Follow our guide to every stage of your holiday to help ensure your break in the sun isn’t hit by illness or accident. From getting to the airport, negotiating your way through the terminal, surviving the flight to arriving at your destination, we have the information you need.
We look at the infection hotspots and suggest ways to ensure you and your family beat the bugs, illness and accidents to enjoy the holiday you deserve…
1) GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
What’s the problem: Making our way to the airport is where the holiday starts, so picking up a bacterial nasty right now is not the send-off anyone wants… but just how clean are trains, taxis, cars and the Tube?
Holiday nasties: Taking public transport – such as a train or bus – might seem like an attractive option, but the likelihood of hooking up with a holiday busting bacteria or virus is disproportionately high. Research suggests just one unprotected sneeze on public transport could result in up to 150 people developing a cold, with germs being passed on via handles, seats or airborne droplets. It’s not just colds that might be lurking on the seat next to you, a study of the New York subway found 562 different species of bacteria – including traces of anthrax, bubonic plague, tetanus, Staphylococcal infection, meningitis and dysentery. Back in the UK traces of legionella bacteria have been found in the toilet water tanks of two Scottish trains, while the NHS cites busy trains as a high-risk location for becoming infected with the likes of conjunctivitis.
Holiday health fix: If there’s no alternative to using public transport, travel outside of peak times – slashing the risk of person-to-person infection – carry a hand sanitiser, avoid rubbing your eyes and never snack while on the move – or you could be ingesting a lot more than the tasty salt and vinegar crumbs on those fingers you’re licking clean.
Alternatively, swapping public transport for the comfort of your own car can not only cut the risk of bagging a bacterial baddie – but could slash the amount you pay for getting to the airport. Take the ultimate route to germ-free travel to the airport by choosing meet and greet airport parking. This will drastically reduce the amount of exposure risk to virtually zero. See our comparison graphic below for a breakdown on costs compared with public transport.
Train, taxi or your own car: Find out the cheapest way to reach the airport
Cost of getting to the airport compared from random address in Congleton heading to Manchester Airport
Now test your route…
Use these resources to estimate the cheapest, fastest and most relaxing way to travel from your home to the airport…
Petrol price: Head here to find out how much your petrol costs will be for the drive to and from the airport car park. Find your fuel price here
Airport parking price: Get your instant quote for airport parking here, which can then be added to your fuel costs to reveal a total for the luxury of using your own car to reach the airport. Find your airport parking quote here
Train fare: Simply add your starting point and destination for the train fare. Don’t forget to factor in any bus or taxi charges you might need to reach the station. Find your train fair here
What’s the problem: Negotiating the airport can be a stressful affair at the best of times, but mingling with hordes of international travellers could leave you picking up more than your boarding pass as you queue to check in.
Holiday nasties: With travellers converging at airports from destinations around the world, it could easily be more than a plane you’re taking from the terminal. Here are some areas to take special care…
Baggage trolley bugs can affect the family
What’s the problem: The humble airport baggage trolley might seem inoffensive enough, but It’s unlikely to have been cleaned on a regular basis despite thousands of travellers depositing bacterial unpleasantries on a daily basis.
It might sound obvious… but washing hands is the first line of defence against bugs wherever you are
What’s the problem: A recent survey found the lock catch on the inside of toilet cubicles to be one of the most germ-infested area in an airport.
Holiday health fix: Make sure you give your hands a good wash with soap and water (drying with an air blower if possible) then finish off with a squirt of your hand sanitiser gel immediately after you leave the loo. This will help combat the likes of cryptosporidium, norovirus and Clostridium difficile – the baddies behind sickness and diarrhoea. Take special care to ensure children are thorough when washing, too. Once finished, grab a clean paper towel to wrap around the handle when opening lavatory doors – protecting yourself against passengers who wipe and walk without the washing bit.
Beat the queues and the bugs
Less time in queues means less time to catch bugs from those around you
What’s the problem: Snaking your way to the check-in desk with fellow travellers huffing, puffing, sneezing and getting up-close and personal will put you at greater risk of airborne bugs such as flu, colds and norovirus. In fact – health obsessives look away now – a study by the University of Oregon in Eugene found humans walk around with their own personal cloud of airborne bacteria surrounding them.
