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Avoiding Germs on the Road

Here's the lowdown on how to safeguard against germs when you travel: Wash your hands.

Twenty seconds of washing your hands keeps you healthy, so wash, wash, wash.
Photo caption
Twenty seconds of washing your hands keeps you healthy, so wash, wash, wash.

Traveling is a dirty business, whether you go by plane, train, or automobile. The best safeguard against getting sick while on vacation, according to University of Arizona microbiologist and germ hunter Chuck Gerba, is to wash your hands thoroughly and often. The problem: Soap and water aren't always available when you need them, and even if you scrub conscientiously, hardly anyone else does.

"Only about 60 percent of people who use the public restroom wash their hands," Gerba says. "Only half of those actually use soap, and only half of those people wash for the 20 seconds or more the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends."

When he travels, Gerba takes along disinfectant wipes to clean his hotel room's TV remote and telephone—among the grimiest objects, his studies show. On car trips, he packs a blanket for roadside picnics; rest stop tables, he says, are magnets for bird droppings. And for those times when you can't wash your hands, Gerba suggests tucking a bottle of hand-sanitizing gel in your pocket or purse and using it frequently, especially before meals or snacks. The alcohol in the gel kills most skin germs on contact.

Photography by Craig Maxwell

This article was first published in January 2005. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.