ADVERTISEMENT

Hotels' Dirtiest Secrets

By Robert Firpo-Cappiello
July 25, 2017
dreamstime_xl_21837899
Evgeny Glyanenko/Dreamstime
Just checked in? Don't touch ANYTHING till you read this latest study!

The data hounds at TravelMath.com have done us all a favor, undertaking a study of how clean (or, make that unclean) a typical hotel room may be. Prepare yourself for a gross-out: After studying the remote controls, bathroom counters, desks, and phones at nine different three-, four-, and five-star hotels, TravelMath reports that the typical hotel room is way dirtier than your house (you read that correctly) and even dirtier than some airplane cabins.

"DIRTY" MEANS GERMS

Still with us? When we say “dirty,” we don’t mean dust or grime. We’re talking about bacteria, viruses, and parasites that can give you or your kids respiratory infections, skin infections, and even pneumonia. The measure of a hotel room’s “dirtiness” for this study was the number of viable bacteria cells (known as colony-forming units, or CFUs) per square inch. On average, hotel bathroom counters and remote controls top 1 million CFUs per square inch. Ugh.

SWANKY HOTELS MAY BE DIRTIER THAN BUDGET LODGING

The biggest surprise was that three-star hotels appear to be cleaner, on average, than four- or five-star hotels. These “average” hotels that offer limited amenities appear to do a better job of cleaning surfaces than their tonier competitors. Among three-star hotels tested, bathroom counters were the dirtiest surfaces, but still far cleaner than those in upscale hotels. Bathroom counters at four-star hotels appear to be the germiest of all hotel surfaces, and the remote controls at five-start hotels are pretty gross too.

HOW TO PROTECT YOURSELF FROM GERMS

We don’t enjoy sharing just the bad news, so we’re happy to report that there are a few steps every traveler can take to stay safe when checking into a hotel.

* Wash your hands frequently.

* Pack a small bottle of antibacterial spray.

* Pack a carton of antibacterial wipes.

* Disinfect surfaces such as phones, bathroom counters, and desks.

* Pack clear plastic bags and wrap one around the remote control so you can still easily operate it without actually making finger-to-bacteria-laden-key contact. (While dousing the remote with disinfectant may seem appealing, it is perhaps not the best idea.)

Keep reading
Road TripsTravel Tips

Affordable High-Tech Cars: Your Road Trip BFF

Budget Travel has been celebrating the Great American Road Trip for more than two decades, and while some of our favorite drives (think Utah’s National Parks, New England’s autumn leaves, Michigan’s Upper Peninsula...) remain the same, the vehicles in which Americans hit the road have evolved exponentially. For Budget Travelers like me, who came of age when a car was, well, just a convenient means to get from Point A to Point B, the latest crop of high-tech rides c3an seem a little sci-fi - you’re basically driving a hybrid smartphone/entertainment center that talks. For that reason, we sometimes assume all that technology is out of reach for thrifty shoppers. Nope. A new generation of reasonably priced cars, such as the latest models of the Chevrolet Cruze Diesel, Toyota Yaris, Ford Focus, and Subaru Impreza, offers an array of tech-driven benefits that will transform your next road trip.  Some of the features that are standard or reasonably available in cars under $20,000 include: Wi-Fi. You can enliven your next family road trip by Skyping with family and friends (or co-workers, if you’re into that kind of thing), or downloading music, books, TV,  and movies to your devices while on the move. Interactivity. For those of you who can’t bear to be separated from your phone, texting, and music apps, features such as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto put those apps right on your car’s display screen, allowing you to talk to Siri, Google Maps, and other programs. Mobile App. Some manufacturers offer an app that transforms your phone or tablet into Mission Control for your car. Send driving directions to your vehicle before you get behind the wheel, start or stop your engine, lock or unlock the doors, or check on Wi-Fi settings and diagnostic information ahead of your trip. On top of the interactive features, we’re seeing great fuel efficiency (especially from the Chevy Cruze Diesel), safety features like a rear-view camera for help with parking and rear traffic, and unexpected roominess in smaller cars that allows for all the packing space you need and some elbow room for passengers.