What’s the problem: Heading through security, many airports will demand you remove your shoes. Anyone not wearing socks will be forced to walk 20- or 30ft over an area of floor that’s been shared with thousands of fellow travellers each day. From verrucae to athletes’ foot and beyond, we’d advise you save your barefoot antics for the beach – along with all that sanitising salt water!
Holiday heath fix:
Wearing socks is a simple and cheap way to avoid costly visits to the podiatrist later.
The airport restaurant
It’s not the food you need to worry about… find out more here
So, now you’ve negotiated security, the next objective is likely to be a pit-stop to fuel-up the family ahead of take-off. The question is, though; what’s good and not so good on the menu today? The grubby, sticky card that you’re choosing your selection from could be hiding some seriously unsavoury bacteria that you certainly won’t be keen on ingesting. A recent study published in the Journal of Medical Virology revealed that cold and flu viruses can survive on hard surfaces for up to 18 hours – making a laminated menu the perfect breeding ground for viral nasties.
Holiday health fix: Pick a restaurant with disposable paper menus, or make sure you wash your hands immediately after choosing your dish.
You could also use our UK airport restaurant finder. Simply enter your departure airport and our tool will take you to all restaurants available – with many offering links to online (and very clean) menus. Take a seat at our restaurant finder here.
Buy bottled water
It might look refreshing… but appearances can be deceptive
What’s the problem: Security regulations prevent you from taking water through to the departure lounge, but don’t be tempted to save a few pounds by using drinking fountains instead of buying bottled water – these were found to be one of the ‘germiest’ areas of the airport. A study by Travel Math found the unit they tested hosted 1,240 colony forming units per inch!
Holiday health fix: Make sure you buy a few bottles of water to satisfy your thirst – as you’ll need them on the plane, too (see below).
Go prepared to battle the plane bugs
Don’t get air sick…
Here’s your inflight survival kit to beat the bugs
What’s the risk: Air within planes is extremely dry, with just 10-20% humidity. This can compromise your mucous membrane leaving you more susceptible to infection.
Cut the risk: Using a nasal spray can help keep your hooter hydrated and cut the risk of infection. A simple over-the-counter saline spray is all you need.
What’s the risk: Boffins estimate being on a plane makes it 20% more likely you’ll catch a cold or flu.
Cut the risk: OAPs will get free jabs – as will many with pre-existing medical conditions – but everyone else will need to pay from £10-£20. Speak to your doc.
What’s the risk: Anything you touch on a plane will have been touched many times before.
Cut the risk: Don’t board a plane without your hand sanitiser spray or gel. Choose an alcohol content of at least 60%.
What’s the risk: Depending on where you’re travelling, the risk of infection can start on the plane through contact with other passengers.
Cut the risk: Check which – if any – vaccinations are required for your destination, then make sure you have them in plenty of time before flying.
Take your own blanket
What’s the risk: Airlines will provide clean blankets at the start of the day’s flying, but simply refold and pack the covers for each new leg of the aircraft’s itinerary.
Cut the risk: Comforting yourself or your kids with blankets covered in third-party fluids is not a great way to stay healthy. Consider packing light blankets in hand luggage.
What’s the risk: Drinking water provided by staff on the aircraft could leave you playing fast and loose with your health.
Cut the risk: Make sure you stock up with bottled water ahead of your flight. Just remember to buy it once you’ve passed through security checks.
3) ON THE PLANE
Don’t get air sick
What’s the problem: Making money from aircraft is a 24-hour business for airlines, with thousands of passengers pushed through individual cabins on a daily basis. However, this fiscal pressure inevitably results in diminishing turn-around times that render it impossible to ensure cabins and on-board facilities receive a deep clean before each flight… leaving passengers at risk of infection.
Holiday nasties: With the large amounts of passengers passing through each plane on a daily basis, there’s plenty of opportunity for bacteria to take up residence and viral infections to enjoy a romp through the cabin. Here are some areas to avoid and actions to take for bug-free air travel.
Seat pockets… like groping around in germ-filled unlucky dip
What’s the problem: From bulging sick bags to used tissues and soiled nappies, these pockets will have hosted them all – and should be no-go zone for probing fingers. Research by the US-based Federal Aviation Administration Centre and Delta Airlines, found that superbug MRSA survived for up to 186 hours in the seat pocket.
