Fighting Germs on Your Journeys

While you can’t always count on skies being friendly these days, you can count on them being germy. According to Charles Gerba, professor of microbiology at the University of Arizona, the three most bacteria-laden spots on airplanes are toilets, tray tables, and latches on overhead bins. His advice is to pack light and carry hand sanitizer.

Everywhere I travel, my little half-ounce bottle of hand sanitizer helps keep me healthy.

Everywhere I travel, my little half-ounce bottle of hand sanitizer (on the right) helps keep me healthy.

Professor Gerba—AKA “Dr. Germ”—says that bin latches and tray tables are rarely disinfected. And he has found E. coli on lavatory exit doors after long flights.

That’s why hand sanitizer is worth every bit of space it takes up in your zip-top liquids bag. You aren’t limited to applying it to your hands after touching various surfaces. Since research confirms that tray tables are loaded with all kinds of health hazards, you can a squirt some hand sanitizer on a tray and wipe it dry with a napkin to reduce the bacteria count. Or, if you have room in your carryon, bring along Lysol disinfecting wipes for the purpose.

Once you deplane, you still need to be on guard. A hotel room’s most germ-laden spots are the main light switch and TV remote. So, clean those too, or at least cleanse your hands every time you touch the surfaces.

Hand sanitizer has nontraditional uses as well. Here are nine of them:

1.  Emergency blemish treatment. The alcohol content can help disinfect and dry pimples.

2.  First-aid. Apply to scratches and minor cuts until you have a chance to clean the injuries with soap and hot running water.

3.  Hair-tamer. A dab of hand sanitizer can help calm flyaway hair.

4.  Computer disinfectant. Apply hand sanitizer to a napkin or rag and disinfect the keyboard and mouse of the computer you’re using in your hotel’s business center.

5. Toilet-seat cleaner. I know of a woman who cleans toilet seats in public restrooms when no seat covers are available. She just squirts the surface generously with hand sanitizer and wipes it down with toilet paper.

6.  Stain remover. Carefully daub sanitizer over a clothing stain, then blot with a towel. (Test first on a seam or other inconspicuous place to make sure the alcohol-based gel doesn’t affect the fabric’s color.) If you have access to laundry facilities, hand sanitizer can be used as a pre-treatment on food-grease stains.

7. Ink remover. Some people use sanitizer to remove permanent marker ink from white boards.

8. Label de-gummer. Is sticky residue left after you’ve peeled labels or price stickers from recent purchases? Apply hand sanitizer and rub gently with a rag, paper towel, or hotel shoe-buffing cloth.

9. Spectacles cleaner. Used with a soft cloth, sanitizer can also clean your eyeglasses.

At this rate, you might run the risk of using up your little container of hand sanitizer before your trip is over. Fortunately, large pump bottles of the stuff are available in many public places now, and just a squirt or two replenishes a small bottle until you can refill it from your own supply at home. That’s my strategy.

And who knows? Dr. Germ might even do the same thing.

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Fiercely Frugal Savage Sister Diana has gathered packing pointers over the years on numerous domestic and foreign trips. Most recently, she travels in conjunction with the publication of her latest book, 52 Heart Lifters for Difficult Times.

© 2014 The Savage Sisters

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