If you've ever stepped off a plane with stained and rumpled clothes, a pore-clogged face, a lag-induced headache, and a mouth that still tastes like hours-old airplane food, you know how tricky it can be to stay clean and rested while traveling. And that's just the first leg of your trip. Where do you turn when access to basic facilities -- like a shower and sink -- becomes a distant memory? If you're properly prepared, you'll be ready for whatever travel trial comes your way: to use an apple or lemon to improve your breath, to take a shower without water, or to fall asleep in even the most cramped, cacophonous of airline seats.
Enter the holy sextet of travel freshness: hands, mouth, face, body, clothes ... and mind. Whether you're on a trek through the Amazon jungle or a bus tour through Germany, keeping fresh and clean on the road can improve your spirits, maintain health, and assure that fellow travelers and locals aren't scared off by your haggard appearance and penetrating odor. Check out our travel hygiene tips below.
Those travelers devoted to hand sanitization are religious about the act -- and for good reason. In a CNN article, Dr. Charles Gerba (a k a "Dr. Germ"), an environmental microbiologist at the University of Arizona, notes that the airplane lavatory "is among the germiest that you will encounter almost anywhere. You have 50 people per toilet, unless you are flying a discount airline; then it is 75. We always find E. coli on surfaces in airplane restrooms." Not surprisingly, Gerba recommends sanitization after use.
While doctors mostly agree that washing hands with hot, soapy water is best for preventing the spread of germs, there are times when this simply isn't an option for travelers. In these cases, your best bet is an alcohol-based sanitizer (in cloth or liquid form) such as Purell. Squirt and rub before a restaurant meal, when leaving a bathroom or after fondling a stone bust of Nefertiti at a souvenir shop. Other top times for a squirt while traveling? After using an ATM, riding an escalator or handling llamas in South America.
Of course, your best line of defense is keeping your fingers away from your mouth or nose altogether. See Avoiding the Airplane Cold for more in-flight health tips.
A clean face can do a lot to offset dirty hands and foul breath. When considering your face on the road, there are two things to keep in mind: the climate of your destination and your skin type. Leaving for Egypt's desert sands? Pack plenty of lip balm and moisturizer. Hiking the rain forests in Cost Rica? Nature will help you out a little. But no matter where you're traveling, sunblock is absolutely essential if you'll be spending any time outdoors. Save room in your suitcase by packing a combination sunblock/moisturizer or sunblock/foundation (or a combo of all three).
Beyond staying hydrated, there's the question of facial cleanliness. There are a bevy of water-less facial products that can be used on the road -- say, while camping. Pur Minerals has Mineral Quick Clean, a rinse-free facial cleanser and makeup remover. And a company called basis offers "so refreshing facial cleansing cloths," another highly rated choice. These individually wrapped cloths are alcohol- and soap-free -- and don't require any water.
Is bad breath the greatest enemy to overall travel freshness? Your fellow airplane passengers apparently think so. According to a Skyscanner poll of more than 1,000 people, the largest number (19 percent) felt that "those with bad breath and BO" made the worst seatmates.
So what to do to avoid that foul, sticky taste in the mouth and that look of revulsion from your neighbor on the plane or metro? Beyond the obvious mints or gum, and avoidance of garlic and kimchi (spicy pickled cabbage being the most popular variety), there are a number of products that promote oral hygiene on the road. Colgate Wisps are disposable mini-toothbrushes that provide a quick and easy mouth-freshening option when you can't brush your teeth for real. The brush head has a freshening bead that releases a mouth cleaning liquid when you scrub, and a pick on the opposite end provides a floss option. It requires no water to use, and the ingredients are safe to swallow (except for the brush itself, of course!).
Another product of choice is Listerine PocketMist, introduced to me as part of a hotel's complimentary in-room toiletries. This is Binaca for the modern age -- in a smaller key-chain-sized container and with a more potent punch. You can literally feel the bacteria being singed away.
There are also a number of foods that, rather than encouraging halitosis, help clean out the mouth. Granny Smith apples are one such option, their tartness sparking the mouth's natural washing mechanism, salivation. Lemons and limes work great as well; ask the flight attendant for one.