WARNING: This post contains content that I find disturbing and gives me the squirms.
The most important thing I can tell you about my travel experiences as a self-diagnosed, semi-professional germophobe is that I still travel. This is an impressive feat of courage considering what I find disgusting about taxis, airports, airplanes, hotels, restaurants, conference centres, other random people and washrooms of any kind that are not attended to by my also-clean-freak wife. Before you nod knowingly and shrug wondering what’s so different for me from how you feel about this very same list of geogermal entities, let me ask you this- have you ever left a note for the maid at your hotel that says: “This room is cleaner than it was when I arrived. Take the day off. –Adam”.
I would be surprised if you take the same measures I do in ensuring your peace of mind when germavigating the terrain on your travels away from home. Most people react to my frequent hand sanitizing by smirking and saying, “It’s not gonna kill ya”. But, I’m not trying to shine a black light on this matter in order to draw you into my vortex of gergasmic activity. I just want to enlighten you- as to why, when you bump into me at the airport, instead of Duty Free, I’m buying a six-pack of Wet Wipes. I’ll also inspire you to make the world just a little bit more coodie free.
SIDEBAR: While my wife is a clean-freak, she’s more so in a “people are coming over/we’re going away for the weekend, so I’m cleaning the toilet” kind of way. She will completely deny any suggestion that she is a germophobe like me, which I use as an umbrella term for clean-freak and anything else less likely to be labeled awkwardly OCD-ish. In fact, my wife smirks, rolls her eyes at, and even teases me, for my Germ Guy ways. Moreover, just to be clear, there is a very fair and reasonable division of labour in our home when it comes to domestic chores. The bathroom just happens to be on her list. And I’m thankful for that. I don’t think I’ve cleaned a toilet in our home in almost 20 years. Ironically, I clean other people’s toilets*.
*See Hotels below
Let me clarify that the reason I’m a self-proclaimed Germ Guy is not because I’m always worried that I’m going to get sick. That’s an ongoing concern, yes. But, as a general frame of mind, my hang-ups are more about things that gross me out. Which is why I’m able to travel just like a person not living with my hypersensitive heebie jeebies. In order to function, I do have to be able to occasionally not give a sh*t. It would be exhausting otherwise. But, whenever possible, I’m accumulating massive points as a frequent purifier. The world has been slowly narrowing the gap, as I see more and more people travelling with hand sanitizers and their own pillowcases. Yet, I’m still bewildered by how little attention is paid by others to what are, in my mind, obvious shiver-inspiring grimes against humanity. Consider my list from above:
Taxis– Of course, you don’t only take taxis when travelling. It’s just more of a sure thing. Either way, cabbies work hard. They deserve every penny and a 20% tip. People sometimes complain about the hygiene of their driver. Smells may be offensive. But, I think you need to be more concerned about the odious history of the back seat that you’re occupying than the odours from the seat from which you are furthest away. I’ve had a taxi driver’s license. There weren’t any regulations, or by-laws about when to disinfect the passenger area. Ever.
Airports– With the tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of people who are processed at any given major metropolitan airport on a daily basis, I don’t even know where to start. How about at security when you have to put your personal belongings in the static cling plastic trays laced with hair strands, food scraps and whatever was on the bottom of everyone’s shoes that day, which are all now looking for a home on your laptop and coat. My first pit stop at the airport is pulling to the side for a quick cleanse as soon as I clear the scanners
Airplanes– There’s a reason why 76% of all announcements on a plane trip are about the flight crew coming down the isles to collect the garbage. This is the entirety of their cabin cleanup routine! I’m not saying there aren’t FAA standards for cleanliness. I’m just saying if I find coffee stains on the tray table, wrappers in the seat back and crumbs on my seat, chances are the seatbelt fastener hasn’t been expurgated any time recently. And now you want me to slide my carry-on into the storage space under the seat in front of me? This is a space at which not even a Fabreeze bottle can get a decent angle, where 10,000 other people have put their shoes after using the toilet in the terminal, or on board*. So, if even a pen, let alone a snack, falls onto the floor under my seat, it’s found a new home. I know it makes more sense for me to worry about the polluted air circulating in the aircraft that we’re all sharing for hours. But, when I’m really gasping is while watching people take off their shoes and stroll about the cabin and lavatories in their socks or bare feet.