Holiday health fix: This is easy… simply keep away from the pocket and ensure kids do the same if you’re travelling with the family.
Who are you sharing your armrest with?
What’s the problem: Don’t settle down and get comfortable just yet… the armrest on your seat is another favourite haunt of bacterial bad boys hitching a ride on your plane. Researchers from Auburn University’s Department of Biological Sciences found that E.coli O157:H7 (that’s the nasty one) could live for up to 96 hours on armrest material. With anything up to 10 people using the same seat in any day and limited cleaning taking place, this leaves plenty of potential for contamination and exposure to serious infections.
Holiday health fix: While most armrests will be free of the most dangerous bacteria described here, it would certainly be prudent to give them a swipe with disinfectant wipes and cover with an old cloth or towel you’ve brought with you (throw away after use). Regular applications of a sanitiser spray or gel on hands and arms should also help ward off infection.
The food might be tasty… but what’s been on the tray table? image credit
What’s the problem: Would you eat your meal off a baby change table? Possibly not, but this is just one of the ‘alternative’ uses passengers have been known to use the tray table for. Charles P. Gerba, a professor of microbiology at the University of Arizona, swabbed the tables on eight flights and found four out of six tested positive for the superbug methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), while vomiting and diarrhoea-inducing norovirus was found on one. Not a tasty combination.
Holiday health fix: It’s time to reach for your disinfectant wipes again! Give the table a clean using two or three wipes, then dispose of them to reduce the risk of spreading the bacteria later on. You should also give your hands a clean with a sanitiser spray or gel after cleaning the table and before each meal.
Boffin say aisle seats are bad for your health… find out why here
What’s the problem: As if competition for window seats wasn’t fierce enough already, it seems that sitting in an aisle perch leaves you more at risk of being exposed to germs because they put you closer to passengers heading to and from the plane’s toilets. The same people will also hold on to the seats as they walk down the aisles – possibly spreading more germs as they do.
If the water comes in a glass… it’s probably best to politely refuse and ask for a bottle
What’s the problem: Flying makes us dehydrated, but you might want to be a little choosy when it comes to replenishing your fluids. Alcoholic, caffeinated and sugar-stuffed drinks aren’t ideal when flying, but choosing water won’t always be the smart answer at 37,000ft. Research has found samples of airline ‘tap’ water containing microscopic tummy-botherers ranging from salmonella and staphylococcus to insect eggs.
Holiday health fix: Most of what you’re served on planes will be perfectly safe bottled water, but if the attendant pours from a pitcher then it’s time to splash out on a juice or bottled refresher. You might want to hold the ice, too, just to be on the safe side. Don’t use the loos for a pre-landing freshen-up, either; brushing your teeth in bathroom tap water could leave a distinctly bad taste in your mouth. Make sure you buy plenty of fresh bottled water before you leave.
Remember to flush with the lid down and give your hands a good scrub: image credit
What’s the problem: With hundreds of passengers using the plane’s loos, it easy to see why it could become an incubation chamber for trip-trashing nasties. With the motion of the plane and the close proximity of basin to bowl, there’s plenty of opportunity for cross-contamination.
Holiday health fix: According to many experts, the door latch is likely to be a high-risk area, so make sure you give your hands a good scrub with your alcohol gel after you’ve left the lavatory. Additionally, putting toilet roll on the loo seat is said to increase your risk of infection – as bacteria find it easier to grab onto the coarse material, whereas the smooth plastics on seats are designed to make it harder for them to latch on. Also, make sure you close the lid before flushing – or you could be enveloped in a cloud of mist from within the bowl!
HOW CLEAN IS YOUR HIRE CAR?
It might look spotless, but just how clean is your hire car? Slide the handle below to reveal what the eye can’t see…
4) HOLIDAY DESTINATION
Make sure you get to enjoy your destination
What’s the problem: Now that you’ve reached the beach, it’s time to kick back and enjoy… but there are still plenty of measures available to help ensure your holiday remains in rude health.
Holiday nasties: From a forensic check of your appartment to testing your drinks and the pool, we’ve got a solution here…
Is your accommodation contaminated by drugs
What’s the problem: Was the previous inhabitant of your holiday accommodation using or even manufacturing illegal drugs? With the use of recreational drugs increasing and becoming more prevalent in the older population, there’s a small risk your room or appartment could be tainted by dangerous substances.
