Essential Travel Tips for the Germaphobe

Bennett Collins

Everyone who knows me knows that I hate flying. In my millennial fashion, let me just begin by saying; sorry, not sorry. Sure, flying is convenient and beats the voyages of days past, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. For me, it’s an anxiety ridden rollercoaster of anguish.

One of the things that makes me the most stressed about flying is the possibility of getting sick. Think about it. From as little as 45 minutes to as long as 12 hours, you are 35,000 feet in the sky breathing in recycled air on a plane that seldom gets a thorough scrub down. With plenty of studies showing that you’re more likely to get ill from being within a closed space with other people, you need to take precautions if you’re looking to enjoy your next vacation or business trip.

So, to my fellow germaphobes and humans who find the flying experience less than hygienic, here are three steps to help you take control of your health and keep you from getting sick on your next trip.

The Airplane is Dirty: Clean Your Space

Everything you touch on a plane is probably dirty. Yes, everything.

Unfortunately, the Federal Aviation Authority in the US doesn’t regulate or inspect the cleaning of aircraft, and the cleanliness of your airplane depends ultimately on the policies of the airline itself as well as the changeover time between planes.

Most airlines thoroughly clean their planes, at best, once a month, and if they do get cleaned daily, they’ll likely get attention in the morning.

So, the first tip: Book earlier flights for cleaner airplanes (maybe).

There have been quite a few exposé studies and investigations about the cleanliness of planes, or the lack thereof. A research team from Auburn University found that bacteria such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (aka MRSA) and E. coli have been found on the chair upholstery, armrests, and chair pockets, where they can live for up to seven days. But the worst culprit of your seating area? Tray tables.

In short, don’t trust that your plane is clean.

Take responsibility for cleaning your own space and follow these basic rules:

  • Avoid using the seat pockets for your personal items and instead keep all items in a daypack
  • Avoid using the blankets and don’t use the provided pillow – does anyone actually know when (if) they’re washed?
  • Immediately wipe down your seating space and tray with some eco-friendly handwipes (plastic ones are beginning to be banned and are terrible for the environment)
  • If you have to go to the bathroom on the plane, do not use the water for anything other than handwashing, and definitely do not rub your eyes with it. This also includes using ice and taking tea and coffee.
  • Use hand sanitizer after going to the bathroom, or doing anything on a plane for that matter;  don’t just rely on washing your hands (Dr. Bronner’s hand sanitizer is my pick)

Drink More Water, Eat Healthy Food, & Rest

Traveling is exhausting. The entire process involves being more aware of your surroundings than normal, puts you in awkward physical positions, and ultimately asks your body to work overtime until you get to your final destination. In this sense, if you’re a germaphobe and/or you just don’t want to get sick, de-sanitizing your environment and keeping away from contaminated objects can only get you so far.

First and foremost, drink (bottled) water regularly on the plane. As the plane recycles air and the air vents are often on high, it’s a pretty dry environment. The result is that your mucus membranes are drying out and becoming less able to trap bacteria in your nose and throat, leaving you more susceptible to illness.

Another tip: as a rule of thumb, I like to drink a glass of water every hour; this is enough to keep me hydrated without requiring me to get up and go to the bathroom all the time.

Use the air vents to your advantage. Many agree that pointing air vents towards your lap is a good way to blast any airborne illnesses away from you with the airplane’s filtered air (which is one of the only properly cleaned things on an airplane).

It’s also good idea to bring your own food on a plane. Nuts, dried fruit, or dark chocolate not only feed the body, mind, and spirit, but also guarantees some healthy intake, even if the meal served on the plane is sub-par.

Finally, sleep. It is one of the most neglected and necessary activities during travel. I’m guilty of putting it off until I’m at my final destination. However, it’s well proven that jetlag disrupts the immune system. So it’s time to turn off the guilty pleasure film and catch some Z’s so your body can fight off what it needs to.

Pack for the Flight

If you have read my posts in the past, you know that I always abide by a crucial mantra: pack for the trip you want. Avoiding disappointment and potential disaster are key benefits here, but most of all, you feel in control of your own experience and less at the mercy of life’s curveballs.

No, I don’t like flying, but there’s no reason to feel miserable until I get to my final destination, and into the first days of my trip. I see flying as an oppotunity to engage in self care and try some things that make me feel relaxed and healthy.

Here are some suggestions:   

  • Get a bottle of Kiehl’s ultra facial cleanser to remove makeup, dissolve excess dirt, and prevent your skin drying out on the plane
  • A plane is an acceptable place to try out the awkward design of the Trtl pillow; it’s washable, easily packable, and pretty damn comfortable
  • Invest in some good ear plugs for the flight
  • Take an extra set of clothes and a 100ml mouthwash bottle ready to feel like a new person when you arrive
  • Pack it all in a carry on backpack so you have everything at your fingertips


Flying can be hyper-stressful for germaphobes and anyone who doesn’t want to get ill upon reaching their final destination. Feeling clean and flying are not mutually exclusive if you plan ahead.

  • Airplanes are dirty places: wipe your space down
  • Avoid disgusting bacteria: carry sanitizer
  • Sleep, water, and proper nutrition: the basics will help you stay healthy
  • Relax and treat yourself: make an effort to make yourself feel good.

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