*See Washrooms below
Hotels– C’mon, we’ve all done things in hotel rooms that cannot be spoken of, or put in print because we’d suddenly realize that what we thought was our wild side, dark past is pretty much the status quo. You know: things like using the bathrobe to mop up the wine you spilled on the carpet; leaving your dirty socks on the bedside table; throwing the bedcover onto the floor in the corner; all that dark, nasty stuff. If I’m booked in a room for more than a night, every surface with which I expect to be in contact gets a good antibacterial scrub down, including toilet seat, toilet flush, table tops, desk chairs, door knobs and light switches. And unless I’m there for more than 3 nights, NO MAID SERVICE. I’ve just cleaned, thank you very much, I don’t need you re-contaminating my habitat with the cart you’ve been rolling through everyone else’s filth all morning. I’ll grab some fresh towels and a replacement box of tissues when we cross paths; because every room I check into is equipped with the pink, or brown tinted “alert” tissues meaning the person before you has left about three for your stay.
Restaurants – obviously, my concerns here are applicable to restaurants in general, not only while I’m travelling. It doesn’t help that I’ve previously worked in restaurants so, I just know too much. A comprehensive examination of this topic will be dealt with in a separate Germ Guy post another day. For now, eating while travelling often involves counter service establishments. Some have introduced policies otherwise, but I’m flabbergasted in instances when the person who is preparing my sandwich is also the person who is handling my money*. Sometimes they slip on the plastic gloves, but end up doing all the aforementioned work with the gloves on, which really only protects their hands. Even if I’m just having a coffee there’s no need for someone to put their fingers inside my cup when they grab it from the stack, or all over the lid they snap on. At least I can count on the hot coffee to do its job on germs.
*Money– also a whole other post
Conference Centres – basically, cruise ships on dry docks. Enough said.
Other Random People – There are people whom I like, love and hold in high esteem who don’t wash their hands after using the washroom, don’t cough into their elbow, and don’t wash produce before serving it to me for consumption. I realize this doesn’t necessarily mean that people with whom I am not familiar, or people with whom I am not enamored, are conducting themselves in even more revolting manners. It just gives me enough reason to keep a safe distance from the general public, as my standard. The problem is, other random people don’t have the same concept of “safe distance”. When I’m at the gate waiting to board my flight, I lay my coat neatly folded on top of my carry-on bag on the seat next to me, (because I don’t want to put them on the dirty floor, and it’s not that crowded, so there’s extra seats). Other people drape their coat across the arm, or seat back of multiple chairs like their drying out a tent after camping in the rainforest. Even when the terminal is crowded, there’s plenty enough space so that your outerwear and accoutrements don’t make any contact with me, or my stuff. I’ll smile and even chitchat with you; I just don’t need your jacket resting on my knee. It’s not going to kill me, I know! But, it’s just not necessary! Have some boundaries. I don’t know where that coat has been*!
*See Washrooms below
Washrooms* – An entirely separate Germ Guy post will also be devoted to this subject at a later date. Suffice to say, when using the facilities in international airports, (only if I have to), my anxiety level is at GERMCON 5. Some of my fellow travellers, however, seem to be oblivious. I’m grossed out by what I have to walk through in the bathroom, and then traipse around with me on the bottom of my shoes to my seat, rental car and hotel room. But, I see guys bring their carry-on bag and coat into the washroom with them, and put them on the floor right beside the urinal, or toilet in the stall. And I’M the freak?! While we can’t speak about the wild-side, dark past that is a part of our communal hotel history, what we can say is that those same kind of brainless bathroom buddies are tossing those same carry-ons and coats on your bed, chair, table and pillows when they stay in your room the night before you do.
OK, so I’m slightly crazed. I’ll stop here for now. We’ve all got our thing, right? If you were even just a little more like me, you wouldn’t think it so strange when I wash the in-flight entertainment controls in the armrest of my seat, use a paper towel to turn on the sink tap in the washroom, or immediately quarantine hotel throw pillows into the top shelf of the closet. While I’m not on a mission to eliminate the entire population of germs, it’s not gonna kill ya to try and kill a few of the germs that supposedly aren’t gonna kill ya. Seeing you pitch in will make me feel like the hotel maid who finds my note on the pillow with the chocolate. I’ll still have my work, but there’s just one less coodie to conquer that day.