If Thanksgiving travel leaves you sniffling by the time the stuffing hits the table, you’re not alone. No matter how you travel for the big meal, you’re likely come into contact with massive amounts of germs, says Dr. Susan Whittier, a microbiologist at New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center. They’re impossible to avoid, but you can boost your odds of staying healthy by steering clear of the dirtiest spots in airports, train stations and rental cars.
At the airport
Touch screens to print boarding passes
Think of how many grubby hands have touched that screen before you — gross, right? Whittier says high-touch surfaces can harbor “potential pathogens” like MRSA, Group A strep and the influenza virus.
Consider using a knuckle instead of a fingertip to avoid catching something. “If you’re tapping the touch screen with fingertips, you’re more likely to inoculate [germs] into your eye or mouth,” says Whittier. “If your knuckle’s the point of contact, you’re less likely to transfer the bacteria.”
Security and boarding lines at the gate
Jockeying to board as soon as your gate opens? If others in line are coughing or sneezing, it’s smarter to back away from the crowd. You can avoid most transferable germs — likely the ones that cause respiratory viruses — by standing at least 2 feet away from the source, says Whittier.
If you find yourself stuck by a sneezer in a line you can’t get out of, use a scarf or other cloth as a mask. “It’s not the most effective barrier,” says Whittier, “but it is a barrier.”
At the train station
Keep your hands off the escalator handrails as you head to your train: Once the temperature drops, says Dr. Jesse Miller, director of the Applied Research Center at NSF International, an organization that sets public-health standards, “most of the time people are coughing into their hands and touching the handrails.” Miller says travelers can expect gastrointestinal viruses like norovirus and rotavirus — “if people are not washing their hands very well” — plus germs that cause the common cold.
In your rental car
Steering wheels and radio dials
While most rental companies clean cars between customers, it’s hard to know how many germs are still lingering from the last user. “Think of high-touch surfaces,” says Whittier. “The steering wheel would be the most contaminated” with any germs from the previous driver. Arm yourself with antibacterial wipes ahead of time, and use them liberally. “There’s nothing wrong with wiping down the steering wheel or radio dial,” says Whittier.