If you are among the record number of travelers expected to hit the road, rails, and skies this Christmas holiday season, you're likely wondering how you can prevent the transmission of germs and viruses en route.
Roughly 107.3 million Americans will journey 50 miles (80 km) or more from home during Dec. 23 through Jan. 1, AAA said in a recent report.
These holiday travel safety tips can go a long way to keeping your family healthy. Here's how to protect yourself in a variety of on-the-go situations this holiday season.
When you have many people in a tight space with limited airflow for a few hours, germ buildup is inevitable.
Still, you can take some simple steps to lower your exposure.
Skip Seat Pockets Studies have shown that seat pockets are some of the worst offenders when it comes to germ. Why? You know this one.
It's because we use seat pockets as a trash bin more often than as a storage space. Passengers have been known to stuff everything from dirty diapers to used tissues in those germy seat pockets.
Researchers at Auburn University found MRSA could survive in seat pocket materials for up to 168 hours - more than enough time for many passengers to contract this nasty infection.
So, the next time you need to stash something, skip the seat pocket. It's just not worth the risk. Instead, stow your stuff in a protective carry-on bag with silver-ion technology that destroys germs.
Bypass the Bin You probably shouldn't reach for the overhead bin to store your stuff, either. According to a USA Today report, the overhead bin latches get a lot of handling, especially during the boarding process, and little to no cleaning.
As passengers walk down the aisle, repeatedly opening and closing bins, searching for a spot to stash their coat or bag, latches on the bins become fertile ground for growing bacteria, viruses, and other microbes.
So walk on by the overhead bins. Instead, slide your carry-on under the seat in front of you. In addition to being convenient, it's surprisingly cleaner.
Stay Away From Trays
You'll want to take a disinfectant wipe to the tray table before you set your drink - or anything else - on it.
Travelmath's researchers found that tray tables have an astounding 2,155 colony-forming units per square inch.
As if that weren't scary enough, researchers at Auburn University found these hardy bacteria can survive on the plastic surface for up to three days.
Even after you've used a disinfectant wipe on the surface, you'd be better off avoiding as much contact as possible. Sanitize your hands immediately after tray use.
Stick to Your Touchscreens It's going to be a long flight. Good thing you have hundreds of movies, games, and music options to choose from on the entertainment system in front of you. Or is it?
Chances are, virtually everyone who occupied the seat before you had their hands on that touchscreen. Instead of risking the germs that may be lurking, bring your own entertainment - a book, laptop, or smartphone.
But if you still want to watch a movie, break out the hand sanitizer. Avoid touching your face after using the screen to keep germs and bacteria in their place (not yours).
Worried about a hotel stop? These holiday travel safety tips for hotels can help.
Keep things safe throughout your travels by choosing online check-in (and checkout) options and contactless payment.
Another smart step: always carry a tub of disinfecting wipes in your carry-on.
Most hotel chains have put stringent cleaning protocols in place for in-room surfaces and clean public areas frequently. Still, clean freaks would probably feel more at home, giving the room's surfaces a quick once-over with a disinfecting wipe before settling in.
The germiest spots in hotel rooms? The bathroom counter and faucet, the desk, and - just like at home - light switches and remote controls.
Don't let this news have you swearing off travel forever. These dirty issues can be cleaned up (mostly), too.
Face the Counter and Faucet
To quell your quivering inner germaphobe, wipe down your faucets and counters with disinfecting wipes before using and before placing your items on the surface.
Deal with Desks
You'd be well served to give the desk in your hotel room a thorough cleaning once (or twice) with disinfecting wipes before setting your bag, laptop, and business documents on it. Respiratory viruses can live on the surface for up to four days.
Sanitize Light Switches
According to a University of Houston study, the first thing we usually touch upon entering a hotel room is the light switch, which happens to be the hotel room's dirtiest surface. The study found that the main light switches often contained high levels of fecal bacteria.
Don't let this unpleasant life truth ruffle your feathers. Now that you know, just be prepared with a disinfecting wipe in hand upon entering your hotel room; use it to flip or turn on the light switch and wipe clean the surface.
Clean Remote Controls
Like at home, the TV remotes in hotel rooms are germ cesspools. Studies have found that remote controls are the germiest things in most hotel rooms.
An easy fix: grab the ice bucket plastic liner or hotel shower cap and use it to cover the remote control, so you're able to turn the TV on and off and change channels without getting bugged.
Happy holidays to you and yours with these holiday travel safety tips!