Whether it’s a Baltimore boutique, a rustic resort, or a Chicago chain, most hotels do their best to keep rooms clean for each guest. But, let’s face it — we’ve all had a sordid experience or two that we’d like to forget. Add to that filthy airplanes, unkempt public restrooms, and crowded airports, and suddenly TSA pat-downs become the least of your concerns.
With more than 3 billion passengers traveling by commercial aircraft every year, germs from all around the world have lots of opportunity to spread through the air and objects you handle. How can you make sure your dream vacation or business trip is void of aches, itches, sniffles, and sneezes?
Here are six tips for staying healthy while traveling on the road, in the sky, or by sea.
While the CDC recommends healthy hydration, you may want to pass on the ice cubes next time you fly the friendly skies. In 2004, the EPA collected water samples from 327 aircraft and 15 percent tested positive for coliforms. As a response, the EPA Aircraft Drinking Water Rule, with stringent disinfection and inspection regulations, went into effect in October 2011.
That’s good news, but since microorganisms that cause food poisoning and gastroenteritis usually are spread by contaminated food or water, try skipping the ice. The EPA states that “airline passengers with compromised immune systems or others concerned may want to request canned or bottled beverages, and avoid drinking coffee, tea, and other drinks prepared with tap water.” And since caffeine is dehydrating, it makes sense to avoid it altogether when traveling.
2. Don’t Let the Bed Bugs Bite!
You’ve heard the horror stories and perhaps even been a victim of bed bugs — small, flat, parasitic insects that feed on the blood of people and animals while they sleep. Freddy Krueger has nothing on the fear these small creatures can conjure up!
Bed bugs are a real problem today with so much international travel. Before reaching for a toxic remedy, heed the wise words of Benjamin Franklin: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Instead of waiting for bed bugs to hitch a ride home in your suitcase, pack a travel-size nontoxic bed bug repellent, like Bed Bug Rid. This product kills bed bugs, eggs, and larvae. The EPA provides tips to help travelers identify bed bugs and suggests non-chemical methods of killing bed bug infestations before you resort to pesticides.
Oh, and keep your suitcases off the floor and zippered when not in use. Sweet dreams!
3. Bring Your Own Pillow
Sorry to burst your bedding bubble, but hotel pillows and mattresses are rife with dead skin cells, fungi, bacteria, and dust mites. Surprised? Think about it — these items are napped, sneezed, slept in, and drooled on by numerous guests and aren’t washed. Sure, the pillow cases are washed, but that doesn’t remove the four to 16 different kinds of fungi found in the average pillow, according to a study by the University of Manchester.
Next time you travel, bring your own organic travel pillow. Why? The Manchester study identified several thousand spores of fungus per gram — more than a million spores per pillow — on down- or synthetic-filled pillows.
Fungi aside, dust mites also pose issues for the more than 20 million Americans with a dust mite allergy, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. Reduce dust mites with an organic, hypoallergenic travel pillow filled with renewable kapok or one made from botanical latex, which is naturally resistant to dust mites.
4. Sanitize Safely
Cold and flu viruses are spread by direct contact. Frequent hand washing is essential. A study conducted by the University of Virginia found those infected with a cold who spent a night in a hotel room left contagious germs on 35 percent of the objects they touched. Germs can live for hours, so wiping down hotel phones, TV remote controls, and airplane tray tables is essential. For wiping, try CleanWell Botanical Disinfecting Wipes, which kill 99.9 percent of germs botanically for safer sanitizing.
The CDC recommends washing your hands often with soap and running water, especially after coughing or sneezing. They advise alcohol-based hand gels — containing at least 60 percent alcohol — when soap is not available and hands are not visibly dirty.
Many hand sanitizers contain synthetic fragrance, propylene glycol, and parabens, so look for fragrance-free, nontoxic sanitizers. Hand Sanz, for example, is proven to kill 99.9 percent of germs and bacteria, pneumonia, E. coli, and MRSA without harsh chemicals.
5. Immunity Boost
Flu season begins as early as October and peaks around January or later. But, it’s never too early to boost your immune system to prepare for travel.
You can use the power of essential oils. A study conducted at Weber State University showed the Thieves essential oil blend had a 99.96 percent success rate against airborne bacteria. Blends such as Balance are antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral. Or, try Protect, a blend with antiseptic, antiviral, antibacterial, and anti-infectious properties. The company suggests placing a drop or two on a scarf before flying for prevention.
Finally, nasal irrigation is great for sinus congestion. Use a neti pot or bulb syringe to flush out nasal passages with a saline rinse using salt and filtered water. (Don’t use plain tap water, as this has been linked to brain-eating amoeba deaths in 2011, as reported by CBS News.)
6. Let Food Be Thy Medicine
Increase your intake of immune-boosting foods with fresh, organic fruits and greens. Organic fruit slices or veggie sticks, mixed nuts, or kale chips are great snacks you can tote along and pack in BPA-free, reusable bento-style boxes or stainless-steel containers.
Got a favorite healthy travel tip?
Editor’s note: Originally published on June 1, 2015, this article was updated in November 2018.