Holiday health fix: With some hotel rooms revealed as being used as Breaking Bad-style meth labs, packing a drug wipe test could be a smart move. The ‘wipe’ can be used on surfaces or suspect substances and gives a result within 5 minutes. It’ll detect the presence of these 10 drugs:
Cocaine and Crack
Amphetamine, speed, whiz
Methamphetamine, crystal Ice
Benzodiazepines, tranquilizer, date rape
Cannabis, marijuana, skunk.
If you find anything untoward; demand a deep clean or move to a new room to keep you and your family safe.
What’s the problem: Drinks spiked with so-called ‘date rape drugs’ are huge problem both in the UK and abroad. It’s easy for criminals to secretly slip drugs or additional alcohol into drinks before committing crimes ranging from robbery to serious sexual assault and worse! The following drugs are all common substances used to spike drinks:
GHB (gammahydroxybutrate): LIQUID ECSTASY, GEEBS, GBL, GBH: A salty-tasting clear liquid or powder that can act as a muscle relaxant and cause short-term memory loss when combined with alcohol. It produces feeling of euphoria, lowers inhibitions and causes drowsiness. It takes effect after about 10 minutes and lasts up to seven or eight hours.
KETAMINE: VITAMIN K, SUPER K, SPECIAL K, K, GREEN, DONKEY DUST: This comes in the form of a white powder and is traditionally used as a pain killer for animals. It’s a short-lasting but powerful drugs that can leave the person in a state of virtual paralysis. It has hallucinogenic affect, too, which can cause confusion and distort memory.
Holiday health fix: Remaining vigilant is the best defence against spiked drinks, but taking a pack of test strips when you head to the bar could add that extra layer of protection. Simply use a straw or finger to place a drop of your drink on the strip and look out for a tell-tale colour change.
Look for the digital bugs that could be infesting your hotel room
What’s the problem: We’re not talking bacteria now, but the sort of bugs that could have been placed in your room by unscrupulous staff members or other ‘guests’. From hidden listening devices to covert cameras, these wireless recorders could cause serious distress – which is why we’re including them here. There’s no shortage of stories of voyeuristic recordings in public changing rooms, swimming pools and hotel rooms, so here’s how to ensure your room’s not infected by wireless bugs
Holiday health fix: The RF Bug Hunter claims to detect devices – such hidden cameras – by helping you hunt down evidence of wireless transmissions within the room being checked. Many of these will be legitimate, but by using a process of elimination you should be able to find any ‘unfriendly’ and illegal recording equipment in your accommodation.
What’s the problem: Planning a barbecue to cook meat and fish you’ve bought from the local market? Sound like the perfect way to spend an evening of your hols, but with unpredictable food hygiene standards and unfamiliar refrigeration equipment, it’s possible that mouth-watering slab of protein might be about to leave a seriously bad taste in your mouth.
Holiday health fix: The Foodsniffer device claims to detect whether a piece of food is starting to go off – or decidedly decayed already – by using a sensor to check for tell-tale gases that can’t be picked up by the naked nose! Searching out temperature, humidity and dangerous compounds, the device can check meat poultry and fish before sending results to its accompanying smartphone app. It can also be taken to holiday markets and shops to see if the goods you’re purchasing really are as fresh as the vendor may claim. It’ll rate produce as ‘Fresh’ for foods that can be eaten raw, for you sushi and steak tartare lovers, ‘Cook Well’ for meat that’s okay to cook or simply ‘Spoiled’ for produce ready to be devoured by the bin!
What’s the problem: A surface might look clean, but with stories of hard-pressed cleaning staff using the same cleaning equipment across many holiday appartments, there could be a real danger of cross-contamination from other accommodation… leaving you open to holiday-bothering nasties such as diarrhoea and vomiting.
Holiday health fix: Giving your self-catering kitchen surfaces a quick once-over with an instant swab test will provide a vital heads-up to any remedial cleaning work that’ll be needed to cut the threat posed by lurking bacteria. This self-contained swab is easy to use and will tell you just how clean your cooking surface really is. Simply wipe the area, click the handle and wait a few minutes for a simple and conclusive colour-coded result as to the hygiene level. If it’s green it’s clean, if it’s purple you’ll need to get scrubbing.
