There is a reason so many people get sick after traveling. You encounter thousands of strangers, coming from all over the world, and all using the same few things over and over—the same seats, trays, and bathrooms. The amount of germs covering most of these surfaces is astounding, so to help make you more aware, here are the dirtiest places you’ll encounter. Now you’ll remember to pack those Lysol wipes.

Airport Security Lines

One of the 10 commandments when flying is to not wear sandals. Firstly, no one wants to be staring at your feet in a confined small space with nowhere to go and no fresh air to breathe. Feet are gross so to subject your seatmate to that type of abuse is selfish; plus, it’s also considered rude in many countries to show the bottoms of your feet, but that’s a different story altogether. This rule is for personal health: You should never go barefoot in the airport.

Even if you have TSA PreCheck and you can leave your shoes on, you’ll still want to sanitize your hands after touching the bins. But if you haven’t gone through the PreCheck process yet (and what are you waiting for?), you’ll have to remove their shoes for (questionable) security purposes. And that’s when you’ll be standing barefoot in the bowels of the airport. It’s easily the most heavily trafficked, least clean area; you’re literally standing in a cesspool.

Okay, that may be a bit dramatic, but, it is highly advised against, as Kathryn H. Jacobsen, Ph.D., a professor of epidemiology and global health at George Mason University explains, “Just about every floor surface—at shopping centers, gyms, airports, and other places—is coated in bacteria like E. coli and Staph as well as other pathogens.” So, please, wear socks, not just for your fellow travelers, but for you as well.

Airplane Tray Tables (and Seat Belts)

When you think of germs on an airplane, usually the first thought is all about the recycled air we breathe. While it’s not the cleanest, the air is cleaner than you think and it’s far from the number one most infected place. The winner of that disturbing award is the airplane tray table.

We guess it’s a good thing that airplanes no longer serve meals like they used to, but we still use the tray table to rest our books, computers, and sometimes even our faces as we try to awkwardly nap.

Well, author Hollis Gillespie, a travel expert who worked as a flight attendant for 23 years, doesn’t think that is such a good idea. She’s seen everything, including people “changing the baby’s diaper on the tray table.” Jeff Rosen, who interviewed her for his segment on The Today Show, adds, “Those tray tables at passenger’s’ seats were exactly the spot where the highest levels of bacteria were found. Tests on seat belts [also] showed that they were filthy.”

One even found “human bacteroides,” something Dr. Robert Glatter, who works in the emergency room at New York’s Lenox Hill Hospital described as, “Very serious. These are bacteria that live in our gut and our intestines. These are dangerous bacteria that cause serious infections and are easily transferable through a single touch.” Bottom line: Sanitize everything!

Hotel Bathrooms (and Remotes…and Desks…and Phones…)

There is something to be said about walking into a hotel room, seeing everything neat and tidy, the bathroom all sparkling white with the sample-sized shampoos and conditioners. It’s nice. It feels clean. It almost feels sterile. And that’s exactly what they want you to think. The truth is, it is far from sterile, and the thing you should fear is what you can’t see: millions of germs.

That may sound dramatic, but this piece from Conde Nast Traveler senior digital editor Katherine LaGrave explains testing done by TravelMath at several three-, four-, and five-star hotels. The results: “TravelMath found that the germiest surface in a hotel room was the bathroom counter, which had an average of 1,288,817 colony-forming units (CFUs); or the number of viable bacteria cells within a sample. Remote control, desk, and phone took second, third, and fourth place, respectively. Overall, according to these surfaces tested, the study says this makes hotel rooms germier than an average home, airplane, and school.”

There it is—our fears of hotel rooms confirmed.


The secret hoarder of germs. It makes sense when you think about it. Our luggage is handled by literally everyone from airport attendants, baggage handlers, hotel porters, and more; all the while our luggage collects germs from every surface imaginable. And it’s not like we wash our suitcase. Instead, we leave it on the floor of our hotel room collecting more germs! It’s a vicious cycle.

To help put it into perspective, Acquaint Sanitizer ran a test of traveling and germs and found that “Luggage comes into contact with up to 80 million bacteria before it even reaches the hotel room. With an average of four baggage handlers, two taxi drivers, a hotel porter and one member of airline staff handling any one piece of luggage, and the average person carrying over 10 million bacteria on their hands (in comparison to just 33,000 found on public surfaces).”

That is a lot of hands and a lot of germs touching our luggage. To be safe, try to wipe down the wheels and handle of your suitcase and always stash your bag on an elevated surface. Pro tip: Never put your suitcase under the bed because it has the most risk of collecting bed bugs that way. Gross.

Airplane Bathrooms

The fact is, bathrooms are dirty spots. At least with hotel bathrooms, there is someone generally cleaning it or at least wiping it down and spraying some Lysol. When it comes to airplane bathrooms, there just isn’t enough time.

By the time the plane lands, everyone rushes off, and then the next round of passengers are already boarding again. In today’s day and age of go, go, go, cleaning the plane is overlooked all so we can board and get to our destination as quick as possible. Unfortunately, that means the bathroom is a goner.

However, things might be changing, as CNN reports that Boeing is trying to make a significant change. “The U.S. plane manufacturer just announced it filed a patent on a prototype that uses ultraviolet (UV) light to kill 99.99% of all lavatory germs, in three seconds, after every use.”

Jeanne Yu, Boeing Commercial Airplanes Director of Environmental Performance told CNN, “We’re trying to alleviate the anxiety we all face when using a restroom that gets a workout during a flight. In the prototype, we position the lights throughout the lavatory so that it floods the touch surfaces like the toilet seat, sink and counter tops with the UV light once a person exits the lavatory. This sanitizing even helps eliminate odors.”

As of now, however, sanitize your hands thoroughly, because even just washing them is risky due to how dirty the planes’ water tanks are.

Water Fountains

If you have been to some of the larger airports around the United States within the last year, you have probably seen a lot of the water bottle fill stations.

They’re touchless so there is a minimal amount of germ transference, and they help reduce plastic by encouraging people to fill their own bottles. Plus it saves you like $5 since you don’t have to buy a bottle of water. The alternative to the fill station or the insane up-charge for a bottle of Evian (which spells naive backwards!) is to use the local water fountain.

However, you may want to think twice. In a study done by the National Sanitation Foundation, they found that the dirtiest spots in public schools are the water fountains. To put it to numbers, the average water found button had over 2.7 million CFU/in sq. (Colony Forming Units per square inch) versus the toilet seat which had around 38,000.

And it makes sense: Toilets are cleaned, but when is the last time you saw someone cleaning a water fountain?