad shoes-off line with everybody else. The good news: if your boarding pass doesn’t have the PreCheck designation, most of the time it’s because your Known Traveler Number didn’t make it on your reservation. Call your airline (or go to the check-in desk if you’re already at the airport) to have them add it back in and reissue your now-golden-again ticket. You can also easily do this online for most airlines (the Points Guy has an extremely comprehensive guide of how to do this for every airline if you can’t find the spot in your reservation).
If that didn’t work, unfortunately, TSA PreCheck is not guaranteed for security reasons, and you may have been flagged for extra screening. If this happens, make sure you leave lots of extra time to hang out with the TSA before your flight.
Still lugging around that outdated carry-on from 2006? It’s time for an upgrade. With 360° spinning wheels, a TSA-approved lock, a super hard exterior shell, and a USB-port for charging whatever it is you need charged, the Carry-On from Away is built to be your last.
Got a burning travel question you want to see answered in next month’s column? Do you vehemently disagree with my answers to this month’s questions? Comment below or send me an e-mail at email@example.com with the subject line: Check Your Baggage.
Editor’s Note: Submitted questions have been edited for clarity and length.
More from SmarterTravel
- Do You Have to Switch Seats If Someone Asks?
- Are These Flyers Abusing the Southwest Seating Policy?
- What Are the Rules Around Airline Flight Changes?
Caroline Morse Teel is a Senior Editor at SmarterTravel. Follow her on Instagram @TravelWithCaroline for photos from around the world.