What’s the problem: The dangers of lead poisoning for children are well known and paint containing the substance has been banned across Europe and the US. However, many developing countries are still using this deadly paint for homes and toys.
Holiday health fix: If you’re travelling with young children to countries in Africa and poorer regions of Asia, there is a greater chance that you could come across lead paint – in accommodation or even toys left for children to play with. Packing this 3M Lead Test pack will allow you to easily and quickly determine if it’s present in your accommodation. The test takes just 30 seconds and uses a self-contained swab stick. Simply rub the surface to be tested with the stick’s ready-loaded solution, then look out for a red colour change in the event of a positive test result.
What’s the problem: Most of us know about risks posed by pollution on some of the world’s clogged city streets, but the quality of air inside our holiday accommodation can also hit health. From bugs to bacteria and dangerous mould, keeping control of your appartment’s ‘environment’ can help cut the risk of your trip being hit by illness and infection and asthma attacks.
Holiday health fix: The Foobot is a smartphone-connected device that claims to help take ‘control’ of your indoor air quality. With internal sensors monitoring pollutants such as benzene, formaldehyde, carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide, it helps you set variables such as temperature and humidity to create the healthiest atmosphere to prevent illness and infection, while also warning you of increases in other harmful substances.
What’s the problem: It’s usually wise to stick to bottled water in many holiday destinations, but is the local wet stuff safe for brushing teeth and showering? Non-mains water kept in dirty tanks, or infected pipes could be exposing you to various forms of harmful bacteria.
Holiday health fix: Check the quality of your accommodation’s tap water and bust any bugs with this Watersafe Bacteria Test. It’ll reveal bacteria such as E.coli, serratia, enterobacter, ctirobacter and klebsiella with an easy-to-use DIY kit. You’ll need to allow 48 hours for the test to incubate, after which a simple colour change will indicate a negative or positive result. Just make sure you get plenty of bottled water in for teeth brushing and ice cubes while you’re waiting.
What’s the problem: Most pools and hot tubs will be protected with a well-maintained sanitisation system, but there are a few exceptions where standards might slip… allowing bacteria to take the plunge or PH levels get out of control. From sore eyes and throats to sickness and diarrhoea, it might pay to check your pool’s water quality before taking the plunge.
Holiday health fix: The Watersafe Bacteria Test is a rapid test kit that detects the presence of bacteria in swimming pools and spas. It’ll detect the presence of E.coli, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, species of Shigell, Enterobacter and many other equally unpleasant varieties of bacteria. It’s simple and fast to use, with handy test strips revealing on-the-spot results available within 15 minutes.
Make sure your breath isn’t about to turn your trip bad
What’s the problem: Drink-driving rules and Blood Alcohol Levels differ around the world, so don’t rely on UK levels to keep you safe from prosecution. While avoiding all alcohol when driving on unfamiliar foreign roads, making sure you’re clean the following day is essential in countries such as Romania where there’s a zero-tolerance policy for driving after drinking alcohol.
Holiday health fix: First things first; make sure you know your limits here.
Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) drink driving limits across Europe: Confirm at time of travel
0.5 (0.2 Dec 2015)
UK (Scotland 0.5)
Now you know the levels, make sure a conviction doesn’t spoil your holiday – and those in the future when it comes to hiring cars – by ensuring you pack a few DIY breathalysers. Buying a digital device will help you accurately interpret results for individual countries. The AlcoSense Pro Breathalyser offers reliable testing for more than 25 countries, using the same fuel cell sensor as several UK Police devices. Quick and easy to use, it’s not cheap but will remain an essential kit for many years to come.
Some foreign hotel rooms won’t have carbon monoxide alarms – so take your own
What’s the problem: Holiday accommodation in the UK will have regular checks for gas safety, but this isn’t always something you can rely on and carbon monoxide alarms aren’t that common. The symptoms of CO poisoning – such as headaches, dizziness, nausea or vomiting and breathlessness – can easily be mistaken for common holiday illnesses such as food poisoning dehydration or mild sun stroke.
