Do you ever get sick when you travel? Chances are you’ve contracted something from one of the dirty offenders on this list of the germiest places. Fortunately, with a little knowledge and a lot of hand sanitizer, you can stay healthy on the road.
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. To channel surf without fear, cover the remote with the free hotel shower cap.
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.
Airplane Seat Pockets
We’ve seen 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. We 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.
Airplane Tray Tables
Poor tray tables—we’ve seen them used as diaper-changing tables for newborns, dirty-tissue depositories, and barf-bag holders. 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.
Pillows and Blankets
Excited to get a free pillow and blanket on your next flight? Don’t be, especially if they’re not sealed in plastic. Blankets and pillows generally aren’t cleaned between shorter flights. What if the flyer before you was sick, drooling all over the pillow, or using the blanket as a makeshift tissue? Better to bring your own travel blankets and pillows.
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.
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. Or, pack one of these super light and thin sleeping bag liners so you can cocoon yourself in a pocket of cleanliness on top of questionable sheets.
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 trains) before reaching the bathroom is the room’s light switch. A study 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.
Touch-Screen Ticket Kiosks
Self-serve kiosks are great time-savers for checking in and printing boarding passes at airports and train stations. 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. It’s not all bad news, though, as a Delta check-in kiosk at Reagan National Airport only contained 10 CFUs. Wash your hands or use sanitizer after touching the screens.
Cruise Ship Handrails
Cruise ships are notorious germ incubators. Watch out for the handrails that you use to get on and off the ship. They’re touched by thousands of other passengers every day, and germs can live on them for hours. If you need to touch them to keep your balance, be sure to wash or sanitize your hands afterwards.
What to Bring to Combat the Germiest Places While Traveling
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- 9 Products for Germaphobes to Bring on Every Trip
- How Dirty Is Your Cruise Ship? The CDC Will Tell You
- These Cities and States Have the Cleanest Hotels, According to AAA
Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2012. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.