washing hands

Let’s face it, no matter where you turn, germs are everywhere. Whether you’re taking a short ride to Grandma’s for holiday dinner, or traveling via plane, train, or bus, there’s always going to be the risk of coming in contact with some nasty germs. Luckily, there’s plenty you can do to avoid germs and stay healthy this holiday season.

Get Your Flu Shot

Unfortunately, the holidays coincide with the cold and flu season. That’s why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), recommends a yearly flu vaccine for everyone six months of age and older as the first and most important step you can take to stay healthy. If you’re traveling abroad, find out what vaccinations you need and if any special health notices are posted on the CDC destination list.

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Wash Your Hands — Often

The germs on your hands are the biggest threat to your health. Flu viruses can survive on hard surfaces for 24 hours; germs that cause colds, infections and strep throat can last weeks and even months! You can spread those germs when you touch surfaces other people have sneezed and coughed on, then wipe your eyes, nose or mouth.

Wash your hands — and your children’s hands — often, especially before eating or touching your face. Use soap and clean running water for at least 20 seconds (the CDC recommends singing the “Happy Birthday” song twice), then dry your hands with a clean towel or air dryer. Carry alcohol-based hand sanitizers for those times during travel when soap and water aren’t available.

Wipe Away Germs

Bring along some disinfecting wipes and wipe down everything before settling into your seat for your flight, train, or bus ride. That includes your armrests, tray table, seat belt buckle, and entertainment, light, and air controls. Those wipes will also come in handy if you rent a car (wipe the doors and steering wheel), stop for fast food (wipe your table and tray), or go to a restaurant (wipe your menus).

Stay Hydrated

Drinking plenty of water during your travels can help keep you healthy. Staying hydrated keeps your respiratory tract moist, which helps protect against germs. It also helps prevent your skin from getting dry and cracked, which makes you susceptible to infections.

Where Germs Lurk

Here’s where hand washing, disinfecting wipes, and good old common sense come in handy when traveling:

Airline trays

Airline trays take a beating — from serving as changing tables for babies to holding briefcases that pick up germs whenever they’re placed on the ground. Typically, airline trays are wiped at the end of the day, not at the end of each flight. Keep that in mind the next time you enjoy a snack.

Airplane restrooms

With potentially dozens of users each flight, airplane restrooms are a germ hotspot. The small sinks also make it hard to wash your hands effectively. Tip: Use a paper towel to open lids, turn on faucets and turn door handles — and use hand sanitizer before and after exiting.

Pillow and blankets

It might be tempting to snuggle up with an airline pillow or blanket, but unless they’re sealed in plastic, avoid them — like the plague!


You hold them to keep your balance on the subway and bus, on stairways, and the escalator — and so have thousands of other travelers!

Remote controls

The TV remote control is often the most germ-ridden object in your hotel room. (The same applies to your home remote!)

Restaurant menus

Hundreds of people touch restaurant menus, but they are rarely wiped clean.

Condiment dispensers

Like menus, those salt shakers, hot sauce, and ketchup bottles are touched by many but seldom cleaned.

Start your holidays off right with a flu shot at UPMC Urgent Care. Get your shot at least two weeks before traveling — but the sooner the better, since flu season is in full swing. Our walk-in clinics provide a full range of medical services for people of all ages, 12 hours a day, 7 days a week. Our 7 urgent care locations throughout western Pennsylvania are open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., no appointments necessary.

By following these simple travel tips and tricks, you can reduce your risk of catching a cold during the holiday season, and start off the new year happy and healthy.

About Urgent Care

Sometimes you need care right away, with no time to wait for an appointment. That’s where UPMC Urgent Care comes in. We offer prompt treatment for illnesses and injuries seven days a week, with no appointment necessary. With locations throughout Pennsylvania and Maryland, you can find immediate care close to you – even if your doctor’s office is closed. Our services include treatment for minor injuries and illnesses, physicals, prescription filling, and flu shots and immunizations. Wait times for minor injuries and illnesses are usually shorter than the Emergency Department, and we accept most major insurance. Visit our website to find a location close to you.