Holiday health fix: The risk of CO poisoning is extremely rare, but packing a couple of travel detectors will help bring a little peace of mind to your trip. Follow instructions on where’s best to place the alarms in your accommodation, but try to have one alarm in each room that has a fuel-burning appliance – not closer than a metre from the burner – fit at head height and remember to test regularly and pack spare batteries.
Bugs gallery… along with bed bugs, here’s the ‘unwanted’ bugs that could be hiding in your room
What’s the problem: The bed bug – aka cimex lectularius – has undergone a global resurgence over recent years, with infestations fuelled by the critters hitching a lift on the back of increased international travel. In fact, stats reveal that 1 in 5 Americans either have an infestation in their home or know someone who has, while Australia has seen colonies increase by 4,500% over the past decade. While bed bugs aren’t intrinsically dangerous, they can leave victims with unsightly red, itchy clusters of bites – not a great look for the beach. The bugs also have a wanderlust and will happily hitch a ride from infested holiday accommodation to your home.
Holiday health fix: First job is to detect an infestation.
Part 1: Find the bugs
Pack the Bugo – a portable detection kits that can easily be placed around legs of beds and other areas of accommodation to catch any bed bugs – or other miniscule nasties on the hunt for a liquid lunch. The Bugo uses non-toxic patches to collect the bugs as they make their way to feast as you sleep. There are 12 sheets in a pack and remain active for up to eight weeks.
Download a magnification app: Bed bugs are small – around 2.5mm long – and their semi-transparent appearance makes them hard to spot. Downloading a powerful magnification app is a great way to ID any invaders you find on your Bugo sheets.
If you find bed bugs, ask your provider to either give you a new room. Make sure your new room is well away from the previous one not beside, above or below the infested accommodation as the bugs can easily travel between rooms.
If the management won’t move you, grab yourself this macro-camera app and start posting pics of the bugs on Twitter and Facebook… and see how quickly the management has a rethink about your move.
If you’re travelling within Europe – you still have use of the EHIC card, which entitles you to free or reduced-cost emergency medical treatment in European Economic Area countries – and Switzerland. The ‘Brexit’ vote will not hit your rights.
The EHIC card is free and entitles the holder to gratis or discounted medical help in all EU countries and others besides – yet half of Brits don’t have one and more than 5million current cards were due to expire in 2015. Here’s all you need to know about the EHIC… What is it: If you’re holidaying in Europe the EHIC entitles you to free or discounted treatment at state-run hospitals. What they cover is different in individual countries, so check here for a list of what’s included in a country-by-country guide. Who can get one: All UK residents, but inhabitants of the Channel Islands and Isle of Man don’t qualify. Do they cover families: No. Each individual will need to be in possession of their own card – and that includes children. Make sure you carry it with you: If you need medical treatment, you’ll need to have the card with you – so carry it at all times. If you find yourself in an emergency situation without your card call the NHS Overseas Healthcare Team on 00 44 191 218 1999 for help. Does this mean I don’t need travel insurance: No. The card only covers state-run medical centres and hospitals, which can be few and far between. Travel insurance will ensure you have far wider access to assistance and cover items such as extended hotel bills and repatriation. How much and how to apply: The EHIC is free and can be applied for safely in the following ways:
Online: EHIC website ehic.org.uk Phone: Call 0300 330 1350. By post: Get the form from the Post Office or download here then complete and send to:
NHS Business Services Authority,
European Health Insurance Card,
152 Pilgrim Street,
Newcastle Upon Tyne,
Give your EHIC card a health check If you’re planning to a trip abroad, here are a few health checks you need to perform on your EHIC card.
How can I tell if my EHIC is valid:
How can I tell if my EHIC is valid: Your EHIC card is valid for five years, so you need to check it’s still in date before you travel – you’ll be refused free treatment if it’s out of date. Around 5.2 million Brit cards were due to run out in 2015, so check you weren’t one of them. Find the expiry date on the bottom right of the card. You can apply for a new one up to six months before the current one runs out.
Don't get scammed:
Don’t get scammed: Looking to apply for a shiny new EHIC? Don’t simply tap a request into Google or you could end up getting scammed and paying for the card which is free. Only use the methods we list above and this website: www.ehic.org.uk
Download the EHIC smartphone app
Keep up to date with the latest news and information regarding EHIC emergency healthcare by downloading the official app to your phone. Find them here…