Wanderdust: A Guide to the Most Germ-Ridden Items

Holidays are, undoubtedly, the best time of the year. Whether it’s a Christmas getaway, a long weekend exploring a new city, or a two week, all-inclusive, poolside break in an exotic country, it is always, always something to look forward to. But how much do we actually know about our holidays, and the places we visit – especially when it comes to how many germs we’re encountering? We are all careful to wash our hands, wipe down the surfaces with anti-bac, and carry hand sanitizer with us when we’re at home, but when we’re away we can become unwittingly trusting that the place we’re staying in – and the places we’re visiting – are squeaky clean. Is it because the idea of a professional cleaner makes us assume things are cleaner than they are? Or do we simply care less because we’re on holiday, and feeling more care-free?

Whatever the reason, the chances are you’ve been lulled into a false sense of security, so we decided to put it to the test and see just how germy each aspect of your holiday is. From the airport all the way to the beach, we thoroughly analyzed every part of the travel experience to find out the most germ-ridden places and objects you are likely to encounter while traveling. We’re afraid the results aren’t pretty.

You Will Encounter While Travelling

First things first, in order to properly assess how germ-ridden a holiday can be, we looked at a variety of different places you encounter while traveling: the airport, aeroplane, hotel room, public transport, cars, the beach, and the pool, using various sources and statistical data sets to analyse the number of bacteria found on objects in these places.

To get right down to the dirty details, the number one most germ-ridden item you will encounter while traveling is the self-check-in machines found at the airport, with some machines hosting over 1 million colony forming units per square inch (CFU). Considering the sheer volume of people that pass through an airport every hour, let alone every day/week/month/year (for instance, Heathrow has on average 8,904 people pass through the airport every hour), as well as the increase in people seeking out “do it yourself” technology in otherwise stressful situations – such as when travelling – it is unsurprising that these machines are so germy.

Surprisingly, the least germ-ridden part of your holiday is the airplane’s toilet seat, as this is something that will be cleaned constantly. It still harbors tons of pathogens though, so experts recommend lining the seat with toilet paper, so your skin doesn’t actually make contact with the seat.

Have a look below at our breakdown of bacteria across different locations you visit while traveling.

The Airport

Aeroplane germs

The worst part about going on holiday is, undoubtedly, the airport. Checking in, hanging around, dealing with screaming kids, having to find your check-in gate, it’s pretty much all awful. But wait, that whole experience is about to get worse. Because the airport is absolutely FULL of germs. Wherever you are in an airport, you name it, it’ll be germier than probably your whole house put together.

At least 10% of airport surfaces have traces of virus causing bacteria on them, which is a hefty amount when you consider you how big an airport is. Not only this but the water in water fountains that you’re encouraged to use to fill up your water bottle? Turns out toilet water would actually be cleaner, because water fountains are rarely if ever, sanitized. Which is fine, just make sure you use a towel to turn the sink on and off if you fill your bottle up in here, because the sink handles are absolutely covered in bacteria (50,000 CFU per square inch, to be exact).

The Aeroplane

Even though flying is often advertised as being cool and glamorous, the reality is far from this. The truth is, it’s uncomfortable, cramped, the temperature is never right, the lack of humidity dries out your skin and causes breakouts, and there’s always at least one person who’s got some sort of flu. All in all, it’s pretty grim. Which is why it’s not surprising that most people end up ill after flying.

Not only is the plane not cleaned between flights, but those magazines that everyone handles every trip? Only changed once a quarter when a new edition comes out. Those overhead air vents that are great for cooling you down? Excellent distributors of airborne germs. And that seatbelt you wear to keep yourself safe? The likelihood is that it’s never been cleaned.

The Hotel Room

Considering that every single time you stay at a hotel you can always spot at least one maid making the rounds, a hotel room is really not as clean as you would think. Or as clean as you would like. Case in point: fecal matter can be found on 81% of surfaces. So that’s four out of five things you touch that has fecal matter on it. Grim.

The biggest hot spots are the light switches, telephone keypads, and TV remotes because let’s face it, these are the easiest items to forget about but that clearly doesn’t mean everything else is clean. For example, sponges often carry bacteria from one room to the next, contaminating different sections of rooms, and glasses are often cleaned with cloths previously used to clean dirty surfaces and then not cleaned themselves.

Public Transport

Unless you’re lucky enough to have your hotel smack bang in the middle of everything, chances are you’ll use at least one form of public transport while traveling. Everyone knows about the germs that are present on public transport because this isn’t a new thing for germaphobes to focus in on, and one in ten people are reported to avoid public transport completely due to hygiene fears.

It turns out people are right to have these fears: the subway is often the dirtiest way of traveling around a city, with train seats over six times dirtier than toilets. And if that’s not enough to put you off, thanks to the high level of bacteria found on bus handles/poles, if the same level was found in a supermarket it would be shut down by a health inspector. Nice.

Cars

If you decide against public transport (which isn’t surprising considering that little nugget of information about how dirty public transport is), chances are you’ll be hiring a car. But be wary here too, as studies show that on average people only clean the insides of their car less than 10 times a year. That’s a long time for germs and bacteria to build up.

In fact, the dashboard of a car is said to be as dirty as a toilet seat, while a gear stick is a home to 356 different types of germs. On the bright side, the steering wheel is the cleanest part of your car – until you have to use your gear stick though, apparently.

Beach/Pool

Despite it being hammered into you when you were a kid that a pool is full of chlorine, hence why you shouldn’t drink the water (like it stopped you anyway), that doesn’t actually mean it’s clean. Did you know, for example, that if you can smell the chlorine that means the pool is actually very dirty? It’s because chlorine only emits that specific chlorine smell when it’s been activated i.e. when it’s doing its job and cleaning the water – which means the water is dirty.

As for the beach, turns out although seawater is likely to be contaminated with wastewater from sewage and other sources, there are still up to 100 times more bacteria on the sand than in the water. Plus, for those that like to play in the sand or be buried in it: you’re more likely to develop diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting.

Looking for some more dirty details? Have a look at our travel germs by numbers breakdown below.