Travel Tips

An Easy Packing Secret (You'll Never Forget Essential Stuff Again)

It’s happened to all of us: You check into your hotel late, after a long flight, ready to turn in for the night, but realize you forgot to pack your toothbrush...and your contact solution...and possibly your smartphone charger. This is where PackingEssentials.com comes in. The free website makes preparing for a trip a cinch, sparing you lots of stress—and cash! (Having everything in your suitcase means you can avoid pricey last-minute replacements at the airport.) The smart, easy-to-use site creates a packing list for you, by asking you a few basic questions about your trip, such as where you’re headed, who's going (are you traveling solo or with kids in tow?), your mode of transport (plane, train, car, or motorcycle) where you’re staying (think: hostel, cruise, or campsite), how long you’re going, and what you’ll be doing (such as skiing, hiking, fishing, or a rocking out at a music festival). To match your personality and packing style, Packing Essentials gives you the option to make your list minimalist, normal, or perfectionist. Enter those details, and the site generates everything from the type of luggage you’ll need to toiletries to medical recommendations, like vaccinations and insect repellant. You’ll also get checklists for the type of clothing and apparel to take along, any specialty equipment (what to stash in your beach bag or hiking backpack), as well as travel preparation, including documents, money, and trip insurance. And to make sure everything is taken care of at home, it supplies a list of reminders, like taking out the garbage, paying the utility bills, holding the mail, and unplugging electronics, to name a few. Plus, when you enter your destination and dates of travel, Packing Essentials even gives you a full weather forecast.  You can save the customizable packing list for your next trip, making the process even more streamlined in the future. The site can be used on all devices including a desktop or laptop, tablet and mobile, making it easily accessible when you’re on the road, too. Here’s to never buying a cheap, plasticky toothbrush out of desperation again! Want more packing tips? Check out our advice, below! How to Become a Packing Genius Expert Tips for Packing With Style The RIGHT Way to Pack Your Luggage

Travel Tips

13 Dirty Secrets of the Restaurant Business

1. DON'T FILL UP ON BREAD Your mother was right, but not for the reason she thought. Waitstaff confess that the bread in your basket may have been around the block a time or two. Yep. What doesn't get eaten often goes back to the kitchen, then may get dumped into some other unwitting diners' basket, making it a breeding ground for bacteria. 2. IGNORE THE MUSIC Sure, the inspiring strains of "We Built This City" make you feel like Superman, leading you to order the entire chile shrimp platter all for yourself. But that's exactly why the restaurant is blasting music: It makes you order more food, eat faster, and leave sooner. Forewarned is forearmed: Tune out the music while you're ordering, and enjoy conversation and a moderate eating pace. 3. NEVER BE THE LAST CUSTOMER  Closing time can mean old food, tipsy kitchen and waitstaff, surly service, and some dude may already be mopping the floor. 4. DON'T BE RUDE Yes, this is a broad mandate, but we know you're up to the challenge. Think about it: Your cook, your waiter, and other restaurant workers hold the fate of your evening (first date, engagement, Dad's birthday, best friend's 12 months of sobriety) in their hands. If you have legitimate problems, by all means voice them—courteously. But think twice before sending food back (which, fairly or unfairly, often makes the cook angry with your waiter), telling the bartender that the owner is a friend of yours (fyi, the bartender may hate the owner), or asking questions that reek of stinginess ("Would it be possible for the three of us to share a cup of soup?"). While reports of waitstaff spitting on the food of pesky customers are greatly exaggerated, being not only the best-informed diner but also the nicest will always yield better results. 5. AVOID DIRTY BATHROOMS There is typically a strong correlation between the condition of a restaurant's bathrooms and the cleanliness of its kitchen. Sure, there will be a sign admonishing employees to wash their hands, but is there fresh soap? Is the floor clean? The trashcan in good repair and not overflowing? Red flags in the lavatory mean red flags in the kitchen and you have every right to decline your table and move on. 6. AVOID DRINK GARNISHES This is a bit of a shocker to those of us who don't think twice before asking for extra olives, twist of lemon or lime, etc. But it turns out those garnishes may have been sitting in an unrefrigerated bar tray for hours or more. Seasoned restaurant workers suggest that whether you prefer your martini shaken or stirred, ask for no olives. And if you want lemon or lime, ask for a slice on the side and squeeze the juice into your drink yourself. 7. ENJOY YOUR MEAT MEDIUM OR RARE Wait. What? While the USDA recommends that meat be cooked to a proper internal temperature to avoid potentially harmful bacteria, you may be better off ordering it a bit rare. Turns out cooks confess that they sometimes reserve the oldest meat for customers who prefer it well done—those extra minutes of cooking, not to mention the slightly charred exterior, can mask the tired quality of old meat. 8. ORDER YOUR FISH FRESH A nice piece of salmon served with rice and asparagus? Great. Pasta tossed with pieces of fish? Danger, Will Robinson! Same goes for seafood soup. As with well-done meat, cooks sometimes mask the flavor of old fish by mixing it with other ingredients—and the practice is more widespread than you might think. 9. DON'T EAT OUT ON HOLIDAYS Ever take Mom out for what you hoped would be a special Mother's Day brunch only to find that the waitstaff was inattentive, the food was mediocre, and the entire experience underwhelming? Unfortunately, that's what eating out on holidays often means. Especially on days when restaurants are packed—like Valentine's Day and Mother's Day—the pros recommend you cook up a treat at home instead. 10. NEVER EAT "ALL YOU CAN EAT" Buffets are notoriously unreliable at keeping food at safe temperatures—and you just have to belly up to the table for a minute or two to notice how many hands are touching, or grazing, or hovering over your meal. We love hotel's complimentary breakfast buffets as much as the next traveler, but we suggest that you arrive early and dig into the freshest, untouched stuff on the spread. 11. SAY "NAY" TO THE TRAY If you're a recovering fast-food junkie (guilty), you already know that the plastic trays that your food is served on are absolutely crawling with micro-organisms. If you must order fast food (and we beg you to be a little more adventurous, especially when representing the U.S. abroad), ask for it in a bag, even if you intend to consume it on the premises. 12. MAKE YOUR OWN COFFEE Ever ended a dinner out with a nice cup of "decaf" only to find yourself tossing and turning all night long? Or did you ask for a big mug of regular and end up falling asleep on the metro? Sorry. Restaurants are notoriously careless with the caffeine vs. regular setup, especially as the night wears on. If you want a jolt of caffeine, order an espresso, which is made cup-by-cup. 13. PACK YOUR OWN LEFTOVERS Trust us, that time you murmured, "I could have packed this better myself"?—you were right. Waitstaff is busy, cooks can't be bothered, and if you want the right stuff put into the right doggie bag (not to mention clean hands touching your uneaten morsels), don't rely on the busboy. Ask for the package and do it yourself.

