Travel Hygiene & Precautions: How To Avoid Germs, Viruses and Infections While Traveling
With the dawn of 2020, and the spread of Pandemic COVID19, the world isn’t what people left it as when most of them closed the door to their houses. This is a world more hygiene-conscious, where people greet by folding their hands and not shaking them, where personal space is respected more than ever, and where travel, even as far as the next-door shop, is cautious, even limited. In this new world, in this new normal, how should you fare so as to protect yourself and your family from lurking germs while travelling? Obviously, with all that paranoid lockdown reading you did, there is a virus-germ-infection phobia somewhere there in your head.
So for you and yours, here’s our guide on travel hygiene and precautions.
Phones and Bags
These are the items you touch with your hands. All. The. Time. And they are the ones you neglect when sanitising pre or post travel. So drill it in your head, and make sure you either periodically swipe your phone - screen and back, hand bag handles etc with a sanitiser, or make sure to do that as soon as you reach your home or hotel. Not only bacteria like E. coli, but also many viruses thrive on phone bodies and plastic/leather bags. If ingested, these are likely to cause digestive illnesses, respiratory problems and common-cold like flu.
Sanitise Loose Change and Notes
This is another set of items you touch all the time, and receive from unknown, unsecured sources. Like that coffee shop in the airport or the cab driver who dropped you off. You don't know who gave them this change and how many hands it has changed. It is a scientific fact well proven that bacteria and germs and even viruses thrive on paper, cardboard, plastic as well as metal for as long as 16 hours. The smart thing to do in this case is sanitise any change your receive as soon as you receive it, be it notes or coins. If not, then keep a spare pouch or wallet or an alternate pocket where you stuff all that money. Then when you reach home/hotel, SANITISE with alcohol-based wipes.
Leave your Shoes out
Many cultures of the world, from Indian to Turkish to Japanese believe in leaving the shoes outside the house. This ensures that all that dirt, germs, bacteria you accumulated through your travels is shut outside the house. According to a study, viruses left on the surfaces near the doorway of a room will spread to 80% of the surfaces inside within 4 hours.
In the recent decades, the western way of wearing your shoes everywhere (even into your bedrooms) has influenced many eastern cultures too. But that’s not the best idea. Especially in your kitchen, as Indian moms would reprimand. Even in your hotel rooms, lose your shoes at the door and if you have more need to maintain hygiene then clean the tops, heels and buckles/laces with alcohol wipes.
Don’t Touch People and Places On The Go
You’d say, ‘of course not, I don’t do that!’ Actually, you do. On the road, in the elevators, in metros or trains or bus. You lean on the elevator wall, press buttons, hold onto poles in a bus, rub shoulders with dozens of people. A 2011 study concludes that you are six times more likely to catch a cold if you take the public transport, as opposed to a private vehicle. On an airplane, in closed spaces, you are more likely to breathe the same air as those sitting beside, ahead or behind you, and touch surfaces that were touched by so many before you. So ensure you sanitise these surfaces beforehand, or make a conscious effort to not touch them. How to do that?
Make fists of your hands and try to do almost everything without opening them. If you do open them to touch something then you know you have to sanitise your hands now. Or wear gloves.
Sanitise your Corner of the Plane
As soon as you reach your aircraft seat, wipe down your seat back, handles, armrests, tray tables, buttons, windows and other sundry places you are likely to touch. Although airlines maintain a clean space and vacuum away dust before every new take-off, germs, bacteria and viruses seldom thrive inspite of most efforts; those like norovirus, influenza and staph being the most common. The same applies to your train or bus seat. In case you are taking a private cab, make sure the windows, handles and other sundry places you might touch are sanitised.
Food and Drink Alert
Yes, there aren’t many viruses or germs that spread through food or drink. The Novel Coronavirus too is so far not proven to survive in proper, hot food. But what about the containers and plates and cutlery used? If you are opening plastic or cling film wraps, sanitise your hands before diving into your meal. Wipe down your cutlery with alcohol wipes. And try and eat hot food which is cooked well. Raw foods like sushi, lettuce, unpeeled fruits like strawberries and grapes should be a big no-no unless you are sure that they are well washed. In foreign countries, make sure to drink filtered water and not tap water. Because there are bacteria like norovirus and giardia that do transmit through water too.
Regularly Wash your Hands
Yes. This is the best. Even better than hand sanitisers. The old soap and water method works every time. If you are with kids, then this practise is all the more imperative. On airports, railway stations, hotels, malls… set your phone to periodic half-hourly reminders and wash your hands with soap and water, rubbing and sudsing it for at least 20 seconds. Wash before and after eating too. Make sure to clean your fingernails and knuckles, wrists and elbows at the end of the day.
Inquire about your Hotel's Cleanliness Practises
There is no shame in asking your hotel concierge or reception on what steps have they taken to keep their rooms and premises clean. Do they sanitise surfaces regularly? Are their kitchens hygienic and sprayed with disinfectants? Are their chefs and staff healthy? After all, all of their hygiene practises will impact you through your stay. Inside your hotel room, you can wipe down surfaces like handles, toilet flushes, switches and TV remotes with alcohol sanitisers to ensure extra safety.
Elevators and Germs
No one told you what a minefield an elevator is for germs and infections. First, the surfaces like buttons, walls and doors are touched by hundreds of people in a day. Especially in public places like hotels, airports and malls. Second, when you step into one, you are likely to be closed in with at least half a dozen people. So stand with your back to each other, use your elbows or knuckles to press buttons, and sanitise your hands as soon as you are out. If you are coughing or sneezing without wearing a mask then do so into your elbow or shoulder and away from people.
Respect Personal Space
Over time, we have lost respect for each other’s personal space. Every person is eligible for a 2-metre radius around him/her in formal spaces. Unless you known somebody personally, crossing this space is not right. After the explosion of COVID19 and the continuous stress put on social distancing for more than 6 metres, we have suddenly again realised that being away from each other is not only good etiquette but also great hygiene. So don’t be shy to tell someone to back off or step aside yourself. And do no encroach upon someone else’s space. Greet with Namaste and not shake of hands. Smile, don’t hug. Little things make a world of difference.
Leave your Shopping Bags Untouched
If you are travelling, in a foreign place, then you are bound to shop or buy sometime. In such a scenario, the smartest thing to do is leave your bags in one corner of your hotel room, untouched, for at least 14-16 hours. A day is best. This will ensure that any germs or viruses on the surface of your shopping bags or the items inside will die a natural death, leaving you with a safe journey back home.
Mind the Kids
Well, kids are kids. However well you explain to them the nature of little beasts called germs, they will still touch everything, and still lick their fingers. Many experts call them the ‘germ magnets,’ for that same reason. So when travelling with little humans, make sure you sanitise their hands periodically, drill into them so that they wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds (sing the happy birthday song) before eating and not put their fingers in their mouth or nose. Good luck with the last one though!