It’s winter, it’s cold and millions of people are traveling. This creates the perfect environment for spreading colds, fevers and the flu. No one is completely immune — but there is one thing you can do that’s scientifically proven to keep germs at bay.

It’s simple — wash your hands. Yep, handwashing with soap is the single-most effective tool you have to keep from getting sick.

Think about it:

You touch a doorknob. Then, you touch your face or rub your eyes.
Someone sneezes into their hand, then grabs a few napkins from the dispenser.
You grab a napkin and wipe your mouth…

Despite such an obvious solution to breaking the cycle, a 2009 study found that only 31 percent of men and 65 percent of women washed their hands after using a public restroom.

Where are the germs?

Germs love warm, moist, non-smooth areas. You can inhale them in the air or pick them up from almost any surface, including fruit and vegetables. Among the unexpected places where germs thrive:

  • Restaurant trays
  • Your phone
  • The bottom of your handbag
  • Soap dispensers
  • Restaurant condiment bottles
  • Bus seats
  • Shopping carts
  • Computer mouse
  • Park swings
  • Hand rails
  • Taxi cabs

Not all germs are bad, but your exposure to infectious germs increases when traveling.

Washing up: Are you doing it right?

When traveling, we tend to be hurried, but don’t rush through these steps. My daughter’s elementary school teacher taught her to sing the A-B-Cs while washing — that’s as long as it takes to follow through the four steps:

  1. Wet your hands with warm or cold running water and apply soap.
  2. Rub the soap between your fingers vigorously to create a nice lather. Don’t forget the backs of your hands and underneath your fingernails.
  3. Rinse with clean, running water.
  4. Dry with a clean towel or air dry.

Protect Yourself

In addition to washing your hands thoroughly and often, there are a few other ways to protect yourself during traveling to avoid getting sick:

  • Washing your hands is still the best but if you can’t, pack hand sanitizer and use frequently.
  • Hydrate. Our activity increases during travel as we rush between flights or trains. Naturally, our bodies need more fluid. Likewise, the combination of increased activity and lack of humidity while flying makes you susceptible to dehydration. Hydrating counters the low humidity and keeps your throat and nose lined with a mucus barrier.
  • Be conscious of those around you, especially in close quarters like airplane seats, trains or taxis where it’s easy to spread of germs. Stay away from anyone who appears sick.

When it comes to keeping yourself healthy during holiday travel, always remember: better safe than sorry.

If you’re in the Los Angeles area and are looking for exceptional care from some of the top physicians in the world, call (800) USC-CARE (800-872-2273) or visit Keck Medicine USC to schedule an appointment.

By Heidi Tyline King