Travel Tips

What Other Countries Think of Americans

We've all seen "those" travelers: loud American tourists wearing bright clothing (and even brighter sneakers) and letting their kids run rampant everywhere from Italian piazzas to American national parks. We know you, a Budget Travel reader, would never behave like they do, have you ever wondered exactly what other countries think of us—travelers and non-travelers alike? We asked world traveler and Norwegian journalist René Zografos, author of Attractive Unattractive Americans: How the World Sees America, for some real talk about how foreign citizens view Americans. Read on for his honest answers and tips on what you must do—and NEVER do—to be a good ambassador for your country. Q. What would Americans be most surprised to hear regarding how other countries view us? A. "The positive: Americans are very popular. Many people I interviewed while I was writing Attractive Unattractive Americans asked me to say how grateful they are to the Americans for what their soldiers have done abroad to help people after hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis, etc. So on behalf of many people in the world: thank you, Americans! "The negative: Many people think that American pop culture is pretty shallow. And they hate American fast food: Not only because it’s causing diseases almost all over the world, but also because it kills local business for local farmers." Q. Which countries love American travelers most? A. "Scandinavian countries like Denmark, Sweden and Norway—but to be honest, many countries in the world like American travelers because they know how to behave, are friendly, outgoing, and appreciate our planet. It’s the Americans who don’t travel that people have more problems with." Q. Which countries have a low opinion of American tourists? Why? A. "Southern Europe in general: Greece, France, and Italy. People think Americans are “sticky” and that they act like they know better and look down on other people. In the south of Europe, there is a quieter lifestyle that clashes with the American way. I’ve found the same views in some Asian countries like Thailand." Q. What are the top three ways to avoid being an “ugly American” overseas? A. "1) Take your time to blend in to other cultures. Eat local food, talk to local people, and immerse yourself in local customs... At a restaurant, enjoying the experience—leave your phones and tablets behind. 2) Don’t rush from one place to another. Take a deep breath and de-stress! 3) Listen to others with respect. Talk less. Remember: We are all equal." Q. Let's talk about clothing. Is there a rule of thumb that Americans can abide by so we blend in better overseas? A. "Americans are gear freaks. They have to have the best and have all the latest gadgets, and they like to show off to others. They walk around with the most expensive cameras, phones, and handbags. Have respect for other cultures' costumes when it comes to dress codes. Otherwise, Americans abroad dress quite well (and way better than many other countries!)." Q. What's one especially rude behavior that we should consciously try to avoid when traveling? A. "Talking loud for sure. No one really understands why Americans must stand in a square and shout at each other so everyone can hear them. It’s like: “I’m an American, so you all better listen!” Also: the way Americans polluting the world, buying and throwing things away without thinking of Mother Nature." Q. Finally, what suggestion do you have for American travelers who want to get the richest cultural experience possible? A. "Don’t bring so much stress with you. Don’t rush from one city to another. Stay longer in one place, and explore the surroundings there. Many Americans feel like they have to see everything in a few days. Paris one day, London the next…but can you really see Paris or London in one day? The greatest gift of traveling is getting to know new places and people in an authentic way—and to maybe even make some friends that will last your whole life."

ADVERTISEMENT