Let’s say you’re lucky enough to get to take two weeks of vacation away from home each year. Maybe your job sends you to a training session or trade conference for a few days. Then there’s your niece’s wedding, Thanksgiving with the family, a weekend getaway or two with your spouse to the hills — or Las Vegas. For many adults, a typical year may have us sleeping in a hotel room 10-20 nights per year. That’s nothing to sneeze at.
Or more accurately, that’s a lot to sneeze at. Not all hotels can offer plush bathrobes, superb security, and immaculate cleanliness. The reality is that even five-star hotels have been found to harbor plenty of hidden mildew and germs.
However, there are ways to make your home away from home not only more pleasant, but healthier and safer too.
1. Pack your own sheets. If you have any concerns about your hotel’s cleaning practices, pack a queen-size sheet to throw over the bedspread so you’re not exposed to dust mites, germs, or allergens lurking in the cover.
2. Pack a long-sleeved sleep shirt and long sleep pants. Again, if you are concerned about the hygiene of the bedding, reduce contact by wearing body-covering pajamas and light socks to bed.
3. Use your bed for sleeping only. Don’t do work on it, eat on it, and don’t watch movies or TV on it. Not only is that more hygienic, but you’ll likely find it easier to fall asleep that way.
4. Ask for an allergy-free room. Some hotels are now offering rooms that are built and furnished to minimize the amounts of dust mites and other allergens. Even if you don’t have allergies, this might be a good choice for people prone to colds and flus. Other hotels provide allergy packs, including face masks, special pillows, and mattress covers. But you have to ask for them.
5. Choose modern over old. Yes, Victorian bed-and-breakfasts are far superior in terms of charm and personal touches. But they also lead in the amount of allergens and dust you are likely to encounter in the rooms and public sitting areas. So if health is a real concern while traveling, go for good-quality modern hotels.
6. Ask for a room on the third floor or higher. Most thefts occur on the first two floors. Stay below the seventh floor, however; few fire engine ladders can reach above it.
7. Choose a hotel over a motel. This is mostly for safety reasons: Burglaries are easier when your room’s door is quickly accessible from the parking lot. You also get more dirt and allergens coming through the doorway when it opens directly to the outside. You wouldn’t want to sleep eight feet from the front door at home, would you?
8. If you’re going to be staying for several days, book a hotel with a pool or exercise room — and use them. Exercising will exorcise the traveler’s stiffness from your body and burn off some of the calories from that breakfast buffet, business lunch, or wedding cake.
9. Split your breakfast and lunch schedules in two. Use half for eating and the other half for walking outside. Just like you should be doing at work.
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10. Check the bed for bedbugs before you unpack. Have you ever woken up in a hotel room, felt itchy, and assumed you’d been bitten by mosquitoes in your sleep? It might have been bedbugs. Growing pesticide resistance has resulted in outbreaks of bedbugs in even some of the best hotels. These brown bugs, which are the size of an apple seed, can leave itchy welts on the skin. One veteran traveler suggests pulling back the comforter quickly and watching closely to see if any bugs scamper. Also look for bloodstains on pillows or mattress liners and carefully check the seams of mattresses. If you see anything suspicious, ask for another room — then repeat the process. Even if you don’t find any bugs, move the bed away from the wall, tuck in the sheets, and keep the blanket from touching the floor. Just in case!
11. Check your luggage for bedbugs when you get home — and do it in the laundry room. If you find any, dump the clothes right into the washing machine, then dry them on high heat for at least 15 minutes. Anything that isn’t washable should be put into the freezer for a couple of days.
12. Light a scented candle in your room. The scent will help to hide the antiseptic stale smell of the hotel room as well as provide some stress-relieving aromatherapy. (But use common sense: Never leave a burning candle unattended, or light one if you think there’s a chance you might fall asleep.)
13. Moisten the dry air with the help of a teakettle. If your room has a kitchen area, fill the teakettle with plenty of water, heat it until it steams, and let the steam escape into the room until the water’s almost gone. Your sinuses will thank you.
14. Pack a photograph of someone you love (even your dog). When you come back to your room after a stressful day, begin to feel lonely, or get that “What city am I in?” confusion that often comes with long trips, you can anchor yourself by looking at the picture and reminding yourself of home.
15. Bring along your own battery-operated travel alarm. You’ll fall asleep better and sleep better all night if you don’t have to worry that you set the hotel alarm wrong and will miss that important appointment.
16. Pack a pair of rubber thongs, a.k.a. flip-flops. Use them in the bathroom, on the carpet (who can guess the last time the carpet was cleaned?) and in the pool area to prevent any fungal (or worse) infections.
17. Stay out of the hotel’s hot tub. Okay, now you think we’ve gone totally nuts. There’s no doubt that hot tubs are luxuriously soothing, and if you’re willing to take a slight chance, go ahead and plunge in. Just be aware that hot tubs can foster bacteria such as the one that causes folliculitis (itchy red bumps). And some people have developed bronchitis and even serious forms of pneumonia from breathing in air contaminated by bacteria growing in the water.
18. Play it safe. One of the easiest ways to stay healthy is to make sure that you’re not physically attacked in a strange place. And hotels are strange places. Here are some important tips on how to protect yourself:
• When registering, make sure the front-desk person doesn’t say your room number aloud, but instead writes it down and hands it to you. If he does say it aloud, ask for another room and ask that he write down the number.
• Ask who is at your door and verify before opening. If you didn’t order room service, or don’t know why the “employee” is there, call the front desk and verify that they sent someone.
• Use the main entrance of the hotel when returning in the evening.
• Use all locking devices for your door, and lock all windows and sliding glass doors.
19. Don’t leave the Please Make Up Room sign outside your door unless you want to tell the whole world you’re not there. Instead, put the Do Not Disturb sign on the door. If you want your room made up while you’re out, call housekeeping and let them know.
20. Make sure hotel operators don’t give out room numbers. Try it by calling the front desk from your cell phone, giving your name, and asking for your room number.
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