The mantra: practice good hygiene and avoid unnecessary physical contact.
Awkwardly dilly-dallying outside a shop until someone offers to get the door for me. Standing by a crosswalk silently willing the pedestrian next to me to hit the button. These have long been regular habits of mine—even years before the coronavirus pandemic hit. As an extreme germaphobe, I look for ways to minimize physical contact with people and things in everyday life situations, and the pandemic has significantly heightened my awareness of my actions. These quirky habits have spilled into all parts of my life including travel, and over the years, I’ve developed a collection of tricks that have helped me reduce my exposure to germs and harmful bacteria, which have allowed me to stay healthy and safe when I’m on the road. Here are 10 tips I’ve used for a long time that everyone should be using right now.
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Pack Your Own Food
Whether exploring America by domestic flight or car this summer, pack your own snacks and drinks for the sake of your health and public safety. Doing this reduces the need to make unnecessary stops at supermarkets and convenience stores, and reduces exposure to both yourself and others. For jet setters, packing your own snacks may be your only option if you’re on a short flight since airlines are offering reduced meal services during this pandemic. Southwest Airlines has suspended food service for flights under 250 miles, while Delta Air Lines has reduced its food and beverage options. On flights over 350 miles, your only choice to satiate your thirst is bottled water, with no option for ice-cold sodas in those crinkly plastic cups.
INSIDER TIPCheck the TSA website for a pre-approved list of food items you can bring on board.
Keep Your Socks On
Socks serve as a protective barrier for your feet, and you’ll want to keep those on everywhere you go on travel days, especially if you have any cuts and scrapes. Where there’s frequent foot traffic, namely airport security, and where people like to kick off their shoes and let their bare feet hang, like the floor of your seat on the plane, bus, or train, infectious agents breed. Add humidity to the mix, and it becomes a hot spot for viruses, fungus, and harmful bacteria. To catch some of this stuff is fairly easy—all it takes for you to get athlete’s foot is to step on an infected surface like a damp airport floor or aircraft carpet that’s been contaminated by an infected person.
Open Those Overhead Vents
Blasting the air vent above your seat on the plane might seem counterintuitive and leave you shivering in the cold air, but these vents force germs to the ground to help prevent you from getting sick during a flight. Some viruses like measles and mumps are airborne and are suspended in the air for hours once someone infectious has sneezed or coughed, leaving you susceptible. And though current research suggests that the coronavirus is more likely to be spread through larger air droplets that are less likely to linger in the air, keeping your vent open creates a protective barrier that minimizes your chances of contracting any virus by forcing it down to the ground quicker.
Window Seat, Every Time
A 2018 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences concluded that window seats are the least germy option on an airplane. While most believe germs to be spread throughout the cabin by air vents, the culprit is, actually, human movement. It’s other passengers coming down the aisle to use the lavatory or the cabin crew wheeling their food carts, and all of this action happens next to the aisle seats, which exposes those passengers to viruses and germs. To minimize the chances of contracting an airborne illness while flying, always pick the window seat, and the potential for catching something becomes even less if you stay in your seat throughout the flight. However, keep in mind that there’s no saving you if you’re seated right next to a sick passenger, even if you were able to snag the window seat.
Maybe a tickle in your throat causes those consistent guttural tones of “ahem,” or your allergies make you sneeze while you’re on the bus. The pandemic has heightened our awareness of our surroundings, and one peep out of you can result in menacing glares and people swiftly moving away. Some viruses are airborne and are transmitted by coughing, sneezing, or talking in enclosed spaces, and by masking up in public places where you can’t keep a distance of at least six feet from the next person, you’re protecting yourselves and others. This is especially important since airline passengers can now be denied boarding without a mask.
INSIDER TIPRead up on your destination before you depart, as different states have different rules surrounding mandatory face coverings.
Use a Paper Towel to Handle Bathroom Situations
Think about the sequence of events when you enter a public bathroom: open stall door, close and lock stall door, do your business, flush, open stall door, and proceed to the sink. Most people don’t wash their hands when they first enter the bathroom, and it’s unrealistic to wash your hands before opening the stall door again, which means people are handling doors and sink taps with dirty hands. Next time you need to use the bathroom on a flight, overnight bus, or train, protect yourself from germs on these high touch surfaces by handling them with a paper towel.
Do Your Own Housekeeping
Though hotels have introduced stricter cleaning protocols and Airbnb has adopted the Enhanced Cleaning Initiative to ease the mind of cautious travelers, take control of what’s being cleaned and washed by doing your own housekeeping. In addition to wiping down high touch surfaces like kitchen counters and TV remotes, disinfect often overlooked places like drawer handles, flush handles, and refrigerator handles (all of the handles). If you’re in a hotel, limit the number of people coming into your room by forgoing housekeeping services. And if you’re in an Airbnb, load the dishwasher with dishes and utensils, and throw your linens into the wash. In both these scenarios, you’re entering a space that has been shared with other travelers, and these are things you can do to minimize your risk of being exposed to germs.
Bring a Travel Pillow
Good sleep hygiene is key to maintaining a healthy immune system, and adults are recommended to get between seven and nine hours of sleep a night to perform at their best. Long travel days and crossing time zones can often throw off your sleep schedule, but catch those z’s when you can, especially when you’re on long haul flights or overnight bus rides. Bring your own travel pillow to make falling asleep in a foreign environment more comfortable. Plus, having your own travel pillow means you won’t need to rest your head on the germy tray table of the plane.
DIY a Protection Kit
Having your own kit with masks, disposable gloves, hand sanitizer, and disinfecting wipes makes it easier to navigate situations where it’s impossible to avoid contact with other people or grimy surfaces. The World Health Organization recommends frequent hand washing, but when you’re squished against other commuters on the metro, or if you’ve accidentally dropped your phone on the ground while sprinting down the terminals to make your flight, then accessing a sink with soap and running water is near impossible. But thankfully, you’ve already packed the hand sanitizer and those disinfecting wipes.
Ditch These Germy Things at Hotels or Airbnbs
Embellishments like decorative pillows and bed runners bring germs to your bed, as does the bedspread. These are the first items germaphobes ditch when they check into a hotel or Airbnb–they’re stored in the closet for the remainder of the stay. Bedspreads and decorative pillows are not as easy to wash as pillowcases and sheets, so don’t bank on them being cleaned before your stay.